Old Movie Review: The Hunt for Red October

I got a new blu-ray movie this week (they’re not dvd’s… and I refuse to use “BD-Rom” so I’ll just use blu-ray movie… with the dash, but no capitalization).

Man, I spent more time in parentheses than out… anyway, The Hunt for Red October. I love it.

I’m kind of a recovering Tom Clancy nut. I read a bunch of the Tom Clancy books in the “Jack Ryan” series: The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, Sum of All Fears, and the two books that were related but not specifically including Jack Ryan, Without Remorse and Rainbow Six. Most of the books I read were made into movies, and Rainbow Six was made into a fairly great series of video games. I enjoyed the movies mostly. I do have to take an aside here and point out that the Sum of All Fears stars Ben Affleck and is on my “do not watch” list. I don’t recognize that as a good movie. I will, however, recognize “Air Force One” as an acceptable substitute — which is funny because the Jack Ryan of Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger is played by Harrison Ford who plays the president in Air Force One. Tom Clancy eventually elevates Jack Ryan to President in the books, so I think it’s appropriate (even though it’s not a Clancy book at all).

Ok, aside over. The Hunt for Red October was a book I read after watching the movie. It adds about ten tons of richness to the book. Tom Clancy is notorious for writing “techno-thrillers” and I think that’s a good description. He waxes on a little about technology (usually military) to set the stage of what’s happening. Nerd that I am, I ate it up. Also I just happened to be playing a lot of flight sims and even a submarine sim at the time, so I appreciated the level of detail.

The movie is somewhat less detailed, but it’s honestly it’s just so well executed I love it every time I see it. I had it on VHS tape recorded from cable back in the day. I saw it a few times in high school then when I moved away I didn’t have it anymore. When I was dating Julie I remember renting it from the local video place to watch with Julie (the videocassette was red plastic!) and loving it again. I haven’t seen it since then until today. I bought it from Amazon to push the price over the limit for the free shipping.

Ok, quick summary: Sean Connery plays Captain Marko Ramius of the Soviet navy. He is taking the Red October out on its initial test run out of the shipyards. Ramius intends to defect to the US. Now, I know you kids don’t even know what Soviets and Communism are anymore… let’s just say he’s a fugitive. CIA analyst Jack Ryan played by Alec Baldwin realizes he’s defecting. It’s a race to find a submarine that was designed to be silent and invisible as Ryan tries to outpace both the US and Soviet governments who want the ship destroyed.

The story alone is very good, but check the cast out. Jack Ryan is played by Alec “30 Rock” Baldwin; Sean “James Bond” Connery is Marko Ramius; Sam “Jurassic Park” Neill plays the 2nd in Command Vasily Borodin who just wants to see Montana. Tim “damn near everything” Curry plays the naive Dr. Petrov. Jeffrey “Ferris Bueller’s principal Ed Rooney” Jones as submarine technician Skip Tyler. Scott Glenn as Captain Bart Mancuso of the Dallas. Stellan Skarsgard as Soviet Captain Tupolev. Joss “badguy from Lethal Weapon 2” Ackland as Ambassador Lysenko. Courtney Vance as Jonesy the sonar guy. James Earl Jones as CIA director James Greer. Fred “I tried to run for President” Thompson as Admiral Painter of the Enterprise! I can’t believe how many people are in this movie that are really good actors. Heck, even Jack Ryan’s wife who’s in the movie for all of 2 minutes was played by Gates “Doctor Beverly ‘MILF’ Crusher from ST:TNG” McFadden.

Ok, the source material is great. The cast is awesome. The direction and cinematography? Directed by John “Die Hard” McTiernan with director of cinematography Jan “Speed” de Bont. This movie is freaking taut. You can bounce quarters off it. A couple well done scenes come to mind. When they change over from Russian to English for the benefit of the audience. When the boat spontaneously erupts into the Russian anthem after a masterful pep-talk speech by Ramius and the silent drive is engaged. Intercutting the Red October doing a routine backtrack to check for following ships with shots of the Dallas which has gone dead silent because it was following and a conversation happening amidships between Ramius and his 2nd in command. Oh, and the “most things in here don’t react too well to bullets” line just before the camera cuts to show the seemingly endless row of ballistic missile silos.

This movie was done mostly without special effects except for the underwater shots, naturally. Watching it, I kept thinking how much of it would be “cheated” with computers nowadays. Something as easy to do as a sweep of the ship on the water would almost surely be CG rendered. The underwater shots were probably models but what was done was showing that minimally, focusing instead on the people onboad the ships. I am so jaded by a nice home theater setup… if I choose to look, I can see every flaw in every special effect. For example, I can go on an complain about how overprocessed the sky is in the movie 300 — so processed that it actually has generated fuzzy artifacts on flat areas. Now the overgrainyness might be intentional, but if the movie weren’t engrossing I’d find it distracting. In The Hunt for Red October, I never stopped to glance at the sharpness nor the telltale edges of the green screening in hair or facial edges nor was I distracted at all by any of the underwater shots. It’s a well done movie and it doesn’t date itself with any kind of technological look.

Let me get annoyed about movie special effects cliches for a moment here. Why do people have to get shot in slow motion… motion so slow you can see the shell casings exit… or even the bullet? Oh, yeah, The Matrix. Why does every movie with people traveling have a long shot with a helicopter orbit? Oh, yeah, Lord of the Rings. You’ll have none of that here. What do you get? Something that I’ve never seen before nor since in a movie — a submarine doing an emergency surface — six thousand tons (that’s 12 million pounds!) of metal rising so fast it hops out of the water for an instant. And it was done for real without computers, wires, models, or anything. Holy freaking wow.

OK, I may actually have to watch this movie again. If you want to come over, let me know.


  1. Julie

    Hey, you can’t tell me you didn’t enjoy the slow-motion bits in Wanted. My favorite part was Wesley smacking that guy in the face with the keyboard, where the keys that fly through the air spelled out an expletive.

    I’m a fan of lower-tech non-digital effects that have rich detail, like different colored liquids poured together composited in for spooky skies. Ah, Legend.

  2. Me

    There was more slow motion in Wanted than normal motion, so I think that’s an exception.

    Speaking of non-digital effects in Legend, how about Tom Cruise’s unfixed teeth? Scary! And Tim Curry as Darkness!

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