Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Blu-ray Review: The Bourne Identity

Robert Ludlum's Bourne franchise has certainly been around the block a few times. The original book, Identity, was released in 1980 and since then seven books total have been released with the Bourne name attached. Sadly, most people undoubtedly associate the character to the trilogy of films that began in 2002.

Over-budgeted and oft-delayed, The Bourne Identity became a box office success story that went on to spawn the sequels, Supremacy and Ultimatum. Matt Damon instantly became an action star with that role and I dare say that he made the Bourne character his own. He fit the bill perfectly and there wasn't another actor out there that could have done a better job. Then again, that's just my opinion. But if the success of the franchise is a barometer of what the masses think, then I'm pleased to say that I'm not the only one.

Directed by Doug Liman, The Bourne Identity, begins with Bourne floating in the middle of the ocean. He's picked up by a rust-bucket of a fishing boat and after a little surgery to remove two bullets they discover a metallic cylinder within his skin. The object contains information about a bank in Germany and an account, but it's the least mysterious thing about Bourne. He simply has no clue who he is, where he's from, what he's doing, or where he's going. He has total amnesia, but retains his motor skills and abilities (such as the ability to kung fu chop two cops and render them unconscious in less than 10 seconds).

Upon getting ashore Bourne makes his way to Germany to find his bank account and unravel some of the secrets his mind is blocking. Along the way he gets in a scuffle at the US embassy and winds up hitching a ride with random stranger Marie (Franka Potente). Soon enough the two are on the run for their lives as an organization of assassins known as Treadstone begins closing in. Throughout Europe and in and around Paris Bourne and Marie scurry to fend off would-be killers and find out what's going on.

There are a few reveals as far as what happened along the way, but these are more or less breadcrumbs to keep viewers strung along. You begin to feel the frustration that Bourne's character feels and the film does a very good job of making you sympathize with him. The combination of the direction, script, and acting draws you in and takes you along for the ride. It's a white-knuckled experience that doesn't let up to the end, and even that's left open for the sequel Supremacy.

The bottom line is that the Bourne films are a blast and Identity is every bit as fun today was it was seven years ago when it was originally released. The brisk pacing helps the film's action, but it's the way all of these sequences were edited together that make the experience more visceral. If you haven't seen the movie yet for whatever reason then consider it highly recommended.

Now, if you have seen the film and are approaching this latest release, there are a few things you should know. First of all is that Universal's latest Blu-ray release marks the sixth time this film has hit store shelves. Two individual releases were on Standard Definition DVD, there was a trilogy repack, a release on HD-DVD, and last year a Blu-ray trilogy was released. So why release the films again one year later on the same format? Apparently there's a market for Blu-ray/DVD combo packs with high-def on one side and standard on the other. Who knew!

Bourne Identity's latest Blu-ray release receives a transfer that is identical to the trilogy release from last year. The film is presented in 1080p with an original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and comes with VC-1 encoding and hovers around 34 Mbps (the DVD features 480p resolution and similar aspect ratio). The fact that this transfer is like the previous means the picture quality is very solid, but not entirely perfect. On the bad side of things there is some grain present in many scenes and some scratches are still present from the original print. Otherwise the quality is razor sharp with loads of crystal clarity and nice definition all around. The black levels are rich and the contrast is kept in check. One quick flip of the disc highlights the differences between the high definition transfer and the standard (again, this is the most up to date standard definition transfer). All around this is the superior picture and if you own the previous DVD release then it's definitely worth the upgrade.

As far as sound is concerned this latest release for Identity presents the film with English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 as its main source of output. Options are also available for French and Spanish DTS 5.1 and English Dolby Digital 2.0. The DTS-HD track is simply incredible. The sound hits you from all directions with great force and intelligent uses for every channel. The film comes to life and sucks you in, emphasizing the bombastic score and powerful sound effects with great effect. On the DVD side of the disc the film comes with English, French, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are included for English, French, and Spanish as well.

This latest release of Bourne Identity includes a laundry list of bonus features. Perusing these is a daunting task and if you're new to them you'll want to take the extra time to see what they all have to offer. However, if you're coming to this release from one of the prior ones then you should know there are three supplemental features that were only available on the HD-DVD release and some additional content on U-Control and BD-Live.

As far as the list of bonus features is concerned there is an alternate opening and closing that were changed in response to 9/11. "The Bourne Mastermind: Robert Ludlum" (6:37) takes a look at the author, "Access Granted: An Interview with Tony Gilroy" (4:04) features Tony talking about writing the script for the film, "From Identity to Supremacy: Jason & Marie" (3:38) bridges the gap between this film and the next with some talk between Potente and Damon, and "The Bourne Diagnosis" (3:26) is a corny bit with a psychiatrist talking about amnesia. "Cloak and Dagger: Covert Ops" (5:32) looks at some undercover agent stuff, "Inside a Fight Sequence" (4:43) examines how one of the more intense fight scenes was put together, and "The Birth of The Bourne Identity" (14:32) is an overview of the film with some commentary from the cast.

There's still plenty of other bonus content to sift through with a handful of deleted scenes, an extended version of the farmhouse sequence, and a music video by Moby. Included here once again is the fantastic commentary by Director Doug Liman which is truly a must watch/listen for anyone watching this film. New to this release are three features: "The Ludlum Identity" (12:49), "The Ludlum Supremacy" (12:41), and "The Ludlum Ultimatum" (23:57). All three of these are documentary style features with people who knew, or were influenced by, Ludlum talking about the man and his work.

The Blu-ray exclusive features included U-Control and BD-Live. The U-Control content is interactive and appears when this option is activated and prompted. Basically there's "Picture in Picture", "Treadstone Files", and "Bourne Orientation"; all of which are worth turning on for additional views on the picture and information about the characters and film. The BD-Live content is kind of lame with mostly trailers and a card strategy game to waste some time with. (Note: The "Speed of Sound" feature that was present on other releases does not make the cut here.)

All in all this release of The Bourne Identity is certainly worth the upgrade over the standard definition. The A/V presentation of the film may not be "perfect" but it is spectacular without a doubt and should be experienced by fans of the film to truly be appreciated. Whether or not you pick this release up depends entirely on you and what's already in your collection. Whatever the case may be this release is highly recommended based on its own merits.

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