The Jack Ryan Collection

Jack Ryan is the central character in 12 of Tom Clancy's novels about the CIA analyst. When the debut book, The Hunt for Red October, hit the silver screen in 1990, a relatively unknown actor, Alec Baldwin, starred as Ryan in what was to become the first of many adaptations from the successful literary series. But a combination of factors—a new studio head at Paramount, some bad press about Baldwin and Kim Basinger on the set of Marrying Man, and the availability of superstar Harrison Ford, led to the replacement of Baldwin in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger with Ford in the lead role.

While The Hunt for Red October closely followed the book, the following two movies deviated from the original story, much to the chagrin of Clancy and his loyal readers—including me. In 2002, the character was recast again, with the younger Ben Affleck as Jack Ryan, and the franchise received a reboot with The Sum of All Fears, in which Ryan is now a young analyst (again), and he is dating his future wife (Bridget Moynahan). Clancy participates in one of the commentaries on the disc and jokingly refers to himself as "the author of the book that he (director and co-writer, Phil Alden Robinson, who accompanies Clancy on the commentary) ignored."

As someone who has read each of Clancy's books multiple times, I find the movies a bittersweet experience. My favorite of the bunch is The Hunt for Red October because it closely follows the book that I love, and the casting matches the characters in the novel. As much as I loathe Alec Baldwin as a man (no one should ever talk to their child in that way), he personified the role of Jack Ryan. Throw in the supporting cast of Scott Glenn (Commander Bart Mancuso), Sam Neill (Captain Vasily Bordin), James Earl Jones (Admiral James Greer), and especially Sean Connery as Captain Marko Ramius, and you have a perfectly cast production.

Unfortunately, Harrison Ford became Jack Ryan in the less-popular follow-up, Patriot Games, turning a compelling book into a less-than-compelling movie. For one thing, Ryan aged about 20 years with the casting of Ford, and the events in Patriot Games take place before the events in Red October. This messed up the continuity of the series, and I could never buy into Ford as Ryan. Don't get me wrong, Harrison Ford is one of my all-time favorite actors, but his miscasting in this and Clear and Present Danger left a sour taste in my mouth. On their own, I find them entertaining, but as a fan of the Clancy books, they don't come anywhere close to the gripping story portrayed in Red October.

Ben Affleck does an admirable job in The Sum of All Fears, but yet again, the film deviates so much from the book, I find it hard to take it seriously. Morgan Freeman's casting as Admiral James Greer was a good move, but like the previous two films, it’s entertaining while doing nothing to move the franchise forward.

Each movie received a new AVC encode for Blu-ray utilizing the higher bandwidth available compared to the HD DVDs. Unfortunately, the visual experience wavers from disc to disc. Red October is the best looking of the bunch, with minimal processing revealing a very film-like image and excellent shadow detail. Patriot Games has an over-processed appearance, with waxy flesh tones and obscured detail. Clear and Present Danger is a solid presentation with highly detailed backgrounds, but close-ups have that processed look. Contrast levels are pumped up, especially in the Central American scenes, but this may have been the director's intent. The Sum of All Fears is a mixed bag. It's the cleanest transfer of the four, but it's the least-natural looking with severe over-processing. Comparing each movie to its DVD counterpart shows remarkable improvement, but none are demo-worthy.

Each film boasts a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. All have excellent dynamics, but Red October shows some strain, especially in the high-pitch whine of torpedoes moving through the water. The surround channels are very active, especially during the third act. Dynamics improve in the other three films, especially with explosions and crisp, life-like gunfire. The musical scores of composers Basil Poledouris (Red October), James Horner (Patriot Games & Clear and Present Danger), and Jerry Goldsmith (The Sum of All Fears) all have excellent imaging and clarity in the lossless surround mixes.

Each title includes a token bonus feature or two, but none of them are worth writing home about. The bookends of the franchise include commentaries, the most interesting one involving Tom Clancy on the The Sum of All Fears. Cast and crew interviews grace the first three films, and a "making of" and a visual-effects supplement are found on the final installment. Each disc also contains the respective theatrical trailer, presented in HD.

The Hunt for Red October is my personal favorite of the Jack Ryan movies with its gripping story and excellent character development. The last three films are fun to watch, but they are more of the "popcorn" variety. All are enjoyable on Blu-ray and great upgrades over the DVDs. Recommended.

Release Date: July 29, 2008

The Hunt for Red October
Film: 9 out of 10
Picture: 8 out of 10
Sound: 7 out of 10

Patriot Games
Film: 7 out of 10
Picture: 6 out of 10
Sound: 8 out of 10

Clear and Present Danger
Film: 8 out of 10
Picture: 7 out of 10
Sound: 8 out of 10

The Sum of All Fears
Film: 7 out of 10
Picture: 6 out of 10
Sound: 8 out of 10

Review System

Panasonic DMP-BD30

JVC DLA-RS1 projector
Stewart FireHawk screen (76.5" wide, 16:9)

Onkyo PR-SC885 pre/pro
Anthem PVA-7 Amplifier
Belkin PF60 power conditioner

M&K S-150s (L, C, R)
M&K SS-150s (LS, RS, SBL, SBR)
SVS PC-Ultra subwoofer

Monoprice HDMI cables (source to pre/pro)
Best Deal analog-audio cables
PureLink HDC Fiber Optic HDMI Cable System (15 meters) from pre/pro to projector