The Hunt for Red October comes to UK Region Free Blu-ray nearly three-and-a-half-years after it was originally released in the US, and yet sporting what appears to be exactly the same generally very good video presentation: a 1080p High Definition rendition in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen. Detail is generally good – the style of the film undoubtedly not always lending itself to the utmost clarity (there are plenty of quite clearly intentional ‘soft focus’ moments) – and it marks a considerable upgrade over the earlier SD-DVD releases, with decent clarity on both long shots and most close-ups. There is a variable layer of perpetually noticeable grain, thankfully of the suitably filmic variety, which pervades the piece, leaving you safe in the knowledge that there’s be no offensive DNR tactics carried out on this video. McTiernan’s other big movies, Die Hard and Predator, have had mixed results on Blu-ray; the former looks pretty decent, a worthy upgrade; the latter is one of the worst DNR offenders on record, so at least this release falls into the former category, keeping the grain and the natural look as originally intended.
Colours are kept quite restricted for the most part – as a result of the material – but the more vibrant tones on offer do finally have an opportunity to shine; some deep blues, vivid blood reds and solid, rich blacks making for the highlights in the fairly limited, but well presented, palette. There’s no overt digital defects, although the image is far from flawless – it’s just nothing here really impinges on your visual enjoyment. Not that it’s a criticism, but the improved image quality does sometimes show up the effects more than you would have encountered before: a keen eye might notice the odd wire controlling the submerged submarine miniatures, although the lighting of the movie is so good that you’d really have to be studying the shots to see them. Overall this is not demo quality video on offer here, but the material was never going to allow for that in any event, and it’s very good nonetheless, arguably the best the movie has ever looked, and more than enough to keep fans satisfied.
Again, to mirror the old US release we get the same solid audio track, in Dolby TrueHD 5.1; a very good, but not exceptional accompaniment that pretty-much runs at the same level to the video presentation – i.e. it will please fans but not impress those you are intending to show off your home cinema equipment to. Dialogue is presented clearly and coherently throughout, largely dominating the frontal array where appropriate. Effects are well-observed, both in terms of the atmospherics – the perpetual hum of the submarine; the mechanical rumble of the caterpillar drive; the churning sounds of the vessels tunnelling through the sea; the persistent sonar pings resonating with insistence – and also the louder noises: explosions, gunshots and even stormy weather lighting up the array to create an even more engulfing surround experience. The score builds the tension well, emphasising the more suspenseful moments and highlighting the action. Surrounds get a fair amount of use; rears not as much, but they are still not neglected – and the LFE channel offers fine but unexceptional support to the proceedings. Overall it’s an impressive, just-shy-of-demo-quality accompaniment.
There are only a couple of extras adorning the disc, but thankfully they are the important ones – a commentary and a documentary.
Audio Commentary with Director John McTiernan – This slow but informative affair is quite dry and hard to get into, with far too many long pauses punctuating the offering, but fans will still likely want to give it a shot just to get all the background titbits about the production.
Beneath the Surface – Running at half an hour in length this is a much more engaging offering, which provides us with all the usual elements: behind the scenes glimpses, cast and crew interview snippets; all padded out by final film clips, but charts the origin and production of the movie in far more interesting detail than the Commentary, noting the difficulties in adapting the novel, the casting problems and the problematic, claustrophobic shoot. Well worth checking out.
The disc is rounded out by the movie’s original Theatrical Trailer.
As part of my retrospective look at the quartet of Tom Clancy / Jack Ryan film adaptations, I kick-start with the best in the series: The Hunt for Red October. A taut, smart Cold War action-thriller, boasting an excellent debut lead from Alec Baldwin, and a superb supporting cast, overshadowed only by the superior presence of Sean Connery, it went on to be a huge Box Office success, and to become one of the greatest submarine thrillers of all time. Whilst straying from the original source novel in both scale and politics, it is still perhaps the only adaptation from the Clancy universe which maintains the same spirit and intentions, and does the book justice. Highly recommended.
On Region Free UK Blu-ray we get very good video and audio, a considerable upgrade from SD-DVD, even if it’s nowhere near demo quality, and a small selection of solid extras to round off the disc, which appears to be identical to the US Blu-ray that’s been out for over 3 years now. If you don’t already own this, then now’s the time to pick it up.
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