After the 80's unthinking testosterone action movies, the 90's marked a real change in action ouput, even from the Bruckheimer / Simpson producing team - and so came about this unusually intelligent war movie.
Following in the tradition of classic submarine movies like `The Hunt for Red Octobe' or `Das Boot', there are all the traditional action notes you would expect - torpedo attack, flooding compartments, sinking towards crush depth etc., all done with the technical and editorial perfection you would expect from Tony `Top Gun' Scott. However, all the action is merely a backdrop for a real character study and moral dilemna.
Hackman's veteran Captain is of the old school, `I like things simple' approach. When unrest in Russia becomes critical enough for them to receive orders to launch their nuclear payload, he sets out to perform his duty. However, a second message is received - and it is incomplete, therefore can not be verified. The radio goes down, and the sub is now out of touch with the rest of the world. The `new school' Executive Officer played by Denzel Washington feels strongly enough that they should not follow through with the launch until the message is verified, leading him into direct conflict with the Captain and a tense, riveting and exciting showdown ensues.
The action is note perfect, but it is the acting that makes the movie stand out. Seeing Washington and Hackman `mano-a-mano', cannot fail to knock your socks off with its intensity. Indeed, all the actors have their moments to shine, including a pre-Lord of the Rings Viggo Mortensen, and an excellent George Dzundza playing `Chief of the Boat'.
One early scene encapsulates all that is good about the movie - in the officers mess, a philosophical debate occurs around the launching of the atomic bomb on Japan. Hackman defends the bombing, but Washington at the end of a verbal cat and mouse interplay, replies that `In the age of nuclear weapons, the true enemy is war itself. It is this conflict of ideas that haunts the movie, and the viewer, long after the movie is over. There are no out and out bad guys - just two principled men with different world views -surely there can be no greater drama.
The extended cut offers no substantial difference to the original, and seems to have little reason for existing. The scenes reinstated are almost all minor character moments, giving the minor characters in the movie more time to shine, and helping consolidate the feeling of camaraderie in the submarine, which makes the eventual schism that much more shattering. Other than that, there is a small documentary about the movie which is more promotional than educational. If you have not seen the movie, do so immediately. If you have, and wonder if the extended cut is worth getting? I say don't waste your time.