Hunt for Red October (US - BD)
Gabe can barely take the mounting water pressure of a Scottish Russian
Ah, Tom Clancy, another conservatively leaning blockbuster writer with a specific real life knowledge that came into super-power in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. Michael Crichton has his sciences, John Grisham has his law degrees, and Clancy has his army intel. All three writers are all jokes these days, but it’s good to look back on their salad days. A little Jurassic Park, a little The Firm, and a bit of the old Jack Ryan series. In the beginning there was Alec Baldwin, not Harrison Ford, and he was hunting for a runaway Russian sub call the Red October.
The similarities between Hunt For Red October and Die Hard didn’t really dawn on me until this latest viewing. Both films were directed by the once great John McTiernan, in a row, and along with Predator (which was the first in this row), they stand as the director’s trademark, and both films were shot by super-DP Jan de Bont. Both Red October and Die Hard lead to many more films of the like, and have four sequels. Of course, McTiernan himself directed one of the Die Hard sequels, and the Jack Ryan films have some pretty loose continuity, but the affinities are still pretty striking.
The differences between Red October and Die Hard are just as important to consider. Both films are long, and larger than life, and contain a whole lot of close-ups, but McTiernan treats the action and suspense very differently. Die Hard depends on explosions, gunfire, Bruce Willis’ bug-eyed shouting, and Michael Kamen’s ballsy score to pump the excitement into its audience, Red October depends on more subtle means (mostly), and on its audience’s willingness to focus on the plot. The pace of the two films is very similar, and both bare the McTiernan stamp, but the director’s growth is intriguing.
McTiernan’s most clever moment of filmmaking comes when he zooms in on a Russian speaking mouth, and zooms out on an English speaking one, thusly making a clean transition between the languages (he’d do something similar in 13th Warrior a decade later). Unfortunately, I’ve never quite been able to fully suspend my disbelief when only one of the October’s lead actors is even speaking with a Russian accent. This is an impressive ensemble, as impressive as any of the Jack Ryan films would see, but it’s always bugged me that Connery doesn’t even try to mask his Scottish accent, not because of lingual inaccuracies, but because it makes the film a Sean Connery film, and unlike Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade or The Untouchables Connery’s persona doesn’t quite fit in with this film.
The rest of the cast melts pretty effectively into their roles, even James ‘Big Voice’ Earl Jones. The argument over the best Jack Ryan usually stops with Harrison Ford, who has the advantage of playing the character twice, but watching Alec Baldwin again I’m tempted to change my mind, or at least call a tie. In 1990 Baldwin wasn’t a De Niro-ish parody of himself, and his take on the out-of-his element desk-jockey hero is effectively un-Baldwinian. Baldwin’s Ryan has a sense of humour, and though his hesitation verges on satire, the character is generally more ‘friendly’ then Ford’s version. Ford also didn’t have an unstoppable scenery chewer like Connery to contend with either.
I haven’t seen Red October for a very long time, and the last time I did see it was on television, so I have very little point of reference, but I’m still reasonably sure this isn’t a very noticeable upgrade from the DVD release. The print is dirty, with strobing colour and brightness inconsistencies. The print wiggles a bit too, but this is mostly only apparent during on screen text. Details are sharp, but not so sharp that your jaw will drop, and some mid-range edges are slightly blurry. Blacks are nicely rich, contrast is even, and edge enhancement is basically absent. The transfers greatest asset is its realistic colours, which are vibrant when necessary, but don’t over-do it.
This Dolby TrueHD track is about three things: Basil Poledouris’ gigantic, vocal based score, the Clancyish dialogue, and the underwater sound effects. Early on in the mix I caught a split second of rear left drop out, but otherwise this track is especially effective, especially for a film that’s pushing twenty years old. The surround and stereo channels are consistently alive with flurrying incidentals, or the hum of water pressure against the submarine hull. The expert sound design is at its most impressive during the ‘ping’ sequence, which will almost make you believe the October is on your doorstep.
John McTiernan hasn’t ever been a lively speaker, but his solo commentary tracks are always enlightening. Here he’s sure to feed information on a relatively consistent basis, and his anecdotes are both technical and personal. McTiernan praises his actors, especially his non-professional, real navy actors, describes the locations and set construction, and often waxes about the state of modern action-thrillers. I’d like to think that he’s passive aggressively making fun of Michael Bay. Unfortunately McTiernan’s consistency begins to wane in the end.
The other extras are a thirty-minute featurette and an HD version of the original trailer. Strangely the featurette is presented as an anamorphically enhanced 1.66, but flushed to the right. Though strangely displayed, and ultimately pretty short, it still stands as a solid making-of presentation. It’s well paced, and squeezes a lot of information from its brief interviews with most of the main practitioners. The impatient might want to skip the commentary track for this.
Hunt For Red October still rocks the suspense and manly intensity of mano e mano, underwater warfare, and is still one of the best films in the Jack Ryan collection (maybe even the best, depending on your taste). I have problems with the casting that I’m sure others will call me on, but continue to find myself impressed with McTiernan’s direction, which has drooped severely in quality over the years. The disc looks and sounds good, and though rather brief, the extra features satisfy.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 29th July 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Extras: Director Commentary, Making-of Featurette, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Sam Neill, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Stellan Skarsgard
Genre: Thriller and War
Length: 129 minutes
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