In 1980, Robert Ludlum released a book called The Bourne Identity. I never heard of that book, but it proved to be popular enough to spawn two literary sequels: The Bourne Supremacy in 1986 and The Bourne Ultimatum in 1990 (not to mention five more written by Eric Van Lustbader). Not only that, the original novel was turned into a mini-series in 1988 with Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith. However, it was not until 2002 when the film arrived that I first became aware of the character Jason Bourne, this time played by Matt Damon, and the novel. I am glad I did.
Watching this first film in the trilogy for the first time in a long time reminds me of just how good this movie is. Before The Bourne Identity I never saw Matt Damon as an action star, but since then he seems like an ideal choice for the modern action star. What I believe made him so successful in the transition from the comedic/dramatic actor we've known to this point is the fact that he is a good actor. He is not the kind of guy who was all muscles and cast for his physical presence; he is above all an actor who is able to create a physical presence tat is convincing and imposing. The combination of a genuinely good actor and an action film led to this being a very entertaining and highly engrossing film.
The Doug Liman directed film is an amazing example of how you can disguise a fascinating character study beneath a veil of secret government agencies, international thrills, and high octane action. There really is a little something for everyone. If you want the action it's there; if you want conspiracy theories they're there; if you want a fascinating lead character — you guessed it, he's right there.
For those of you unfamiliar with the film (and seriously, where have you been?), it opens with a man floating in the Mediterranean Sea. He is dragged out of the icy waters by some fishermen. The man (Damon) awakens and has no memories of who he is or how he got there. On top of that, he has no explanation for the bullets lodged in his back. The small clues he is able to glean from the items found on his body lead him on an adventure that takes him across Europe and face to face with a series of government-sponsored assassins (including one played by Clive Owen).
The film is finely constructed, exquisitely paced, and superbly executed. The fights are invigorating, hard hitting, and do not pull any punches. Not only are the fisticuffs good, we also get car chases that do not rely on special effects. The chases here carry weight as we see really cars racing through narrow streets, crashing into each other, and otherwise careening about wildly.
On the other side of the action and the government conspiracies (led by Chris Cooper and Brian Cox) there is an interesting character. Matt Damon's Jason Bourne is the center of this movie. Set aside the action and the thrills and look at this figure. Much like the way he is found, he is alone, drifting, in danger of losing everything. He is a man in search of himself; he does not know who he is, how he can do what he can do, nor who is after him with such intensity. Watching him alternate between the confused man and the steely determined man of action is quite interesting and carries us through the series.
Without a doubt this is a very strong film and likely the best that Doug Liman has directed. It is exhilarating and delivers on all levels. Revisiting this has proven to be a revelation. I need to watch it a bit more often.
Audio/Video. This disk is a "flipper." It is a technology that Universal first used when they were supporting the HD-DVD format where they would put the HD-DVD on one side and DVD on the other. In this case the flip side is Blu-ray. It is intriguing technology although I am not sure it offers any advantages over two separate disks.
The DVD side looks pretty good. Now, it is no Blu-ray quality, but the film is solid. The colors do seem a bit muted but it works for the film. It is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. It looks just like the original DVD that I remember.
The Blu-ray side looks quite good. No, not the best I have seen, but the detail upgrade is distinctly noticeable over the DVD side. The muted colors are still there, only they look so much sharper here. Just watch, for example, the scene with Bourne walking to the bank — it's a simple scene, but look at the snow falling, it looks great! You can also check out the fight sequences, everything is crystal clear. The same can be said of the DTS-HD 5.1 sound, the dialogue is always clear, but watch everything spring to life during the car chase sequence. It sounded like the cars were right there beside me. Very nice.
Extras. The release has a wide array of bonus features.
These features on both sides of the disk:
- Commentary. The track is director Doug Liman on his own. He may have been by himself but he kept it interesting. There were not many lags and he offers a lot of information on the making of the film.
- Alternate Opening and Ending. This includes an introduction about why alternates were needed and how some of it was not needed.
- The Bourne Mastermind: Robert Ludlum. This featurette focuses on the late author of The Bourne Identity and his skill at crafting thrillers.
- Access Granted: An Interview with Screenwriter Tony Gilroy. This is interesting. Gilroy is a good writer and this helps show how he adapted the novel.
- From Identity to Supremacy: Jason and Marie. Interviews with Matt Damon and Franke Potente and how they approached their characters.
- The Bourne Diagnosis. This takes a look at Bourne's amnesia from the medical perspective.
- Cloak and Dagger: Covert Ops. Look inside what it is like to be a spy for the CIA.
- The Speed of Sound. The car chase sequence through the eyes of the sound department and how they went about creating all of the necessary sounds.
- Inside a Fight Sequence. Take a look at the choreography involved in creating the excellent fights.
- Moby: "Extreme Ways" Music Video.
Blu-ray side only:
- Robert Ludlum Featurettes. Three segments on the author, one for each of the three Bourne novels.
- Deleted Scenes. A selection of sequences cut from the film.
- BD-Live and U Control. A couple of standard tech items found on many disks.
Bottom line. If anything, my enjoyment of this film has only increased. It is smart and well made, something not often seen in a crowd-pleasing action movie. This also showed Matt Damon transition into a big time star. This is a very good presentation of the film and one surely worth adding to your collection.