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 Ultimatum HD/Combo-DVD

(Paul Greengrass, 2007)

 

Universal (USA)

Universal (USA)

2.40:1 1080p

116 minutes

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, DD+ 5.1 English, DD+ 5.1 French

 

Subtitles: Optional English SDH and French

 

Extras: audio commentary by Paul Greengrass; deleted scenes; Man on the Move: Jason Bourne; Rooftop Pursuit; Planning the Punches; Driving School; New York Chase; Picture-in-Picture; Blackbriar Files; Get More Info (Volkswagen Touareg); Be Bourne Spy Training; Internet connectivity

 

Released: 11 December 2007

HD DVD case

20 chapters

 

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.

 

Video:

This is a mostly dark 2.40:1 1080p 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.  The SD DVD picture quality is already very high, but the HD DVD’s sharpness, detail, and clarity are frequently breathtaking.  On HD DVD, Bourne 3 easily matches Harry Potter 5 as reference-quality video.

 

 

Audio:

The first two Bourne movies appeared on HD DVD without lossless audio, but Bourne 3 gets the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English upgrade in addition to the expected DD+ 5.1 English track.  The jittery 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 a DD+ 5.1 French dub.  Optional English SDH and French subtitles support the audio.

 

Extras:

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.

 

--HD DVD extras--

Universal has encoded three U Control interactive modes for this movie.

 

1) Picture-in-Picture is a collection of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.  It’s fascinating seeing simultaneously how a scene was shot versus how it was assembled for the finished product, though some of the material basically repeats what we see in the featurettes.

 

2) Blackbriar Files is a collection of graphics and text that provide additional information about the story, the characters, and the movie’s diegetic world.

 

3) “Get More Info”: Unfortunately, the HD DVD is being used to flog Volkswagen’s Touareg SUV.  On several Universal DVDs and HD DVDs released in 2007, there’ve been featurettes “presented by” Volkswagen.  I guess the hard sell logically had to extend to a U Control featurette all by itself, though mercifully, the Touareg icon appears only once during the movie (the NYC car chase).

 

“Be Bourne Spy Training” is a trivia game that you can play while watching clips from the movie.  This is a fairly difficult test.  Some of the questions refer to the previous two movies.  On my sole try, I got 12 out of 20 correct.  Curiously, the software told me that I am qualified to be a spy, though I’m sure real-world spies would not be given such a low entry barrier.  You can play the game without being connected to the Internet, but if you’re connected to Universal’s portal, then you can post your scores for the whole world to see.

 

When connected to the Internet, you can also see other online content, but for now, you just get news updates and previews.  Maybe you can buy the Touareg from the portal one day.

 

--Miscellaneous--

An insert booklet explains how to use the HD DVD’s interactive features, including the Internet-based extras.

 

The SD DVD side is identical to the SD DVD-only release (reviewed HERE).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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