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With action/thriller writer Tom Clancy’s influence extending beyond books into the spheres of movies and video games, perhaps it’s time to take a look back at the initial celluloid outing of Jack Ryan. Here played by Alec Baldwin, the role of the maverick CIA analyst has been reprised by the rather higher profile Harrison Ford (on two occasions in Patriot Games and Clear And Present Danger) and most recently by, ahem, Ben Affleck, in the radically revised Sum Of All Fears. So how does the eldest Baldwin boy measure up?

The Hunt For Red October
Captain Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) takes command of the Red October, the technological terror of the Soviet submarine fleet boasting a near silent propulsion system, and sets sail for the United States coast. A Russian armada is rapidly in hot pursuit, prompting the American forces to conceive that Ramius plans to unleash his nuclear arsenal onto unsuspecting U.S. citizens.

However, CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin), a relative outcast in the intelligence community, surmises that the submarine skipper intends to defect. With just three days until the Red October is within firing range, Ryan has to prove his theory by overcoming his fear of flying and heading to the North Atlantic hotspot to see for himself…

The Hunt For Red October
With Die Hard director John McTiernan at the helm steering a steady course, The Hunt For Red October, to the strains of Basil Poledouris’ pounding score, avoids many of the clichés that have sunk many a submarine movie (Kathryn Bigelow’s cringeworthy K-19: The Widowmaker being a case in point). Reputedly based on fact, although the U.S. administration denies even today that any such incident took place, this is perhaps the last great Cold War thriller with several exciting set pieces (usually involving some superb sub-aqua model work) punctuating the political manoeuvring as Ryan attempts to sway the thinking of his superiors.

Performances are good with Connery taking the lead, despite the incongruous nature of his Scots brogue (“Comrades, we shail into hishtory!”), matched by Baldwin, Scott Glenn and James Earl Jones who is clearly having great fun in an otherwise straight role.

That said, it’s not all plain sailing. Sam Neill gets short changed as the Red October’s executive officer (once he talks about his plans for his life in Montana you just know he’s not going to make the final reel), Stellan Skarsgard chews a whole lotta scenery as Ramius’ antagonistic hot-headed protégé and Tim Curry is, unfortunately, Tim Curry.

The Hunt For Red October
Yet these are minor flaws in an enjoyable aquatic adventure which successfully sustains the thrills and suspense over its two hours plus duration, all the while accentuating the political dimension of the Cold War confrontation and the nascent fear of nuclear annihilation.

Alas Paramount do this movie a disservice in its translation to DVD. The image, anamorphically enhanced at a ratio of 2.35:1, is soft with colours that look, if you’ll pardon the expression, a little washed out. With a palette of strong blues, reds and yellows, the transfer, in struggling to be sharp enough, emerges as being somewhat bland with shadow detail found wanting and blacks being nowhere near deep enough. The underwater action scenes, a vital component of the movie, as you’d expect, are disappointingly murky.

The Hunt For Red October
The English 5.1 mix is a strong soundtrack, Basil Poledouris’ predictably percussion oriented score gaining a full workout from the surrounds. Dialogue is just high enough in the mix and the various pings and whooshes of torpedoes and the like are given the full gamut of your surround system. While not approaching the heights of the depth charge sequence of U-571, it’s a satisfying experience all the same.

Just a theatrical trailer is included as a special feature, incidentally making the movie appear rather more overblown than it actually is, continuing Paramount’s pretty poor record in the release of catalogue titles.

The Hunt For Red October
No, it’s not as intense an experience as the excellent Das Boot but McTiernan’s entry into the underwater arena easily overshadows most other maritime movies. With so many quotable lines as to be packed in like sardines (“One ping only, Vasily!”), it’s a shame that this taut thriller is let down by a lacklustre disc at an expensive price but still worth reeling in if you can net it in a sale.