Movies Under the Sea: “The Hunt for Red October” (1990) & “Crimson Tide” (1995)

The Hunt for Red October (1990)

In November 1984, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union creates a new nuclear submarine that runs silent due to a revolutionary propulsion system. The Russian submarine Captain, Marko Ramius (Sir Sean Connery), defects. His goal is taking it to the U.S. to prevent the Russians from using it to start nuclear war against the U.S. -Summary

Listen, I’m a politician which means I’m a cheat and a liar, and when I’m not kissing babies I’m stealing their lollipops. But it also means I keep my options open. -Jeffrey Pelt

Filming started in 1989, w/ the Cold War still going on, but was released in 1990 when the Soviet government announced that the Communist Party was no longer in charge. Producers went on with the release, but using a disclaimer that the story takes place in 1984 (when Tom Clancy’s novel was published). This is the movie debut of Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst who uses his brains (he writes books re: miliary history/speaks Russian) more than his brawn (though he holds the rank of Lt. Cmdr. in the Navy/graduated as a Marine). He is no pushover; Ryan speaks up for himself when it’s needed and doesn’t let others intimidate him. Alec Baldwin accepted the role of Jack Ryan (recently played by John Krasinski in the Amazon Prime series) b/c Harrison Ford turned it down. Kevin Costner turned down the role of Jack Ryan in order to make Dances with Wolves (1990). Director John McTiernan previously worked on Die Hard (1988); the same oversized teddy bear is in this movie. This movie starts out in Russian, then switches to English, as the political officer reads a passage from a book.

I miss the peace of fishing like when I was a boy. Forty years I’ve been at sea. A war at sea. A war with no battles, no monuments… only casualties. I widowed her the day I married her. My wife died while I was at sea, you know. -Capt. Ramius

Before filming, Sir Sean Connery spent time underway aboard the U.S.S. Puffer preparing for his role (Capt. Marko Ramius). He was given Commander status, and allowed to give commands while underway (w/ the Captain beside him). During filming, several actors portraying U.S.S. Dallas crewmen took a cruise off the coast of San Diego on the U.S.S. Salt Lake City a Los Angeles-class submarine. Cmdr. Thomas Fargo ordered his crew to treat actor Scott Glenn (Cmdr. Bart Mancuso) as equal rank, first giving reports to him, then give the same report to Glenn. The actor said he based his performance on Fargo: “whatever good happened in the performance, basically I owe to now Admiral Fargo, thank you sir.” Connery was in the Royal Navy before becoming an actor; Glenn spent 3 yrs. in the Marines.

[to himself, just before being lowered off a helicopter] Next time, Jack, write a goddamn memo. -Jack Ryan

[To himself, imitating Ramius] “Ryan, some things in here don’t react well to bullets.” Yeah, like me. I don’t react well to bullets. -Jack Ryan

Star Trek: TNG fans will will notice that Ryan’s wife Cathy is played (in one scene only) by Gates McFadden (best known as Dr. Beverly Crusher). After she rejoined TNG, Anne Archer took over the role; Cathy lost the English accent (which McFadden had used). James Earl Jones (Adm. James Greer) was the only actor to reprise his role in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994) where Ford takes over as Ryan. Jones also served in the Army as a young man. Fred Thompson (Adm. Painter) and Courtney B. Vance (Seaman Jones- another brainy guy) would go on to be part of the Law & Order franchise. The international cast includes Aussie Sam Neill (Capt. Borodin), Brit Peter Firth (Cmdr. Putin), Brit Tim Curry (Dr. Petrov), and Swede Stellan Skarsgard (Capt. Tupolev).

[1] It took a concept that is inconceivable to most people (living in a boat underwater with people trying to blow you up) and brought it up close and personal. The resulting suspense and excitement for this type of film is always extremely entertaining and this film delivers nicely.

[2] High tension and realistic (emphasis on that last word) depictions of modern warfare make for an excellent story.

[3] Baldwin, in what is and will probably be his career best role ever, shines as the intelligent and patriotic Jack Ryan, a thinking man’s hero. Connery lends incredible presence, as usual, to his interpretation of Ramius.

[4] The movie’s chief strengths are its moody lighting, its unrelenting pace, and especially its deep bench of acting talent. Connery suggests a note of uncertainty to Ramius that keeps the audience on its toes. For the longest time, we don’t know what he’s up to. Baldwin plays Ryan in a very realistic way that establishes his basically gentle, bookish nature but underscores the depths of his heroism as he pursues an increasingly dangerous path no one else believes in. Scott Glenn is terrific as a crusty U.S. sub commander…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Crimson Tide (1995)

In the face of the ultimate nuclear showdown, one man has absolute power and one man will do anything to stop him.

-Tag line

When some Russian rebels take control of some ICBM’s, the Americans prep for battle. Among the vessels sent is the nuclear sub, USS Alabama. They have a new X.O. (second in command) in Cmdr. Hunter (Denzel Washington), who hasn’t seen much action. Capt. Ramsey (Gene Hackman) gives an order for a drill after a dangerous incident (fire in the galley) and Hunter disagrees w/ how Ramsey handled it. It’s obvious that Ramsey doesn’t think much of Hunter b/c Hunter is college-educated; Ramsey worked his way up. They’re given orders to attack, but when in the process of receiving another order, the ship’s communications are damaged (cutting off the full message). Ramsey decides to continue with their previous order, while Hunter wants to reestablish contact first. That’s when the two men’s philosophies of war collide… and the tension rises!

This is probably my fave action movie, though this isn’t a familiar genre for me. There is much to admire- the directing (by Tony Scott), acting, intensity, music, and a few moments of humor (provided by Quentin Tarantino- who punched up the script). Washington solidifies his star status by having equal billing w/ Hackman, as we see in the posters. Tension between them grows b/c of their differing ages, races, personalities and philosophies on war. The cast includes Viggo Mortensen (Weps- Hunter’s close pal), James Gandolfini (Dougherty), George Dzundza (Cob), Danny Nucci (Rivetti), Steve Zahn (Barnes), former child star Ricky Shroeder (Hellerman), and a very young Ryan Phillippe.

The early scenes do much to set up the main conflict of the film. For example when members of the crew discuss Carl Von Clausewitz, and his 1832 work Vom Kriege (“On War”), the intellectual showdown occurs between Ramsey and Hunter. This scene not only heightens the tension, but also reveals the different philosophies of these two men, what they believe in, why they are there. This short scene goes a long way to setting up why each of these characters are so unbending when the crisis presents itself.

Crimson Tide possesses one of the most intense moments in film: two great actors eye-to-eye, portraying characters absolutely certain of their actions, absolutely convinced that the other’s course will lead to disaster. Washington believes, with good reason, that Hackman is unfit to command because he is disregarding naval procedures. Hackman believes, with good reason, that Washington is disobeying an order and instigating a mutiny. A possible nuclear exchange and the deaths of billions hang in the balance.

The cast – all of them – are spectacular, and the directing is masterful. […] More than just a cautionary tale, this is a very human drama about who people become under extreme conditions, and how they work out problems to reach solutions, or fail to do so. If that final sentence sounds cryptic, then let it entice you to see the film so you can figure out what I mean for yourself.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

One thought on “Movies Under the Sea: “The Hunt for Red October” (1990) & “Crimson Tide” (1995)

  1. I saw and enjoyed both of these at the time — back when the end of the Cold War was a thing we were all feeling. Not sure how I’d react now.

    Like

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