I have to hand it to Toshiba; they picked two fine films to package in HD DVD players as incentives. There was '300,' a new release actioner, full of machismo and enough blood to match the red case it came in, and a relatively older release, Doug Limon's adaptation of Robert Ludlum's novel 'The Bourne Identity.' Hardly what one would consider a system seller at first glance, the first film in the Bourne series has it all, from hand-to-hand action, gunfights, sex appeal for both male and female viewers, a fun car chase, explosions (remember, the format was "explodier"...), and a constant sense of paranoia that only the best spy thrillers could provide. What better price for such a film than free? Well, that format has been dead for some time, and 'The Bourne Identity' is considered one of the most common releases on the format, fetching a penny or two these days...literally.
The first film in what would become a trilogy, 'The Bourne Identity' is a superb opening act, one that sets into motion the events in each of the sequels (with light hints and teases at key phrases in each), while maintaining enjoyability on its own, as though the other films never existed. And to think, I didn't even sit down to the film until a year after its home video release because I wasn't convinced Matt Damon had it in him. I'd look at the cover, and all I could see was Will Hunting, abandoning his math books and chalk for a gun. I couldn't imagine the scrawnier of the Affleck/Damon duo giving anyone the beat down, and if he did, I could only picture him saying "how do you like them apples?" to his fallen foe, in what might pass for clever banter in a comic book, not film. This was, after all, the same guy who got the shit kicked out of him in 'Rounders,' and got shanked by his heterosexual lifemate in 'Dogma' in the years preceding his turn as 'Bourne'...not to mention the fact he made Zartan from 'G.I. Joe' look cool by comparison when he played a chameleon in 'The Talented Mr. Ripley,' a hard task, indeed.
The U.S. government has a loose end, an expensive liability that can make their house of cards fall in the blink of an eye. Jason Bourne (Damon) is his name. Left for dead after a failed assassination attempt, Bourne is discovered by a fishing vessel with two bullets in his back, a laser with a number and address in his hip, and a complete lack of any memory of who or what he is, other than his abilities to adapt and succeed at what he puts his mind to. As he follows the trail to the address, he discovers his name, his multi-national slush fund, and a gun. He soon also discovers that he's a wanted man, and the men who want him only want him dead. Enlisting the aid of a young woman in need of money (the beautiful Franka Potente, 'Run Lola Run'), Bourne travels through Europe, trying to put the pieces of his life together, all the while the stakes rise as his former fellow operatives take turns trying to take him out.
What makes the film work is the fact that we, the audience, are in the exact same boat as Bourne (unless we have read the book or watched the television adaptation that came out years ago), unaware of what is truly going on, the magnitude of events surrounding us. It's tense, as danger could be lurking around any corner, and any stranger could be the enemy, a killer of the exact same mold and training. At first, we have to wonder if there really is someone out to get Bourne, or if it is all just a misunderstanding, a bizarre coincidence, as we are given the dots to connect, just not the order to connect them in. Damon sells the part, and his career hasn't been the same since, as he's proven his leading man status time and time again since, even increasing his importance in the scope of the 'Ocean's Trilogy.'
While the protagonist is crucial to drawing an audience into a film of this nature, it's the villain(s) who decide how the film will be remembered, and what better trio of dastardly deed doers than the three "c"'s: (Chris) Cooper, (Brian) Cox, and Clive (Owen)? Cooper is powerful, commanding a rogue government faction, while Cox is biding his time (as he would be the lead baddie in the sequel). Owen? One of a few assassins with similar training and backdrops as Bourne, his sniper is cold, calculating, and thoroughly enjoyable for what little screen time he has; if anything, he works better in this small dose.
The car chase through Paris is fun, though hardly tense, and pales in comparison to what vehicular mayhem would ensue in the series. Where 'Identity' succeeds stronger than any of its sequels is the work put in by Potente. Her character, Marie, is vulnerable, believable; basically her role is much like our experience, as she is surrounded by the strange and scary happenings, with nothing but faith in a stranger who doesn't even know himself to pull her through.
A great mixture of muscle and plot, 'The Bourne Identity' may very well be the most balanced of the trilogy, not too talky, and not too action-packed that story becomes secondary. A star turning role for Damon, the sequels wouldn't have existed had it not been for the ride witnessed here, a two hour film that flies by so fast you wonder where the time went.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Bourne Identity' kicks off the first of Universal's new "flipper discs" (or dual sided discs, or DVD/Blu-ray Combo discs, or whatever you want to dub them), which are identical to the "combo format" which Universal was vested in in their days supporting HD DVD, with a high def version of the film on one side, and a standard def DVD on the other. There are two rings visible on the playable DVD side of the disc, which indicate which end to place up to get what format. While the combo format created some playback issues in the days of old, this first Blu-ray combo disc had zero playback issues when it was being utilized for this review. Considering the fact that Universal does not put product art on their discs, anyways, just a blue printing on a clear disc stating which title the disc is, the loss of said label isn't exactly end of the world stuff, as some would proclaim.
The Blu-ray side of 'The Bourne Identity' is spread out across a dual layer BD50 disc. The discs in the 'Ultimate Bourne Collection' box set are region free, so it is highly likely that this disc shares the worldwide playback status. Lastly, there is a foiled slipcover that houses the standard BD case that shares the artwork of the liner.
'The Bourne Identity' arrives on Blu-ray with a VC-1 1080p encode in the 2.35:1 window. This individual release mirrors the previous Blu-ray edition from the box set, with all the same strengths and weaknesses.
Detail is superb, in facial features, and in the surrounding areas, with a superb three dimensional quality that brings great focus and clarity to even the far off backgrounds. Edges are clean and natural, DNR doesn't seem to be present, and aliasing is hardly aggravating (though a moment or two were most certainly noticeable). There is nary a moment of softness to be found, while the grain level stays steady, and very minimal.
The downsides to this release aren't overwhelming, but they're there. Contrast wavers, and varies. Blacks crush, bringing minimal shadow detail, while whites are often overblown. Colors hardly pop, which may be intentional to the film's aesthetic (since I'm not Mr. Limon, I cannot accurately state fact of the matter on this one!), while skin tones can look utterly flushed from time to time. The print is fairly clean, though there is a speckle of dirt here and there, nothing all too major.
Most importantly, any flipper disc haters will have nothing to complain about, and there will be no controversy, or concerns over quality between the set and the stand alone releases...unless, of course, said detractors accidentally play the DVD side of the disc...
The audio for 'The Bourne Identity' is presented by way of a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is striking, stunning, stupendous, or any other positive adjective that begins with the letters "s" and "t."
From the very opening scene, with the fishing boat out at sea in a storm, surround use is fantastic, with a nice blend of dialogue, score, and atmosphere. Dialogue is almost always clear and prioritized, though it mostly stays in the front channels. The rears get plenty of activity without the emphasis on spreading out the spoken word, though, with great (though possibly under-used) movement effects, and ideal localization and directionality. Bass levels are perfectly appropriate, neither over or underwhelming. Gunfire presents a fantastic high pitched pop (save for the muffled blow of a few silenced shots in the film, but those don't count!), with accurate movement with every bullet. The car chase scene was a ride, literally, with the constant localization effects and passing by noises. My only complaints are minute, being that the film isn't a non-stop action ride, with some exposition and interactive moments between characters that seem less than vibrant (still, I don't expect bass rumbles or movement in sitting still dialogue...), and there are times where the score can become overbearing, muffling dialogue like it were being strangled with a pillow. That's not Jason Bourne's style, tisk tisk...
The review for the supplements (including high def exclusives) on 'The Bourne Identity' have been retooled from the HD DVD review, and from the Bourne Trilogy review, both by Peter Bracke.
Everyone has a different take on the Bourne films, with which title they feel is the best. My vote goes with the first, the one that got the trilogy started. 'The Bourne Identity' isn't as fast paced as the sequels, but its simple camera style (no shakiness!) helps tell the tale, with a story that set 'Supremacy' and 'Ultimatum' in motion. Simply put, if 'Identity' weren't as good as it is, the other two would not exist. This catalog release is the bee's knees, with good video, great audio, and a great pile of extras, even if they're in SD. Few companies can put out a catalog title like Universal can. This re-release comes with the highest of recommendations.