National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

DVD Picks & Passes

BY Steven D. Greydanus

July 27-August 9, 2008 Issue | Posted 7/22/08 at 1:25 PM


The Hunt for Red October (1988) - Pick

Patriot Games (1988) - Pick

Clear and Present Danger (1988) - Pick

The Sum of All Fears (2002) - Pick

New this week on DVD are all four films of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan thrillers — in Blu-ray. (If you haven’t jumped on the Blu-ray bandwagon, all four films are also available in standard DVD editions.)

Of the four films, the first, The Hunt for Red October with Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan, is arguably the best. Directed by John McTiernan (Die Hard), it’s a taut, tense Cold War thriller with Ryan as a secondary character (as he is in most of Clancy’s books), here called upon to read the mind of the film’s real protagonist, Soviet submarine captain Marko Ramius, played with aplomb — and no attempt to alter his accent — by Sean Connery.

Harrison Ford starred as Ryan in two films, leaving an indelible mark on the character.

Of Ford’s two adventures, the first, Patriot Games, is the less memorable. Ryan, on vacation in London with his family, happens to foil an IRA kidnapping attempt, leaving one of the terrorists gunning for revenge against Ryan, who killed his brother. Ford is solid in the role, although the standard action-thriller finale is underwhelming.

Ford returns for Clear and Present Danger, quite a bit better than its predecessor, putting it in the same league as Red October. In this installment Ryan squares off against a Colombian drug cartel on behalf of the U.S. government, though he finds himself undermined from behind by a duplicitous White House.

More cerebral and politically aware than its predecessor, it’s less about action scenes than plausible insider info on the inner functions — and dysfunctions — of government and military.

The last film, The Sum of All Fears, is an oddity, and possibly the least interesting in the bunch, though possibly worth catching for its post-9/11 vibe. With Ben Affleck stepping into the Ryan role, it’s a vague sort of prequel-reboot set in the present, yet taking place before Ryan marries and has a family. Chronological quirks aside, Sum of All Fears offers a disturbingly plausible crisis that forces us to confront just how vulnerable we really are, and reassuring last-minute heroics that pull us back from the brink and confirm America’s ability to meet any challenge.