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Paramount Studios presents
James Cutter: What course of action do you suggest?
DVD ReviewWhile I've never been a fan of espionage and political thriller novels, like the kind to which author Tom Clancy has lent his talent to, I must admit to being a fan of the movies based on such material. Clancy, as many may know, first achieved stardom in the world of film when his novel, The Hunt for Red October was made into an acclaimed film that is considered a modern classic. It also introduced the literary character of CIA analyst Jack Ryan to the silver screen. Clear and Present Danger, part of that series of Jack Ryan stories, follows the adventures of our heroic character yet again; this time, unlike the previous films (Red October and Patriot Games), the focus is less on action and thrills and more on the tense, political web Ryan becomes stuck in, giving it a richer story and interesting background, no doubt inspired by true-to-life events from the political arena.
The film opens with the discovery by the U.S. Coast Guard that a friend and political ally of the U.S. President has been brutally murdered, along with his whole family, seemingly for no reason. It's known that Colombian drug cartels were behind the murder, but the motives for committing it remain a mystery. When CIA director James Grier (played by James Earl Jones, reprising his role) has to go into the hospital, Jack Ryan is made temporary director, and stumbles into the investigation, unaware of the political bomb waiting to explode there. While he uncovers relationships between the cartels and the president's former friend, the president himself unleashes an illegal and unconstitutional show of force in Columbia by sending covert troops in to deal as much damage as possible to the drug trade. The directors of the nation's security are setting Ryan up as a patsy by keeping him unaware of both the military action and how Ryan himself is obtaining funding for the operation by unwittingly lying to Congress.
The result is a film that balances the politics with a carefully layered series of subplots including Ryan's investigation, the in-fighting amongst the Columbian cartels, and the story of the actual covert soldiers themselves as they infiltrate and wipe out sources of the drug trafficking. It is also extremely entertaining and very well done, leading to a sort of "thinking" adventure film. Perhaps most importantly, there is never a lull in the pace of things thanks to this multi-story approach. Appropriately, the cast is excellent, with virtually every role filled by someone that really works well for that particular character. I will grant that the movie does have a kind of simplicity that is unrealistic—call me jaded, but it seems unlikely that such an honest, respectable person like Jack Ryan would remain so while immersing himself in the CIA. The film is much about his quest to do the right thing and expose the wrongdoers, but it does require a suspension of disbelief to get involved in his fight. Dare I say the U.S. could use a real Jack Ryan to root out the corrupt elements.
While Clear and Present Danger does have minor problems here and there, I feel it is a near-perfect political thriller, in many ways superior to Patriot Games, which was the previous collaboration between much of the same cast and crew with director Philip Noyce, whose style seems relatively subdued here. His trademark visuals seem almost lacking here, but he still keeps an excellent reign over the technical details, never letting the film descend into over-explosive action, but neither letting things calm down. It'll probably never happen (especially with Ben Affleck now linked to the role of Jack Ryan), but I'd like to see a re-teaming of this group for another go at a Tom Clancy story.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: I've never seen the original Clear and Present DVD, so I can't compare the two, but the transfer here is impressive to say the least. A rock-solid anamorphic image that's eye-meltingly clear and crisp with absolutely no signs of even original print damage. The detail is amazing and, even in the scenes that invite it, there's no signs of artifacting or pixelization. Director Philip Noyce also loves his close-ups, and those shots are the most revealing in terms of pure detail and clarity. Fantastic from the word 'go.' While, on occasion, I detected maybe a hint of over-sharpening in the transfer, I can honestly say this is one heck of a transfer and probably looks spectacular on anamorphic displays. As near as I can tell, much of the buzz about the awful transfer just doesn't seem to be the case in my view.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 Dolby and DTS mixes are enough to blow you out of your seat. In an impressive display of mixing and overall engineering, even the most subtle scenes use the speakers to create a very theatrical soundfield, one of the best I've heard. What's great about this film is that it's action scenes aren't designed to overload you, so the sound is used to wonderful effect in those key moments where it's needed to push you in a certain direction, but not make you go deaf. In the most laughable moment I actually mistook an on-screen sound effect for a real helicopter outside my window thanks to effective surround imaging that actually placed the effect well outside the usual zone of a 5.1 setup. The 2.0 French Surround is also excellent for what it is, but if you're new to the 5.1 world, I'd say this soundtrack is reference quality, easily. It doesn't mow you down with endless storms of surround effects, but when they're needed, they're there. The musical score is rendered with auditorium-like quality as well; absolutely thundering at times.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: This new "special edition" of Clear and Present Danger contains but one, lone extra feature: a 27-minute documentary called Behind The Danger. Exactly how new the documentary is, I have no idea, but it features interviews with director Philip Noyce, producer Mace Neufield, actor Harrison Ford, other cast and crew members discussing the making of the film. During the interviews, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes footage cut-in from the making of the movie. It's not a bad piece at all—in fact it's quite a nice way to wrap up watching the actual film—but it's also a bit skinny for the whole re-release/special edition moniker. Other than that, there's an original theatrical trailer. The presentation is typical for Paramount, only with the new opening logos and such on the disc you have to wait even longer before getting a crack at the main menu. Nope, no commentary track here.
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsAs a special edition re-release, this disc is something of a disappointment (unless the original had a horrible audio/video transfer), but there's no doubting that the film itself is excellent, with plenty of drama to go around. While it is a very simplistic and idealistic interpretation of real-life politics (namely the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s), it's still supremely involving.
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