Imagination Connoisseur, Dean Micetich, sends in his thoughts on adapting Tom Clancy’s “Jack Ryan” books for the big screen. Just how much change from the source material is acceptable?

(edited for clarity)

Hi Rob and the PGS,

I wanted to write to you about adapting novels to the big screen and Tom Clancy Jack Ryan books in particular. I am a huge fan of the books and first three films.

Now, I know when a novel is adapted into a script elements of the books are dropped or changed and this is done for two reasons:

1st, is to keep the film run time down to around the two hour mark, however there have exception like Token’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy;

2nd, is because a novel’s flow of action does not always translate to the big screen, so things are dropped or changed for better pacing.

(Spoilers for anyone that haven’t seen these films – but they came out over 30 years ago. LOL!)

A perfect example of this can be seen in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. In the book the Brits play a larger role than just getting the photos of Red October out of the Soviet Union. They also play a role in keeping the Soviet Fleet away from Red October and it from a British aircraft carrier that Jack and a Royal Navel Captain leave to meet up with the USS Dallas before going aboard Red October.

This was all cut out to make the film flow better and also give it a little more tension with Jack getting aboard the Dallas.

Again the same thing happened with PATRIOT GAMES and CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, they don’t take away from the main story being told. Though it would have been fun if they had kept the Prince of Wales being rescued and not some Duke or Earl but I can see why they did it. (Though I understand that Prince Charles is a fan of the book so go figure.)

All three films had a great cast with Alec Baldwin, James Earl Jones, Harrison Ford, Sean Bean and Sean Connery just to name a few. Are they any better than the books? No, I would say they are just as good.

After CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER came out the next book to be adapted was going to be “Cardinal of the Kremlin.” Though they found this was too hard to adapted for film and it would better be suited as a mini series for TV. This is something I will come back to.

So the next book they chose was THE SUM OF ALL FEARS, while the film was still in development, Harrison Ford (who had signed on to return) had creative difference with the director and left the project.

The information I got at the time was from a neighbour who worked at Pinewood studios – and the rumour was that Ford left the project as the director wanted change the story so much that it no longer followed the book. Needless to say, I never found out the truth, but with Ford gone Paramount decided to do a reboot and have a younger Jack Ryan at the start of his career. Paramount also brought on a new director. They also change the villain from a middle-eastern terrorist to neo-Nazis. As they believe that terrorists did not have the capability to do such a thing. Sadly, before the film could come out, 9/11 happened and it was proven that terrorist can be organized to do such horrors.

The film was not successful, due (in large part) to 9/11. The American people were not ready to see a story such as this while they were still trying to heal – even though the film’s release had been pushed back for over a year. The other problem was that a young Jack Ryan early in his career just did not work with this story. If he had been the deputy director of the C.I.A., like he was in the book, it would have been more believable.

Fast forward 12 years. With the next Jack Ryan film, Paramount decided to reboot again and this time decided not to adapt any of Clancy’s books. From me the film was a hot mess and just did not work. As there have not been any sequels, I am guessing the film was another flop.

Last year we got the Jack Ryan TV show, which was another reboot. Again there was no adapted of any books but they did keep the core and general back story of Jack. However they have kept the show in a modern day setting. I did enjoy the series, but I felt like it was lacking something. With a modern setting I don’t think they could adapted any of the book as it just work not work with today’s world.

However saying that, I think it would be possible to adapt books into a series as a period show with each season being based on one book – starting with Patriot Games (set in 1981) and going though each book in chronological order. This way we could get the great story of Cardinal of the Kremlin and the others that could not be adapted for film, but can for TV.

This would give us 9 season of great spy and political thriller stories and 21 years of one man’s service to his country. (I am only counting the books Clancy wrote on his own and not the Jack Ryan jr books.) As for the issue of someone aging over 21 years, they could put the actors in prosthetic to age them up or leave a few years gap between seasons. That a little unrealistic thing to do in the real world and most likely require some MCU planning. LOL

If the show was successful enough they could even do two standalone single season spin-off series following the lovable-but-rough John Clark’s adventures in Without Remorse and Rainbow 6.

Will we every get another Jack Ryan book adapted for the big screen? It’s possible, but if they keep the modern days setting it just won’t work. The books are a product of the time they where written and it’s better to set the films / TV show in that period as well.

Either way I look forward to see what they do for season 2.

What do you think Rob?

– Dean M.