Being at sea surely has its pros and cons but imagine that you are suddenly the most hunted person on the planet and that you are trapped in a submarine and your country’s entire naval fleet is looking for you?! Sounds pretty scary right? Well it is. With the tragic passing of Sean Connery (arguably the best actor to portray our favorite international spy James Bond), I think it’s time to take a look at one of his iconic films that stands the test of time as being an effective and intense thriller- The Hunt for Red October. Stepping into the ranks of other iconic submarine inspired thrillers such as U-571, K-19 The Widowmaker, Crimson Tide and of course, one of the most famous of all, Das Boot. So, how does a film that’s thirty years old hold up? What makes it so intense and fun to watch? And how about the submarine battle sequences?
The Hunt for Red October is based off the novel of the same name by famed author Tom Clancy that was first published in 1984 and features his most memorable character Jack Ryan. The story involves a massive submarine named “The Red October” which is a Typhoon Class Nuclear Submarine (among the largest submarines in the world) and is sent to conduct some missile exercises when Captain Marco Ramius (Sean Connery) changes the order to head to sea for an unknown mission that involves the United States. The stakes are raised even higher when the C.I.A. learns of the Red October’s movements but some photographs were taken of the submarine which reveal something unusual about it.
What appears to be a spot where torpedoes can be launched turns out to be something called the “caterpillar drive”, the ability for the submarine to activate a sort of stealth mode which would make it undetectable via radar from other submarine and naval vessels. While this invention is a work of fiction, there is something that does exist which is called the magnetohydrodynamic drive or MHD accelerator. In the case of the film, the Red October has the ability to move across oceans and end up on the shores of any such country, say America for example, and without warning can launch its arsenal of nuclear weapons. This makes the submarine very dangerous and something to watch out for.
Captain Marco Ramius has received orders from Moscow but refuses to obey them instead making up plans as he goes along. We aren’t sure as to why he’s defying direct orders but an analyst with the C.I.A. has a different theory. Dr. Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) has met with the Captain before many years ago and has studied him as well. He deduces that Captain Ramius is attempting to defect to the United States and if he is, that would make him the biggest target in the open seas. Every ship dispatched from the Soviet Union is in hot pursuit and they have only one order- sink the Red October!
During the two-hour runtime, there isn’t much action to speak of, but the intensity is very real. Director John McTiernan (Die Hard & Die Hard with a Vengeance) takes us into the depths of the sea and the claustrophobic corridors of this Russian submarine. In fact, this is one of the rare films of McTiernan that was rated PG as opposed to his usual R-Rated material. Plus, I have to mention the cast in this film which includes Tim Curry, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Sam Neill, Courtney B Vance and Fred Dalton Thompson. This movie has the perfect cast and ironically, Harrison Ford turned down the role of Jack Ryan seeing as the movie focuses heavily on Captain Ramius’ character. It would be just two years later when Ford portrayed Jack Ryan in Patriot Games.
One of the great things about The Hunt for Red October is the ability of less action and more thrilling moments. While there are some action sequences, I was more enthralled with seeing the submarine maneuvering in-between mountain ranges and hearing the sounds of an incoming torpedo. There’s even a moment when it seems a saboteur is aboard the Red October putting the submarine in further risk. I was impressed with the screenplay (credits go to Larry Ferguson and Donald E. Stewert) and the world of naval intelligence. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know too much about the naval commands but watching is always exciting.
In speaking of style, I was a bit confused that Connery’s character did speak Russian in some scenes and yet didn’t appear to have a Russian accent, but being that it’s Sean Connery, I wasn’t too bothered by it. Another great moment is when Jack Ryan meets with Generals and high-ranking officials in the White House to discuss the impending situation and one of the Generals shoots down Ryan’s theory that the Red October’s Captain is looking to defect and a great line in delivered, “You’re just an analyst. What do you know?” Turns out Ryan is correct and I love that scene in particular.
I’m not usually impressed with Government movies because they basically resort to the old action cliché formula, but not this movie. Yes, there are some action moments but overall this is a movie that is built on suspense and real tension. Even though we later learn that Captain Ramius is looking to defect, we are sitting there wondering, how is he going to get out of this alive! If you’re interested in further reading may I suggest you check out the story of the mutiny of the Soviet Frigate Storozhevoy. This served as inspiration for Tom Clancy when writing his novel.
The Hunt for Red October was released back into theaters for a limited time in the wake of Sir Sean Connery’s death. Additionally, one of the best Bond’s films was released too- Goldfinger. Sean Connery gave us some iconic characters but The Hunt for Red October is one that always stuck with me. I’ll admit that it had been at least a decade since I’d seen it last and all that I could remember was the Connery was the Captain looking to defect and that was about it. It’s one of those movies that is very good but for me, isn’t as memorable in terms of plot as Connery’s other films. Still, Tom Clancy crafted a great story and offered visceral thrills, and the filmmakers delivered an exceptional film.
Connery is quiet in the film, mysterious and is a man of man thoughts and experiences; especially since he spent most of his life at sea and wasn’t even present when his wife passed. Sort of a precursor of the events that were about to unfold. I really liked his character and I appreciate the fact that the movie doesn’t treat the Russians as the typical cliché villains. These characters have a personality, have dreams and want to be able to make it to the other side before meeting their untimely watery graves. They work with the Americans, especially when Jack Ryan gets involved.
The Hunt for Red October doesn’t offer a lot of action, it doesn’t require it either. It’s a film that grabs your attention and refuses to let go. John McTiernan has made some great movies and The Hunt for Red Ocober is another one to remember him for. Even though the film is thirty years old now, it’s still exciting as it was when it first released. Seeing it on the big screen for the first was also a special treat and seeing the submarine deep in the sea and avoiding the mountains and torpedoes is enough to keep me on the edge of my seat. If you’re looking for a good thriller that brings back some good memories and you want to honor Sir Sean Connery, then head for open seas in this Tom Clancy classic!