Cinematographer’s Art

The Hunt for Red October (film)

Choose any film clip from (preferably from a film with which you are familiar). After reviewing your chosen scene, explain how cinematography is used within that scene. How does the cinematography inform the setting? How does it inform the characters? What do the choices made by the cinematographer tell you about the mood at this point within the story? How does the cinematography contribute to symbolism and/or metaphors in the clip?



          The Hunt For Red October (McTiernan, 1990) is a story about Russian Naval Officers who wished to defect to the United States during the Cold War.  They devised a plan to make their crossing to America by stealing the latest and greatest Russian ballistic submarine.  The beginning of the movie promises that neither government would ever admit that this ever happened.  Once the Russians learned of Captain Marko Ramius’ (Sean Connery) decision to defect, they sent their entire fleet out in search of the Red October submarine, and to sink the vessel.

In the escaping torpedoes scene (McTiernan, 1990), the cinematographer captured strong emotion amongst those on the ship who knew of the pan to defect (Officers) and those who had to live a lie (Enlisted).  In addition, we are presented with the Captain who carries more knowledge atop his shoulders than anyone else on the vessel, and there is a brief moment of pure stress amongst those junior to the Captain and the calm cunning style that can only be portrayed by Sean Connery.  We are first presented with an extreme close up of Sean Connery looking steadfast, serious, and determined.  There is a very short depth of field and dim lighting in the bridge of the vessel.  Although we can tell there is activity going on behind the Captain, it is obvious that what is happening within his mind is more important than anything else in the environment.  The cinematographer pans around the navigation table and introduces us to the skeptical navigator, who is seen pals as a ghost and sweating; although, previously in the movie he was shown to be a cocky individual.  At the point where the navigator says, “Mark” to signify the point where the Captain should give a navigational command, the cinematographer quickly changes focus back to an extreme close-up of Captain Ramius, who is still sitting steadfast and unwavering.  A sense of tension picks up in the scene with an increase in frequency of the sonar blips, like a heart rate.  The cinematographer then quickly shows us the action in the bridge, with sweeping shots of nervous sailors and markings on the chart.  Even though everyone else’s heart rate is going as fast as the sonar and stressful tones are heard in all their voices, we are left with the extreme close-up of Captain Ramius calculating everything about the situation.  He barely moves as he speaks his orders, which are frantically repeated by the junior officers.  At the end of the scene, the cinematographer shows wide-angle shots of everyone in the scene rushing about as the torpedo hit the mountain range behind the submarine, instead of the vessel itself.  A quick glimpse of our fearless Captain Ramius raising the telephone to his ear for damage reports leaves us with the sense that the all-knowing Captain was never close to being out of control.

The cinematographer did a very good job of recreating the awe that should be held for a leader of any military organization.  Every subordinate should have faith that their leaders will do what is necessary to see them through any particular mission.  A leader should never be heard saying, “I don’t know.”  Skepticism is part of human nature, and it must be included to contrast the knowledge and experience of Captain Ramius in this scene, if for no other reason than to underscore the depth of his knowledge.  The cinematographer showed the Captain as always being cool, calm, and collect.  The resulting product was a very powerful scene that shows the stress involved in running a military vessel under attack, and how to handle such responsibility with grace and poise (as none other than Sean Connery could do).


-Mark Wyman


McTiernan, J. (Director). (1990). Escaping torpedoes.  The hunt for Red October. [Motion Picture]. USA: Paramount Pictures. Retrieved from

One thought on “Cinematographer’s Art

  1. Wow! Mark, you’ve always been a very good writer and this article you wrote proves how important a cinematographer’s job truly is. Dad saw the length of your article and ran for the hills. He said he will read it after he takes a nap. 😉 Love, Mom


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