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The Bourne Ultimatum (HD DVD)
Universal Studios Home Entertainment / 2007 / 112 Minutes / Rated PG-13
Street Date: December 11, 2007
List Price: $39.98
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Monday, December 10, 2007
Editor's Note: Some readers have reported playback issues with this disc on the Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on drive and other stand-alone HD DVD players.
To read Peter Bracke's HD DVD reviews of the two previous Jason Bourne adventures, click the links below:
Until 'The Bourne Identity' hit screens in 2000, the spy genre was in pretty sorry shape on the big screen. The James Bond franchise had long since become a parody of itself with an series of increasingly ridiculous installments, while Tom Cruise's 'Mission: Impossible' series had some cool moments but was still a hit-or-miss affair. It was really 'Identity' that ushered in a new era for the spy thriller -- one that was gritty, realistic and refreshingly free of gadgets and gimmicks.
The rare sequel to actually outgross its predecessor, 2003's 'The Bourne Supremacy' was so well-received that it created an unusual hunger for 'The Bourne Ultimatum,' which enjoyed an even better opening weekend. In terms of world-wide box office receipts, 'Ultimatum' now stands as the most successful of the 'Bourne' trilogy, which is rare cinematic feat indeed. This success is a testament not only to the series' highly-praised action sequences, but also the complexity of its story and the appeal of the Jason Bourne character. Bourne may not exactly be a new generation's James Bond, but he's certainly the closest modern cinema has seen to his heir apparent.
Viewers who are intimately familiar with the first two films in the series will likely get the most out of 'Ultimatum's convoluted narrative, but the film works well enough as a self-contained thrill ride even if you don't remember every single plot detail of the past two entries. As the movie begins, Bourne is inadvertantly drawn out of hiding by British investigative reporter Simon Ross (Paddy Considine), who has been trying to uncover the secrets of Project Treadstone, now upgraded to new operation called Blackbriar. During the meeting with Ross, Bourne's memories are triggered once again, and he renews his quest to solve the riddle of his mysterious background.
Of course, the CIA has been tracking his correspondence with Ross, and Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) is again back on the case. Only this time, she's got higher-ups (David Straithairn and Scott Glenn) breathing down her neck, and further complicating the government's pursuit is wayward operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who will eventually risk her life and career to help Bourne. While racing across four continents, Bourne will not only have to use every trick in the book to elude capture, but must somehow make his way back to the States and into the inner-most sanctums of the CIA itself if he is to finally uncover the secret of his identity.
As directed by Paul Greengrass (who also helmed 'Bourne Supremacy'), 'Ultimatum' may be the most impressive of the 'Bourne' films in terms of elevating cinematic integration of exposition and action into an art form. This is pure information overload, but because the execution of the suspense sequences is so intense, we are held in a constant state of rapt attention. Watching 'Ultimatum,' the audience literally becomes Jason Bourne, and like him, we are constantly on alert for fear of missing a crucial bit of information integral to our survival. Slyly, Greengrass uses camerawork and editing as co-conspirators in this gleefully shameless manipulation, and the film simply never stops for a second to let us catch our breath. 'Ultimatum' truly relies on the intelligence of its audience, demanding that we pay attention -- even if we're left wrung out and exhausted by the end of the ride.
Admittedly, as fast-paced and consistently engaging as 'Ultimatum' is, there is a certain sense of deja vu that permeates many of the scenarios and setpieces. Case in point is the car chase, which is certainly as adrenaline-fueled as those in the previous 'Bourne' films, but doesn't really offering anything we haven't seen before (it certainly isn't central to the main plot). Likewise, our emotional engagement with the Bourne character can't quite stack up to earlier entries. Although Damon is certainly up to the task, the absence of his great love Marie (Franka Potente, seen here only briefly in flashback) often leaves the character only with cold detachment. The film does try to expand upon the relationship between Bourne and Parsons to add some heat, but the dewey-eyed Stiles doesn't have the same fire as Potente, and though I enjoyed her scenes, there is a distinct feeling of efficiency triumphing over emotion throughout much of 'Ultimatum.'
Still, 'Ultimatum' is quite satisfying because unlike so many other series of its type, it doesn't cheat us of the closure to the story and the character arcs set up in the first two films. Bourne does finally decipher all the clues to his past, and his case with the CIA is closed shut. Of course, the filmmakers have still left themselves just enough wiggle room to bring Bourne back for a series of new adventures some day, but I can't say I blame them. Like the end of the 007 flicks always say, "James Bond will return..." -- so why not Jason Bourne? But regardless of whether there ever are any future 'Bourne' films or not, 'Ultimatum' is a perfectly fitting capper on a truly superlative cinematic trilogy.
If you're familiar with the first two installments in the Jason Bourne series, then you probably already know what to expect from the visual look of 'The Bourne Ultimatum.' Grainy, desaturated and with nary a static shot in film's entire 115-minute runtime, the intentionally rough sheen of 'Ultimatum' certainly doesn't help it in terms of delivering the kind of ultra-clean, super-slick look of the best high-def transfers, but as a representation of the source material this HD DVD is aces.
Universal presents 'The Bourne Ultimatum' in 1080p/VC-1 video, framed accurately at 2.40:1 widescreen. The source is grainy almost throughout, but it's otherwise clean with no blemishes, dirt or other defects. Contrast is appropriately on the hot side, but blacks hold firm and there is little severity to the "crush" on the low end of the scale, leaving shadow details surprisingly supple. Colors are almost uniformly desaturated, and most scenes skew towards blue or green, so don't expect rich orange fleshtones. Still, hues are quite stable and never bleed or fuzz-out, so I was generally impressed with the level of depth and detail, considering the source. Universal has also delivered a top-notch encode -- even with the intense level of fast motion throughout 'The Bourne Ultimatum,' the image never breaks up or suffers from compression artifacts.
As good as 'Bourne Ultimatum' looks, it sounds even better. This is a reference-quality Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit), and one that is equally powerful in terms of envelopment and impact.
'Ultimatum' is exciting because it understands the value of contrast -- Bourne's moments of quiet introspection are heightened by the loud bursts of action, and vice versa. Like its title character, the sound mix is constantly on the move -- even when the bullets aren't flying fast and furious, the techno-fueled score is always humming along, so there's never a dull moment. Realism and heft to the entire 360-degree soundfield is exceptional, with great clarity to discrete effects and seamless pans between channels. Subtle ambiance is better than I anticipated, with bleed of the score again excellent and the attention paid to fine sonic details fantastic. Director Paul Greengrass often makes clever use of subtle aural cues to inform us of Jason Bourne's state of mind (a ringing telephone, footsteps outside a door, etc.) and it's all rendered here with creativity and great care.
Lest anything think there is no bombast to 'Ultimatum,' think again. Dynamics are fantastic, from the subwoofer-shaking low bass (there is some serious rumble in nearly every one of the film's many action scenes) to the finely-attenuated higher end of the spectrum. Finally, unlike so many other action films, dialogue is actually important to 'Bourne Ultimatum,' and happily the mix is perfectly balanced. I never suffered any volume level problems (a real pet peeve of mine), so feel confident that if you crank this puppy up, you can safely put down your remote for the rest of the flick. A tremendous five-star audio experience.
'The Bourne Ultimatum' is Universal's biggest hit of 2007, so they've pulled no punches when it comes to producing a full-fledged special edition for the film's video release. Both the HD DVD and the standard-def DVD versions of the film come with a healthy assortment of extras that by themselves would be pretty satisfying, but add to that some great exclusives (see the "HD Extras" section below), and this HD DVD version easily lived up to my expectations.
- Audio Commentary - Director Paul Greengrass flies solo here, and as he's proven on his past tracks (particularly 'United 93') he is an articulate and comprehensive narrator. Although he gets a bit bogged down at the beginning of the track with the technical, he quickly opens up the discussion to talk at surprising length about the intricacies of the story, both in comparison to the original novels as well what needed to be restructured in order to make 'Ultimatum' work as a self-contained film. Greengrass also doesn't shy away from some of the controversies that surrounded the shoot, particularly the endless reshoots (which star Matt Damon complained about at length to the press) and working in multiple foreign locations. A great track.
- Featurette: "Man on the Move: Jason Bourne"(SD, 24 minutes) - This "on location" travelogue is an often breathless look at the fast-paced shoot, divided by location into five parts: Moscow, Paris, London, Madrid and Tangier. The mix of behind-the-scenes footage and on-set cast & crew interviews (with Greengrass, producer Frank Marshall, star Damon, as well as Joan Allen, Julia Stiles and Brian Cox) doesn't re-invent the wheel, but it's edited in such a deft and entertaining manner that it's superior to most EPKs.
- Additional Featurettes (SD, 22 minutes) - These three vignettes further pick apart the film's most exciting action sequences: "New York Chase" (11 minutes), "Planning the Punches" (5 minutes) and the "Rooftop Pursuit" (6 minutes). This is culled from the same
batch of making-of material as the main featurette but is again expertly edited, especially "Planning the Punches," which somehow manages to make the staging of a scene with a zillion cuts actually comprehensible.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 12 minutes) - This assemblage of scenes is comprised mostly of extensions, with the majority of new material adding to the scenes at the CIA, as well as a bit more with Damon's character's memories regarding his eventual metamorphosis into Jason Bourne. Though formatted for 16:9 screens, the scenes appear to be upconverts from standard-def.
Carrying on the tradition it set with the first two 'Bourne' titles on HD DVD, Universal has packed 'The Bourne Ultimatum' with an array of high-def exclusives. But this is by far the most cutting-edge of the bunch, with graphic- and web-based materials to go along with the traditional picture-in-picture commentary, all nicely wrapped up in the studio's "U-Control" interface.
- Picture-in-Picture - Easily matching the video commentaries on the first two 'Bourne' discs, this is another fine assemblage of cast & crew interviews (culled from the same materials as the featurettes), with even better behind-the-scenes footage. All three of the 'Bourne' PiP tracks work so well because the producers use the on-screen action as a counterpart to the making-of content. It's the perfect marriage of technology
with substance, and does what all good tracks should do -- it greatly enhances our understanding of the filmmaking process.
- Interactive Game: "Be Bourne Game"
- Activate the game as you watch the film itself, and as you progress through the narrative you'll be prompted to analyze pre-marked 30-second segments. Once the clip is done, you'll be tested on the visual and
narrative information you retain. This is kinda fun, although I got a bit tired after a few clips due to the repetition of the exercise. Note that you will receive a score at the end of the game, and you can go online (assuming your player is web-connected) and share your results with others.
- Blackbriar Files - This text- and graphic-based overlay delivers real-time statistics on the various gadgets and locations on display throughout the film's runtime. Everything from a cell phone to the CIA building has a digital dossie of info, although personally I found much of it too banal. I think if some sort of game-like function were integrated into something like this, it would make things a bit more interactive and just plain fun.
- "Get More Info" - This is certainly least interesting of the exclusives. Essentially paid advertising for the Volkswagen Toureag, this feature delivers various details on the
vehicle (horsepower, etc.), and you can go online (again if you're web-connected) to download even more info. Sorry, I'm just not "buying" this one.
- MyScenes - Universal's now-standard custom bookmarking function, allowing you to save your favorite chapters for playback even after you eject the disc. You can also go online and share them with
other registered users in the Universal HD DVD community.
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'The Bourne Ultimatum' easily holds its own against the first two entries in the Jason Bourne franchise -- no small accomplishment, considering 'The Bourne Identity' and 'The Bourne Supremacy' are two of the best spy thrillers since the era of vintage James Bond. This HD DVD is also a winner -- great video, audio and supplements (complete with high-def exclusives) make this a stellar package in every respect. If you are at all a fan of Jason Bourne, this one's a no-brainer.
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