Apr 12, 2013

[Movies] The Hunt for the Red October (1990)

I was channel-surfing recently and was surprised to bump into an HBO screening of The Hunt for the Red October. As much as I love science fiction and fantasy more than most other genres, just political / military thrillers continue to hold a special place in my heart. And for this I can only blame my family for being a bunch of nerds about these things and of course my limited debating career back in high school.

Amid renewed threats from North Korea this week, it seems a tad odd to go back to a movie that depicted another period when we felt we were dancing around the threat of nuclear war - the Cold War era. But quite frankly, a good movie can stand on its own feet regardless of the modern day context and this will always be one such movie for me.

But on a side note, I don't foresee North Korea somehow finding the resources (let alone the supposed nuclear armament) to make good on their threats. But I do foresee that any gestures of strength will inevitably affect South Korea. But that's a no-brainer, really.

Synopsis: The Hunt for the Red October is a 1990 political thriller based on the Tom Clancy novel of the same name. It was directed by John McTiernan with a screenplay by Larry Ferguson and Donald E. Stewart. The movie managed to get a few awards nominations but did take home the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing.

It is 1984 and Captain Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) commands a submarine known as the Red October. It is equipped with an experimental caterpillar drive, which renders the vessel essentially invisible to sonar. His current orders are to engage the V. K. Konavalov, as commanded by her former student Captain Tupolev (Stellan Skarsgård) in a series of training exercises. However once at the open sea, Ramius provides false orders for his crew and takes the submarine towards the US to conduct missile drills.

Meanwhile, CIA Analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) briefs his superiors about the threat of the Red October. Senior officials are eventually informed that the Russians have redeployed their fleet in an effort to destroy the rogue submarine and thus fear that Ramius plans an unauthorized strike on America. But Ryan presents a counter-theory - the Ramius is actually trying to defect. But the only way to find out what his intentions are for sure are to locate the submarine and establish contact with Marko himself.

The first thing that struck me about this movie is the key role that the music played in setting the tone for the story. There's nothing quite as imposing as the unique score that they created to help stress when we were dealing with the Soviets versus their American counterparts. Good job, Basil Poledouris.

It goes without saying that Sean Connery was as awesome as ever. And the subtle transition between the crew speaking Russian to them speaking English for the benefit of the audience was just brilliant and eased us all into the proper mindset. And while Connery isn't the least bit Russian, you can certainly believe that he's the sort of man who could steal an entire submarine with the help of the very crew tasked to keep it running.

And I will concede that Alec Baldwin wasn't exactly that bad in this movie either. Sure, his dramatic work has been rather hit-or-miss over the years, but he did a pretty decent job for this particular production. I could totally believe that he was a CIA analyst a little out of his element but so convinced of the truth of his theory that he'd risk a little fieldwork anyway.

But the overall cast of this movie includes quite a number of surprising names and faces, when you really think about it. You have Sam Neill, James Earl Jones, Gates McFadden (of Star Trek: the Next Generation) and a rather striking Tim Curry as well. Thankfully he channeled more of his Butler character in the movie Clue versus his time as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But again, I digress.

Given the movie was based on a best-selling novel, it's pretty impressive how they managed to portray a fairly complex political plot in the span of 134 minutes. And it's not like they give you much time to get bored with the details or anything like that - there's more than enough action to enjoy as audiences are treated to the unique experience that is submarine combat. It may not seem as flashy as a bunch of fighter jets dogfighting in the sky, but it's just as intense.

The Hunt for the Red October helped set the stage for more stories about Jack Ryan, although we didn't quite get Alec Baldwin in that role ever again. Still, this was a great movie when you put everything together and is always worth the time to watch from start to finish. Thus the movie gets 5 near-misses by rival torpedoes out of a possible 5.

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