The Bourne Identity (HD DVD)
Universal pulled an odd one here, releasing the sequel to this movie on HD DVD over a year ago, but just getting this, the inaugural film in the Bourne franchise onto the format just ahead of the third installment's arrival in theaters. Better late than never!
The Bourne Identity is as good and rare as action thrillers get. It's quick-paced with great action sequences, but very smart and emotionally engaging (on the latter score, thank script and the strong, interesting performances by Matt Damon and Franke Potente of Run Lola Run fame). This is one of the rare movies in which the characters miss nothing instinctually or intellectually; the filmmakers trust the audience to get it. And compared to the sequel, which I also liked, this original is less active with the camera work, and the result is more effective.
As always, this Universal HD DVD is presented in 1080p and crunched with VC-1. The HD imagery here is always rock solid and obviously HD, but seldom truly spectacular. Compared to the very best transfers out there this release is always just a bit softer and not as spectacularly detailed as it could be. And that's not just a comment on the muted color scheme. Compare this transfer to Children of Men and you'll see what I mean. That being said I prefer this look to the harder, edgier, artifically enhanced look I've been seeing from some Universal HD DVDs in recent months. There are no significant artifacts of any kind to distract from what is a satisfyingly rich and film-like transfer that's short of the best by a small but noticeable margin.
The sound here is Dolby Digital Plus, presumably at 1.5Mbps. It too is a solid effort that can knock you back in your chair when required in the action sequences. The overall sound design is an impressive study in contrast- it can be relatively quiet before the sound effects or the music explode with the action. But it's nothing revelatory, and when it's not being aggressive it isn't as immersive as it could be.
In addition to a wealth of typical extras that could feasily fill a two-disc DVD set, there are a couple of worthy U-Control Picture-In-Picture features. The first is a running set of video interviews and and behind the scenes footage presented in the Picture-In-Picture format that is terrific. And there's also a U-Control accessible feature called "The Treadstone Files" offering back stories on the characters, GPS info on the locations and other spy dossier type stuff. This is a much more engaging way of experiencing these extras.
I'm a big fan of the first two films on the Bourne series, and this an easy recommendation for HD DVD. Rock solid high-definition picture and sound that's a clear cut above the DVD, and some cool extras to boot. A no-brainer for pucrhase, even if it isn't state-of-the-art.
Picture: 8 out of 10
Sound: 7.5 out of 10
Video reviewed on Marantz VP-11S1 1080p DLP projector, 80" wide Stewart Filmscreen Studiotek 130 screen. Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD player and Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray Disc player via HDMI to Anthem AVM 50. Audio sent as PCM over HDMI to Anthem AVM 50. Ayre MX-R monoblocks and Theta Dreadnaught power amps, and Vandersteen loudspeakers. All video cables by Bettercables, all audio cables by AudioQuest