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Featured Blu-ray Review - The Jack Ryan Collection

December 2nd, 2013

The Jack Ryan Collection - Buy from Amazon

The Jack Ryan franchise is a strange one. There have been four films so far, with a fifth on the way, and during that time, four different actors will have played the titular role. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit hits theaters in mid-January, so it is a perfect time to release the four earlier movies on a Blu-ray box set. (Or to be more accurate, re-release the 2008 Blu-rays in one box set.) How many of these earlier films are worth checking out? And is the box set good value?

The Hunt for Red October

The film takes place near the end of the Cold War in 1984. The Russians are launching a new submarine, the Red October, and the Americans and the British are worried because its not only bigger than the previous Typhoon, but it appears to be equipped with some technology the Americans and British are unfamiliar with. Jack Ryan is brought in by Admiral James Greer to lead the investigation into this new submarine. Dr. Skip Tyler, a friend of Jack's and an expert in submarines, thinks the new feature is a caterpillar drive, magneto-hydrodynamic propulsion. As Tyler explains it, a jet engine for underwater. It would be so silent that sonar wouldn't be able to detect it, and if they did, it wouldn't sound like a sub. If this technology works, it will tip the balance of the cold war in Russia's favor.

At the same time, we look in on the Red October and its captain, Captain 1st Rank Marko Aleksandrovich Ramius, a politically connected officer who has captained the first ship in every new line of submarines for a decade. He and the political officer, Ivan Putin, open their official orders. They are to meet up with Captain Tupolev of the V.K. Konovalov, who will hunt the Red October to test the effectiveness of the caterpillar drive. Putin asks to post the orders to the crew, but when he rises to do so, Ramius grabs him and slams his neck into the table killing him making it look like he slipped on tea. He then begins to burn the orders and replacing them with ones he brought with him before calling the ship's doctor, who declares the death an accident. Despite this tragedy, Captain Ramius continues on following the new orders and heads to the east coast of North America.

Shortly after that, and with practically the entire Russian Atlantic fleet activated, Jack Ryan is asked by Admiral James Greer to brief the American military leaders over this development. It is clear that the Red October is the most dangerous weapon the Russians have, but they are not clear as to why they made it. It could be a first strike weapon, or it could be designed to evade a first strike by the Americans, thus ensuring Russia would be able to respond. There's even worse news, as the Americans intercepted Russian orders. The fleet has been activated not to engage NATO, but to sink the Red October. All the evidence points to Ramius going rogue and starting World War III. However, Jack Ryan has another theory. Ramius is trying to defect. Ramius isn't actually Russian, but was born in Lithuania. He is in the perfect position to choose his crew, ones loyal to his plan. It is the one-year anniversary of the death of his wife and he had no children to leave behind.

With that, Jack Ryan is sent out to sea to see if he can prove his theory and he only has four days, because that's when the Red October will be within range to fire its missiles.

The Hunt for Red October is the best film in the Jack Ryan franchise with the most tense script in the series. Not only are the submarine action scenes incredibly well done, but the tension between the various groups is also perfectly executed. We know Ramius is trying to defect, but the Russians have told the Americans it is a rescue mission, but the Americans know the Russians sent way too much firepower for a mere rescue mission, so they know something is up. However, they don't know if it is truly someone defecting or a rogue captain trying to start World War III. And speaking of World War III, even if Ramius isn't intending to start World War III, his actions might set it off anyways, as the Russian and American forces being this close together any little thing can quickly escalate. Another major asset the film has is the acting, which is top-notch throughout the movie. Yes, it is strange to hear a Russian submarine captain with a Scottish accent, but I can deal with this. On the downside, some of the special effects have not aged well in the twenty years since this movie was made. They were Oscar-worthy at the time, but they do look their age.

The Extras

Extras include an audio commentary with the director, John McTiernan, as well as a 28-minute long making of featurette.

The technical presentation is strong, given the age of the film. In fact, there's enough detail that the special effects look a little weak as a result, but you can't blame the transfer for that. There are a few instances of print damage, but nothing that stands out. (You have to look for it for the most part.) There are some scenes that are a little heavy on the grain, but most people would agree that is preferable to excessive DNR. The audio is very good with plenty of directional effects and the bass gets a workout in the submarine scenes.

Patriot Games

This film was made just two years after the first movie, but it takes place many years later. Jack Ryan has retired from the CIA and is now a professor. He, his wife, and his daughter are with him in Britain to give a speech about possible future Soviet Naval developments and deployment. However, after the speech, he and his family are caught in an IRA attack in which Sean Miller and his brother, Paddy, tried to kidnap and / or assassinate a member of the Royal Family. Jack Ryan manages to stop this, but Paddy ends up dead in the process.

The attack on the Royal Family wasn't authorized by the IRA, but instead was a plot by a rogue lieutenant, Kevin O'Donnell, who thinks the IRA hasn't gone far enough. In fact, when they suggest this attack was counter-productive, he kills them. When Sean Miller is being transferred to a to jail, O'Donnell breaks him out and they leave the country where they can train. However, all Miller can think about is avenging his brother's death.

After the escape, James Greer visits Jack Ryan to warn him about possible retaliation, which both men think is remote. Greer also asks Jack Ryan to return to the CIA, which he declines. However, that changes when Sean Miller and a group of fellow terrorists come to the States and try to kill him and his family.

This film is not as good as The Hunt for Red October was. It's much more action oriented, but it doesn't have the tension. The cat and mouse game here involves a terrorist going after Jack Ryan and his family, which has a much more person touch to it, which is an asset. Also, I really like the scenes in which Jack Ryan tries to piece together the evidence to try and find Sean Miller. And I will compliment the film for how well the action scenes are executed. It just doesn't live up to its predecessor.

The Extras

The extras on this Blu-ray are limited to a 24-minute long making of featurette.

The technical presentation is also weaker with a noticeable drop in details and an equally noticeable rise in digital manipulation. It's not bad, but not good either. This is a film that could use an upgrade in the video department, especially since this disc is five years old. The audio is better than the video, but isn't as dynamic as the previous film. Good, but not great.

Clear and Present Danger

The film begins with a United States Coast Guard ship boarding an American ship. On board they find signs of a massacre. Jack Ryan is asked to investigate, quietly. It turns out the victims were a friend of President Bennett, Hardin, and his wife and two children. After being briefed on what happened, the President declares the drug cartels a clear and president danger and allows his National Security Advisor, James Cutter, unofficial license to do what it takes to take them down.

We also look into the drug cartel run by Ernesto Escobedo. He ordered the hit, because the target stole vast sums of money from him. His intelligence officer, Félix Cortez, is not pleased his boss acted so rashly. Because of the man's political alliances. Fortunately, Cortez has a contact within the FBI that should provide enough information to stay a step ahead of the Americans.

Back home, James Greer learns some devastating news. What he thought was the flu is an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. His chances of survival are bleak. In the meantime, Jack Ryan is to take over his job and become the acting Deputy Director of Intelligence. This is a problem for James Cutter and Deputy Director for Operations Bob Ritter, as they feel Jack Ryan is too much of a boy scout to go along with what the president wants. They come up with a simple solution, they will keep him out of the loop. This is a bit of a nasty solution, as Jack Ryan has to ask congress for the $75 million to run these ops, and if they go south, he will be on the hook.

Jack Ryan is being kept busy trying to solve the Hardin murders. They know the two who were arrested have ties to Columbian drug cartels, but that doesn't give them much of a motive. Piracy seems unlikely, as they had plane tickets back home, so they weren't planning on keeping the boat. When they are able to crack Hardin's code for his financial records, they learn he was laundering money for Columbian drug cartels, and skimming $650 million off the top for himself. This is why he and his family were killed.

Jack Ryan is able to get the money for this extended mission, but only by promising no troops would be sent. He thought he was telling the truth. Shortly after getting the extra money, the covert mission begins. At the same time, President Bennett asks Jack Ryan to go down to Columbia to confirm Hardin's cartel connections, so they can seize the money. Ernesto Escobedo learns of the attacks on his property, and the arrival of Jack Ryan, and puts two and two together and puts out a hit on Jack Ryan. Bad mistake.

This is a better film than Patriot Games was, but not as good as The Hunt for Red October. There's a lot more intrigue here with Jack Ryan trying to unravel the initial massacre and how the cartels were involved. There is also a lot of intrigue with the United States operations within Columbia and how they are trying to keep that confidential. This lifts it above the more straight-forward action of Patriot Games, but the overall effort is not quite as tight as with Red October and the second-half of the movie drags a little. To emphasize, it is an amazing movie, just not the best in the franchise.

The Extras

There's another meaty making of featurette, this time 27 minutes long.

The technical presentation is again merely good with a little too much digital manipulation. I'm not a fan of grain, but if you get rid of details more than you get rid of grain, there's a problem. The audio is better with clear dialogue and good use of the surround-sound speakers, but it doesn't have as strong dynamics.

The Sum of All Fears

The film starts in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War. An Israeli patrol jet crashes in the desert. While this would normally be just an accident, it is much worse, as it was carrying a nuclear weapon. Due to the winds, the plane and the bomb are quickly buried in the sand.

The movie flash forwards 29 years later, with a war in Chechnya and an unstable Russian government clouding the world's political stability. Jack Ryan is an analyst with the CIA who is called into action when the Russian president, Zorkin, suddenly dies. He's asked by DCI William Cabot to come in and talk about the new guy, Nemerov, since he wrote a paper about him last year predicting he would be the new President should Zorkin die. At the intelligence briefing, Jack Ryan is a little too forward in trying to give his opinions to Cabot. (Cabot gets back at him by giving him really bad advice with regards to his girlfriend.) While in Russia, Nemerov gives Cabot a warning to President Fowler to not interfere with the war with Chechnya, as it is an internal matter.

Meanwhile, we see some Arabic men digging in the desert, one of whom finds a bomb. He covers it up so that he can come back and dig it up later to try and sell. His buyer, Olson, realizes it is the nuclear weapon that was lost. He claims it is worthless, but buys it for $400, because the scrap dealer lost a son in the Yom Kippur War. We then see him turn around and sell it to an unknown person for $50 million, who that is gets us way too far into spoiler territory.

This is the weakest film in the franchise. It lacks the tension of the first three movies by a serious degree. Although the stakes are much higher than the previous two movies, the weaker script leaves the tension out of the equation. Additionally, without getting into spoiler territory, the main villain's plan feels more like something out of a James Bond movie rather than something that should be based a little more on reality. I do think it is better than its Tomatometer Score would indicate. I think a lot of critics gave it negative reviews because part of the film involved a massive terrorist attack on American soil, and since it came out a year and a half after 9/11, the subject was still too raw to deal with. The acting is not as strong as in the first three films, but there are good performances. There's more humor in this film than in the others, including Liev Schreiber. Overall, it is an okay movie, but the weakest in the group.

The Extras

On the other hand, the Blu-ray has the most extras. There are two audio commentary tracks, the first with the director, Phil Alden Robinson, and the second with the director and the writer, Tom Clancy. There are also two making of featurettes, which are combined nearly one hour in length.

Again, there is excessive digital manipulation here, which hurts the overall video quality. DNR has scrubbed a lot of the details out of the picture, while artificial edge enhancement has left the film with halos. It's not terrible, but I've certainly seen better. The audio is better with plenty of activity in the surround-sound speakers, including dynamic effects.

The Verdict

All four movies in the Jack Ryan are worth checking out at least once. The Hunt for Red October is a classic of the genre and is a must have, while the two films with Harrison Ford have high enough replay value that they are at least worth picking up. On the down side, the Blu-ray Box Set is just the previous Blu-ray releases from 2008 in a new box. If you own them there is no reason to upgrade. If you own two of them, it is cheaper to buy the others individually.

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Filed under: Video Review, Clear and Present Danger, The Hunt for Red October, The Sum of All Fears, Patriot Games, James Bond, Jack Ryan, Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman, Sean Connery, Tim Curry, James Earl Jones, Ben Affleck, Anne Archer, Alec Baldwin, Sean Bean, Patrick Bergin, Thora Birch, James Cromwell, Henry Czerny, Joaquim de Almeida, Colm Feore, Peter Firth, Ciaran Hinds, Jeffrey Jones, John McTiernan, Donald Moffat, Bridget Moynahan, Phil Alden Robinson, Miguel Sandoval, Liev Schreiber, Stellan Skarsgård, Harris Yulin, Karl Hayden, Tom Clancy, Richard Manner