'The Hunt for Red October' - 5 stars
'The Hunt for Red October' may be a beloved classic today, but when it hit theaters in March of 1990, quite a few notable critics were… let's just say less than kind. The Washington Post skewered the film for being "big, clunky, and ponderously overplotted," Newsweek labeled it a disappointment, and the Washington Times called its underwater intrigue "murky and impossible to follow." Audiences, on the other hand, weren't so quick to dismiss the remarkably written and meticulously paced Cold War thriller. The film went on to make $200 million during its worldwide theatrical release, develop a loyal following on home video, and endure the decades to become a true, timeless classic.
Based on Tom Clancy's best-selling novel of the same name, 'The Hunt for Red October' follows CIA analyst Jack Ryan (a young Alec Baldwin) as he attempts to convince his superiors that a rogue Soviet submarine sneaking through international waters is not plotting an attack on the United States. He believes the ship's captain, Marko Ramius (Sean Connery), and Executive Officer, Vasily Borodin (Sam Neill), are planning to defect and surrender their advanced vessel to US military personnel. Weaseling his way on board the USS Dallas -- a submarine whose SONAR operator (Courtney B. Vance) has discovered how to track Ramius' vessel -- Ryan convinces a reluctant American captain (Scott Glenn) to let him make contact with Ramius and offer his government's full support.
There's an early scene in 'The Hunt for Red October' where we see Ramius and his Russian crew going about their duties and speaking in their native tongue. After the camera pushes in on a man reading a Bible, a language transition occurs and the crew simply begins to speak in English for the rest of the film. With this single, confident changeover, director John McTiernan ('Die Hard,' 'The Thomas Crown Affair') eliminates the difficulties an audience may have with a Scot playing a Soviet sailor, makes it clear the crew is actually speaking Russian, and allows the various European and American actors to dig into their roles without risking the integrity of their delivery. In fact, this effortless narrative trick is the first of many that demonstrate the subtlety and sure-handedness McTiernan brings to the entire production. He creates conflict and doubt with silent stares and nervous glances, he reveals intense emotional turmoil with the smallest sampling of dialogue, and gives each of his supporting cast members at least one moment to shine.
More importantly, McTiernan doesn't lose his audience in the complicated political minefields Clancy takes the time to explore in his novels -- instead, the director shapes a layered story about two strangers who breach cultural barriers to accomplish something great. He spends the majority of his time developing the characters, trusting that the plot will fall into place as a result. To his credit, it works. The Americans and the Russians aren't portrayed as good or evil, but rather political forces comprised of a variety of beliefs and ideals. The intrigue McTiernan pulls from Larry Ferguson and Donald Stewart's screenplay focuses on the human struggles aboard the Dallas and the Red October… not the race to acquire a new technology or an underwater battle between two superpowers. Best of all, Ramius and Ryan aren't portrayed as two sides of the same coin, but as separate intellectual strategists who both understand exactly what is at stake.
Of course, all of it would be for nothing if it weren’t for a collection of fine performances from everyone involved. Connery redefines "stoic," revealing restrained bits of brashness, playfulness, and intelligence in his well-rounded defector. Baldwin combines wit and determination, naturally crafting Ryan into a clever and engaging thinking-man's hero. Neill becomes the tragic center of the tale, portraying a loyalist who considers Ramius a superior, a colleague, and a friend. It doesn't end there either. Vance, Glenn, James Earl Jones, Stellan Skarsgard, Tim Curry, and plenty of other notable faces pop up and make the best of their all-too-brief scenes. To its testament, any one of 'The Hunt for Red October''s eclectic characters could be the focus of an excellent film.
I sometimes worry that nostalgia brightens my assessment of films I fell in love with when I was younger, but 'The Hunt for Red October' is as absorbing today as it was eighteen years ago. A sharp script, effortless direction, and an endless collection of fantastic performances make this entry in the Jack Ryan series a top notch thriller. As it stands, all of the filmmakers currently working on rebooting Clancy's biggest franchise should train their eyes on the first and the best.
Despite the fact that I've watched every other Jack Ryan film numerous times over the years (yep, even the critically-panned, Affleckalicious 'The Sum of All Fears') and tackled a half dozen Tom Clancy novels which have yet to make it to the big screen, I've only caught director Phillip Noyce's 'Patriot Games' one time… and that was sixteen years ago. This realization surprised me since 'The Hunt for Red October' -- aside from being one of my favorite flicks of all time -- was always one of my go-to movies throughout high school and college. You would think I would have at least sampled Harrison Ford's Jack Ryan debut more than once. Needless to say, I was able to approach this viewing with few expectations and evaluate the film without any preconceived ideas.
'Patriot Games' – 3.5 stars
Adapted from Clancy’s 1987 novel of the same name, 'Patriot Games' follows newly-retired CIA agent Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) on a vacation to London with his wife (Anne Archer) and daughter (a young Thora Birch). To his dismay, sight-seeing and shopping is yanked from the itinerary when an Irish terrorist named Sean Miller (a scene-chewing Sean Bean) attempts to kill British Secretary of State, Lord William Holmes (James Fox). Ryan interrupts the assassination plot and saves Holmes, incapacitating Miller and killing his younger brother in the process. After being sent to prison, Miller escapes and sets his sights on revenge, forcing Ryan to protect his family from a squad of blood-thirsty terrorists. At the same time, Ryan must face Miller, contemplate his future in the CIA, and prevent another international incident.
At its heart, 'Patriot Games' is about the collision of two opposing forces -- a family man working to defend the innocent, and a misguided loyalist fighting for his increasingly vague ideals. When Bean and Ford are circling each other, the story seems to crackle towards its inevitable, climactic showdown, giving the actors plenty of room to control the tone of the entire film. To the slight disappointment of Clancy fans everywhere, political intrigue takes a back seat to the central conflict and offers viewers a more accessible plot than the novel or the other Ryan-centric films in the series. Personally, I think it works. While 'Clear and Present Danger''s globe-trotting game of cat and mouse is, at times, unnecessarily convoluted and 'Sum of All Fears' boasts the subtlety of a Ferrari blasting down a dirt road, 'Patriot Games' simply focuses on Ryan's struggle to keep his family safe and Bean's insatiable need to propel his blood-feud no matter the cost.
Sadly, the biggest problem I have with the film may also be the same element that sets 'Patriot Games' (as well as 'Clear and Present Danger') apart from other political thrillers. Ford's Jack Ryan is such a reluctant, average-joe hero that he doesn't seem like a CIA man at all. While I appreciate the realistic take on the character and the believability Ford brings to the role, there isn't enough of a developed arc to make it matter. Ryan comes across as an unwilling participant -- an unenthusiastic champion if you will -- who doesn't have the spunk and fire Alec Baldwin brought to the part in 'The Hunt for Red October.' Perhaps the culprit is the film's underdeveloped script or Noyce's simplistic intent, but the Jack Ryan that appears in 'Patriot Games' is far too reactionary to benefit from the drive and intelligence that make Clancy's iconic everyman so engaging.
Ultimately, 'Patriot Games' struck me as a solid thriller with quite a few compelling performances. Sure, I would have liked to see Noyce's interpretation of Ryan fleshed out and for the script explore everything that’s going on inside its characters' heads, but I must say I enjoyed its authentic examination of honor, rage, and revenge. While it's not a show-stopping powerhouse like 'The Hunt for Red October' or as intense and detailed as Clancy’s novels, it still offers genre junkies a few things to get excited about.
'Clear and Present Danger' - 4 stars
What ever happened to Harrison Ford? I'm not talking about the self-referential actor who grimaced his way through 'Hollywood Homicide' or cashed out with 'Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' (sorry fans, it lost me the moment Indy stumbled out of the refrigerator)… I'm talking about the legendary performer who commanded the screen in 'Air Force One,' crafted a pitch-perfect reimagining of a beloved character in 'The Fugitive,' and delivered the goods as a relatable CIA official who takes matters into his own hands in director Phillip Noyce's 'Clear and Present Danger.' Where'd that guy go?
Based on the Tom Clancy novel of the same name, 'Clear and Present Danger' follows series mainstay Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) -- now Deputy Director of Intelligence -- as he fights to survive the political machinations of an amoral CIA director named Robert Ritter (Henry Czerny), a corrupt National Security Advisor named James Cutter (Harris Yulin), and the President himself (Donald Moffat). After convincing a congressional committee to grant the CIA funds for intelligence operations in Colombia, Ryan discovers that Cutter and Ritter have been conducting secret military operations against a vicious drug cartel. Ryan must ascertain the nature of their dealings, enlist the help of a field operative (Willem Dafoe) who Cutter and Ritter manipulated, and save a black-ops squad that's been left for dead behind enemy lines.
My apologies if I made a slow-burning political thriller like 'Clear and Present Danger' sound like a guns-n-explosions actioner, but it would take three or four paragraphs to outline the various subplots, double-crosses, and international intrigue that undergird every scene in the film. So much material has been exorcised from the novel that one might expect a simplistic story, but nothing could be further from the truth. Honestly, the sheer scope of the film can be a bit daunting and will lose anyone who steps out of the room for more than a minute. Even so, Noyce keeps the film's countless narrative threads precariously tight and doesn't lose sight of the central conflict. He hurls dozens of characters, motivations, and ideals at the screen, but wisely keeps his camera swirling around Ryan, Cutter, Ritter, and the President. While the film does occasionally drift into super-agent vs. the world territory, Noyce tones down scenes that risk transforming Ryan into James Bond and keeps his hero grounded in relative reality and plausible politics.
Thankfully, Ford is given more opportunities to make Ryan a proactive force (as the character is in 'The Hunt Red October') than a victim turned reluctant hero (as he is in 'Patriot Games'). Even the chattiest scenes crackle with the actor's patented average-joe intensity -- when Ford barked, "How dare you, sir," at the President, I felt it in my gut and immediately realized how refreshingly noble and genuine it sounded. On the other end of the spectrum, Czerny, Yulin, and Moffat make for some great, scene-chewing villains. Each character has his own agenda, but the extent of their collective influence and power gives the entire story a palpable volatility that keeps things barreling along to the subtly climactic end. The only weak performances come from the conventional Colombian soldiers and cartel leaders but, of course, this isn’t the sort of film that needs them to be anything but formulaic stand-ins.
My heart still belongs to 'The Hunt for Red October,' but 'Clear and Present Danger' is an engaging political thriller that manages to keep its quiet double-crosses as compelling as its explosive action sequences. While some may find it a tad slow and overblown for their tastes, I couldn't help but get caught up in Ryan's quest to defend his forgotten countrymen, uncover the truth, and fight for his ideals -- three things that are sadly missing from modern politics.
'The Sum of All Fears' – 3.5 stars
Hi. My name's Ken Brown and I'm an Affleckoholic. It's not something I like to talk about… when I try to tell people that Affleck's work in 'Gigli' wasn't as bad as critics made it out to be, or that he managed to bring a bit of wit to a trainwreck like 'Surviving Christmas,' I always encounter the same stares, sneers, and snickers. It's a tough addiction to deal with in a world that’s turned its back on the would-be Matt Murdock, but I still hold out hope that Ben will eventually get his career back on track. Sure, he's spent the last ten years slogging his way through junk like 'Reindeer Games,' 'Pearl Harbor,' and 'Man About Town,' but let's not forget this is the same guy who turned in impressive, late '90s performances in 'Shakespeare in Love,' 'Chasing Amy,' and, of course, 'Good Will Hunting.'
One of the more divisive films in Affleck's critically-panned canon is 'The Sum of All Fears,' Paramount's first attempt to reboot the Jack Ryan film franchise for a new generation. Loosely based on the Tom Clancy novel of the same name, Ryan (a furrow-browed Ben Affleck) has been reimagined as a young intelligence analyst whose knowledge of the latest Russian president (Ciaran Hinds) earns him a trip to the Kremlin with CIA Director William Cabot (Morgan Freeman). However, when Ryan and Cabot realize the Russian officials have lied to them about three missing nuclear technicians, an operative named John Clark (Liev Schreiber) is dispatched to get to the bottom of the deception. Before long, Ryan discovers that a neo-Nazi named Richard Dressler (Alan Bates) has stashed a Russian-made nuclear bomb in Baltimore in the hopes of starting a cataclysmic conflict between Russia and the United States. Racing against time, Ryan tries to prevent an explosion, warn the President (James Cromwell) of the danger, and thwart a manufactured nuclear war.
Despite my affinity for Affleck, I rather enjoyed 'The Sum of All Fears.' While it has little to do with the novel that inspired it, it isn't just a "slick-looking mess" like some critics have suggested. Evaluated on its own terms, director Phil Alden Robinson's revamp is a solid thriller that takes quite a few brave and unexpected turns (a big one in particular). The screenplay effortlessly balances it's intrigue and action, adds palpable tension to the hunt for the nuclear bomb, and strips the characters and story of extraneous subplots that would cloud the central conflict. At first I was worried the film would feel hollow next to meatier Clancy fare like 'Clear and Present Danger,' but it actually works and keep things moving along at a brisk pace. More importantly, Freeman and Cromwell inject legitimate gravitas into a script that could have been trite and cliché, Schreiber and Bates deliver respectable supporting performances that give the film more realistic interpretations of a superspy and a Bond Villain-of-the-Month, and notable faces like Bruce McGill, Philip Baker Hall, and John Beasley help modernize Ryan's world and make it more authentic.
And Affleck? All bias aside, the young actor does a fine job channeling Harrison Ford's bewildered action-hero mannerisms and Alec Baldwin's defiant charm. The only scenes that sag involve Jack Ryan's girlfriend, Dr. Catherine Muller (Bridget Moynahan) -- Moynahan and Affleck's interactions are passable, but you can tell the screenwriters and the actors considered the relationship between the future Mr. and Mrs. Ryan to be an inevitable plot device that didn't warrant a lot of investment. Aside from these minor characterization missteps, 'The Sum of All Fears' suffers from a few more dehabilitating problems. Its plot developments seem a bit contrived, characters are shuffled around the board as if they're chess pieces rather than real people, and the third act is a relative disappointment (especially in light of the jaw-dropping, second act clincher). None of these issues particularly ruin the movie, but they do lessen the overall impact and make the film feel more like a by-the-numbers thriller than a Tom Clancy spider web.
As it stands, 'The Sum of All Fears' squeaks by 'Patriot Games' to become my third favorite Jack Ryan film. I would have enjoyed it more if it offered the double-crosses and character twists that populate 'Clear and Present Danger' or the plausible plot developments and performance weight of 'The Hunt for Red October,' but I still thought it was a lot better than most people seem to think. While anyone looking for a thought-provoking sequel to the established series will probably be disappointed with Paramount's efforts, those looking for an above-average thriller and an overhaul of Clancy's aging character will dig the results.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Just as they did with the 'Mission Impossible: Extreme Blu-ray Trilogy,' Paramount has failed to upgrade or enhance the discs included in the 'Jack Ryan Collection.' This collection features four of the standard stand-alone Blu-ray discs - keepcase, cover art and all - in a bulky and flimsy four-keepcase-wide cardboard slipcase. I'd hoped that this collection of discs would be housed in a unique case, perhaps something along the lines of the 'Indiana Jones Trilogy,' but alas it's not. It looks like Paramount pulled all four discs out of the $5 discount Blu-ray bins where they're usually found, slipped them into the cardboard case and sealed them together. There's no new feature, no new packaging, no new transfer. This is the last promotional bump that Paramount will give the franchise until the January 2014 release of the Jack Ryan reboot, so I doubt we'll get a remastered set until after 'Jack Ryan' - and, even then, only if it performs very well.
'The Hunt for Red October' - 4 stars
Ever since a packaging snafu led to Paramount's controversial cancellation of the 'Jack Ryan Collection' HD DVD in 2007, fans have been anxiously waiting for 'The Hunt for Red October' to be released in high definition. Well, rest easy, dear readers... the series opener is finally making its high-def debut with a faithful 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that will please fans and purists alike. While the eighteen year old film is starting to show its age (the print is occasionally tainted by relatively negligible specks, scratches, and blemishes), Paramount has stabilized the picture and created an eye-pleasing three-dimensional image that makes the disc's arrival seem worth the wait.
The picture boasts strong colors, bold primaries (particularly during the various submarine encounters), solid blacks, and comfortable contrast leveling. In spite of the various palette-taxing lighting schemes employed throughout the film, skintones remain natural and detail rarely slips. Fine textures are quite impressive, facial pores and stubble are crisp, and the Dallas and Red October command centers benefit exponentially from such increased clarity. Only a handful of shots seem softer than the rest, creating a consistent and reliable picture from beginning to end. Best of all, I didn't catch any significant artifacting, problematic noise, or heavy DNR (if any). Edge enhancement makes a few noticeable appearances -- particularly when either sub surfaces -- but it isn't detrimental and will only bother those with larger projection screens.
To top it all off, a quick comparison to the standard definition release reveals a monumental improvement in almost every area -- the BD's occasionally ruthless delineation is the only aspect of this new release that doesn’t utterly trounce the DVD. While grain-haters will probably disagree, the end result is sharp, clean, and precise, offering what I assume is a faithful approximation of the film's theatrical presentation. It may not be perfect, but 'The Hunt for Red October''s video transfer will give fans a disc to get excited about.
'Patriot Games' – 2.5 stars
Unfortunately, 'Patriot Games' features the most problematic 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer of the four Jack Ryan BD releases. Sixteen years have passed since the film's theatrical debut and the print is showing its age. Contrast wavers and weakens at times, specks and scratches pop up throughout the presentation, clarity becomes muddled in some shots, and several nighttime scenes look dull and flat. Adding insult to injury, edge enhancement has been retained, an annoying criss-crossed pattern briefly materializes over the image on more than one occasion (the discrepancy hovers over the Paramount logo when the movie begins and reappears at least a dozen times during the film as well), and a few textures are disrupted by yet another bizarre glitch (to catch this phenomenon, pay attention to the ski-masks when Miller first realizes his brother is dead).
A few shots have also been marred by the two extremes of over-processing -- quite a few close-ups suffer from unnatural artificial sharpening, while others appear to have been scrubbed at the expense of fine detailing and sharp textures (pay close attention to the scene involving Ryan's attempts to stay conscious after preventing Holmes' assassination for examples of both). The intermittent use of light DNR and artificial image enhancement certainly doesn't ruin the entire presentation, but there are plenty of superior catalog transfers on the market that make 'Patriot Games' look inconsistent and hazy by comparison. Ironically, spiking grain and shots with average textures wouldn't have bothered me nearly as much as the unattractive processing that's been applied to the picture.
Still, even the worst visuals in 'Patriot Games' look great next to the Collector's Edition DVD. Despite an intentionally drab palette that bounces between steely blues and muddy browns, primaries are more vibrant, blacks are deeper and more consistent, and detail has received a welcome (albeit inherent) boost from the disc's increased resolution. Better still, the general artifacting, crushing, and delineation discrepancies that bottle-neck the SD version have been eliminated. Over-polished as it may be, the image is clean and relatively reliable. Could 'Patriot Games' look better? With a dedicated, invasive remastering, I believe anything's possible. However, let's be honest: this average thriller isn't likely to earn the tender loving care bestowed on other beloved classics. As it stands, this is the best 'Patriot Games' is probably going to look for a long time.
'Clear and Present Danger' - 3 stars
The Blu-ray edition of 'Clear and Present Danger' features a decent 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that looks pretty good, despite a few fundamental problems. After a rather shabby, poorly-contrasted opening sequence, Noyce's thriller hits its stride with incredibly vibrant colors, solid blacks, and fairly revealing delineation. In fact, the scenes in Colombia pack the screen with lush jungle greens, bold flashes of red, and clean blue skies. While the film's warm skintones appear to be a bit over-saturated, the actors don't look as drab or sickly as they do on the standard DVD. Detail is also worth mentioning. Sure, the transfer's improved sharpness can mainly be attributed to the disc's increased resolution, but grass and foliage, on-screen text, and skin textures offer clarity that simply isn't available in previous releases. While this certainly isn't the next great catalog title, it should please casual fans looking for a smooth and shiny upgrade.
However, while the transfer isn't as problematic as the one Paramount slapped together for 'Patriot Games,' it still suffers from a bit of overzealous post-processing work. DNR reduces grain and noise, but inadvertently scrubs away some of the print's fine texture and outright smears the backgrounds of a few scenes. Edge enhancement makes an appearance as well, lining objects with thin halos that stand out against white walls and bright skies. Finally, element-specific sharpening finishes off Paramount's sucker punch and occasionally makes foreground objects appear disjointed from the backgrounds. To get a glimpse of all three techniques assaulting the image at once, check out the training sequence where Willem Dafoe and Benjamin Bratt try to spot a sniper in a ghillie suit.
Sure, everyday viewers may not be sensitive to these issues, but that doesn't mean they should be satisfied with less. While we've come a long way from the days of 4:3 televisions, pan-and-scan flicks, and subpar video quality, we shouldn't stop demanding more. Don't get me wrong, boycotts, grumbling, and angry complaints accomplish nothing -- I think fans of the film should nab a copy of 'Clear and Present Danger' simply because it’s the latest and greatest version available. However, over-processed transfers will continue to appear unless consumers (yep, those who actually check out a disc instead of looking at screen shots online) politely educate, demonstrate, and explain the benefits of a filmic picture. Studios aren't inherently lazy and, contrary to what some believe, don't enjoy cutting corners. At the end of the day, they want their movies to appeal to fans, catch the attention of newcomers, and sell plenty of copies. If people want more natural transfers, they'll get em. If they don't see the problems with DNR and EE, we'll continue to get DNR and EE.
Long rant short, graciously contact studio reps and let them know what you're looking for, politely guide your fellow Blu-ray fanatics to screenshots that show them how DNR and EE saps detail from a picture, and reasonably ask for what fans deserve… the best presentation of a film a studio can possibly muster. Ultimately, that's what we all want, isn't it?
'The Sum of All Fears' – 2.5 stars
To my surprise, 'The Sum of All Fears' features the most disappointing 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer of the Jack Ryan Blu-ray releases. It doesn't suffer from the same technical oddities as 'Patriot Games' (and therefore doesn't deserve the harshest criticism), but it looks terribly over-processed for a six-year old film. Heavy DNR, consistent edge enhancement, and additional sharpening techniques have been applied to the picture, making the image harsh and unnatural while simultaneously scrubbing faces of texture and backgrounds of fine details. The results make the film's detailing smeared and smudged throughout -- skin is waxy, clothing and fabric look flat, and building surfaces aren't as refined. Compared to similar titles, this one looks as if it's been waterboarded by an overzealous engineer.
Still, viewers who don't mind sacrificing considerable fine detail or dealing with sharp edge halos will find the picture is significantly better than its standard DVD counterpart. Colors are more vibrant, stable, and natural than in previous releases, leaving those waxy skintones looking warm and healthy. In fact, there are plenty of scenes that could have been downright amazing had the transfer retained the filmic qualities of its original print. I was also pleased with the film's attractive and comfortable contrast, its noteworthy shadow delineation, and a series of deep, inky blacks (that only fall victim to crush in three or four shots). Honestly, this is yet another title that will split fans into two camps -- those who aren't sensitive to over-processing techniques and those who loathe them. Will 'The Sum of All Fears' impress your neighbors? Most likely. Will it impress anyone who knows what they're looking for? Not so much.
'The Hunt for Red October' - 4 stars
'The Hunt for Red October' sounds as good as it looks. Paramount has produced a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track that outperforms the DVD's standard audio mix, crafts an immersive soundfield, and allows fans to hear the film the way it was meant to be heard. Directionality is surprisingly proficient, underwater and interior pans are silky smooth, and dialogue is crisp and well prioritized (minus a half-dozen whispers that slip through the cracks). The rear speakers don't make a direct assault on the listener per se, but do a fine job supporting every scene with subtle, acoustic aggression that allows ambient effects, explosive impacts, and quiet exchanges to register as convincing and realistic. The track's proficient dynamics also make a memorable impression. Basil Poledouris' extraordinary music is reborn in this lossless mix with powerful bass tones, a healthy chorus of unwavering voices, and plenty of steady, high-end instrumentation.
My lone complaint is that the LFE channel doesn't dig as deep as I'd prefer during the submarine engagements -- sure, a decent spread of low-end pulses have been competently replicated throughout the film, but I longed for the sort of disquieting gut-punches delivered by the best lossless tracks on the market. Still, such a nitpick is hardly a point of serious contention. 'The Hunt for Red October' sounds as good as I hoped and left me with little choice but to shove my standard DVD down the garbage disposal.
'Patriot Games' – 3.5 stars
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track created for this release may offer fans more substantial value than its video transfer, but it still struggles with its aging source. First the good. Dialogue is clean, well-prioritized, and healthily anchored to the center speaker -- even though most of the lines in 'Patriot Games' are delivered in one of three flavors (whisper-quiet, alarmed, or menacing), the actors' voices never have to compete with sound effects, action sequences, or James Horner's score. LFE-support is respectable whenever it's called upon, adding oomph to an exploding car and a healthy roar to a boat engine. Otherwise, the experience is a conversational affair that fails to take advantage of the rear speakers or develop a deep, immersive soundfield like recent films with more refined sound design. The aforementioned score is the best sounding component the track has to offer, but even it sounds like a segregated element of the mix, slightly disjointed from the bulk of the soundscape.
Paramounts new lossless audio package leaves the DVD's standard mix sounding murky, overly compressed, and positively outdated. 'Patriot Games' may not be able to match sonic wits with the most bombastic catalog releases on the shelf, but it handles its material well enough to satisfy fans working to upgrade their old collection.
'Clear and Present Danger' – 3.5 stars
'Clear and Present Danger''s Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track didn't exactly blow my mind, but it did manage to faithfully and accurately present the film’s aging sound design. This is the chattiest Jack Ryan entry of the bunch and, to its credit, the mix holds its own with crisp, well-prioritized dialogue (that only falters during a few chaotic military engagements in Colombia), respectable rear speaker support, and satisfying dynamics. While the LFE channel doesn't have a slew of standout sequences, it still does a great job enhancing the film's intermittent gunfire, explosions, and helicopter fly-bys (particularly in the third act). Likewise, the surrounds may not be aggressive enough to create a wholly immersive experience, but some notable Colombian sequences deliver impressive rear soundfield movement.
Unfortunately, the resulting sonics are a tad uneven and inconsistent. Ambience sometimes seems like an afterthought in the film's various interiors, leaving a void any time the story drifts away from the White House or Escobedo's property. Worse still, acoustics are hit-or-miss, oftentimes retreating from the proceedings rather than supporting the centralized conversations and action scenes. Ultimately, this TrueHD mix sounds substantially better than the standard DVD's heavily compressed audio, but it doesn't quite measure up to better lossless tracks on other Blu-ray catalog releases. Granted, fans familiar with the talkative nature of this thriller won’t have any serious complaints, but newcomers will wonder why the audio isn’t as involving as the film's political double-crossings.
'The Sum of All Fears' – 4 stars
While 'The Sum of All Fears' video transfer will give fans a headache, its polished Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track is far more reliable. Dialogue is clear and evenly distributed across the front speakers, rear support delivers plenty of immersive opportunities, and dynamics pack a nice punch. The film's central effects sequence sounds spectacular -- the LFE channel summons a guttural growl as wind and debris hurtle across the soundfield. In fact, the track's low-end bass tones are generously spread across the entire film and add significant weight and impact to the on-screen action. Ambience is aggressive at times and subtle at others, enhancing explosions with tinkling glass and scattering shrapnel, as well as dropping countless voices into a stadium and a variety of murmurs in every crowded interior.
If I had any issue it concerns the track's pans and directionality. I would expect overcooked sound effects in a rock-em-sock-em actioner, but I was disappointed to find certain effects crammed into every speaker for effect. I also didn’t expect to find a few voices that jumped from one channel to the next without a smooth transition. While it only happened a half-dozen times, a film that features a dazzling sonic showcase moment shouldn't stutter when someone walks across a room. Thankfully, my complaints are minor and probably would go unnoticed by anyone who isn't actively listening for problems. In the end, 'The Sum of All Fears' sounds better than it did on DVD and adds some much-needed value to the disc's technical presentation.
'The Hunt for Red October' – 1.5 stars
'The Hunt for Red October' includes all of the supplements that appeared on the Special Collector's Edition DVD in 2003. Unfortunately, the content is a bit slim (especially considering the size of the film’s fanbase) and the lone featurette is presented in standard definition.
'Patriot Games' – .5 stars
Like the 2003 Special Collector's Edition DVD before it, the Blu-ray edition of 'Patriot Games' doesn't feature an extensive supplemental package.
'Clear and Present Danger' - .5 stars
The Blu-ray edition of 'Clear and Present Danger' includes the same lackluster supplemental package as its standard DVD counterpart.
'The Sum of All Fears' – 3.5 stars
Mirroring the 2003 Special Collector's Edition DVD, this new Blu-ray release includes a decent supplemental package. The only major downside is that the disc's two documentaries are presented in standard definition. Even so, Affleck fans will be disappointed by the fact that the notoriously funny commentary-veteran didn't record anything for 'The Sum of All Fears.' Ah well, I suppose it gives me a decent reason to hang onto the Criterion release of 'Armageddon.'
I love the Jack Ryan films. The franchise hasn't played out perfectly, but it's still one of the top spy series out there. The central character and the scenarios that he finds himself in are a great blend of politics and action, making them fantastic political thrillers. Knowing that each of the four films in this set has received a flawed Blu-ray release, I've held out on buying them. As much as I wanted the steelbook 'Patriot Games' and 'Clear and Present Danger' sets, I passed in hopes that Paramount would freshen up these older titles with shiny new transfers prior to the franchise being revisited theatrically. Well, the debut of 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' is just around the bend, and Paramount's only attempt at getting us revved up for it is the 'Jack Ryan Collection' - a lazy compilation of all four standalone releases in a cheap and bulky cardboard slipcase. Since Paramount hasn't even remastered the still-relevant 'Mission: Impossible' series yet, I'm lead to believe that this is the best we're going to get. I only recommend picking up this set if you don't own any of the films and don't believe that Paramount will ever revisit them - but even then I'd wait until it drops in price.