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The Hunt for Red October (1990) – DVD Review

The Hunt for Red October DVD cover art


Written by: Larry Ferguson & Donald Stewart, based on the novel by Tom Clancy
Directed by: John McTiernan
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Sean Connery, Scott Glenn, Sam Neill, James Earl Jones


  • Running audio commentary by director McTiernan
  • Beneath the Surface making-of featurette
  • Theatrical trailer

Released by: Paramount
Region: 1
Rating: PG
Anamorphic: Yes

My Advice: Fans of the movie should own it.

It’s 1984. Captain Ramius (Connery) has been given the command of the newest class of Soviet sub–one that’s got a certain something extra under the hood, if you catch my drift. Ramius has something secret under his hood, too–he and a select group of his officers are trying to defect and take this new sub, Red October, with them. Enter Jack Ryan (Baldwin), an analyst who’s gotten some clandestine shots of the hull of the October and is trying to figure out what the sub’s strange new feature is. Things get especially tense when the Soviets claim Ramius has gone rogue–and now both Soviets and Americans are looking for the poor captain to blow him to kingdom come. Only Ryan thinks he knows what the man’s really up to, and only Ryan can save the life of him and his crew.

[ad#longpost]Two things go in this film’s favor from jump. One, it’s a Tom Clancy story, so you’ve already got source material that’s good and tense and militarily technical. Granted, you need to have the good sense to adapt it properly, so this is where we hand out points to Ferguson, Stewart and company for not botching the job. Second thing, it’s a sub flick at its core. It’s hard to go wrong with a thriller when you’ve got an enclosed metal space, filled with men in danger, ripe for tense close-ups and set-shaking explosions. Metal coffin underwater with a screw on it? Instant thriller, just add cast.

Nice cast. Connery is the one man who can make you not care that his own thick brogue isn’t whatever nationality he’s supposed to be. He’s Sean Connery, and by damn, he’s Russian. The audience simply nods and agrees with him and goes upon their merry way: Whatever you say, sir. Baldwin is in fine form here too, probably his best performance behind Glengarry. And McTiernan, as he reveals in his commentary, wanted to get a solid supporting cast–and he succeeded. Scott Glenn as the captain of the sub Dallas, James Earl Jones as Ryan’s boss, Tim Curry and Sam Neill under Connery’s command on the October–not a weak one in the bunch.

With this new special edition of the film on DVD, you get a couple of things that weren’t there before. First, you get the aforementioned commentary with McTiernan. It’s all right, certainly nothing to write home about. He does provide you with some good information about casting and setups for shots, but he spends a lot of time second-guessing and doubting himself. After explaining how the scene where we meet Jeffrey Jones’ character was shot using a real American sub in real drydock–a cinematic first–he goes on to say that he hopes it works, with an obvious air that he’s not sure. He’s just described something that sounds really damn cool, and then he’s not sure that it worked. Happens more often than it should. You’d think after this and some other of the films on his filmography, he’d have a little more faith in own his directorial decisions. But whatever.

Also you have the featurette Beneath the Surface, where they wind up talking to just about everybody–Neill, Curry and Courtney Vance excluded, though–about the process. It’s fairly well done and extensive and it covers from the nabbing of the rights to hitting the big screen. There also some funny/scary moments, like when Baldwin reveals that he still remembers his lines–the ones that were in Russian. Yikes.

Overall, is it probably as special as fanatics would want? Nah. We want a Baldwin/Connery commentary track and everyone knows it–but we’re probably not going to get one. So for fans of the film, fans of Clancy, or fans of the sub flick, they should probably buy–everyone else should at least rent, because hell, it’s a good movie.