Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Off the Cuff Movie Review - The Hunt for Red October

     This week it was my pick for movie night, and I felt the boys were old enough to enjoy and understand one of my favorites, 1990's The Hunt for Red October. Based on the Tom Clancy novel of the same name, The Hunt for Red October is a political/military/technological action movie, set in the early 1980's. The Red October is a Soviet submarine (Typhoon class) captained by Marko Ramius, the Soviet's top submarine commander. (Of course he's the best, he's played by Sean Connery!) The Russians call him "The Vilnius Schoolmaster". His new submarine boasts a new technology that makes them inaudible to sonar, which makes them very dangerous.
     Raimius is Up To Something, and the movie's title comes from both the Russians and Americans trying desperately to find the Red October before Ramius can put his plan into action. But what is his plan?  After reading his official orders, Ramius kills his political officer, burns the orders and substitutes his own, and get the second essential missile launch  key from the dead man. He tells the crew they're sailing to Cuba by way of the American coast. The Russians are afraid he's trying to defect, and the Americans are afraid he's trying to make a sneak attack. So both sides want to find the Ramius and the Red October, and won't hesitate to sink him to stop him.
     American CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) thinks he's guessed the truth, that Ramius is trying to defect, but he has a hard time getting anyone to believe him. Eventually Ryan finds himself aboard the USS Dallas (Los Angeles class) trying to convince captain Bart Mancuso (Scott Glenn) to communicate with the Red October once they find her. The film reaches its climax in a submarine battle above one of the deepest spots in the Atlantic, with the Red October fighting to survive being pursued by both the Russians and the Americans.
     This film has a lot to commend it. It has a good exciting story line, detailed and realistic sets, uniforms and military protocols, great characters and actors [James Earl Jones, Scott Glenn, Sam Neill, Tim Curry, Stellan Skarsgaard, Fred Thompson], lots of dramatic tension, and given its Cold War setting, a lack of stereotypes of either the  Russians or the Americans. There is a 2-second shot of a Russian sailor, a Russian Orthodox Christian (who were persecuted by the Communist government), making the sign of the Cross after witnessing some of his comrades being killed. The underwater chase scenes are packed with drama; at one point the Red October is maneuvering through an undersea canyon to escape a torpedo that was launched at them. They must flee at a speed far above what is safe for the tight quarters, and you can see the fear on the faces of all the crew. An officer protests Ramius' wild maneuvering:  "Captain, if we're out of position by so much as a boat length . . ." he doesn't finish, but you can tell the rest is "we will crash into the canyon wall and die."
     The underwater scenes are dark and it is sometimes hard to see what's happening, and all the subs look a lot alike. So when the scene cuts back to a sub interior, the writers did a good job of explaining the action through the characters. Crewmen aboard both subs ask what happened, and an explanation is given first in Navy jargon, then again in plain English. For example -  Commanding Officer: "Why don't I have a detonation?"  Weapon Officer: "The weapon enabled on the far side of the target. It passed (target ship) before it armed." Ah, so that's what just happened. A few characters, Ryan included at some points, serve as the audience expy to ask the questions, and allow another character to explain.
     I always try to point out a movie's flaws, and this one does have a few. Some consider the film's near total lack of female characters to be a flaw. Most of the characters are sailors, and they talk like sailors, which means there's an amount of cussing going on. I was concerned that we would have to have a talk with the boys after the film about not using rude words, but I was surprised by my younger son. Right in the middle of the movie, he called out Jack Ryan for using irreverent language (taking the Lord's name in vain). Near the beginning, Captain Ramius kills one of his officers, who would have interfered with his plan. It's a gruesome scene, which could easily be nightmare fuel, so I muted the sound and asked the boys to shut their eyes until it was over, then explained simply what had happened. Kids who are not old enough to know some 20th century history probably wouldn't follow what was going on in this film, but my boys do, and I enjoyed watching an old favorite again, and also watching my boys go from disinterest, to mild interest, to being totally absorbed.
     My favorite line, uttered in astonishment by one of the Red October's officers: "Torpedo impact . . .now?"

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wisdom from the Fathers - St Gregory the Great

Concerning the power to work miracles
Pope St Gregory the Great, writing in a letter to St Augustine of Canterbury,
as recorded by St Bede the Venerable in the Ecclesiastical History of the English People

   "Finally, dearest brother, in all your outward actions, which by God's help you perform, always strictly examine your inner dispositions. Clearly understand your own character and how much grace is in this nation for whose conversion God has given you the power to work miracles.  And if you remember that you have ever offended our Creator by word or action, let the memory of your sin crush any temptation to pride that may arise in your hear, and bear in mind that whatever powers to perform miracles you have received or shall receive from God are entrusted to you solely for the salvation of your people."

     Gregory reminded Augustine not to boast of his achievements, noting that when the Apostles returned to Christ saying "Lord, even the devils are subject unto us, through thy Name" Jesus chided them "In this rejoice not, but rather rejoice because your names are written in Heaven". Don't lose sight of the eternal even for good things in the temporal.
In our own age, so-called 'celebrity pastors' and those who are devoted to them would do well to heed the words of St Gregory, who signed the letter above quoted, and all of his letters "Gregory, servant of the servants of God." 
Bede's Ecclesiastical History can be found here and here.