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Rainbow Six: From Book to Game to Movie

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Movie-to-game and game-to-movie adaptations have been fairly common since the inception of the interactive entertainment medium. What’s less common, however, is the book-to-game tie-in, and even more rare is the book-to-game-to-movie gamble, but that’s exactly what Tom Clancy’s popular Rainbow Six franchise is poised to attempt.

The book and first entry of the game series landed on shelves almost simultaneously, though I wonder how many people really noticed. When I envision the audiences for these two mediums, they rarely intersect in my mind. Grizzled guys who like books about war probably aren’t tinkering with their PC’s innards, slipping in that mighty 4MB video card just to experience the action of the novel for themselves. Maybe I’m wrong.

Either way, both endeavors enjoyed a modest amount of success. Clancy is still writing about the adventures of Jack Ryan and John Clark and company, and this year’s upcoming Rainbow Six: Las Vegas marks the thirty-somethingeth entry in the game series, which spans eight years and at least ten different hardware platforms.

Sometimes Hollywood is a little slow to notice things, since it’s just now getting together a team to produce a movie based on the mega-franchise. But before we get into that, I want to make sure we’re all up to speed on where the series has been, where it is, and where it’s going.

The Book

First published in the summer of 1998, the story involves radical political elements left over from the dissolution of the Soviet Union as well as a respected biotech firm in the U.S. plotting to release a highly toxic biological agent at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Naturally, each side has their own reasons for wanting this to happen.

Both sides play one another to their respective benefit, with Team Rainbow caught in the middle. The hope of the Easterners is that it will strike a blow politically against the countries who have made things so difficult for their way of life, and to make a decent profit along the way. However, these elements are unaware of the ulterior motives of the biotech firm, which range from making soaring profits off an antidote to the plague to leveling the playing field and getting man back in touch with nature by essentially reducing the world’s population to 1/10 of what it is presently.

Rainbow was formed by ex-CIA operative John Clark (dubbed Rainbow Six) as an international counter-terrorism force, designed to be nobody and nothing to the media, to work around all the usual red tape, but get the job done for the sake of the people whose lives are at risk. Clark recruits the best the world’s militaries have to offer, taking in highly trained soldiers from around the world and getting them to share a unified vision and tactics where hostage situations and terrorists are involved.

The bulk of the story entails the bad guys gradually realizing the bigger picture of what each other is up to and Rainbow attempting to thwart their every move, while also slowly putting together the pieces of why there’s been so much international terrorism lately. It all comes to a head when all three sides become acutely aware of what the other is doing, primarily through good old fashioned Cold War espionage, and alliances change quickly as these three powers go head-to-head.

The Games

The first game — simply titled Rainbow Six — focused on re-enacting the action sequences of the book, putting the player(s) into the Nomex-Kevlar shoes of the Rainbow operatives themselves. Realizing that the half-dozen or so encounters in the book wouldn’t make for a very satisfying game, some new missions and soldiers were dreamed up to intertwine with those from the actual story, adding some legs and variety to the series, as well as giving more of a hook than simply a book tie-in.

Within a year’s time, the game saw two major improvements. The first came in January 1999 in the form of the Eagle Watch expansion pack. This included five new missions (some set in U.S. government buildings), new weapons, and some gameplay tweaks and fixes. Then, nearly a year after the release of the original, the entire game got an overhaul with the launch of Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear. This title featured 18 entirely new missions set all over the world, with a new storyline involving radicals who get their hands on some leftover misplaced nuclear warheads. I wondered where I left those…

In any event, the franchise has generally gotten better with time in terms of visuals and playability, though some of the realism has been sacrificed for the sake of more engaging multiplayer gameplay. It shows no signs of slowing down either, what with planned versions of a new scenario being readied for launch on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 by year’s end.

The Movie

Beyond the proposed 2007 release, not much is known about this project yet in terms of cast, crew, or how closely it’s going to stick to the source material. Will it mirror the book, or take things in a new direction akin to how the games have splintered off with each iteration? It’s not clear yet.

Two things that are clear, if IMDb is to be believed, is that Zack Snyder is to direct with Hong Kong action movie legend John Woo in the producer’s chair. Though usually recognized for his directorial prowess (Face/Off, Broken Arrow, Once A Thief, Hard Boiled, Mission Impossible II), Woo is no stranger to the producing role. If he can bring a sense of tension and over-the-top excitement to the Rainbow Six movie without making it all run-and-gun action violence nonsense, we could be in for a real treat.

I also hope Woo’s experience and style filters into that of relatively new director Zack Snyder. They only thing he’s done so far that I’ve seen was the recent remake of Dawn of the Dead, which I thought was pretty blah. Then again, as a big fan of Romero’s original trilogy, it was an uphill battle to impress me. Some liked it, some did not. Thus, it’s not a clear indicator of what we should expect from Snyder’s take on Clancy’s universe. Well, unless Team Rainbow is trapped in a mall shooting zombies. If they go that route, count me out.

All in all, I’m still pretty pumped to see what happens with the movie. The whole anti-terrorism thing is still pretty hot right now, and if done right, the movie could serve as not only another fine entry for the series that is bound by no medium, but also a sort of timestamp for Western consciousness and values. Lofty goals, yes, but you never can tell these days what our entertainment will amount to.

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About Mark Buckingham

  • I haven’t played the game series at all but the book was, well episodic at best. Some parts were excellent, while others dragged intermittably, and the overall “evil environmentalists” SPECTRE-like plot to cleanse the world was a bit …well, I was going to be diplomatic and say unrealistic but let’s be blunt and say: stupid.

    My hope is that the film draws more from the game then the original book.

  • -E

    Congrats! This article has been selected as one of this week’s Editors’ Picks.

  • It took me a long time to get through the novel, much longer than it took to finish the game(s). I got hung up in some of the dry sections, but the more actiony segments made up for it, some of which weren’t in the games at all.

    Still, as unrealistic as the plot may seem, I know some save-the-world types who, given the proper motivation and means, might just go over the edge in their quest to save the world from humanity. Either way, the plots in a novel like this NEED to be big and crazy, just to make the victors seem that much more accomplished.

    Sure, the games are more popular now than the book, but the games don’t have the narrative needed to craft a compelling script out of. Just the characters. We’ll just have to wait and see which way they go with it.

  • I’ve been reading Tom Clancy since he first came on the scene with Hunt for Red October (still his best book) and he went seriously adrift in the 1990’s with an inability to find a good “enemy” after the fall of the Soviet Union…I think Rainbow Six reflected that problem.

  • Lion King

    “The hope of the Easterners is that it will strike a blow politically against the countries who have made things so difficult for their way of life, and to make a decent profit along the way. However, these elements are unaware of the ulterior motives of the biotech firm” What a load of nonsense! Have you read a book?

  • Mark Buckingham

    Yes, about three years ago now, and it’s getting a bit fuzzy. Do you have something useful to contribute?