The first in a line of Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan book-to-film adaptations, The Hunt for Red October is a suspense thriller. It’s loaded with a fantastic story, developed characters, solid all around effects, and an ending that doesn’t let up. While it may not stand as the greatest submarine movie ever created, it’s a fine piece of claustrophobic filmmaking.
John McTiernan brings his action-oriented directing talents from Die Hard and Predator for something slower, at least until the end. Slow is not a bad thing here. The film is filled with wonderful characters, fully fleshed out. The script does a wonderful job of condensing the novel into the format without losing the finer points.
While Alec Baldwin may be top billed as CIA hero Jack Ryan (a role later taken over by Harrison Ford), this is purely a Sean Connery piece. His skills as a Russian submarine captain at the height of the Cold War make his performance impossible to look away from. His character, defecting from his country with their largest sub ever devised, allows for a wide ranging performance that never misses.
Baldwin is still a fine Jack Ryan, just overshadowed. Always under-appreciated Sam Neill also turns in a solid performance. Second to the stars are the visual effects, and while certain shots (particularly those of the torpedoes) look exceptionally dated, the miniature work is top tier.
Politics are intertwined heavily here, playing a key role in the story and characters’ actions. These never take away from the drama in the subs, but instead enhance it. It all builds towards a finale that is simply loaded with plot twists, action, explosions, and no questions left unanswered. The tightly wound writing makes sure the audience leaves satisfied, and that’s the only way to feel after this one is over — completely satisfied on every level.
The Blu-ray transfer is all over the place. On one hand, detail can be phenomenal, showing off every pore and piece of hair on an actor’s face or head. Many shots are perfectly sharp, besting even some modern releases. Then, you have the other end of this presentation. Edge enhancement is a minor issue, but one that’s noticeable nonetheless. Black levels can waver, and there tends to be excessive noise when they’re not perfect. Dirt can litter the print, and the film grain causes artifacting in a few shots.
What this disc does do well is the audio… except for the LFE channel. Rear speakers receive a hefty workout here, whether it’s an action sequence or not. When Baldwin first walks into the submarine plant, the sound of tools working overtime comes from all directions. Underwater sequences hold plenty of atmosphere, and action-oriented scenes are loaded with subtle touches in terms of positional audio. Sadly, the bass is nowhere near the level it should be, and it may even have you checking your subwoofer to make sure it’s on.
McTiernan delivers a solo commentary, and there is some repetitive information from the half hour documentary Beneath the Surface. The latter is detailed in all aspects of the production and is a great piece to add onto the disc. A trailer is the only other available menu selection.