November 5, 2002 -- "The Sum of All Fears," one of the better films to come out this year, has been released on video and the special edition DVD has a good selection of extra features, including a commentary sound track with writer Tom Clancy, on whose novel this film is loosely based. This review of the DVD (not the movie) assumes the reader has already seen the movie. For a review of the movie, click here.
While Clancy and his fans may be disappointed that the film doesn't follow the book more closely, even Clancy has to admit this is a good film. While the story was re-written considerably, the structure of the story is more like a Clancy story than the other film adaptations of Clancy's Jack Ryan novels. There is an hour-long setup before the action really starts in the story, and that is just the way Clancy's books are structured. You read through hundreds of pages of setup sometimes before you get to the payoff. In Clancy's novels, it is the details of government intrigue that keep the reader interested. In the movie, it is the characters that keep you interested until the action gets rolling.
Ben Affleck, as a young Jack Ryan, and Morgan Freeman as CIA Director William Cabot, Russian President Alexander Nemerov (played by (Ciarán Hinds of "Mary Reilly") and the U.S. President, played by James Cromwell of "Space Cowboys" are all very effective in the film as is Liev Schreiber of "Kate and Leopold") as John Clark. Bridget Moynahan of "Serendipity") turns in a good performance as Cathy Muller, Ryan's girlfriend. Michael Byrne ("Proof of Life") is effective as the wily Russian intelligence officer Anatoli Grushkov. During his commentary Clancy also said he liked these performances. He was not familiar with Schreiber's work, but he was very impressed with the way he played Clark in the film. Clancy also commented on how well Schreiber and Hinds spoke Russian. He actually thought Hinds was Russian. In fact, Hinds, a Brit, learned his Russian phonetically in just 10 days, according to director Phil Alden Robinson's commentary.
Clancy, who does meticulous research on the CIA and the military for his spy novels, was very critical during his commentary when he thought the film got the details wrong, but complimentary when he thought the film got the details right. He said, "That's bullshit," in the part of the film where Cabot indicates he knew all about Ryan's girlfriend through his spy agency contacts. Clancy said that kind of spying is illegal. He also noted that Ryan was riding in the wrong kind of jet (the jet turned out to be a film product placement deal) and that the Arabs who dug up the nuclear bomb would not have gotten radiation sickness from touching it, and other technical and political errors. He praised the studio recreations of the CIA headquarters and the Pentagon, the nuclear explosion special effects and other elements of the film that looked authentic. Clancy seemed relaxed and jovial during his commentary with the director as they debated how various scenes were filmed and whether any of it would happen in the "real world." Clancy is well-informed, clever and has a ready wit.
Yet another commentary track has the director again, with cinematographer John Lindley. They talk about how scenes were set up, shot and edited. Robinson and Lindley were both pleased with the way the crowd scenes at the football game were edited to show the various reactions of fans to the president running from the stadium. The scene is also poignant because we suspect these same fans are about to be victims of a terrorist attack. The two are also pleased with the bleach-skip process used to create the contrasty post-nuclear attack images. The process eliminates one of the usual steps in film development, causing faded colors and high-contrast images. This kind of film process was used extensively in the film "Get Carter" to create a film noir effect. The Robinson-Lindley commentary track is very informative regarding lighting, staging, logistical and budget problems overcome during the film. One thing that everyone seemed to agree on concerned a push-in shot of a swastika on the back of a watch. It should have been cut from the film. Clancy quipped that filmmakers might just as well have used a swastika arm band. Robinson did not want to use the shot, but the studio insisted. Too bad. It was a heavy-handed, unnecessary shot.
Some featurettes on the "Special Collector's Edition" dual-layer DVD also give some good insights into the way the film was put together. A couple of short documentaries on the making of the film can be found under the title "A Cautionary Tale." One documentary concerns casting, and the other concerns other production issues. Clicking on the visual effects header gives you five short featurettes on how the visual effects were done to create five specific scenes, an aircraft carrier attack, a missile attack on an Israeli A-4 jet and nuclear blast effects on a hospital, helicopter and motorcade. The DVD also has the theatrical trailer for the film. Available audio tracks include Dolby (tm) Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 surround sound in English, as well as a French language soundtrack. Subtitles are in English only. It is also closed-captioned. The picture is in widescreen anamorphic format with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. While the DVD does lack the usual deleted scenes and text filmographies of the cast and crew, the features it does have are quite good. The sound and picture quality are also good. This DVD rates a B+.
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