The Hunt for Red October gets the 4K disc treatment in honour of its 30th anniversary
By Jim Bray
John McTiernan's The Hunt for Red October is a perfect kick off to the films based on Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan stories. And now it's available in an anniversary steelbook edition that brings it into the ultra high definition world of 4K discs.
That's a good thing, though not as great as I'd hoped because so much of the film is dark (inside submarines, nighttime scenes, etc.) and so the 4K treatment isn't the eye-opener I'd hoped it would be. Still, the High Dynamic Range does add some depth and "pop" to the movie and that's better than a kick in the teeth.
"The Hunt for Red October" is a classic cold war thriller in which a Soviet sub commander, Marko Ramius (Sean Connery), is helming the maiden voyage of Soviets' latest and greatest weapon of war – one whose very nature indicates its first strike, rather than defensive, capability and/or intent. So, since he isn't really Russian anyway, and seems to have a conscience, he decides to defect – taking the sub and its crew (some of whom appear to be in on the conspiracy, while some aren't) with him.
This sets up a hunt by the rest of the Soviet military (hence the title!), which is intent on tracking down and destroying the innovative sub before Ramius can give them the slip and turn over the technology to the evil Americans.
Meanwhile, the sub has also come to the attention of those evil Americans, who are also ready to blow it to smithereens before it has a chance to nuke the east coast).
Then the Red October disappears from right under their bows. Vanished into thin, er, water.
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? If you're America, do you hope for the best (defection) and welcome it with open arms or, since it isn't making obvious overtures, do you follow procedure and welcome it with open torpedo tubes?
Enter CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin), who's convinced that Ramius' true intent is defection, but who seems to be just about the only American so persuaded. Ryan talks his way onto the submarine that's chasing down the Red October (not that he really wanted to go) and with its skeptical captain (Scott Glenn) and crew, tries to get to the bottom of the incident, hopefully before a nuclear Armageddon is set off.
And they do, eventually, though not before some pretty fine thriller stuff and even a couple of nifty explosions.
It's also quite cool how the two "sides" communicate via sonar.
I have no idea how realistic this stuff is, but from what I've read Tom Clancy was pretty right on about such topics. Perhaps that's why he's no longer with us…
There are also some fine performances here, not only from the always-great Connery, but from Baldwin who, despite being a nut, can still act. Also displaying good theatrical chops are, Sam Neill, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Stellan Skarsgard and Tim Curry.
The special effects are convincing and the script zips you along beautifully, sucking you right into the story.
If you like "intriguing" movies, this is a great one and even though the Soviet Union no longer exists in that form, The Hunt for Red October still works as a great action/adventure film today.
Paramount's new 4K disc version comes with a conventional 1080p Blu-ray as well as the 4K disc and a code for a digital download. As is usual with 4K discs, most of the extras are contained on the Blu-ray, though there is a director's commentary on the 4K disc.
The 4K presentation, with HDR, is obviously the go-to choice here if you have (or plan to have) the hardware with which to play it (4K TV and 4K disc player, both with HDR capability). And if you don't, but plan to in the future, this is the version to buy because you can still exploit the conventional Blu-ray until you upgrade.
The video quality is fine, though (apparently deliberately) it can be quite soft at times, especially in scenes set inside the submarines. But the overall sharpness, colour, etc. does manage to shine through in places, most notably in clothing, faces, backgrounds and the like. So, while it's definitely not the finest example of 4K, it's still an uptick from the 1080p version that's on the other disc, even to offering pretty good "depth".
The audio is offered in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, as opposed to the newer Dolby Atmos offered on many newer films' versions. Most people, including me, don't have Atmos capability anyway, so this is hardly slumming it in the world of home audio.
In the meantime, the fidelity is very good, and all the channels will get a good workout in your home theatre.
Extras on the Blu-ray, other than the commentary by John McTiernan that's also featured on the 4K disc, are pretty limited. You get about a half-hour's worth of a "Beneath the Surface" feature, and the theatrical trailer. And that's it, so a special, "collectors' edition" this definitely ain't. Still, it's the movie in 4K I was most interested in and for the most part, it's pretty good. If nothing else, it's the best video version yet.
However you slice it, if you're a fan of Jack Ryan in his many incarnations, this granddaddy of all of the films is an interesting and compelling story told well and shot beautifully. And it's hard to complain about that.
Copyright 2020 Jim Bray