The Bourne Identity [Blu-ray]

If you read a lot of online technology stuff (which I don’t) then you are probably aware that Universal Studios' Blu-ray release of the Jason Bourne trilogy -- The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatium -- are resulting in anger and hand-wringing about their "Flipper" disc format. The package contains one disc that has the Blu-ray version on one side and the DVD version on the other. How does that work out? Not bad….for now. It’s probably going overboard to say that The Bourne Identity changed the action-thriller genre forever, but not by much. The James Bond and Mission: Impossible franchises, along with many lesser clones, have adopted much of the gritty, hand-held feel of spy work subsequent to the big-screen arrival of Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). The film is only very loosely based on the Robert Ludlum book of the same name. Damon’s Bourne has lost his memory but is found with bullet holes in his back and a Swiss bank account number embedded in his hip. I’d love to have a Swiss bank account number injected into my person, but he’s sorta bummed that he can’t remember anything. He also has the ability to kick some serious ass, as both her and the police soon discover. Bourne learns a little more about himself with the help of Marie Kreutz (Franka Portente) a woman he pays $20,000 to drive him to France and another $5,000 to make out with him in the bathroom of their hotel. Actually, she does the second thing for free. As is always the case in these political thrillers, the CIA, in the form of Conklin (Chris Cooper) and Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), want Bourne caught or killed. Unfortunately, he’s learned everything they taught him too well (surprise!) and they can’t seem to get a hold of him in order to shoot him in the back of the head, or whatever they do to make people disappear.

Director Doug Liman of Swingers and Go! did his best to make this a “thinking man’s” thriller, but the action scenes are just too awesome not to be the best thing about the movie. Yeah, it’s cool when Damon stops and thinks and acts all calm and rational as people are trying to kill him, but it’s cooler when he fights a guy sent to kill him armed only with a pen. It’s cool when Damon gets frustrated that he can’t remember anything or frustrated when he learns that he’s not such a great person after all, but cooler when he gets into a tiny car in Paris and drives down stairs and onto sidewalks to evade the cops.

Of course, the fact the movie doesn’t lean too heavily on either the thinking or the action gives it a boost over most of the genre pictures out there. Liman acknowledges in the commentary that his political beliefs are on display in terms of reaction to the Treadstone Project that Conklin runs. Again, though, it’s not such a huge factor that it can’t be ignored if you’d rather focus on the human element and action rather than the politics.

You can’t say The Bourne Identity changed everything, but it did change a couple of things. Almost a decade later, it’s still an entertaining ride with good performances by Damon, Potente, and Cooper. There has been some rumbling online about how Universal is releasing the Bourne series on Blu-ray via “Flipper” discs. The package includes a single disc with the Blu-ray version of the film on one side and the DVD on the other. The complaints seem to break down into two main complaints: 1)There is no art on the disc itself, and 2) There will be technical problems galore.

The first issue is somewhat easy to deal with. I don’t care about graphics on the disc itself. If you do, then they aren’t on this disc. It’s as simple as that. I can’t imagine anyone who already liked a movie would not get the DVD because there was no disc art, but I can’t imagine why anyone thinks Michael Bay makes good movies, and lots of people do think that, so there you go. If this is a line in the sand for you, you’re screwed.

The second issue is a little more thorny. Apparently, Universal tried this “Flipper” idea before with the HD-DVD format and there were tons of technical problems from the get go. At least, that’s the sense you get reading a few message boards, and they are always right, right? I can’t look into the future and tell if these discs will wear out faster or be more prone to glitches, but I can say that the disc I received did not have any technical problems. The picture and sound are great and what you’d expect from a major studio Blu-ray release. Is it worse than what would have been offered if they’d provided the DVD version on another disc? Who knows. But the version they did provide is strong, and your basic non-technophile fan will be satisfied.

This isn’t to say that it really makes any sense that the versions are on one disc. I mean, is it a cost issue, an environmental issue, a “let’s see if we can” issue? It would be better to have the versions on two discs, but at this point, there doesn’t seem to be a technical downside to one disc. The future and regular wear and tear might change that, though.

Ok, were five paragraphs into the disc review and we haven’t talked about what’s actually on the disc yet. Most of the Blu-ray material is also available on the DVD side, but not everything. The Blu-ray only sports a “U-Control” feature that provides three options. The first, “Picture in Picture,” continues the movie while the actors and others pop up to talk about their characters or the scene or whatever. Sometimes it’s relevant and interesting and other times it’s very general. The second option is “Treadstone Files,” which puts some info about Bourne on the screen as the movie plays. The final is “Bourne Orientation,” which continues the movie in a side screen while the other screens and text gives extra information about the scene being shown, helping to tie it to other parts of the movie or other movies in the series. Mostly, all three options are just showing off and provide little to the experience, especially when compared to the far superior director’s commentary.

Director Doug Liman recorded an excellent commentary track, and it’s a shame he can’t direct every movie and do all the commentaries. Instead of kissing ass or justifying everything he did, he explains where the scenes were shot, how they were shot, and why they were done that way. He also admits his political views influenced the script, compares Bourne to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (something you probably never thought of), and generally sounds pretty honest about what he likes and doesn’t like about the movie.

The rest of the extras are extensive, and while they are a bit repetitive, they make the package well worth having for a fan. The Blu-ray boasts four biographies about Robert Ludlum. Three of them are a series, each lasting about 15 minutes, and featuring archival interviews with the author (he died in 2001). The fourth is a five-minute version of the other three segments. It’s unclear why the fourth one exists, but it is the only Ludlum extra on the DVD, so maybe it was made for DVD release and then for the Blu-ray they went back and expanded on the material. The five-minute version is useless, but the longer segments are very interesting.

Both the DVD and the Blu-ray contain the same deleted scenes, along with an alternate opening and ending. The deleted scenes lack any sort of interesting hook, and the alternate opening and ending are really terrible. More interesting is producer Frank Marshall and writer Tony Gilroy explaining why they shot the alternate versions after 9/11. It’s also interesting that director Doug Liman isn’t interviewed, and it appears he wasn’t involved in the shoot. The alternate ending makes the whole movie a flashback in a pathetic attempt to make it relevant after 9/11. Fortunately, they realized that people still responded to a good movie and dumped this lame idea. The Blu-ray also includes a slightly extended version of the Farmhouse scene, which isn’t included on the DVD side.

More in the “making-of” vein is the 15-minute “The Birth of The Bourne Identity” (Blu-ray only) and the four-minute featurettes “Inside a Fight Sequence” and “Access Granted: An Interview with Screenwriter Tony Gilroy.” None of these come close to touching Liman’s commentary for insight, and the “The Birth” is pretty standard stuff, but the fight sequence is cool and Gilroy does provide some nuggets of inside info.

The rest of the extras are a grab bag that include a Moby music video and somewhat silly and uninformative segments on amnesia and the workings of the CIA. There is also something called “From Identity to Supremacy” that was clearly made to put on an earlier DVD release to help hype the sequel, The Bourne Supremacy.

This is a good release that is somewhat clouded by the “Flipper” disc issue. If the disc I have continues to operate and look the way it does, I can’t say that I have any issue with the “Flipper.” That said, if it starts to break down or I notice additional technical problems, then I’ll probably be calling on Universal to dump this idea.