The movie poster for "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit." (Paramount )
The death of a major creative figure is always a strange moment in Hollywood. It’s a time when, as with the passing of Tom Clancy on Tuesday, the legacy of that creator is remembered and lauded, as it should be. But it’s also a time when more serious scrutiny of their work can be overlooked or pushed to the side. “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it,” Mark Twain quipped of someone whose life he apparently didn’t approve of (but also didn’t show up to decry).
So it goes for the death of creatives and the journalistic culture of appreciation that follows-- which this space and this paper have, of course, partaken in as well. A death is a time to remember what an actor, writer or artist gave us. More intense criticism can (and probably should) wait.
But the passing of Clancy at age 66 won’t allow for the usual waiting period. A movie based on the novelist’s signature character, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” is due out at the holidays. And movies due out at the holidays tend to engender a lot of scrutiny, criticism and jaded dismissals -- exactly the kind of thing that appreciations don’t do.
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Now, it should be noted that “Shadow Recruit” -- a prequel that stars Chris Pine and Kenneth Branagh and is directed by Branagh -- is not based on Clancy’s writing. It’s based on an original script from Adam Cozad and “Mission: Impossible III” scribe David Koepp. It in fact has a long series of writers and directors, back from when it was called "Moscow" and was to be helmed by “Under the Dome’s” Jack Bender. So it’s not a clear posthumous situation.
Still, Jack Ryan and Tom Clancy were inextricable, and the presence of a hero we have come to know well from Clancy’s bestselling tales of Soviet villains and Colombian drug lords will, invariably, throw a recently departed author into the scrum of entertainment commerce a lot sooner than it otherwise might have.
That creates a number of tricky questions.
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Will audiences see “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” as an homage, a final farewell of sorts, and treat it more kindly as a result? Or does the fact that this is the last Clancy movie made while he was alive raise the bar?
Will critics, even unconsciously, now see the movie in the broader context of Clancy’s work, and will that influence their writing? The good ones will say no and mean it, but human foibles work on us all.
Finally, how does criticism of the movie play now? Does a nice review get written off because the assumption is that the critic was going easy? Conversely, does a negative review seem insensitive? Maybe Clancy comes out above the fray in these latter assessments -- after all, he famously disliked what Hollywood did to his books anyway -- but praise and criticism for the Jack Ryan character are prima facie praise and criticism of Clancy.
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Clancy's passing also puts studio Paramount Pictures in a tough spot. For all the attention that will come its way, Paramount is in a no-win position. To sit quietly is to not satisfy what a holiday release normally demands -- a well-timed barrage of posters, trailers, commercials and print and broadcast profiles.
But to do all of that, even to do it in a pretty routine fashion, is to risk looking like you have a deaf ear. Already, bloggers have jumped on the studio for the release of a poster Wednesday. The studio said it had long planned the release, which stands to reason given that the movie is coming out within a three-month window and that holiday releases are always looking for awareness before things get too noisy. But some raised an eyebrow just the same.
“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” has a long history, as does the character himself, who goes back three decades and has brought joy to millions of people. It is fitting for an author whose legacy is this large that his creation will be experienced in movie theaters so shortly after his death. Still, that death makes the experience a bit more squishy.