H D - S E L E C T

A view on HD DVDs by Yunda Eddie Feng

 

Introduction: Hello, Beaver readers! I became a serious cineophile in 1994 when I saw Schindler's List on my birthday. I realized that movies weren't just for fun--they could be serious art, too (even mainstream popcorn flicks if they're made with skill). Although I have a BA in English, I went to grad school for an MA in Film Studies. There, I met my mentor Dr. Warren Buckland, who shares my interest in Steven Spielberg's artistry (Spielberg and art aren't mutually exclusive). I helped edit Dr. Buckland's book Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. I also contributed a chapter to Dr. Buckland's forthcoming anthology of essays about "complex storytelling" movies--movies that avoid classical linear storylines in favor of temporal disruptions, unreliable narrators, metatheatrical/"self-aware" references, etc.

Eddie's Home Theatre:
Sharp 30-inch LCD TV (1280x768 resolution)
Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD player
Oppo OPDV971H SD-DVD player
Pioneer 7.1 DD/DTS receiver
Harmon Kardon speakers (5.1)

(I'm using the HD-A2's optical audio connection to obtain DTS 5.1 downmixes.)

Yunda Eddie Feng

 

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The Bourne Identity HD-DVD

(Doug Liman, 2002)

 

Universal (USA)

2.35:1 1080p

119 minutes

Audio: DD Plus 5.1 English, DD Plus 5.1 French

Subtitles: Optional English SDH, French

Extras: “U Control: Picture in Picture”; “U Control: The Treadstone” Files; “The Ludlum Identity”; “The Ludlum Supremacy”; “The Ludlum Ultimatum”; audio commentary by Doug Liman; “The Birth of The Bourne Identity”; “The Bourne Mastermind: Robert Ludlum”; “Access Granted: An Interview With Screenwriter Tony Gilroy”; “From Identity to Supremacy: Jason and Marie”; “The Bourne Diagnosis”; “Cloak and Dagger: Covert Ops”; “The Speed of Sound”; “Inside a Fight Sequence”; alternate opening  and ending; deleted/extended scenes; Moby’s “Extreme Ways” music video; theatrical trailer; My Scenes

Released: 24 July 2007

HD-DVD case

20 chapters

During the summer of 2002, Good Will Hunting co-writers and co-stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck went head-to-head with rival spy movies.  There were fears that the events of 11 September 2001 would put a damper on violent action pics, so Hollywood carefully scrutinized how well The Bourne Identity and The Sum of All Fears would do at the box office.  Affleck seemed to have the upper hand since he had starred in movies that made more money than Damon’s, was appearing in an established franchise, had more media visibility than his childhood friend, and enjoyed a bigger opening weekend with The Sum of All Fears than Damon did with The Bourne Identity.  However, The Bourne Identity had longer legs than The Sum of All Fears, and Damonīs movie wound up grossing more than Affleckīs.

Iīm not using box-office success as a gauge of quality.  I feel that the two movies are about equally good.  However, they are very different creatures.  The Sum of All Fears was made in the classical Hollywood tradition, with slick production values, worldwide locations, and overwhelming logistics to depict a world going to war.  On the other hand, The Bourne Identity was directed by Doug Liman, a guy who made his name with quirky indie productions like Swingers and Go.  Bourne takes place in a couple of European locations, so it feels low-key and claustrophobic at times.  Thereīs an emphasis on character development despite the fast pacing of the narrative, and the audience gets the chance to feel as if it is getting to know Bourne and his companion, Marie (Franka Potente).

In the movie, Jason Bourne (Damon) is an amnesiac whoīs running from his CIA handlers after he botches an assassination.  In order to avoid being detected on airplanes or trains, Bourne solicits Marieīs help with an offer to pay her $10,000 if she drives him from Zurich, Switzerland to Paris, France.  Bourneīs old boss (Chris Cooper) dispatches several other assassins to eliminate Bourne, which leads to a car chase in the narrow streets of Paris, a brutal showdown between Damon and Clive Owen (he of those BMW mini-movies) in the French countryside, and a “fuck-off” confrontation between Bourne and CIA spymasters.

The casting adds an extra layer of “authenticity”.  Roles big and small are filled by cackling character actors and people who could carry their own movies.  In addition to Cooper and Owen as CIA guys, thereīs Brian Cox as Chris Cooperīs supervisor, and thereīs Julia Stiles in a grace-note of a part as a communications operative.  This approach to casting was continued with Cox and Stiles reappearing in the series and with Joan Allen joining the mix in The Bourne Supremacy.

I remember some reviewers saying that they would like the movie a lot more than they did had it been “about something”.  Okay, itīs true that The Bourne Identity is little more than an extended chase, but you know what?  Thatīs fine.  Itīs a superior example of how to make an extended chase, from the quiet acting and subtle writing to the crisp editing and aggressive cinematography.  In this case, itīs not what youīre saying but how you say it that counts.

Unlike the usual spy-movie extravaganzas that you see in multiplexes, The Bourne Identity strives for realism and achieves it to the best of its summer-tentpole abilities.  There arenīt a lot of complicated set pieces because--letīs face it--real spies try to avoid causing disasters while they go about their jobs. Spies evade rather than attract attention.  Also, unlike in a lot of unbelievable thrillers, the police actually show up when there are explosions in The Bourne Identity.  What really impresses me, though, is the fighting style that Jason Bourne uses to end fights quickly.  I dislike most action movies because fights go on for too long.  Good fighters donīt take forever to dispatch each other; because of their skill, good fighters dispatch each other quickly.  Only lousy fighters take ten, fifteen minutes to kill opponents.  In The Bourne Identity, the protagonist breaks several peopleīs bones without sweating, and he goes on the run immediately rather than stupidly standing around, basking in his skill.

The funny thing about Doug Liman infusing the movie with an indie sensibility is that The Bourne Identity is a more realistic spy thriller than stuff like the Bond movies.  In the real world, spies maintain low profiles while diffusing problems.  James Bond, on the other hand, struts around as if being a secret agent means being a celebrity and creating problems.  Because The Bourne Identity feels so real, it also feels very alive.  The movie plays like a human-interest drama as much as it plays like an action extravaganza.

The Bourne Identity is probably Universal’s best HD-DVD release to date with excellent video, audio, and extras complementing an excellent movie.

Video:

When I first saw the SD-DVD versions of The Bourne Identity, I wasn’t as good at noticing print defects as I am today.  Now, it’s apparent that print used for the SD-DVDs has small scratches and minor debris.  The HD-DVD image (2.35:1 1080p) still has some of these problems, though it is considerably cleaner, sharper, and more detailed than what you get with the SD-DVDs.  Colors are muted but remain natural.  This video transfer imparts a wonderful sense of depth of field.

 

Audio:

The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 English track is very well-designed.  During the gunfight between Matt Damon and Clive Owen, you can hear birds flying everywhere in your room because of excellent imaging--the birds donīt sound as if theyīre flying from your speakers because the mix places them between speakers.  The intense, throbbing music score by John Powell is well-presented, never drowning out dialogue nor becoming background muzak.  Although there aren’t a lot of “wow” moments since The Bourne Identity isn’t that kind of action movie, this is still a subtly immersive pleasure.

You can also watch the movie with a DD Plus 5.1 French dub.  Optional English SDH and French subtitles support the audio.

Extras:

The Bourne Identity has been released thrice on SD-DVD in Region 1.  With the exception of some text information and DVD-ROM links to a “Total Axess” website, this HD-DVD incorporates all of the extras from the three SD-DVD editions.

 

 

Exclusive to the HD-DVD:

The “U Control: Picture in Picture” offers video clips from time to time and is part video commentary/part documentary.  Members of the cast and crew discuss various aspects of the production, and you also get to see behind-the-scenes footage.  Some of the footage is recycled from previously-seen materials, but clips that weren’t used for other extras have also made their way to the public with the release of this HD-DVD.

“U Control: The Treadstone Files” gives you access to biographies of the characters and basic information about the locations.  While this feature certainly raises the level of interaction between a viewer and a movie, an HD-DVD player’s remote control is not exactly a fun toy.

You can bookmark your favorite moments with “My Scenes”.

From the Collector’s Edition (first DVD release):

Director Doug Liman contributed an audio commentary.  The Bourne Identity was Limanīs first big studio production, and various newspaper and magazine articles revealed that there was a lot of behind-the-scenes tension between Liman and studio executives.  However, Liman doesnīt really address that tension, and his commentary follows the “this is how we did that” custom of most audio commentators.  The commentary isnīt bad in and of itself, but knowing what happened during the production, itīs a bit frustrating that we arenīt given juicy tidbits.

“The Birth of The Bourne Identity” is one of those making-of promos that appeared on TV prior to the movieīs release.  Next up are some film clips--four deleted scenes and one extended scene.  Thereīs Mobyīs “Extreme Ways” music video.  Finally, there is the movieīs theatrical trailer.

From the Explosive Edition (second DVD release):

The HD-DVD includes the alternate opening and ending, though you can’t re-integrate them into the movie via branching the way that you can with the Explosive Edition SD-DVD.  A couple of people also explain why they shot the alternate beginning and ending.

“The Bourne Mastermind: Robert Ludlum” is a brief tribute to the author who wrote the “Bourne” and other spy novels.  “Access Granted: An Interview With Screenwriter Tony Gilroy” is self-explanatory, and “From Identity to Supremacy: Jason and Marie” offers interviews with Matt Damon and Franka Potente, who lamely try to link the two movies together.

“The Bourne Diagnosis” features a psychologist discussing whether or not Jason Bourneīs amnesia is possible.  “Cloak and Dagger: Covert Ops” examines some aspects of CIA work.  “The Speed of Sound” and “Inside a Fight Sequence” look at various production details; “The Speed of Sound” even includes an audio mixing demo.

From the The Bourne Files box set (third DVD release):

Universal is re-releasing the movie on SD-DVD to cash in on the theatrical release of The Bourne Ultimatum (Number 3 in the series).  The new The Bourne Files box set includes a third disc with three new featurettes--“The Ludlum Identity”, “The Ludlum Supremacy”, and “The Ludlum Ultimatum”.  These featurettes trace author Robert Ludlum’s career as well as his and his estate’s involvement in the making of this movie franchise.

--Miscellaneous--

An insert advertises other Universal HD-DVDs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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