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Many say that the silly excesses of Die Another Day killed the James Bond franchise. This is only a partial truth, just as much responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Bourne franchise. Jason Bourne was the ideal hero for the post-9/11 era. Unlike Pierce Brosnan’s Bond, Bourne was not a cocksure lady killer, with dozens of gadgets and gizmos at his disposal; he doesn’t even know who he is. His skills are instinctual, his attitude is weary, and his motives are realistic, even vengeful. Jason Bourne is a superhero on the same level as Bond (he’s virtually unkillable, he can commit superhuman feats), but he’s so far removed from his secret agent preparations that we can all relate to him. At the point of his first theatrical release, The Bourne Identity, he was the audiences’ brutal anti-Bond.

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The Bourne Identity is a perfectly classy thriller, put together by energetic and slick director Doug Liman, who had worked his way to the Hollywood mainstream though R-rated cult comedies Swingers and Go. This was Liman’s first big-budget, non-comedy release, and as such is a rather resounding success. I might even argue that the director hasn’t managed to develop beyond The Bourne Identity, as his follow-ups Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Jumper, were generally well made disappointments. Stylistically Identity recalls the best ‘90s action and political thrillers, most specifically it reminds me of Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive (a personal favourite), and Phillip Noyce’s Tom Clancy adaptations. After one film though, Liman would stay on the series as producer, but stepped aside as director, which would open up the floor for the improved direction of Paul Greengrass.

One of Identity’s greatest strengths, beyond its general realism (which was expanded upon for the sequels), is the love story between the amnesiac superhero and the put upon girl. Franka Potente’s Marie isn’t a naive and helpless damsel, but she’s also normal enough to buy the relationship. Realistically speaking, the psychologically stricken Jason Bourne would likely fall in love with the least CIA-ish girl in the world, and that relatable love gives the character a sturdy anchor. Interestingly enough, this love affair also affords the story a definitive ending, and Identity worked just fine as a standalone film. I initially assumed the first sequel, The Bourne Supremacy, was uncalled for, and that the story had run its natural course (as had author Robert Ludlum when he wrote the first book, apparently).

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The fact that Supremacy jettisons the love story so quickly initially looks like it’s going to be a problem, likely robbing the character of what made him special, and turning him into just another two-dimensional vengeance machine. The assumption was half correct—there is an oversimplification to Bourne’s mission in the second film. The plot is a vastly complicated labyrinth of spy movie gobbly-gook, of course, but the base of the story is quite slighted. I was also right to assume Potente would be missed (the trailers quickly gave away her character death, spoiler Nazis), but I was wrong considering the manner in which she’s missed. Her death is such an emotionally overwhelming moment that it colours the mood of the film, in a critically positive fashion.

The simplifying of the character leads to a more visceral film, and Greengrass, who at the time hadn’t any proof he could handle fisticuffs or car chases, helms the action with an abrasive style. Bourne is an efficient man, and when an efficient man wants to get something done, he does it… efficiently. Sometimes it seems that the camera itself can’t even keep up with Bourne, let alone film him, and the final film has been culled from the fleeting images camera operators were able to grab before Bourne knocked them unconscious. It’s abrasive, but effective, and very true to the character. Greengrass and DP Oliver Wood over-do the camera shake, and ‘70s style crash zoom a little bit, but the style is potent, and along with television cop shows like The Shield has changed the look of modern thrillers.

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Supremacy is the weaker film on most practical levels, but the visceral intensity is too hard for this viewer to ignore, and I find myself preferring the non-stop trouble to the more intellectual and quieted Identity. But surely, figuring out his real name, showing the old bosses who’s really boss, and avenging his girl was the end for Jason Bourne, and surely there was nothing new to do with the character. Apparently no, there was plenty left to do with the character, because The Bourn Ultimatum is the standout of the series. It features the same gritty action and complicated plotting that Greengrass utilized so effectively in Supremacy, and the same emotional ambiguity that made Liman’s film a better story. The character is allowed to move full circle, and Greengrass is allowed to get a better handle on his shaky-cam style.

Ultimatum is likely the most intense practice in visceral mainstream action since The French Connection. Other films have found unbearable emotional intensity that Ultimatum can’t touch (Greengrass’ own United 93 for example), but the film has an uncanny ability to push even jaded filmgoers to the edge of their seat. While Identity is a more traditional stand-off view of action, and Supremacy is a documentarian’s look, Ultimatum is as close to being placed in the action as a modern audience is likely to find. It’s hard to place importance on a single set piece because the whole of the film blends into a single, unflappable action sequence.

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Tonally Ultimatum is the perfect finally to a trilogy. The main character is more systematic, and more jaded with his situation. The third film brings Bourne the closest to his dark and villainous pre-series persona, but also brings him back around to the good hearted hero of the first film. The antagonists are twice as capable as they were the last go around, and their ‘villainous’ loyalties are even shakier. Seeing the hero assisted by his former enemies is a thrilling fashion to conclude any series (unless, of course, the filmmaker fails to set up the dynamic, as in Spider-Man 3). There is a relentless darkness to Ultimatum, but it ends as an almost cheesy audience pleaser, which would’ve felt out of place in the second film. In this case the uplift marks a perfect ending for one of the best third films in a series I’ve ever seen.

As Bourne, Matt Damon was thrown into a pretty thankless hero role. Bourne’s a badass, but he doesn’t get any tough-guy one liners, or many big emotional moments. The plots of all three films dictate a very matter of fact character that can’t stop for comedy or drama. Damon could’ve been a simply effective character, but he finds his moments, and plays Bourne as a fully fleshed human being in all three films. His supporting cast is incredibly capable throughout the series, including Potente as the moral center, and a revolving door of adversaries including a pre-star Clive Owen, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Karl Urbane, Joan Allen, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, and Albert Finney. Without this constant stream of pitch-perfect performance I think the Bourne movies would be a simple mass of style over substance.

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Video


The Bourne Identity is the least theatrical looking of the trilogy overall. Liman and his DP Oliver wood opt mostly for an overcast European look, leading to many grey backgrounds. The majority of the film follows suit, including a lot of colourless outfits (excepting Franka Potente, who is often visually represented as the shining light among the grayness), but there are some scenes that utilize more colourful lighting, leading to some nice warm tones. In all the disc is a bit dull, and some of the colours are a bit muddied. The transfer’s details are generally sharper than the DVD release, but not overtly impressive, and the problem of edge-enhancement in dark and light contrast is still an issue.

The Bourne Supremacy is a sizable visual improvement in high definition over the first film, due in no small part to director Paul Greengrass’ filming style. Most of the film is shot like a documentary, and often the lighting is all natural, but the saturation is cranked much higher than that in Liman’s film. There’s a slight greenish/yellowish tint to the entire film (which is a nice change-up from the all too common steal blue, which is still sometimes present), but most of the colours are still rich, natural, and relatively clean. Most of the exceptions to this rule pertain to night shots, and the opening car chase’s underwater climax, which is abstractly green. The high saturation leads to high contrast, which leads to some perfectly cut blacks. The whole of the print is pretty grainy, thanks likely to some kind of photography process I’m not smart enough to know about, but the grain is fine, and adds some effective texture to the proceedings.

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The Bourne Ultimatum sits somewhere between the other two films stylistically. Greengrass goes for a slightly more natural look in his colour pallet, but the high contrast is arguably pushed even further. Ultimatum has a bluish-aqua tinting overall, forgoing many of the punchier warm high lights found in Supremacy (even during the daylight Tangiers shots). The transfer is almost relentlessly realistic besides the cool tinting, and probably the one videophiles would chose to show off their new hi-def set. There is noticeably less grain from the previous outing, and excepting the super-stylized flashbacks, the look is sharp, the focus is broad, and the details are lifelike.

Audio


The Bourne Trilogy comes fitted with three aggressive and exciting DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, likely the ideal way to hear the adventures of a melancholy secret agent. Car chases are usually the biggest and best audio moments in the series, utilizing aggressive rhythmic music, a lot of directional effective, revving engines, and bone-crunching crashes to tell their violent little stories. Identity also features the more subtle countryside gun battle between Damon and Clive Owen. But the two sequels have obvious sound design advantages over Identity almost right off the bat. Greengrass’ films are brutal in their hyper-realistic soundscapes. Punches connect with more bass, tires squeal with more high end, and even simple actions will often take several channels to complete. Liman has mastered the play between silence and sound, Greengrass prefers consistent noise for his films.

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Supremacy and Ultimatum have more aggressive scores and soundtracks than Identity, and the music rarely lets up through either film. Composer John Powell worked on all three films, but seems to have geared the first film more towards Liman’s techno-sensibilities, which may have been left over from Go. The Greengrass films are a little more melancholy, and structured sort of like free-form jazz (especially Supremacy, which is a bit less single-minded than Ultimatum). They’re fantastic and emotionally grabbing scores, but you probably aren’t going to be humming any of the themes on the way home from the theatre.

Extras


Each disc's extras begin with a director’s commentary. Doug Liman isn’t doesn’t have the most pleasant speaking voice in the world, but his track is consistent and informative beyond many of my expectations. My favourite factoids include information about Liman’s former NSA father, and a rather lengthy discussion about which actor to give the PG-13’s only f-word to (Damon got it). Paul Greengrass is a very inclusive commentator, and I’m a big fan of his work, but there’s something about his tone that strikes me as placating, like a grandfather telling an unsolicited fairy tale. Greengrass’ actual fact count is pretty low, considering all the talking he does, but you’re likely to learn something amongst all the flowery language. The Ultimatum track is a vast improvement, and almost worth the time, but it’s still a bit tedious in tone.

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The ‘Bourne Orientation’ extra looks fantastic, continuing the film while showing clips and text in alternating corners, but serves little purpose for anyone actually paying attention to the screen. I couldn’t get the ‘Treadstone Files’ to work on my Profile 1.0 player, nor could I view the PiP options, which are apparently taken from the previously available behind the scenes footage. Ultimatum has a few more U-Control features, including the strangely ad-centric ‘Volkswagen Get More Info’ option, and the ‘Blackbrair Files’.

It appears that all the non-PiP extras are ported directly from the old special edition DVDs and HD-DVDs, so no surprises, but I’ll quickly run through them anyway. Identity (which has no hi-def extras outside of the U-Control options) begins with a three part look at writer Robert Ludlum, ‘The Ludlum Identity’, ‘The Ludlum Supremacy’, and ‘The Ludlum Ultimatum’ (clever titles, eh?). The experts run down the writer’s history, the character’s history, the novels’ history, and the early history of the adaptation with an eye for the intellectual. The featurettes, totalling about fifty minutes, includes older television interviews with Ludlum, new filmed interviews with his publishers and friends, images of the books, and scenes from the movies.

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Next up are a series of alternate scenes, deleted scenes, and extended scenes. The extended opening and ending feature an introduction from producer Frank Marshal, actor Brian Cox and scripter Tony Gilroy, who discuss how 9/11 lead them to change bits of the film. Ironically they didn’t use these bookends they struggled to create after the towers went down. The deleted scenes total four, with no introduction or commentary, and only really add a little character development to the film. The extended version of the farmhouse scene is a very minor extension.

‘The Birth of The Bourne Identity’ appears to be a made for television EPK, which gives some real behind the scenes information, but mostly just celebrates the film, and shows clips. It runs less than fifteen minutes. ‘The Bourne Mastermind’ is even more information about author Ludlum. In fact, it’s pretty much the same information about Ludlum. At five minutes, it’s entirely skippable. ‘Access Granted’ is a four minute interview with the film’s co-writer Tony Gilroy, who runs through the process of culling one hundred and twenty pages out of a five hundred-plus page book. ‘From Identity to Supremacy’ is a four minute look at the character developments of Bourne and Marie between films one and two. ‘The Bourne Diagnosis’ is a Cliff’s Notes look at Jason Bourne’s psychological issues. ‘Cloak and Dagger: Covert Ops’ is the Cliff’s Notes look at the real life CIA. ‘Inside a Fight Sequence’ sort of speaks for itself, and the whole thing comes to a close with a Moby music video.

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Bourne Supremacy continues first with a series of deleted scenes, presented in a rough-cut form. The scenes play as a reel with no chapter stops, mostly consist of small plot connections and character moments, and total about 11 minutes. They are followed by a series of behind the scenes featurettes, which are all presented in non-anamorphic standard definition.

‘Matching Identities’ concerns the cast of the second film, with special emphasis on Damon, Joan Allen, Brian Cox (who has a much larger role than he did in the first film), Julia Stiles, and Karl Urbane. It runs five and a half minutes. ‘Keeping it Real’ is a five minute exploration of Greengrass’ super-kinetic documentary film style. ‘Blowing Things Up’ speaks for itself if you’ve seen the film, as there’s only one explosion in the entire film. This is a four minute exploration of that sequence. ‘On the Move with Jason Bourne’ is another look at the various locations the crew visited, running five minutes. ‘Bourne to be Wild’ explores the behind the scenes process of films big fist-fight for four plus minutes. ‘Crash Cam’ runs through the film’s brutal car chase in six minutes, while ‘Anatomy of a Scene’ explores the specifics a little closer for an additional five minutes. ‘Go Mobile Revs Up the Action’ is some kind of elongated ad, I guess. Things wrap up with ‘Scoring with John Powell’ (04:46), ‘The Bourne Mastermind Part 2’ (04:42), and ‘The Bourne Diagnosis Part 2’ (05:40).

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Ultimatum also starts with a collection of deleted scenes, which are again presented as a solid reel, with no chapter stops, director commentary or introduction, and again they’re without hi-def or anamorphic enhancement. These scenes almost exclusively deal with the back-stories of the supporting characters, and/or mostly unexplored side-plots. The scenes total about twelve and a half minutes, and given the final film’s near perfect pacing, I think they all deserved to be excised.

Next up is an interactive feature, ‘Be Bourne Spy Training’, which is an audio/visual test of sorts. In it, the viewer is shown scenes from the film, then asked on-screen questions to see how closely they were paying attention. At three for five I, apparently, would make a shit spy.

The featurette collection (which this time is anamorphically enhanced, but isn’t HD) begins with ‘Man on the Move’, yet another look behind the scenes of the major geographical movements of Jason Bourne. The location shooting glances total about twenty four minutes (presented in five parts), and does not cover the New York leg of the shoot. ‘Rooftop Pursuit’ is a five and a half minute behind the scenes exploration of the film’s spectacular Tangier foot chase, which culminates in a stuntman jumping through a closed window, followed closely by another stuntman carrying a camera. ‘Planning the Punches’ looks at the film’s big fist-fight, which takes place directly after the rooftop chase. In five minutes we get a glance at the choreography, the practice, the props, and the filming. ‘Driving School’ is, unsurprisingly, a three plus minute look at the planning behind the film’s car chase, which includes a trip to stunt driving school, and some rough behind the scenes footage. ‘New York Chase’ then divulges some of the finer details of physically filming the car chase, giving due credit to the film’s second unit director Dan Bradley, which is pretty unusual for a behind the scenes featurette. It runs almost eleven minutes.

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Overall


Re-watching the Bourne Trilogy was a great exercise for me. I haven’t seen any of these films since their initial DVD releases, and I’d only seen them once a piece. There was quite a bit for me to pick up on a second viewing. I also wasn’t an initial fan of the initial film, or the sequel, but looking back I see that the third and strongest film doesn’t work without the other two. With all three films in the same place, this is a good time for non-fans like me to give these films a second chance. Also, you know, Blu-ray exclusive content, hi-def video, and DTS-MA sound. Those help.

The Bourne Identity: 7/10
The Bourne Supremacy: 7/10
The Bourne Ultimatum: 8/10

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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