Plot: What’s it about?
“The Bourne Identity” was a novel by Robert Ludlum, a failed actor, written some twenty five years ago. I vaguely remember the book sitting in the house, my parents had read it, I think. Imagine my surprise when they made a movie starring Matt Damon! I thought to myself – is that based on the novel? Well, loosely it is, though screenwriter Tony Gilroy wasn’t allowed to read the book, only draft the script based upon the outline given to him by Director Doug Liman. Ludlum was a notorious perfectionist, who would often research the locales he wrote about and just about everything about them; much like Tom Clancy is to technology. The real question was this: could a twenty five year old novel work as a movie long after the rest of us had forgotten about it? Evidently the answer was “Yes” as the movie racked up nearly $200 million worldwide and has produced a sequel “The Bourne Supremacy” (the second of the three Bourne books). When it comes to a choice between Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (the two can’t help but be compared), I’ll watch a Matt Damon movie any day of the week. Affleck has chosen the more commercial route and Damon’s movies have always been more to my liking (“Rounders” and “The Legend of Bagger Vance” in particular). So it was with much anticipation that I went into this movie somewhat blind.
Damon plays Jason Bourne, a CIA agent who awakes in the middle of the ocean without any real memory of who he is. He has what is referred to (in the featurettes) as “selective amnesia”, meaning that he doesn’t know who he is, but he retains the skills of his former self (language, combat, etc.). He is rescued by a fisherman with two bullet holes in his back, no less. He also has a capsule in his body that has a Swiss bank account number in it. Managing to find the bank, he sees that he has several identities and some money at his disposal. Paying a local gypsy (Franka Potente from “Run, Lola, Run” fame) to drive him to Paris, the chase is on. The CIA, led by Ted Conklin (Chris Cooper), is on his tail and as we see what skills Jason has, we like him more and more. Bourne is by no means a good guy, he’s a trained killer and it’s only because he’s the lesser of two evils that we tend to root for him. That and he’s played by Matt Damon. There’s the obligatory car chase scene, sex scene and many other more predictable scenes that we’ve become so accustomed to thanks to James Bond movies, we forget that there might actually be a plot somewhere.
“The Bourne Identity” has its greatest strength in the way it underplays itself. Movies pretend to be about something and then don’t deliver and then there’s some that don’t really profess to be about something and we walk away amply satisfied. Go figure. Damon’s expression rarely changes throughout the course of the film and though we’d like to see a character (a main one at that) smile, he’s dealing with memory loss. How many times did Leonard Shelby in “Memento” smile? Right. The movie combines the right elements of a spy movie, action movie and even a few elements of a love story to sustain viewers. As mentioned before, the movie was successful enough to spawn a sequel â€“ “The Bourne Supremacy” (no doubt the reason for this new DVD – more on that later), but time will tell if they’ll be able to create the trilogy. I found “The Bourne Identity” a rather good action movie that doesn’t really follow the blueprint for the rest out there. Fans of the genre or fans of Mr. Damon, will most certainly want to check this DVD out.
Video: How does it look?
“The Bourne Identity” is actually the second of the three movies to hit HD DVD, the first being “The Bourne Supremacy” and this release was no doubt timed for the release of the third film: “The Bourne Ultimatum”. All that aside, this original looks as good as the day I saw it in theaters five years ago. The 2.35:1 VC-1 HD transfer really shows off the beauty of some of the exotic locales used in the film. While the film was criticized for the hand held camera effect, I have to admit that it makes the movie unique. Detail level is amazing and though the film has a very polarized look and feel to it, this HD version makes it feel like you’re right there. While not a perfect transfer, this is certainly pretty darn close.
Audio: How does it sound?
While the “Extended” standard DVD of this movie lost the DTS soundtrack, we get a very nice-sounding Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track instead. I personally found this to be more robust than either of the previous 5.1 versions and it makes sense as we get a more uncompressed soundtrack. The dialogue is still very natural, with little or no distortion and there are plenty of times in which the surrounds kick in for some added extra ambiance. Bullets whiz by, tires squeal and just about everything under the moon has some sort of 5.1 sound associated with it. I was amazed by this track and it’s a testament to how much sound can actually add to a movie (good sound, that is).
Supplements: What are the extras?
The older “Extended Edition” was a hit and miss as it was missing several key features from the original DVD release. I’m happy to say that this HD DVD version has those features back where they belong. We get the audio commentary from director Doug Liman as well as the extended version of the film, the opening and alternate ending as well as all the features the previous DVD’s supplied us. What you get are some featurettes about the author “The Bourne Mastermind”. There’s a look at Covert Ops, which was actually fairly interesting, that tells of the CIA training and how realistic Damon’s character was portrayed. There’s a look at how the script emerged and how the fights were choreographed. Three more featurettes on Ludlum are also included “The Ludlum Identity”, “The Ludlum Supremacy” and “The Ludlum Ultimatum” each featuring some information from the three books and their translation to movies. Some deleted and extended scenes are also shown (not in HD). In a nutshell, this HD DVD gives you everything that the previous first two discs couldn’t. Yes, you lose the DTS track, but in my opinion the Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack sounds better anyway. I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that this HD DVD also contains Universal’s “U-Control” in which you can watch the movie with a picture-in-picture and find our more information about the movie as well as find out about “The Treadstone Files”, as you use a GPS satellite to help you find out anything and everything about some top secret material. For all fans of the movie, this is the version you want.