When he adapted the Robert Ludlum potboiler bestseller The Bourne Identity back in 2002, director Doug Liman clearly set out to make a modern, topical spy thriller that would break out from underneath the shadow of the aging James Bond franchise, which had at the time grown bloated and indulgent in action movie excesses. Borrowing little more than the basic characters and premise from the novel, Liman's film gave us a smart, capable, and utterly no-nonsense intelligence operative who favors decisive action over bad puns and silly gadgets. Little did the filmmaker know how much influence he would actually have. Not only was his movie a big hit that spawned a pair of sequels, even James Bond himself has started taking cues from Jason Bourne, the venerable secret agent reinvented in the Bourne mode for his most recent outing Casino Royale.
When the casting was first announced, pretty boy Matt Damon seemed an unconventional choice for the role of a dangerous government killing machine, but the actor proved naysayers wrong with his focused, intense performance. His Jason Bourne is a finely-tuned weapon, always calm under pressure and resourceful in the face of overwhelming odds (my wife also informs me that the star was at his "maximum hunkiness" in the movie). Discovered as the film opens unconsciously floating in the Mediterranean Sea, two bullet holes in his back, Bourne is dragged out of the water by a fishing vessel and, when he finally awakens, found to suffer from a severe case of amnesia. Remembering nothing of who he is or how he got there, our hero has to follow the limited clues available to him to piece together his identity and his past, eventually realizing that some things are better left forgotten. Meanwhile, fearing him a liability, his CIA handlers decide to burn the agent, sending all available assassins to take him out. But while Bourne may not remember his own name, his training and skills are still very much intact.
Unlike many modern action movies, Liman and screenwriter Tony Gilroy structure The Bourne Identity as a tightly-wound thriller with action scenes that stem organically from the story, rather than empty spectacle to distract us from it. The movie has clever plotting and richly-drawn characters. Franka Potente stands out as the innocent bystander caught up in Bourne's nightmare, but the cast also includes strong supporting turns from Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Julia Stiles, and Clive Owen. Television fans may recognize Walter Goggins (The Shield) and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Lost) in there as well.
Emphasizing their swiftness and brutality, the action sequences are staged with some very tight and jumpy camerawork that is deliberately disorienting. The conceit effectively puts viewers into the thick of the action, but can be a little frustrating (the sequel directed by Paul Greengrass received a lot of criticism for taking this a step further with its woozy shaky-cam style). Nevertheless, Liman certainly delivers the excitement with some truly balls-out action, including several raw fight scenes and a fantastic car chase through the streets of Paris. The Bourne Identity is smart, thrilling entertainment of the highest order.
The HD DVD:
The Bourne Identity has been released on the HD DVD format by Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The studio had already released its sequel The Bourne Supremacy on HD DVD a good 14 months ago, but that's marketing logic for you.
The disc's interactive menus are accompanied by annoying beeping sound effects for every selection that can be turned off if you desire (and I recommend it). If you should pause or fast-forward/rewind the movie during playback, a timeline meter will appear on screen to tell you how far along you are.
HD DVD discs are only playable in a compatible HD DVD player. They will not function in a standard DVD player (unless the disc is a Combo release that specifically includes a secondary DVD version) or in a Blu-Ray player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The Bourne Identity HD DVD is encoded on disc in High Definition 1080p format using VC-1 compression. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 with letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.
Universal has taken a lot of grief lately for the quality of their catalog titles on HD DVD, but The Bourne Identity looks terrific. The picture is extremely sharp, with excellent clarity in details such as the actors' skin pores. The movie's photography is a little dark by nature, but the transfer has good contrast range, shadow detail, and a nice sense of depth. The mild amount of film grain present is well digitized and not noisy. Colors, though intentionally muted in many scenes, are clean and accurate. Unlike the DVD edition of the movie, the picture is mostly clear of edge enhancement problems. Some minor ringing appears in a couple of scenes, fortunately not enough to be distracting. Like its sequel, this Bourne movie looks great in High Definition.
The Bourne Identity HD DVD is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over an HD DVD player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 format, and it's a scorcher. Deftly balancing quiet dramatic scenes and stunning action sequences, the audio mix has broad dynamic range and a very aggressive surround presence, not just with showy directional effects but also an immersive sense of atmosphere during even simple dialogue passages. The stirring musical score by John Powell gets the heart racing and incorporates some satisfying low-end activity. When the action revs up, the track really explodes in surround sound nirvana. Gunshots and explosions blast through the soundstage in outstanding fidelity. During the Paris car chase, engine sounds, tire squeals, and metallic screeches are delivered from every direction in crisp clarity, firmly placing the viewer right in the car with the characters. Soundtracks like this are why movie fans invest in nice sound systems, and prove them worth every penny.
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles - English captions for the hearing impaired, or French.
Alternate language tracks - French DD+ 5.1.
The bonus features on this HD DVD title are a mix of content recycled from the original Collector's Edition DVD, the later Explosive Extended Edition DVD, and a few brand new pieces.
Let's start with what's new:
Recycled from previous DVDs are:
- U-Control - Universal really needs to rethink their approach to the U-Control interactive feature, because the way it is now just doesn't work very well. Essentially, the idea amounts to picture-in-picture and pop-up content that runs over the movie much like the "In-Movie Experience" features on discs from Warner Brothers. The difference is that Universal forces an interactive component, requiring the viewer to actively push a button every time an icon appears on screen to indicate that additional content is available. This is very annoying; either you want to watch the U-Control features or you don't. The imposed user interaction is pointless and frustrating. Additionally, it's very sparsely spread out across the movie. Long stretches go by without any new material. When it is available, the graphic interface is awkward and slow, and each time material pops up the movie picture itself shrinks down to half its original size. What we get is divided into two categories: picture-in-picture interviews that are largely duplicated from the other featurettes on the disc, and the "Treadstone Files" which consist of text and graphics providing character bios, maps, and trivia, all written in a small font and cluttered across the screen in a difficult-to-read manner. I found the U-Control on this disc more irritating than useful, and don't recommend it.
- The Ludlum Identity (13 min., SD) - The first of a 3-part documentary by Laurent Bouzereau profiling author Robert Ludlum. This initial section features many vintage TV interviews, as well as newly recorded testimonials from friends and colleagues. We're given information on the writer's biography, background, and his working habits. The piece incorporates many clips from the Bourne Supremacy movie, including several blatant plot spoilers, and should not be watched by viewers unfamiliar with both films.
- The Ludlum Supremacy (13 min., SD) - Discussion of Ludlum's fame, the Bourne character and series, and the franchise extension books by author Eric Van Lustbader.
- The Ludlum Ultimatum (25 min., SD) - A look at the movies, and Ludlum's approval of director Doug Liman. Of course the author's death is mentioned. The piece ends with a shameless plug for the third film.
Missing from the DVDs are some text production notes and DVD-Rom material. They are not significant losses.
- Feature Commentary by Director Doug Liman - The filmmaker gives a good talk about his love of the novel, working with an international cast (and shooting in languages he didn't speak), updating the story with his own politics, and the journey from the indie film scene to a major studio production.
- Alternate Opening and Ending (11 min., SD) - Here we're shown some unnecessary bookend scenes that were shot in reaction to the 9/11 terrorist events, but ultimately (wisely) discarded.
- Deleted Scenes (7 min., SD) - 4 scenes are offered in cruddy video quality. A couple of them are OK, but none were needed.
- Farmhouse Extended Scene (1 min., SD) - Some additional chit chat padding that didn't make the final cut.
- The Birth of The Bourne Identity (15min., SD) - A shallow EPK making-of piece with the usual promotional information about the director, the cast, and the action scenes.
- The Bourne Mastermind: Robert Ludlum (6 min., SD) - Yet another tribute to the author. This featurette is also found on the Bourne Supremacy HD DVD.
- Access Granted: An Interview with Screenwriter Tony Gilroy (4 min., SD) - The writer talks about adapting the novels, and all the changes he had to make to keep the film current and topical.
- From Identity to Supremacy: Jason & Marie (4 min., SD) - Basically just a plug for the second movie under the guise of giving us some character insight.
- The Bourne Diagnosis (4 min., SD) - The psychology of the characters is explored for a few minutes. This piece is also found on the Bourne Supremacy HD DVD.
- Cloak & Dagger: Covert Ops (6 min., SD) - A public relations ad for the CIA, in which a former operative gives a broad overview of what the agency does, and then critiques the movie (he liked it, but he was probably paid to).
- The Speed of Sound (4 min., SD) - Some info on sound editing, effects, and mixing. Afterwards is a interactive demo where a 1-minute clip from the movie can be watched with any of 9 individual sound stems, such as only dialogue, only engine sounds, only crowd noises, etc.
- Inside a Fight Sequence (5 min., SD) - The fight choreography is showcased.
- Moby "Extreme Ways" Music Video (4 min., SD) - An OK video that might have been cooler if it weren't burdened by so many clips from the movie.
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min., SD)
While its bonus features may emphasize quantity over quality, the Bourne Identity HD DVD delivers the type of excellent picture and sound that home theater was invented for. And of course the movie itself is pretty great too. Highly recommended.
The Bourne Supremacy (HD DVD)
The Brothers Grimm (HD DVD) - Matt Damon
Syriana (HD DVD) - Damon
HD Review Index
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