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I’ve never been a big fan of the spy/espionage thriller genre, which probably stems from the fact that the only spy films I saw growing up were the tongue in cheek Bond films of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s starring Roger Moore. Other recent films in the last couple of years have given me little hope for the genre and it seems that for every good one, such as Goldeneye, there has been an inordinate number of bad ones, such as the weakest of the recent Bond films The World Is Not Enough or even worse, xXx starring Vin Diesel.

Bourne Supremacy, The
The problem I have with these films is that they constantly walk a tightrope between reality and fantasy, though granted not all of them try to be entirely realistic, and often times are not able to keep their balance. Yet one of the most unlikely spy thrillers in recent years began to sway my feelings towards the genre, 2002’s The Bourne Identity. That film, from Swingers and Go director Doug Liman, was a white knuckled, escapist piece starring Matt Damon as an assassin suffering from amnesia who finds himself on the run from enemies and former allies alike. Quite surprisingly I enjoyed that film in theatres and even more so on DVD, and judging from ticket sales and home video rental figures the majority of you did too. It comes as no shock then that this past summer Universal released a sequel which garnered similar if not better results.

The Bourne Supremacy finds Damon’s Jason Bourne a few years later living a comfortable but nomadic life, trying to stay off the grid and out of the sights of his former employers and enemies. The past, however, has a way of catching up to you no matter where you try to hide and soon Bourne is again entangled in a thick as thieves plot of international intrigue involving cat and mouse games with both the CIA and renegade Russian agents across Europe.

The Bourne Supremacy is a taut and action packed film from beginning to end and as a sequel to The Bourne Identity it really delivers to goods. The Jason Bourne of this film is more self assured of his skills, but a much more conflicted soul as he begins to remember pieces of a past life he would just as soon forget. The changes in the character from the last film feel real, as if they have grown over time, and not forced like so many other characters in sequels. In a film full of actors at the top of their game, Joan Allen and Brian Cox among them, Damon is more than up for the dramatic and physical challenges that the role presents and gives a great performance as the title character; he and the screenwriters deserve a lot of credit for giving the character depth and not making him into some cookie cutter, James Bond wannabe.

Bourne Supremacy, The
The story of the film is also on par with the original film, and while it plays more like a revenge film at times and a chase film at others, the plot and motivations are direct results from characters’ actions, both dead and alive, in the previous film. From that standpoint the film sets itself apart from most other sequels in actually continuing a story rather than telling a completely different one with the same characters, yet at the same time remaining a self contained film in its own right.

Yet The Bourne Supremacy offers more than just great performances and great storytelling, it also has plenty of action to go along with the edge of your seat escapes and doesn’t let up for a moment once it gets rolling. There are many scenes that I could take note of, but the demolition derby car chase through the streets of Moscow has to be one of the most thrilling scenes of its type ever filmed, reaching the same echelon as Bullitt and The French Connection.

The only caveat to the film is in inherit to it being a sequel; viewing the preceding film is required to fully grasp the story, drama and Matt Damon’s nuanced performance, but those looking for a solid action film to fill their evening will not be disappointed in the least. If you feel the slightest way about the genre as I have in the past, you will definitely want to give The Bourne Supremacy and its predecessor a chance to change your mind. You too may also find yourself anxiously looking forward to the next film in the series, which no doubt will be coming to a multiplex near you very soon.

Universal has presented The Bourne Supremacy in an anamorphic transfer at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and has once again outdone themselves with a quality transfer that is nearly flawless in execution. The transfer is largely free of grain and edge enhancement and contains no noticeable artefacts. The film’s varying colour palette and tones are presented nicely on the transfer as well and should please nearly everyone. This is exactly what you should expect from a major motion picture released theatrically this year.

Much has been made of the handheld approach to the camerawork in the film, but I did not find the style to be a major distraction while enjoying the film although it is more noticeable early on and during some of the action sequences. Regardless of these instances, the overall cinematography of the film is top notch.

Bourne Supremacy, The
The DVD offers Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, French and Spanish with optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish as well. Universal’s audio presentation for The Bourne Supremacy is every bit as good as the video transfer and is near reference quality. The sound is very well balanced to all speakers with dialogue that is clear from the centre channel and immersive sound effects that bring all of the film’s action and European cities and locales to life. John Powell’s score, while not totally memorable, builds nicely upon themes from the first film while adding additional elements to make the score unique in its own right.

First up is an audio commentary track with director Paul Greengrass. While he certainly has a passion for the film, screenplay and its source material, Greengrass’ commentary for the most part is rather dry and fragmented; he might have benefited from having another crew or a cast member to bounce off of during the recording session. If you should listen to the track however, you will find him very insightful into the production of the film making this a good commentary track overall for those so inclined to listen.

Next are a series of nine featurettes covering various portions of the film’s production with a total running time of approximately forty five minutes. The first of these, ‘Matching Identities: Casting’, focuses on the casting aspects of the various actors in their roles and includes blurbs from most of the principle cast members including director Greengrass. In ‘Keeping It Real’, the production team, including producer Frank Marshall, discuss the choice of hiring Greengrass to direct and the documentary style influence he brought to the film; also discussed is the set design and locations and the vital role they play in the film. Third is the featurette, ‘Blowing Things Up’, which goes behind the scenes of the filming of a particularly nasty apartment explosion in the film. I was actually quite astonished to find that the explosion was not in fact a digital effect as I had presumed when watching the film, but that every bit right down to the people in the scene were stuntmen. The piece features interviews with some of the pyrotechnics and practical effects crew as well as stuntmen from the scene.

Bourne Supremacy, The
Next is ‘On the Move with Jason Bourne’ which goes into detail about some of the locations used in the film including Berlin, Moscow and Goa, India and the differences in filming in each location. The next featurette is entitled ‘Bourne to be Wild: Fight Training’, which focuses on the training that the actors had to go through for the film’s many fight scenes and focuses in particular on a specific scene from the film where Bourne fights in close quarters with another former ally.

The sixth featurette is ‘Crash Cam: Racing Through the Streets of Moscow’ and goes behind the scenes of the film’s climactic car chase. This featurette should be viewed in concert with the one that follows it, ‘The Go Mobile Revs Up For Action’ which shows just how the filmmakers were able to get some of the camera shots during the scene with the use of a revolutionary new camera rig that allows for maximum realism during driving sequences. Both featurettes make for interesting viewing and will assuredly answer the “How did they do that?” questions you will be asking yourself after watching the film.

The final two featurettes are ‘Anatomy of a Scene: The Explosive Bridge Chase Scene’ which turns its attention to one of the film’s great escape sequences Bourne finds himself in and ‘Score with John Powell’ which takes viewers into the recording studio for the creation of the film’s score and some insight into the scoring process with composer John Powell.

Most of the featurettes are quite informative, but given the relatively short running time of about five minutes each they just aren’t quite as detailed as most would like; not having the option of watching them with a ‘Play All’ feature is a hindrance as well.

The rest of the disc’s extras are rounded out with seven minutes of wisely deleted and extended scenes, cast and crew biographies and the standard DVD-ROM content. The disc also includes pre-menu trailers for Shaun of the Dead, Collateral, Miami Vice and Las Vegas and while the disc’s menu system isn’t anything special, it does its job effectively.

Bourne Supremacy, The
Not only is The Bourne Supremacy a superior espionage thriller, it also happens to be one of this year’s best films. So often is the case that a sequel does not live up to the promise of a great original, but I found this film to actually be slightly better than its older brother. Universal has packaged with the film some interesting features although you may just wish to view them once and watch the film again. When all is said and done, this DVD should be in your collection.