Harrison Ford made his first appearance as on-again-off-again CIA agent Jack Ryan in this screen adaptation of Tom Clancy's best-selling book. Like Ford's other action films, "Patriot Games" mixes in with the adventure a good deal of reason and intelligence to produce a good, above-average thriller. The DVD transfer is up to industry standards and occasions a worthwhile viewing experience.
This time out Jack Ryan is working peacefully as a college professor when he becomes embroiled in a terrorist plot to kidnap a member of the British Royal Family, Lord Holmes, played by James Fox. Ryan and his family are vacationing in London when he coincidentally happens into the middle of an assault upon Holmes' car by a group of IRA extremists. Ryan breaks up the attack and in the process kills the brother of one of the Irish gunmen. The gunman, Sean Miller (played by Sean Bean), is captured, while several of his accomplices get away.
Later, Miller escapes and vows revenge on Ryan for killing his brother. From that point on it's Miller vs. Ryan, as the latter tries desperately to protect himself and his family from the murderous Miller and company. And this is no easy task, as the bad guys here are so bad they feel no remorse in killing each other, let alone killing their enemies.
Harrison Ford again demonstrates why he is America's number-one action hero, a combination of toughness and courage with just enough human warmth to make him seem like the guy next door. Yet he also possesses a commanding presence on the screen that continually demands our attention.
The role of Jack Ryan had been played in a previous film, "The Hunt for Red October," by Alec Baldwin, who later said that he felt lost in the picture because he couldn't compete with fellow star Sean Connery. Ford is one of the few actors who has proven his ability to stand up to the commanding presence of Connery.
Also in the film are Anne Archer as Ryan's wife; a very young Thora Birch as Ryan's daughter; James Earl Jones reprising his role as Admiral James Greer; Patrick Bergin as a terrorist leader; Sean Bean playing another of his typically nefarious roles; and Richard Harris in a small part as an IRA sympathizer.
The film is directed by Philip Noyce, who creates and maintains a high level of suspense and excitement throughout, drifting into the excesses of melodrama only in the final scenes. It's one of the Wife-O-Meter's favorite action movies, and it's one of Ford's more typical action adventures.
The film is in widescreen, preserving much of the picture's theatrical size. By my measurements it is approximately 2.00:1, meaning the screen is about twice as long as it is high. The film was originally presented in Panavision, a 2.35:1 ratio, so it appears that a little of the image has been shaved off the edges of the DVD, some due to overscanning, some, no doubt, due to the studio's transfer. The picture quality is good, if not outstanding. Colors are well defined, contrasts are sharp, and pixel jitters are kept to a minimum.
The options for sound are either Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Stereo Surround, accessed through a setup command on the main menu. A comparison of the two choices indicates that the Dolby Digital selection provides more clarity and impact than the Stereo Surround, as it should, and throws more information into the back channels, albeit with a somewhat limited channel separation. For those who don't have Dolby Digital capability, the Stereo Surround is adequate.
Apart from the good picture and sound, Paramount offer few additional items. There are the usual scene selections, language choices, and theatrical trailer, but there are no actor biographies, interviews, outtakes, alternative audio tracks, documentaries, or the like. As this was one of the studio's first DVD releases, perhaps they were testing the waters.
"Patriot Games" is a rare breed of film, a reasonably sensible thriller that doesn't tax credibility to the degree that most other action pictures do. With Harrison Ford in charge, we are more than willing to accept the goings-on as routine, even when they occasionally verge on the extremes of believability. I certainly recommend the film, although Paramount could have been more generous in their bonus offerings.