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Blu-ray Review: The Bourne Ultimatum

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Robert Ludlum's Bourne trilogy has certainly been around the block a few times.  Ludlum's series of novels, published between 1980 and 1990, have all been adapted to film. Despite the success of the novels, many people associate the Bourne character with Universal's film franchise. Following the box office success of The Bourne Identity in 2002, the second film, The Bourne Supremacy, was released in 2004, and the third, The Bourne Ultimatum, was released in 2007. Although the films are titled after the books, the content is wholly different.

The first film, The Bourne Identity, was directed by Doug Liman and went on to be very successful. Despite Liman's hit, Paul Greengrass was tapped to handle The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. Greengrass's direction was decidedly grittier, with dark scenes, quick edits, and film grain aplenty. The results yielded a more visceral experience at times that stood out from the first in many ways. This wasn't necessarily better than what the first movie offered, but it certainly get the film a harsher, more dangerous tone. The results paid off in Supremacy, and Ultimatum carried the torch.

The Bourne franchise follows the exploits of amnesiac Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) who struggles with his past and is trying to fit the many bits and pieces together. In the first film he recovered some of his past and exacted revenge on the CIA group known as Treadstone. In the sequel a plot came about that had ties to his first job and wound up leaving him targeted by an offshoot of Treadstone called Blackbriar. Again more loose ends were tied up, but still his history remained largely a government secret. That didn't change the fact that the CIA wanted him dead and in Ultimatum we receive more of the same.

The interesting thing about Ultimatum is that it takes place during the timeline of Supremacy. At the beginning Bourne is on the run from Russian police after his car chase with Kirill (Karl Urban). It sets up some more flashbacks and eventually those memories send him on another quest for additional answers. It all leads back to a man named Daniels and a mysterious doctor who was involved in Bourne's induction as a Treadstone operative.

Standing between Bourne and Daniels is the director of Blackbriar at the CIA, Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn). Kramer catches wind that Bourne is still alive and looking into Treadstone files again, so the hit is put out on him. Once again Bourne travels the globe in search of his target and eventually he winds up in Madrid. He's not working alone this time, however, since Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) tags along as well. The two have to outthink and outfight an assassin and that trail leads all the way back to New York City to Kramer. Kramer wants Bourne dead and Bourne knows who and where Kramer is. I think you can figure out what happens next.

A few things stand out in Bourne Ultimatum and set it apart from the other entries in the franchise. For starters Bourne's memories and history become much clearer for the first time. The amnesia is beginning to wear off and there are many places and faces that trigger flashes of his past. The action is also much harsher this time around, as if that were even possible. One particular fight between Bourne and an assassin stands out as the best the franchise has seen. It's downright brutal and Greengrass's shaky, less-focused technique gives it quite an edge. In fact I'd say that's true about the rest of this film, even when compared to Supremacy.

Ultimatum is a fitting piece that ties the whole franchise together in a way that few other trilogies could hope to accomplish. The story is intriguing, the action is top notch, and the manner with which it ties events from Supremacy into the timeframe is a nice accomplishment. It should go without saying that if you enjoyed the other two films then this one is a must watch.

Now, if you have seen the film and are approaching this latest release, there are a few things you should know. First of all is that Universal's latest Blu-ray release marks the sixth time this film has hit store shelves. Two individual releases were on Standard Definition DVD, there was a trilogy repack, a release on HD-DVD, and last year a Blu-ray trilogy was released. So why release the films again one year later on the same format? Apparently there's a market for Blu-ray/DVD combo packs with high-def on one side and standard on the other.

Bourne Ultimatum's latest Blu-ray release receives a transfer that is identical to the trilogy release from last year. The film is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and comes with VC-1 encoding (the DVD features 480p resolution and similar aspect ratio). Like Identity and Supremacy, Ultimatum looks fantastic in high definition and the quality is very similar to what we saw with the HD-DVD release. In fact, I'd almost go as far to say that the transfer for this release looks better than what we saw in the previous films.

All around the picture is much cleaner than what we saw with Supremacy. Greengrass's style felt a little lighter on the grit this time around, though the fast-paced camera work and edits remain strongly employed. The film's black levels are rich and deep, the colors are vibrant, and all around the image has a nice sharp resolution to it. There's hardly anything to complain about aside from some momentary grain and extremely light artifacting in a couple of scenes.

As far as sound is concerned this latest release for Ultimatum presents the film with English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 as its main source of output. Options are also available for French and Spanish DTS 5.1 and English Dolby Digital 2.0. The DTS-HD track is simply incredible. Like we experienced in the other films, the sound here hits you from all directions with great force and intelligent uses for every channel. The film comes to life and sucks you in, emphasizing the bombastic score and powerful sound effects with great effect. On the DVD side of the disc the film comes with English, French, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are included for English, French, and Spanish as well.

Like the other Bourne Blu-ray titles, Ultimatum comes packed with a supply of bonus features. The content varies in terms of quality, and if you've seen the other films on Blu-ray, then you've probably seen similarly styled material.

For the Blu-ray exclusive content on this disc there are the U-Control "Picture in Picture," "Blackbriar Files,"  and "Bourne Orientation." These are similar to what we saw with the first two pictures and are basically additional views and information that become available while watching the film. There's also the BD-Love strategy card game, but that's merely a distraction.

As far as meaty supplemental content on Ultimatum there's an audio commentary by Paul Greengrass that once again proves to be insightful and interesting to listen to. There's also an examination of the "New York Chase" (10:46) scene in which Bourne tries to escape the CIA; "Driving School" (3:23) features Damon practicing his stunt driving skills; "Planning the Punches" (4:59) has Joey Anseh (Desh) showing off his capoeira moves; and "Rooftop Pursuit" (5:39) offers a behind the scenes look at the filming of this dynamic chase scene.

Aside from these bonus features there's also a collection of deleted scenes and two additional features: "Be Bourne Spy Training" and "Man on the Move: Jason Bourne" (23:58). The first takes clips from the film and tests your receptiveness, awareness, and retention by quizzing you about things afterwards. The second is another on the go kind of feature that looks at the filming that took place throughout multiple countries.

The Bourne Ultimatum is a non-stop ride from start to finish that does tremendous justice to the franchise. The film is fast-paced, the direction is tight, and the action all around is very hard-hitting. The movie is highly recommended and serves as a fitting closing piece for the trilogy. As far as this Blu-ray/DVD is concerned, the A/V quality is fantastic and the bonus features are quite good. If you didn't pick up the trilogy the first time around then this latest release from Universal is about as good as it gets.

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