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2002 was a busy year for spy thrillers. Vin Diesel blasted onto the scene with the lacklustre (but still blockbuster-status) XXX. So too did Mr. Bond, with the celebratory twentieth movie in the franchise. But no thriller was more pronounced and refreshing as The Bourne Identity. Critics praised it, moviegoers lapped it up, and now the sequel has landed in US theatres to tumulus response.

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Movie
Jason Bourne, as played by Matt Damon, is a man without an identity, at least at first. Discovered by a fisherman floating in the water and with a serious case of amnesia abound, Jason must discover who he is and fast if he wishes to live. For reasons he does not know or cannot remember, somebody is trying to do away with him. While his memory is a no-show, he can somehow still tap into unique skills that he possesses, such as kick-ass martial-arts and a deadly aim with a weapon. It’s now a virtual countdown to unlock the secrets of his true identity and to piece the endless puzzle of his circumstances together.

The Bourne Identity comes straight from the pages of a book of the same name. Though it may not be word for word and often comes off as more as an inspirational source than an adaptation, the screenplay flows with a cohesive pace. Everything is slick and properly executed, it hardly ever gives you the chance to catch a breath. Of course, with films such as this, the personal touches can often diminish in favour of gracious action. Characters can seem loose and flimsy with such a rapid execution, but not here. Even in the loudest and most frantic of sequences, director Doug Liman spares time for foreplay.

Speaking of direction, Liman turns in a truly inventive approach. Everything looks and feels natural, suspense is brooding and often unbearable at times and don’t get me started on the visual integrity. To say this film is stylistic would be a major understatement. Cinematography and production design are top notch, and so too are such overlooked values as the costumes and makeup effects. Chilling moviemaking magic if there was ever a better example.

Comparisons with be made with such films as the 007 franchise and even the dreadful XXX, but Bourne is a film all its own. It’s highly stylized and furiously paced to ensure all whom observe will not lose interest. It also successfully manages to infuse a ripe freshness into this genre that so many have tried and failed to pull off in recent times. As such, The Bourne Identity is a force to be reckoned with and a serious contender for the best in show. James Bond hasn’t looked this good for over a decade, and with no contending competitors on the horizon, this franchise could just rule the roost for quite some time.

Video
Presented in a 2.35:1 frame, this flick flickers by with seamless perfection. Colours are vibrant, without looking too pseudo and black levels are solid enough to exhale plaudits. Scenes with plenty of brightly lit environments appear natural and so too do darker, more varnished sequences (such as when colour grading is put into effect).

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While I have no complaints about the image, I don’t feel it is quite worth full marks. For example, fine detail isn’t one hundred percent and the occasional grain can be seen. It is nothing major, only a couple of minor quibbles but still prevent it from perfection. Other than that, I doubt this film has ever looked better, or will ever be able to improve upon this.

Audio
Sporting a healthy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, and with action aplenty, can this prove to be a gratifying listening experience as well as a visual delight? Indeed it can. Lacking the DTS track of the first release (a bit of a shame considering the nature of the flick), things could have been a tad crushing at first glance. However, Dolby gives it their all and churns out another superb mix from the peppermill.

The audio has a very enveloping nature, even during the engrossing action scenes. Everything feels rather robust on the whole, even the dialogue-heavy segments. Heavy action-orientated pieces are handled with a swift intellect which simultaneously draws one into the frenzy without the need to reach the remote control to adjust volume levels.

LFE is strong, not too heavy, but politely thunderous suffice to say. Directional effects are curt and very much apart of the surround sound environment. A perfect soundtrack marvellously mixed for the exact genre of film that needed it the most.

Extras
Aside from a great film and great image and audio aspects, what more could make this disc more desirable? For one thing, a whole host of intrepid extras. Sadly, this is where the disc kind of stumbles a little. Sure, there are some cool features, but the absence of a commentary or any real hardcore material hurts the score.

Firstly the menu screens are a real treat encompassing some kick-ass scenes from the movie, a really good way to psych you up before you hit the play button; but here dwells a slight problem. Unfortunately this is one of those irritating menu screens that has a play-timer built into it, starting the movie when the time runs out. It is especially annoying for those of us who like to pop the disc in the player half an hour before we are ready to observe the feature. I thought those days of self-playing discs were long gone…seems I was wrong.

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The Bookend Scenes opens a menu with three selections. Firstly an introduction from a host of cast and crew followed by the never before seen opening and the alternate ending. It’s fairly decent to watch but as both are not as good as the original, it has little re-watch value.

The Bourne Mastermind with novelist Robert Ludlum is a five and a half minute featurette that sheds some light on the author of the story himself and shows how he pieced the novel together. It also focuses on himself and of the life he leads. Incorporated into this segment are a couple of interviews as well as some film footage. It’s only fair that a film that spawned from a novel should have a piece on the author, but I have to confess this piece really didn’t captivate me.

Access Granted is a short (as in three and a half minute) featurette about the screenwriter Tony Gilroy. It does nothing to raise ones eyebrows, but shows of the trials and tribulations of adapting the novel. Personally, it’s an interesting watch (especially for those interested in literary adaptations) but it could have used a great deal more time to make comparisons and examples.

From Identity to Supremacy is a typical interviewee piece that serves up no useful information or conjures up a reason for a potential re-watch. Once again you have segments of the film interlaced with documentary style interrogation of the cast involved.

The Bourne Diagnosis runs for a shade over three minutes and is rather self-explanatory. Aside from breaking apart the movie (a definite no-no if you haven’t seen the movie), it also analyses the condition of Jason Bourne with an on-call psychiatrist from the UCLA. It would have been a decent watch if integrated into a larger whole, but as a feature on its own, it is rather conspicuous on this disc...perhaps including lots of short features makes it look more wholesome that it actually is…

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Cloak and Dagger: Covert Ops looks at the realism of Bourne Identity with CIA officer Chase Brandon. It is another feature that breaks down the movie into parts of a jigsaw and glued back again by Mr. Brandon. He talks us through various things, none of which will make much sense if you don’t have an ideal knowledge or interest in the subject matter.

The Speed of Sound highlights the sound effects, sound editing and sound production of the car chase scene from the movie. Certainly an impressive watch if only to see the complexity of making such a scene come to life. If you have never seen such a feature before, you will most likely come out having great respect for these audio geniuses. But once again its length and repetition are all too familiar.

Declassified Information opens up a menu with four deleted scenes to choose from. All have appropriate titles but sadly none of them are likely going to inspire any elation. Sadly, the scenes were not polished up to the sparkle the film was and are rather hard to watch (having the images of the film in mind at the time of viewing).

Inside a Fight Sequence is once again self-explanatory. It is a four and a half minute feature on the fight choreography and also has some interview segments with Matt Damon.

What’s left now isn’t really worth going into, at least not in any great detail. You have Moby’s music video; next up are the DVD credits; a trailer for this summer’s lacklustre extravaganza Van Helsing and finally a text-only screen detailing most of the cast and some of the crew members involved in production.

Finally, when you play the movie you are asked which version you with to play; the original version or the 'explosive extended version'. Take my advice and skip this so called extended version and stick with the original version. The only real difference between the two is the alternate beginning and end.

So at first glance it appears that you have a torrent of features, but sadly none of them are really worth watching and perhaps should have been rolled into one larger whole instead of being shattered into several smaller pieces.

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Overall
A great film on a mostly-great DVD…what more do you need to convince a purchase? While more meaty features would certainly not have gone amiss, and with no commentary to redeem it, one must simply inspect the film and its irresistible picture and sound quality instead, for suitable temptations. Both audio and visual aspects glimmer spectacularly and really hold their own, even in this year’s already swamped market for quality production. Buy it for the film and as a bonus universal will treat you to a technically ripe disc that does fullest justice to the format.


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