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I’ll bet you didn’t know that the 2002 Matt Damon film is actually a remake of the original 1988 Richard Chamberlain made for TV film. Probably best known for his lead role in the TV series Doctor Kildare, Chamberlain is cast as amnesic spy, Jason Bourne.

Film
A dramatic opening sees a man shot and falling over the side of the boat. Washed up on the shore in Marseilles, he is taken to the local doctor played by Denholm Elliot, who you might recognise as Marcus Brody from the Indiana Jones films, or as the butler Coleman, from Trading Places. This man turns out to be Jason Bourne, however even he does not know this - has no memory of who he is or how he came to be in Marseilles. After being attacked while out with the doctor, it is apparent that his life is in danger. The doctor shows him a microfilm that was removed from his leg with nothing but a bank name and account number on it. He travels to Switzerland not even knowing his own name, in search of answers.

Something for the ladies to drool over
However, wherever he goes he is chased for reasons unknown to himself. This eventually leads him to taking a hostage – a Canadian economist by the name of Marie St. Jacques played by Jaclyn Smith, who also starred as Kelly Garrett in the TV series Charlie’s Angels and who also makes an appearance in the 2003 film sequel, Charlie’s Angels: Halo. Bourne’s trail leads him to several high class establishments and hotels where he is greeted by the staff as though he is a regular visitor. While this intrigues him, he becomes increasingly concerned with memories he has which seem to be linking him with volatile terrorist, Carlos.

This made for television presentation is a long affair running in at three hours of viewing. There are regular fades to black, which I assume is the place the editor decided the adverts would go. It is divided into two parts, which would clock the TV experience in at something around four hours, which puts it well over the length even of the directors cut of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.

"I can't believe you actually wore that jacket out with me"
Chamberlain was 53 when he played this role - a little old to be a top international spy and so an odd choice for the role. Conversely Matt Damon is quite young and looks possibly too young to have attained the knowledge necessary for a spy of this calibre. Some parts of the story are a little laughable, such as the collection of people who run the agency Bourne is working for and who later in the film, discuss whether he should live or die. These are several old men in cardigans and an old lady who look more accustomed to discussing Mrs. Worthington’s Victoria Sponge cake than how best to help save the world. The whole film is very 80’s with the apparently suave and sophisticated Bourne in his knitted sweater taking care of the bad guys, and then the ladies. It is easy to tell that it was originally made for TV, as the story is almost broken down into “sound bites” so that you see whole but separate parts in between where each set of the adverts would go. All of that said, it was fairly enjoyable if a little longwinded at times. The story was quite good and the long running time enables a lot of character development which is lacking in the remake. The new release is a lot faster moving than the original, but had to make sacrifices to fit into it’s less than two hour running time. So while it (the original) is not as new looking, polished and big budget, it certainly looks better than the words “TV mini series” imply.  

Video
Filmed for TV in the 80’s, it was quite unexpected for a film such as this to have a 16x9 widescreen presentation. Colours are a little washed out in places, occasionally lack definition and there is evidence of some low level noise. Darker colours tend to merge together at times making particularly dark scenes harder to see what is happening and unfortunately the print is quite grainy. Another thing that I found a little annoying was the way in which the tops of people’s heads are often cut off ever so slightly during their close ups. I really noticed this in the scene with the old folks discussing Bourne and if he has become a traitor to their cause or not. Every time one of them speaks there is the standard “elbows and upwards” close up shot of them, minus the top of their heads. I am not sure if this was the way in which it was directed, or if it was the way it was transferred to DVD. Obviously this was not shot on film of that high a quality and it has not survived particularly well over time. There are several artefacts present as blemishes on the print and it is not leaps and bounds over a pre-recorded VHS.

Can you believe these people really run a secret government funded espionage operation?
Audio
The Bourne Identity R2 comes with an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack which performs the job and fits in with the films age. The vocals are clear enough and the action scenes work reasonably well. I found the sound too quiet in some places and too loud in others which was a little frustrating.  This film might have benefited from a 5.1 up mixed soundtrack, but what with the relatively poor video presentation, and the limited target audience it was probably a wise decision, financially speaking.

Extras
This is going to be a short section. The main menu has options to select either part one or part two of the film, and a scene selection menu. The page entitled “Cast & Crew” contains a whopping 11 lines of information. That’s all you get. Absolutely appalling.

Jason Bourne - Super Spy
Overall
It was a long viewing experience and while the main themes were the same between this version and the remake, this version has a better storyline. It might look and sound dated, but it was a fairly entertaining experience, however it was a shame that the disc wasn’t given a better treatment as it could have easily been sold as a double pack with the remake featuring interviews and commentaries. If you liked the remake but wondered what happened in the original story then consider viewing this. One of the better made for TV films I have seen.


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