Tom Clancy, who had written over a dozen best-selling spy novels (and co-written more than a dozen additional novels) and overseen a vast, hugely profitable videogame empire, died today at the age of 66. For an author who was prolific and whose works were so inherently cinematic, usually involving large-scale tactical military strikes, a shockingly small amount of his material was actually developed for the screen. This December (unless it gets pushed) sees the release of Paramount's "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit," in which Chris Pine takes over the role of the titular CIA analyst, a character previously inhabited by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck.
We thought we would mark Clancy's passing with a brief rundown of the works that had actually been adapted, going from worst to best. Usually, Clancy's books were full of technical specifications and bits of military history, the literary equivalent of blueprints. The challenge for any of the adaptations, and where the very best of them succeeded, was by condensing this wealth of information (and accompanying tangle of subplots, motivations, and reversals) into a coherent cinematic vision. The best adaptations did just that. The worst…not so much.
Clancy will be missed as a storyteller able to conjure forth these complex military scenarios, some of which became eerily true to real life (the 9/11 attacks bore a striking similarity to sequences from his 1994 novel "Debt Of Honor"). His creations on the page, on the silver screen and on video game consoles, will live for decades to come. He will be missed -- but he won't be forgotten.
5. "Netforce" (Robert Lieberman, 1999)
Clancy was an uncannily synergistic strategist, with many of his novels existing merely as fodder for other, multimedia materials (like his lucrative, long-running videogame series). This was the case with "Netforce," which began as an elaborate deal between himself and Penguin's paperback imprint Berkley Books. They paid Clancy $22 million for 24 paperback tie-ins to "Netforce," which originated as a 200-minute ABC miniseries that starred Scott Bakula, Kris Kristofferson and, for some reason, Judge Reinhold. It was an attempt by Clancy (and co-writer Steve Pieczenik) to make the emerging threat of digital terrorism dynamic and relevant, even though in 1999 most people had Prodigy accounts and thought a virus was something that existed inside your body when you had a cough. Taking place in the distant year of 2005 (yes, seriously), Bakula plays the head of a new FBI task force called "Netforce" that investigates crimes perpetrated online. Reinhold plays a Bill Gates-type character whose evil scheme has him attempting to take control of the Internet, presumably for non-porn-related reasons. Despite an appealing cast, the plotting is beyond clunky (especially for a "miniseries") and the direction, by Lieberman, a longtime television vet, is slack and uninteresting. Even Clancy couldn't make an Internet-based story exciting.
4. "The Sum of All Fears" (Phil Alden Robinson, 2002)
In the Jack Ryan chronology, "Sum of All Fears" comes pretty late in the game (in the next book, Ryan is sworn in as Vice President just as a kamikaze pilot kills the president, instantly elevating him to Commander-in-Chief), but Paramount used the book as an attempt to "reboot" the character of Jack Ryan, who had previously been played by Alec Baldwin and a considerably more craggy Harrison Ford. Ben Affleck assumes the reigns of the character, attempting to give him more of the nebbish nervousness that Baldwin provided but was all but gone from the Ford variation, and Liev Schreiber assumes the role of John Clark, Ryan's shadowy variant, who is just as important a character in the Clancy novels (he was previously played by Willem Dafoe in "Clear and Present Danger"). The film, directed by "Sneakers" and "Field of Dreams" helmer Phil Alden Robinson, is sturdy but unspectacular, with a number of the pivotal plot points either changed drastically or removed altogether (on the DVD commentary track, Clancy introduces himself as the author of the "book the director ignored"), either due to national sensitivity or the changing political landscape (Arab terrorists became Neo-Nazis). Still, the movie is handsomely directed and has a number of show-stopping set pieces, most notably one in which a dirty bomb goes off during a crowded football game and everyone dies. That's pretty ballsy, especially when you consider the film's release date less than a year after September 11th.