[Editor’s Note: This film is currently only available in the U.S. in the Jack Ryan 5-Film Collection in 4K, but it will no doubt be released by itself internationally and domestically at some point in the future, thus we are reviewing each film in the set individually.]
Author Tom Clancy was a master of the military techno-thriller. Steeped in remarkable detail–a product of Clancy’s immersion in espionage and military research–each novel designed to draw the reader deeply into the story. it was that attention to detail that that caused some difficulty in bringing his first novel, The Hunt for Red October to the big screen. In the behind-the-scenes documentary included with this release, it’s revealed that it took two writers and two screenplays before filming could begin.
In The Hunt for Red October, we’re led to believe that the events that are about to unfold before us might be true; though we are also told that government sources have repeatedly denied that these events ever took place. During the height of the Cold War, some Soviet strategists felt that a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States would be the best course of action. A first strike weapon with awesome firepower was built. It is a huge missile submarine called the “Red October,” capable of showering continental United States with hundreds of nuclear warheads. Its caterpillar drive system enables the submarine to travel at great speeds without making a sound.
Captain Marko Ramius (Sean Connery, Never Say Never Again) takes the Red October for its maiden voyage in the North Atlantic. The submarines caterpillar drive system means that the ship can cruise along the coasts of NATO countries undetected until it launches its arsenal of nuclear ballistic missiles. The United States is afraid of a first-strike attack from the Soviet Union, and the fact that the entire Soviet fleet seems to be ready for war has only heightened those fears.
As an expert in Russian affairs, it is the job of CIA analyst Dr. Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin, Miami Blues), to try and figure out why the Russians are readying for war for no apparent reason. Ryan has to use his vast knowledge of Russia, and connections to various sources, including sonar readings from an American submarine tracking the Red October, intercepted enemy messages that reveal a Soviet desire to sink the Red October, and thoughts from first impressions formed when Ryan once met Ramius at a state dinner. In the end, once Ryan figures out Ramius’s real intentions, the story becomes a race between the navies of the two superpowers.
When you think of a film involving United States and Soviet Union nuclear tensions, it’s reasonable to assume the film has a lot of action. The Hunt for Red October is markedly different; instead I would classify the film as a mystery/thriller. As with subsequent Jack Ryan films, our hero is forced to use his knowledge and be quick on his feet to solve a case, rather than resort to guns, violence and other action film remedies.
The Hunt for Red October is filled with wonderful performances. Sean Connery is excellent as the stiff, commanding Ramius. Alec Baldwin plays Jack Ryan with the right mixture of confidence; commitment and uncertainty that makes him seem like an average guy. As much as I enjoyed Harrison Ford in the two subsequent Jack Ryan films, it would have been interesting to see what Baldwin would have done with the character. Scott Glenn is superb, as the captain of the U.S.S. Dallas, Bart Mancuso. While he’s a bit jittery and initially eager to engage the Soviets in conflict, he’s intelligent enough to listen to his subordinates and advisors, all of whom have different talents that enable him to make the best possible decision during crises. Other cast members include, Sam Neill as Ramius’ executive officer Vasily Borodin, Fred Dalton Thompson as Admiral Joshua Painter, Tim Curry as the Red October’s ship’s surgeon, Doctor Petrov and the always excellent James Earl Jones ad Admiral James Greer.
The Hunt for Red October is a solid thriller from beginning to end. Though the Cold War as portrayed in the film is becoming a distant memory, director John McTiernan maintains a palpable tension throughout. Simply put, The Hunt for Red October is a must-see drama about the Cold War.
Originally shot on 35mm film, it was scanned in full 4K for this release. Presented in its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio, a greater level of detail is immediately noticeable. There’s a nice level of filmic grain throughout, giving this already dark film a greater sense of clarity and realism. The film’s color palette is purposely muted (much of it takes place in under water environments), but it seems appropriate to the surroundings. While this isn’t the kind of 4K transfer that dazzles enthusiasts, it’s a definite upgrade from the Blu-ray, and fans of the film should be pleased.
The 4K UHD disc includes the same lossless English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD surround mix found on the previous Blu-ray edition. The mix fills the soundstage well, offering plenty of ambient effects, and a lively low end. Panning is impressive. Dialogue is clean and concise throughout. The score comes across with a fine level of fidelity. Additional audio options on the 4K disc include English Audio Description, 5.1 Dolby Digital in German, Spanish, Latin Spanish, French, and Italian, along with Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital, and Portuguese mono. English, English SDH, Arabic, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, German, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin America), French, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Slovak, Finnish, Swedish, and Thai subtitles are included.
There are no new extras, everything here could be found on the previous Blu-ray release. On the 4K disc you’ll find:
- Audio Commentary with Director John McTiernan
The accompanying Blu-ray disc adds the following extras:
- Beneath the Surface (SD, 29:00)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:41)
Movie title: The Hunt for Red October (1990)
Director(s): John McTiernan
Actor(s): Sean Connery, , Alec Baldwin, , Scott Glenn, , Sam Neill, , James Earl Jones, , Joss Ackland
Genre: Action, War, Thriller, Adventure, Drama