Sum of All Fears, The (US - BD)
Gabe finishes off the Jack Ryan series...with a bang! LOL SPOILER!
Eight long years rolled by between Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of All Fears, and the producers in charge of the Jack Ryan series understood the need to reboot the series. So before Batman, before James Bond, Jack Ryan’s cinematic life was reset to new prequel. I still remember when the film was coming out. Everything about the production was strange. Why would a studio bother with rebooting such an unassuming, inglorious character? Why would an Oscar Nominated and often inert director like Phil Alden Robinson be interested in someone else’s popular novel? Why would they put this up against Spider Man and Attack of the Clones (it came out at the end of the same month)?
Then something happened nine months before the film came out, and it sent other movies with a strong terrorist and/or bombing presence running (specifically Collateral Damage comes to mind). But instead of re-cutting the film, or pushing it back to a Christmas release, Paramount ended up flaunting the terror on American soil, and the ploy kind of worked. I know I paid to see it. But then, of course, Ben Affleck’s buddy Matt Damon released his own espionage thriller called The Bourne Identity, and The Sum of All Fears lost a foothold, and despite raking in some decent cash, the film served no great effect on the next six years.
The final product is well made, but there’s a good reason that Damon’s Jason Bourne series birthed two very successful and increasingly good sequels—it was an exciting new take on the spy thriller. The Sum of All Fears fits in with the other Jack Ryan movies so well it actually disappoints. It felt like an old movie at the time, and the reason old usually doesn’t work is because we have plenty of old movies already. Robinson’s film was a slick and smooth film at the opening of the grim and gritty era. Batman and James Bond survived their reboots by proudly infusing dark and rough edges, while young Jack Ryan remained stuck in 1994 (plus a few digital effects).
The real problem with this increasingly dated feel is that even the stuff that works is a problem. The slick camera work and light editing cuts a lot of the plot’s threat and suspense. The actors are all fantastic, but so many of them are playing characters they’d been playing for nearly a decade. Ben Affleck is fine, but he doesn’t bring anything personal to the roll. His Jack Ryan feels like it sticks directly between Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford’s versions of the character. My favourite actor here is Liev Schreiber, just as an FYI.
But there is the big event at the film’s centre, the kind of thing that’s normally threatened at the end of a political thriller. The lead-in and most of the follow-up is sort of dull and quite old fashion, but it takes big brass balls to blow-up the Super Bowl nine months after 9/11, and the scenes that directly follow the blow-up are effectively frightening. I give the filmmakers all the credit in the world for that one, though seven years after 9/11 the scene doesn’t carry quite the same impact.
The newest Jack Ryan movie is obviously the sharpest, cleanest, and most generally perfect in the collection. There’s very little compression noise, only a touch of edge enhancement, and nary a single fleck of print damage. The only ill effects I noticed were warm colours in very low light, which display a bit of noise. Robinson’s pallet is less flashy then McTeirnan’s, but he also doesn’t overdo the James Cameron blues like Noyce did. The blacks has some minor grain issues here and there, and some of the bright white levels bloom a bit, but the overall contrast is very effective, ensuring that small details can be seen even in relative blackness. When it’s important, the sharpness is quite lifelike. Sometimes the detail becomes a problem as far as digital effects are concerned, as they pop out from the real photography.
There’s nothing unexpected about this Dolby TrueHD track. The Sum of All Fears is a modern film created with modern means, and there really isn’t any comparison between this and the other Jack Ryan films. Robinson mostly favours subtlety in his mix, which sets us up well for the bombast of the film’s central element. The concussive shock wave that smacks over the President’s motorcade is a spectacular piece of sound design, ripping loudly, but clearly from the front left, to the back right, and right back again. The dialogue, much of it whisper, much more of it shouted, is even and clean the whole way through. Jerry Goldsmith uses a tiny bit of Russian and Middle Eastern influence, but mostly ends the Jack Ryan scoring trends. The score is most impressive and most impressive sounding on the track, when it’s used ‘tragically’ over violent moments.
There aren’t a lot of extras here, but there are a few good ones. Things start with two commentary tracks. The first track features director Phil Alden Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley, and it’s pretty dull. I ended up listening to it in parts only, and wasn’t impressed overall. The facts are dull and the vocal tone is very soft.
Do what I did and skip to the second track, featuring Robinson and author Tom Clancy. Clancy was pretty famously unsatisfied with the blatant changes to his text, and here he gets the chance to complain. Robinson tries to defend himself, and the track is all in good fun, but Clancy’s consistent complaints are actually quite entertaining (he has huge respect for Schreiber, and seems to have a crush on Bridget Moynahan). It’s also a very informative track, as Clancy really does know what he’s talking about. I should point out that at no point on the Clancy track does anyone talk about 9/11.
Next is a two part making of featurette. The first part considers casting, and it sets up the style of the rest of the featurette. This isn’t a very flashy making-of production. The interviews are likely taken from press tours (especially obvious in Affleck’s case), except for the producer and director, and things aren’t particularly deep. The talking heads are cut with scenes from the film, and mixed with a little bit of the film’s score.
The next section is concerned with the production process. This section includes more behind the scenes information, including the original script that was written for Harrison Ford and Phillip Noyce. By focusing more on the director, writer’s and producers’ interviews we are able to get some more probing data concerning why Robinson would be involved with this adaptation, and why the producers would want to reboot the series. A lot of this is covered in the two commentaries, but since you’ll want to skip the first commentary anyway, this is a decent place to start. Both sections together run about thirty minutes.
Then we’ve got a five-part featurette on the film visual effects. This stuff is relatively detailed, and moderately interesting. It’s broken down into the aircraft carrier attack, the A-4 crash at the beginning of the film, the hospital blow-up, the motorcade blow-up, and the helicopter blow-up, running a total of about twenty seven minutes. Each section in composite from interviews with the effects crew, raw behind the scenes footage, and computer composite footage. Each section ends with the final, finished scene (though not in HD). The extras are completed with an HD version of the original trailer, which gives away pretty much the whole film.
So, is this the end of Jack Ryan? In three more years it will be the longest Hollywood has gone without a Ryan flick since Red October was released. Will that Sam Raimi Jack Ryan film ever happen? I’m not thinking so, but you never know. The Sum of All Fears isn’t the highest note the series could’ve gone out on, but it isn’t a terrible film either. The middle act shocker is still a pretty good one, and the actors, including the much-reviled Ben Affleck, do very well. This disc, like all the other Jack Ryan collection discs, is the same as the DVD release, just in high definition.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
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, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish
Extras: Director/Cinematographer Commentary, Director/Writer Commentary, Making-Of Featurettes, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Cast: Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Ken Jenkins, Liev Schreiber
Length: 123 minutes
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