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Blu-ray Reviews: The Bourne Ultimatum (HD DVD)

Originally published in Sound and Image, Feb/Mar 2008, V.21#4

The Bourne Ultimatum cover The Bourne Ultimatum
2007 - Universal Pictures (Australasia) Pty Ltd
Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney and Joan Allen

Movie: 5 Picture: 5 Sound: 4.5 Extras: 5

As is famously remarked in Scream 2, sequels are never as good as the original ... expect for the exceptions, such as Terminator 2. So the possibility that the third of a trilogy could exceed either of the first two seems remarkably unlikely.

But look at the Internet Movie Database. 72,000 voters gave the first of the Bourne Trilogy, The Bourne Identity, a solid 7.6 (out of 10) and its sequel (The Bourne Supremacy, 60,000 voters) a decent 7.5. But The Bourne Ultimatum gets a ranking position of 114 with a score of 8.3 (63,000 voting).

Why? Because of the script. There are two things that make this movie. One is the Waterloo Station scene, which has got to be one of the tensest ever filmed. The other is the seamless way that this movie takes up from The Bourne Supremacy -- indeed, its first two thirds fit between the two closing scenes of its predecessor. That those closing scenes satisfactorily resolved the second movie makes this an even more startling achievement.

This disc leans heavily on those features of HD DVD not yet included in Blu-ray. For example, the disc has a 'Picture-in-Picture' video commentary, unfortunately mostly for talking heads. But there are also fact tracks.

The disc also uses the player's 'Persistent Storage'. Even the cheapest HD DVD player, the Toshiba HD-E1, incorporates 128MB of non-volatile storage. Why? The most obvious reason is for bookmarks. All full-fledged HD DVD players allow this -- if the feature is implemented on the disc. And the storage allows these 'pointers' to be retained in your player for when you later play the disc.

Ultimatum includes this bookmarking feature -- and extends it. Simply by pressing the 'B' key during play, you record a bookmark. Press 'C', and you record a scene bookmark (from the last-pressed 'B'). Weirdly, though, this didn't seem to use persistent storage, so my scenes were lost when I switched off the machine. There is also an ability to upload your favourite scenes (presumably the disc pointers only) to the Web. Ah, consumer electronics meets computing!

At some point in playing around with this stuff, the player presented an on screen message: 'A System Error Has Occurred'. The player locked up and I had to hold down the power switch for ten seconds to switch it off. I played some more and got a 'Cannot play the disc. Error code: 408bc00c' message. That was helpful. The player switched off in the regular fashion after this one. [UPDATE: I suspect that my HD-E1 was defective. Toshiba has since swapped it over for a HD-XE1 and these problems have not since recurred.]

This disc also has 'Web-enabled content'. If you have your player plugged into the web via it's Ethernet connection, you can use this. As I write, after the tedious user account creation procedure, there were seven trailers for movies or HD DVD promos that could be downloaded, plus a Bourne Ultimatum featurette and a 'Bourne Ultimatum' polling feature.

I had my HD DVD player set to 768kbps network speed, so these downloads didn't proceed very quickly. The two minute trailer for Eastern Promises, for example, began downloading before I started typing the preceding paragraph and I'm still waiting ... waiting ... Okay, I found my stopwatch and commenced my belated timing , but about 45 seconds later it finished. This was surprisingly good quality, in VC1 format with Dolby Digital Plus sound (it sounded mono though), and with a look of US standard definition (ie. 480i or 480p).

The polling feature seemed to download in a few seconds -- but paused for a while once it started. Then it presented a list of questions about my views on the movie, and when I answered them showed its polling responses of other people's views.

I could go on, but you get the idea. What about the movie itself? The picture is superb, faithfully capturing the original, jittery cinematography. The Dolby Digital Plus sound is great, too, and would have scored five out of five if only the original recording could match the quality of Heat.

Running time: 93 minutes
Video: 2.40:1 anamorphic, 1080p24, VC1
Sound: Japanese, English, French, Italian, German, Spanish: Dolby Digital Plus 3/2.1; Commentary: Dolby Digital Plus 2/0.0*
Subtitles: Japanese, English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Dutch, Korean, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Mandarin
Features: My Scenes, Web-enabled content, Be Bourne Spy Training, U-Control Picture in Picture (11 segments), U-Control Blackbriar Files (10 segments), U-Control Volkwagen Touareg facts; Deleted scenes (12 mins); Featurette: 'Man on the Move: Jason Bourne (24 mins); Featurette: 'Roof top pursuit' (6 mins); Featurette: 'Planning the Punches' (5 mins); Featurette: 'Driving School' (3 mins); Featurette: 'New York Chase' (11 mins)

* I normally use Cyberlink PowerDVD to tell me the bitrate for Dolby Digital Plus audio tracks, but I can't get it to play this HD DVD.

© 2002-2008, Stephen Dawson