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THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER
Special Collector's Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, James Earl Jones, Scott Glenn, Sam Neill
Director: John McTiernan
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 135 Minutes
Release Date: May 6, 2003

“And once more, we play our dangerous game. A game of chess, with our old adversary…the American Navy.”

Film ***1/2

With The Hunt For Red October, a whole new breed of the thinking man’s thriller had been ushered in. What would qualify as an over the top plot scenario in a James Bond movie plays out here like a much more realistic predicament.  In addition, one of the essential smart characters of contemporary thrillers had been introduced, that of CIA analyst Jack Ryan, a man who is all about brains but is always thrown into extraordinary circumstances. This was the first of Tom Clancy’s series of novels to get a big screen treatment, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last, and what better way to make a first leap to screen than what was essentially Clancy’s first big novel. Add to this a massive, star-studded cast, not to mention the talent of Die Hard director John McTiernan, and you’ve got the makings of masterful tale of sea-going espionage.

The movie begins with a legendary Russian skipper and his loyal crew mysteriously departing from Mother Russia via a state of the art typhoon class sub. The captain is Marko Ramius (Sean Connery), and the boat is the Red October, whose standout factor is its capability of creating a nuclear holocaust on any land it would wish to attack. It also contains a maneuvering drive faster than any other design, and it is able to sail in pure silence. Once America receives word that Red October is headed for the eastern seaboard, they begin to suspect a possible attack.

The U.S. Navy sees Ramius as a threat with intentions of planting warheads on Washington, New York and so on, but CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin), has an entirely different theory. Ryan thinks Ramius isn’t planning on attacking, but in fact defecting to the States, and bringing his submarine right along with him. Ryan happens to know a lot about Captain Ramius, including the fact that he has trained many other captains in the Russian fleet, and that upon the departing of the Red October just happened to fall under the one year anniversary of his wife’s death. With the endless knowledge he has, Ryan is given three days to prove his theory that, if proven right, could prevent an underwater World War III.

What makes this such a taut thriller is that, for most of its running time, we, the viewer, aren’t entirely sure what the Captain is really planning, which places us pretty much in the same shoes as Jack Ryan. When placed under the care of the American Navy, Ryan manages to make it into the water, by releasing himself from a helicopter cable, and rescued by the crew of USS Dallas, an American sub. He then has to convince the no-nonsense Commander Mancuso (Scott Glenn) not to fire on Red October. Ryan will soon afterward find himself face to face with the Russian skipper to see if his theory is, in fact, to be true.

What I’ve come to discover most about the Tom Clancy stories is the suspense lies totally in the build up of the plot. The most recent Clancy film adaptation, The Sum of All Fears, did an awesome job of suspense development, and this film executes the same quality up until the final moments. With director John McTiernan having just coming off directing Die Hard and Predator, which were both skillful thrillers in their own right, it makes sense that The Hunt For Red October is the ingenious and top quality thriller that it is.

In terms of the performances, you simply couldn’t ask for a better cast. Sean Connery is without a doubt at the top of his game here as the mysterious Captain Ramius. He manages to make his Russian character convincing even while barely concealing his Scottish accent. Even though this was Alec Baldwin’s only stab at portraying Jack Ryan, a role that would find its way to both Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, I thought this was the actor’s big breakthrough role. Baldwin is utterly and thoroughly believable as the all very human Ryan, who is put into action, but is able to use his brains as well. The movie also features terrific supporting work from James Earl Jones, Scott Glenn, and Sam Neill.

The Hunt For Red October remains a pulse pounding piece of underwater suspense thirteen years after its release. When you have such a masterful cast, as well as a top flight movie director like John McTiernan, it’s simply hard not to go wrong, as this movie clearly shows.

Video ***1/2

I’m glad I waited around for this title to get the re-release treatment. I was never able to catch the movie in its first DVD release, but I was aware that the video transfer was non anamorphic. Now, Paramount has done the right thing by giving the movie the enhanced touch, and the result is quite a superb-looking disc. The movie, which features endless wide shots and terrific camera angles (the cinematography was done by Speed director Jan De Bont) , looks better than ever, with the image consisting of sharp clarity and awesome use of colors. There are countless underwater shots, some of which suffer slightly more than others, but overall, this is a glorious presentation.

Audio ***1/2

I was somewhat blown away by the impact of the 5.1 audio mix. With a movie that takes place in an underwater environment for a great deal of its running time, I had a feeling the sound would be of knockout performance. But even in plain sequences, the sound quality is strong, such as in the fields of dialogue delivery, and the riveting score by Basil Poledouris are highpoints as well.

Features ***

The first three Jack Ryan movies, also including Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, are being re-issued by Paramount as Special Collector’s Editions, but don’t be expecting a great deal of bonuses like what as included in the disc for The Sum of All Fears. This release, however, manages to have the best of the bunch.

Included is a nice commentary by John McTiernan, a behind the scenes documentary titled “Beneath the Surface”, and a trailer.

Summary:

The Hunt For Red October is back and much better than ever on DVD. With a few added extras, and a good pricing of under $20, this may turn out to be one of the big must-have releases of the year.