THE JACK RYAN COLLECTION – Blu-ray review

American author Tom Clancy died in October 2013, and Paramount is releasing four films based on four of his best-selling novels together on Blu-ray for the first time in “The Jack Ryan Collection.” My gut tells me Paramount is also timing this HD release close to the new Jack Ryan film that stars the popular Chris Pine, but heck, studios have been going down this road for years. The same could be said for Clancy, who, like the popular horror novelist Stephen King, was often accused of more or less writing the same story and repurposing it several times over. Critics aside, the man authored some pretty decent and popular books, some of which were turned into pretty decent and popular movies.

I had seen bits and pieces of the four films in “The Jack Ryan Collection” over the years, but I can’t say that I had ever physically sat through one from start to finish. The films are, for the record, “The Hunt for Red October,” “Patriot Games,” “Clear and Present Danger” and “The Sum of All Fears.” Spanning a dozen years and three different actors taking on Ryan’s character, “The Jack Ryan Collection” arguably brings together the best action/suspense titles from the 1990s in one package.

Clancy leaned on Ryan pretty extensively during his rise to literary prominence. Can you blame him? After all, he found a character and formula that worked out better than most, and perhaps more importantly, a loyal fan base to tag along for the adventures. The CIA analyst turned politician turned action hero is a name that still carries its own weight today, albeit slightly lighter. You could relate to Ryan on at least one level, often more. He had smarts and ability, but he wasn’t so far above you that you worshiped the ground he walked on. In fact, given the adventures he seemed to either seek out or stumble into on his own, trailing behind him may have been more trouble than it was worth.

The collection’s first title is the memorable “The Hunt for Red October,” which pits Soviet submarine Captain Ramius (Sean Connery) and his quest to defect against Ryan (Alec Baldwin) and his quest to uncover the truth behind Red October’s capabilities and intentions. Recognizable faces like Sam Neill, Scott Glenn and Stellan Skarsgard grace “The Hunt for Red October” with their presence, and we feel the tension between submarine combat and United States/Soviet relations. While it takes a little while to get rolling with its 134 minute run time, the film develops tension that seeps into its audience, all while successfully crafting deep characters who you start to get to know more than you first anticipated. Among the best known adaptations for a Clancy novel, “The Hunt for Red October” was highly praised domestically and across the world, earning an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing.

“Patriot Games” is up next, featuring Harrison Ford as Ryan on his vacation with his wife Cathy (Anne Archer) and their daughter Sally (Thora Birch) in London. After intervening when the Royal Family is attacked, Ryan testifies against Sean Miller (Sean Bean), one of the men he wounded while fending off the bad guys. Miller is sent to prison but manages to escape and diverts his attention to getting back at Ryan and his family in the United States. The rest of the film’s just under 2 hour run time is spent following Ryan as he reenters the CIA and taps into every resource at his disposal to learn more about the guerilla group Miller belongs to and bring them to justice. Casual internet research will reveal that Clancy was disgusted with the differences between the film adaptation and the novel, but “Patriot Games” managed to do a-okay at the box office and keep the motivation behind the author’s popular character strong.

The third film in the set is “Clear and Present Danger,” with Ford back as Ryan for a second time. We learn Ryan is sort of in the dark this time around, with the President giving his National Security Advisor a thumbs up to go after some nasty drug smugglers. Ryan eventually gets caught in the middle of a power struggle, despite his attempts to avoid sending troops or black-ops into Colombia. Willem Dafoe has a role as a black-ops team leader on the ground in Colombia, taking no prisoners and seeking out drug cartels that represent “a clear and present danger” to the United States. Lots of blackmail, double crossing and inside agents working against the country they are supposed to be protecting here, with some explosions, back stabbing, helicopters and computer hacking to boot. The timely mid-1990s release occurred when the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ was holding steady at a very high level, despite clearly doing just as much harm as good.

Finally, “The Sum of All Fears” rounds things out. Released in 2002, Ben Affleck plays Ryan, this time working alongside CIA Director Cabot (Morgan Freeman) to thwart neo-fascists en route to starting a nuclear war between Russia and the United States. There are layers and layers to this film, including references to prior international conflict in Chechnya, the START treaty, battleships and sea warfare. “The Sum of All Fears” was probably the lease well-reviewed of these four titles, with Affleck struggling to live up to Harrison Ford’s high expectation bar. The sheer scale of the film, all $68 million worth, is impressive, but it struggled to balance its desire for action with its desire for political and military drama.

It isn’t easy to compare these titles to far more modern ones, but you can see some similarities and differences. “The Jack Ryan Collection” features movies that feel more character driven, which is probably a joint success attributable to Clancy’s detailed writing and the execution put forward by the actors. There are dissenting voices at the table in each of these films, as is often the case in similar motion pictures we get now. Naysayers who firmly draw a line in the sand and hold to it force our heroes to take on the burden without prejudice, and achieve their objectives in a much more authoritative context throughout.

I’ll probably have to update this review in a few weeks once the new Jack Ryan film hits American theaters. Until then, I’ll reminisce on the good work done in bringing this memorable character to an invigorating life that probably only helped his popularity deepen and broaden. While they may not go down in cinematic history as the best of the best, they were well executed and cast better than most before and after. They hold their replay value pretty well over time, also.

Video:
All four films are presented in a very sharp 1080p High Definition 2.35:1 video transfer that presents a practically grain free image throughout. They may not have scored any accolades for cinematography or art direction, but Blu-ray disc is pretty kind to each title in “The Jack Ryan Collection,” regardless of age. The transfers aren’t flawless, but they’re excellent, and the coloration is proof.

Audio:
All four films come with identical audio options: English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD. This is the way it should be, folks! Consistency is important, especially within a series built around a single character. The sound significantly enhances “The Jack Ryan Collection,” with musical selections and natural background noise doing excellent work in tandem. Your surround sound will enjoy these titles, undoubtedly. Additional audio options for each title are French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1s, with English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles offered.

Extras:
For “The Hunt for Red October,” we find an audio commentary with director John McTiernan, cast and crew interviews plus theatrical trailers.

For “Patriot Games,” cast and crew interviews are offered along with the theatrical trailer.

For “Clear and Present Danger,” we are given identical special features as were offered with “Patriot Games.”

“The Sum of All Fears” is the winner with extras in this set, providing director Phil Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley’s audio commentary, a commentary with director Robinson and author Tom Clancy, a behind the scenes “making of” featurette” plus trailers and visual effects look-ins.

A Final Word:
It’s a solid set, with four good films. If you own them separately, no need to repurchase. If you don’t, and you want them, ask Santa.

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