Hollywood hasn’t had any problem making money off of Tom Clancy books, let’s be clear. Where they’ve failed is making movies (and now TV shows) that are as good as the source material.
The problem isn’t that there aren’t talented writers in Hollywood. Probably half the writers who have turned Clancy books into screenplays were objectively better writers than Clancy himself. No, the problem has to do with politics and culture.
Turning books into movies or TV shows is a time-honored tradition in Hollywood. This has generally been very successful, however only from a financial standpoint. The phrase “the book was better than the movie” is the rule, not the exception. Some books translate much better to film than others, and some screenplay writers and directors do a much better job of bringing the author’s vision to the screen. However, I don’t know if anywhere in the history of Hollywood they have so horribly failed over and over and over when trying to bring novels to life on screen than they have with the works of Tom Clancy.
Clancy was a very successful author, but his success had much more to do with the subject matter and plotting of his books than his actual writing prowess. Technically as a writer he had a very narrow range; the things he could do, he could do very very well, and when he tried to do something different the end result was usually pretty ugly to read. The problem with Hollywood trying to translate his novels into movies and even the odd TV show isn’t due to convoluted or hard to follow plots, it is because Tom Clancy and his novels come from a worldview and a culture that is completely foreign to most of the writers working in Hollywood.
Clancy’s novels are very military- and government service-oriented, and unlike the 1950s there is almost nobody working in Hollywood these days who has military experience, much less time spent in our intelligence services. When it comes to those topics they know nothing at all, and often don’t care to learn because very few people in Hollywood have much of a positive attitude towards the military or toward the political conservatism portrayed in Clancy’s novels. When you add all that together you end up with movies based on books where they’ve completely changed the bad guys due to political reasons. Their politics seem to prevent them from telling a story that doesn’t conform to their world view, and the end result is as illogical as Han shooting first.
First, let’s look at the facts—Hollywood has produced five movies and two seasons of one TV show based on Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan character. And except for one movie (The Hunt For Red October) and the first season of Jack Ryan, all of that entertainment has been somewhere between medicore and absolute crap.
Don’t believe me? Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, Chris Pine, and now John Krasinski with the Jack Ryan TV show have all portrayed the character. Harrison Ford has the record for the longest movie run (at a whopping two movies, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger). Except for THFRO the movies all ended up being sabotaged (unconsciously and otherwise) by the political leanings of the script writers, who if they’d just followed the book would have produced much better movies.
Alec Baldwin did an excellent job in Hunt for Red October which was a very enjoyable well-put-together version of the novel. In some ways the movie is better than the book, albeit far less complex. Yes, I’m aware the only reason Alec Baldwin didn’t appear in more than one movie was ego. The movie was very successful and so for the sequel he demanded a huge increase in salary, thinking that he would get it now that he was a “Hollywood star”. Hollywood was like, if we’re going to pay that much, we’re going to actually get a big star, which is why Harrison Ford got the gig. Cue Patriot Games, and let the problems begin.
A perfect example of how the political leanings of writers in Hollywood directly contrast with what Clancy has put in his books and cause the end result to be just wretched drek is the movie Patriot Games. While not as well written or as polished as some of his later works, Patriot Games was a very fun book that had a very exciting and action-packed climax, part of which involved Jack Ryan killing terrorists in his own house using a privately-owned firearm. That was a very exciting chapter in the novel and would have made an amazing action scene if they’d actually filmed it as written. However, at the time this movie was made (and pretty much for most of the last 50 years in Hollywood), they politically are very opposed to the private ownership or use of firearms and for damn sure try to never show the responsible, legal use of firearms by American citizens in defense of self and others on screen. There are exceptions, but that’s the rule.
So they filmed a completely different ending for the movie Patriot Games than what is found in the book. They showed the movie to test audiences, and test audiences hated the ending. I don’t know what that ending was because it was so soundly thrashed by the test audiences that the director went back out with Harrison Ford and the other actors and filmed a completely new ending for the movie, which is the one that made it into theaters. That ending still was stupid and not nearly as good as the action scene finale in the book. And did not depict any use of privately owned firearms.
The Sum of All Fears was a very well-researched, technically accurate novel about fundamentalist Islamic terrorists making a nuclear weapon with which they attacked the US. The Sum of All Fears movie came out at a time (2002) when Hollywood was, almost without exception, refusing to portray Muslims as terrorists, in large part because of cultural guilt, but also because Iraq and Afghanistan were “Bush’s wars”. So while otherwise it was a well-done movie, with Ben Affleck taking the role of Jack Ryan, it replaced the Middle Eastern terrorists with neo-Nazis, which are interchangeable with Russians as Hollywood’s preferred bad guys.
Neo-Nazis? Really? How many terrorist attacks have they been behind in the last forty years, compared to jihadis? Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Replacing Middle Eastern terrorists with neo-Nazis doesn’t make any sense in the real world and even in the movie it didn’t make much sense, which is why Ben Affleck as Jack Ryan was a one-and-done. Just like Chris Pine in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, where the Russians got to take their turn as the bad guys, and the plot was just plain dumb.
Back during the Cold War, Democrats and leftists loved the Soviets. Now that the Soviet Union is no more and the Russians really aren’t a threat to this country, no matter what the media would like you to believe, Hollywood loves portraying them as the bad guys (but never seems to have a bad word to say about China, a country which is actually hostile to our national interests).
Whenever there’s bad science-fiction on TV, the fault always lands at the feet of the writers. Fans of science fiction tend to actually be smart, and so they need science fiction that is logically plotted and intelligently written. That apparently is much tougher to do than it sounds. The same can be said of espionage-type thrillers. Unless you want to fill 3/4 of the movie with car chases, explosions, and gun fights, at some point you will need to have (logical) plot and (realistic) dialogue. Unfortunately, most writers in Hollywood don’t seem to know anything about that world, but what’s worse is they don’t seem to care that they’re political/cultural opposites to the very characters which they’re attempting to write for. The end result is very frequently garbage and so it is the rare exceptions which stand out.
The Amazon Jack Ryan TV series is a perfect example of this. The first season is very well plotted and the characters act logically and intelligently inside the universe that has been created for them. The second season is just a train wreck shitshow. Season 2 plays out like Jack Ryan fan fiction written by high schoolers. Ill-informed leftist high schoolers, who ignore that Venezuela in the real world was ruined by socialism and instead have their President of Venezuela be a right-wing nationalist. Never let reality get in the way of your vision of a socialist utopia.
The only problem with that political worldview is the majority of fans of espionage/thriller/action movies/TV tend to be right of center politically. Forget politics, just from an economic and profit/loss standpoint I would think if you’re selling a product you should tailor it to your consumers, but apparently ideology is more important than profit to a large number of people in the media—especially on the news side of things, but that’s a whole other rant.
I hope season 3 of Jack Ryan gets back on track, but based on Hollywood’s track record with the character I wouldn’t bet on it. Just like I wouldn’t bet on the upcoming movie version of Clancy’s Without Remorse to be any good. They’ve already installed Michael B. Jordan as the protagonist John Clark (Kelly), who is supposed to be an Irish-American Catholic, so expect more political correctness from Hollywood in this flick.
In the book Without Remorse Clark goes up against a drug ring. Anybody want to bet the movie bad guys are either Russians or American right-wing militia types?
UPDATE: Oh my God, I swear I wrote the above as an educated guess, but I just now tracked down the plot for the upcoming Without Remorse movie—guess what, Russians are the bad guys.