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THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER
Blu-ray Edition

Film review by Gordon Justesen
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, James Earl Jones, Scott Glenn, Sam Neill
Director: John McTiernan
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 135 Minutes
Release Date: July 29, 2008

“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

With stronger detail and contrast, The Hunt For Red October is looking quite good for its age on Blu-ray.  Underwater photography seems to get a great benefit from the format, and the added crispness is lovely to behold.  There's a touch of grain here and there in the darker segments, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Audio ****

When you're dealing with subs, sound is very important, and the uncompressed TrueHD mix delivers better than ever.  From the subtleties to the explosive sudden action, the dynamic range of the audio really lends to the suspense and urgency of the proceedings.  Like the crew, you never know when or where it might be coming from...a great listen.

Features **

Included is a solid commentary by director John McTiernan, a behind the scenes documentary titled “Beneath the Surface”, and a trailer remastered for HD.

Summary:

The Hunt For Red October should please Blu-ray fans, as this classic 80s offering is looking and sounding better than ever in the hi-def format.

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