Universal // 2002 // 119 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // January 29th, 2010
Danger is Bourne.
The first of writer Robert Ludlum's Bourne trilogy gets the high-def treatment as Universal rolls out its controversial new "flipper" discs, featuring the Blu-ray version of the film on one side and the standard-def DVD on the other.
Jason Bourne (Stuck on You) wakes up on a boat, having been shot in the back and dumped in the ocean. What's worse is that he has no idea how he got there -- or who he is. He also has no idea how he learned to be an expert fighter or skilled assassin, skills he obviously learned in his pre-amnesia life. Attempting to track down his identity and how he wound up face down in the ocean, Bourne travels to Switzerland, where he meets up with innocent bystander Marie (Franke Potente, Run Lola Run), who is quickly drawn into the shadowy conspiracy to hunt down and kill Bourne before he learns too much. Their hunt leads them to Paris, where they face a showdown with a sniper (Clive Owen, Beyond Borders) before tracking down the mysterious Operation Treadstone, led by Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper, Breach) and Ward Abbott (Brian Cox, X2: X-Men United). Will Bourne succeed in learning about his past and why Treadstone wants him dead before it's too late?
It's a tricky thing, sometimes, to be a critic and know that you're taking an unpopular position on a movie. Many critics counter this dilemma by never taking a position that could lose them favor; they're the greatest offenders -- the quote whores, the Jeff Craigs of the world, happy to see their rave reviews plastered underneath every TV and print ad for Did You Hear About the Morgans? or Seven Pounds. Others will simply temper their reviews, never really giving a clear position one way or the other (there are, of course, those critics who go 180 degrees the other way and write every review like it's a defiant challenge to prove them wrong, but we're not talking about them here). I'll even admit that since DVD Verdict added the "fair trial" voting option at the bottom of the reviews, the thought has crossed my mind more than once that "I'm going to get hammered for this." I've never allowed it to affect either my judgment or my writing -- criticism is not a democracy, after all, and I can only report my own feelings about a movie, not try and predict who will agree with me -- but it has a way of sticking in the back of my head.
This is all a precursor for my own admission that Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity has always been my favorite of the three Bourne movies. I know that this is not a popular opinion to have, as Liman's film is a lot slicker and more Hollywood-friendly than Paul Greengrass's stripped-down, grey-toned sequels. Yes, Greengrass carries a lot more cool caché than Liman (you can thank Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Jumper for that). Yes, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum (both movies I like, for the record) are a great deal more visceral and focused than The Bourne Identity. But I've always felt that Greengrass didn't so much rewrite the action film with his sequels than expound upon the vocabulary that Liman developed the first time around. Seeing The Bourne Identity in 2002 felt like a breath of fresh air as an action movie fan; there was an immediacy and a reality to the stunt sequences (particularly a car chase set piece) often missing from big-budget spy thrillers. For all its location-hopping, "who am I" spy game outrageousness, The Bourne Identity feels oddly believable.
It helps that the proceedings are never dumbed-down. From the inspired casting of unconventional action star Matt Damon (who made the transition from strong-but-underappreciated actor to full-on movie star thanks to the Bourne trilogy) to the always-smart script by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), The Bourne Identity is the rare action film that doesn't require the audience to check their brains at the door (I would even argue that the Bourne series played a huge part in influencing the James Bond makeover beginning with Casino Royale). The plot isn't exactly air tight and more than once the movie bows to convention -- often as it pertains to the relationship between Damon and Potente -- but it's nothing that detracts to heavily from what works about the film. It's an intelligent, lean film that's also aggressive and tough, and -- maybe most importantly -- laid the groundwork for what might be the best action movie trilogy of the 2000s.
Universal's Blu-ray/DVD combo release of The Bourne Identity offers a very handsome 1080p high-def transfer of the film, in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. There's a great amount of visible detail and black levels are consistently solid and strong. The image doesn't always pop as strongly as some of the best Blu-ray titles, but I suspect that has more to do with the movie's drained, sometimes dreary visual design than anything else (though, to be fair, Liman's Bourne is the second half of The Wizard of Oz compared to Greengrass's sequels). The DTS-HD 5.1 master audio track is considerably better, presenting clean dialogue and awesome kick to the action sequences -- plenty of firepower, rumbling explosions and cool surround effects. Like the film, the audio presentation is a great deal of fun and always engaging your senses.
Most of the bonus features on the Blu-ray disc are a composite of the material from the two DVD releases: the original 2003 release and the "Explosive Extended Edition" from 2004. The best feature is the commentary track (missing from the "extended" DVD, but reinstated here) from director Doug Liman. Though he has a track record of being difficult to work with, it's obvious from his talk that Liman really understands his films and knows exactly what he wants to achieve; his commentary track is candid and honest about the movie's strengths as well as its flaws. The disc also comes with a boatload of featurettes: "The Ludlum Identity," "The Ludlum Supremacy" and "The Ludlum Ultimatum," all covering the author's original novels; "The Birth of The Bourne Identity," a standard promotional piece; "The Bourne Mastermind: Robert Ludlum," yet another piece on the series' author; "From Identity to Supremacy: Jason and Marie," a short interview with Damon and Potente; "The Bourne Diagnosis," a lame bit on amnesia; "Cloak and Dagger," another lame piece on the CIA, and "Inside a Fight Sequence," which is just what it sounds like (though worthwhile, as the film's fights are pretty awesome).
Also included are some deleted scenes, an alternate opening and ending and a slightly longer version of the Clive Owen farmhouse sequence. An interview with Tony Gilroy and the video for Moby's "Extreme Ways" (which plays over the closing credits, another slick, Hollywood addition that I actually like) round out the bonus features.
New to Blu-ray are a few "U-Control" options. The first two, "The Treadstone Files" and "Bourne Orientation," are standard trivia tracks. The third, a picture in picture option featuring additional interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, is somewhat better but only available for about a third of the movie. While the extra material is pretty plentiful overall, very little of it is mandatory viewing for anyone but the most die-hard fan. If you don't want to spend all day plowing through the bonus material, check out the deleted/alternate scenes and listen to Liman's commentary track. You should be good after that.
The DVD version of the film, available on "Side B" of the disc, is identical to Universal's previous releases.
There's not much new in the special features department, but with its relatively low price fans of The Bourne Identity may want to consider making an HD upgrade. Anyone who doesn't already own the movie really ought to buy this version. Even if you aren't yet Blu-ray equipped, you can spin the DVD and flip the disc over when you upgrade.
As for me, I know it may not be the popular opinion, especially among the tastemaking film geeks, but The Bourne Identity remains my favorite installment in the trilogy. What can I say? I'm a sucker for a romantic subplot and a happy ending.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Alternate Opening/Ending
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
* Music Video
* Official Site