Writer Robert Ludlum died a year before Jason Bourne, his most famous character, was brought to life on the big screen by Matt Damon. He didn’t get to enjoy Damon’s take on the action hero, but he did see another version of The Bourne Identity and the famous superspy.
The writer reportedly enjoyed the 1988 300-minute, two-part made-for-television movie of The Bourne Identity starring mini-series king Richard Chamberlain in the role Damon later made famous. Despite a cheeseball love scene between Chamberlain and co-star Jaclyn Smith the TV special (now available on DVD) was a faithful adaptation of the first Bourne novel and even earned its lead actor a Golden Globe nomination.
These days Ludlum would be hard pressed to recognize his character, however. He wrote the first three Bourne books but after his death the series was kept alive by writer Eric Van Lustbader, who has made slight, but noticeable changes to the character over the course of seven subsequent novels.
Moviegoers may also find themselves a tad confused this weekend when Jeremy Renner takes over the lead from Damon in The Bourne Legacy. Renner, who beat out Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender, Taylor Kitsch and Josh Hartnett for the gig, isn’t playing Jason Bourne, but a reasonable facsimile—a trained assassin brainwashed into taking part in covert government activities.
In Hollywood they call that expanding “the franchise mythology.” In other words Damon didn’t want to return to the franchise but the studio still wanted another Bourne movie.
Ludlum’s books—he wrote 23 thrillers with sales estimated between 290-500 million—have also provided the basis for several movies without the name Bourne in the title.
The Osterman Weekend is a confusing movie about a television journalist who becomes convinced his friends are a threat to national security. Ludlum apparently offered to rewrite the perplexing script at no charge, but was rejected by the movie’s producers. The result is an entertaining mess the New York Times said, “has a kind of hallucinatory craziness to it.”
The Holcroft Covenant was another troubled production. Star James Caan walked out the day before filming was to begin, unhappy with the script. His replacement, Michael Caine, carries the espionage story, but the action scenes are more entertaining than the spy story.
In development is the Chancellor Manuscript, Ludlum’s story about J. Edgar Hoover’s alleged “secret files.” Leonardo DiCaprio is rumored to be in talks to star.
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