THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (DVD)
Universal Home Entertainment, 2007
Reviewed by Sam Hatch
While I disagree that the gritty cinema adventures of rogue spy Jason Bourne have invalidated the need for the James Bond series, I do applaud them heartily for recalling the thought provoking nuances of the thrillers prevalent back in the 70s. Matt Damon's Bourne is an anti-Bond, a volatile cog that breaks free from the machine only to return to plague it repeatedly.
Some cynical folks (i.e. Bill O'Reilly) like to point out that we critics enjoy this film merely because of its supposed Anti-American bent. This is of course a bunch of nonsense, since as a nation of natural born rebels we just love seeing people sticking it to the man. The fact that 'the man' in this case happens to be the American government is beside the point. He uncovers and punishes American corruption, and is a brutal embodiment of patriotic righteousness.
While Bourne's life is highly unglamorous compared to that of 007, he nonetheless represents a character that we all wish we could be at times. He solves problems without blinking, and can assess threats and dangerous scenarios with an inhuman precision. His body is a sculpted, impregnable juggernaut, capable of delivering swift punishment to hand-to-hand combatants as well as surviving car wrecks that would cripple even the beefiest blokes among us.
Who doesn't love seeing this guy outthink the greatest minds in our government? Is there anything more delicious than Bourne calling a crooked CIA mastermind and informing the guy that he's currently snooping through the man's office? Bourne is the impossible badass we all want to be, and the sheer entertainment offered by his cat and mouse antics more than make up for the fact that these stories are essentially two-hour long chase scenes.
Indie filmmaker Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, United 93) lent a solid, documentary look to the second film in the series (The Bourne Supremacy), but in a summer of underwhelming threequels, nobody really expected him to knock out a third Bourne film that is arguably the best of the entire series. But he did deliver this pulse pounding, dizzyingly energetic film that grips you by the neck and never lets go. The added element of the story finally leading to a closure of sorts gives it that extra kick of vitality. This time Bourne's not just gonna stay one step ahead of his opponents, he's going to finally find out who the heck he is!
You can visit here for my official review of the film, but in a nutshell it continues immediately after a scene near the end of Supremacy. Bourne is wounded and must escape from Russia, and soon discovers that a British journalist is also digging into his murky history. Pamela Landy returns from the previous film, but now with more personal knowledge of Bourne's motivations she finds herself at odds with the arrogant CIA director Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) who is dead set on eliminating Bourne for good.
Bourne's ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) also returns to the fold, and together they utilize their inside information to counteract the agency's every move while orbiting closer to vital clues about Bourne's past. It also comes to light that the constitution-bending Treadstone Operation that was introduced in the first film has another dark branch entitled Blackbriar. Once again, bad men in suits will do anything to prevent the leak of this covert information to the public.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
The 2.40:1 film looks great on an anamorphically enhanced DVD, and all of the highly detailed cityscapes and computer-populated tactics rooms are rendered sharply and accurately. Aside from a few encounters in dark buildings, it's a pretty bright movie, yielding a number of striking images that pop from the screen. Director Greengrass' shaky camera style may leave some reeling during the tightly framed fight scenes, but on the smaller screen these are easier to follow. There are a number of different color palettes in use during the film, from the cold blues of New York to the warm amber overtones of Morocco, and the DVD faithfully replicates each intended look.
While it would have been nice to rock out to a DTS soundtrack, the included 5.1 Dolby Digital track works perfectly well. The action scenes retain the right element of punch, and elements such as exploding cars get your attention naturally without an overly bombastic mix. The copious amount of dialogue is rendered cleanly and easy to follow. One of the most important sonic elements is John Powell's score, which pulses and churns incessantly as it weaves a shroud of tension that sucks you in. The chugging string movements are a musical interpretation of the perpetual motion machine that is Jason Bourne, and their presence is represented well with good fidelity.
Such a taut, single-minded chase film only yields a certain amount of potential for bonus material, and as expected the extras on this single dual-layer DVD focus primarily on the locations and stunts. Recent interviews with Matt Damon painted the production as a work of chaos, falling together almost by accident as the crew made it all up as they went.
This take isn't represented at all in the bonus features, for what we see is an intricately constructed puzzle that is brought to life with skill and accuracy. It's hard to believe that such a highly focused structure could be pieced together haphazardly, though if that were the case it would have been interesting to learn how they managed to fashion cinema gold out of bedlam.
Regardless, what we get are a number of short videos that give one respect for the painstaking nature of filming an action movie. The five-part Man on the Move segment details the art of shooting a thriller in Berlin, Paris, London, Madrid and Tangier. You get plenty of input from Damon and Greengrass during this piece, and the total running time is nearly thirty minutes.
The Rooftop Pursuit featurette unsurprisingly details the complexity involved in shooting the lengthy foot chase across the Moroccan skyline. It gives a good insight into how dedicated Matt Damon is to making his character look good, and shows how to grip a wall of broken glass and run away unscathed!
Planning the Punches focuses on the brutal fist fight between Bourne and the enemy 'asset' Desh (Joey Ansah). Stunt legend Jeff Imada (click here for audio of my interview with Mr. Imada) choreographs the encounter, and we gain insight into the art of creating a 'conversation' out of violence. This piece gives you an understanding of the insane amount of preparation and practice necessary to pull off a convincing fight scene, and reminded me of how this kind of stuntwork is one of the oldest yet still most effective special effects.
Driving School contains footage of Damon training in the art of offensive driving with 2 nd unit director Dan Bradley. We get to see Damon pull off a number of sweet moves in a New York police car, after which Bradley proclaims that the actor's abilities rival that of professional stunt drivers. There's also a funny conversation in which Damon professes his love for action over acting, and yearns for a film in which all of the drama is unveiled during intense car chases.
We're then treated to some on-set footage of the numerous New York chase scenes, starting with the insane parking garage battle that culminates in a vehicle driving backwards off of the top level onto a sea of parked cars two stories below. It then moves on to detail the street-based chases that build up to an incredible crash scene on a K-Rail.
There are also roughly twelve minutes of deleted scenes, most of which give a bit more insight into the inner workings of the CIA. There are more interactions between Landy and Vosen, and there is a trial segment involving Scott Glenn's character giving testimony that the Treadstone operation is officially kaput.
The feature commentary from director Paul Greengrass isn't as informative on the art of filmmaking, since he is mainly interested in discussing the motivations and mysteries of the Jason Bourne character. He's essentially telling us the story of the movie as we're watching it, but he's entertaining enough to listen to. As expected, the biggest gaps in conversation are towards the end, but not enough to make you grab for the fast forward button.
- An HD-DVD/DVD combo version is also available.
Video viewed on 100” screen. Image generated by a 480p progressive standard definition DVD signal fed to a Sony HD LCD projector.
Sound was evaluated through a Rotel 5.1 Dolby Digital receiver feeding a speaker system comprising vintage Advent speakers and an SVS subwoofer.