HD DVD Title: The Bourne Identity
Screen format: 1080P 2.35:1 VC-1 Encoded
First theatrical release: 14 June 2002
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Multiple widescreen and fullscreen DVDs
Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Brian Cox, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Sound Formats: English & French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
Length: 1 Hour 59 Minutes
Subtitles: English, French
Robert Ludlum’s most famous character Jason Bourne (Damon) is updated for a post 9/11 world in this first part of the Bourne trilogy. Found adrift and near dead, Bourne initially has no recollection of who he is or what he was doing at sea. The only thing he has to go on is a small holographic message embedded beneath his skin which leads him to a safe deposit box containing a number of passports bearing his face and different names; weapons; and a supply of cash. Piecing the clues together Bourne discovers the truth, he is a highly trained CIA agent, part of an illegal experimental program called Treadstone, the side-effects of which have given him headaches, blackouts and now amnesia. He further discovers that he wants out of this business, but Bourne finds that giving up this life isn’t so easy, as he is a huge threat to the Treadstone leaders, and they will stop at nothing to see that his secrets are buried with him.
Director Liman and screenwriters Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron collaborated to take the spy genre in some interesting new twists. Instead of a charming superagent like Bond, Bourne is more of an everyman, with flaws, confusion and a moral direction in addition to all of his super skills. Damon is the perfect choice for this, as audiences expect him in more genteel roles, and he worked hard to gear up for this challenge, and for the most part succeeds. Where the Bourne Identity doesn’t work is largely in the extreme amount of time it takes to establish Bourne’s situation. There is very little interesting action for the first forty five minutes of the story, and while this was a conscious decision on the director’s part to not to make a brainless popcorn muncher of a summer action flick, it drags as Bourne bumbles along learning his backstory. Once the first car chase kicks off however the story takes a better turn and is a lot more complex and interesting.
Sound Quality: 4.5/5
This film has both a great score and an intricately layered sound track. Composer John Powell has crafted music that spans from mournful and haunting while Bourne is initially adrift to tense and intense techno tracks that accompany the car chases, shootouts, and final Treadstone confrontation. End credits music is supplied by Moby in the form of the song ‘Extreme ways’ and this track is paired nicely with the themes of the film.
On the surround front, music, dialogue and foley effects are, as noted above, intricately put together in a deeply layered sound field. I wasn’t blown away by the amount of surround content as especially the first half of the movie is a bit pedestrian, but the second half makes up for it and brings the action to all corners. The rears are active a significant amount of time with music, environmental effects data as well as gunfire and other action keys. Bass is likewise significant factor, holding down the bottom end of the musical score nicely and coming into its own during the few explosions and during bursts of gunfire.
Visual Quality: 4/5
Color fidelity was strong, and for the most part The Bourne Identity has a very crisp and clean look that befits this big budget production. Especially in the wide angle expository shots that establish each location change, detail is off the charts and helps the viewers feel like they are part of these European urban environments. Close ups tended to be slightly muddier, I noted several occasions where facial detail was not nearly as strong than it was in the long shots, but this is likely to be an original film stock quality and not any error of the transfer. I did not some mosquito noise in the details of walls and other solid backgrounds from time to time, which was surprising due to its absence in every other Universal release on HD that I’ve seen.
Otherwise this is a very clean print, with no indication of film damage or other pops and scratches, and while grain was present in many cases during darker scenes it was never distracting except on the few walls noted above.
Extra Features: 5+/5
Like the Hot Fuzz/Shaun of the Dead releases that Universal put out on the same day as this one, this disk is off the charts in terms of bundled extras and again this disk is not labeled as any kind of special edition.
First up I have to mention the continued use of U-Control to integrate interactivity into the bonus features. Once again I gave a good half hour over to trying these controls and found myself frustrated and put off, as usual. The U-Controls here DO feature some interesting content (tho to be fair a LOT of it is in the featurettes as well), especially in the interactive Treadstone Dossiers, but getting access to them is an absolute nightmare. You cannot just hit one button and have all of the added content play along with the movie, you have to be a button jockey hoping to select content whenever it might be available and if you miss it, it’s too late. Either rewind or forget about it. If I haven’t been so blunt before, let me be absolutely clear: to me, this interface sucks.
Fortunately the ‘regular’ bonus content more than makes up for it. There is a feature length commentary track with Director Liman. There are FOUR separate biographical featurettes about Robert Ludlum and the Bourne Series, and there is a fair amount of content that is repeated between them, There is a featurette where an actual CIA operative gives perspective on Bourne’s capabilities, and another with a psychologist who discusses the reality of amnesia cases. There is an extended look at the fight sequence within the US embassy, and a look at the car chase. One of the neatest features is a semi-interactive sequence where you can play all of the sound track layers from the car chase. Because of the impacts 9/11 had on the movie industry, Universal scrambled to revise this film to be more in tune with the emotion of the day, and a special new opening and closing were filmed. These would have been horrible additions to the film and were thankfully excised, but they are included here in full. Fnally there is an absolute avalanche of extended and deleted scenes that are interesting and show once again how careful cutting can make a movie.
Overall: 4/5 (not an average)
As the first part of what is now a trilogy, it is probably inevitable that too much story groundwork had to be covered in the first half of this film, making it drag a bit, but once it gets cooking Bourne is a smart and sharp addition to the Spy genre and really well modernized for modern audiences. It would have been an interesting and very different film if the original time frame had been adhered to, and if viewers are interested in that perhaps they will check out the made for TV mini series that was done back in the 90s. I haven’t yet seen the Bourne Supremacy or Ultimatum, but I suspect they will both be much more like the end of this movie than the beginning, and if that’s the case, the extras included on this disk really got me looking forward to them. This disk itself is jam packed with extras and the audio video content is just shy of greatness as well. It’s definitely a good package and a worthy addition to the HD DVD library.