It won’t be long until Blu-ray officially takes over the home-video market, with prices of players dropping and sales of HD televisions beating out their ancestors. Much like DVD did to VHS or CD did to cassettes and records, the time is coming where people will want to exchange their collections. To ease the transition, Universal has put out the Bourne Trilogy on controversial “flipper discs,” with the DVD on one side and Blu-ray on the other. With the high risk of damage to this type of packaging, though, the question has to be asked: will the flipper discs grease the axels or is it time to just dive directly into the new medium? Jason Bourne is not much different than Batman. Both have incredible resources available to them that allow them to perform their duties, both possess a detective mindset and skills, both prefer incapacitation over killing, and both are constantly torn between two identities. Just as 2008’s The Dark Knight was the perfect exploration of the Batman character, the same can be said of Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum.
The third installment of the series finds Bourne (Matt Damon) getting closer and closer to discovering his true identity and the nature of his involvement with the CIA. Jumping off from where we were left at the end of the second film, the amnesiac former assassin discovers a London journalist named Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) who has been tipped off by a source about a covert CIA operation known as “Blackbriar” -- a program that, the source says, holds the secrets of Bourne's origins. With the new lead, Bourne launches yet another globe-trotting search for answers, trying to outsmart his new antagonist, CIA Deputy Director Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), until it finally brings him back to where it all began.
With no offence intended towards Doug Liman, the director of the first film in the trilogy who is credited as an executive producer for this film, it is truly Paul Greengrass’ direction that launches this film beyond its predecessors. Shot largely at ground level with a hand-held camera (constantly in motion, I might add), the way the film is shot adds an incredible kinetic energy not only to the action sequences but even to shots where people are merely looking at Bourne’s location on a computer. Thanks to this method, the sequence where an asset (code for assassin) is hunting Bourne is immediately filled with greater tension than if it had been shot with cranes or tracks. The same goes for car and foot chases (of which there are many), not to mention scenes with hand-to-hand combat.
Damon is as impressive as ever, continuing to prove himself as a better-than-the-average action hero, particularly after starting his career as Will Hunting. Unlike, for instance, Vin Diesel or Channing Tatum, Damon balances credible acting skills and talent with hard work and training that ensures Bourne's every move is believable. The character doesn’t have much emotional range (he doesn’t smile once in this film), but that only makes the performance more impressive, demonstrating that Bourne has complete control over his emotions, taking down adversaries with a sense of ataraxia and stoicism.
As with the previous films, Ultimatum also provides a beautiful look at the cities where Bourne’s global trek takes him. From Madrid to London, Tangiers to downtown Manhattan, there isn’t a single city that isn’t utilized well (on-location shooting helps). Sure, Bourne’s actions often result in parts of those cities getting blown up, but in those moments of peace the film legitimately sets up the location, rather than treating it as any other city.
With so many questions answered, it isn’t entirely clear where the series can go from here. Living in the moment, however, with Ultimatum as the completion of what is at least a trilogy, Greengrass has delivered a film that not only does justice to the incredible journey of the character, but also gives fans of the series an all-around thrilling action film with brains, something not often seen in Hollywood. It’s a great idea in theory: ease the transition into a new medium by packaging both together. Practicing it on the Bourne films is an even better idea, as the film’s visuals certainly lend themselves to high definition. I say "theory," however, because it doesn’t work.
Many of us have experienced so-called “flipper discs” in the past, generally with the widescreen version on one side and the full-screen version on the other, and, following that experience, many wished never to encounter it again. Needing extra care to protect both sides of the disc (it is a nightmare for those who store movies in binders), these wonders have a terrible track record, and confirmed it again with this release: the Blu-ray side failed to be recognized by my Playstation 3. Obviously, this may not be the case with every disc, but it was the case with mine.
As for special features, the disc contains 10 deleted scenes; featurettes about on-set location shooting (including Berlin -- where the Moscow scenes were filmed -- Paris, London, Madrid, and Tangier); filming breakdowns of the foot race between Bourne and the Tangier police and the car chase in New York; fight and driving training (Damon performed all of his own stunts); and feature commentary with director Paul Greengrass.
Overall, the package's bonus materials give a great inside look at the film. If only they had packaged it with two discs instead of one, the release could have been reviewed as a success.
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