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MOVIES : Mr. Nice Guy Dives Back Into Action : Harrison Ford returns to the genre that made him a star. In ‘Patriot Games,’ he inherits the role of the CIA agent from Alec Baldwin, but the production is in trouble with author Tom Clancy.

<i> Robert W. Welkos is a Times staff writer. </i>

Harrison Ford took a deep breath and held it. And held it. And held it.

He closed his eyes and sat back in a high-legged director’s chair, seemingly oblivious to the sounds of crew members hammering and shouting instructions nearby as they prepared to shoot the climactic scenes of Paramount Pictures’ “Patriot Games.”

As the seconds ticked by, Ford rocked slightly from side to side and then straightened up and looked down at his wristwatch. Forty seconds. Fifty seconds. One minute. He closed his eyes again, mentally bracing himself for the quiet agony to come. Seventy seconds. Eighty seconds. Still, his face remained expressionless.

Finally, his body no longer able to stand it, the actor exhaled softly.

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“One minute and 33 seconds,” he said, satisfied by his impromptu test of endurance.

In the hours ahead, Ford would be called on to test his body even further. Shot after shot, he would stand atop a make-believe reef on a huge tank at Sony Studios in Culver City and, clutching the wrists of a stuntman, hurtle beneath the surface of the water as a wave-making machine rocked up and down and lights crackled overhead to give the appearance of lightning.

As it was, the 49-year-old actor outlasted two stuntmen, who developed earaches from working 30 feet under water.

After each shot, Ford boosted himself out of the tank and walked to a video screen where director Phillip Noyce sucked on a cigarette and replayed the action over and over looking for minor slip-ups or awkward camera angles.

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“When we were falling off the platform,” Ford explained, “we were trapping so much air in our clothing we weren’t sinking enough.”

His suit and shoes bleeding water, Ford--a certified diver--went back to the tank and placed additional weights in his pockets. He then cupped a plastic mask over his mouth and nose and began inhaling pure oxygen, a technique that would allow him to hyperventilate and stay longer under water. The danger, a crew member said, was that Ford’s lungs could get tricked into thinking they were oxygen-starved and he might black out. Divers in scuba gear were stationed nearby.

For Ford, the star of both the “Star Wars” and Indiana Jones trilogies, the making of “Patriot Games” means a return to action films. “It seemed like a good style of film for me to do right now,” he said. “I had done a couple of softer movies (‘Presumed Innocent,’ ‘Regarding Henry’) back-to-back and I thought I ought to hit somebody in my next movie or else lose my license to do so by not exercising that option.”

For Paramount, the stakes are higher. The $40-million movie based on Tom Clancy’s best-selling book is scheduled to open June 5, going up against “Far and Away,” the Ron Howard film starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, and “Mo’ Money” with comedian Damon Wayans.

But the early summer will also see stiff competition coming from “Lethal Weapon 3" starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover and “Alien 3" starring Sigourney Weaver. On June 19, what is expected to be the summer’s 600-pound gorilla, “Batman Returns,” weighs in with Michael Keaton reprising his title role, Michelle Pfeiffer playing Catwoman and Danny DeVito the Penguin.

Paramount is banking that “Patriot Games” will mirror the success of its 1990 Clancy submarine thriller “The Hunt For Red October,” which starred Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin. That film generated gross revenues of $200 million worldwide.

Baldwin, in fact, was set to reprise his role as CIA analyst Jack Ryan in “Patriot Games” and had even spent a week with the writers. Then Baldwin was out. Neufeld says Baldwin wanted Paramount to assure him he would be wrapped up with filming in 14 weeks so he could appear on Broadway in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” but Paramount refused.

It so happened that a project Ford was attached to at the studio fell through about the same time. In the weeks ahead, a new Jack Ryan would be born.

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The film begins when Jack Ryan (Ford) travels to London for a combination holiday/lecture tour. Ryan, who has left the CIA for a new career and to be closer to his family, is on his way to meet his wife and daughter in a square near Buckingham Palace, when he stumbles into an attempt by Irish gunmen to kidnap a member of the British Royal Family.

The attack is bloody. Acting on impulse, Ryan rushes into the fray, disarms one of the terrorists and then shoots and kills another one, who turns out to be the 17-year-old brother of Sean Miller (Sean Bean), the man Ryan disarmed.

“The man he disarmed and captured is sentenced to prison,” director Noyce explains. “He has lost his father in the Irish troubles and now his brother in his brother’s first mission. . . . Very quickly, he abandons his political agenda and turns all of his power toward revenge. That need for revenge becomes a cancer that eats away at him.”

Ryan’s wife, Cathy (Anne Archer), and daughter, Sally (Thora Birch), become targets of the terrorist and Ryan, in a Faustian bargain, is forced to rejoin the CIA in order to save his family.

Ford knew he was stepping into the shoes of a character that Baldwin had created with enormous success, but said that was a consideration he could deal with.

“I just have to block that from my mind completely,” Ford said. “I haven’t actually seen the film (“Hunt”) all the way through. I’ve seen enough of it to know it is a very good movie and to know that our movie has to be just as good or better.”

“What I have tried to bring to it is much more of a character study of Jack Ryan under very trying circumstances,” he added.

Filming on “Patriot Games” began last November at locations throughout London and on the stages of Pinewood Studios. The Greenwich Naval College doubled as the vicinity around Buckingham Palace.

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While the movie mentions the Irish Republican Army, it is a fictional super-violent splinter group called the Ulster Liberation Army that goes after Ryan’s family. The filmmakers were careful that the movie did not take sides in the sectarian violence that has ripped apart Northern Ireland.

“There was enormous security on the sets,” recalled W. Peter Iliff, who co-wrote the screenplay. “Everybody had to wear security badges. During the six weeks in London, the IRA was active in other parts of (the city) setting off bombs in department stores.”

Ford emphasized that the movie does not propose a political solution to the Irish question. “This is not about the IRA, except peripherally. It’s about an ultra-violent splinter group of the IRA whose ambition is to cause as much trouble for the IRA as the English.”

From England, filming resumed at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and at Langley, Va., where producer Mace Neufeld and his crew were allowed to roll cameras behind the walls of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Because Clancy’s books are perceived as projecting a positive image of the U.S. military and intelligence Establishment, Neufeld has been granted access to places that other filmmakers might not receive.

For example, in “The Hunt for Red October,” Neufeld and his screenwriter were allowed to spend six days filming aboard a U.S. attack submarine. In “Patriot Games,” they were invited into the CIA’s anti-terrorist unit.

Neufeld recalled that when the film crew entered the unit, rotating beacon lights came on alerting employees that visitors were in the vicinity. “They all turned their backs on us so we couldn’t see their faces,” he said.

“Tom (Clancy) didn’t want us to do a left-wing movie,” said a source close to the movie. “He didn’t want us to portray the CIA as evil. We all tend to have our own opinions. We have a more left-wing attitude than Tom does, but we agreed we didn’t want to make a movie insulting to the CIA. We all believe the CIA is necessary.”

But Clancy had other concerns that would soon bubble to the surface.

Tom Clancy today concedes that he has no legal right to dictate what kind of film Paramount makes out of his novel.

“They did, indeed, pay me $1 million for the property and they did buy all the rights and I did walk into it with my eyes open,” Clancy said.

But mention the film to the best-selling author and he does not hide his bitterness with the script and Paramount itself.

“As a matter of fact, I’ve been treated by Paramount very discourteously,” Clancy said.

The author said he was particularly upset when he learned the the movie was being shot at Annapolis, only 30 miles from his home, and yet the producers never told him about it.

“Cooperation is a two-way street,” Clancy said. “I never got any cooperation from Neufeld and his crew. They take and take and take and don’t give back.

“The funny thing is, in (‘The Hunt for) Red October’ it didn’t work that way. . . . My assumption was that because of the success of that movie, together we could generate a partnership in which both sides respected each other. That didn’t happen in this case.”

For months, Clancy has fumed over the script. He claims that out of some 200 scenes in the movie, “only one corresponds with my book.”

During that time, Paramount has tried various tactics to make peace with the author--even sending studio Chairman Brandon Tartikoff to visit him--but it has all been to little avail.

“They are supposed to send me a video to persuade me it is a wonderful piece of cinematic art,” Clancy said, his words dripping sarcasm. “I’ve agreed to look at it.”

Clancy said his criticism is based on four separate scripts and revisions he has been shown by the producers.

Among other things, Clancy contends one scene called for coral reefs in Chesapeake Bay, where none exist. Another had someone shaking an aerosol can filled with explosives. “Explosives aren’t packaged in aerosol cans,” Clancy said.

Clancy said he also couldn’t understand Scene 377-B of a script dated last Oct. 22, in which Jack Ryan “is seen on the cliff’s edge watching the setting sun exstinquish itself into (Chesapeake) Bay.”

“Standing on the cliffs looking out at the bay you’re staring east,” Clancy said. “The sun doesn’t set in the east.”

Clancy, who is known for his penchant for detail in his novels, also noted that there were toll-roads and surface streets mentioned in the script that don’t exist in Maryland.

Then there was the age of Jack Ryan. In the book, he is 31. Harrison Ford is 49 and Paramount has given him the option of making two more films based on the character, including Clancy’s novel “A Clear and Present Danger.”

Those close to the film cannot understand why Clancy has reacted the way he has.

“I think 90% of the comments Tom had made at one point or another we followed up on,” said director Noyce. “No one ever intended to put a coral reef near the east coast of America.

“As for the aerosol can, it could have been somewhere in one of the scripts there was a reference to something and Tom read it, but if it was, it was before my time,” Noyce continued. “I’m not saying there wasn’t. His success is based on the fact that he is very finicky. But I never read a script with an aerosol can in it.”

Neufeld was particularly stung by the criticism, noting that he had been the moviemaker who first realized the potential for Clancy’s books when Clancy was still in the insurance business writing novels on the side.

“I’m very disappointed,” Neufeld said. “It’s kind of a pebble in the ocean. At the moment, it’s not a controversy. Tom says he’ll wait until he sees the movie.”

Ford said Clancy did not complain about the actor’s age “until after a number of other things had (ticked) him off. He was quite happy with the selection until he began to be unhappy with it. He didn’t read the script very well.”

Clancy wanted to see the ending correspond more closely to the dramatic one he had in his book, they said, but for financial reasons the producers had it scaled back.

“He wanted his original ending,” one source explained. “I can understand why. He wrote a very exciting ending, but the ending he wrote is a very expensive sequence of a major firefight, of exploding helicopters, cars exploding and what-not. Phillip Noyce chose to go for a more Hitchcockian feeling.

“In the book we see bad guys overpowering diplomatic security agents who are protecting Ryan. We thought that while this is good, for the purposes of building drama you can have Ryan pick up a walkie-talkie and no one answers, or look out the window and nobody is out there. And you think, ‘Oh, God, they’re here.’ ”

But Clancy said the scene lacked reality because it called for the disappearance of 30 armed guards stationed outside the Ryan house.

“Look, 30 guys with submachine guns don’t just disappear unless Scotty beams them up to the Starship Enterprise,” the source said.

Phillip Noyce looked tired and chilled in the evening air. The 41-year-old Australian director (“Dead Calm”) wore a long, wool overcoat. His face was covered with stubble.

The challenge, he was explaining, had been to film a nighttime boat chase at sea during a storm--on Paramount’s movie lot.

There were a number of reasons why the crew couldn’t shoot such a chase on the real ocean, he said.

“If there are clouds, there is no moonlight. And the sea soaks up light. It just becomes this great big mass of black. Sometimes you can point a camera at rain in the daytime and see it, but at night if you point a camera at it, you don’t see it. It has to be backlit.

“And making rain from moving boats,” he continued, “is virtually impossible. You’d need another boat out at sea with huge lighting rigs and rain pouring on them.”

In Australia, where he filmed “Dead Calm,” Noyce said he just took the actors out in the middle of the ocean and Nicole Kidman turned a 65-foot yacht in a storm.

“Here, we went the more secure route,” the director said. He added with a touch of humor that taking Harrison Ford into the middle of a stormy ocean at night would be a dicey proposition insurance-wise.

“The problem was not so much creating the reality of a boat at sea in a storm with me on it,” Ford said. “The problem was getting a camera crew, 250 people and catering out there. It’s a lot easier if we can do it in a parking lot.”

So, Paramount went to work and created storm-tossed Chesapeake Bay just off Melrose Avenue.

“It turns out the place I parked my car for the last year was once one of the big Hollywood tanks for water filming,” Noyce said. " You take out the cars and fill up the space for water and suddenly you have a great big swimming pool.

When filming the scene got under way, Noyce gave the word and four wave-making machines began churning the water, producing four-foot swells.

“We put this big huge parachute over the tank and put the lights up at it, so what came back was just enough light to get an image,” Noyce said. Rain was produced by a sprinkler system attached to 90-foot-high towers. Four giant wind machines generated gusts of 25 m.p.h.

In the scene, the terrorist played by Bean is chasing Ford and their boats eventually crash onto the rocks and a struggle ensues.

The simulated chase was created using an old Hollywood technique called rear projection, in which the actors are filmed on a stage while motion is produced by projecting an image behind them.

From the Paramount lot, producer Neufeld took his crew to Sony Pictures’ tank capable of filming deep underwater scenes.

It is there, 30 feet down, that Ford and Bean act out their final scenes, two men twisting and struggling in the liquid light.


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