[UPDATE: It appears Matt Damon jumped the gun. See bottom of post for details]

For a good long while now we’ve heard word that Bourne 4 hasn’t been progressing as smoothly as a project of that status should. Not one but TWO Bourne 4 scripts have reportedly been written parallel to one another, one by George Nolfi (writer of The Bourne Ultimatum and another Matt Damon project, The Adjustment Bureau) and one by Josh Zetumer. We’ve not known whether Universal wants to choose between the two or simply merge them into one film (the latter would be really difficult to do successfully).

To add to the problems we heard last year that Supremacy and Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass had walked away from the project, which was a bad sign for fans of the franchise since Jason Bourne himself, Matt Damon, said he wouldn’t do another without Greengrass. There’s still a chance Universal could get those two key players back in time for the aimed fall 2010 shooting start date but it’s not looking likely.

Now we have word of a possible Bourne prequel in the works, which would feature a new actor portraying super-spy Jason Bourne and a new director behind the camera. This comes from Empire when they talked to Damon on the red carpet for the premiere of his latest film, Invictus. It’s not any sort of official announcement but certainly a shocking revelation if it turns out to be true:

“There’ll probably be a prequel of some kind with another actor and another director before we do another one… just because I think we’re probably another five years away from doing it – we’ve got to get a script…”

Of course, with a word like “probably” being used this could be pure speculation on Damon’s part. But he’s certainly one of the key players who’d have an idea about that sort of thing. If true, does this prequel mean a reboot (dun dun dun!) of the Bourne franchise? Well, even if I’m sure most fans of the franchise would wish that not to be true, I can definitely see the appeal for Universal to go that route. With the trouble the studio has been having with the story and script (Damon even said if you’ve got any ideas you should contact Universal about it!), and the additional trouble of Greengrass walking away,  rebooting the franchise could be a smart move money-wise.

Could we see a Bourne movie without Damon?

Empire actually throws in a positive side to this by saying that a prequel would give us a chance to see Bourne in action before he was on the run (with his memory intact) and see what he got up to before the first three movies. Once we have that story out of the way we might (as Damon says in the quote above) get another Bourne with Damon back as the character. Although, I’m sure a lot of you would just rather see the continuation going forward with Damon in the role. And I’d be right with you on that one.

Of course if this thing has any truth to it then we need to start looking at who could fill Damon’s shoes as Bourne (a tough task indeed). I’m sure Sam Worthington’s name will be brought up, as it always is nowadays when a high profile role comes along. It depends on how far back a prequel would go (Worthington is six years younger than Damon) – I just hope it isn’t back to his teenage years and we hear Taylor Lautner’s name brought up. God forbid…

Let me just reiterate that this isn’t AT ALL confirmation of a Bourne prequel and was rather just something that may or may not have been an off-the-cuff remark by Damon on the red carpet. Still, it’s always great to speculate on these sorts of things so what do you think: Will there be a prequel before we see another Bourne with Damon in the lead role and would you be interesting in seeing it? Would it be a smart idea for Universal money-wise?

UPDATE: EW is reporting that talk of a Bourne prequel is premature and what Matt Damon said above is just pure speculation. Insiders told EW that Universal is currently looking at several different stories for the next Bourne but the studio hasn’t made a decision yet.

One insider said that in the wake of Paul Greengrass leaving the project the studio might go for try to hire an edgy young director to lure Damon back to the franchise (he has said before he won’t do another without Greengrass). But should any of that not work then a reboot, “wouldn’t be a terrible idea.”

Said one insider – “Bourne is one of our best and most important franchises. Whatever we do, we’re going to make sure we get it right.”

Source: Empire (hat tip to First Showing) and EW