When the Soviet empire crumbled putting an end to the cold war most people rejoiced. After some forty years the threat of Communists taking over our American way of life was no longer a major fear. One group that most likely had a great deal of trepidation over this end of an era were the screen writers how were making a nice living on spy flicks. Without the dastardly Russian spies running around there seemed to be no where for the genre to go. This had happened in some sense after the end of World War II with the end of the Nazis bit the Soviet Union rose soon afterward. There is one thing that can always be counted on; some group will come around and pose a global threat. In the early nineties this place was filled by terrorism. This did not go unnoticed by espionage novelist Tom Clancy. His series of Jack Ryan books have sold millions of copies and went on to becoming the foundation of a fantastic series of movies. In 1990 there was the release of ‘The Hunt for Red October’ which depicted the close of the cold war time period. Two years later another Clancy novel, ‘Patriot Games’ was released this time with a plot involved with the Irish based terrorism of the day. Clancy’s novels are filled with more details about the inner workings of the CIA than you would ever have imagined. Bringing any of his books to the screen is a difficult thing; it is impossible to include all the nuance of the novels in any screenplay. Still, this production holds its own not only against the novel but in the genre as a whole. While there are some mistakes made in this movie it is an effective spy thriller that will entertain. This film was one of the first wave to hit DVD back in 1998. There was also a special edition that came out in 2003. Now Paramount is releasing the movie on Blu-ray high definition. If you have been holding off on getting this now is the time to give in.
Bringing the novel to the screen are two writers; W. Peter Iliff and Donald Stewart. Iliff previously wrote the screen play for the surfer undercover flick ‘Point Break’ so he knows how to craft a suspenseful tale. Steward co-wrote the first Jack Ryan movie as well as the masterpiece ‘Missing’. Together these men manage to grab the essence of the novel and bring it as faithfully as possible to the screen. There was a thread in the book that involved the kidnapping of the Prince of Wales and his wife and son. This was changed to a more distant relation to the Queen for rather obvious reasons. Apparently Clancy disagreed with this and several other changes that were made and refused to participate in the production. It should be remembered that such changes are often needed to get the film approved and this one at least held to the spirit of the novel. In many ways there script for this film demonstrates how closely related the cold war era is to the still prevalent age of terrorism. Both have deep cover agents who look like a normal agent to their neighbors but are actually working towards a more sinister and often deadly goal. This translates well to the script especially with a high tension thriller like this one. The film does degenerate into a run of the mill chase flick at the end but up until then it holds on as an espionage movie. The center of the story is the integrity of the protagonist Jack Ryan, played this time out by Harrison Ford. He is a man who will never compromise his sense of what is right under any circumstances. This often got the character in trouble with the back stabbing co workers in the CIA especially when they are up to covert missions of their own. In this film Ryan is on a working vacation his ocular surgeon wife, Cathy (Anne Archer) and their young daughter Sally (Thora Birch). He is just supposed too give a speech and the rest of the time would be to kick back with the family. Just before they are to leave Ryan sees a terrorist attack on a member of the Royal family. He doesn’t even think about it and dives in to save the day. When asked why he would take such a chance in front of his family his answer was a stoic ‘Because it was the right thing to do.’. This harkens back to the old westerns where the hero never considered any consequences and just acting on his instincts.
While thwarting the attack one of the terrorist is killed. He happens to be the younger brother of one of the leaders of the cell, Sean Miller (Sean Bean). Vengeance always pops up in a film about this time and Miller vows to get back at Ryan. While Ryan is being hailed as a hero and knighted by the Queen Miller is starting to put his plan into action. He arranges for his fellow terrorist to break him out of prison. Initially he travels to a training camp somewhere in North Africa. They he formalizes his plans and gathers the personnel he will need for his mission to kill Jack. Back in the States Ryan is uncomfortable with the role of a hero. Most of the great heroes in films always seem to have this type of humility. This is where Ford excels in the role of Ryan. The audiences are familiar with him playing this type of character. While Ford has portrayed some great screen villains he is the icon movie reluctant hero as shown by roles like Indiana Jones and Hans Solo. While many spy flicks go for leading characters of ambiguous morality there is no uncertainly with Ryan; he is a good guy through and through. When the fight comes to their home his faithful wife is behind him all the way telling him to go do what has to be done. Ryan’s former CIA boss Admiral James Greer (James Earl Jones) has been after him to come back to his job as an analyst but Ryan has always declined. Now, with the fight on a personal level he rejoins so he can use the resources of the firm to track down the terrorist.
The film was directed by Phillip Noyce who really burst on the scene with his thriller ‘Dead Calm’ back in 1989. He also directed a much under rated little flick ‘Blind Fury’. These movies demonstrated his ability with an action thriller. He moves the plot along well blending all the necessary exposition with the action sequences.
This Blu-ray presentation is head and shoulders above the previous regular DVD editions. In the old DVD the video was only slightly better than the old VHS copy I had. This release has a much improved high definition video. The colors are brighter and more realistic with an amazing level of details. The contrast is excellent with no discernable signs of artifacts to be seen. The audio on the old DVD was also lacking. There was almost no use of the sub woofer at all. This greatly diminished the enjoyment of scenes such as the explosions. This Blu-ray edition features a robust Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless sound track. It is incredible how much detail is present here. The sub woofer is active at just the right time and the channel separation is exceptional. The only extra is the same behind the scenes featurette as the DVD had. This is a must have even if you already have the DVD.