The first three
movies featuring the Jack Ryan character, from author
Tom Clancy, were made in the 1990s. They were well-made
espionage films that played on our fears of those nasty
Commie Russians, terrorists, and evil drug lords.
Audiences responded to the movies and made them into
respectable moneymaking hits.
"The Hunt for Red October," "Patriot Games," and "Clear and Present Danger" are now available on Blu-ray disc.
Clancy must have some kind of inside information on how our government agencies work, or he's very good at crafting stories based on his own theories of America's enemies. Though I haven't read any of the Clancy novels, the movies in the 1990s trilogy seem like they follow the books fairly closely. The stories are intricate with numerous levels of plot and character development. Things in the Clancy film adaptations aren't always how they seem.
THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER
This is the most unusual and somewhat artistic film of the Jack Ryan trilogy. For our purposes, we're not including the Ben Affleck/Morgan Freeman 2002 Jack Ryan movie, "The Sum of All Fears." The film is a study of Sean Connery's character of Captain Marko Ramius. Connery is excellent as Ramius, leading his crew to take the top secret Russian sub, Red October, to the United States.
Director John McTiernan, who made the brilliant action films "Predator" (1987) and "Die Hard" (1988), capably directs "Red October." The first half of the movie moves very leisurely, mostly to set up the plot. "Predator" and "Die Hard" also had rather slow plot development, but kick into high gear and never slow down. "Red October" does pick up the pace in the second half, creating a fairly intense stand-off between the Connery and the United States.
Alec Baldwin plays Jack Ryan in this film. He's good in the movie, though he doesn't present himself as a strong lead. His voice is very quiet and he's not very commanding on the screen. I understand that his character is supposed to rather low-key in the movie, but if the movie was truly revolved around Baldwin's portrayal as Ryan, the franchise probably would've stalled. I don't recall the specifics (as of this writing) as to why Harrison Ford replaced Baldwin in the second Jack Ryan film. My recollection, and opinion, is that Baldwin's star was on the rise and he demanded more money to reprise his role, and the studio said no. Plus, it may have been felt that Baldwin wasn't a strong enough box office draw to continue the series with him in the Jack Ryan role.
Connery, at least in this point in his career, could do no wrong. He'd won an Oscar in "The Untouchables" (1987), and played Indiana Jones' dad in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989). He had firmly re-established himself as a movie star, and it shows in "Red October." He's the centerpiece of the film and he's in total control. Not a second of his screen time is wasted. In a scene between he, Scott Glenn and Alec Baldwin, one can clearly see that Connery is in command of both his performance and of anybody else on screen. That isn't to say that Glenn and Baldwin can't act. It's just saying that Connery simply commands your attention and respect when he's acting.
A lot has changed since "Red October" came out in theaters in the spring of 1990. Director McTiernan directed many movies since then, but most have been box office disappointments, including "Medicine Man" (1992), "Last Action Hero" (1993), and "Rollerball" (2002). He went to prison for a short time for his involvement with former private investigator, Anthony Pellicano. The Russians are no longer America's top enemy. Alec Baldwin has had a very busy career, but has alienated moviegoers with his off-screen antics. He has now been a part of NBC's "30 Rock" and seems to be enjoying a career resurgence.
The Blu-ray is perhaps the best home video presentation available on this film. The picture is solid with a bit of grain that I recall was present in the theatrical presentation. Some viewers might complain that since this is Blu-ray that the picture should be ultra sharp and ultra clean. I believe the Blu-ray should reflect how the film looked and how it was shot and processed in the lab, and this disc seems to reflect those "flaws." The sound is excellent, though the dialogue tends to have a "tinny" effect to it. The music and sound effects are nicely recorded, though I still believe that Dolby TrueHD (as good as it is) holds back the playback quality from really shining. This isn't to say that the presentation isn't excellent, because it is.
PATRIOT GAMES & CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER
The Jack Ryan series picks up the pace with "Patriot Games" (1992) and "Clear and Present Danger" (1994). Harrison Ford was cast, and I think this was a clever and good move. He's more than capable to play the CIA hero and tends to command the screen better than Baldwin did. The choice of director also changed when Phillip Noyce ("Dead Calm") came on-board. The films had the same touch that McTiernan had, but took them in a different direction.
"Patriot Games" is competent entertainment, but I don't recall being overly enthusiastic about it back in 1992. It involves the IRA terrorist group and Ford's Jack Ryan character trying to stop them from doing anymore harm.
Maybe it was the use of Irish music, popular in the early-1990s with Enya on the radio (and I know "Patriot Games" is based on the IRA). "Far and Away" was released that same year, and it seemed that Irish music was used in movies that weren't based on Ireland/Northern Ireland at all. Perhaps it was the role of Anne Archer, the devoted wife (as she was in "Fatal Attraction") that bugged me. It seemed that she played the same role in "Fatal Attraction." Maybe it was seeing those 1992 cell phones today that bugged me. I'm really not sure what I didn't like about "Patriot Games," so perhaps this isn't a fair review of the film. I found it predictable, though the production and acting is good. Out of the three original Jack Ryan films, this is my least favorite.
"Clear and Present Danger," on the other hand, is quite a good film, and a film that could stand on its own. I felt it was underrated in 1994. The movie has a layered plotline, excellent acting by everyone, and solid direction.
Ford reprises Jack Ryan and seems comfortable in the role. Nothing to complain about there. The rest of the cast includes Willem Dafoe, Joaquim de Almeida, Henry Czerny, James Earl Jones, and Miguel Sandoval. They're all good performances.
The plot places Ryan into the middle of the Drug War with a Columbian overlord (Miguel Sandoval). Though the film doesn't have a lot of action, it is plotted well and I found myself engaged in what was going to happen next. One of the strengths is the role of de Almeida, who plays Col. Feliz Cortez. He's charming and evil at the same time. He makes for a good villain.
The best scene in the movie, and a great home theater demo, is a firefight in the alleys of Columbia. This is very well done action sequence that pins Jack Ryan in the middle of a seemingly insurmountable situation.
The picture and sound quality on both the 1992 and 1994 films is excellent. The grain is nearly gone and the sound quality is excellent on both films, though "Danger" seems to have a brighter sounding character to it.
Due to time constraints, this review is shorter than usual. If you're in the mood to see the first three Jack Ryan films in their best home theater light, Blu-ray is the way to go.
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photos: © Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.
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