|Hunt for Red October, The|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 01 December 1998|
Harrison Ford has made such an indelible impression on audiences as Tom Clancy’s CIA hero Jack Ryan in ‘Patriot Games’ and ‘Clear and Present Danger’ that it’s easy to forget that the character first made his screen appearance played by Alec Baldwin in ‘The Hunt for Red October.’
Then again, in ‘Hunt,’ Ryan’s exploits are more discussed than depicted. The Red October of the title is a prototype Soviet nuclear sub (the film is set and was made while the USSR still existed). Her captain, Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) wants to defect. Unfortunately for him, the Russians manage to convince the U.S. Navy that Ramius instead plans to launch the October’s nuclear missiles. Only Ryan, an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, is smart enough to deduce Ramius’ plan and dogged enough to try to aid the wily captain from afar.
‘The Hunt for Red October’ drips with techno-testosterone, but it is far heavier on intense conversation than actual action. The premise is strong and the people are charismatic. However, the film doesn’t contain the thrill-a-minute visuals that the genre normally encompasses. The script by Larry Ferguson and Donald Stewart, based on Clancy’s novel, has characters talking at great length about sonar, propellers and missile range--all worthy topics under the circumstances, but after awhile we wish they’d just shut up and get on with it. It’s a tribute to director John McTiernan and his smart, gung-ho cast that the movie packs a fair amount of urgency anyway. We become involved in the game of strategies and counter-strategies to the extent that we find ourselves rooting for Ryan and Ramius.
The film contains some special effects that are both persuasive and subtle. Chapter 1 introduces the scale of the Red October with a handsome shot that shows Connery and Sam Neill (as his first mate) atop the open bridge of the huge vessel, Chapter 8 contains a relatively contained, but still impressive helicopter-to-submarine human transfer and Chapter 10 depicts a striking flare of white against blue as a torpedo detonates in the deep. It helps that the cinematography is by Jan De Bont, who has since gone on to become a director in his own right (‘Speed,’ ‘Twister’).
The sound mix is fine all the way through, from the initial blend of waves and electronic pinging in Chapter 1 through some playful, surprisingly powerful acappella singing in Chapter 3, sonic clues in a tape playback in Chapter 6 and an alarm in Chapter 10 so strident that it seems to be coming from outside the speakers. One complaint about the DVD being that for a movie that runs 135 minutes, it would have been helpful if this film were broken into more than 13 chapters.
‘The Hunt for Red October’ will be compelling for Cold War armchair strategists and should be diverting for most other viewers. Just remember that Jack Ryan isn’t as hands-on in this installment as he later becomes.