The Hunt for Red October appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The image was usually more than watchable but less than optimal.
Sharpness generally seemed good, though ups and downs occurred. At best, the movie exhibited pretty solid clarity and accuracy. However, edge haloes could make things a bit mushy at times, and some digital noise reduction sapped delineation as well. No issues with shimmer or jaggies materialized, and print flaws remained mild; I noticed a few specks – mainly during the opening – but nothing severe.
1990 film stocks often weren’t kind to colors, and the hues of October could exhibit the dullness I expected. This meant the tones appeared less than attractive much of the time but they remained true to the source. Blacks were reasonably dark, while shadows seemed acceptable; they lacked much vivacity but seemed clear enough. This was a decent image that could’ve looked better without the noise reduction and edge haloes.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundfield showed a consistently positive sense of environment. The forward channels mildly dominated the piece, and they presented excellent delineation and separation. The front speakers remained in use through the majority of the movie, and they created a setting that was lively and realistic. Elements blended smoothly, and pieces moved cleanly across the channels.
The surrounds appeared more active than I expected for a film of this era. They presented lots of excellent material for both quiet and loud sequences. In one early shot, whale sounds emanated convincingly from the right rear speaker, and the channels neatly communicated the sense of being underwater during the many sub shots.
The action scenes brought the surrounds to life as well, and other segments – like one in a shipyard – used all five channels with great effectiveness. Overall, the soundfield worked well to create an immersive environment.
Audio was also good. Speech seemed reasonably natural and concise, without notable problems. Music appeared vivid and dynamic and showed nice depth and punch.
Effects seemed positive. They displayed no signs of distortion and they powered through the various scenes with great clarity and richness. Bass response was tight and distinctive throughout the movie, and the track gave my subwoofer more of a workout than I anticipated. Given the age of the material and the high caliber of all other elements, I felt October deserved an “A-“; this was a strong auditory effort.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the Special Edition DVD from 2003? Audio was clearer and fuller, while visuals seemed more distinctive and cleaner. Though the Blu-ray had its problems, it upgraded the DVD.
The Blu-ray includes the same extras from the 2003 DVD. These start with an audio commentary from director John McTiernan, who providedsa running, screen-specific piece. McTiernan never seemed terribly at home with the format, and those concerns continue during his dull discussion of October.
McTiernan covers a mix of topics. He hoes into changes from the book, casting, issues related to factual matters, different forms of research, storytelling concerns, and some technical matters related to effects, locations, and other areas. That quick synopsis might make the commentary sound more informative than it actually is. Frankly, McTiernan’s useful remarks occurr infrequently.
Actually, any form of information crops up only occasionally, as much of the track passes without discussion. The facts appear in dribs and drabs, and McTiernan often doesn’t explore them well. For example, at one point he mentions his original plan to cast an actor who physically resembled Joss Ackland to play against him in the part eventually garnered by Richard Jordan.
Why didn’t this happen? I don’t know, for McTiernan lets the subject drop without additional explanation. The director offers periodic bits of decent information, but overall, this commentary seems fairly boring and slow-paced.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we find a documentary called Beneath the Surface. This 28-minute and 57-second program features the standard mix of movie clips, production materials, and interviews. We get circa 2003 material with producer Mace Neufeld, director John McTiernan, actors Alec Baldwin, James Earl Jones, and Scott Glenn, screenwriter Larry Ferguson, director of photography Jan de Bont, ILM visual effects supervisor Scott Squires, ILM model shop manager Keith London, ILM chief model maker Kim Smith, ILM first assistant cameramen Bob Hill and Vance Piper, ILM directors of photography Marty Rosenberg, Patrick Sweeney, and Carl Miller, and ILM technical director Doug Smythe. In addition, Sean Connery appears via pieces shot in 1990.
The participants start at the beginning and discuss the acquisition of the rights to Clancy’s novel and various adaptation issues. They then go into casting, research for the roles, and many technical topics related to the subs and other special effects concerns.
“Surface” conveys the information well but lacked much flair. It includes a reasonable amount of material and certainly gives us more insight into the production than does McTiernan’s commentary, but it comes across as a little plodding at times. Still, at least it presents useful material, so October fans will want to give it a look.
Though I didn’t think much of The Hunt For Red October when I first saw it in 1990, I must admit it’s slowly grown on me over the years. It crams in a lot of technical issues and conveys them concisely, and it builds to a rousing and involving climax. The Blu-ray gives us excellent audio along with erratic visuals and supplements. Though it has some flaws, this nonetheless becomes the strongest home video rendition of the film.
To rate this film, visit the original review of THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER