Amazon Prime Video is beginning to offer new scripted drama shows on their streaming service. One of the more recently acclaimed is a Jack Ryan series. That gives Paramount a great opportunity to take advantage of the situation and release the five Jack Ryan films on UHD/4K. Whatever the excuse, I’m happy to see these films get the UHD treatment. The release includes The Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games, Clear And Present Danger, The Sum Of All Fears and Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit. It’s a chance to see Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine all take the Tom Clancy CIA analyst to the big screen. You don’t have to pick your favorite, because they’re all here.
The Hunt For Red October (1990)
This is the film that literally started a trend. Within a decade, submarine films would make a huge comeback in the big-budget film industry. Titles like Crimson Tide, U-571, and K-19: The Widowmaker all took a little from Red October. Maybe the Cold War is over, but our fascination with that modern version of cowboys and Indians doesn’t seemed to have waned much in the last nearly 20 years. While our relationship with Russia might be up and down over the last two decades, there is still a part of our culture that can’t seem to let go of that classic game of good guys and bad guys. It’s not unique to the former Soviet Union by any means. World War II has been over for more than 60 years, but the occasional Nazi bad guys still make their presence known from time to time. Maybe it’s those accents. Whatever the reason, the seemingly dated subject matter of Red October is never a liability to the film. When Red October came out, the Soviet Union had just fallen a mere two years earlier, and there were some who suggested the film was an inappropriate reminder of those recent bygone days and might even be considered a slap in the face to the new regime in Russia. Fortunately this was not one of those instances where Hollywood let its often hypocritical sense of political correctness get in the way of a great film.
Jack Ryan (Baldwin) is a CIA analyst. When he comes across a spy photograph of a new Russian submarine, the Red October, he becomes concerned about a new feature. It appears two very large doors, too big for torpedoes, have been added to the standard Typhoon class vessel. He travels to Langley and meets with his boss (Jones) to have the pictures studied. When it’s discovered that the pictures could be a “caterpillar drive”, a silent running technology, Ryan finds himself advising the President’s National Security Advisors. The ship is now out to sea, and the Russians appear to have gotten suddenly very nervous. Is the ship run by a rogue commander with glorious visions of nuking the US? Ryan thinks he wants to defect, and now he must convince an entire chain of command to give Ramius the chance to do just that. Ramius must avoid the entire Russian fleet and convince the Americans of his intentions.
Alec Baldwin was actually a bit of a newcomer at the time. He was coming off five years on television with Knott’s Landing and had just recently landed a couple of film roles. He appeared an unlikely actor to fill the shoes of Clancy’s hero. To his credit, Baldwin pulled the job off. He played a somewhat nuanced Ryan, portraying his changing confidence levels with some nice moments. Of course, Harrison Ford’s later take on the role was more up to the heroic guy I envisioned reading the original work, but Baldwin was actually better than he now gets credit for. The star of the film can’t be argued. I was skeptical at the time hearing that Sean Connery would play Ramius, the Russian sub captain. I wasn’t sure I could buy a Russian with a decidedly Welsh accent. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Connery inhabited the role completely. You’ll never doubt for a second that he is who he says he is. I think it might well be his best performance, even when you include his trademark Bond outings. There are some remarkable supporting roles to be found here as well. Sam Neill as Ramius’ second in command is a subtle but strong presence. He almost seems to not be there until an expression or a simple sentence delivers the goods. Tim Curry has a small but pivotal role as the sub’s medical officer. Again he’s not used much, but it’s a convincing performance at every turn. Courtney B. Vance plays sonar tech Jonesy. He has the part that must have been tempting to overdo. I could see an Eddie Murphy or Will Smith in this role…really messing it up. He maintains just enough of that cocky attitude but allows us to believe there’s some real brain power under the hood. Scot Glenn plays Mancuso, the captain of the American sub, Dallas. Here it’s always what he doesn’t do that breaks the bank every time. His demeanor made me believe that he could handle himself in any conditions without breaking a sweat. Finally, you can’t ever help but love James Earl Jones.
Beyond the excellent cast and script, this is also a very well executed film. One of my favorite moments involves a clever way of avoiding a film filled with English subtitles for all of the Russian. It also saved a lot of actors, I’m sure, from having to deal with difficult dialog. The ship’s political officer is quoting from Ramius’s unauthorized Bible the story of Armageddon. As he describes the Biblical fury, the camera continues to zoom closer to his lips. As the tension mounts, his voice changes from Russian to English, and as if by divine intervention, we are now granted the ability to hear these men speak in a language we can understand. This was absolutely brilliant. The cinematography also handled the cramped quarters of these subs about as well as I’ve seen. You know which sub you’re on instantly by the lighting. The Red October is showered in an appropriate red light. The Dallas is flooded with much more natural lighting, perhaps tinted toward the yellow part of the spectrum. It’s subtle, but you pick up on it almost instantly.
Patriot Games (1992)
It’s sad, really, when you think about it. The Hunt For Red October was a magnificent film, and it established a believable world and mythology that could well have launched Jack Ryan into a decades-long career as the American version of James Bond. All of the elements were established, as was a very workable cast of characters. But somewhere, somehow, something went terribly astray. Instead of giving us another international story of intrigue and global consequences, we’re left with a very pedestrian story about revenge. To make the sin worse, we get Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan and never really give him anything great to do. OK, there are a couple of moments that in the end only serve to tease us as to what was possible. Phillip Noyce takes over for John McTieman as the director. He gave us an almost equal cast but forgot to bring the movie along for the ride. There’s nothing terribly clever or original about the story. You can almost hear James Cagney screaming “You dirty rats. You killed my brother…” as the villain Sean Miller abandons his entire blood oath and mission to get revenge on Ryan.
Jack Ryan (Ford) is in England with his family when a rogue cell of the IRA makes a hit against a member of the Royal Family. Ryan interferes with the plot and ends up killing a couple of the would-be assassins, including the brother of mission leader Sean Miller (Bean). The terrorist is broken out of prison while being transported, but instead of returning to his blood battle against England, he seeks out Jack Ryan to kill him and his family to avenge the death of his younger brother.
If this all sounds rather tired, that’s because it is. The only thing that manages to save the film at all is the cast. Harrison Ford is going to deliver no matter what you give him, but even he has a hard time not appearing bored in this film. He’s far better than Alec Baldwin is, and his presence makes Ryan an entirely different character, more of an action hero with a brain. Sean Bean is also a tremendously gifted actor who is placed in an unenviable position of playing completely counter to logic. Richard Harris is dangled in front of us, providing his usual acting superiority only to be relegated to a stereotypical character who makes only a couple of brief and totally awkward appearances. Even Samuel Jackson can’t save this film.
Clear And Present Danger (1994)
This is the third of the Jack Ryan films and the only one of the four to have any kind of continuity with any of the other films. It follows closely on the heels of Patriot Games and uses much of the same cast and crew as that film did. Finally it seemed that Paramount was willing to establish some kind of a franchise with stability on the popular Tom Clancy character. While this was still not as good as Hunt For Red October, it is easily superior to any of the other Ryan sequels. Harrison Ford is put to far better use here and he finally appears comfortable in the skin of Ryan. The film requires many huge leaps in logic, making it less believable than, perhaps, Patriot Games, but the action mixed with a generous amount of suspense makes this a rather fun and interesting story to watch.
There are an incredible number of characters on both sides of the fence to keep track of in this film, making it a little hard to keep up at times. You have: Ryan (Ford), Greer (Jones), Clark (Dafoe), Ritter (Czemy) , Escobedo (Sandoval) , NSA Director Cutter (Yulin), Felix Cortez (Almeida), Ryan’s wife (Archer), Moira (Mangnuson), FBI Director Jacobs (Tammi) and the list goes on. The plot, however, is a pretty good one. CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Ford) takes over as Director of Covert Ops for the Company when his mentor Greer is stricken with cancer. The President, upset over the slaughter of a friend’s family by the Escobedo drug cartel, launches a covert military operation of which Ryan is unaware. Ryan meanwhile has promised Congress under oath that no such operations will be undertaken with money from an appropriations bill he went to Capitol Hill to fight for. When potential leaks make their operation a liability, the President shuts it down, leaving the military officers on their own. Ryan is set up as the fall guy both for Congress and for the leader of the men left stranded in the field. He must risk his own life to rescue the abandoned soldiers and uncover the plot that traces all the way to the President. At first we’re rooting for these commandos as they take out major players in the drug cartels. The collateral damage starts to mount, however, and we are beginning to question the actions of politicians we soon learn are in bed with the very men they appear to be fighting. Finally whatever moral high ground remains vanishes as American troops are left to be tortured and killed to protect the men who placed them in harm’s way to begin with. The moral grey area of the film is actually its strength. I like it when a film can play both sides up to a certain point. It’s then up to our hero to unscramble the ambiguity and set things right, at least as right as they can be. The film also has more than its fair share of bad guys on both sides of the fence. Is the villain Escobedo (sound a little like someone else?) the drug lord? Or maybe the true villain is Felix Cortez, who is Escobedo’s consultant, who is working more angles than an octagon? Of course, you can’t have a worse group of black hats than the trio of American bigwigs that started the whole covert mess. Is it simply a case of good intentions gone badly? The film certainly allows you the luxury of thinking that way, at least for a while.
Harrison Ford has finally made the Ryan character his own. His acting skills are only enhanced here by some clever writing and an entire regiment of good actors and characters. James Earl Jones sees only limited time as Greer, but he makes the most out of every minute. Willem Dafoe is always great with nuanced characters. Here he’s a little more straightforward but solid nonetheless. Harris Yulin seems to play a lot of Presidential aides in his career, and this outing is a good reason why. He plays Cutter, the President’s Chief of Staff, who is really the mastermind behind the plot. He’s played Joseph McCarthy to Gen. George Marshall throughout his career, counting more senators and military officers in his repertoire than almost any other actor.
The Sum Of All Fears (2002)
I can’t prove it. I don’t know exactly what it was, but I could swear that while I was watching this film there was a goose, or it could have been a duck, trying to sell me some kind of supplemental insurance. It might have been my enemy the backyard limpkin who finds it necessary to scream 24/7 while he litters my yard with huge snail shells. Whatever it was, it was distracting. Sum Of All Fears suffers from a multitude of sins, not the least of which is Ben Affleck.
What I think surprises me the most is that while Tom Clancy himself had far more input than in the previous films, this one appears to stray the most from his original novel. The film begins with us learning that in 1973 an Israeli bomber was attacked and grounded in the remote desert. Now, 30 years later, a group of salvagers discover the nuclear warhead the bomber was carrying. These ignorant nomads collect the bomb because “someone is always willing to pay for this junk”. Meanwhile we are introduced to some political intrigue with our old Clancy friends, the Russians. The Russian President collapses of a heart attack, and a new regime moves in. Nemerov (Hinds) doesn’t exactly have his hands too firmly on the reins of power, and a neo-Nazi, Olsen (Feore) wants nothing more than to stir up trouble between the US and Russia. He hopes that the ensuing war will leave the world ready for his fascist regime to step in and fill the void. He’s another Hitler wannabe, except that he’s got that pesky little bomb that got lost in 1973. Tensions between the nations escalate, brought about by ambitious hardliners in the Russian government and some gentle pushing by Oren. As the tensions escalate, Jack Ryan, a CIA newbie who wrote a detailed paper on Nemerov years ago, is called in to help the President’s team understand his motives. Nemerov appears to be a hardliner with aggressive intent; Ryan is the only one who understands he’s not, but that he can’t afford to appear weak and not in control of his military. When a nuclear explosion rocks a football game nearly killing the President, Ryan must piece together the puzzle before both the United States and Russia exchange nuclear strikes.
It was the hope here that the Jack Ryan’s world needed to be reinvented. Casting Affleck was the result of an attempt to make this franchise younger and more hip. The film is essentially a reboot that completely disregards anything that came before. While this film is being released together with the others, it has no place among the other three. In fact, those stories simply couldn’t exist in the new mythology. As if all of that isn’t bad enough, the film suffers from a needlessly complicated plot. There are too many players to comfortably keep track of who is doing what. In spite of some strong performances, the script is too convoluted, and the pace jumps from snail speed to frantic too often to get any kind of a flow going. There are some good performances. Ciaran Hinds is the standout playing the new Russian President. He was Caesar in the HBO series Rome for that first season, which only proved his performance here was no fluke. He’s able to rise above a muddled story and deliver a very compelling character. James Cromwell is almost as good playing his counterpart, the American President. Morgan Freeman is also another bright spot in the cast, playing the man who brings Ryan into the inner circle. Unfortunately Affleck is not even marginal as Ryan. He tries too hard to appear green and yet competent. There’s too much time spent courting his future wife, which only serves to drag down a story that already has plenty of pacing troubles. The film also suffers from a bit of anticlimactic fatigue by the nuclear explosion itself. This is the kind of thing that needed to happen either right away, creating the real story of two nations carried to the brink of disaster, or at the end of an entirely different kind of a film. In the end, Tom Clancy should have had more confidence in the source material, and Paramount should have had more confidence in their very first attempt in this franchise.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
“You’re not just an analyst anymore. You’re operational now.”
Witness the birth of — actually make that rebirth of –one of the most popular action heroes in literature. Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan has been a character of many jobs and many faces over the years. Baldwin, Ford, and Affleck have all stepped into the role of the man who has been a soldier, an analyst, an operative, and a president. Now Chris Pine looks to fill the shoes left behind by some of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters and try his hand at a retelling of the legendary character which also stars Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley, along with Kenneth Branagh who doubles as the film’s director. There are two clear differences between Pine’s circumstance and the others who have played Ryan: the story has been modernized to fit today’s setting, and Pine’s story is the only one not to be based on a popular Clancy novel.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is a doctoral student at the London School of Economics. On his way to class, he notices a commotion in the school lobby and pushes his way through the crowd to a television set alerting him for the first time of the tragic events that have just occurred back home. Fast-forward 18 months; Ryan has left school and is now a lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. During a transport, his helicopter is struck down and despite an injury that would have incapacitated a lesser man, he manages to pull his men from the wreckage and save their lives.
Now recuperating from the injury sustained in the attack, two significant things happen in Ryan’s life. Firstly, he meets someone, a doctor named Cathy (Keira Knightley) who helps him to get back on his feet. Lastly, he is approached by William Harper (Kevin Costner), the head of a clandestine unit within the Central Intelligence Agency. Knowing that his service in the military is over, Harper presents Ryan with a new opportunity to help protect his country from the next great attack. He recruits him as an analyst, sifting through intel and using his keen intel to predict the next threat.
It takes some time, but that threat presents itself in the form of a shadowy Russian businessman (Kenneth Branagh) looking to capitalize on the economic crisis caused by an international attack. Able to predict the attack with time to thwart it and the only one capable of possibly preventing it, Ryan is immediately promoted to field agent and thrown into the world of espionage where he will have stop what’s happening, all while trying to maintain his crumbling relationship with Cathy.
This was a film that I had been looking forward to since last year, so you can imagine my heartbreak at the announcement that the film’s release would be delayed to the following year. However, I digress. The film was an overall success in my eyes; however, there were some things that I had issue with, the most significant being the uneven portrayal of the antagonist; Branagh has a remotely intriguing introduction scene, and he does at one point display an intellect on par with our protagonist, managing to outwit him at one turn, but towards the film’s midway point, the character loses steam and practically becomes a secondary character by the film’s end. It was just a little disappointing; we get a window into the character who possess a unshaking resolve to the mission, making it clear that he is not simply a character motivated by financial gain, but then he takes a back seat; just a little too inconsistent with what we had been shown up to that point.
On the positive side, I do believe that Pine made a fine Jack Ryan, especially for an origin story. The creators made a right choice making this a reboot rather than a continuation; saves them from the headache of possibly stepping on the toes of anyone who brought the character to life beforehand. Pine is great as a man out of his depth and struggling to keep his head above water, all while clearly capable of the job he has been entrusted with, best display of this being when he is putting all the pieces together to the impending attack.
Each is presented in their original aspect ratios. The ultra-high-definition 2160p image is arrived at by an HEVC codec with an varying average bitrate. The upgrades are impressive each for their own reasons. In October the underwater photography can be murky and often unclear. That bump in resolution makes a significant difference. The rear-projection stuff suffers a little from the better detail. In Patriot Games/Clear And Present Danger it’s colors that pop a bit more. All three of the earlier films retain the grain that keeps the presentations organic. I’m very happy to see that Paramount has learned its lessons about DNR. The last two films are better able to gain from the UHD release. The HDR allows the more modern images to take better advantage of the contrast abilities. Explosions in darkness benefit quite well.
Unfortunately, there is no upgrade of the audio on any of the films. You get the exact audio from the Blu-ray releases with no edge in bit-rate.
The extras are all on the provided Blu-ray copies of each film that ports all of the same extras from the five individual releases.
When you view these films as a collection, you end up comparing them, which isn’t exactly fair, I suppose. The same thing will be true of the Amazon series. Viewers will inevitably compare their favorite of these films with the series. I tried to consider each film on its own merits and consider the time that each film was released. They don’t always work as a collection, but for my money, it’s nice to finally have them in 4K and in one place on my video shelf. I have not seen any of the new show yet, but I like my Jack Ryan to be more of a “buckeroo”.