Sum Of All Fears
By Brian Jacks
Had Sum of All Fears been slated to start production eight months later, it may have never been made. The film, which climaxes when terrorists detonate a nuclear bomb in Baltimore, had the unfortunate timing of being scheduled for release in the Fall of 2001. Obviously, due to the September 11th attack, the release was postponed until the following May where, unintentionally, it ended up benefiting the film. Both the news media and politicians latched onto the movie as a genuine “What if” scenario, and audiences flocked to see what all the buzz was about. Now, with Paramount releasing the film as a special collector’s edition, you can experience the horror of a fictional catastrophe in the comfort of your own home.
Based on the Tom Clancy bestseller, Sum of All Fears is the fourth film featuring the author’s Jack Ryan character. Previously played by both Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin, this time the role went to rising Hollywood superstar Ben Affleck. Whereas previous “Ryanverse” films have portrayed the character as a seasoned CIA agent, SOAF starts the timeline over and depicts Ryan as a young, bottom-of-the-food-chain intelligence analyst.
When the Russian president suddenly dies, Ryan finds himself plucked from obscurity to accompany CIA director William Cabot (Morgan Freeman) on a trip to Moscow to meet the new guy in charge, Alexander Nemerov (Ciarán Hinds). Turns out Ryan wrote his doctoral thesis on Nemerov, which of course means out of the tens of thousands of agency employees, it is he alone with the experience necessary to advise his bosses on the man’s character. The rest of the film sees Ryan attempting to persuade everyone in Washington that Nemerov is a dove, and not the rampaging hawk that they believe him for. Meanwhile, a group of high-powered neo-facists get lucky and obtain an Israeli nuclear weapon lost in the 1967 Six Day War. The plan is to smuggle the weapon into the United States, detonate it, blame it on the Russians, sit back and watch them destroy each other, and then start some sort of rebellion to turn the planet into a Nazi Fourth Reich. And it’s easier than you thought! That whooshing noise you hear is the film going completely downhill.
Sum of All Fears knows where it wants to go, and that’s the spectacular detonation of a nuclear device, but it has absolutely no idea of how exactly to get us there. Thus, the characters and settings become nothing more than time filler for the point it takes to get to the explosion, to the evitable Everything’s All Better conclusion. The idea that youthful, low-level Ryan is doing his girlfriend one night and arguing with the president (James Cromwell) over an acceptable level of retaliatory action the next is nothing more than preposterous. Ryan becomes the lone bearer of reason in a sea of sanity. If left to their own device, the president and his entire staff would effectively destroy the planet if not for this hunky young man with a sneer that drives women crazy. It becomes increasingly clear throughout the film that screenwriters Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne’s concept of international politics is everyone shouting at each other while trading trite barbs with the other side. Oh well, at least we had one hell of a sweet explosion, huh? Right.
Sum of All Fears is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. As is to be expected from a major motion picture, the video quality is top notch. While the overall picture is a bit dark, no evidence of compression artifacts or significant blemishes were noticed. As aforementioned, the paramount (no pun intended) point of the film comes with the nuclear explosion in Baltimore. Done in an impressive multi-shot sequence, it truly looks as if a detonation actually occurred. Shock waves blow out windows and down helicopters, and buildings explode with raging fires encompassing entire blocks. The majority of the special effects budget was probably extinguished for this pinnacle moment, and it’s a terrifying reminder of what could possibly transpire in real life.
The DVD contains both Digital Dolby 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio tracks. The 5.1 track is quite powerful and well done, and compliments the film’s many action sequences, culminating, of course, with the nuclear explosion. There is a fleeting calm before the detonation, and it hits you pretty forcefully when it occurs. The bass chimes in with an impressive shock wave while the explosion rips through the room utilizing the rear channels. Positional audio is also well defined during crown scenes and during a brief (and completely ridiculous), missile attack on a carrier.
Complimenting the excellent video and audio is an impressive amount of supplements. Heading the extras are two full-length commentary tracks. The first contains director Phil Alden Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley, and is for the most part fairly technical. Each discuss how they approached certain sequences or shots, and occasionally how they would rework it if they had to do it again. They remain upbeat throughout, thankfully sparing us the monotony of listening to two people who are bored.
The real champion commentary, however, is the second track, featuring Robinson and novelist Tom Clancy. For those who aren’t familiar with Clancy’s demeanor, allow me to enlighten The author is one of the most straight shooters I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to, and has absolutely no qualms about calling bullshit on anything. And that’s precisely what he does. Throughout the entire film, Clancy chimes in frequently with comments like “this is complete bullshit,” “this could never happen,” “no way,”etc. I think you get the picture. Clancy is to the Sum of All Fears movie as the Mystery Science Theater team was to sci-fi films, and it’s overwhelmingly enjoyable to listen to. That’s not to say that he hated the film, which he didn’t, but he brings a very critical eye to the picture and reiterates in a more informed manner what most in the audience are probably thinking. God bless you, TC.
Next up are seven anamorphic featurettes, divided into two sections: “A Cautionary Tale” and “Visual Effects.” The former contains both casting and production sections where cast and crew describe their experiences making the film, and their feelings on everything from its subject matter to how they rewrote it once Harrison Ford detached himself from the project. “Visual Effects” is subdivided into specific shots, which include Carrier Attack, Motorcade, A-4, Hospital, and Helicopter. Three of those are from the nuclear explosion sequence, and it’s interesting to see how they constructed such the scene, from the CGI angle to actors in actual location shots.
Rounding out the extras is the film’s theatrical trailer.
The Movie: C. If you can stand the complete dissolution of reality, this may be worth a viewing, if only to see the nuclear detonation scene.
The Look: B+. A few stunning visual sequences almost help to make up for the film’s lack of coherency, but not quite.
The Sound: B+. An excellent audio soundtrack that nicely compliments the video.
The Extras: B+. The Clancy commentary is one of the best I’ve ever listened to, and that alone makes this extras package shine.
Overall: C+. A few scenes make this film worth watching, but a rental rather than a purchase is advised.