Our review of The Sum Of All Fears (Blu-Ray), published August 11th, 2008, is also available.
27,000 Nuclear Weapons.
In 2001 and 2002, audiences were hungry for movies that showed America in the throes of war and patriotism at its finest. Movies like Behind Enemy Lines, Hart's War, and We Were Soldiers gave moviegoers ample action and emotional stories to chew on. One of the surprise hits of 2002 was the Tom Clancy based thriller The Sum of all Fears. The film grossed more than $150 million at the box office and drew general critical praise as a taut, edge-of-your-seat thriller. Starring Ben Affleck (Changing Lanes) taking over the role of Jack Ryan from Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman (Along Came A Spider), Liev Schreiber (Scream 2), Philip Baker Hall (Magnolia), and James Cromwell (Babe), The Sum of all Fears churns up your darkest fears on DVD care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
One of my least favorite things to attempt is writing a synopsis of a complicated political web-of-intrigue drama. Forgive me if I get a few facts out of order…
The film opens in 1973 when an Israeli airplane carrying a nuclear bomb crash-lands in Syria. Many moons later, a couple of Syrians find the bomb and dig it up, not knowing that it's filled with enough radiation to turn their brains to mush. The weapon of mass destruction is sold on the black market to an arms dealer who then sells it to a group of fanatical terrorists who decide that it would be a good idea to provoke a war between mother Russia and the United States by making it look like their attack was actually a Russian attack. This all comes on the heels of a turnover of power in the USSR; at this precise moment in history, a new president, Alexander Nemerov (Ciaran Hinds), is strolling into office after the sudden death of Russia's previous leader.
Soon the US Intelligence Committee is looking to gain new information on the newly appointed (and somewhat cryptic) Russian president. Enter a young Jack Ryan (Affleck). Ryan wrote a paper on Nemerov a year ago about his personal history and prediction of his ascent to power. With the help of CIA DCI Bill Cabot (Freeman), Ryan doles out his opinion of Nemerov and what his plans may be to the current President of the United States (Cromwell). But when a sudden attack on American soil seems to point all fingers at Russia, it's up to Ryan and Ryan alone to stop an inevitable war against the two super power countries before it's too late (i.e., lots of nuclear explosions going "BOOM").
Do you have the feeling Tom Clancy doesn't have a funny bone in his body? I kind of get that impression, though it may be a grossly inaccurate one. Maybe someday down the road we'll get some movie titled "Tom Clancy Presents: The Nutty Gas Station Attendant." Until then, we're still getting Jack Ryan movies, though it feels like they're going out of order—is Jack Ryan aging backwards or is it just me? First we had Alec Baldwin as Ryan in The Hunt For Red October. Then Harrison Ford took over the role in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Now we get a very, very young looking Ben Affleck as Ryan in the 2002 hit The Sum of all Fears. Oh well…I guess if James Bond can do it, so can Mr. Ryan.
I know you've heard this umpteen times, but here it is again: September 11th really changed everything, didn't it? Not only did it change our nation, but also the way our movies are made and watched. It doesn't seem that long ago when a movie like The Sum of all Fears could be watched as a fictional thriller and then be discarded after the credits rolled. That just isn't the case anymore. Instead of The Sum of all Fears being just a movie about the most horrific form of terrorism—nuclear capabilities—it's also about our fears and the fact that in an instant the effects-laden disaster on the screen could actually become reality.
I liked The Sum of all Fears a bit more than I anticipated. I know this will come as a shock to many, but I wasn't a big fan of Clancy's The Hunt for Red October. I also wasn't thrilled with Patriot Games, and didn't get around to seeing Clear and Present Danger (though don't fret: there's no need to see any of those films to enjoy The Sum of all Fears). While I wasn't a cheerleader for Clancy's previous big screen efforts, I did enjoy this one—The Sum of all Fears is a fine exercise in political doomsday intrigue that isn't overly complicated, yet no slouch when it comes to storytelling. Clancy is tenacious when it comes to detail, which in turn makes The Sum of all Fears better than most films of his budget and caliber.
Ben Affleck does an admirable job as Ryan, a role that many associate with Harrison Ford (and to a certain extent Alec Baldwin, though 1989 was a loooong time ago). Affleck comes across as a likable, personable guy, which gives Ryan a much more humanistic quality. Morgan Freeman—an actor who always brings an air of respectability to any film he graces—is also very good as CIA worker Bill Cabot. The supporting cast—made up of such great character actors as James Cromwell, Ron Rifkin, and Philip Baker Hall—are all believable in their roles as government workers trying to figure out the best solution to a very horrid problem.
What makes The Sum of all Fears work so well is that the story never plays stupid to its audience. While it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the plot, it also takes some thinking with the old noggin to really understand what's going on. The plot (which I don't want to talk about much on the periphery of giving away the surprises) is filled with intricacies and factual information that only Clancy could seemingly come up with—so much so that it made me feel a little inadequate. Here's a guy who seems to know every facet of the American military system, and what do I know? How to watch The Return of the Killer Tomatoes and let you all know why it was so good. So much for my bachelor's degree.
However, I have seen Platoon, so I'm sure it will all even out in the end.
The Sum of all Fears is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Paramount has done a fine job at making sure this transfer is generally clear of all and any imperfections or major defects. I did notice a small amount of halo in the image from time to time, though it was never very distracting to the viewing. Otherwise, the colors and black levels are all sharp and detailed with flesh tones represented accurately.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and is sufficiently enveloping. There are many surround sounds and directional effects to be found on this track with the dialogue, effects, and music coming in crystal clear. During the scene where Baltimore is practically decimated (don't tell me I spoiled the movie for you—it's in the trailer and mentioned in all the other reviews!) the sounds are rumbling and bombastic. This track will give any home theater system a hefty and through workout! Also included on the disc are English subtitles and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround tracks in English and French.
The Sum of all Fears is presented in a "special collector's edition," something that feels awfully rare from Paramount these days. This time around, the studio has done a nice job with the extra features included on this disc.
To start with there are two commentary tracks: one by director Phil Alden Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley, and a second by Robinson and novelist Tom Clancy. I listened to about an hour's worth of both tracks and found each to be filled with a fair amount of production information, plot details, and how the special effects were created. The first track featuring the director and cinematographer leaned more on the technical and artistic side while the second track featuring Clancy and Robinson leaned towards the story, characters, and what plot points from his book were left out of the film. Clancy himself seems a bit irascible, no less so than when the film opens and he grumbles, "I'm Tom Clancy…I wrote the book that they ignored."
Next up are no less than seven featurettes on the making of the film. Two of them ("Casting" and "Production") deal with a general overview of the film's production while the final five ("Carrier Attack," "A-4," "Hospital," "Motorcade," and "Helicopter") focus on the special effects and how they were achieved. The two featurettes about the casting and the production were typical fluff pieces that sport interviews with Affleck, Freeman, Cromwell, the director, and other various cast and crew members. Ho-hum. The five featurettes on the special effects are far more interesting—I especially liked how they did a particular explosion using a green screen and matching up various people separately to look like they are actually in the same room together. Taken as a while all of these are fairly nice peeks into the making of the film. All of these are worth watching, though the effects stuff is far more detailed.
Finally there is a theatrical trailer for the film, which is a little surprising considering how often Paramount includes this small but crucial supplement on their discs (hardly every).
Paramount has done fine work on this title with nice video and audio portions and a fair amount of supplemental material to dig through. While I can't say this is something everyone should purchase, I do think it's at least worth a rental.
The Sum of all Fears is the sum of all action! Hey, I should be a movie blurb writer!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Director Phil Alden Robinson and Cinematographer John Lindley
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