Mar 28, 2014

Tradecraft: Le Carre's Our Kind of Traitor Firms Cast, Starts Shooting

John le Carré's 2010 novel Our Kind of Traitor has taken a long journey from page to screen. Even before the book was published, we learned that Hossein Amini (who also contributed to, but wasn't ultimately credited on, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) was penning the script. In May, 2012, Australian director Justin Kurzel became attached, and by November Ewan McGregor (Haywire) was rumored to star as British academic Perry, with Jessica Chastain rumored to play his girlfriend Gail and Bond alums Ralph Fiennes and Mads Mikkelsen circling the plum roles of British spymaster Hector and enigmatic Russian gangster Dima, respectively. Then in October of last year, Kurzel departed to direct Michael Fassbender in Macbeth, and that Parade's End director Susanna White was replacing him. Additionally, Mikkelsen had had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. Would this film ever get made?

The good news is yes! In fact, filming began this week! But there have been further fluctuations with the cast. The only original member still involved is McGregor, who's still on board as Perry. While M and Le Chiffre may have moved on, there's still a Bond alumnus involved. The Hollywood Reporter reports that reigning Miss Moneypenny Naomie Harris will play Gail. Additionally, Stellan Skarsgård (The Hunt for Red October), Damian Lewis (Homeland), Jeremy Northam (Enigma) and Mark Gatiss (Sherlock) have all come aboard. (The latter two according to Variety and Yahoo! Movies, respectively.) What's unclear is exactly who's playing who.

All the trades seem in agreement that Skarsgård will play Dima, the Russian gangster who befriends Perry and Gail while they're vacationing, and recruits them to be his conduits to British Intelligence. But then things get murky. As far as I can tell, the only official word on Lewis's role is that he will play "a member of British Intelligence." Some outlets have taken that to mean that he'll be playing the book's most integral spook role, that of Hector, the role Fiennes had originally been circling. (Personally I always imagined Bill Nighy in that role.) The IMDb currently lists Lewis as spymaster Hector and Gatiss as his protegé, Luke. ("Little Luke," as he's frequently referred to in the book, which would make an odd match for the notably tall Gatiss.) But to readers of the novel, it would make more sense if those roles were reversed. With his spymaster experience on Sherlock, the 48-year-old Gatiss (easily capable of playing older) would make a credible Hector. And Lewis, at 43, would seem a more credible match for field man Luke. (It's also entirely possible that in the screenplay, Luke has the larger role since he ends up following the couple around Europe as they meet with Dima's entourage.) In the book, Hector is definitely older than Perry. Lewis and McGregor are the same age. Clearly, the part could have been altered (which certainly wouldn't be a first for a le Carré adaptation; a crucial role in The Looking Glass War comes to mind), but for the moment I'm betting that's how things shake out. So who does that leave Northam playing? Readers of the book, please chime in with your thoughts! The Ink Factory, the production company run by le Carré's sons, seems to like to play coy about who's playing who. We went through this same guessing game as the cast was assembled for Anton Corbijn's A Most Wanted Man.

No matter who's playing who, I'm very excited about this movie! Le Carré is still writing at the top of his game, and Our Kind of Traitor is a superb thriller. One gets the feeling that if le Carré classified his books by the same methods as Graham Greene, he might consider this one what Greene called one of his "entertainments." Which means that it should make a fantastic movie! Every bit as twisty, intelligent, and complex as we've come to expect from the author, it's also a gripping chase across Europe. According to Variety, Traitor will shoot for ten weeks "on location in London and its suburbs, as well as Finland, Bern, Paris, the French Alps and Marrakech." And lest anyone fear that the famous Hollywood trade had given up its classic turns of phrase since going online-only, I'd like to call attention to a tongue-twisting bit of Variety-speak. The trade describes this movie as a "contempo spy suspenser." Try saying that five times fast!

Mar 26, 2014

New Spy CD: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Sol Kaplan's score for Martin Ritt's 1965 classic le Carré adaptation The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is available in its entirety for the first time from Intrada. Making its CD debut, Kaplan's score is available in two versions. The first version, per Intrada's website, features a new mastering of the RCA original score album, recorded in London in October 1965 and presented intact from the original stereo album master tapes. Back then, it was common for composers to re-record their film music in album-friendly arrangements like this. The second version on this CD marks the world premiere of the film's actual soundtrack, recorded a month earlier and presented here from the original 35mm three channel scoring session masters. Two unused alternate cues round out the disc.

In keeping with the double music presentation, the disc comes with a reversible cover offering the original album artwork (right) on one side, and full color artwork on the other (above). The Spy Who Came in from the Cold soundtrack, running 28 tracks total, is available for $19.95 from Amazon or Screen Archives Entertainment or directly from Intrada.

Mar 25, 2014

Another Agent Gets Her Own Character Poster for Captain America The Winter Soldier

Marvel's sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier looks to be the studio's most spy-filled film to date. In addition to comic book superagents like Black Widow (whose character poster we already saw), Nick Fury (ditto) and Maria Hill (all of whom already appeared in Marvel's The Avengers), the film also introduces Robert Redford (Three Days of the Condor) as shadowy S.H.I.E.L.D. maven Alexander Pierce and Emily VanCamp (Revenge) as comics' Agent 13, Sharon Carter. In the comics, Sharon Carter is a longtime S.H.I.E.L.D. field agent and the niece of Cap's WWII girlfriend Peggy Carter, who was played by Hayley Atwell in Captain America: The First Avenger. (Atwell since reprised the part in the Marvel One Shot short film Agent Carter and will again in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and a proposed Agent Carter TV series.) Sharon eventually becomes romantically involved with Cap herself. While many believed the blonde S.H.I.E.L.D. agent at the end of the first Captain America movie to be Sharon, actress Amanda Righetti was simply credited as "S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent." Befitting Redford's presence, Directors Joe and Anthony Russo have promised a tone for Winter Soldier akin to paranoid Seventies spy thrillers like Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View. Personally, I think the trailers and TV spots look great, and I can't wait! Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens on April 4.

Mar 24, 2014

Alfred Molina to Play Blofeld in New BBC Radio Drama of On Her Majesty's Secret Service

It's been rumored for a long time, but now an announcement in RadioTimes (along with a photo) makes it official: the next James Bond radio drama on BBC Radio 4 will be "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," and will air on Saturday, May 3. Toby Stephens (Die Another Day, Cambridge Spies) reprises the role of 007 for the fourth time, and Alfred Molina (The Company, Raiders of the Lost Ark) continues the BBC tradition of casting big name actors (Ian McKellen, David Suchet) as villains in these radio productions, playing Bond's arch-enemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld. This will mark only the second appearance of Blofeld in any medium since Never Say Never Again in 1983 when Max Von Sydow played the SPECTRE mastermind. (The other occasion was also on radio, when Ronald Herdman voiced the part opposite Michael Jayston's 007 in a 1990 adaptation of Ian Fleming's novel You Only Live Twice.) It's possible that might change soon, however, since after years of court battles over the ownership of the character, Bond filmmakers EON Productions have officially reclaimed the right to use the villain in films from Thunderball and Never Say Never Again producer Kevin McClory's estate. Molina would actually be an excellent choice, though I would personally hope for a more radical reinvention of the character should he ever face off on screen against Daniel Craig's Bond.

Stephens, who himself once squared off against Pierce Brosnan's 007, won't be the only Bond film alumnus involved in this production. Joanna Lumley (The New Avengers), who played one of the Piz Gloria girls in the 1969 film version of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, will return to the story in a different part. RadioTimes reports that Lumley will play the villainous Irma Bunt, but other sources have pegged her as Bond's wife to be, Tracy (the role Lumley's fellow Avengers heroine Diana Rigg played in the film). I suppose it's possible that she could play both roles; Lumley is certainly talented enough! The trade adds that Joanna Cassidy (The Fourth Protocol) will co-star. Additionally, Janie Dee is rumored to be returning as Miss Moneypenny. Martin Jarvis once again directs and stars as Ian Fleming, the narrator.

The previous BBC radio adaptations starring Toby Stephens have been "Dr. No," "Goldfinger" and "From Russia With Love."

A Great Sale on Flint Blu-rays Ends Today

Twilight Time titles rarely go on sale. In fact, they never have before. But to celebrate the boutique label's third anniversary, exclusive distributor Screen Archives Entertainment is offering $10 off a selection of their titles, including several spy releases! And since Twilight Time discs tend to be quite expensive, that discount might make all the difference if you've been holding off on buying these because they cost too much. The good news is that the sale includes the terrific, special features-laden Blu-ray releases of the James Coburn spy classics Our Man Flint and In Like Flint (discs featuring yours truly as a "talking head" expert in the new documentaries, hubris requires me to add!), and Twilight Time's very first offering, the only ever DVD release of John Huston's The Kremlin Letter. The Flint titles, normally a possibly prohibitive $29.95 apiece, are on sale for a more than reasonable $19.95 each, and The Kremlin Letter is just $9.95! The bad news is that I have been remiss as a dutiful spy blogger (damn that hubris, always coming back to bite me in the ass!), and have waited until the very final day of the sale to let you know. Which means that you only have until 4:00pm Eastern Time, or 1:00pm Pacific, to snag these amazing deals. To repeat, the sale ends today at 4pm Eastern! So act quickly. And while I may have blown all credibility as an impartial reviewer by admitting that I'm part of the documentaries on the Flint discs, I want to make it clear that I'm not just hawking these titles because of my involvement. It's more because they're truly fantastic releases of seminal Sixties spy spoofs. The new documentaries, exclusive to this release, are produced by John Cork, who co-produced all those excellent documentaries on the James Bond Special Edition DVDs and Blu-rays. And even though I'm in them, I have to admit I also learned a lot from each piece. On top of those new features, the discs also contain all the original special features previously available on DVD. (They don't, however, included the TV movie Our Man Flint: Dead on Target, which came with the DVDs.) These are truly essential spy Blu-rays.

Read more about the special features on Our Man Flint here.
Read more about the special features on In Like Flint here.
Read more about The Kremlin Letter here.

Order Our Man Flint here.
Order In Like Flint here.
Order The Kremlin Letter here.

Mar 19, 2014

Tradecraft: Aubrey Plaza to Star in Hal Hartley's Ned Rifle

Indie director Hal Hartley will complete his quirky espionage trilogy that began with Henry Fool (1997) and continued with Fay Grim (2007) with Ned Rifle, and Variety reports that Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation, The To-Do List) will star. According to the trade, Plaza will play Susan, a long lost flame of Henry Fool's. Thomas Jay Ryan, Parker Posey and Liam Aiken will return as Henry, Fay and Ned respectively, and James Urbaniak reprises his role as Fay's brother. In addition to Plaza, Martin Donovan, Karen Sillas, Robert John Burke and William Sage round out the new faces. (I guess that means no Jeff Goldblum, which is too bad. He was subtly hilarious as a gruff CIA man in Fay Grim.) Hartley partly financed Ned Rifle via a Kickstarter campaign, and here's the plot description he provided on that page:
In this swiftly paced conclusion, Henry and Fay's son, Ned, played by Liam Aiken, turns 18 and leaves a witness protection program. ("Rifle" is his maternal grandmother's maiden name—he's incognito). His mom has spent the last four years in military custody for alleged terrorist activities (see Fay Grim, 2007) and is transferred to a federal penitentiary to serve a life sentence. Ned, who has absorbed the Christianity of the well adjusted and devout family he has been living with, nevertheless sets out to find and kill his dad, Henry Fool, for the mess the man has made of Fay's life. But his aims are frustrated by the brilliant, sexy, and troubled Susan, whose connection to Henry predates even the great man's arrival in the lives of the Grim family.
Both Henry Fool and Fay Grim are available streaming on Netflix. 

Read my review of Fay Grim here.

Mar 18, 2014

Tradecraft: Zach Galifianakis and Jon Hamm Team Up for Spy Comedy

I know a lot of spy fans have long clamored to see Mad Men star Jon Hamm in a secret agent role for longer than his brief A-Team cameo, but I'm not sure if they were hoping it would be a comedy. But that's what they're going to get! He wasn't Matt Helm or Napoleon Solo, but The Hollywood Reporter reports that Hamm will soon team up with Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover) and director Greg Mottola (Superbad) for Keeping Up With the Joneses. Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald (Catch Me if You Can, Sneakers, The Tuxedo) will produce. According to the trade, "the script follows a type-A couple in an idyllic suburban neighborhood who discover that their new, seemingly perfect neighbors are undercover agents." Presumably Galifianakis is the snoopy Type A husband and Hamm is the undercover neighbor. That pairing certainly has potential! I've been a fan of Galifianakis (whose hilarious interview with President Obama went viral last week) since his stand-up days, and while his most famous role is a dramatic one, Hamm has been hilarious in his SNL and 30 Rock appearances (as well as in a cameo in Bridesmaids).

Tradecraft: State of Affairs Adds to Cast

The previously announced Kathrine Heigl CIA drama pilot at NBC, State of Affairs, is casting Heigl's Agency co-workers. According to Deadline, Heigl (Killers) stars as Charleston Whitney Tucker, a key CIA attaché who counsels the president on high-stakes incidents around the world. The trade blog reports that Adam Kaufman (Without a Trace) and Sheila Vand (Argo) will play Lukas Wright and Grace Hough, respectively, fellow CIA analysts on the President's daily briefing team, and Cliff Chamberlain (Chicago PD) will play quirky Agency linguist Brett Welker. I like that amidst all the spy dramas we've seen lately (and all the spy pilots contending for timeslots next season), this one explores a fairly unique aspect of Agency operations. While there are a lot of shows about field agents, not many follow the officers who brief the President on world events. There's plenty of room for drama at the intersection between Intelligence and politics. I'm curious to see how they play it.

Mar 17, 2014

I Spy Gets Yet Another DVD Release

It doesn't seem that long since the last time I Spy was released on DVD. (Though I guess it was actually six years ago) But apparently those three season sets from Image are now out of print. So for the fans who didn't buy the original individual snapper case releases, the later 3-volume slimline box sets (actually the first release ever in that now ubiquitous format), or the season sets in multi-disc flippers from Image, there's a new option. TV Shows On DVD reports that Timeless Media Group will release I Spy: The Complete Series, collecting all three seasons of the groundbreaking Robert Culp and Bill Cosby 1965-68 spy series on June 24. The 18-disc set will include a booklet and retail for $129.99 (though Amazon's got it listed for pre-order at $90.99). For that price, I hope it's a hell of a booklet! Or that the discs contain some new bonus material. (They better at the very least include the Culp commentaries from the various Image releases!) The last releases were priced at $12.99 a season, meaning you could have gotten the whole series then for around forty bucks, making this new one seem kind of egregious. (You can actually still get Season 2 new for that original price on Amazon, though third party sellers are charging premiums for Season 1 and Season 3 nowadays. But there are a few cheap ones still out there to be got if you act fast.) At any rate, I'm glad I snagged the season sets, even if they did employ some ill-chosen clip art of a 90s Ferrari for no apparent reason. Speaking of artwork, it's cool that the Timeless set is at least the first I Spy DVD release to take advantage of one of the coolest pieces of art ever created for a spy TV show... but then they botch it by cropping the original image (see below) and using only the actors' faces. Sigh. Extras have not yet been announced, so maybe it's possible there will be some new ones beyond the booklet.

Anyway, complain as I might about price point and artwork, it's good news that this seminal series will be back in print. Not only is it socially important for being the first non-ensemble series to feature a black actor in a lead role, but it's also notable among the many spy shows of that era for being the only one to shoot on location all around the world. Instead of the Paramount lot standing in for Eastern Bloc nations on Mission: Impossible or L.A.'s Griffith Observatory being identified as "somewhere in the Swiss Alps" on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (despite the obvious palm trees surrounding it), I Spy actually took you to the exotic settings it portrayed. Excepting the occasional special circumstances (like Scarecrow and Mrs. King's Season 2 European road trip), it remained the only American spy series to do that up until USA's Covert AffairsI Spy is essential viewing for both the easy camaraderie and crackling banter between Culp and Cosby and the stunning travelogue elements, so I'm glad to see it back in print at any price.

Mar 16, 2014

Tradecraft: Janssen and Grace Return for Taken 3; Forrest Whitaker Also Joins

Liam Neeson signed on last year to reprise his role as ex-CIA agent Bryan Mills in a third Taken movie; now Mills' wife and daughter are joining him. In separate stories, Deadline reports that Famke Janssen (GoldenEye) and Maggie Grace (Lockout) have closed deals for the threequel as well. If you're wondering which one of them gets taken this time, the answer might be neither. Bleeding Cool recently reported (via Dark Horizons) that Neeson himself told Jonathan Ross that "they called me up and I said 'I'll do it... but only as long as nobody gets taken.'" Apparently he wasn't kidding. He did promise, however, that neo-Eurospy maven Luc Besson and his series co-writer Robert Mark Kamen have concocted a "really, really good story." Whatever that story is, it apparently involves the addition of an acting heavyweight every bit Neeson's equal. Deadline reported in January that the great Forrest Whitaker (The Crying Game) is also in talks to join the returning gang. (My money would be on Whitaker as an antagonist.) The trade blog also reported that frequent Besson collaborator and Taken 2 helmer Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3, Colombiana) would return to direct Taken 3. It's too bad that Pierre Morel, who directed the excellent first movie, apparently couldn't be lured back to helm what Deadline claims will be the final film in the series. Morel has a much more impressive grasp of action filmmaking.

Mar 5, 2014

DVD Review: The Bourne Identity (1988)

I first saw the ABC two-part miniseries version of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity shortly after reading the trilogy of books when I was in middle school. (Back then, you could still find miniseries on local stations, even years after their initial broadcast. What an age!) I remember mostly liking the first part, then being disgusted with the conclusion for how severely it deviated from the novel (review here), which I had loved, and which was fresh in my mind at the time. Little did I know that later a version would come along that deviated far more—far enough to make this one seem more or less faithful. Viewed now, the miniseries does feel pretty faithful, overall. Unfortunately, the ways in which it varies, while small, prove quite significant in terms of the story. Mostly, they come in the second part of the two-part, four-hour miniseries.

The first half remains generally faithful, and retains the basic setup of Ludlum’s novel. In the thrilling and highly effective opening moments (essentially identical to the opening of the book and the Matt Damon movie, because everyone knows better than to mess with perfection), we witness a man shot on the deck of a ship on a roiling, storm-ridden sea. The wounded man plunges into the Mediterranean, eventually washing ashore in a small coastal fishing town. He’s brought to the local doctor (Denholm Elliot), an alcoholic who sobers up long enough to nurse his mysterious patient back to health. The patient (Richard Chamberlain) cannot recall his own name or what he was doing that got him shot. Or anything. He’s got amnesia. The doctor picks up on some interesting clues, however. The man has spoken several different languages in his delirium, and appears to have undergone plastic surgery. Most strangely, he’s also got the number of a Swiss bank account implanted under his skin on microfilm. Following that clue, a recovered Chamberlain eventually heads off to Zurich where he discovers that his name appears to be Jason Bourne, and he’s got an account with millions of dollars in it. He also discovers that a lot of dangerous people are trying to kill him, and that he seems to possess some very deadly and very impressive skills of his own which we first witness in a well-staged elevator fight. In order to evade the police and criminals who appear to be after him, he’s forced to take a hostage—a beautiful Canadian economist named Marie St. Jacques (Jaclyn Smith). Together they follow a trail of clues about his identity (the best and most compelling section of the miniseries), and after he saves her life she transitions from being his hostage to his lover. The trail leads them into shootouts, car chases, and eventually to Paris.

I’m a fan of Eighties American miniseries. (Noble House is my favorite.) They have their drawbacks, for sure, but I appreciate those drawbacks as inherent in the format. You have to expect a certain degree of soapiness, for one thing, whether it’s present in the source material or not, and the price you pay for lots of big-name guest stars is the realization that some of them will be phoning in their performances for a quick payday in material they consider beneath them. Cheesy music is also a pratfall to be prepared for. (Though composer Laurence Rosenthal, who won an Emmy for this soundtrack, balances out the more hackneyed aspects of his score with at least an equal amount of rousing, genuinely effective bits.) But once you’re in the mood for those drawbacks, the plus side is usually self-evident. You get high production values for television, star-filled casts, and perhaps best of all, genuine location filming.

Budget does not seem to have been a particular concern on The Bourne Identity. It’s a pretty lavish production—especially for TV. Ludlum’s exotic European settings are brought vividly to life with actual location shooting, including plenty of scenic shots—the sort we only ever got in Eighties miniseries. (There’s certainly no time for lingering vistas in the quick-cut contemporary Bourne movies.) The action is generally well handled, including some exciting shootouts and car chases. In fact, during Bourne’s escape from assassins in the streets of Zurich, director Roger Young (Lassiter) expands upon the novel's chase to make it even more exciting than it was in the book. It’s got a Volvo slamming into a streetcar, the sort of stunt which to me (for some reason) typifies Eighties miniseries filmmaking. (Probably because my family and all the families I knew drove Volvos back then, even if I never witnessed any of them crashing into streetcars.)

Unfortunately, The Bourne Identity also suffers from more than its share of that Eighties miniseries cheesiness. At one point, Bourne runs on the beach followed by a gaggle of smiling little children, then they gather all around him laughing, and he starts laughing too. That’s where I draw the line with my own (generally high) tolerance for such cheese. I think it might even have been in slow motion. (I’m fairly certain of it, in fact.) No, that scene is not in the book. And, honestly, I have no idea why it’s in the miniseries! It doesn’t serve the plot other than to motivate a flashback, but it's not even needed for that. Maybe just to assure us that this character is really a good guy, even if it looks for a while like he might be an assassin? If that was the intention, then it backfires a little bit, because the moment comes off as kind of creepy instead.

There’s also a soft-focus love scene shot against a flickering fire. As Bourne and Marie start caressing and undressing (with the fire superimposed over their entwined bodies), one shot lingers forever on a hint of lacy fabric, and then it goes into slow motion as Bourne removes Marie’s dress to reveal some sort of lacy bodysuit that I associate with Joan Collins. And then… It. Goes. On. For. Ever! (To give you an idea of just how long, I've curated for your enjoyment an inordinately large number of screen shots.) Even though it’s too tame to get interesting (this was television, after all, in a less permissive era), the scene fills a full five minutes—at least! Then it concludes by cutely tilting down to an image of cherubs on the end of the bed. Yep, it does. I wouldn’t describe Ludlum’s book as a "bodice-ripper," but I guess that’s exactly what was expected of a Chamberlain miniseries after The Thornbirds? The thing is, as much as I complain about these deficiencies, I expect them in Eighties miniseries... and I don't know if I'd really want this one any other way.

The New York meeting of Treadstone 71, the elite intelligence cabal behind the whole Bourne operation, comes off as ludicrously laughable. Like in the book, they’re based in an upscale townhouse, but why isn’t explained in the miniseries, and it looks like an absurd setting for a high level intelligence meeting. Furthermore, the members are comical, and not for a second believable as any sort of high-level Juju men (to purloin a term from le Carré, not Ludlum). They’re all absurdly old, dressed in tweeds and bow ties or in grandma sweaters, and one of them insists on making his points by shaking a spatula.

Furthermore, the scene appears to be filmed on video, or at least a lower quality film stock than the rest of the proceedings, giving it the air of a high school play. Even the generally reliable Shane Rimmer, who lent his authoritative presence to so many mission control rooms in Bond movies, manages to appear blustery and… bad. He’s playing Alex Conklin, who has for some reason been transferred here from the CIA to the Army and made a General. And Conklin’s fate is just as altered from the book as it is in the Damon movie, making a faithful adaptation of the The Bourne Supremacy pretty much impossible, since the character plays such a large role in the sequel novel. I think that’s the part that annoyed me the most when I watched this as a kid, and I honestly can’t see why they made these changes, even today. It doesn’t benefit the narrative. And the follow-up novel had already been on shelves for a good year before this miniseries went into production, so I would have thought that the producers would take its events into account, laying the groundwork to adapt it should the first one prove successful. Right? I really can’t explain it. I’m not sure how successful the broadcast was, but there never was a sequel. And that’s too bad. Because as many gripes as I have about ABC’s Bourne Identity miniseries, I would have still loved to see an Eighties TV version of Supremacy. My imagination gives it the splendid opulence of another Hong Kong-set opus turned miniseries, Noble House. But, alas, that was not to be. (Neither was le Carré’s Hong Kong novel, The Honourable Schoolboy, turned into a miniseries in that decade, despite the success of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People.)

Further alterations from the book include Bourne’s motivation and his final confrontation with Carlos, the international assassin he eventually learns he was sent to trap. The explanation for Bourne’s mission is ludicrously simplified from the novel to the point where it makes no sense… but at least writer Carol Sobieski paid Ludlum’s brilliant conceit lip service, unlike the Matt Damon film, which simplified it even further. In the novel, Jason Bourne’s ultimate battle with real-life terrorist/assassin Carlos the Jackal ends in a stalemate, as it more or less had to since the ripped-from-the-headlines antagonist was still at large when it was written. By that point in the book, however, capturing Carlos was secondary, plot-wise, for Bourne to learning who Bourne himself really was. Since the answers the amnesiac has been seeking about his identity are simplified in the miniseries, I suppose it was necessary to give the Carlos plot a more definitive conclusion. (And one that effectively rules out an adaptation of the third book, as well, though ABC can’t really be blamed on that front as The Bourne Ultimatum had yet to be written.)

If you come to the 1988 version of The Bourne Identity searching for fidelity to Ludlum’s novel, you won’t actually find it—not after the first installment, anyway. (Though you will find a good deal more of it than is present in Doug Liman’s 2002 film version at least.) What you will find, though, is a pretty good Eighties spy miniseries, with high production values, awesome locations and decent action. You’ll also find a pretty good performance by Richard Chamberlain as Jason Bourne, and a satisfactory one from the beautiful Jaclyn Smith (Charlie's Angels) as Marie. There are also good supporting turns from genre veterans like Denholm Elliott (A Murder of Quality), Peter Vaughan (Hammerhead, Codename: Kyril) and Anthony Quayle (Strange Report, Espionage). (How on Earth isn’t John Rhys-Davies in this cast? Surely his agent must have been asleep!) And, honestly, if I weren’t such a big fan of the book, all that would probably be enough for me. This miniseries (largely thanks to those legit European locales) is also notable for coming the closest of any screen adaption we've seen yet (save for The Holcroft Covenent) to capturing the feel of a Ludlum page-turner in live action.

Warner Bros.’ DVD (which is now inconveniently out of print, and commands pretty steep prices on Amazon) isn’t ideal. For one thing, it comes in one of those old snapper cases, which were always inferior to Amrays and don’t shelve as easily. But that’s merely aesthetic. The main problem with the disc is that it’s been formatted for modern widescreen televisions (which is odd, since the DVD was released way back in the late Nineties, well before those were the norm) when the series was clearly originally framed for the standard 1.33:1 TV aspect ratio of its day. The weird faux widescreen framing on the DVD results in an oddly cropped image, clearly missing information at the top and bottom of the screen. So if you want to see the miniseries in its proper aspect ratio, you'll have to track down the old VHS. Other than that, however, the picture looks pretty good. The only extras are interactive menus, scene access, and subtitles, which don’t really count as extras. I'm surprised this hasn't been reissued following the success of the theatrical film series, but I hope that still happens. Because for Ludlum aficionados, it's certainly worth seeing.

The Ludlum Dossier
Read my book review of Trevayne (1974) here.
Read my book review of The Bourne Ultimatum (1990) here.
Read my book review of The Parsifal Mosaic (1982) here.
Read my DVD review of The Holcroft Covenant (1986) here.
Read my book review of The Janson Directive (2002) here.
Read my book review of The Bourne Supremacy (1986) here.
Read my book review of The Holcroft Covenant (1978) here.
Read my book review of The Sigma Protocol (2001) here.
Read my book review of The Bourne Identity (1980) here.
Read my movie review of The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) here.
Read my movie review of The Bourne Legacy (2012) here.

Mar 4, 2014

Tradecraft: El Rey's "Latino James Bond" Show Gets Title, Star

Last summer when Sin City and Spy Kids director Robert Rodriguez announced he was launching a new English language network targeting young Latino audiences, he also anounced that one of the fledgling El Rey network's first shows would be a spy series co-created with Alias and Mission: Impossible 3 writer Bob Orci. Today Deadline provided more details about the series. First off, it's got a title now: Matador. As someone who writes about spy shows and spy movies, I personally wish it weren't the same title as another movie with spy connections, the excellent 2005 Pierce Brosnan assassin comedy The Matador, but I guess that doesn't really matter. A good title is a good title, even if it's already taken within the genre. On top of a title, Matador has its stars. Relative newcomer Gabriel Luna will play the lead, Antonio "Matador" Bravo, a Bondian superspy who works for a "little known branch of the CIA" and, like I Spy's Kelly Robinson before him, operates under the cover of being an international sports star. Not a tennis pro and, confusingly, not a matador either, Bravo is a playboy soccer star. Australian actress Nicky Whelan (Franklin & Bash) will co-star. Orci's regular collaborator Alex Kurtzman has also come on board now (the trade lists him as a co-creator), and, as previously reported, Rodriguez himself will direct the pilot. Best of all, we haven't got long to wait to see this Matador! El Rey have slated it to debut this July, following the World Cup. I'm really looking forward to this one. While we've got some excellent serious spy shows on TV right now (like The Americans and Homeland), there's not really anything Bond-y out there at the moment. And Orci and Kurtzman worked on the best Bondian TV series of recent vintage, Alias. So this could be very cool.