Aug 27, 2012

Tradecraft: Jack Ryan Opens Christmas Day 2013

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Paramount has set December 25, 2013 as the release date for their reboot of Tom Clancy's famed CIA analyst Jack Ryan starring Star Trek's Chris Pine. The film, which is not based on an existing Clancy novel, will be directed by Kenneth Brannagh and co-star Brannagh, Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley. Like Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter refers to the movie simply as Jack Ryan. I really hope they change that. Not only is Jack Ryan a dumb title that doesn't tell audiences anything about the film (just ask John Carter), but it's awfully similar to Jack Reacher, which is what Paramount is calling their adaptation of Lee Child's novel One Shot starring Tom Cruise which is also intended to launch a franchise. Does the studio really want two lamely titled "Jack" franchises on its hands? I'm sure their marketing department doesn't. But gripes about the title aside, I'm very excited that this looooong in development project is finally getting off the ground, and even has an actual release date!


Quiller said...

Part of me thinks that Hollywood missed the boat on Jack Ryan right from the start. If they'd gotten Hunt for Red October into theaters for, say, summer 1986, and kept the movies coming every two years, the ongoing narrative could have paralleled the thawing and eventual end of the Cold War in real life. But no, they waited until 1989 to even start on Hunt, and by the time it was released in March of 1990 the Berlin Wall had fallen, the Warsaw Pact was coming apart, and they had to tack on an opening crawl about the story taking place in 1984 to make it seem less irrelevant.

That said, although I was skeptical of a second re-boot of the Ryan film series, and even more skeptical of a new origin story that involves Jack Ryan "going on the run" as though it were a Bourne movie, I'm glad that the reboot is finally heading into production, with an actual, no-fooling, honest-to-God release date. I'm not totally sold on Chris Pine as Ryan, but I'm prepared to give him an honest chance, much as I did with Ben Affleck a decade ago. (And was rewarded with my second favorite of the series, after Clear and Present Danger; Sum of All Fears was uneven and ridden with contrivances, yes, but when I first saw it in May 2002, it gripped me -- particularly in the second half -- like nobody's business.)

My hope is that the new series will realize the character's iconic potential. I've come to believe while Ryan is a very different sort of character than George Smiley, he is, nonetheless, a true American counterpart to Smiley -- in terms of his place within the spy canon. (The earlier movies came close to realizing this, but the stylistic differences between Hunt and the two Harrison Ford films compromised things; I've always wished that Ford had continued on in further films after Danger. He would have been incomparable in a more faithful version of Sum.) Now that we've had a fantastic movie version of Smiley in last year's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it seems highly appropriate that his American equivelant should get his own turn on the big screen. I'm particulary intrigued that Paramount wants to turn this into an extended movie universe, sort of the spy-movie counterpart to what Marvel has done with The Avengers; we desperately need a franchise for grown-ups.

Tanner said...

Yeah, that extended universe bit is definitely intriguing! I like the idea of Pine as Ryan, but we'll have to wait and see how it turns out. I don't know about that "going on the run" thing, either... though I'm not sure if it's a part of this version or not. I'm open, though, to the idea of an original story for the reboot.

I agree completely about the missed opportunities. It would have been great if the Clancy adaptations had begun earlier in the 80s and we'd gotten faithful and contemporary versions of all of them, including Cardinal. And it would have been tremendous to see Ford continue with a more faithful Sum (though that was never one of my favorite novels) and even Debt of Honor. (Though since he was already President in Air Force One, he might not have wanted to do that again.)

I never really thought about Ryan being an equivilent to Smiley (maybe because Clancy's style is SO different from le Carre's), but that's a very interesting point. Sadly, with Bourne and Quantum 2nd Unit Director Dan Bradley on board, I have a feeling they've got a decidedly different direction in mind for the new Jack Ryan movies... But if we get something equivalent to an American TTSS, I'd certainly be thrilled!

Quiller said...

You're quite right that Clancy's style is very different from le Carre's -- le Carre focuses on intelligence while Clancy casts the net wider and incorporates law enforcement, the military, the executive and legislative branches, etc. (You've never read a le Carre novel with a fictional Prime Minister, and you never will.) There's also no getting around the fact that le Carre is, by a wide margin, the better writer -- Clancy doesn't have le Carre's finely wrought prose, or his ear for dialogue.

The reason I see Smiley and Ryan as counterparts is that they both represent what in the past you've referred to as the "Desk" side of the spy genre -- they're both cerebral, intellectual characters who achieve their ends by thinking their way through. True, Ryan gets dragged into the field at least once in each novel prior to Sum, and Smiley runs all over Europe trying to checkmate Karla in Smiley's People, but over the course of the two series both men's victories come about via brainpower rather than firepower. Both characters also, in their individual ways, represent the polar opposite of the womanizing James Bond -- Smiley as the perpetual cuckold, Ryan as the happily married father.

I didn't always see it this way, but more than ever it seems that Clancy is undervalued within the spy genre. His contribution is in creating what I see as a uniquely American approach to writing spy fiction -- one that incorporates the American fascination with technological innovation, as well as the upward mobility at the heart of the American Dream. If you think about it, in most British and European spy fiction, the characters are more or less consigned to the same class throughout their lives and careers. Bond is essentially upper-middle-class (he has to be, in order to afford his expensive tastes in food, wine, clothes, and cars). Smiley is born middle-class, joins the aristocracy through his marriage to Ann, and then stays there for the rest of his career. Harry Palmer is working-class, as is Deighton's later character Bernard Samson. These characters also remain more or less at the same level in their respective versions of MI6 (well, except for Smiley, who eventually becomes chief of the service). Bond, Palmer and Samson are all essentially field agents throughout their respective series. Samson ends up behind a desk, but is basically middle management; he knows he's got no chance of becoming chief.

Ryan, by contrast, starts out as the son of a police officer, from a working-class neighborhood in Baltimore, who attends college on an ROTC scholarship (IIRC), serves in the Marines, gets his Master's degree and doctorate in history, goes to work for Merrill Lynch, builds a successful career as a stockbroker and earns a substantial personal fortune, becomes a professor at the Naval Academy, then ends up in the CIA and rises from analyst to Deputy Director to National Security Adviser to Vice President and finally President.

Of course, the fantasy aspect is in Ryan accomplishing all of this simply by being better at his various jobs than anybody else. In the real world, there probably would be some skeletons in his closet, some cut corners and stepped-on toes. But it is interesting to compare how Ryan seemingly goes from rags to riches, while the various British spy-fi heroes remain in their respective classes all their lives.

We'll see if any of this plays out in the new film series (I doubt it), but in any case it'll be good to have a more cerebral sort of spy character on the screen again.

Quiller said...

Off topic: you know what I'd really like to see? A spy thriller in the vein of The Expendables, but instead featuring the older actors who've played iconic spies -- Pierce Brosnan, Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson (because I think we can safely say that Bryan Mills is pretty close to iconic, if he isn't already), Stellan Skarsgard (he played Jan Guillou's spy character Carl Hamilton in a series of made-for-TV movies in his native Sweden in the late '80s and early '90s). Instead of a blood-and-guts actioner like The Expendables, though, it would be a sophisticated, Mission: Impossible-like caper, or a more tongue-in-cheek version of Ronin.