Universal released a DVD of 2002's "The Bourne Identity" during the spring that followed the movie's summer theatrical run. It is now releasing an Explosive Extended Edition as a promotional tie-in with 2004's "The Bourne Supremacy". This is a phenomena that has gotten out of hand, with Sony (Columbia Tri-Star) and Universal flooding the market with haphazardly-assembled and incomplete special editions. Sometimes, in order to get all the important extras, you have to buy more than one copy of a movie. (For example, the SuperBit edition of "Spider-Man" is the only DVD with star Tobey Maguire's audio commentary--which really goes against the SuperBit philosophy of not devoting space to extras in order to maximize Video/Audio presentation.) Frankly, I'm pissed. I'd much rather that studios release bare-bones discs and then carefully-considered deluxe editions rather than offering two special editions that both feel gimpy in some way because they're missing one thing or another. Ugh.
During the summer of 2002, "Good Will Hunting" co-writers and co-stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck went head-to-head with rival spy movies. There were fears that the events of 11 September 2001 (the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.) would put a damper on violent action pics, so Hollywood carefully scrutinized how well "The Bourne Identity" and "The Sum of All Fears" would do at the box office. Affleck seemed to have the upper hand since he had starred in movies that made more money than Damon's, was appearing in an established franchise, had more media visibility than his childhood friend, and enjoyed a bigger opening weekend with "The Sum of All Fears" than Damon did with "The Bourne Identity". However, "The Bourne Identity" had longer legs than "The Sum of All Fears", and Damon's movie wound up grossing more than Affleck's.
I'm not using box-office success as a gauge of quality, however. I rated "The Sum of All Fears" an "8", and I'm rating "The Bourne Identity" an "8", too. However, the two movies are very different creatures. "The Sum of All Fears" was made in the Hollywood tradition, with slick production values, worldwide locations, and overwhelming logistics to depict a world going to war. On the other hand, "The Bourne Identity" was directed by a guy (Doug Liman) who made his name making quirky indie productions like "Swingers" and "Go". "Bourne" takes place in a couple of European locations, so it feels low-key and claustrophobic at times. There's an emphasis on character development despite the fast pacing of the narrative, so the audience gets the chance to feel as if it is getting to know Bourne and his companion, Marie (Franka Potente of "Run Lola Run" fame).
In the movie, Jason Bourne (Damon) is an amnesiac who's running from his CIA handlers after he botches an assassination. In order to avoid being detected on airplanes or trains, Bourne solicits Marie's help with an offer to pay her $10,000 if she drives him from Zurich, Switzerland to Paris, France. Bourne's old boss (Chris Cooper) dispatches several other assassins to eliminate Bourne, which leads to a car chase in the narrow streets of Paris, a brutal showdown between Damon and Clive Owen (he of those BMW mini-movies) in the French countryside, and a "fuck-off" confrontation between Bourne and CIA spymasters.
The casting adds an extra layer of "authenticity". Roles big and small are filled by cackling character actors and people who could carry their own movies. In addition to Cooper and Owen as CIA guys, there's Brian Cox ("Manhunter", "Troy") as Chris Cooper's supervisor, and there's Julia Stiles in a grace-note of a part as a communications operative. This approach to casting seems to be continued with Cox and Stiles reappearing in the series and with Joan Allen ("The Ice Storm", "Face/Off") joining the mix in "The Bourne Supremacy".
I remember some reviewers saying that they would like the movie a lot more than they did had it been "about something". Okay, it's true that "The Bourne Identity" is little more than an extended chase, but you know what? That's fine. It's a superior example of how to make an extended chase, from the quiet acting and subtle writing to the crisp editing and aggressive cinematography. In this case, it's not what you're saying but how you say it that counts.
Unlike the usual spy-movie extravaganzas that you see in multiplexes, "The Bourne Identity" strives for realism and achieves it to the best of its summer-tentpole abilities. There aren't a lot of complicated set pieces because--let's face it--real spies try to avoid causing disasters while they go about their jobs. Spies evade rather than attract attention. Also, unlike in a lot of unbelievable thrillers, the police actually show up when there are explosions in "The Bourne Identity". What really impresses me, though, is the fighting style that Jason Bourne uses to end fights quickly. I dislike most action movies because fights go on for too long. Good fighters don't take forever to dispatch each other; because of their skill, good fighters dispatch each other quickly. Only lousy fighters take ten, fifteen minutes to kill opponents. In "The Bourne Identity", the protagonist breaks several people's bones without sweating, and he goes on the run immediately rather than stupidly standing around, basking in his skill.
As far as I can tell, the same video transfer was used for both the first DVD release of "The Bourne Identity" as well as the Explosive Edition.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen is gorgeous. It's smooth, sharp, and clear, and there aren't any source print defects that I could detect. The color scheme is very good, too, with everything emphasizing how "real" and "natural" the movie is supposed to be. This transfer also shows how a film source is so much better than a digital video source since the high resolution of film and the tricks that one can achieve with film cameras and lenses create rich, dimensional images.
As with the video, I think that the primary Dolby Digital 5.1 English track is the same on both DVD versions of "The Bourne Identity".
The Dolby Digital 5.1 English is very well-designed. During the gunfight between Matt Damon and Clive Owen, you can hear birds flying everywhere in your room because of excellent imaging--the birds don't sound as if they're flying from your speakers because the mix places them between speakers. The intense, throbbing music score by John Powell is well-presented, never drowning out dialogue nor becoming background muzak. The audio gets a "9" rather than a "10" because there aren't that many "wow" moments given the low-key nature of the story, but really, the audio is a pleasure.
There are also DD 5.1 French and DD 5.1 Spanish tracks. Optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles support the audio.
The DVD's cover art trumpets a new beginning and a new ending for the movie. However, the disc doesn't really offer a different cut than what appeared in movie theatres. Rather, you can watch the movie with bookends that treat the whole story as a sort of flashback. This is done via a branching option; when a gunsight icon appears in the bottom right-hand corner of your TV screen, press Enter on your DVD player's remote control in order to see the alternate beginning and ending. You can also watch the alternate beginning and ending in the Bonus section of the DVD. A couple of people also explain why they shot the alternate beginning and ending, and you can watch their interviews either before the movie (if you choose the "Play Extended Edition" function) or in the disc's Bonus section.
"The Bourne Mastermind: Robert Ludlum" is a brief tribute to the author who wrote the "Bourne" and other spy novels. "Access Granted: An Interview with Screenwriter Tony Gilroy" is self-explanatory, and "From Identity to Supremacy: Jason and Marie" offers interviews with Matt Damon and Franka Potente, who lamely try to link the two movies together. "The Bourne Diagnosis" features a psychologist discussing whether or not Jason Bourne's amnesia is possible. "Cloak and Dagger: Covert Ops" examines some aspects of CIA work.
"The Speed of Sound" and "Inside a Fight Scene" look at various production details ("The Speed of Sound" even includes an audio mixing demo). There are four deleted scenes (the same four as the ones on the first "Bourne Identity" DVD), and there's Moby's "Extreme Ways" music video. "Production Notes" (text pages) and "Cast & Filmmakers" (text pages) provide some additional background information about how the movie was made.
Finally, the disc also has scrolling DVD credits.
The new "Bourne Identity" DVD doesn't have the support of Universal's discontinued "Total Axess" program. Rather, there are simply some links to Universal's websites.
Universal's DVD releases no longer have inserts that provide chapter listings. However, the Explosive Edition DVD provides consumers with a voucher for one free ticket to see "The Bourne Supremacy". By the way, I find it ironic and illogical that Universal stopped printing inserts yet spends extra money on creating shiny cardboard slipcovers for its DVDs. The cardboard slipcovers prevent you from opening cases easily, and the information that they provide repeats the information already on the cover art. I'm telling you, man--I want helpful inserts and not get-in-the-way slipcovers!!!
The funny thing about Doug Liman infusing the movie with an indie sensibility is that "The Bourne Identity" is a more realistic spy thriller than stuff like the Bond movies. In the real world, spies go around keeping low profiles while diffusing problems. James Bond, on the other hand, struts around as if being a secret agent means being a celebrity and creating problems. Don't get me wrong; I highly enjoy watching Bond movies. However, because "The Bourne Identity" feels so real, it also feels very alive, and you care about the protagonists because they seem like people you could meet. The movie plays like a human-interest drama as much as it plays like an action extravaganza.
Should you get the "The Bourne Identity" Explosive Edition DVD? Well, I'm not sure. The Explosive Edition has more and better extras than the first DVD release of "The Bourne Identity". However, the first DVD has an audio commentary by the director as well as the movie's theatrical trailer. Also, the first DVD has the edge in terms of audio presentation because it has a DTS 5.1 English track. It's up to you to decide which DVD is best for you, though your choice will ultimately be focused around the "Extras vs. Presentation" debate. Luckily, I don't have to make that choice. :-)