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Our reviews of The Bourne Files: 3-Disc Collection (published August 3rd, 2007), The Bourne Identity (published February 17th, 2003), The Bourne Identity (Blu-Ray / DVD) (published January 29th, 2010), The Bourne Identity: Explosive Extended Edition (published August 10th, 2004), The Bourne Identity (HD DVD) (published August 3rd, 2007), The Bourne Supremacy (published December 20th, 2004), The Bourne Supremacy (Blu-Ray / DVD) (published January 20th, 2010), The Bourne Trilogy (published November 4th, 2008), The Bourne Ultimatum (published December 17th, 2007), The Bourne Ultimatum (HD DVD) (published December 22nd, 2007), and Universal 100th Anniversary Collection (Blu-ray) (published November 26th, 2012) are also available.
"Look at us. Look at what they make you give."—The Professor, The Bourne Identity
When director Doug Liman (Swingers) set out to make an extremely loose film adaptation of Robert Ludlum's spy novel, The Bourne Identity, he couldn't have known that he was launching a gritty, hard-edged series so fresh that it would rake in tons of dough at the box office and even force the world's most famous cinematic spy, James Bond, to reinvent himself in Bourne's image. That's exactly what Liman achieved, though. The Bourne movies are among the most exciting and entertaining action flicks of this decade or any other.
The trilogy made its high definition debut on the now defunct HD DVD format. Now the folks at Universal are re-releasing the adventures of amnesiac secret agent Jason Bourne on Blu-ray.
Facts of the Case
The Bourne Identity (2002)
Fleeing Zürich authorities, Bourne teams with Marie Helena Kruetz (Franka Potente, Run Lola Run), an itinerant dragged into the intrigue when Bourne buys a car ride from her. The chase is joined by three Treadstone assassins—Castel, Mannheim, and the Professor (Clive Owen, Children of Men)—deployed by CIA Special Agent Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper, Adaptation.) and Deputy Director Ward Abbot (Brian Cox, Manhunter) to silence Bourne in order to cover-up the political assassination the amnesiac assassin failed to carry out.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Action movies don't get much better than the Bourne movies, loaded as they are with car chases, fisticuffs, and gunfights that put you so firmly in the center of the action that they rattle your bones. However implausible some of the action (Bourne has a knack for surviving car crashes and an amazing ability to remain on his feet after being punched square in the head), the movies' mix of taut plotting, subtle characterizations (well acted by a fine cast), drama, and a touch of romance make suspending disbelief easy. The Bourne flicks are rousing actioners that take the time and expend the effort to tell good stories. How rare is that in Hollywood these days?
The Bourne Identity is the best of the three films. Doug Liman directs Tony Gilroy's (Michael Clayton) complex screenplay with elegant, understated simplicity. Bourne's quest for his own identity gives the story a powerful through-line, loads of narrative momentum, and plenty of opportunity for us to come to know and like Jason Bourne. The Bourne Identity also benefits from a strong romantic storyline absent in the two sequels. Jason and Marie's steady and believable progression from uneasy partnership to lovers gives our hero a palpable humanity. On the action front, the movie delivers a brutal smackdown in a U.S. Consulate, a memorable car chase through the streets of Zürich, a wicked fistfight, and a satisfying finale as Bourne begins to play offense against his opponents.
Directed by Paul Greengrass, The Bourne Supremacy ups the ante on style over its predecessor but doesn't pack quite as much substance. Though there is a visual consistency between the two pictures (Oliver Wood was cinematographer for both), Supremacy is sleeker and glossier than The Bourne Identity. Its action is off the hook. Greengrass delivers the most memorable hand-to-hand combat of the series in the form of a Munich throwdown between Bourne and Treadstone assassin Jarda in which Bourne turns a rolled magazine into a deadly weapon. The flick also boasts a car chase that is so jarring and kinetic it practically gives viewers whiplash. As a bonus, the chase ends with the most thrilling death by concrete abutment ever committed to film. Tony Gilroy and Brian Helgeland's (L.A. Confidential) screenplay is taut and intelligent, but more conventional than the first film. The duo overreaches in trying to imbue Bourne with the same level of humanity and pathos achieved in The Bourne Identity. The climax of Bourne's personal quest crosses the line into maudlin silliness. Still, the movie's smarter and more structurally sound than most Hollywood action movies, and it's a hell of a fun ride from beginning to end.
Greengrass returns to direct The Bourne Ultimatum, the least of the three movies. With a focus on finally bringing Bourne full circle, the picture feels from the beginning like it's running out of narrative steam. David Strathairn takes the villainous reins from Brian Cox, but isn't nearly as manipulative or devious. The Blackbriar rebrand of Treadstone is lame. Not since Emperor Palpatine threw up his hands and gave the order to just build another Death Star has an evil organization been so obviously out of ideas. The fact that said evil organization happens to be Hollywood's bogeyman of preference for the past 40 or so years—the CIA—doesn't exactly lend the movie an air of freshness either. Still, a rooftop chase through Tangier, fisticuffs with assassin Desh Bouksani, and the requisite car chase (this time through the streets of New York) ensure that the movie delivers plenty of high octane action. The Bourne Ultimatum is a mediocre Jason Bourne flick, but it still stands head and shoulders above most Hollywood thrillers.
The Bourne Trilogy wraps three standard Blu-ray cases in a stylish, silver, heavy-duty cardboard box with a magnetic flap in the shape of David Webb. The discs offer beautiful 1080p VC-1 transfers of the three films. Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity has a more subdued color palette and less use of deep focus than its two sequels but don't let it worry you: The film looks amazing in high definition. Detail is superb throughout. Color accuracy is perfect. The image has an attractive depth and subtle grain that evokes the look of celluloid. The Bourne Supremacy is brighter and more vivid with loads of deep focus detail. Unfortunately, it's also burdened by some intrusive edge enhancement. The digital flaws aren't so distracting that they ruin one's viewing experience, but they are noticeable in high contrast areas. The Bourne Ultimatum offers the best of both worlds: a crisp, detailed image with eye-popping color that doesn't fall prey to digital artifacts. The Bourne Ultimatum may be the worst of the three films, but it looks the best in high definition.
These Blu-ray editions of the films replace the HD DVDs' Dolby TrueHD audio tracks with lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mixes that are reference quality. Riding primarily in the center speaker, dialogue has plenty of volume and is always crystal clear. The rear soundstage is used aggressively both to create a fully-realized ambient space and for directional panning during the many actions sequences. Explosions and car crashes rumble in the subwoofer, while mid-range effects like cocking guns or ruffled papers are rich in aural detail. The movies sound as good as they look, if not better.
All of the supplemental material from the previous HD-DVD releases has been preserved on the Blu-rays. That means the audio commentaries by Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass, featurettes, and deleted and alternate scenes from the various DVD releases of the movies, plus U-Control picture-in-picture modes that allow you to access information about characters, locations, and production trivia while watching the movies. The Blu-rays are also BD-Live capable, enabling you to chat with friends while watching the movie, record your own commentary, or play an online strategy card game. The bonanza of featurettes gathered from The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum DVDs, both the theatrical and extended cut DVD releases of The Bourne Identity, as well as the three-disc The Bourne Files DVD are mainly fluffy electronic press kit material, but they cover the films' productions thoroughly. There are also pieces about the Bourne novels and Robert Ludlum's writing career. The material gets repetitive, but Bourne fans should appreciate that, by gathering every single extra from every prior release of the films, The Bourne Trilogy represents a definitive release of the series. The only substantive downside to the enormous slate of extras is that everything from the DVDs is presented in 480p instead of high definition. That's not a surprise, really, but it is a minor bummer.
Unusually intelligent and fiercely entertaining, The Bourne Trilogy is a must-own Blu-ray box. A gorgeous audio/video presentation, a comprehensive batch of extras, and replay value out the wazoo make this set well worth the cost of an upgrade from standard DVD.
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What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
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Scales of Justice, The Bourne Ultimatum
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