The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

The Hunt For Red October: Review and Reflection

“Once more, we play our dangerous game, a game of chess against our old adversary — the American Navy. For forty years, your fathers before you, and your older brothers played this game, and played it well. But today the game is different; we have the advantage.” —Captain Marko Ramius

Dubbed by Ronald Reagan as the “perfect yarn”, Tom Clancy’s The Hunt For Red October (1984) began his career as a techno-thriller novelist and was adapted into a movie starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin in 1990. While some minor differences arise between the film and novel, the general plot in the film is consistent with its novel counterpart. Soviet submarine captain Marko Ramius (Connery) plots a defection from the Soviet Union while commanding the Red October, a Typhoon-class equipped with a revolutionary magnetohydrodynamic drive that renders it nearly silent to sonar. CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Baldwin) successfully deduces Ramius’ intentions and struggles to convince his superiors that Ramius is planning to defect before the American and Soviet forces engage one another in combat. The Hunt For Red October was a superb novel, characterised by its matter-of-fact writing style and incredibly detailed explanations of some of the technologies utilised on board submarines. The film, although different from the novel in some places, manages to capture the atmosphere and technical details of the novel: despite the plot’s slower progression compared to contemporary movies, all of the moments are integrated well with one another to create an ever-present sense of suspense that would doubtlessly permeate submarine operations.

Tom Clancy’s The Hunt For Red October marks the beginning of the Jack Ryan universe, and my first Tom Clancy novel was Threat Vector: by this time, Jack Ryan Sr. is the President of the United States, having defeated Ed Keatly in elections. However, in The Hunt For Red October, Ryan is a CIA analyst working in London. While Ryan has training as a marine, he is not a sailor and therefore finds himself uncomfortable at sea once he is tasked to prove that his theory holds true. Throughout The Hunt For Red October, Ryan is presented as a dedicated academic in search of the truth with the aim of halting a war. By comparison, the government and military officers are more set in their ways, and find themselves bemused by Ryan’s tenacity. However, even then, there are exceptions: sonar technician Petty Officer Jones of the USS Dallas is a bright mind, devising a clever means of tracking the Red October: his actions are instrumental in helping Ryan locate the Red October and convince his superiors that Ramius is indeed planning to defect. Through Ryan and Jones, Clancy suggests that the military’s capabilities are closely tied to the quality of the intelligence that they receive. While Ryan encounters some resistance to his theory from senior US officials, Commander Mancuso of the USS Dallas is willing to take a chance on Jones’ ideas. It is therefore unsurprising that the USS Dallas does manage to find the Red October, while Ryan is given limited help to demonstrate that Ramius is defecting until he boards the Dallas. This contrast suggests that unorthodox conclusions can still have some relevance, and that solid intelligence is necessary for a plan to execute well: in general, Tom Clancy held the view that the worth of good intelligence acquisition and analysis should never be underestimated, and this theme returns in his novels quite frequently.

A superb movie on all counts, The Hunt For Red October is also said to have inspired for some of the events seen in Hai-Furi. This led some viewers to develop unrealistic expectations for Hai-Furi, and some individuals spent the anime’s entire run complaining about every conceivable element when their expectations were not fulfilled. According to the staff, Reiko Yoshida drew elements from The Hunt For Red October to guide some of the narrative elements seen in Hai-Furi. While long-held to be significant amongst those who watched Hai-Furi, it should be abundantly clear that The Hunt For Red October and Hai-Furi share only similarity in the fact that it is set on the high seas: there are no strong indicators that specifics from the former’s narrative entered the latter. The Hunt For Red October is firmly guided by the narrative, whereas the flow of events is much looser in Hai-Furi. While The Hunt For Red October deals with Jack Ryan’s adventures to prove that Ramius is defecting, Hai-Furi is about the growth the the Harekaze’s crew as they encounter one misadventure after another. The former places a great deal of emphasis on technical accuracy and even allows the military hardware to shine ahead of the cast on some occasions, whereas Hai-Furi was first and foremost about Akeno and her crew. Similarly, there is a very real suspense and sense of urgency in The Hunt For Red October: had Ryan and the USS Dallas failed, hostilities between the United States and the Soviet Union may have resulted in a shooting war. In Hai-Furi, limited world-building prevents the implications of the Totalitarian Virus from being a true threat; this was acceptable in Hai-Furi for the reason that the anime never was intended about a larger perspective about the dynamics between two superpowers. Taken together, while Yoshida and the remainder of Hai-Furi‘s staff may have watched The Hunt For Red October as a reference for Hai-Furi, the similarities between these two disparate works remains superficial at best, and consequently, I hold that it is unreasonable to approach Hai-Furi with the same mindset and expect that the anime satisfy the requirements that made The Hunt For Red October such an enjoyable film.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Sean Connery is Marko Ramius, a Lithuanian submarine commander whose father was a high ranking Soviet officer. A highly competent strategist, Ramius is highly adaptive to situations and is counted as one of the USSR’s best minds on submarine warfare, having written the Soviet doctrine on it in-universe. I remark that the screenshots in this post are of an unusual aspect ratio owing to the original: my image capture software crops out letterboxes automatically, resulting in narrower images.

  • In The Hunt For Red October, Jack Ryan is portrayed by Alec Baldwin: this role goes to Harrison Ford in The Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, and while Ford does an excellent job in conveying Jack Ryan as a highly earnest, devoted analyst, one downside is that Ford’s dialogue can sometimes be difficult to hear. Baldwin, on the other hand, presents Ryan as a wide-eyed but competent analyst who’s just starting out on his journey.

  • The interior of the three submarines in The Hunt For Red October are coloured differently to ensure that they are easy to differentiate from one another: much of the film is set within submarine interiors, and according to production notes, actual filming inside a submarine would have been remarkably difficult, so in the film, large sound stages were created instead with special apparatus to simulate the motions of a submarine.

  • After Ryan obtains some photographs of the Red October in dry dock, he notices the presence of unusual doors on its superstructure. The images are sent to submarine expert Skip Taylor, who suggests that the Red October is equipped with a magnetohydrodynamic drive. Such a propulsion system would make use of magnets to draw in water and expel it to create thrust, but such technologies remain experimental for the present.

  • Ramius takes full control of the Red October after disposing of political officer Putin. He announces that their mission will be to conduct missile drills off the US Coast, and then sail to Cuba for recuperation once their assignment is complete. Carefully planning each move, Ramius betrays nothing to the other crew: impressed with the mission orders, the bridge crew begin singing the Soviet national anthem.

  • The sonar operator on board the USS Dallas, Jones is presented as being highly attuned to his equipment; he is able to differentiate between submarine signatures and the movement of whales in the ocean. In the novel, he states that he was a Caltech student with aspirations to complete his Master’s and Doctorate dissertation, but created an accident that led to his dismissal. In the meantime, he’s joined the navy, and his expertise with electronics play a vital role in helping the Dallas track the Red October.

  • Ryan is asked to present his findings to US government officials after he discusses the theory behind Ramius’ defection to Vice Admiral Greer. Played by James Earl Jones (who had supplied Darth Vader’s voice in the original Star Wars trilogy), Greer is shown to be open to whatever ideas Ryan has, and furthermore, is also quite fond of coffee. The Red October is described as being an immense threat to US security: being able to move undetected would have allowed it to position itself anywhere along the US coast for a nuclear strike.

  • Ryan describes the Soviet fleet’s movements as an indicator that Ramius had intended to defect, reasoning that as a high-ranking officier, Ramius would be able to hand-pick his staff, making it easier to defect. Coupled with the fleet’s deployment is in response to Soviet fears that the Red October will indeed defect based on a letter, and orders the Soviet fleet has received, this leads Ryan to his conclusion. The officials fear a full-on war in light of the risk that the Red October may be “in the hands of a madman”, but nonetheless ask him to investigate such that a war might be avoided.

  • The novel, more so than the film, gives ample exposition for all of the characters that play a significant role; Tom Clancy is meticulous in detailing even some of the secondary characters’ backgrounds in order to illustrate that they are highly competent for their occupations. This style carries over to his final novels, Threat Vector and Command Authority, and serves a powerful function in ensuring that there is no doubt that the characters’ actions are motivated by their experience and expertise in their given field. This stands in stark contrast with Hai-Furi (or even Girls und Panzer), which leads some viewers to challenge the appropriateness of the characters’ actions in their respective universes.

  • Adding to the realism factor in The Hunt For Red October is the fact that shots are not fired for the sake of action. As a thriller that strives to maintain some factual realism, there is a very rigid structure that ensures shots are not fired out of anger. Much of the fun aspects in the movie come from suspense resulting from close encounters, and watching the different characters draw upon their expertise in response to difficult situations.

  • One of the things about The Hunt For Red October that I initially found a little surprising was that the Russian characters started out speaking Russian, and halfway into a conversation between Ramius and Putin, the language switches out to English. This was done to aid the audiences in viewing and reduce the need for subtitles; when the Russian sailors and Americans are in the same scene, the Russians speak Russian again. In Hai-Furi, there are no Russian characters; Wilhelmina is German, but like Ramius, she is bilingual, being able to communicate with Akeno and the others in fluent Japanese.

  • The Red October’s situation is obfuscated by the Russian ambassador, who claims to know little beyond what Moscow has told him and later settles on the Soviet fleet’s activity as being part of a major rescue operation.

  • The Red October’s voyage is not smooth: a ways into their trek across the Atlantic, their magnetohydrodynamic drive, known more simply as a caterpillar, develops a malfunction arising from sabotage. The identity of the saboteur is not known until later in the film, but Ryan’s remarks earlier, that the senior officials on board the Red October must have been handpicked, would suggest that one of the lower-ranking crew must be responsible for things.

  • Moody grey skies and rough surface conditions define the Atlantic ocean. Ryan is not particularly fond of flying: he states that he’s never slept soundly on a commercial flight before, but the rough ride over the Atlantic makes any discomforts of a commercial flight trivial by comparison. Ryan is sent to make contact with the USS Dallas. Running low on fuel, the helicopter makes to return to the carrier after failing to insert Ryan into the Dallas, but driven by determination to see his task through, Ryan cuts himself loose, falling into the frigid Atlantic.

  • Once Ryan is on board the Dallas, he exchanges messages with Ramius and confirms that the latter is indeed intending to defect. With this knowledge in mind, Ryan boards a rescue submarine (explicitly given as an Avalon-class in the novel) and meets with Ramius for the first time. The comparisons between Hai-Furi and The Hunt For Red October first appeared on April 21, two days before the third episode aired and brought to attention of the anime community courtesy of one Myssa Rei. Discussions at Tango-Victor-Tango proved nonexistent, and it’s more than likely that none of their members have watched The Hunt For Red October in full.

  • Returning to The Hunt For Red October, after establishing contact with the Americans, Ramius is surprised that they have guessed what he was seeking. I find that Ramius resembles Chino’s grandfather of GochiUsa. If folks are tossing around wild theories about how Hai-Furi and The Hunt For Red October are related, then I get to throw an inane theory of my own into the mix. I posit that after landing in America, Ramius takes on a new name and lives in the US for several years before moving to Colmar, France, where he starts his own coffee shop, calling it Rabbit House.

  • The US Navy drops a torpedo in the water, but it is self-destructed by Vice Admiral Greer. In order to quickly evacuate the other crew, Ramius stages an emergency with the Red October’s nuclear reactor, and once the surface, Ramius will remain with the other officers to scuttle the ship. Shortly after this news became known, some folks later would claim the staff drew from The Hunt For Red October, models for the characters’ roles.

  • Continuing on from the above bullet, the only character who could have been inspired by The Hunt For Red October‘s characters is Akeno, and even this is a weak claim, as the only commonality the two share is an uncommonly good eye for overcoming adversity. Beyond this, the two characters are as different as night and day. Further to this, sonar does not play as substantial a role in Hai-Furi compared to The Hunt For Red October, and complex political elements are absent in the former. Back in The Hunt For Red October, once Ryan is on board the Dallas, he exchanges messages with Ramius and confirms that the latter is indeed intending to defect. With this knowledge in mind, Ryan boards a rescue submarine (explicitly given as an Avalon-class in the novel) and meets with Ramius for the first time.

  • The action-heavy sequences begin in the movie’s final act: besides Ryan, Mancuso and Jones also boards. Ramius speaks with Ryan about asylum in the United States and also asks about Ryan’s role. Ryan is asked to help with operating the Red October, and Ramius remarks that he’s doing a fine job for someone who’s operating a submarine for the first time. Ryan surprises the others when he reveals that he’s a CIA analyst.

  • It turns out that Ramius’ motivations for defecting arise from a combination of factors: his dissatisfaction with the Soviet Union stem partly from the death of his wife at the hands of an incompetent doctor. Because the aforementioned doctor was related to high-ranking party officials, he was allowed to continue operating without any consequences. Furthermore, upon being assigned the Red October, Ramius realised that such a weapon was built purely for a first strike mission, growing disillusioned with serving the USSR.

  • We’re now approaching the autumn season, and this year’s September has been something of a different one compared to previous years. However, while I no longer return to classes, the ceaseless flow of the season continues along: trees are beginning to turn a deep golden colour, standing out against azure skies. In another week, it will be perfect to go for a stroll in the aspen groves nearby: the temperatures now are ideal for an afternoon stroll.

  • It’s a little bewildering as to how quickly time’s flown by; this is likely a consequence of work, although this also means that I now look forwards to weekends with double the appreciation as I did during my time as a student. Yesterday, I had a chance to attend the Illuminasia festival at the zoo: under a cool and clear evening skies, I was able to watch several Chinese performances and see the meticulously-constructed paper lanterns around the zoo. A piping-hot cup of hot cocoa rounded off the evening, and today, I spent most of it going through DOOM.

  • Back in The Hunt For Red October, the sabateur, revealed to be Loginov, a cook, opens fire and wounds Borodin before fleeing into the missile bay with the intent of launching a missile and sinking the Red October in the process. During a tense standoff in the labyrinthine quarters, Ramius is wounded, but Ryan manages to kill Loginov before the latter could destroy the missiles.

  • I have no doubt in my mind that, had the submarine crews of The Hunt For Red October been assigned to immobilise the Musashi of Hai-Furi, they would have succeeded within a much shorter period than the Harekaze and its allies during the final battle. The logistics of how exactly the Blue Mermaids work in Hai-Furi notwithstanding, I found that the relative lack of world-building meant that numerous elements were poorly-expressed: I recall a particularly awful set of Tweets where someone claiming to be staff attempted to explain away modern aerodynamics and heavier-than-air flight.

  • The Red October faces one final threat: the Konovalov and its captain, Tupolev. One of Ramius’ former students, Tupolev both admires and despises Ramius, making it a point to personally sink the Red October to demonstrate the might of the Soviet system. By capitalising on the arming distance for the Soviet torpedoes, however, the Red October escapes destruction from a direct hit.

  • A second torpedo fired from the Konovalov is set with no arming distance in order to avoid a repeat of the first torpedo, but skilful maneuvering from the Red October results in the second torpedo impacting the Konovalov, sinking it. In the novel, Red October rams the Konovalov broadside, suffering damage to its hull but otherwise sinking it all the same. Either way, the final threat is ended, and thus, the stories enter their denouement.

  • Back on the surface, the rescued Soviet sailors watch as an explosion breaks the surface, leading them to believe that the Red October has been destroyed. The Red October’s fate is not mentioned in the movie or in the novel, but Tom Clancy makes an aside in The Cardinal of the Kremlin, where it’s revealed that the Red October was analysed extensively. Its technology was reverse-engineered, and the vessel was then sunk in a remote ocean basin to minimise the odds of its wreck being discovered.

  • Like my Pure Pwnage: Teh Movie review, one of the greatest challenges faced during the acquisition of photographs for this post was to find those that were not blurred. Live action photographs can be quite difficult to capture when movement is involved, in comparison to anime screenshots, and I needed to go through some sections, frame by frame, to pick those with the least amount of blurring.

  • Despite the vast disparities in terms of emotional tenour and technical detail between Hai-Furi and The Hunt For Red October, I nonetheless enjoyed the former for the elements that it was able to execute well. Even at present, I’m not sure why some individuals are so vociferous about an anime when such a wide selection of more technical, fully fleshed out stories are available for enjoyment.

  • When Ramius cites Christopher Columbus, Ryan responds with a cordial “Welcome to the New World, sir”.This brings the movie, and this post, to a close: intended to partially be a discussion of the movie and, partially be a rebuttal to dispel any remaining notions that it is reasonable to expect Hai-Furi to match the same standards as The Hunt For Red October, it marks the second time I’ve done a review for a live-action film. Upcoming posts will include my impressions of DOOM after the halfway point, and later this month, a talk on New Game! once its finale is out. As well, I’m planning on reviewing Rick and Morty‘s first season at some point in the very near future, now that I’m only one episode from finishing (consider that I started watching during May 2014).

Hai-Furi will likely be consigned to oblivion within a year’s time, but The Hunt For Red October remains immediately recognisable and has been counted as a timeless film: its narrative and capacity to keep audiences guessing is masterfully executed even some twenty six years after its release. Coupled with a fantastic soundtrack from Basil Poledouris (whose Prokofiev-esque “Hymn to Red October” summarises the entire tenour in The Hunt For Red October completely), The Hunt For Red October was an absolute joy to watch. With its wonderfully detailed presentation of the hardware and depiction of competent naval staff for both sides, The Hunt For Red October is able to connect the significance of every character’s actions with respect to the bigger picture. These aspects result in a film that remains quite memorable and definitely worth watching, and on a similar note, Tom Clancy’s novel is likewise a solid read. With both the novel and film finished on my end, I’ve set my sights on reading Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising, which is set outside of the Jack Ryan universe and deals with a third World War fought entirely with conventional weapons. I’ve heard that there is a fantastic section dealing with armoured warfare and that the novel satisfactorily captures old Soviet military doctrine such that Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy was motivated by Tom Clancy’s works to some extent.

7 responses to “The Hunt For Red October: Review and Reflection

  1. Jusuchin (Military Otaku) September 19, 2016 at 00:48

    The book that spawned the movie was not actually my first introduction to Mr. Clancy. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was also that level of realism and competence and believable personality and actions in characters that made me want to write my own in roleplays.

    I was mildly surprised you wrote this and I appreciate it. It’s a return to childhood and of simpler times.

    Like

    • infinitezenith September 19, 2016 at 19:18

      My first introduction to Tom Clancy was through Threat Vector. I picked it up after reading the blurb inside the dust jacket of a copy at a local bookstore on Boxing Day back in 2012, bought it, and proceeded to fall in love with how much technical details there were. Out of curiosity, which Tom Clancy novel marked your entry into his writing?

      Like

      • Jusuchin (Military Otaku) September 20, 2016 at 17:18

        Patriot Games. Mind you, I was in like, 4th grade and my intro to novels via Jules Verne’s classics was already in full swing.

        I fell in love with his writing when I started reading more and when I was introduced to play-by-post roleplaying where I can write and write and write, I already had a meterstick to gauge myself.

        Like

        • infinitezenith September 20, 2016 at 21:46

          When I was in grade four, I was head over heels over J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings. Half the time, the books were a bit difficult to follow on account of my limited reading capabilities (Harry Potter and Kenneth Opal’s Silverwing represented the upper limits for what I could read without getting lost), but I’ve found the novels to be superbly written.

          Naturally, now that I’m reading things like Tom Clancy and some of Tolkein’s other works (such as The Silmarillion), my love of literature, so noticeably absent during my days as a high school and undergraduate student, have returned full force. Of course, it also results in my shunning light novels; someone recommended the Haruhi and Sword Art Online light novels to me. I tried to read a chapter for each, but I rage quit so fast, it was embarrassing😛

          Like

          • Jusuchin (Military Otaku) September 23, 2016 at 04:11

            My love for reading actually started with comic books. My mom was what you’d call an ‘Overseas Filipino Worker’, so I was raised by relatives while my mom was working. My cousin was a doctor and a budding artist, and had collected the early Calvin and Hobbes collection. For some reason those books were what I ate up while I was in my formative years. I loved reading, and in 4th grade I was reaching high school levels of it, but I kinda shunned all the fantasy books and delved into Science Fiction and military-themed books for some reason.

            Like

  2. Wild Goose September 19, 2016 at 04:28

    One thing the movie doesn’t get across the way the book does is that Ryan’s fear of flying has a very real source – as a young 2nd Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps, Ryan was in a helicopter crash while on excercises. He obviously survived but was invalided out of the USMC.

    While there are a fair number of changes between the film and the novel, the film itself is superb and can stand on its own, and distills the essence of the novel.

    And of course, it has Basil Pouledouris’s theme. It makes what would normally be a very ordinary shot into a tremendous reveal.

    “It’s cold. Very cold.” And then the camera pans out, the music builds to a crescendo, and you see the mighty form of Red October for the first time.

    Like

    • infinitezenith September 19, 2016 at 19:15

      I believe that Ryan was over Afghanistan, and subsequently met Cathy while undergoing therapy. The reboot Shadow Recruit covered this, although that particular movie didn’t quite have the same charm as The Hunt For Red October. The novel’s strongest point is in the details, the film is being able to take the core elements of the novel and make use of both sight and sound to bring everything to life🙂

      Like

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