October 2, 2013

Tom Clancy, RIP

The Hunt for Red October was a galvanizing book to read in 1985. I expected at the time that it would be even better in movie form, because movies don't have the inevitable weakness of printed books: you know when books will end by feeling the number of unread pages being held down by your right thumb. 

In The Hunt for Red October, everything goes right for the Americans culminating in a spectacularly complex rescue / false sinking of the refugee Soviet supersub in the North Atlantic. It's very well done, but it doesn't seem very plausible: fog of war, and all that.

But, your right thumb can tell that that's just the False Ending. And, indeed, for the next hundred pages, everything goes wrong for the Americans. (Clancy's message: military stuff is hard and luck plays a major role). This sets up the much harder-earned True Ending.

So, I was looking forward to the 1990 movie with a skinny Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan, because you can't physically tell when a movie will end. During the movie's False Ending, I was ready for the complete reversal of fortune ... and then the credits came up. The False Ending was the Ending Ending. The movie makers had lopped off entirely what made the plot so satisfying. 

Oh, well ...

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

I hated that movie. Just big stars acting like big stars and lesser actors serving as uplifting symbols, like the clean-cut black guy who's an expert on opera.

I haven't seen many submarine movies but a high percentage of them have been good. Maybe the cramped-ness forcing lots of men into tight spaces emphasizes characterization, drama, suspense, and psychology, much more so that war movies taking place in open spaces where people run all over the place and blow everything up.

Enemy Below, Ice Station Zebra, Das Boot, and K-19 are all top-notch.

But Hunt for Red October is awful.
A feely good movie.

Paul Mendez said...

At the time, the thing I found most interesting about "Hunt for Red October" was how Clancy was initially unable to get an agent or a "real" publisher. So he took it to the Naval Institute Press. It was the first piece of fiction they published.

I admired Clancy for not giving up, and thinking outside the box.

Ali said...

He lost the plot with The Bear and the Dragon but all the stuff before then was stellar. Spent many a happy hour reading his exceptional run from Clear and Present Danger to Executive Orders. Patriot Games suffered a little from the unfolding real-life events.

Paul Mendez said...

I haven't seen many submarine movies but a high percentage of them have been good.

C'mon. You've seen one sub movie, you've pretty much seen them all. Sooner or later, you know the sub's going to be sitting on the ocean bottom, sonars will be pinging, depth charges will be rattling everything, pipes will start leaking and sparks will start flying, and everyone's going to be whispering and looking upwards like they can see through the sub's hull.

Eventually, they'll shoot a dead guy and some trash out the torpedo tube.

Anonymous said...

Clear and Present Danger was turned into a Liberal screed against Bush II.

The funniest stuff is with James Earl Jones as magic negro CIA director.

You know anyone who runs that department cannot be a saint, but Jones is super magic negro who might as well be an angel sent from above. Saint CIA director! ROTFL.
Every time someone mentions his name, there's a moment of solmenity and silence, as if the sanctity of MLK is being invoked. Ohhhh, he's a good man, a very good man.

As a sickly CIA director, he seems to be based on William Casey, who was no saint. But hey, since he's played by a Negro with a soulful voice, he might as well be singing Ole Man River and love a wittle white mouse.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HppKwvQMZ4M

Anonymous said...

"C'mon. You've seen one sub movie, you've pretty much seen them all."

But have you seen this?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_PeQCPq8QA

Power Child said...

Though I worked in Hollywood for a few years I regret not having gotten a chance to glimpse into this process where they turn books into movies. From what I gather, the people who have that job are typically very smart and have a surprising amount of respect for the authors, but they also have a cynical view about what will be greenlighted by producers. I'd guess it also makes a difference whether the project is being spurred on by an auteur director or by the legal department at some studio, eager to get a turnover on the rights they bought. One will be more willing to take risks than the other. And of course the existing popularity of the book factors into it also.

slumber_j said...

I always thought Das Love Boot would be a good submarine movie--basically a sterner, more doomed-feeling and equally unfunny Operation Petticoat, with lots of leather.

Anonymous said...

I expected at the time that it would be even better in movie form, because movies don't have the inevitable weakness of printed books: you know when books will end by feeling the number of unread pages being held down by your right thumb.

Right, although I find this happens with movies as well, since most movies are around 2 hours or so. You can sense when an hour and a half or so has passed and so you can tell something is going to happen to really wrap up the movie.

Also, The Hunt for Red October had the Russians speaking English. This always kills the realism for me. It's fine when it's the Romans or whatever, since they're so remote and we don't really know what they sounded like. But these were contemporary Russians.

Anonymous said...

http://www.huntingtonnews.net/56400

Submarine movies are like space movies. It's man in an 'alien' environment. Though Enemy Below isn't great, it is most interesting in its depiction of the war between submarine and destroyer. It's like war between not only nations but between realms. Each side has its advantages and disadvantages. I think, in a way, Jaws was essentially a (natural)submarine movie, with those on surface of water fighting that which lies under the water. (There's an element of that in Old Man and the Sea as well, man on a little boat battling water creatures to hurl his catch back to land.)

And it's interesting how the different environments make for different outlooks and attitudes. Those on surface ships feel more openly vulnerable as they don't know where the sub is. They go for shotgun approach, hurling explosives into the depths in hopes of blowing up the sub.
In contrast, those inside the submarine feel more sneaky and secretive, since their success and survival depends entirely on subterfuge. Also, their mode of attack is that of the sniper. To pinpoint the target and go for the bull's eye.

But of course, subs, unlike sharks, are run by mammals, and like whales, must surface for air and to return to base. But when the surface is patrolled by many destroyers, they must stay under the water and time is against the side of men inside it.

Master and Commander is a fine movie but it's about surface ship vs surface ship. There is more of a cat and mouse element to submarine vs surface ship battle.

I like how Enemy Below ends. Two sides are masters of different realms using diametrically opposite modes of thought and strategy to kill one another. They see each other as killer machines. But when both their machines collide and blow up AND the two sides meet face to face, they are all men. Genuine pathos at the end.

It seems like submarine movies are more likely to deal with the enemy. Maybe it allegorically fits the stereotype that the enemy is the sneaky lurking figure under the oceans. We'd rather imagine the enemy as commanders of subs than of surface ships that belong to us since we are for openness and democracy.

Ice Station Zebra reverses this dynamics. But then, there is a Soviet spy inside the American submarine, which makes it 'under under the under'.

A different anonymous said...

Anonymous said... "C'mon. You've seen one sub movie, you've pretty much seen them all." But have you seen this?'

Or this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_6CKOM4pGI#t=1m36s

agnostic said...

The Hunt for Red October looks pretty cool, though, thanks to John McTiernan teaming up with cinematographer Jan de Bont again. (They're part of the team that made Die Hard look slicker than your typical kickass summer action flick.)

One of the last memorable designs of a military ship that had high light-dark contrast and rich colors popping out from a black background. More like something from Star Wars, and not all dark and dingy or all-bright-white Space Age-y.

Also one of the last movies of that genre shot with an anamorphic lens, giving it greater focus-blur contrast. By 1990 the trend was moving toward Super 35 to get the 2.35 aspect ratio of Panavision (or whatever), without the cool shallow focus effects.

I think shallow focus works even better for movies shot in a submarine or other crowded corridor type environment. If you shot with deep focus, you'd see way way way back down the corridor, with all the distracting stuff sticking out of the edges, cramped people walking by, etc.

But anyway...

Anonymous said...

It was hard to take the movie seriously. They had the captain of a Soviet typhoon sub speaking in a ridiculous Scottish accent.

Dave Pinsen said...

A clever scene in the beginning of Crimson Tide implicitly acknowledged that, where a couple of officers quiz each other on sub movie trivia on a bus on their way to their sub's slip. I think I read once that that scene was written by Tarantino as an uncredited script doctor.

Anonymous said...

They had the captain of a Soviet typhoon sub speaking in a ridiculous Scottish accent.

That's one of the mysteries of Hollywood: Why can't they pay $30/hour to some random Russian guy to speak perfect Russian and instead force major stars do the shittiest job ever imitating it?

TGGP said...

The CIA's parody of "Red October" is quite funny.

Mr. Anon said...

I never read "Hunt for Read October", never having been a fan of the military thriller genre. I did read "Red Storm Rising" though and it was pretty good. Clancy certainly did have a serious case of uniform envy. All the military guys (including the Russian ones) were noble, honest, straight-shooters, completely without any flaws. As a 4-F military reject, he projected his love of the military ethos a little too much.

As I remember hearing, he was swindled out of almost all his money by a crooked investment advisor sometime in the mid 90s, and had to rebuild his fortune. with subsequent books and video-games.

Black Death said...

The movie wasn't as good as the book, and it omitted some parts, such as why Ramius wanted to defect, and it also changed the ending quite drastically, but it was still very entertaining. When I saw the film in 1990, the Navy had a recruiting booth in the lobby. Other tidbits -

* the political officer on the sub (whom Ramius murders) is named Putin.

* the book is loosely (very loosely) based on two actual incidents - the attempted diversion of a Soviet submarine (with a Lithuanian captain) to Sweden in 1961, and a mutiny aboard the Soviet frigate Storozhevoy with attempted defection to Sweden in 1975.

* Fred Thompson (later US senator) played Admiral Painter.

* Tom Clancy sold insurance in southern Maryland before he became an author.

Dave Pinsen said...

Actually, it started with them speaking Russian, and then there was a shot to suggest that they were still speaking Russian but we were understanding it as English.

Dave Pinsen said...

There's no mystery: they need to be able to act, too, and be able to help carry a movie. $30 per hour Russian speakers aren't so great at that.

Stellan Skarsgaard and Sam Neil looked and sounded more plausibly like (Baltic) Russians in that movie than Connery did, but Connery was a Arnold-like star: big enough that people accepted his accent.

Anonymous said...

Did he ever write about the demographic suicide of Baltimore?

Or about The Wire?

Or about demographics in general?

Military hardware is just sooooo mid-20th century.

Like watching the 25th anniversary release of Top Gun a few years ago, and axing yourself, "Holy Cow, was there ever a time in the distant past when we actually CARED about cool stuff like that?"

Mountain Maven said...

I learned a lot from Clancy's novels. He helped me overcome the ideological indoctrination my college professors imposed upon me. I also learned about ordinary people rising to the challenges they faced with integrity, honor and courage. Red Storm Rising is my favorite novel ever, followed closely by Red October. He is one of the few authors whose books I re-read. A phenomenal story teller.
Clancy had a unique, no nonsense writing style and worldview. While his wishes that war would be obsolete after the end of the cold war didn't come true, he was a brilliant political and military analyst.

He also had a pungent quote among many: "Success will ruin your life"

RIP Tom

One other point. He was the antidote to the postmodern novel. There were good guys and bad guys, right and wrong, good and evil. There wasn't the moral confusion that rules most novels. Bad is good and good is bad, all that rot. And the good guys won. There are enough of bad guys winning in the real world for me to read novels about them for yuks.

Veracitor said...

Clancy was better at Cold War stuff than middle-Eastern terrorist stuff.

As for the movie version of Hunt, let's not forget Tim Curry as the doctor. I'll never understand why Curry didn't become a big star.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it started with them speaking Russian, and then there was a shot to suggest that they were still speaking Russian but we were understanding it as English.

I know. But it still kills the realism. Connery's Scottish accent was like taking a sledgehammer to the realism and pounding it throughout the movie.

There's no mystery: they need to be able to act, too, and be able to help carry a movie. $30 per hour Russian speakers aren't so great at that.

Stellan Skarsgaard and Sam Neil looked and sounded more plausibly like (Baltic) Russians in that movie than Connery did, but Connery was a Arnold-like star: big enough that people accepted his accent.


No, I think the main reason is that the producers figure the mass audiences don't like reading subtitles. I don't think having Connery in the role was that crucial when he wasn't even trying in the movie and retained his native accent.

Anonymous said...

As for the movie version of Hunt, let's not forget Tim Curry as the doctor. I'll never understand why Curry didn't become a big star.

Are you serious? He looks creepy as hell. He's way too creepy to be a star.

Mr. Anon said...

"Veracitor said...

As for the movie version of Hunt, let's not forget Tim Curry as the doctor. I'll never understand why Curry didn't become a big star."

Tony Blair bears an unsettling resemblance to Tim Curry. Or perhaps I should say that Tim Curry bears an unsettling resemblance to Tony Blair.

Mr. Anon said...

"Dave Pinsen said...

Actually, it started with them speaking Russian, and then there was a shot to suggest that they were still speaking Russian but we were understanding it as English."

Yeah, that was an inventive trick. I had never seen that in a movie before. Though I also remember noticing it as a trick when I saw it. It happened while the political officer was reading through Ramius' (Connery's) diary, quoting J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Mr. Anon said...

"Mountain Maven said...

I learned a lot from Clancy's novels. He helped me overcome the ideological indoctrination my college professors imposed upon me. I also learned about ordinary people rising to the challenges they faced with integrity, honor and courage."

Yes, I will give him credit for being unfashionably retrograde. It was refreshing to read such straight-forward American patriotism. Of course, that kind of rah-rah Americanism has become de-rigueur in Clancy's imitators, even as American patriotism has become laughable, what with the American nation being dead and all.

He was a good writer, and could create some memorable turns-of-phrase, as when he wrote that some Kremlin big-shot had suffered a "9mm brain hemorrhage".

RIP, Mr. Clancy.

stari_momak said...

"Did he ever write about the demographic suicide of Baltimore?

Or about The Wire?

Or about demographics in general?

Military hardware is just sooooo mid-20th century."

The guy was born in 1947 for god's sake. Cut him some slack.

solus said...

Th present day Russia is Octoberfest.

Anononymous said...

Idiotic idea that a Communist 1985 Soviet Union could make something so technologically advanced that we would be interested in seeing it. Ditto with Firefox. Just another intellectual using the media to put communism in a more flattering light.

Cail Corishev said...

"I'll never understand why [Tim] Curry didn't become a big star."

Maybe because he's kind of a freak. I've always liked him too -- Clue is a favorite of mine -- but have you heard his music? I'd guess most people have never stopped seeing him as Dr. Frank, so the only roles they can imagine him in are ones that are too weird for anyone else. Judging by the sense of humor that comes through his music, he may have liked it that way.

bluto said...

Anon@9:12
My favorite of his books was set in the seedy underbelly of Baltimore and featured drug dealers and a guy who Omar could have been based on (except he was on a mission).

Veracitor said...

Anonymous said...
As for the movie version of Hunt, let's not forget Tim Curry as the doctor. I'll never understand why Curry didn't become a big star.


"Are you serious? He looks creepy as hell. He's way too creepy to be a star."

Looking creepy didn't stop Jack Nicholson or Ned Beatty.

Anonymous said...

Idiotic idea that a Communist 1985 Soviet Union could make something so technologically advanced that we would be interested in seeing it. Ditto with Firefox. Just another intellectual using the media to put communism in a more flattering light.

Im not quite sure if you're joking.

The USSR lagged the west in military hardware generally. But not in every case. I remember the MiG-25 Foxbat causing a bit of a stir when it appeared (thats the real world inspiration behind the fictional Firefox)

The USSR seemed to have the ability to build build bigger, better helicopters with high power-to-weight ratios.

Plus the rationale for grabbing the latest Soviet sub isnt that it might be more advanced, its needing to know whether its an equal or just how far behind it is.

The US military certainly did its best to acquire assorted Soviet aircraft and military vehicles right to the end of the Cold War. Not to uncover some mysterious Soviet technical lead.

Anonymous said...

Idiotic idea that a Communist 1985 Soviet Union could make something so technologically advanced that we would be interested in seeing it. Ditto with Firefox. Just another intellectual using the media to put communism in a more flattering light.

10/3/13, 4:56 AM


Back in those days, the pages of Commentary and The National Review were full of dire warnings about the Soviet wunderwaffen.

As Fred Reed describes it:

The Soviets too had magical powers, said the PTMs. They were stealing our secrets. They were rapidly catching up with the US in all technologies, and actually ahead in the crucial ones. Their weapons coming off the assembly lines were better than ours, shrieeeek! Their tanks were robust, deadly, and practical, not high-tech gizmos like ours.

This was all classic threat inflation, like the people today who will, with a straight face, claim that Iran is a "potential superpower."

The idea that a rock-hard Republican like Tom Clancy was trying to make Communism look good is beyond ridiculous. (And yes, I know Hollywood adapted his book, but he kept a lot of creative control.)

-Someone old enough to remember the 80s

Anononymous said...

If there was such a thing as a caterpillar drive, it would have been invented in a non-Communist country, be in service in western submarines for a decade before a Russian submarine would use it. It would not be used in a Russian submarine until sympathetic traitors give them the technology. Then the Russians would then make a crappy imitation.

The real mig-25 electronics used vacuum tubes (but hey, all the better to withstand EMP). The temperatures at high speed were too high for aluminum, and they couldn't steal our heat resistant technology (not yet), so heavy steel was used, limiting its range.

So basically, an airplane made of steel, with vacuum tube electronics. The movie gave it a significant upgrade.

But if you believe in progress, Communism is the apex point, higher above us as we higher above medieval Europe. Free health care, no racism, universal education, separation-of-church-and-state etc. Surely, such a society must have a more advanced military than (relatively) regressive society such as ours.

Anonymous said...

They did the same thing to the movie Brazil when it was shown on Canadian TV. He got away with the girl and never woke up in the dentist's chair

Craig said...

I both read and watched The Hunt for Red October, and even though I'm a massive sub movie fan I have to admit I preferred the book. Loosing the talent that was Tom Clancy is a great loss.