It reminds me of the heady days of Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin when the world trembled at the sound of our rockets. Now they will tremble again - at the sound of our silence. The order is: engage the silent drive.
Capt. Marko Ramius, “The Hunt for Red October”
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One of the most exciting components of the Cold War was the confrontation between the superpowers in the area of culture and sports. Suffice it to recall the mutual boycott of the Olympics in Moscow and Los Angeles in 1980 and 1984 and constant rivalry for the number of gold medals at the Olympics and other world championships. Hockey games between the teams and clubs of North America and the Soviet Union became a classic of sport, and the famous “Miracle on Ice” during the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York—when the U.S. team made up of amateurs managed to beat the unbeatable professional Soviet hockey team—was considered as the greatest sporting event in the United States of the 20th century.
The Cold War was widely reflected in the movies. Rambo II-III, Red Dawn, Invasion U.S.A., Rocky IV, Red Scorpion and many other films created in both countries, although being different in details and shot with varying degrees of talent, showed how bad and aggressive the other side was and how the good guys were protecting the peace in the world from the red plague or capitalist aggressors. In literature this was represented primarily by the bestsellers written by such authors as Tom Clancy, Frederick Forsyth, and Ian Fleming. Many of their books were sold in millions of copies worldwide and were adapted as, for example, “The Hunt for Red October” by Tom Clancy.
The Cold War is in high gear and both superpowers attentively observe any gestures of the opponent. A relatively peaceful military confrontation can turn into an armed conflict at any moment. In 1984, one of the most experienced captains of the Soviet navy is commanding the scheduled trial of the newest submarine, called the Red October. A submarine missile carrier is equipped with modern engines, allowing it to move very silently under the water. The Americans are following the submarine for a short time and then lose it. The U.S. political leadership is in panic: “What are these Russians planning?” The higher echelons of the Soviet Union administration are also concerned, because the captain of the submarine sent a letter in which he announced his intention to escape to the West. Both sides are prepared to take a decisive action, expecting the approaching beginning of the war.
“The Hunt for Red October” is a debut novel written by a master in the genre of techno thriller Tom Clancy. It was the first film adaptation of the author. In his book Clancy paid a particular attention to the political battles and diplomatic intrigue, confrontation of intelligence, and complemented the plot with a detailed description of military equipment and secret equipment. Most often there are a lot of characters in in Clancy’s works, the action in them constantly jumps, the storylines are branched, and the author’s attention is focused both on people in the highest offices of the ministry and the ordinary soldiers. This is what makes the writer’s works difficult in transferring them to the big screen.
Screenwriters seriously reworked the book and left only the main line, and all the side lines were ruthlessly amputated. Because of this the movie seems to be inconsistent. It is loaded with misunderstandings, absurdities and illogical actions. Supplemented with jingoism and too obvious anti-Soviet propaganda they spoiled a great script, transforming a pseudohistorical thriller into a fable.
“The Hunt for Red October” is stuffed with a whole set of clichés. Soviet politics and sailors are shown as a bunch of traitors whose only dream is to escape to the West and breed rabbits, idiots, whose eyes are covered with communist propaganda, as well as the bloody executioners, who received the order and are ready to fulfill it at any cost. In short, the Soviet Union is shown as a zoo. The Americans, on the contrary, are shown as entirely good and honest people, the geniuses who are easy unraveling the secrets of the military having only indirect sources. Most importantly, they always hit the nail noting that a series of coincidences becomes a law. The creators portray the betrayal as a virtue, and patriotism (if the patriot is not American, of course) as an abstract idea, typical only for fanatics. The Boy Scout manners and political demagoguery became the weapon more dangerous than nuclear missiles and sentimental arguments seem nothing more than a play on the usual human weaknesses.
On March 12, 1990 the Time Magazine published the article about the mutiny on the Soviet destroyer Sovietologist. This article revealed the true story of the events which, in particular, became the real-life basis for Tom Clancy’s blockbuster. However, actual events had a very little to do with the book and the movie. The author took as a starting point the mutiny led by Valery Sablin: “On November 8, 1975, the Storozhevoy, a Soviet Krivak-class missile frigate, attempted to run from Riga, Latvia, to the Swedish island of Gotland” (Clancy 34).
However, the real story of the Storozhevoy was hidden by the Soviet government, and became known only after the USSR had collapsed. Until the end of the Cold War, Western Kremlinologists believed that the crew wanted to escape, and this was the basis of the Clancy’s book. New information showed that Clancy was wrong. The mutiny on Storozhevoy was not an attempt of escape to the West, and Valery Sablin was a devoted Communist. He tried to call a political revolution in the Soviet Union to overthrow the government consisting of the Stalinist bureaucracy. An ardent supporter of communism, Sablin wanted to motivate the citizens of Leningrad. Inspired by the memory of the battleship Potemkin, which became the top of the 1905 revolution, and the cruiser Aurora, which started the revolution of 1917, he had hoped that it would raise a new rebellion in Leningrad, and finish what had not been finished during the Russian Revolution. Thus, the real captain was far from becoming a traitor, as it was shown in the movie.
Film director John McTiernan sacrificed logic for the sake of impressive and beautiful picture. And in this sense he showed his best, for in in the technical way the film was nominated for three Oscar awards and won the award for best sound editing. On the other hand, such masters of their craft as cinematographer Jan de Bont and composer Basil Poledouris were unnoticed, though from the technical point of view “The Hunt for Red October” is flawless. Musical themes used in the movie at first create a patriotic fervor, and later, on the contrary, calm the audience, plunging it into the ocean depths, in which the nuclear submarines are moving. With use of scale models and mock-ups, and application of split-screen scenes they created the episodes of sea battles that seamlessly complemented the compartment scenes inside submarines.
The genre in which the book and the film were created (at least, the series about a preternaturally lucky CIA analyst Jack Ryan) cannot be called alternative history, as action takes place in the future (both for the author and the audience). Also, there is no deux et machine – everything is quite realistic. One can call these things fiction, but the best term would be something like “futurealizm”. Its definition is the following: a realistic prose without elements of science fiction, but with elements of futuristic speculation, taking place in the nearest future, practically tomorrow.
Despite everything, the products generated by the struggle of ideologies of the Cold War still have a considerable success around the world. Many of propaganda films and books have become classics of the genre and have millions of fans.
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