In the 1980’s Tom Clancy was “the man”. One of the interviews on this disc accurately points out that if you were on an airplane in the 1980’s, for every ten people reading a book seven would be reading Tom Clancy. Hunt for Red October was by far his best work. The technical information was so accurate that Clancy was once questioned for several hours by the CIA to determine his source. The film, unlike many blockbuster efforts, does not disappoint. The script is relatively faithful to the book. There are major divergences, particularly the climax, but most serve to tighten the lengthy novel into a fast-paced film. Alec Baldwin, a newcomer at the time, handles the part of Jack Ryan well even in the hindsight of two Harrison Ford portrayals. Sean Connery delivers a masterful performance that goes so far as to allow us to accept a Russian with a Welsh accent.
CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Baldwin) has discovered the Russians have developed a “silent” nuclear sub. The CIA director brings him to Washington to brief the President’s staff. He believes the Russian captain (Connery) is trying to defect, but the Russians claim he is about to launch weapons on American cities. Ryan must prove his theory before the sub is destroyed.
You’re offered a choice of a Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1 tracks. Paramount has not had any real experience with DTS on any previous releases, but they handled this one very well. I have to tell you the truth… there is little difference between these tracks. DTS tracks traditionally are a bit more dynamic, particularly in the extreme higher and lower levels, but today’s technology has allowed almost the same range from a Dolby Digital track if you run a good amp. Sound is very evenly spread. Surrounds are used quite cleverly, almost always providing the viewer with tremendous atmosphere. Highs are crisp without the least evidence of distortion. Lows drive when they need to but don’t get in the way of crucial dialogue or more subtle sounds. The score is as bright as I remember from the theatre.
The Hunt for Red October is presented in its original theatric aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The transfer is clean. There was little evidence of film artifact. I did catch a few specks about midway through the film. There is considerable grain in the dark shots, but that’s more an aspect of the cinematography than a flaw in the transfer. Light filters are used to tint the sub scenes so that you would know which sub you were in for any given scene. Red, blue, and yellow filters are reproduced cleanly for an impressive display. Essential blacks are rock solid at all times. Flesh tones are near reference. Colors are often subdued but never lose their life-like nature.
I really think this film deserved the 2-disc treatment for its collector’s edition. I would have particularly been interested in deleted footage. Sadly there isn’t as much here.
There is an audio commentary by director John McTieman. You’ll find it dry at times but quite informative. He points out the differences from Clancy’s novel. It might have been nice for him to be joined by Clancy. He doesn’t always seem to know what to say, so a partner would have made the track more interesting.
“Beneath the Surface” is a nice feature with interviews from the cast and crew on the film. It runs just under 30 minutes and is worth a look. The trailer rounds out a short list of extras.
It took an end to the cold war to bring out one of the best cold war films to be made. Perhaps better relations with Russia created an environment where both sides could be played so well. There are villains and good guys on both sides of the Iron Curtain here. A refreshing respite from the white hat/black hat films that more frequently dominate the genre. If you are watching this film for the first time, it is important to try to avoid comparisons between Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and now Ben Affleck. The characters share the same name and job but they are three totally different characters in four totally different films. Baldwin plays a more reluctant hero while Ford is … well he’s a “Buckaroo”.