Ghost Recon: Alpha Review
Well I guess this is the closest that we are going to get to another Tom Clancy-based feature anytime soon.
For such an expansive franchise, rich with characters and stories that are ideal for cinematic interpretations, it’s a real shame that the Tom Clancy universe has gone largely untapped for a decade now – almost to the day.
Director John McTiernan’s The Hunt for Red October marked a promising start back in 1990, pitching Alec Baldwin as Clancy’s everyman hero, Jack Ryan, opposite Sean Connery’s enigmatic Soviet sub-Captain. Then Harrison Ford took over the role for what felt like something of a series reboot, going back to the prequel story of Patriot Games to re-establish the character’s roots, before expanding on to the more epic Clear and Present Danger. Unfortunately, rather than further capitalise on the success, and cement Ford’s position in the role with a further outing, we instead got yet another reboot, the 2002 thriller The Sum of All Fears, reworked from the original book to act as a modern-day re-introduction to Ryan, with Ben Affleck taking charge. Whilst engaging, a lack of further instalments ensured yet another death for the franchise (check out my Tom Clancy / Jack Ryan retrospective here for a full breakdown).
In early 2008 it was reported that none other than Sam Raimi would be taking over directorial duties for a proposed further reboot of the series, and then in late 2009 it looked like Chris Pine, fresh from successfully bringing Kirk back to life in the new Star Trek films, would take on the role of Jack Ryan. I think he would actually be a great choice. Yet it’s been nearly 3 years with no further news on progress with regards to the reboot.
Fans of the Jack Reacher character are already up in arms about their beloved Lee Childs hero being brought to life by none other than Tom Cruise in the upcoming adaptation of One Shot – criticising him for being the wrong height and the wrong frame – but, if the Mission: Impossible series (revisited here) is anything to go by, what a good franchise needs is the backing of a star with some series clout, and Cruise certainly has that. I’d personally prefer to have four films with Cruise in the lead than four films with three different actors messing around with the timeline; trying to get the mix right. And that’s what happened to Jack Ryan.
Whilst fans are waiting for what could happen next with regards to this ever-expanding book series, and hoping for the return of the character of Jack Ryan, the closest thing we have to another Tom Clancy-adapted feature is this project, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Alpha.
The Ghost Recon series of successful videogames have been going strong for a decade now, with the latest instalment, the eagerly-anticipated Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, due to be finally released (after about 2 years of delays) on May 25th. Ghost Recon: Alpha is a prequel tale establishing the characters and setting the stage for the events in the upcoming game.
It is also only 20 minutes long.
The story takes us to the former Soviet Union, with the Ghost team dispatched deep behind enemy lines to intercept a couple of targets. Tracking them to an arms deal at a disused refinery they soon manage to identify the cargo that the criminals are exchanging, and find that their mission is far grander than just taking out a couple of High Value Targets. Engaging in an extended firefight, it becomes eminently apparent that there are larger foes at play within this field, with an overreaching scheme that could change the face of the world as we know it. If the Ghosts don’t stop them.
Kudos to game developers Ubisoft – working with Ridley Scott’s own production company – they have certainly managed to craft a remarkably engaging short film that will undoubtedly whet the appetites of millions of fans around the world. A whole lot happens in the 20-minute runtime, new, highly advanced enemies are introduced; new technology is showcased, and CG effects are used well to offer up a genuine insight into what makes the upcoming Ghost Recon game instalment truly about Future Soldiers.
From armed air drones that can not only recon the area but take out enemy snipers, to armoured land attack drones; from the trademark one-eye holographic wrist-displays and head-up-displays to electronic stealth cloaks that basically makes enemies invisible, there are plenty of interesting, ingenious ideas that, whilst very futuristic, also feel like they are not quite sci-fi, but more technology that’s just around the corner.
The story is also classically Clancy, assisted no end by an orchestrally-based score which makes you feel like this maintains the spirit of the broader canon of work, and peppered with sinister machinations, double-crosses and surprise twists that make you feel like this could easily work as the prologue pre-credits sequence for a Big Screen feature. Between the cool military stances, strikingly good shooting skills and precision tactics on display (akin to anything you might have seen in recent military features, from Act of Valour to Special Forces), it would not have taken much to refine this into part of a much grander feature; and the superb choice of location – the kind of abandoned refinery that made Van Damme’s recent Universal Soldier: Regeneration that much more atmospheric – only further adds to the superb set-up.
The trouble is that this is not part of a grander feature film, but just a prequel introduction to a game and, as such, you have to wonder why it was ever released as a standalone feature. You simply cannot escape the fact that the ‘movie’ only lasts about 20 minutes (not including the credits), and could have easily been released either as part of the Ghost Recon: Future Soldier game package itself, or as some kind of online extended trailer to build up promotion for the main title.
Even the title’s releasing studio itself clearly thought it was a gamble trying to sell a 20-minute feature to customers, as they elected to list the runtime as being “50 minutes” and then, in small print, noting that this is “including extras”. Of course, if you read the big white tag above this you’ll notice that the extra features themselves are separately listed as running at “Over 25 Minutes”. You do the maths.
At the end of the day, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Alpha is an interesting but disappointingly abortive attempt at a further movie-based foray into the Clancy’s world of global conflicts, spies and black ops soldiers. Whilst atmospheric, engaging, fast-paced, and packed to the hilt with action, it comes to an end just as it is getting started, feeling more like an extended pre-start-of-game short movie that would adorn a videogame, rather than anything approximating a standalone feature.
Had this been the first thing you watched when you popped in the disc to the new Ghost Recon: Future Soldier game, you would have likely been impressed by the lengths to which the game developers have gone to further enrich the world that they have created (indeed if you fork out for the “Collector’s Edition” Ghost Recon: Future Soldier package, it comes as one of the extras) but as a separately released title it seems somewhat infuriatingly short and abrupt, little more than an elaborate, exciting extended trailer which you have to pay to see. Still, with some sites already dropping the retail price to less than $10, die-hard fans of the game series will find it hard to avoid.
As a part of the Future Soldier release, this would have attained an easy 8/10 mark for quality and sheer entertainment value, but as a separately released short, it suffers almost entirely as a result of its inexcusably inadequate runtime.
It’s a shame, because what we really needed was a quality spin-off movie which hints at the potential for a future Clancy/Ghost Recon film – or even TV – series. This isn’t it.