The Sum of All Fears (2002)

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Released 7-May-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-director and cinematographer
Audio Commentary-director and novelist
Featurette-a cautionary tale (2)
Featurette-visual effects (5)
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 118:35
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (83:29) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Phil Alden Robinson
Studio
Distributor

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Ben Affleck
Morgan Freeman
James Cromwell
Alan Bates
Liev Schreiber
Philip Baker Hall
Ron Rifkin
Bruce McGill
Bridget Moynahan
Case ?
RPI $35.95 Music Jerry Goldsmith


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Hungarian Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Hebrew
Greek
English
Croatian
Hungarian
Portuguese
Slovenian
Serbian
English Titling
Hungarian Titling
English Audio Commentary
English Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes, although only by bad guys.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    This is a special note for those who have never so much as seen an ad, or read any other review of The Sum Of All Fears - this review contains what many would consider to be a major spoiler. It is covered in this review, as Paramount (for reasons that will be discussed) chose to emphasize this major plot twist in its advertising campaign for the movie, and the events are of such resonance that any review that simply glances over them is not taking proper consideration. So for those who know nothing of this movie, and wish to see it with no preconceptions, read no further. For all others, read on...

    The Sum Of All Fears is the fourth in the series of films based on the Jack Ryan novels of Tom Clancy. This, however, is a marked departure from the other films in this franchise, in that it takes things right back to the beginning, and we meet Jack as a green recruit in the CIA. This return to youth allows for a new Jack Ryan to be cast, and so we have Ben Affleck stepping into the shoes previously filled by Harrison Ford and the eldest (and least annoying) Baldwin brother, Alec. But the re-casting of the lead, and the re-starting of the series is not the only departure made by this film. The faithfulness of The Sum Of All Fears to the novel on which it is based is best summed up by Tom Clancy himself - "I wrote the book that they ignored".

    The filmmakers may well have thrown out most of the novel, but with Harrison Ford getting on in age (and actually turning down the role), it was time to look for fresh blood. The problem was that in the novel, Jack Ryan is older, and very much in charge of the intelligence game, and no-one on earth would ever believe Ben Affleck as that character - hence we have the young Jack Ryan. The basic plot of the film is not so different from an innumerable number of political thrillers - terrorists get hold of a nuclear bomb intending to blow a large hole in the USA, while heroic US government officials race against time to prevent said catastrophe. The Sum Of All Fears is better than that simple outline, and as with most things to do with Tom Clancy, it is the detail that lifts this movie above the average. Jack Ryan, a young CIA recruit working for the "Russia Desk" (the department of the CIA dedicated to keeping tabs on the Russians) is flung into the limelight when the incumbent Russian president dies and is replaced by a little-known man on whom Ryan just happens to have written a paper. At the same time, a group of wealthy European neo-Nazis, fed up with the way Russia and the US are continuously dictating terms to Europe, have managed to track down a nuclear bomb on the black market and have set in motion a plan that will place the two old enemies at logger-heads once again. The two threads cross when Ryan is taken by the Director of Central Intelligence - William Cabot (Morgan Freeman) - on a monitoring exercise to Russia to oversee the destruction of nuclear weapons, and a trail is uncovered by the discovery of some missing scientists. As all the evidence comes together, it becomes increasingly clear that the threat to the US is frighteningly real. Then, in a move that will surprise many cinema-goers, the bomb not only reaches American soil, but it actually goes off, killing hundreds of thousands, maybe millions. With only a hastily spoken warning to go on, President Fowler (James Cromwell) can see only one conclusion - it was a Russian attack. It is then up to Jack Ryan to defuse the situation before all-out nuclear war begins between Russia and the US.

    Obviously, the major controversy here is that a nuclear bomb is exploded in the US, and in a post-September 11 world, people are very sensitive to the type of imagery that is depicted in this film. Even for those of us a world away here in Australia, it is difficult to watch the explosion scenes without thinking back to the day that almost five thousand people lost their lives in the collapse of the World Trade Centre. It was for that reason that Paramount decided to make sure that almost everyone who walked into a screening of the movie knew in advance what was coming - in a sense, allowing them to prepare themselves for the event. The "advantage" that The Sum Of All Fears garners from this is that the gravity of the situation is magnified to a great extent by the post-September 11 feeling. Another issue of contention is that in the novel, the primary "villains" were a group of Arab militants. It was often claimed that political correctness (and the desire to not be "jumping on the bandwagon") was the reason the Arabic threat was altered to be neo-Nazi. Director Phil Alden Robinson claims the change was actually for plot reasons alone - that getting Arabs to be chummy with Europeans never came off successfully in the script. Whatever the reason, the end result is actually a boon for The Sum Of All Fears, as the number of films featuring mad Middle-Eastern villains of late has become rather uninspiring. It is saying something that the neo-Nazi threat actually feels fresh, and more sinister for its lack of recent airing.

    The bomb blast and villain nationality aside, this is actually a very competent political thriller. It is well written, tightly scripted, excellently directed, and lavishly produced, all of which gives it just a touch of class that many other films in this genre are not able to match. The biggest asset, however, is the strength of the characters. Almost the entire first hour of the film goes by with no "action" to speak of, only set-up. That is a long time, but it goes by almost without notice, as the characters are strong enough to carry interest solely in their relationships. In fact, this strong characterisation leads to the film's primary downfall, in that once the action does get underway, the character interaction falls off somewhat. It is a small criticism, but one that is noticeable enough to be slightly disappointing.

    Very much complementing the strong characters are the equally strong performances from the film's leads. Ben Affleck is absolutely perfect as Jack Ryan, making it very easy to forget Harrison Ford (and no-one really remembers Alec Baldwin anyway), while Morgan Freeman lends his usual class and talent to the role of Director of Central Intelligence. The great Alan Bates puts in a sadistic turn as Nazi leader Dressler, and Liev Schreiber is just as good a fit for the role of reluctant field-ops agent John Clark as Affleck is for Ryan. The Russian and American presidents (played by Irish actor Ciarán Hinds and James Cromwell respectively) are both presented with dignity and strength. The only real downside to the casting is Bridget Moynahan as Ryan's new girlfriend, Cathy Muller. Moynahan is certainly pretty enough, but she is just too simpering to be at all likeable.

    An interesting point to note is the respect afforded to the Russian side in this story. No longer are Russians the mindless bad guys, but real human beings who do what they do for very real reasons, and whose actions are as justified as those of the Americans. In fact, the movie goes to great pains to show the Russian president as a caring and compassionate man, who is to a certain extent even more reasonable than the American president.

    If you have read the novel of The Sum Of All Fears, forget it - this movie was never going to be a faithful adaptation, so don't be surprised when nothing is familiar. If you have seen the previous movies in this series, forget them too - this is a re-birth for the franchise, and all that came before happened in some alternate universe. If it's not the same then that doesn't matter. This is a very good stand-alone political action/thriller - and if we are very lucky another script of this strength will be developed, and we can once again see Ben Affleck as Jack Ryan.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer presented for The Sum Of All Fears is generally very good, and up to the standards one would expect from such a recent, and major, release.

    Presented at the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, this transfer is 16x9 enhanced.

    Sharpness is excellent, with the image displaying more than enough fine detail. There is some grain present, such as from 29:29 to 29:40, but it is mostly restricted to aerial shots and shots including large expanses of sky. Unfortunately, there is some edge enhancement present, with some of it extremely noticeable, such as around Ben Affleck at 112:19. Shadow detail is extremely good, giving the darkly-lit scenes considerable depth and allowing all necessary information to be easily seen. There is no low level noise present.

    Colours are very well represented. They are used for a number of specific purposes in this film, from the bright colours of the Middle-East, to the muted tones of Russia, and the specifically bleached look of Baltimore later in the film. All these are shown as intended, and deliver the same impact as in the theatrical version of this film.

    There are no compression artefacts in this transfer, and as should be the case for all recent films, there are no film artefacts. Aliasing does occur, and while it only comes up infrequently, when present, it can be quite extreme, such as at 24:45 to 24:51 when the entire image breaks up into jagged shimmering while the shot tilts up.

    The subtitles are generally accurate, although they do miss a word here and there. On the upside, both audio commentary tracks are subtitled. This is a trend that would be nice to see continue.

    This disc is RSDL formatted with the layer change taking place at 83:29, during Chapter 12. It is not particularly well placed, and breaks up the end of a scene.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    This is an excellent audio transfer, delivering the more subtle aspects of the soundtrack with equal aplomb to the larger, action oriented aspects.

    There are four soundtracks present on this disc. These are the original English dialogue, and a Hungarian dub in Dolby Digital 5.1 (at 448 kbps), and two English audio commentary tracks in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround (at 192 kbps).

    Dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, which given the varying conditions through which the characters travel, is no mean feat. Audio sync is spot on and never causes a problem.

    The score is yet another fine piece of work from the great Jerry Goldsmith. While he may never have won an Oscar, he has certainly turned out some of the best orchestral soundtracks to come from Hollywood over the last twenty plus years, and this is another. The soundtrack works extremely well to keep the action moving where necessary, and to bring the mood down in other places. An excellent example of soundtrack work composed to a T.

    Surround use is quite good, although the use of ambient surround is a little disappointing. On the upside, when the action sequences kick in be prepared for a treat as the surrounds come to life with great energy. The score is generally limited to the front channels, but does use the surrounds on occasion.

    The subwoofer generally sits dormant, but when called for will come close to blowing a hole in the wall. It is a very impressive use of controlled bass that proves bass use doesn't need to be over-the-top to be remembered.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The extras selection is dominated by two commentary tracks, although even without them there would still be areas of interest.

Menu

    The menu is 16x9 enhanced, animated, themed around the movie and features Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

Audio Commentary - Phil Alden Robinson (Director), John Lindley (Cinematographer)

    This is a good, if subdued, commentary. Given the presence of the cinematographer, the concentration on lighting and the look of the film is not surprising, but the pair do touch on many other aspects, with Lindley often playing the interviewer, asking questions that are of interest and that relate to the part of the film in which they are asked.

Audio Commentary - Phil Alden Robinson (Director), Tom Clancy (Author/Producer)

    This commentary is quite different to the other, and in general is less interesting from a film perspective. It is still worthwhile listening to however, as Clancy spends much of his time pointing out what Robinson did wrong. In general, Robinson stays positive, although he does get to score the occasional point himself. Finally, if you are Viennese, you may want to stay away from this track.

Featurette - A Cautionary Tale (12:55,16:59)

    This featurette has been split down the middle and presented in two sections as Casting and Production. It is quite interesting, although the casting portion does degrade into collective back-slapping at times. Presented at 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

Visual Effects

    This section contains five short featurette on the visual effects in the movie. The segments are as follows:     All are presented at 1.78:1, are 16x9 enhanced, and feature Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio. These segments feature interviews with the technical staff behind the effects, and are quite interesting.

Theatrical Trailer (2.:18)

    This is the theatrical trailer for the movie, presented at 1.85:1, not 16x9 enhanced, and featuring Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. It contains the very large spoiler mentioned above, so once again, if you have not seen the trailer before, you may wish to stay away from this prior to watching the movie - although keep in mind that Paramount did what they did for very specific reasons.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     Language and TV format issues aside, the different versions of this disc are identical, so pick it up from your retailer of choice.

Summary

    The Sum Of All Fears is an extremely well written spy thriller that augers well for the future of the Jack Ryan franchise.

    The video quality, aside from a very few instances of severe aliasing, is first rate.

    The audio is also very good, although it does have a tendency to become quite frontal at times.

    The extras provide good coverage for the areas that went into the making of the movie, and are worth checking out.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Nick Jardine (My bio, it's short - read it anyway)
Friday, May 09, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-555K, using Component output
DisplayLoewe Xelos 5381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS787, THX Select
SpeakersRochester Audio Animato Series (2xSAF-02, SAC-02, 3xSAB-01) + 12" Sub (150WRMS)

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