Long before the recent adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy starring Gary Oldman hit theaters, BBC adapted a mini-series of the popular spy novel. This "well before" I speak of was back in 1979, just about five years after the novel came into existence. This, of course, made the material much more relevant, so much so that the initial broadcast coincided with the British Government announcing that the Keeper of the Queen’s Pictures was one of the Cambridge Five Traitors.
More and more people are now familiar with the plot of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy thanks to Tomas Alfredson’s recent full length (and then some) feature. "Control" (portrayed here by Alexander Knox) is in control of Britain's Central Intelligence. He is dealing with some corruption, with the most notable piece being a mole involved with the Soviet Union. Upon being forced into retirement, Control takes George Smiley (Alec Guiness) with him. Afterwards, however, Smiley is asked to return secretly to find out who the mole is and see if he can find out how high the corruption actually goes.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy deals with not just the uncovering of a mole in “the Circus” but also the true corruption that was in the government at that time. By breaking the novel down into a mini-series much of the material is adaptable, provided that a considerable amount of more twists and turns than the recent theatrical release, as well as diving deeper into some of the players involved.
As a fan of the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy story I’ve found it hard to swallow the two adaptions to screen. I had not seen this British mini-series in some time and had forgotten most of it. I do remember being incredibly turned off by the pacing and, to be blunt, I do remember how boring it was. The same can be said of my recent review of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2012). With that release I couldn’t stop praising the amazing cast, but at the end of the day it was still too slow of a movie for mainstream audiences (and myself) to find entertaining enough to enjoy. It all goes back to the fact that the source material should have never been adapted for the screen, whether big screen or a mini-series like this release of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Much like the two adaptations share the inability to grab one’s attention they also share the fact that they were casted very well. Alec Guiness is a strong George Smiley, leading the series from beginning to end. Guiness is often considered by many familiar with the story to be Smiley, as even the author John le Carre identifies him as his leading character. He established Smiley as a very different character than Oldman does in the new movie, although both Smiley’s are very clever, secretive, and bold. Even with the rest of the cast being good, they shrink in comparison to those of John Hurt, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, and Colin Firth just to name a few of the counterparts. Seeing this again after so long, only after revisiting the new version, makes it hard to appreciate the cast as much but if you give it a chance you can see the strong performances are there.
The 1979 mini-series of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a slow feature that won’t keep your attention unless you find yourself very fond of the source material at hand. The series is broken down into episodes, so it is easy to take breaks during this five and a half hour drama, but either way you won’t find a multitude of excitement waiting near the final credits. The actors are strong, and the plot is faithful to the novel, but I found myself enjoying the new Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2012) a considerable amount more (which isn't saying much).
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Acorn, who hasn’t really knocked anything out of the park yet. Albeit, they are doing fans a wonder by releasing material that's decades old and would've never seen a Blu-ray release if it wasn’t for them, but either way my hopes weren’t over the top for this release.
First things first, the release is presented in 1080i via an AVC encode. 1080i (you’re thinking)? Before anybody freaks out on the resolution of this high definition transfer, keep in mind that Planet Earth and a number of anime series we have covered have all looked wonderful with out the 1080p finish. Now that I have your hopes up (after I lowered them), I’ll simply lower them again by reminding you this isn’t Planet Earth; not even close.
Sadly this video presentation is one of the weaker ones I’ve seen on Blu-ray. The source material is a good portion of the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's problems, but there’s plenty more problems in the transfer department too. The movie is dirty, with plenty of distractions popping up throughout. Some moments will look very clean, and then other scenes will look as if they couldn’t get cleaned up good enough. The grain stays consistent for the most part, but with the grain there’s a very distracting amount of noise that softens the image up. The image doesn’t have a three-dimensional feel, as black levels and bright areas are weak enough to keep the background and foreground from separating. Detail is hit or miss, with some close-up shots showing great amounts and other scenes being fairly average. The release just doesn’t look great, and there’s really not much positive that can be said about it. Though fans of the series should keep in mind the fact that this is probably still much better looking than the original broadcast that aired on PBS (state-side) I’m sure.
The audio is also a bit underwhelming, although not as disappointing as the video. The Blu-ray release of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is presented in a Dolby Digital Stereo Track. First thing fanboys will pick up on is that it’s not a lossless track, but to be honest I don’t think a lossless track would have made a difference here. The track doesn’t overwhelm, and being in stereo format can sometimes sound misleading. Sound effects sound about right, but don’t always come off as good as one would hope. Music can sound hollow at times, and echoes a bit more than one would want, but overall it's a nice sound. Dialogue is crisp and clear and there are no problems catching every conversation. Simply put , that is the most important aspect of an audio track in a movie like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, because in the end the message comes through.
The extra features on board the 1979 release of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy are what I’d call a mixed bag. At first glance there’s plenty on board and they're all great for those interested in the material. Looking deeper one will notice that all the features are in standard definition and things that could have been jewels of the release (like a commentary track or a documentary) aren’t anywhere to be found.
I’m a fan of the source material, and a huge fan of spy dramas (and action flicks), but both versions of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy were enough to put me to sleep. The mini-series (this release) of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a lengthy drama that remains loyal to the source but translates terribly onto the screen. The Blu-ray itself is a lackluster release, with terrible video and unimpressive audio. The lack of extras don’t help this title’s case either. At the end of it all this is one that’s better left alone; as in go read the book instead.