Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Again, another I am viewing for the first time. It came out in 1990 and is based on Tom Clancy‘s first published novel of the same name. It’s The Hunt for Red October, and it stars  Alec Baldwin as CIA analyst Jack Ryan in the character’s premier appearance. This was distributed by Paramount Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

Opening scenes, as the titles roll, show a massive Soviet nuclear submarine, Red October, leaving the port of Murmansk and heading out on its maiden voyage. The captain is Marko Aleksandrovich Ramius (Sean Connery). The air is ominous.

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Meanwhile, Jack Ryan is in London, and he is poring over some drawings he has been given to analyze. He shortly says goodbye to his lovely wife and his daughter. He boards a plane for Washington, D.C., ignoring the stewardess’s advice to sleep on the flight. He is met at the airport and driven immediately to CIA headquarters. At the Patuxent River Naval Base he receives evidence that the new Soviet sub is powered by a magneto hydrodynamic propulsion “caterpillar” drive. Such a drive has no moving parts, allowing the submarine to move under water almost silently. It’s a major breakthrough.

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The Soviet plan is a surprise attack on the American East Coast, and Captain  Ramius’ plan is to circumvent this plan and defect, along with the sub and officers aboard. He starts by murdering the boat’s political officer, Ivan Putin (Peter Firth) after the two of them open the mission’s sealed orders.

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The captain  has previously left behind a note to his superior telling of his plan. When the note is delivered the Soviets immediately put into operation a mission to find and destroy Red October.

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Word comes through intelligence channels of the unfolding events, and Jack Ryan deduces the captain’s scheme. He has a Navy helicopter deliver him to the American SSN Dallas, which has been tracking the Red October. A crafty sonar operator aboard the Dallas has devised a means for tracking the silent Red October.

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Ramius’ scheme involves getting the enlisted crew off the boat without their knowing of the subterfuge. This he accomplishes through the ruse of a phony radiation leak. An American ship rescues the sailors while the officers remain aboard Red October to complete the defection. Jack and an American Navy captain board the Red October by means of a submersible rescue vehicle and negotiate the surrender. The plan is almost undone by a saboteur, who stays behind after the remainder of the sailors leave. A gunfight settles the matter, and the Soviet sub that is sent to destroy Red October, is destroyed by its own torpedo. The subterfuge is complete. Red October is apparently down in deep water with all its officers aboard. The disappearance of the soviet attack sub remains a mystery only to the Soviets.

Ryan and Ramius talk as Red October sails into hiding up the Penobscot River in Maine.

My own experience with anti-submarine warfare and sonar systems leaves me unable to make a critical assessment of the tactics involved in the plot. My first assignment as a software developer involved a system to automate (computers) the tracking of submarines with existing sonar gear (sonobuoys). That was in 1982, two years before Clancy’s book came out. Aboard the Dallas there is a master operator, Sonar Technician Second Class Ronald Jones (Courtney B. Vance), who has ears of gold. No computers are used to automate the tracking.

Red October defeats an attacking torpedo by heading directly down its path. This works because the torpedo strikes the nose of Red October before it reaches its arming distance. Clay Blair’s book Combat Patrol recounts tragic incidents from World War Two when American torpedoes ran wild and circled back toward the sub that fired them. An earnest assessment is that the Soviet torpedo should have armed long before striking Red October. It makes for good drama, however.

The destruction of the Soviet attack sub is unrealistic. The sub is hit by a lone torpedo and goes up in a cataclysmic explosion under water. No. That’s not what happens when a torpedo hits an underwater target. What should have happened was a significant underwater explosion from the torpedo warhead, followed by flooding of critical compartments aboard the sub, followed by rapid sinking and likely breakup of the boat on its way to the bottom. Not what viewers of the movie paid to see.

Alec Baldwin has since moved from impersonating CIA operative Jack Ryan to Saturday Night Live, where he is enjoying commercial success scewering President-elect Donald Trump.

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2 thoughts on “Bad Movie Wednesday

  1. Pingback: Bad Movie Wednesday | Skeptical Analysis

  2. Pingback: Bad Movie Wednesday | Skeptical Analysis

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