Rating: The Good – 76.8 Genre: Action, Thriller Duration: 134 mins Director: John McTiernan Stars: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn
John McTiernan was the undisputed daddy of action directors in the late 80′s to early 90′s and The Hunt for Red October shows exactly why. Set in 1984, the original adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “Jack Ryan” novels has Alec Baldwin playing the CIA field analyst who gets wind of a new type of Soviet submarine (the “Red October”) and heads off to Washington to report his suspicions. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Iron Curtain a distinguished Soviet submarine commander Ramius (Sean Connery) ignores the orders of his superiors and takes the new submarine straight for US waters. Ryan is charged with determining if Ramius is intending to attack or defect before the US navy is forced to blow him out of the water. McTiernan doesn’t hang around and before you know it Ryan is being helicoptered onto an aircraft carrier in the middle of the stormy Atlantic and so begins a nail-biting adventure that traverses every corner of that ocean and involves some of the very best naval battles you could wish to see (kudos to legendary action cinematographer Jan DeBont). The tension is handled perfectly by McTiernan and the 134 minutes never lag nor get confusing even though the action is relentlessly switching between three different submarines, an aircraft carrier, a battle cruiser, sonar planes, helicopters, Moscow, and Washington. The impressive cast is uniformly superb and in addition to the excellent turns from the two leads, Scott Glenn, Sam Neil, and James Earl Jones do particularly well in supporting roles. However, the real star is McTiernan, who strikes the perfect balance between writing and action and in sequence after sequence uses the claustrophobic atmosphere to create a permeating tension. Just check out that cat-and-mouse scene wherein Bart Mancuso’s (Scott Glenn) US Dallas silently stalks the Red October as Ramius explains to his first officer (Neil) his perspective on the modern world. Timeless.
“The scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think whether they should.” Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster was rightly hailed for its giant leap (OK, some pun intended) in special effects but the major credit should go to Michael Crichton and David Koepp’s meaty screenplay as few mainstream movies have their dramatic tension driven so expertly by the dialogue and idiosyncrasies of its characters as this one. And while serving dramatic purposes so well, it also ensures some seriously funny interchanges throughout. Sam Neill heads a team of scientists sent to provide an experts’ opinion on a new type of zoo/theme park – where they find that the attractions are live genetically bred dinosaurs. Needless to say, all hell breaks loose and soon enough everyone is running for their lives.
Spielberg is the undisputed master of creating excitement on screen (even if he often aims his movies at younger audiences) and the thrills he dishes up here make this every bit as entertaining to the adults. Neill does well as the ‘straight man’ and with the exception of a few overbearing moments, Laura Dern does her usual good work as his paleontologist partner. However, the unquestionable standouts are Jeff Goldblum and Richard Attenborough whose constant bickering provide many a funny moment. The acting is let down by the token kids Spielberg likes to throw into his stories with Ariana Richards’ shrill scream being the most annoying feature of the movie alongside the dumbness of her character’s actions.
The visual effects are obviously stunning and they still (mostly) hold up even today. There’s some limitation to the dinosaurs’ movement due to a combination of animatronics and early CGI but it rarely affects the action. However, what really makes Jurassic Park work is the manner in which it channels our innate sense of wonder for all things dinosaur. This is the film that best manages to tap Arthur Conan Doyle’s (The Lost World) essential excitement at the prospect of sharing our planet with these extinct monsters. And in the moments leading up to and including (especially including) the presentation of his first dinosaur, Spielberg does what he does best and puts us right there in the shoes of the protagonists so their astonishment becomes ours. It’s a great scene and it’s what adventure cinema is all about.