The most recent of all of the Tom Clancy / Jack Ryan adaptations, The Sum of All Fears comes to 1080p High Definition Region Free US Blu-ray, in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1, with arguably the most disappointing presentation of all of them. Indeed, none of the four films looks bad – they all look quite good, with Red October standing out above the rest mainly because it was the only one unaffected by rampant DNR, but The Sum of All Fears is the most disappointing purely because it is a much more recent effort: less than ten years’ old, you just don’t expect to see this average an image.
Detail is generally good, but far from excellent, and has clearly been influenced by what I have already alluded to – overindulgent DNR. Now I know that some viewers will be less bothered by this than others, I’m nowhere near as DNR-conscious as many readers would probably want me to be, but, even for me, the processing for this film felt just unnecessarily heavy-handed, and the results are, more often than not, detrimental to the overall quality of the image, adding a twinge of softness and general fakeness to many of the wider shots, and sometimes giving facial textures that dreaded waxy edge. The other issue is with grain – or rather noise – as, whilst the DNR work appears to have washed out much of the natural filmic grain, it feels like it has been replaced by a strange sheen of artificial noise which, whilst not fatal, is still unpleasantly apparent as soon as you catch sight of it.
But, and it’s a fairly big but, if you were to crack out your old SD-DVD of The Sum of All Fears for a quick comparison, you would likely soon find that the improvement is undoubtedly significant – the old DVD was plagued with haloing, bleeding, and crush and, when up against the Blu-ray, is a pretty lacklustre watch. Here in High Definition, whilst the image does not look as good as it should, there are plenty of things that we take for granted which have clearly been significantly improved: the colour scheme is rich and vibrant and shifts wonderfully from sunny climes to colder environments – or, as is the case, fallout environments – with strong blacks allowing for generally very good shadowing. Overall don't let the bad points put you off making the upgrade, because that's still exactly what it is: an upgrade.
On the aural front things are far less problematic, the accompanying Dolby TrueHD 5.1 handling the material well in all respects. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, largely dominating the frontal array and just about managing to stay above the rest of the proceedings (I’m talking about the oppressive score here) for the duration. Effects are also well rendered, from the louder setpieces involving crashes, explosions or blazing fires – mostly at the end of the second act – that allow for good separation across the surrounds and even some fairly noteworthy input from the rears. The LFE channel also gets a good workout. Whilst the quieter, more ambient moments are easily drowned out by the aforementioned score, that’s not a reflection of the track’s inability to pick up on the atmospheric nuances – it’s just that they become apparent only occasionally as a result.
The score is an interesting choice, not done by James ‘I flagrantly rip off everybody including myself’' Horner, but instead by Jerry Goldsmith, who provides a less plagiaristic but still resoundingly generic offering that just does not become the man who gave us the scores to Alien and many of the Star Trek movies. Irrespective of its clumsy attitude towards the ensuing action (the classical music excerpts are much more appropriate), the score itself is presented extremely well, and is arguably the second most important element on the track, giving the whole surround array a fair amount to do even when next to nothing of any urgency is occurring onscreen. Overall this is a good accompaniment for the movie: not quite demo-quality, but nonetheless impressive.
Unlike all of the previous Clancy adaptations released on DVD, this one actually deserved the moniker of Special Collector’s Edition, and thankfully all of the largely decent extras have been ported over to this Blu-ray release. We get two commentaries, over half a dozen interesting featurettes, and the trailer, but the most important element is probably the second of the two commentaries, which sees the director paired with none other than Clancy himself, contributing for the first time to the release of one of the movies adapted from his books.
Audio Commentary with Director Phil Robinson and Cinematographer John Lindley – This is quite a dry, technical affair where the two, who have partnered up on a number of projects, chat about various behind the scenes aspects of the shoot, including the locations they chose, the CG elements, the difficulty of shooting at magic hour, and the handheld usage to ramp up the tension during the dialogue scenes. I’m not sure how many people will want to sit through the entirety of this; between the stodgy subject-matter and pause-laden delivery, it may be too much to handle, certainly in one sitting.
Audio Commentary with Director Phil Robinson and Novelist Tom Clancy – This is what you came here for:
“I’m Tom Clancy, I wrote the book that they ignored.”
“We didn’t completely ignore it.”
“Ah, you got a couple of things right.”
So sets the mood for this frank but amiable discussion from the director Phil Robinson and the novelist himself, Tom Clancy. Clancy is great, he knows so much damn detail. He talks about how the plane at the beginning could have easily avoided the SAM missile, how the President would never actually participate in the def-con drills, how the global Nazi coalition could not exist in real life, how CIA are forbidden by federal law to use the FBI to get background information into their workers’ partner’s lives, character inconsistencies, incorrect aircraft used, and how you don’t keep it a secret that you work at the CIA – you tell everyone, even if you’re just an admin assistant!
“What’s that supposed to be? A bomb or a torpedo?”
“Um... a bomb?”
“Ah... um, a torpedo?”
“Heh. Wrong proportions.”
Not that he doesn’t have reason to be, but he does come across as quite arrogant and outspoken, often noting that he knows the Langley CIA offices inside-out, and has been to see the President several times; he also talks about lecturing at the CIA, and having plenty of ‘four star’ friends in the military. Robinson can barely hold him in check, and has to tread quite carefully when Clancy starts questioning specifics about why he detoured from the novel (like why they took the Cabot character in the opposite direction) but the whole Commentary does not go by without a few praises for the film and the characterisation, and, somehow, these feel like they are worth more because of all the criticisms that have come before: he likes the gala dinner scene with all the pagers going off, he thought the scene where Ryan tries to tell his girlfriend the truth was ‘cute’, and he seemed quite impressed with what Freeman brought to the movie, as well as with Schreiber as John Clark, who he thought was a particularly underrated performer. And by the end of it all, he’s nowhere near as cranky and upset by the whole thing, and genuinely appears to have enjoyed revisiting it, even if it was to semi-seriously pick holes in it.
One of the absolute best commentaries that I have ever listened to.
Documentary – The Making of The Sum of All Fears
A Cautionary Tale: Casting – In the first part of a two-part making-of, we get 13 minutes into the casting of the film, with Affleck on hand to talk about Harrison Ford deciding not to do this script, and how the producers were talking about starting the series over from the beginning and were wooing him with being on-board from the get-go. The Director also chips in, seemingly a little unimpressed by the fact that Affleck had been cast, and the script changed, even before he got involved. Liev Schreiber talks about the great cast, and discusses the different versions of the characters, looking at them before they were established. Morgan Freeman comments on how he loved working with Affleck, and hated working in the cold, and the director notes that Freeman’s role was intended to be more like the James Earl Jones role from the other movies. They also praise Ciaran Hinds’s Russian, basically taking us briefly through every single one of the players, noting how they were approached for the part, and what they did to bring the role to life. It’s an interesting and worthy featurette, produced at a time when they clearly all still thought that this had opened the door to numerous sequels, all with Ben Affleck on board.
A Cautionary Tale: Production – This is the 17 minute companion-piece to the above segment which looks at the script developed, what books they could work from, the attempts to make a third movie with Noyce and Ford, the sizeable rewrite of the script to incorporate the younger cast and the opinion that the audience would accept this as the beginning of a new series. The filmmakers further discuss shooting in cold conditions and then extreme heat, the complicated intricacies of the book, which could not be achieved, and the choice of Neo-Nazis as villains. Affleck talks about trying to give the film an authentic Clancy feel, and the research that he did and most of the contributors get their chance to talk about their favourite scenes in the movie, which is all quite good fun. They round it off by reflecting that this was basically a cautionary tale on nuclear terrorism, and this two-part Documentary distinguishes itself as a comprehensive and light-on-fluff extra that is well worth your time.
Creating Reality: The Visual Effects of The Sum of All Fears – Here we get five small Featurettes specifically focussed on key scenes from the movie. Highly detailed, and almost entirely devoid of padding, each is nicely rounded off by a brief look at the final footage. All are worth checking out.
Carrier Attack takes 9 minutes to look at the original designs for this sequence, with the special effects crew discussing how they planned it out with miniatures, the necessary pyrotechnics, and the conversion from day to night (which, to be honest, makes it far less impressive).
A-4 spends 6 minutes looking at the opening set-piece with the jet getting shot down, how they had to add a CG bomb to the aircraft; using miniatures and CG effects (they note that miniature explosions look more realistic than CG explosions – a fact which holds true to this day); and again showing the layering of effects, which is particularly interesting on the explosion’s smoke aftermath, which is only 25% real and 75% CG (a far better use of CG).
Hospital is a shorter, 4-minute piece dissecting the hospital explosion which was largely shot using green screen layering to allow the timing of the different stunts as the characters are pulled across the screen on jerk-harnesses. Again we see the scene split it down into effects layers and shown being built up.
Motorcade is also just 4 minutes long, and looks at how they found practical effects to be the initial way to go, jacking the rears of the cars up using giant rams to give the impression that they were being picked up and carried by the wind. Another example of how practical effects are more impressive than CG, you can see here how the stunning original stunts were largely smothered by CG smoke and wind in the completed sequence.
Helicopter is the final piece, taking 5 minutes to look at how they shot this crash sequence, which involved many genuine air-to-air aerial shots, as well as a spinning CG helicopter, and then a helicopter shell being dangled from a crane to complete the crash. All five are great Featurettes despite their limited runtimes.
The disc is rounded off by the original Theatrical Trailer presented in HD.
The final instalment in my retrospective look at the quartet of Tom Clancy / Jack Ryan film adaptations, and the first official reboot in the series, despite reasonable Box Office returns and the intention by all those involved for this to be just the start of a set of films with Ben Affleck in the lead role, The Sum of All Fears proved to be the end of the cinematic life of this character. The least favourably remembered, it’s far from a bad movie and, in many respects, has a grander, more Clancy-like story behind it than at least one of the other entries, as well a strong adherence to the Clancy ethos of bringing the world to the brink of absolute disaster and then having Jack Ryan pull it back from the edge. Yet, if you take the risk of rebooting a beloved franchise for the second time in little over a decade, just as fans are getting used to the last group of actors and last set of stories (in this case Ford’s Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger), and end up instead further alienating audiences and failing to establish the character yet again, effectively ending the entire franchise, then nobody is going to remember the good parts of your movie. I suspect most fans just wish that it did not all have to end here.
On Region Free US Blu-ray we get disappointing video that is still an indisputable step up from the previous DVD releases, as well as very good audio and an excellent selection of extras that even goes some way towards making up for the distinct lack of extras on the previous two Clancy releases. This is also the first release to boast input from the writer Clancy himself, in what has got to be one of the best commentaries that I have ever listened to. If you’re a Clancy/Ryan fan then this is really a must-have release, irrespective of the video shortcomings and the damage that the film has done to the franchise as a whole. If you’re going to pick up all four films, then I’d start by watching this one – whilst obviously set after the others, it has so many plot inconsistencies either way that you might as well watch it first, and pretend that this is just an introduction to the Jack Ryan we see evolve in The Hunt for Red October, return to the CIA in Patriot Games and be made Deputy Director in Clear and Present Danger. Now if only they would do a proper reboot right from the beginning, and stay closer to the books, or even another entry with Ford reprising the role...
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