PATRIOT GAMES - DVD review

"Patriot Games" is...the kind of Hollywood product that reeks of banal commercialism.

 
Eddie
Feng

"Patriot Games" was a considerable step back for the Jack Ryan series after the engrossing "The Hunt for Red October". For starters, Harrison Ford brought nothing dynamic to the role. With the exception of Han Solo and Indiana Jones, Ford plays every character as a "confused middle-aged man". I'm not asking Ford to display a great emotional range in every movie, but a little variation would make him more palatable to me than he is now. Also, how many times do we have to look at him doing his "huff-and-puff" run? "Patriot Games" begins with Ford huffing-and-puffing in slow motion as he runs towards his family across a town square. He huffs-and-puffs in slo-mo yet again in "Clear and Present Danger". He did everybody a favor by not huffing-and-puffing in "The Sum of All Fears".

In "Patriot Games", the Ryan family visits London so that Jack (Ford) can deliver a guest lecture to members of the British military. While the Ryans are sightseeing, Irish terrorists attempt to kidnap a member of the royal family. Jack Ryan gets involved in the melee, and he single-handedly disrupts the terrorists' plans. Ryan kills a young man and apprehends his older brother, Sean Miller (Sean Bean). Jack gets knighted for his services to the British royal family, and Sean Miller hisses at Jack in a British court of law. Sean Miller's cohorts spring him from the hands of British law enforcement officials, and the Irish terrorists (not affiliated with the Irish Republican Army) go to North Africa in order to train for another kidnapping attempt. Of course, Sean Miller puts his buddies' plans in jeopardy when he continues to pursue the Ryan family rather than focusing on nabbing the desired hostage.

I haven't read Tom Clancy's source novel (of his books, I've only read "The Hunt for Red October), so I don't know what changes were made to the narrative during the screenwriting process. However, the final movie presents a simplistic, by-the-test-screening-numbers story that marches towards a showdown between Jack Ryan and Sean Miller without a sense of grace, dignity, or skill. Many movies feature inevitable confrontations between protagonists and antagonists, but "Patriot Games" gives us two characters that fight each other almost for the sake of fighting. When asked why he charged right into the terrorists' first kidnapping attempt, Jack Ryan merely states that he was angry about the situation. Okay, so his blood got a little up...what about his sense of duty as a former Marine? What about the fact that he's a family man and an intelligence analyst rather than an out-and-out physical warrior? Did Ryan just forget that he's supposed to hate getting involved in situations that remove him from the comfort of his routine?

"Patriot Games" is also the kind of Hollywood product that reeks of banal commercialism. Here we have a story that involves terrorists hounding a family to the ends of the earth. The terrorists nearly succeed in brutally murdering a little girl (Ryan's daughter, played by Thora Birch). Right after a nasty showdown between the hero and his enemy, the movie cuts to a coy sequence in which Catherine Ryan (Anne Archer) doesn't reveal the sex of the baby growing inside of her (the idea being that you have to read Clancy's tomes or see the movie sequel in order to discover the details). We go from ugly violence to a bad case of the cutes within a matter of minutes, as if the filmmakers wanted to make audiences feel good about watching a rather downbeat and grim movie. This is the sort of pandering that erases any credibility that a film may have built with me as a discerning viewer.

Finally, what's with the title? The story involves Jack Ryan defending his family and a British royal from the threats of Irish terrorists. Ryan's actions have nothing to do with his patriotism. I see no reason why the narrative should be deemed "Patriot Games"...unless the title refers to the patriotism of the Irish terrorists(!).

Video:
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen video image looks quite good. The print used for this new transfer has fewer debris strewn over it than the print used for the new "The Hunt for Red October" DVD. Fleshtones are accurate, and the video handlers did a good job balancing the generally grey tones of the movie with the more vivid colors of the actors' clothes and various props. Mercifully, grain isn't a problem--the final battles could've looked horrible since they are set at night during a fierce thunderstorm.

Audio:
Despite the violent nature of the film's depiction of terrorist activity, most of the action sequences in "Patriot Games" are fairly low key compared to the all-out battle scenes that we see in war movies. Therefore, while gunshots and explosions punctuate silences with startling effectiveness, sound effects are mostly limited to brief bursts. Directionality effects aren't very innovative or head-turning, and since there aren't that many occasions that require deep bass response, the Dolby Digital 5.1 English mix doesn't provide a lot of low ends, either. The good news is that the audio does a great job of reproducing James Horner's haunting music score (which is the best thing in "Patriot Games" anyway).

You can watch the movie with a DD 2.0 surround French dub, and Paramount also included a DTS 5.1 English track on the disc.

Optional English and Spanish subtitles as well as optional English closed captions support the audio.

Extras:
"‘Patriot Games' Up Close" is a making-of featurette that offers recently-conducted interviews with members of the cast and crew. Mostly, we see producer Mace Neufeld (the only primary filmmaker who's worked on all the Jack Ryan movies) talk about fairly obvious details. Everyone else, including director Phillip Noyce, talks about everybody else in the most positive of terms, as if making the movie was a love-fest that was problem-free.

The only other extra on the DVD is a theatrical trailer for the film.

--Miscellaneous--
A glossy insert provides chapter listings.

Film Value:
Like the new "The Hunt for Red October" disc, the second DVD version of "Patriot Games" doesn't deserve to be billed as a member of Paramount's "Special Collector's Edition" line. The making-of featurette is worth watching only once, and the inclusion of a DTS track on a DVD hardly signifies an upgrade to "special edition" status. "Patriot Games" isn't a very good movie anyway--we've seen plenty of similar and better flicks--so it's really up to you when it comes to completing your collection of Jack Ryan DVDs.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
7
Extras
3
Film Value
5