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HTF Blu-Ray Review: The Jack Ryan Series

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#1 of 9 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist

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Posted July 31 2008 - 09:34 AM

   
The Jack Ryan Series (Blu-Ray)

Studio: Paramount
Rated: See individual titles
Aspect Ratio: 2.35
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Video Codec: MPEG4-AVC
Audio: All Titles: English 5.1 TrueHD; English 5.1, Spanish 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese; English SDH
Time: See individual titles.
Disc Format: 4 SS/DL Blu-Ray’s
Case Style: Snapper
Theatrical Release Date: See individual titles.
Blu-Ray Release Date: July 29, 2008

Although Paramount is not releasing these as a box set, I’ve decided to combine them all in the review.

The Hunt for Red October (1990, PG, 135 minutes) kicks off the four movie franchise adapting Tom Clancy’s series of successful novels and introduces us to Jack Ryan, here played by a very young and eager Alex Baldwin. Ryan is a CIA analyst who has been approached by the spooks to figure out what a component on a new Russian submarine is. Ryan looks at the device, but he has to enlist the help of a techie to find out it’s a new form of propulsion that renders the sub virtually silent as it traverses the depths of the north Atlantic. More important, this Russian sub, Red October, is piloted by Capt. Marko Ramius (Sean Connery), who may or may not be attempting to steal the sub and launch its nuclear warheads at the US. Ryan believes Ramius has a far more humanitarian idea in mind and it will be up to him to convince the Navy and the world to put their trust in him and a potentially suicidal and idealistic (mad) man.

Baldwin does a tremendous job in this picture, playing Ryan with the enthusiasm of a book worm made good with the jocks in the government and the politicians abroad. The true star of the movie is Connery in still another career defining role as Ramius, showing the simmering emotions of loss, hope and anger in his country and its politics. Director John McTiernan does a nice job not only with his actors but the pacing of the picture and its ability to distill what was probably a lot of techno mumbo jumbo on the page into quick snippets to keep the story moving. His intercuts between Ramius and Borodin (Sam Neill) and the pursuing American sub heightens the tension of the moment allowing us to feel the passion in Ramius plans. All in all, a great introduction to the movie franchise.

Patriot Games (1992, R, 116 minutes) moves Ryan ahead by about fifteen years and in the process changes actors portraying him. Baldwin bowed out to do a play and Harrison Ford stepped in bringing a more mature side to Ryan. This time, while Ryan and his family are in London, he becomes the hero of the day by thwarting an IRA assassination of a British royal. In the process Ryan kills the brother of one of the IRA baddies. The surviving brother, Sean Miller (Sean Bean) vows revenge against Ryan and his family while his IRA cronies only want to further their mission. Ryan’s family life will not be safe from Miller until at least one of them is dead, and Ryan finds his home to be the front line of this battle.

Not only did the franchise change lead actors, it also changed directors, this time utilizing the work of Aussie Phil Noyce. Noyce steps into the role quite easily as this picture gives us an older Ryan who is more concerned with family than work. Patriot Games, while not a bad sequel, didn’t leave me as excited as The Hunt for Red October did when I saw them theatrically, and that feeling has carried over the intervening years. It may be the fact that I enjoyed Ryan as an adjunct to Ramius in the first picture whereas here he’s the whole show. Bean’s Miller turns out to be a fairly average villain stuck with a basic revenge focus, while the construction of the picture does little to stray from its basic premise. Screenwriter Peter Iliff notes in the documentary on the disc how many changes the script went through from its initial translation to the various notes Ford demanded. This many influences on the production tend to water down the initial intent of the picture leaving us with a mediocre continuation of the franchise.

Clear and Present Danger (1994, PG-13, 141 minutes) puts Ryan into the seat as one of the big bosses of the CIA after James Earl Jones Greer is hospitalized with cancer. Ryan is quickly ushered into the president’s oval office to consult on a South American drug cartel. Ryan sees how easy it is for certain people close to the president to achieve their objectives while appearing to satisfy those of the Commander-In-Chief. Willem DeFoe plays a mercenary who balances on that fine line between patriotism and politics finding an ally in a most unusual place.

The story itself stems from the Iran/ Contra Affair of the mid- to late 80’s thrusting Ryan into a political arena for which he is not prepared. Ford still plays Ryan as the reluctant hero, but there is more action here than in the previous pictures. We are introduced to the jefe’s in the drug cartel, but they wind up only being a means to an end to take the story from the drug bought palaces of cocaine suppliers to the offices of the CIA and the White House. Noyce again does a very admirable job directing, and the cast seems well versed in their roles by now.

The Sum of All Fears (2002, PG-13, 123 minutes) tells us this isn’t your daddy’s Jack Ryan picture with the absence of Ford and the appearance of Ben Affleck as Ryan. Having watched Baldwin and Ford define the cinematic version of Ryan, to have Affleck suddenly thrust in the mix really takes me out of movie. The story, about a Russian terrorist getting his hands on a nuclear bomb in hopes of pitting America against Russia, proves to be interesting and entertaining. It is also interesting to watch it now in light of the events of 9/11 as to how we would react. The franchise picks up a new director, Phil Alden Robinson, who maintains a consistent tone that was present in the previous pictures. While I am not versed in the Ryan novels, this one seems more of an origin story of Ryan that would be better off viewed prior to The Hunt for Red October as we see Ryan courting his soon to be wife and displaying a youthfulness that would work even better when Baldwin, and subsequently Ford, had the roles.

Outside of Affleck, the supporting cast does an excellent job. Morgan Freeman provides us with his usual Yoda-like wisdom, while Ciaran Hind’s shows a subtle stoicism in the face of an adverse situation. Affleck simply comes off as a couple seconds away from telling jokes. He never carries the weight of the picture, nor does he convey the smarts that Baldwin and Ford exhibited which is the base for the character. Liev Schreiber has a blast with the shadowy Clark and I wish he had a bigger role in the picture, or better yet, he played Ryan. Still, The Sum of All Fears is not a bad picture on its own, but taken in the context of the other three, I’d rate it as my least favorite.



Video:
Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 11-S1 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 1080p. I am using a Sony Playstation 3 Blu-Ray player while a Denon 3808CI does the switching and pass through of the video signal. I am utilizing the HDMI capabilities of each piece of equipment.

All four of the pictures are mastered in 1080p in the MPEG-4 AVC codec with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The Hunt for Red October looks about as good as most pictures of this age and it kept reminding me of the transfer for Top Gun, in that it looked quite good, just a bit dated. Colors are inconsistent, sometimes being washed out, other times exhibiting exceptional saturation, but this is in line with how the picture was shot. Black levels are good but they could be better, not showing too much detail. I found the picture to look flat, with little to no dimensionality to it. This was especially true in the underwater scenes where the effects show their age and leave us disappointed in the picture. Sharpness and detail are inconsistent as well: the scenes on the American ships look sharper, where as those on the Red October look duller. I do wonder if this is a stylistic choice on the part of McTiernan and Cinematographer Jan deBont, seeing as most of the American ship scenes are far brighter than those on the darker, redder cabins of the Red October. The picture is exhibits minor dirt and debris and I noticed little to no edge enhancement.

Patriot Games exhibits better color fidelity and slightly better detail in the blacks. Sharpness and detail are improved as well, but the picture shows far more edge enhancement than the previous picture. It also seems to be very “hot” and over-processed, looking more like video than film leaving me to wonder how much DNR was applied to the image.

What a difference a couple years can make! Clear and Present Danger makes a tremendous leap in quality over the past two pictures with bold and lush colors and a much sharper transfer. Throughout the picture and during the close ups in particular, you were able to see some exceptionally fine detail, both in the fore and background. There is a scene with Greer in the hospital that I could even see some small stains on his hospital gown. The picture also achieves a better depth of field and more solid and deeper blacks. Edge enhancement was still present, but only slightly, and there were only a couple instances of dirt or debris from the source print.

I was expecting to get a great image since this was the most recent of the movies, but unfortunately, I was disappointed with The Sum of All Fears. The main issue, as was the same with Patriot Games was that it appears as if DNR has been used and then some edge enhancement applied to artificially sharpen the image. Even the best looking of scenes still looks like video to me. Black levels and contrast are also a mess of crushed shadows and lack of detail. There is a scene where Nemerov is notified of the events in Baltimore where the top and bottom of the image became a fuzzy, shadowy mess, obscuring the matte lines of the image. There is plenty of detail present in the lighter scenes, but it could be better. Colors, on the other hand, show excellent saturation and realism making me even more irritated the rest of the picture has the aforementioned problems.


Audio:
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack was attained by the HDMI connection of the PS3 to the Denon 3808CI.

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack on The Hunt for Red October is very exciting using the surround channels to good effect in the action scenes, but more importantly, in the confined decks of the subs. While the movie is set there, we hear various pings, voices and other similar type sub noises to put us in that scene. The score comes to life, especially the Russian anthems, in the 5.1 set-up, with exceptional clarity and tonality. The LFE’s are engaged sparingly but with excellent effect when utilized.

Patriot Games Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack was a little less full than The Hunt for Red October, utilizing the surrounds for the environmental effects, but leaving most of the action in the fronts. Bass response was better here but only during the scenes containing some thunderous explosions.

While not quite as impressive in the audio department and the video department, Clear and Present Danger provides a better Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track with more to listen to than the more prevalent talking heads of the previous pictures. Explosions and gun fire exhibit better panning effects across all five channels. Bass effects are deeper and richer throughout the movie. Environmental effects were utilized more, but unfortunately, so was ADR, which sticks out in this track.

The Sum of All Fears has a smooth and pleasing 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track. There is excellent dispersion and balance across the frequency scale, allowing the mids to blend seamlessly with the LFE’s. The LFE’s rumble out during the explosions giving you a great “you are there” feeling and making you feel the impact of the events on screen. It also provides a good surround field complementing the feeling I mentioned earlier. The issue I have with this soundtrack was that the volume seemed significantly lower than the other three discs, or most discs in general. I found I had to compensate by an extra 5-10db to completely hear what was going on.




Bonus Material:
I’m going to go disc by disc to detail the bonus materials, all of which are in SD unless otherwise noted. They are also the same pieces ported over from the 2002 SD-DVD releases.

The Hunt for Red October:
Commentary by Director John McTiernan: McTiernan isn’t too chatty here and there are quite a few pauses throughout the commentary. He’s also monotone and unenthusiastic leaving me to feel like I was trudging through the commentary. He provides some information on the differences between the book and the movie as well as the actors and technical side of making it.

Beneath the Surface- Cast and Crew Interviews (29:00): McTiernan, Mace Neufield, Alec Baldwin and others discuss the history of getting the picture to the screen. Most of the interviews were current when the DVD’s were released a few years ago, but the interviews with Connery were done around the time the film was shot. This piece has some interesting pieces, especially everyone’s reactions when Connery came on board the project. There is also a good discussion of the effects shots.

Theatrical Trailer (HD)


Patriot Games:
Patriot Games Up Close- Cast and Crew Interviews (25:14): there are interviews with Noyce, Ford, Iliff and many more giving us a good idea on how the picture was brought about and executed. Iliff is the most interesting one here explaining how his screenplay was at the whim of Ford’s changes. Ford also has right of refusal on directors and he was the one who allowed Noyce to direct. In all of the interviews I’ve seen with Ford in various DVD extras, this one portrays him as a bit of a bother to the writers and directors, but both are careful in their statements regarding him.

Theatrical Trailer (in HD)


Clear and Present Danger :
Behind the Danger – Cast and Crew Interviews (26:45): this piece is extremely similar in content to the similar doc on Patriot Games, so there’s not a lot new to say.

Theatrical Trailer (in HD)


The Sum of All Fears:
There are two different commentaries, one by Director Phil Alden Robinson and Cinematographer John Lindley and the other by Robinson again and Novelist Tom Clancy. The first one has Robinson and Lindley going into some good tech detail about how the picture was shot, the location and various asides about the production, actors and story. Clancy finally contributes to his creation as he sits in with Robinson, starting it out with saying how Robinson ignores the novel and it catches some of the high points! Clancy is great as he explains the historical and technical aspects of the story, and a lot of times we have Robinson interviewing Clancy. Clancy remains cantankerous throughout, often uttering “Bullshit!” during certain scenes leaving Robinson to defend his picture. This is a very entertaining track that shows just how much Hollywood strays from source material to make a good movie.

The Making of The Sum of All Fears (29:55): This is broken into two parts, one about the casting and the other about the story itself and the issues dealing with the loss of Ford and Noyce on the project. The first part has all the primaries and Robinson patting each others backs. The second goes into some better detail about the history of the project and the intricacies of the plot. I was glad to hear the film makers commenting on how this story plays now in after 9/11.

Creating Reality: The Visual Effects of The Sum of All Fears (27:48): this is split up into four parts: Carrier Attack, A-4, Hospital, Motorcade and Helicopter, each of which can be played separately or as a whole. The practical and CG effects team discuss the process they went through to pull off each of these effects. It’s a fine doc, but nothing we haven’t seen many times before.

Theatrical Trailer (HD)


Conclusions:
The biggest oversight was the fact that Clancy only contributes to a commentary on one of the movies. I would have loved to have had his comments on each of the pictures and how the story is different between movie and novel. Perhaps his silence speaks louder than any commentary. While I’m glad to have each of the movies in HD, I am disappointed by the video presentations as each one of them has their specific issues, some worse than others.
ISO "Lost" ARG prints from Kevin Tong, Olly Moss, Eric Tan and Methane Studios.  PM me if you want to sell!

All reviews done on a Marantz VP11S1 1080p DLP projector.

Displays professionally calibrated by Gregg Loewen of Lion AV.

#2 of 9 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

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Posted July 31 2008 - 01:11 PM

Nice job Pat. We watched Hunt For Red October last night and agree with your assessment. It was way cool to revisit this film after such a long time...

And it remains one of my favorite films. Posted Image

#3 of 9 OFFLINE   David Coleman

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Posted July 31 2008 - 03:09 PM

Wow!!

Absolute perfect reviews of PATRIOT GAMES and SUM OF ALL FEARS.

I watched PATRIOT the other day and while I can't complain about the colors, the fake sharpness really killed it for me!! Same for SUM OF ALL FEARS. For both it looked like too much DNR and then too much artificial grain or "fake" sharpness which is nothing but video noise. In fact several times during both films I could see the video noise fluctating!! It was throughout the entire films, however on my set most noticable in the darker contrast areas which is sad as it totally destroyed fine detail.

Most films you can make out fine detail like the textures of hair and clothing. I remember in PATRIOT, Anne Archer's hair looked like a blurry mess in several scenes. In SUM the entire film is a blurry, noisy mess!!

As for the audio, I didn't expect much from PATRIOT GAMES but I must admit it gave me more than I expected. The ambience and the score rate very highly for me. In SUM of course it had the more dynamic soundtrack but I do have to question the mix? Seemed like the score wasn't mixed well into the film, however the nuke explosion is pretty sweet!!

Thanks Pat for your dead on reviews!!

#4 of 9 OFFLINE   Jari K

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Posted July 31 2008 - 09:48 PM

Are these available in a box set? I guess not?

#5 of 9 OFFLINE   Dave H

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Posted August 01 2008 - 02:40 AM

I watched The Hunt for Red October last night and it looks natural for a 1990 catalog title. There were a few outdoor scenes with some EE, but overall minimal in the film and no DNR seems applied. Some shots were soft as Pat mentioned, but I think this was related to source material and/or the way the shots were filmed. Some of the scenes inside the sub actually had pretty good detail. All in all, one should be pleased with this title. (Watching on ISF'd Sony SXRD 60" A3000 with Panasonic BD30 at 1080p/24 sitting about 8 feet back in dark environment.)

#6 of 9 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted August 08 2008 - 02:22 AM

Of all the movies, I am most interested in Red October, and I'm glad to see a positive A/V review of it prior to buying. Guess it's a safe purchase now...off to Frys!

XBox Live: TheL1brarian (let's play Destiny on XB1)


#7 of 9 OFFLINE   RickER

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Posted August 08 2008 - 02:45 AM

Red October is the only one i have an interest in upgrading from the SE DVD to Blu-ray. Thanks for the review Pat!

#8 of 9 OFFLINE   David Coleman

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Posted August 09 2008 - 09:26 PM

Got to see RED OCTOBER last night and I must say it's the best transfer of all of them. Yes, there are some scenes in the film and there might be a slight bit of DNR but there is not the digital sharpening i've noticed on the other films. Certainly this is more film-like than the others in the series. Don't get me wrong, it's not an "eye-candy" film, but it accurately represents the film as it looks!

What did suprise me was the audio! I just didn't think a film made before digital surround sound would be this good! What immediately struck me about the TRUEHD track is the score and particularily the chorus. For the first time I really noticed the contribution of Basil Poledarius score which had such excellent detail. Also suprising me was the ambience of the sub sounds, the ambience never got lost in the soundfield.

#9 of 9 OFFLINE   Vern Dias

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Posted August 10 2008 - 07:43 AM

Quote:
Sharpness and detail are inconsistent as well: the scenes on the American ships look sharper, where as those on the Red October look duller.
Pat, this could be due to the nature of video signal format. If you were to look at resolution charts that are shown in the different primary colors on DVE Pro, you would notice that red has roughly half of the resolution capabilty of green. Any scene with a predominately red color, such as the submarine interiors where red is the primary color will show an obvious loss of resolution.

This holds true for DVD as well and is a result of the 4.2.0 format of the video signal.

If you want a wonderful example of this, try watching the Bali High number on "South Pacific" when the filters are in use and watch the resolution vary as the colors of the filters change.

Vern