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The Hunt for Red October
20,000 LEAGUES (approx.) UNDER THE SEA
CAPTAIN MARKO RAMIUS (SEAN Connery) presides over the Red October, a new top-secret Soviet sub that runs fast, silent, deep, carrying a payload of missiles that could wipe out a dozen cities in a flash.
Nearby, in the icy depths lurks the Dallas, an American attack submarine. Ace CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) and Captain Bart Mancuso (Scott Glenn) look over a sonar operator's shoulder at a bank of computer screens, trying to pinpoint the exact location of the Red October. Meanwhile, miles away, another Soviet sub – a more compact attack vessel – races across the North Atlantic towards them both and' the cat-and-mouse drama of The Hunt for Red October begins in earnest.
Much of that drama unfolds inside these three subs. The interiors look great – clean, sleek, ultra high-tech – but are they actually anything like the real thing? Is this really what the inside of a state-of-the-art nuclear sub now looks like? Well, yes ... and no.
Getting the right look and feel for The Hunt for Red October required the active cooperation of the U.S. Navy. Luckily for rhe filmmakers, the military'S recent experience with Hollywood had eased the way.
"Top Gun did well as a recruitment tool for pilots," says James H. Patton Jnr., a retired Navy sub commander who consulted on the film. "But it probably hurt the submarine force because we compete for the same kids."
The Navy wanted a promotional vehicle to call its very own, notes Capt. Michael T. Sherman, director of the Navy Office at Information West.
"The problem with submarines though," he adds, "is that when the public sees them, they are tied to a pier. We do a good job at sea, but we can't take the public out there."
The Navy could, however, take the film's production team out to sea, and they did. Production designer Terence Marsh, art director
Dianne Wager, and set director Mickey S. Michaels, along with other production crew and cast members, climbed on board during scheduled sub manouevers to get a feel for the real thing.
One look around two U.S. subs, a Los Angeles class (like the Dallas) and a larger Ohio class – was enough to convince Marsh that some alterations were indeed necessary for the film. It turns out that the inside of a modern sub actually looks more like something out of a World War II picture: cluttered, greasy, and designed more for action and access than for show.
"It just didn't look 1980s high-tech," recalls Marsh. "And what looks right to the audience is right, we always say."
A few changes were, therefore, put into effect. Working from military research books, defence industry manuals, and pictures that the Navy let them take after covering the top-secret stuff, like speed gauges and depth gauges, Marsh's production team took the basic elements of a real sub's control room, rearranged them, and then dressed them up for the movie.
Creating the look of the two Soviet subs, the Red October and the Konvaloc, called for a considerable amount of guesswork.
"We had no basic invitations to visit the Russians," says Marsh, "but we had references, We knew we couldn't be far wrong if we based our design on common knowledge, then added our own touches of 'Evil Empire', like an ominous black-and-chrome colour scheme."
Whatever his methods, Marsh certainly seems to have achieved a striking likeness to the real thing in the case of the Dallas. One report has it that a member of the Navy top brass took a tour of the set, realised that some elements looked too accurate, and immediately reported the entire production crew to the FBI _ apparently unaware that the military had been cooperating all along ..
Not surprisingly, the film's submarine consultants don't have too much to say about the accuracy of the movie's overall look. James H. Patton Jnr. simply cites the military community's code regarding U.S. military capabilities: "Don't confirm. Don't deny. Do not attest to validity."
As for the realism of the sub chase scenes, Capt. Michael T. Sherman is equally vague. "I can't tell you how deep subs go," he says. "That's classified. The official Navy position is 'in excess of 400 feet'. So when the movie sub goes down 1,200 feet, that's Hollywood. But it is credible."
One thing about the movie that appears less credible is the Red October's periscope. In order to differentiate 'between the "cons" of the U.S. and Soviet subs, the production team wanted a traditional recessed area for the Soviet ship's penscope.
"I advised them that technically this was unlikely," says Patton. "They listened, but they went ahead anyway because they wanted this visual effect."
Wait a minute. How can these U.S. Navy guys be sure that this isn't what the inside of a Russian sub looks like?
"I have no knowledge of the inside of a Russian sub," says Capt. Michael T. Sherman.
"I have no knowledge of the inside of a Russian sub," says James H. Patton jnr.
EMPIRE, March 1990