The Hunt For Red October
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The Hunt For Red October

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For over sixty years now the spy flick has been a staple of the Hollywood studios. There is nothing like them to generate a taut plot filled with danger, tension and even romance. Like many types of movies these offer a reflection of the times. In the forties there were Nazi spies lurking in every corner of the United States. Then World War Two ended and the Cold War took its place as the driving force in the cat and mouse games that spies tend to play. From the sixties to the early nineties there was a golden age of espionage thrillers. Heroic American agents would diligently work to thwart the dastardly efforts of Soviet spies to undermine our safety. Many of the most popular flicks of this genre came from the popular novels of the time. One of the best sources for a spy movie is the imaginative novels of Tom Clancy. He has everything Hollywood needs for such a film. There is a strong central character, Jack Ryan, who is smart, tough and also a family man. His struggle against the enemies of this country is often made more difficult by the internal conflicts within the CIA. Most importantly Clancy has written a series of Jack Ryan book, each one shooting to the top of the best seller lists. This means if the first film works out then there are plenty more novels to drive subsequent thrillers. The first Clancy book to make it to the big screen was ‘Hunt for Red October’. Made in 1990 but set a few years earlier in 1984 this is the epitome of the spy thriller. It well reflects the intelligence of Clancy’s novel while giving the audience all the thrills and danger they expect from this genre. This film has been out on DVD for awhile now but now those out there with Blu-ray systems can enjoy this movie better than ever before. Some critics dismissed the film but the audiences responded well to it. It is the kind of movie intended to be experienced not overly analyzed. It did well enough to spawn an additional three subsequent films based on the Jack Ryan books.

Clancy’s novel was adapted for the screen by Larry Ferguson and Donald Stewart. Both are experience and successful screen writers. Ferguson knows how to handle suspense and thrillers as shown by his previous works which include ‘The Presidio’ and the original ‘Highlander’. He also went on to writer the third installment of the ‘Alien’ saga. Stewart has penned the highly acclaimed movie ‘Missing’. With such a background the initial film of this series was in very good hands. Of course it would be impossible to get all the intricate details of a Clancy novel into a film. What this pair of writers managed to do was to capture the essence of the book. They showed Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) as a man of unquestionable integrity. He was a Marine until a back injury then went on to becoming successful in the stock market. As this film begins he is recruited by the CIA as an analyst who winds up working on Soviet submarines. His expertise is urgently needed when the most experienced Soviet submariner Captain Marko Ramius (Sean Connery), goes rogue with eh most advanced Russian sub, the Red October. It has a new drive that is fast and quiet making it a deadly threat to the United States. It is sup to Ryan to discover the true intent of the Soviet captain before it is too late. Ryan as to forgo his desk and go into the field getting pulled into the middle of the action. The main thing here is how relatable they make Ryan. He may be a near genius in his fields but they write him as a regular sort of guy. Typical of the Ryan saga he finds himself fighting other parts of the CIA as well as trying to out guess the soviets. This story is one of the best that the cold war genre had to offer.

The film was directed by John McTiernan. He is a director who knew how to get the audience on the edge of their seats. His two previous films were ‘Predator’ and the first of the ‘Die Hard’ movies. This is a movie with a lot of exposition necessary for the plot. Fortunately, McTiernan is able to blend it in pacing the film nearly perfectly. Just when you think you have heard more than you could ever want about the workings of a submarine he plunges the viewers into break neck speed action. The audience is caught between the two sides. Normally the Russians are the bad guys, period. Here there are hidden motives for the Russian commander. McTiernan plays out this game of hide and seek between the Russian and American subs building the suspense to a fevered pitch. What really works in this film is the character development. Both Ryan and Ramius are fully developed and complex individuals. They are not the stereotypical American good guy, Russian bad guy that 99% of the cold war flicks depict. The movie depends on both men willing to take their countries to the brink of nuclear war in order to obtain their objectives. There is more than a little bit of America is best feeling here. As silent and deadly the Russian sub may be a sonar operator in an American sub has the wits and talent to track it down; yeah America. This film is so well presented that you can forget that Connery plays the Russian commander with a Scottish accent or that he has a truly bad hair piece on. You just get caught up in the story so much that nothing else seems to matter. Baldwin was not my favorite Ryan but he does a great job here. He is believable as intuitive Ryan who has to get into the head of a man he only briefly met years ago. He is like a psychological Sherlock Holmes deducing from little bits of information a course of action that could change the world.

I have always loved this film on DVD. It was one of the earliest to be translated to the then new format. Now that it is in Blu-ray it is simply spectacular. The video is better than ever with an amazing clarity. What really impressed by though was the newly re-mastered DTS-HD sound track. This is going to become a showcase disc to show off your system to envious neighbors. You hear more details of the sound track than you though possible. Every little creak, ping and thud in the submarine is clear. It is as if you have been transported below the sea. This is also part of several Tom Clancy films being released on Blu-ray. The others include ‘Patriot Games’ and ‘Sum of All Fears’ so no matter which actor you prefer in the role of Jack Ryan you are all set. The disc has the same extras as the previous DVD release. There is a commentary track with McTiernan and some interviews with the cast and crew. The trailer is now in high definition though. Relive the daring days of the cold war by adding this to your collection. Even if you have the DVD version this is well worth getting again in the new format.

Posted 07/30/08

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