Mar 18, 2008

Tradecraft: Sam Raimi To Direct Jack Ryan?!

Variety reports that Sam Raimi (of the Spider-man and Evil Dead movies) is in talks with Paramount to relaunch their Jack Ryan franchise. Last we heard, Constant Gardener director Fernando Meirelles was attached to this project. Ryan has previously been played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck in adaptations of various Tom Clancy novels. As previously rumored, though, the new movie may not derive from any Clancy work. Says the trade:

While Clancy is completing another Ryan novel, the studio hasn't read it and so hasn't decided if it will use the new book or come up with an original story. Paramount controls rights to the Ryan character, and gets first look at the new novel.

The story also reveals:

The intention is to generate several films Raimi would develop and direct, featuring Ryan at a younger, more formative point in his career than previously depicted. One invention the studio is considering is to set the film in the present, with the action triggered by a global threat.

Triggered by a global threat, huh? That sure is an original "invention!" No, I'm kidding. I think the strangeness of that part of the report can be chalked up to Variety copy, and not to the studio's actual plan. But it's interesting that Paramount want to rewind the character even further than his Ben Affleck reboot.

I suspect that all this comes from Paramount desperately wanting a spy franchise that can compete with Sony/MGM's Bond and Universal's Bourne. The strategy of doing "Jack Ryan: Year One" certainly seems inspired by Casino Royale, which was itself inspired by the Bourne films, which wouldn't exist if it weren't for 007 in the first place. This whole thing is adding up to a huge spy cycle the likes of which we haven't seen since the Eurospy heyday of the Sixties, and I love it!

But Jack Ryan doesn't really fit in with Bond and Bourne. Clancy's Ryan was a CIA analyst, who did tend to find himself caught up in more action than most analysts ever see, but generally preferred to strategize, and let his dark "other half" Mr. Clark get his hands dirty. Since Ryan wasn't a field agent, each new adventure pushed credulity further until Clancy decided to permanently park him behind a desk--a large oak one emblazoned with the Presidential seal.

The article says that Raimi was attracted to the franchise because "he loves the character," but I would guess it's really because he loves the idea of doing a spy movie. (Who wouldn't?) I'm only speculating on this angle, but if I'm right and Paramount wants a Bond or Bourne of their own, Jack Ryan isn't the right character to turn into that. There are plenty of other great fictional spy heroes who do fit that profile just waiting to be called to cinematic duty, but I guess none have the name recognition of Jack Ryan.

Overall, though, I don't really care if they change Ryan's character. (Though I'm sure Clancy does!) The novels fetishize technology over humanity anyway, and were always more about the hardware than the characters. And the lead actor has been changed so often in the movies that audiences have never really had a chance to form a real bond with any one incarnation of Ryan. So the character is kind of a blank slate, and if Paramount wants to turn him into a more cerebral version of Jason Bourne, that's fine with me. I don't care who the main character is; I just want to see a Sam Raimi spy movie!

Raimi's long been one of my favorite directors, and this prospect thrills me. It's not just a one-off deal, either; according to Variety, "Raimi would develop and direct a [whole] series of films." It's even one of the reasons Paramount chose him. "The studio was attracted by Raimi's skill in navigating a franchise, following a trio of Spider-man blockbusters." I, for one, would welcome a Raimi spy series with open arms!

Raimi previously demonstrated his love for spies by producing the short-lived homage to Sixties spy shows Spy Game for ABC in the late '90s. Variety says that Raimi would have to make his Jack Ryan movie immediately following his current project, Drag Me to Hell (a return to his horror roots) in order to meet the studio's desired 2010 release date, but that the director still hasn't rejected the possibility of doing a fourth Spider-man picture, which could throw a monkey wrench in these plans.

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