Article 154

It's a cheap thriller - the original Bourne Identity is back

Richard Chamberlain

The original 1988 mini-series of The Bourne Identity shows us just how much times have changed.

Look what this is! The original 1988 mini-series of The Bourne Identity! With Jason Bourne being played not by Matt Damon - who would have been 17 at the time - but Richard "Doctor Kildare" Chamberlain! Who ever knew, etc? And now it's been dug up out of God knows where - possibly one of the Blue Peter time capsules - and is being broadcast in a fit of retro-whimsy.

Of course, the thing about remakes is that they function as an unscientific, yet very amusing, bellwether of cultural mutation. How one dramatised a classic thriller in 1988 - the era of Ronald Reagan, scrunch-dried hair and Wispas - is quantumly different to how one treated a movie version in 2002 - the era of George Bush, GHD hair and KitKat Peanut Special Edition. The comparative scales are key here. The 2002 movie lasted 118 minutes. This mini-series, on the other hand, takes the same thriller and makes it nearly four hours long. Four hours long!

You might say that no one can be thrilled for that long; and you would be largely correct. Heavens it drags. There are whole scenes where people have to trail across town, usually in a big boxy cab, to a specific address - only to be told, when they get there, that they must now immediately go somewhere else. Then when they get there, someone gives them a briefcase, introduces them to Jaclyn Smith (Kelly from Charlie's Angels) and tells them to go somewhere else again. It works as a salutary reminder of how the current obesity epidemic has taken hold so quickly. In the olden days, people walked around six miles a day, just picking up messages from Eastern European double-agents. In the 21st century, on the other hand, you could deal with half the plot of the 1988 mini-series with three phonecalls, a good courier service, and a link to a clip of some funny cats on YouTube.

Then there's how it looks. While Matt Damon races around the 2002 version in steel-and-glass cityscapes, looking like a gigantic, handsome piece of action-Spam, Richard Chamberlain walks around rainy, grainy Zurich, with the air of a man whose tailor will be extremely vexed about all the bullet holes in his coat. It's additionally, for those who like to nerd about these things, a fantastic primer in awful American 1980s film stock. In this case, it's not that bright orange, insanely blurry stuff that makes everyone, even Kate O'Mara, look like the Honey Monster. No - this is that other, dreary, grey stuff, which has the effect of making all the roads seem approximately 300ft wide, and the buildings a mere 9in tall. Late-1980s Zurich looks like a giant car park, iced with a fancy border of Carolingian architecture, with Doctor Kildare running round and round the centre of it, with gun, wishing someone would hurry up and invent the iPhone.

Of course, the most pertinent cultural touch-point is that of the star. Usually, when I say things such as, "By 2052, we'll probably all have evolved pancreases that double-up as wifi hubs," people look at me as if I'm dangerously thick; and should maybe have my children taken into care.

Yet consider the yawning chasm that lies between Richard Chamberlain - heart-throb of the 1980s - and Matt Damon - dubbed the "Sexiest Man Alive 2007" by People magazine. Chamberlain is a patrician, well-sculpted uncle who is very high up in Acquisitions and Mergers - the kind who, when on the receiving end of a passionate love declaration, would say, "Don't be so IRRATIONAL, woman," and then drink a whisky.

Matt Damon, on the other hand, looks like a huge, buff toddler who wants to shout, "I KNOW YOU ARE - BUT WHAT AM I?" at the baddies, and who might do a big burp at the end of every stunt. Damon is completely hairless - even his eyebrows are invisible. Chamberlain, on the other hand, has blond chest hair so luxurious, it actually has a centre parting in it. This has the disconcerting effect that, when he strips, it looks a bit like John Denver is charging, head-down, towards the camera.

And yet, that is what the ladies of the 20th century wanted. This was the best Bourne Identity there could be in 1988. Surely, compared with the gigantic mutations that have happened to Jason Bourne between 1988 and 2002, humankind evolving two extra-long fingers, like chopsticks - in response to the rise in popularity of Yo! Sushi - is really quite probable.

The Bourne Identity, Saturday, Zone Thriller, 10pm

Richard Chamberlain Online