The Jack Ryan Collection on Blu-ray
It started with "The Hunt for Red October" and culminated - so far - with "The Sum of All Fears," and it's a rip roaring quartet of thrillers now presented in a single boxed set just in time for Christmas.
Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan is a bit of an unusual action hero in that he's not an action hero at all, but rather an academic (an analyst) who finds himself thrust into life or death situations around the world and whose natural heroism is forced to the surface by circumstances.
The series, which also includes "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger" gives us three different actors in the heroic lead role, two of whom do a fine job. And while it doesn't appear there's anything new in this set that wasn't available before separately, it's a decent collection Jack Ryan fans will undoubtedly love, assuming they haven't already bought the individual movies.
The Hunt for Red October is a perfect kick off to the films. It's a cold war thriller in which Soviet sub commander Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) is leading the maiden voyage of the latest and greatest Commie war weapon - one whose very nature indicates its first strike, rather than defensive, intent. So he decides to defect, taking the sub and its crew (some of whom are in on the conspiracy) with him. This sets up a hunt by the rest of the Soviet military, intent on tracking down and destroying the innovative sub before Ramius can give them the slip.
Meanwhile, the sub has also come to the attention of the Americans, who are also ready to blow it to smithereens (before it can nuke the east coast). Then the Red October disappears from right under their bows.
How do you track down a sub that's for all intents and purposes invisible? And what do you do with it once you find it?
Enter CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin), who's convinced that Ramius' true intent is defection, but who seems to be the only American so convinced. Ryan talks his way onto the submarine chasing down the Red October and with its skeptical captain and crew, tries to get to the bottom of the incident.
There are some fine performances here, not only from the always-great Connery, but from Baldwin, Sam Neill, Scott Glen, James Earl Jones, Stellan Skarsgard and Tim Curry. The special effects are also convincing and the script zips you along and sucks you right into it. It's a great movie.
Patriot Games turns its sights from the cold war to sectarian violence, opening with Ryan (who has had a Doctor Who-like regeneration from Baldwin to Harrison Ford) visiting London with his wife (Anne Archer) and daughter (Thora Birch). But then, right under their noses, Irish terrorist Sean Miller (Sean Bean) tries to knock off a British Lord (James Fox), and the plucky Ryan rises to the occasion, saving the intended victim, putting Miller out of action temporarily and offing the terrorist's terrorist kid brother in the process. A nice bit of rescuing, as an earlier Ford hero might have said.
Ah, but Miller escapes from prison and wants revenge, so Ryan is faced with having to protect his family from a band of blood-thirsty brogue-speakers. But that's only part of his problem.
Ford is good as Ryan, though the role doesn't really seem like much of a stretch for him considering his other heroic characters. But that's okay; he brings verisimilitude to the film, and that's needed with the old switcheroo having been performed on the leading actor. And he does a good job of portraying Ryan as a reluctant hero, an ordinary guy in extraordinary circumstances. You wonder why he's working with the CIA at all instead of some think tank.
Patriot Games isn't as good as Red October (none of the three sequels are), but it's a good thriller and there are some nice performances here, too, including Bean and James Earl Jones.
Ford continued as Jack Ryan in Clear and Present Danger, which tackles the drug trade, a "clear and present danger" to the security of the United States. Ryan has to deal with a crooked CIA director (Henry Czerny) and National Security Advisor (Harris Yulin), the President of the United States (Donald Moffat), and the Colombian drug trade. When he learns that Czerny and Yulin have been conducting secret military operations in Colombia, something he had specifically sworn wasn't going on, he travels down to the south American country, teams up with a shadowy operative there (Willem Dafoe) and helps save the elite squad the politicians left to die behind enemy lines.
Despite it still being Ford in the role, the Jack Ryan here is closer to his Red October character, in that he's more proactive than reactive - he dives in instead of being dragged in, as it were.
The weakest film is "The Sum of all Fears," and part of the reason is that this Jack Ryan was played by Ben Affleck and as an actor (at least as Jack Ryan) he isn't fit to shine Alec Baldwin's shoes, let alone Harrison Ford's!
Sum of all Fears looks like a reboot - heck, Ryan isn't even married here let alone a father. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with that (look at Star Trek!), but they haven't pulled it off as well as they might have. And it isn't all Affleck's fault.
Ryan here is an intelligence analyst whose in depth knowledge of the new Russian president (Ciaran Hinds) sees him heading for Moscow with CIA Director William Cabot (Morgan Freeman). Seems the powers that be don't trust the new head Russkie but, as in Hunt for Red October, Ryan thinks their paranoia is at least partially misplaced.
It turns out everyone's getting played, Russian and American alike, and the real villain of the piece is neo-Nazi Richard Dressler (Alan Bates), who has hidden a small nuclear bomb in Baltimore to start a war between Russia and the United States. Think "Tomorrow Never Dies" or "You Only Live Twice." Yeah, it's that original.
It isn't as bad as I make out and to be fair I did enjoy watching it - and the special effects are done very nicely. But it just doesn't have the spark of the other three Ryan adventures, despite strong performances from Freeman, Liev Schreiber, Bates and the rest. Well, except for Bridget Moynahan who, as Ryan's girlfriend, brings a complete lack of chemistry with her co-star. Okay, maybe that's Affleck's fault, too, since I remember Moynahan being pretty good as Susan Calvin in I, Robot.
As far as the Blu-rays are concerned, these do appear to be a simple repackaging of earlier releases, not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that. But considering the audio and video quality of the releases, it would have been nice if Paramount had given them a remastering or restoration.
Not surprisingly, "October" - the oldest - is the worst of the bunch. But it isn't bad. Colors look at tad, well, watered down (hard not to do that in a submarine movie!), but the blacks are solid and the contrast is good. It doesn't pop off the screen, but it's the best video version of this classic yet.
"Patriot Games" isn't much better, but "Clear and Present Danger" is appreciably better than either of the earlier films. Colors and blacks are rich and solid, and detail is very nice, with even some of that great depth you can get with a fine Blu-ray.
"The Sum of All Fears" should be the best and I guess it is, but even here you won't want to use this as a reference disc to impress your friends. Color and black levels are good but not excellent and fine detail could be a lot finer. Combine all that and the film looks kind of flat.
On the audio side, all of the films offer engrossing, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtracks that put you right into the action. Whether it be the claustrophic interior of a submarine, the wind-hammered passenger compartment of an open helicopter, or a nuclear blast, this is one area in which all of these films succeed. There's excellent channel separation and good use of the low frequency effects channel that's so important with action movies such as these.
Each film also comes with some extras, including commentaries with the first and last film as well as some pretty interesting "making of" documentaries for all four titles and their theatrical trailers.
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.