WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
I should've expected this, but I'm feeling a little ripped off. Both the slipcover and keepcase art of this new edition of The Bourne Identity advertise that this DVD contains a "new movie experience." After all, this is an Explosive Extended Edition of the film. With that vocabulary, you'd kinda expect a longer cut. Wouldn't you? Well, no, actually, this DVD offers the same exact 119-minute cut of The Bourne Identity, and the extra footage—a tepid new opening and alternate ending—is relegated to the Bonus Materials section. (You can also access these low-quality, non-anamorphic widescreen scenes as you're watching the film, by pressing Enter when an icon appears.) Hmmm, you mean this is yet another DVD forced shamelessly onto consumers, packed with a few lackluster featurettes, in direct anticipation of a sequel to the film it contains? Yeah, pretty much. And that false advertising is just an extra punch to the ribs in case you didn't get the point.
Which is all too bad, because Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity deserves better. This is a top-notch thriller that's everything a James Bond film should be—a relatively light-on-plot actioner that boasts plenty of well-choreographed fight sequences, rousing chases, and smart writing. It's streamlined and slick, a superbly crafted and confident summer flick that doesn't insult your intelligence.
The film opens with delicious, studied poise, moving in on an anonymous fishing boat in the Mediterranean. Floating near the boat is a body with two bullets in it, and that's how we meet the antihero of the story—Jason Bourne (a surprisingly effective Matt Damon), a man with a murky past thanks to a mysterious case of amnesia. As Bourne discovers more and more about himself—a computer chip embedded in his skin, knowledge of weapons training, hand-to-hand combat intuition, access to a Swiss bank account that gives him vast wealth and passports under various names—we become more and more curious about his predicament, and the suspense mounts effortlessly. Bourne comes to understand that he's a covert CIA operative and that his former employers—namely, Conklin (Chris Cooper), and Abbott (Brian Cox)—now want him dead or alive. Enlisting the reluctant help of Marie (the earthily gorgeous Franka Potente, from Run, Lola, Run) to drive him to Paris, Bourne is on a brutal quest to solve the mystery behind his amnesia while eluding the grasps of his many pursuers. Of course, it helps that Bourne conveniently remembers all of his formidable training as a covert special-ops dude, making the fights and car chases all the more enticing.
You'll read over that synopsis and agree that, yeah, this is a summer joyride with not a whole lot on its mind except for its aim to deliver popcorn fun. Many critics dismissed The Bourne Identity as just that, but there's no denying the level of craftsmanship, which elevates the film into the A-list range of this genre. In my opinion, the film stumbles only once, and that's in a single silly stunt sequence toward the end, which is so far removed from reality that it seems lifted from a Peter Jackson-directed Bond film. Indeed, you'll learn elsewhere on this disc that the scene in question was a late-shoot replacement for a more explosive finale, in response to September 11.
What truly elevates The Bourne Identity is the quality of its direction, its editing, and its acting. Doug Liman (Go, Swingers) proves himself an ace at action helming, in spite of only two comedies on his resume. The film's editing has a stutter-quick rhythm, in tandem with the edgy score, that increases tension and boosts adrenaline. And the cast is universally well chosen, from the unlikely (Damon) to the it-goes-without-saying (Cooper). I particularly enjoyed what Potente brought to the role of the requisite girl-in-jeopardy.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Universal presents The Bourne Identity in a terrific anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 2.35:1 theatrical presentation. This is exactly the way I remember experiencing the film at my local multiplex—subdued, with an almost burnt orange color palette. There's a dimness to the whole affair, a European wintry gloominess presiding over all. Detail and sharpness are just fine, and detail reaches into middle backgrounds. After that, softness prevails. I noticed only the slightest evidence of edge enhancement, in the form of minor ringing. The print itself is very clean.
I performed a direct comparison with the previously released DVD and came away with no differences in the quality of the image. I believe this is the same exact transfer.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
You DTS-philes are going to be disappointed: This new DVD drops the original release's superb DTS 5.1 track, probably to make room for a significant number of added featurettes over in the Bonus Materials section. Nevertheless, the included Dolby Digital 5.1 track (apparently the same as that featured on the original DVD) is no slouch, offering pleasing levels of depth and immersion.
This is a strong audio presentation, full of engaging highs, tight lows, and swirling surround effects. Dialog is clear and accurate, with a nice richness and no distortion at the high end. The score is full and bass-rich and wide-open across the front and rears. Sound effects and ambient noise are extremely effective in their directionality.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
This new DVD of The Bourne Identity is an interesting and frustrating release—it's both disappointing and mildly engaging. It's got the same basic menu design, and offers many of the same supplements that the previous version offered. It jettisons some interesting, informative stuff and also gains some small new featurettes. Call it a companion-piece to the older version—but a companion-piece that you don't necessarily need.
The bad news is that this DVD drops the previous DVD's fascinating Doug Liman audio commentary, the extended farmhouse sequence, and the film's theatrical trailer. I would say that one of the most telling aspects of this DVD is the non-participation of Doug Liman—not only in the lack of that commentary but also in the absence of any interview footage, new or otherwise. You get the idea that this DVD is probably not endorsed by the film's director.
The primary new supplement—touted boldly and misleadingly on the case cover—is The Bookend Scenes: Never-Before-Seen Opening and Alternate Ending. Led to believe that these scenes would be incorporated into the film, I feel a bit short-changed having to watch them in non-anamorphic widescreen in the Bonus Materials section. First, you get a 4-minute Introduction with Producer Frank Marshall, Screenwriter Tony Gilroy, and Actor Brian Cox, who make it clear that the alternate scenes were shot in response to September 11. Then, we move on to the 2-minute Never-Before-Seen Opening, which deftly turns the entire movie into a flashback. The 5-minute Alternate Ending features a static dialog scene with Brian Cox, then an alternate, wordless reunion scene between our main characters—but you might remember this cut sequence from the previous DVD. Again, where's Liman? Was he not even involved in the shooting of the new material?
The Bourne Mastermind: Robert Ludlum is a 6-minute look at the author of the novel that inspired the film. Featuring new interviews with editor Martin Greenberg and actor James Karen (a friend of Ludlum's), as well as archival footage of Ludlum, we get to know the man who started out as an actor and became a storyteller (as well as a serious researcher).
Access Granted: An Interview with Screenwriter Tony Gilroy is 4 minutes of just that. Gilroy talks briefly about adapting a big novel for the screen, including the controversial decision to hack out Carlos the Jackal, a major character in the book.
The 4-minute From Identity to Supremacy: Jason & Marie features interviews with Matt Damon and Franka Potente about their approaches to the story and the characters. The final half of this piece is devoted to a somewhat shameless plug for The Bourne Supremacy.
The Bourne Diagnosis is a 3-minute look at Bourne's amnesia. UCLA psychiatrist Reef Karim talks about how realistic the condition is, focusing on how Bourne's condition is more like "selective dissociative amnesia."
Cloak and Dagger: Covert Ops is a 6-minute piece that offers a brief look inside the CIA. CIA officer Chase Brandon talks about how realistic Bourne's character is.
The Speed of Sound is a 4-minute peek into the film's sound design, starring sound men Per Hallberg, Bob Beamer, Chris Assells, and Scott Millan. There are no real insights into sound here, as we all pretty much know by now that most of the sound in a film isn't the sound captured on the set or on location. But at the end of this scene is a fun Interactive Demonstration of all the sound elements involved in a portion of the film's pivotal chase scene. Featuring Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, the demo is a bit unwieldy, but it's fun.
Declassified Information is 7 minutes of deleted scenes, all of which were on the previous release. Presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, the four scenes' titles are Wombosi on the Private Jet, Bourne and Marie by the Side of the Road, Psychologist Discusses Bourne, and Bourne and Marie Practice on Subway.
The 5-minute Inside a Fight Sequence gives us a fleeting glimpse of Liman as he films a fight scene. Also contributing are stunt coordinator Nick Powell and Matt Damon, who talk as we watch behind-the-scenes footage of the filming.
Repeated from the previous release is the Moby "Extreme Ways" Music Video, some DVD-ROM features, and text-only Cast and Filmmakers and Production Notes stuff.
You also get Previews for Dawn of the Dead, Ned Kelly, and Magnum PI.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
This new DVD of The Bourne Identity is falsely advertised but offers a number of new featurettes that are barely worth your time. Unfortunately, a few enticing extras on the original release have been sacrificed. Personally, I'd stick with the first DVD, considering that the image and sound quality of this new DVD are the same or (in the case of the audio) slightly inferior. Chalk this one up as shameless promotion of the sequel.