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Paramount Home Video presents
The Hunt for Red October (Blu-ray) (1990)

"Once more, we play our dangerous game, a game of chess against our old adversary, the American Navy. For forty years, your fathers before you and your older brothers played this game and played it well. But today the game is different. We have the advantage."
- Captain Marko Ramius (Sean Connery)

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: October 10, 2008

Stars: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin
Other Stars: Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Sam Neill, Richard Jordan, Tim Curry, Courtney B. Vance, Stellan Skarsgard, Jeffrey Jones, Fred Dalton Thompson
Director: John McTiernan

MPAA Rating: PG for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 02h:15m:08s
Release Date: July 29, 2008
UPC: 097361376288
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ AA-B+ C+

DVD Review

The Hunt for Red October was a big deal when it premiered back in 1990, but it's better known now as the inaugural installment of Paramount's Jack Ryan series than as a classic submarine film in the vein of Das Boot and Run Silent, Run Deep. And that's a shame, because there's a lot to like about John McTiernan's slick national security tale. Its chief attributes—a crackerjack story and stellar performances—keep it on a steady course, but ponderous pacing diffuses tension, and makes this well-made film just miss its mark.

The Hunt for Red October is certainly intelligent fare, and the intricate plotting, complex motivations, and duplicitous dealings require a keen mind to sort everything out—a big plus in this era of bloated, empty-headed blockbusters. But having just directed one of the best bloated, empty-headed blockbusters of all time, Die Hard, McTiernan seems overly concerned with making its antithesis, and the leisurely style he employs often sabotages the film's momentum. Couple that with chintzy special effects that look particularly fake on Blu-ray, and you don't get the gnaw-your-nails thriller you expect. What you do get is the kind of action movie Merchant and Ivory might have made—classy, a bit cold, and lo-ong.

Sean Connery stars as Captain Marko Ramius, the brooding commander of a high-tech Soviet sub with his own agenda. After ignoring Moscow's orders, he steers his vessel toward American waters, sparking a crisis in both his homeland and the United States. Is Ramius a renegade, a suicidal maniac, a one-man catalyst of World War III? CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) is tapped by the Department of Defense to find out, and as the hours tick by, the game of cat and mouse intensifies, and the U.S. creeps closer to the brink of a military showdown with its Communist foe.

The multi-layered script by Larry Ferguson and Donald Stewart balances bureaucratic briefings and heated exchanges with finely etched character portraits that lend the film a humanity most thrillers of this sort lack. As a result, we find our loyalties surprisingly split. Never are the Soviets seen as villains, so the prospect of a confrontation (and the nuclear ramifications it would spawn) becomes all the more disturbing and devastating. With Clancy's novel as a blueprint, the writers construct an intricate puzzle, and attention is required at all times to follow the subtle chess moves on both sides.

I've always thought of Alec Baldwin as the quintessential Jack Ryan—dashing but not smug, smart but never arrogant—and it's unfortunate a Broadway commitment prohibited him from continuing to play the character in the follow-up Ryan films. (Harrison Ford, who succeeded him, brings too much Indiana Jones and Han Solo bravado to the role.) Baldwin's a fresh face (and a good 20 pounds lighter) here, and totally believable as a typical government guy who's pushed into service as a field agent, and responsible for preserving his country's security. Like Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart before him, Baldwin flaunts an everyman quality that makes him both likeable and identifiable. Connery is good, too, though it takes a while for us to forget his Scottish heritage and accept him as a dyed-in-the-wool Russian. Always a man's man, Connery's low-key delivery and wry humor work to his advantage, and he's able to wring sympathy without shedding his masculine veneer.

The excellent supporting actors add sparks to nearly every scene. The soft-spoken Sam Neill steals the show as Connery's devoted deputy, Scott Glenn brings his customary machismo to his American sub commander, and James Earl Jones is, well, James Earl Jones as the admiral who champions Ryan's take on the unfolding events. With his booming voice and hulking frame, it's difficult to divorce Jones from his lofty thespian persona, but he's always a welcome presence and seems to relish his role. Courtney B. Vance, Tim Curry, and Richard Jordan also make strong impressions whenever they're on screen.

There's no denying The Hunt for Red October is an elegantly crafted, well-acted, often engrossing film, but for me, it never quite adds up to the sum of its parts. Yet despite its faults, it's still the best of the Jack Ryan canon, and an above-average entry in the military thriller category.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: With its muted colors and contrast, The Hunt for Red October will never be a Blu-ray demo disc, but the film looks great on the next-gen format. The crystal clear image is free of grit and scratches, and close-ups provide all the fascinating detail we've come to expect from high-def video. At times, the clarity works against the special effects, calling attention to the technical hocus-pocus, but it's a small price to pay for such sharpness. Black levels are rock solid and inky, fleshtones remain true and stable throughout, and hues are aptly rendered. Best of all, the picture looks very film-like, which adds punch to the story and heightens the sense of realism McTiernan labors so hard to convey.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is subtle yet potent—just like the film. The all-important dialogue is always easy to understand (even when uttered in hushed tones), and Basil Poledouris' rousing score enjoys marvelous presence and depth. Sadly, surround activity is limited and bass frequencies are a little anemic, but the mix stays well balanced and picks up on all the atmospheric details that make the submarine environment so fascinating. The whoosh of the water when the vessel submerges or rises to the surface, and the whistling velocity of torpedoes immerse us in the action, while the delicate beeps and ticks of the sub's instruments are crisp and distinct.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director John McTiernan
Packaging: standard Blu-ray packaging
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: In addition to the film's original theatrical trailer (upgraded to HD), only a couple of extras adorn the disc. First up, a fairly interesting but droning audio commentary from director John McTiernan covers all the expected elements, but lots of gaps and McTiernan's lifeless delivery try our patience. Often critical of his choices, McTiernan cites scenes he wishes he could reshoot, and credits Judgment at Nuremburg for helping him tackle his own film's language issues—even as he wrongly identifies Fred Zinnemann as the movie's director. (It was Stanley Kramer, John.) He also wonders aloud whether a picture as "restrained, abstract, and cerebral" as Red October could be made today, and discusses how he tried to depict a more realistic CIA than the Hollywood norm. A few anecdotes spice up this dry track, which will only appeal to the film's hardcore brethren.

The 29-minute documentary Beneath the Surface (produced in 2002 and presented here in SD) chronicles in generic fashion the movie's production, from the "intimidating" prospect of adapting Clancy's novel to casting (Kevin Costner was originally approached to play Jack Ryan) to shooting, special effects, and post-production. Director of Photography Jan de Bont discusses the challenges of filming in tight places, and making enough distinctions between the Russian and American subs so the audience would not be confused, while writer Larry Ferguson amusingly recalls how he found himself in a colorful bit part. Alec Baldwin, James Earl Jones, Sean Connery, and Scott Glenn also reminisce about their experiences and praise the finished product in this standard but still absorbing feature.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

The first and best of the Jack Ryan quartet, The Hunt for Red October may not be the finest submarine drama to come out of Hollywood, but its thinking-man's plot and excellent performances lend it sufficient cachet in the genre. Deliberate pacing almost sinks this weighty vessel, but there's enough action to satisfy those who stay the course. The solid 1080p transfer and high-def audio enhance this Cold War tale, which makes a smooth transition to Blu-ray.


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