Christmas is nearly two weeks away. Josh and I wanted to do a themed Christmas debate. However, instead of doing a dry “What’s the best Christmas movie” debate, we decided to get a little more conceptual. Red and Green are the colors of Christmas, so we decided to use that as the basis of debate. When Josh first picked Crimson Tide, I knew that the only honorable choice would be the Hunt for Red October.
Without further delay, here is our Christmas Submarine Debate:
Harrison: Of the two Christmas submarine movies, The Hunt for Red October is clearly superior. It’s best quality is that it’s a tight, taught thriller movie. It’s a movie that preys on the fear of the cold war but subverts it in the process. It’s not a movie about Russians attacking us, it’s about a Russian who wants to defect to the United States.
Josh E: Let’s get one thing straight. Crimson is a type of red. Now the debate proposed to me was best movie with the color red in the title, not best movie with “red” in the title, so before anyone disqualifies my movie realize that i do fall within the rules of the debate. Interestingly enough, we are debating two movies with the color red in the title, two movies about submarines, and two films about nuclear war (basically every submarine film post WWII has to be about that on some level). What makes Crimson Tide superior is its engagement with the American position in the Nuclear world. The film asks the question: “So what does that make us, since we’re the only nation that’s ever dropped a nuclear bomb on anybody?” Tony Scott who is one of the most underrated filmmakers of all time has made a action film (thriller) that condemns the action about to take place.
Harrison: I agree that if you make a submarine movie it’s gotta involve nukes. I also would like to point out that the movie is probably gonna feel claustrophobic. However, I think the main misstep of Crimson Tide is that it tries to be an action movie. The setting of the submarine confines the action too much. There isn’t enough room for any particularly thrilling to happen. Hunt for Red October, however, plays to the strengths of the submarine setting. Another problem with Crimson Tide, that HfRO does better, is use the Russians as a villain. By 1995 when Crimson Tide was released the cold war was effectively over
Josh E: I think it’s a misstep to say that Crimson Tide suffers because it tries to be an action film. In effect it’s shot like an action film. Scott refuses to play to the cliche of the submarine is claustrophobic instead focuses on the people on board. The conflict between the old regime and the new regime and the usefullness of Nuclear War in an era where there is no giant Russian victim. The question is can a superpower drop a bomb on an enemy? Captain Ramsey says no Lt. Commander Hunter says no. The enemy is not the Russians but “war itself”.
Harrison: It’s interesting that both movies have subversive ideas about war and submarines. One thing I really find interesting about HfRO is that it’s not quite about two superpowers in the cold war. Rather it’s about a Russian who wants to defect and the lone American who realizes this. In effect, both Jack Ryan and Captain Marko Ramius are subverting their respective countries’ desires in their actions. Also, I’d like to point out that John McTiernan directed HfRO. He also directed Die Hard and Predator. Just saying.
Josh E: I’m in no way saying HfRO is a bad film, and it’s probably the second best submarine move of all time and it features (like CT) an amazing action filmmaker in their prime, but I believe that however subversive HfRO is it doesn’t pull off the amazing allegorical narrative that Crimson Tide pulls off
Harrison: HfRO might not have a deeper meaning to it, but I find its storytelling is a little more complex than CT. In CT it’s basically shoot the nukes vs. don’t shoot the nukes. In HfRO there’s a lot of different characters jockeying for position and power. The plot is a little more tangled (but not unintelligible) than CT.
Josh E: Are you arguing that a complicated plot is superior to a simple one?
Harrison: Bad choice of words. HfRO feels more robust than CT. That’s probably because HfRO was a really long novel. Like have you seen a Tom Clancy novel in person. You could kill someone with it.
Josh E: I would agree and I think that Crimson Tide has been stripped down by its writer (who also wrote the novel) to nearly stageplay sparseness. The only thing that Crimson Tide wants you to focus on as a viewer is the conflict between the Captain and the XO.
Harrison: Good call on the stageplay. I’ll concede that. It’s a surprising choice by Tony Scott, Jerry Brukhiemer, and the late Don Simpson.
Josh E: What’s so remarkable is that these films feel entirely different even though they were about similar things and were only 4 years apart. I think the biggest problem I had with HfRO is the casting. Certain actors I can never believe are going to do bad things. Sean Connery is one of them. At no point did I feel he was going to start world war 3 because I’ve only known him to be the protagonist of films. I think if Sam Neil played the commander the suspense of the film would have worked better for me.
Harrison: Yeah… I gotta concede that too. Dammit. Speaking of acting, if I had to fault CT it’s because the actors are pretty much typecast in their respective roles. Denzel plays the intelligent, determined guy. Gene Hackman is craggy and angry. James Gandolfini is a bit scary.
What they do is great. But none of it is surprising.
Josh E: I would agree with the Denzel Washington typecasting, but I have to say that Hackman is expertly cast in his role. He has the credibility to be the grizzled Captain but he is also intelligent enough and empathetic enough so that it’s hard to agree with Denzel Washington outright. He plays the character of the Captain with enough sympathy so the audience doesn’t hate him, rather they disagree with him.
Harrison: Meanwhile with HfRO I think Alec Baldwin does a good job with his character. At that point in his career he was playing a lot of suave characters. He pulled off the intelligent guy with no real world experience really well. Scott Glenn was good as the US sub captain. I’ll never forget Sam Neill’s “I wish I could have seen Montana” line.
Harrison: Crimson Tide and Hunt for Red October are two great submarine movies. They both subvert the genre and politics surrounding submarines. However, I believe that Hunt for Red October wins out because it feels more expansive and robust. Not only that but it’s a thriller that expertly know how to navigate around the submarine movie. It’s probably the most “pure” submarine movie there is.
Josh E: I agree that HfRO is a taught thriller that uses the submarine to it’s advantage, but I think that Crimson Tide is superior because the drama that takes place inside the submarine reflects the drama taking place “outside the submarine.” The action film takes on complex political and moral themes that are epitomized between the conflict between the XO and the Captain. Not only that it is the model for submarine movies in the Post Cold War Era (watch Crimson Tide then the first season of the now cancelled Last Resort). This is why Crimson Tide is truly the best movie with the color red in the title.
Which movie do you think is better? Crimson Tide or The Hunt for Red October? Do you have a movie with a red (or red synonym) in the title? Sound off in the comments!