The late Robert Ludlum's successful Bourne franchise has been around for quite a while. By this point, if you haven't heard of Jason Bourne, you simply haven't been paying attention to books or movies within the past couple of decades. In 2002 the series got even more mainstream attention when a delayed, over-budgeted film starring Matt Damon was finally released. It became a box office success and spawned a pair of sequels all based on Ludlum's novels (even if they are faithful in title only) in 2004 and 2007. On DVD the Bourne franchise has been very popular as well, but just in time for the holidays Universal has re-released the trilogy once again.
Directed by Doug Liman, The Bourne Identity, turned out to be one hell of a good time. This is the one that started it all and it's safe to say that it set the tone for the rest of the movie franchise. In case you haven't seen a single Bourne flick yet though, get ready for one heck of a ride.
Identity starts out in the middle of the ocean with a rusty fishing boat passing by a bullet riddled body. The crew drags the mysterious guy aboard and nurses him back to health, but the stranger suffers from amnesia and offers no answers about his past or who he is. From here on out we follow this man, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), as he takes steps to discover just where he came from and why he was shot and left to die. This component of the story takes up quite a bit of the film's runtime and though the amnesia theme is a bit heavy-handed at points, it's actually quite gripping.
The reason that this part of Identity is so successful comes from the sense of discovery and mystery as Bourne starts putting pieces of his life back together. Damon puts on a very convincing performance and the script doesn't allow for much foreshadowing with regards to his past. As a result the movie succeeds at taking you along for the ride and there's hardly an instant where you won't be left guessing how things are going to turn out.
During his journey to reclaim his life, Bourne comes across a woman named Marie (Franka Potente) who has a shady history herself. Together they pursue clues linking Bourne to his past, but as I'm sure you have already figured out, things aren't that simple. Along the way it's revealed that Bourne worked as an undercover CIA operative and his former employers want him back, dead or alive. As Bourne continues to run towards his past, he has to keep his eyes open for assassins and government agents who are out to get him.
From start to finish, Bourne Identity is one hell of a ride with plenty of white knuckled action, superb acting, and a script that keeps things moving at a brisk pace. It's a solid ride that you won't want to stop and it's easy to see why it became so popular as to spawn two other films.
Following the events in Identity, The Bourne Supremacy continues to examine the mysterious life of Jason Bourne. This time around the direction was handled by Paul Greengrass, and though the tone of the film is much different than the original, it's every bit as engaging and entertaining, maybe even more so. Greengrass brings an interesting approach to the series which gives it a grittier feeling than the first movie and kicks the visceral sensation up a notch.
Supremacy starts out with Bourne and Marie hiding out in India while our amnesiac hero attempts to unlock some things in his mind. Meanwhile, there's political assassination afoot in Berlin, and Bourne is being implicated by the perpetrators. This prompts a Russian assassin to come looking for the ex-CIA agent, and Bourne's old employers want to get their hands on him as well. From here on out our hero is trying to clear his name and cover his butt, and it's a rollercoaster ride that takes him across the world. Once again, Bourne always seems to be ahead of the curve in just about every way. He's stronger, smarter, and more resourceful than anyone who is going against him. Ironically that doesn't detract from the sense of danger and action, thanks largely in part to Damon's performance.
It's quite clear by this point that this was a role he was born to play. Damon is a thinking man's action star in each of the Bourne films, and in Supremacy he's given a script that allows him some fine time in front of the camera. The film isn't only successful due to his presence though, as a fine support cast including Julia Stiles, Brian Cox, and Karl Urban makes an appearance as well.
All in all, Supremacy is a fantastic experience and it's a thrill right up until the credits role. Plot and action aside, another factor in the success of this sequel comes from the development of the Bourne character. The second film takes things to a whole new level as it explores his motivations and history in new ways. Identity did a great job of setting things up and Supremacy takes the ball, only to raise the game to a whole new level. By the time you're finished watching this one, you'll be breathless, wanting to watch it again, and anxious to get on to Ultimatum.
As the trilogy draws to a close, the best has actually been saved for last. The Bourne Ultimatum has most all of the pieces that made the first two films wildly entertaining, but rather than spending the bulk of its time focusing on character development, it spends it by building upon the established mythos and kicking the action up a notch. I found the previous movies to be very engaging, gritty, and hard-hitting, but Ultimatum really pushes the envelope in that department. Sniper sequences, hand to hand fight scenes, car chases, they all just seem somehow harder and more daring this time around. I really got the impression that Greengrass felt he had done what he set out to do in Supremacy with the character and decided to have a little fun with this one.
As far as the story is concerned Bourne continues to live undercover and tries to stay below the radar as much as possible while searching for bits and pieces of his life. Through circumstances he comes to find out about something known as Operation Blackbriar, and he sets out to assist the person who gave him the information. This puts him back on the CIA's list of "people we'd like to kill", and from here on out Bourne works towards uncovering the truth about Blackbriar and continues to discover his own history in the process.
Once again Greengrass offers up some shaky camera work during fight scenes and some conversations. It's a move that some may find distracting, but with regards to this franchise I think it actually works. Each Bourne film remains an exciting and riveting experience and the motions of the camera help give it an unpredictable edge. Combined with the quality acting, scripting, and action, the direction and camera work comes together to craft one heck of an edgy ride.
As of this moment the jury is still out on what the next Bourne title will be, but it's apparently slated for 2010. Will it be better than Ultimatum? Who knows. For the time being though, this trilogy offers a series of rock-solid adventures through one of the most riveting action franchises of the past decade. If you haven't seen it yet, then Universal's latest release is about as enticing as it gets.
All three Bourne films are presented on DVD with anamorphic widescreen transfers. Identity and Supremacy come with 2.35:1 aspect ratios, while Ultimatum delivers its action with a 2.40:1 display. The picture quality for this release mirrors what we've seen already for the series, which is extremely good by the way.
The resolution is sharp, black levels are rich, colors are appropriately saturated, the picture is clear, and there is virtually no flaw present anywhere in this trilogy. That's quite the feat considering the disparity in release dates for each film. Identity maintains the cleanest, brightest, most saturated look, while Supremacy and Ultimatum are arguably grittier and darker. You could equate it to the different directors, but even so all three look great in their own right and stand as showpieces for the action genre.
Dolby Digital 5.1 is the main source of audio output for all three Bourne films. All of you DTS fans are sadly left in the dark, but the selection here has plenty of positives going for it. The soundstage is robust with a nice presence all around. From the front to rear channels, you'll feel the sense of immersion as each film envelops you. From the stunning car crashes and chases to gun fights and ambient noise, every channel in the 5.1 range gets a decent workout. This level of quality is maintained throughout this trilogy as well which is a definite plus.
The Bourne Trilogy offers pretty much all the bonus features from the already released versions of the films and there's plenty of stuff to paw through here.
On The Bourne Identity things get started with an alternate opening and an alternate ending. Both of these were shot in response to 9/11, and feature a different way to open and close the film. Taken as they are these bookends are interesting to watch, but as components of the movie they stand out as sort of awkward so I can appreciate why they weren't used. "The Bourne Mastermind: Robert Ludlum" (6:37) is a brief look at the man who wrote the novels that spawned these films. There's commentary from people who knew him in life and a discussion about his works.
"Access Granted: An Interview with Tony Gilroy" (4:04) is an interesting tidbit with Tony talking about his experience writing the script for Identity. He has a lot of good insight into translating Ludlum's work for the screen and goes into some detail about the many changes they had to make. "From Identity to Supremacy: Jason & Marie" (3:38) takes place during the filming of the second film and has Franke and Matt talking about their characters and working on the series. "The Bourne Diagnosis" (3:26) has a shrink talking about Bourne's state of amnesia. It's not particularly fascinating and it doesn't really have a lot to do with the movie, but it's there to watch nonetheless. Equally fluffy is "Cloak and Dagger: Covert Ops" (5:32), which offers a look at how authentic Bourne is as a CIA operative.
"The Speed of Sound" (4:05) was cool from the special effects standpoint as it focuses on how the sound in the famous Cooper car chase was put together. "Inside a Fight Sequence" (4:43) is similar in structure to the sound featurette as it looks at how one of the more dynamic fight scenes of the film was put together. Aside from that there is a Moby music video, four deleted scenes, and a commentary with Doug Liman. The commentary comes from the collector's edition of Identity and it's actually very informative. Liman goes through a lot of stuff about the film from casting to bringing the books to the big screen.
The Bourne Supremacy continues to offer some entertaining bonus features. To start things off there are five deleted scenes totaling just over seven minutes and a little featurette about casting. After that "Keeping it Real" (5:00) offers up Greengrass talking at length about his involvement with the film and it has other cast members discussing what it was like working with the director. Following these features are a bunch of little ones focusing on different scenes from the film and techniques that were used for its shooting. "Blowing Things Up" (4:02) looks at how they blew up the house, "On the Move with Jason Bourne" (4:52) examines the different locations the team had to shoot in, "Bourne to be Wild" (4:23) features a fight scene from the film, and the streets of Moscow come to life in "Crash Cam" (6:04).
Closing out the features is a look at the camera technique of "Go-Mobile" (6:50) and an anatomy of the bridge chase scene. However, before you move on to Ultimatum there is a third page to the extras menu here that has one of the best features for Supremacy. The commentary with Greengrass may be tucked away, but it is jam-packed with information and insight. Most of the material is already present in the little featurettes prior to getting to the commentary, but Greengrass has a passion that translates through his transcript well.
And finally, The Bourne Ultimatum contains even more bonus content. Another commentary with Greengrass makes its way onto the disc, and it's just about as entertaining as the previous one. Eight deleted scenes are available here as well, clocking in at just over 12 minutes. "Man on the Move: Jason Bourne" (23:57) is a behind the scenes featurette that's split into five different sections. It's interesting and matches the rest of the bonus content on the other films in terms of information and candid recordings.
Like we saw on the Supremacy disc, Ultimatum offers a variety of short topics about different scenes and components of the movie. Here we have one for the New York car chase, the rooftop pursuit, a fight scene with Desh, and even one with Matt going to driving school to learn some stunt driving. All told this trilogy is packed with bonus content, but none of it is new for the set. That means if you already own the prior editions of the films then there's really no need to take the bite on this collection.
It may just basically be a repack of currently available DVDs, but the Bourne Trilogy is a ton of fun. Each film has something to offer and is a part of a much larger story. The acting and casts are fantastic for each installment, the action is intense, gritty and calculative, and the direction/editing for all three movies are stunning. If you have never seen any of these movies before, then consider Universal's double-dip of the franchise highly recommended.