Clear and Present Danger is the best entry in the Jack Ryan series of movies, it is a taut cat and mouse story with great acting, action and suspense. Does the release on Blu-ray add anything to this great film? Read on to find out.
Clear and Present Danger was the third movie based on Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan character. Harrison Ford reprises his role of Jack Ryan following his great debut in Patriot Games, which was also directed by Phillip Noyce. Harrison Ford enjoyed the character and experience so much he convinced Noyce to keep all the crew and start work on Clear and Present Danger as soon as possible.
Early on in the film Jack finds himself in the role of acting deputy director of intelligence within the CIA, investigating the drug-related murder of a rich investor who also happens to be a close friend of the president (Donald Moffat). Ryan discovers that the murder was related to a large Colombian drug cartel and the president asks (but doesn't ask) the National Security Advisor James Cutter (Harris Yulin) to deal with the cartel in a strong way as they represent a clear and present danger to US interests. Cutter then directs the CIA Director of Operations Robert Ritter (Henry Czerny) to form a strike team and perform actions against the cartel.
During this investigation Ryan lobbies for more money from congress to fund the peaceful support the US is giving the Colombian government to curtail the drug cartels; he is pressed in congress to guarantee no forces will be sent and he promises there will be no troops. Over the course of the movie the situation escalates, of course, and Jack Ryan finds himself in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the cartel and his own people. Ryan risks his life and his career to restore his honor and discover what is going on in the jungles of Colombia.
The movie (and novel it is based on) is a re-telling of the Iran-Contra affair of the '80s where the government performed clandestine operations that had to be sanctioned by the president but a senior player took the fall for the actions. The movie takes some liberties and elevates the Jack Ryan character to an everyman action hero with brains (and Harrison Ford is so good in these roles) that helps the character resonate with the viewers.
The entire cast puts out top notch performances, with notable work by James Earl Jones (Admiral James Greer) as Ryan's mentor who passes away during the course of the film. Willem Dafoe also makes an impact as John Clark, the clandestine field operative. Clark orchestrates the Colombian operations and then realizes his team has been left to die for political reasons, engaging Ryan to help recover the team. A great cast goes a long way, especially in a quality film like this. Clear and Present Danger may be about the war on drugs that was at the height of attention in the '90s but the film holds up and is relevant and interesting even today. This film is highly recommended and should in everyone's collection in one form or another.
Clear and Present Danger is a 1080p/AVC encoded transfer and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2:35:1 to mostly good effect. There is a general sharpness of detail and in some cases the color blend is spot on. While this version overall is far superior to the DVD releases we have seen so far, Paramount has been overzealous in their use of DNR (digital noise/grain reduction) and EE (edge enhancement, sharpening) on this release. The DNR processing reduces grain, yes, but it also scrubs the textures of fine detail and blurs the backgrounds in a few scenes so they are muddled and unclear. EE is used as well to 'sharpen' detail around characters; in reality it adds fine halos to some actors when they are in bright scenes and is actually quite glaring at times. Overall this is an average transfer due to the ham-fisted use of these tools.
There is a trend in the industry to use these post-processing tools to enhance releases on Blu-ray; sometimes they are used well and other times not so well. Clear and Present Danger on Blu-ray is the best looking transfer to date, but it is far from being a great transfer and a movie of this quality should have been given more care. Be sure to let Paramount know your concerns (if you feel them as I do); studios are listening and adding Master Audio tracks, maybe they will listen and be more judicious in their post-processing treatment.
While the video hasn't been handled as well as possible, the audio, though not perfect, fares much better. Clear and Present Danger features a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track as well as the standard Dolby Digital tracks. As this is a dialogue heavy film I was relieved to hear all the chatter well mixed, prioritized, and clear. The surround mixing is well done if a little on the subdued side; there is use of the rear channels but not as much as you would hope in a movie as dynamic as this one. The bass effects are also well implemented but not used as often as you would like. Some key action scenes had some bass oomph, but others were lacking (some explosions in the street ambush sounded impressive from the speakers, but no subwoofer signaling seemed present).
One thing I did notice missing was ambient sounds and effects. At times there was proper ambient noise and you felt like you were part of Ryan's world, other times it was jarringly silent. A good sound mix takes these key effects seriously and immerses you in the world and doesn't let go; this mix, however, was uneven in that respect and I felt it took away from the audio experience overall. Don't get me wrong, the TrueHD track is FAR superior to the highly compressed tracks you get on the previous DVD versions, you just can't help wishing for better at times.
Umm, normally I would discuss the extras that further enhance a great movie. These extras are now a rule of thumb in our modern Blu-ray age and unfortunately this disc has none. Well they do have a relatively short behind the scenes featurette, “Behind the Danger” (SD, 26 minutes). It is your standard Entertainment Tonight-style fluff piece where everyone shares their thoughts on how much fun shooting was and how much they love each other. Oh yes, and the theatrical trailer is present as well, can't believe I forgot that.
The Final Word
Clear and Present Danger is a great film and in my mind the best of the four Jack Ryan films released. It is a fast moving, intelligent, and captivating look at the double talk, back-stabbing, and hidden agendas found at the highest levels of the government (and drug cartels). Harrison Ford is at the top of his game in this film and brings the character to life in a way that pulls you into the world. It is a shame the encoding, extras, and to an extent audio treatment holds this back from being a must have Blu-ray in your collection.