Still the most involving of the Jack Ryan films, "The Hunt For Red October" is a tense submartine thriller that launched the Jack Ryan character that Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and even Ben Affleck have portrayed. Ryan is, as per usual in these films, a CIA analyst who finds himself in the middle of a dangerous situation when he finds himself offering the kind of answers that everyone else can't seem to come up with ("Hey, he seems to know, send him!").
The film opens with a reveal of the fact that the Russians have invented a submarine that is so quiet that it is essentially undetectable by radar. The submarine's capabilities make it a definite threat to the United States, and when the submarine defects from the rest of the fleet, it becomes apparent that this is no simple exercise. However, Ryan's theory is that the sub's captain, Ramius (Sean Connery) is not intending to attack, but to defect.
The film then becomes a cat-and-mouse game as the Americans try to outguess te sleek sub, while the Russians sense something's amiss and send out their own force to destroy the lost ship. Meanwhile, Ryan must find the missing ship and somehow prove his theory that Ramius is not planning an attack.
As much as many have discussed Alec Baldwin's success with playing Jack Ryan for this picture, I still consider it Connery's movie. His character's intentions are nicely kept in question throughout, and his performance is easily the most commanding and compelling of the picture. Baldwin's character is a little too unsure and bland at first, but his portrayal of Ryan picks up as the movie starts to become more tense. Good supporting performances from James Earl Jones, Scott Glenn, Sam Neill and others add nicely to the proceedings. Technically, this is a superb picture, with strong cinematography (Jan de Bont, director of "Speed" and also cinematographer for director McTiernan's "Die Hard"), very good production design and solid effects work. An excellent thriller and one of the finer entries in the submarine genre.
VIDEO: "The Hunt For Red October" is presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) and the results are pretty good, if not jaw-dropping. Sharpness and detail were just fine at worst and excellent at best, with most scenes showing off pleasing depth and fine detail to the image. Mid-to-heavy grain is present throughout much of the movie and, while it is part of the intended look of the picture, some scenes with heavier grain do have a bit of a rough appearance, with the grain having a slightly "digital" look on rare occasions. The print appeared to be in satisfactory shape, with only some scattered marks and specks on the print. A few very minor instances of edge enhancement appeared, but most of the movie was free of the issue. The film's color palette mostly remained subdued, but occasional bright colors stood out quite nicely and showed no concerns. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate and natural. While definitely not flawless, the Blu-Ray presentation is a worthwhile improvement over the DVD.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 on Blu-Ray. The film was released theatrically before digital 5.1 soundtracks became a reality in 1992, but the soundtrack production and this repurposing of the original mix are still first-rate - although one shouldn't expect it to quite live up to the sound presentations of some of the other editions to the genre, such as "U-571" and the remastered "Das Boot".
While the forward channels do a good deal of work throughout the movie, the surrounds still certainly enter in during many of the film's more intense moments, and even some of the somewhat more subtle ones. An early scene where Ryan visits a submarine being worked on fills the room with various sound effects of the crew at work. Submarine scenes often put the surrounds to use for more distinct sound effects, which are all handled quite well by the sound mix.
Audio quality generally seemed good, although things were a bit mixed. The musical score by Basil Poledouris sounds slightly thin at times and dialogue can seem slightly harsh now and then. Sound effects are rich, bassy and crisp throughout the show. The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack does sound mildly crisper and more detailed than the Dolby Digital presentation from the DVD, while bass also seems somewhat deeper.
Commentary: The DVD includes an audio commentary from director John McTiernan. While a fan of the filmmaker's earlier work (the less said about "Rollerball", the better), I was not entirely enthusiastic about this commentary track after the director's DVD discussion of his "Thomas Crown Affair" remake offered about as much silence as it did talking. His track for "Die Hard" was somewhat better, but the director is simply a very subdued speaker. Once again, McTiernan is very low-key (which makes the track a bit of a tough listen at times), but he does manage to offer up some interesting tidbits though, both about the story and production. Some pauses of silence scattered throughout most of the track, but McTiernan generally tries to come up with information throughout most of the film.
Beneath the Surface: This 29-minute documentary is a bit better than the documentary offered on "Clear and Present Danger". The documentary doesn't start with a general overview of characters or plot for the movie that we've just seen, it instead jumps right into a discussion of the development of the project, from the producer's optioning it, to the development of the screenplay version and production issues. Interviews with the film's producer, Baldwin, director McTiernan, cinematographer Jan De Bont (it would have been nice if De Bont had joined McTiernan for the commentary, given that De Bont has offered some interesting commentaries in the past) others are offered. There's definitely some "happy talk" scattered throughout about how wonderful everyone was, but I felt like I'd learned a lot of interesting tidbits about the history of the production in just under half an hour.
Also: The trailer.
Final Thoughts: A tightly plotted and well-acted thriller that is lead by a stellar Connery performance, "The Hunt For Red October" is a terrific thriller. Paramount's new Blu-Ray edition carries over the supplements from the previous DVD edition and offers better audio/video quality, to boot. Recommended.
The Film B+