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'Sum' signals change since 9/11

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Times change, and popular entertainment changes with them.

"The Sum of All Fears," the fourth Tom Clancy novel to make it to the screen, arrives amid second-guessing about just how much popular entertainment has changed in the wake of Sept. 11.

Paramount is so concerned about whether audiences can take terror as entertainment after seeing a real American city in flames from a terrorist attack that it is going to great lengths to play up the patriotic angle, emphasizing the contribution of the United States military to the film. In a rare move, the studio premièred the movie in Washington. The audience was packed with Pentagon and political figures, part of an effort to give the film a patriotic stamp of approval.

The film depicts a nuclear explosion set off by terrorists in a major American city. The suggested scope of damage is immense – a packed football stadium is ground zero. Casualties would surely number in the hundreds of thousands. Yet viewers are given a short, fairly routine vision of what kind of hell a nuclear blast in a dense setting would wreak. We see a few quick hospital shots and then return to the core story line, a political thriller.

A young CIA analyst, Jack Ryan (petulantly played by Ben Affleck), is racing another nuclear clock, trying to avert war with Russia. He's the only one with the information to stop the global tragedy that looms as the heads of both countries try to figure out who bombed Baltimore. The real villains have set up a chain of events that aims to deceive the two former Cold War foes into launching tit-for-tat nuclear attacks.

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