directed by Paul Greengrass
USA 2007

 

The idea that the Summer of 2007 was driven by “Three-quels” is deader than a dead horse by now. It used to be that sequels grossed only between 60% and 80% of their predecessors’ box-office takes, but consumer culture has reached a point where sequels mint more or less as much money as the first in a series. The pressure to churn out a sequel to dock in a coveted release slot clearly took its artistic toll on all of the Three-quels. Lukewarm to very negative reviews greeted Spider-man 3, Shrek the Third, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Ocean’s Thirteen, and Rush Hour 3. (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Live Free or Die Hard generally fared well with critics. Harry Potter 5 had the luxury of falling back on a literary source, and Die Hard 4.0 did the retro.)

The lone Three-quel to garner across-the-board favorable notices and to outgross both of its predecessors was The Bourne Ultimatum. A sense of exhaustion was palpable as people left theatres after watching the other Three-quels, but Bourne 3 had viewers asking for another go-around. Is Bourne 3 really an excellent movie, or were cinemagoers simply happy to see a movie with some semblance of intelligence?

Beaver readers know that I’m a big fan of director Paul Greengrass. I feel that Bloody Sunday, The Bourne Supremacy, and United 93 indicate that Greengrass is possibly the future of Western cinema. Yet, as much as I love the Jason Bourne character, I am first in line to point out Bourne 3’s flaws. I am not nitpicking about the hyper camerawork and editing. Rather, the third effort clearly shows that the filmmakers ran out of time and resorted to repeating old tricks instead of generating fresh innovations as The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy did.

In Entertainment Weekly’s feature article about the third movie, lead Matt Damon revealed that the script wasn’t ready when the production began. New pages arrived on the set every day, and frequently, much of what was shot was completely discarded as shooting continued. With a budget north of $175 million, Bourne 3 cost much more than its predecessors. The filmmakers had to come up with some semblance of a coherent plot to finish the movie for August 2007. Obviously, they looked to the previous two movies for salvation.

For starters, let’s look at the Waterloo station sequence. Many reviewers and audiences buzzed about the tension and choreography, but it is merely an expanded version of the Alexanderplatz sequence in Bourne 2. In both movies, Bourne guides another person by phone to elude government agents, and there’re a lot of bodies shuffling on and off a bus. This was a new Jason Bourne skill in the second movie, but it’s old hat in the third.

The car chase in New York City is also old hat. The car chase in Bourne 1 made clever use of Parisian geography, and the car chase in Bourne 2 was edited and scored to create a genuine sense of desperation. The car chase in Bourne 3 is frequently a scenario-for-scenario re-tread of the car chase in Bourne 2. Both chases end with a car perpendicular to another, pushing the horizontal vehicle into a concrete pillar. Both chases end with Bourne bracing himself right before the crash, with Bourne staggering out of his car while pointing a gun at his enemy, and with Bourne regarding his injured nemesis before walking away. The car chase in Bourne 2 revealed something about the protagonist’s mind set. The car chase in Bourne 3 indicated that the moviemakers were too frazzled to find another way to end a car chase.

Disappointingly, Bourne 3 is a return to conventional classical storytelling. Most mainstream movies have dual plots (an A Story and a B Story), frequently with the secondary plot focused on two characters falling in love. In action movies, this results in the male hero dragging around the female love interest, rescuing her, or being hampered by her when she’s used against him. Bourne 1 dealt with this problem by giving Marie enough sense to stay low and out of sight while Bourne was fighting (see the showdown with Clive Owen’s character). Bourne 2 threw out this convention by killing off the female love interest, so instead of an oft-used secondary plot, we saw Bourne trying to make amends for some of his past actions. Bourne 3 hamfistedly shoves a love story into the series again by insinuating that Bourne and Nicky Parsons had a romantic relationship prior to the events in Bourne 1. The movie ends with cuts between Bourne floating in a river and Nicky with a goofy grin on her face. The goofy grin is out of step with the grim atmosphere of the third movie.

At this point, it sounds like I’m being hard on Bourne 3. Actually, I’m not; my assessment is that the movie still succeeds despite its severe handicaps. I won’t gloss over its weaknesses despite my appreciation of its other elements.

Not all links to the previous movies are faults. For example, near the end of the movie, Bourne uses a Brazilian passport to enter the United States. On the intercom at an airport, Pamela Landy’s message for Bourne is, “Gilberto de Piento, Gilberto de Piento, your party is waiting for you.” “Gilberto de Piento” is the name that appears on a Brazilian passport shown briefly when Bourne is rummaging through his safe deposit box in Bourne 1. The umbrella operation run by the villains is called Operation Blackbriar; the word “Blackbriar” is used by Ward Abbot in a Senate hearing towards the end of Bourne 1. Towards the end of Bourne 3, Bourne says to a fellow spy, “Look at what they make you give,” echoing Clive Owen in the first outing. Visually, the trilogy turns full circle as the first shot of Bourne in Bourne 1 and the last shot of Bourne in Bourne 3 are shots of him floating in the water. These links are connective tissues that help create a sense of cohesion amongst the three movies. In this regard, the Bourne trilogy creates a complete universe as opposed to the James Bond and Mission: Impossible franchises, which are comprised of unrelated incidents. A viewer is rewarded for paying attention to detail and for following the journey.

The movie’s wit is evident after a fight in Madrid. Spies are on their way to capture Bourne, and to create a diversion, Bourne calls the Spanish police, saying, “I hear gunfire. I think they’re Americans.” He then fires a few rounds from his gun.

At the end of the day, Bourne 3 is an action movie, and its greatest contribution to cinema is...yes, an action sequence. Bourne 1’s action showcase is arguably the American embassy sequence (where we see Bourne’s smarts when he rips a fire escape map off the wall to plan his escape). Bourne 2’s action showcase is the Moscow car chase. Bourne 3’s action showcase is the Tangier motorcycle-to-foot chase. After the awkward hint about Bourne and Nicky’s past, the chase partially redeems Nicky’s presence by having her demonstrate her resourcefulness. As the Arab agent pursues her, Nicky dismantles her mobile phone to leave a trail for Bourne to follow. As Bourne runs across rooftops, he grabs laundry off of clotheslines to protect his hands as he clambers over ledges with embedded glass shards. The propulsive momentum culminates in a bravura camera shot where a cameraman literally leapt off of a building right behind a stunt man who crashes through a window into a cramped apartment. The ensuing fistfight conjures the same level of desperation as the Moscow car chase.

I am ready for another Bourne if Greengrass and Damon re-up. However, I hope that they head into production with a completed script that offers a fresh look at the character. I really don’t want to see Bourne bracing himself right before a car crashes into a concrete pillar again.

Yunda Eddie Feng

Posters

Theatrical Release: 3 August 2007

Reviews    More Reviews  DVD Reviews

DVD Review: Universal - Region 1 - NTSC

Big thanks to Yunda Eddie Feng for the Review!

DVD Box Cover

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Distribution

Universal

Region 1 - NTSC

Runtime 1:55:08
Video

2.40:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 6.46 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio DD 5.1 English, DD 5.1 Spanish, DD 5.1 French
Subtitles Optional English SDH, Spanish, French
Features Release Information:
Studio: Universal

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 2.40:1

Edition Details:
• audio commentary by Paul Greengrass
• deleted scenes
• Man on the Move: Jason Bourne
• Rooftop Pursuite
• Planning Punches
• Driving School
• New York Chase
• previews for other movies and videogames

DVD Release Date: 11 December 2007
keepcase

Chapters 20

 

Comments:

Video:
This is a mostly dark 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen image, and grain is clearly prevalent. However, the grain is not intrusive and is simply a part of the structure of the photochemical process. The grain never looks like noise, unlike the grain in Ocean’s Thirteen. For standard definition, this is a very sharp transfer that is essentially free of any source print damage.

Audio:
The jittery DD 5.1 English sound mix complements the visual style quite well. The sound engineers used fluttery stereo effects to create a sense of imbalance, so all of the channels are highly active. Despite my reservations about the car chase, you can use it as demo audio material. The subwoofer is used primarily for atmospheric and music effects, though it gives the plentiful gunshots adequate punch.

You can also watch the movie with DD 5.1 Spanish and DD 5.1 French dubs. Optional English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles support the audio.

Extras:
Upon loading, the disc plays trailers for other movies and videogames.

Paul Greengrass contributed an audio commentary to this DVD release. While he does discuss the technical aspects of shooting, most of his comments are anecdotal observations about the movie’s themes and personal responses to the film as if he were a third-party viewer.

Next up is a collection of deleted scenes running a little more than twelve minutes.

“Man on the Move: Jason Bourne” is a five-part overview of production logistics in Europe and North Africa.

“Rooftop Pursuit” and “Planning the Punches” focus on the long chase in Tangier.

“Driving School” and “New York Chase” take viewers inside the cars that were used for the car chase.

 - Yunda Eddie Feng

 



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