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The Spin Sheet

DVD reviews by Peter Schorn and Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits

The Bourne Ultimatum

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Bourne Ultimatum
2007 (2007) - Universal (Universal)
Released on 12/11/2007 - also available on HD-DVD

Film Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A-/B-

In a movie year crowded with sequels and "threequels", the highest-grossing entry not featuring a superhero, an ogre, pirates or wizards was third adaptation of Robert Ludlum's amnesiac spy series about Jason Bourne, The Bourne Ultimatum. A direct continuation of 2004's The Bourne Supremacy - it begins minutes after the events at the end of the last film - Ultimatum finds Bourne (Matt Damon - go ahead, do the Team America thing; I do) continuing his quest to discover who he really is and what happened to him to put him in his current predicaments. From Moscow to Paris, London to Tangier, and eventually New York City, Bourne cuts a swath of mayhem, mostly in self-defense.

This time, he isn't looking for answers to his origin alone. A reporter for the London's Guardian (Paddy Considine) has been receiving classified information from a CIA insider (Colin Stinton) about Bourne, Operation Treadstone (the secret outfit that he worked for) and Operation Blackbrier (an even bigger and blacker black bag entity.)

This leak makes the reporter a target of CIA Deputy Director Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) which leads to a tense cat and mouse (and sniper) set piece in London's crowded Waterloo train station.

As Bourne stays a step ahead of his pursuers, familiar faces start to reappear including sympathetic CIA Director Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) and comely Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) with whom a past relationship in his forgotten past is hinted. The pair eventually realizes that Vosen is pursuing Bourne a little too vigorously for their comfort though it's not as if they were under the illusion that they were in the door-to-door cookie-selling business. Some slightly clunky debate on war on terror tactics is metaphorically slipped in but doesn't degenerate into distracting soapboxing because the story is constantly rushing forward.

To say that Greengrass conducts the proceedings with ruthless efficiency would be an understatement. His two Bourne films have stripped almost all narrative padding away leaving just the sinews and bones of the plot to tell the tale. When Bourne learns that what he's looking for is in Madrid, we see him leave the cybercafé and BAM, we're in Madrid. The numerous brawls and car chases border on Impressionistic as shaky camera movements and rapid-fire edits pour meth on top of the adrenaline rush. If there is a problem with this style is that it becomes fatiguing and after a pair of movies with real-world car chases instead of special effects, it's gotten a bit familiar. Crashing through New York instead of Moscow may lend a fresh locale, but the chases themselves are getting stale.

If there has been a problem with the entire Bourne series, it has been that the protagonist is rather inscrutable. While Damon is reasonably convincing as an action hero, Jason Bourne - as a man who doesn't know who he is - is a character we can never really empathize with. As a man who has been programmed to impassively wreak havoc, his inner turmoil is also subsumed and thus we're left to observe from the outside. When he finally meets his maker, Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney), there are some answers but no real closure. The film's surprise ending is no surprise and leaves the door to more sequels wide open.

The film's 2.35:1 anamorphic presentation is very good, cleanly representing the primarily bluish-black palette of desaturated colors that characterizes almost the whole film except for Tangier. Some scenes are too murky and dark in the shadows, but details are generally very good, if not great. (Hi-def would've helped if the previous films are any indicator.) On the audio side, things are better with a very punchy presentation that keeps the back channels happening and lend a visceral wallop to the bone-crunching and mayhem. Dialog is clear and well-balanced, not that there's a lot of talking going on when the fisticuffs are on.

The extras lead off with a low-key commentary by Greengrass in which he takes care to spread the credit around for the film's quality. While he amplifies what is happening, it's not a crucial listening experience. The eight deleted scenes (totaling 12:18) are presented in non-anamorphic letterbox and stereo sound. They mostly spend time talking about what we've been shown and a couple would've changed the ending. They were best left on the cutting room floor.

The making-of featurettes are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and provide a good look at how the production was executed starting with the five-part Man on the Move: Jason Bourne (totaling 23:55) which covers shooting in Berlin (doubling for Supremacy's Moscow, using fake snow), Paris, London, Madrid, Tangier. Rooftop Pursuit (5:37) focuses more in-depth on the elaborate footchase including how the trailer's wow moment with the camera following a leaping Bourne as he crashes through a window was done. Planning the Punches (5:00) shows the prep work for the mano-a-mano slugging that followed the chase.

The climatic car chase is covered in Driving School (3:24) and New York Chase (10:40) with the former showing that Damon can actually pull off some of his own wheel work and the latter dealing with the difficulties of shooting on the busy streets of New York City. While all the extras are respectable and informative, free of the usual EPK blather, they're not as exciting as the feature and are an overall average batch of supplements.

The Bourne Ultimatum was the last of Ludlum's Bourne novels and while a pair of subsequent books by Eric Van Lustbader - The Bourne Legacy and The Bourne Betrayal - were published, they're unlikely to be adapted for the inevitable next chapter on the onscreen Bourne saga. (With $442 million in worldwide box office, inevitable is another understatement.) As a capper to the series launched by Doug Liman, though, The Bourne Ultimatum is a brisk thriller with plenty of action and just enough depth to keep it from being little more than a sensational trifle. Fans of the series will want this for their ultimate Bourne trilogy.

Peter Schorn
[email protected]

Rush Hour 3: Two-Disc Platinum Series Edition

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Rush Hour 3
Two-Disc Platinum Series - 2007 (2007) - New Line
Released on 12/20/2007 - also available on Blu-ray Disc

Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A-/B
Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B+/B+

Of the tidal wave of "threequels" in 2007, the least-needed of the bunch, even more so than the third and final Pirates chapter, was probably Rush Hour 3. While the first two of the Brett Ratner-helmed, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker vehicles were passable buddy-cop-comedy flicks, there was hardly a groundswell of demand for even more adventures of the mismatched pair of Inspector Lee and Detective James Carter. Even though we didn't ask, they still made it and here we are with a particularly superfluous popcorn flick.

The plot, such as it is, involves the attempted assassination of Ambassador Han (Tzi Ma) at a meeting of the World Court as he was about to reveal the Shy Shen, the list of the heads of the Triad gangs. Lee chases the shooter and is stunned to find that it is Kenji (Hiroyuki Sanada), a boyhood friend from his days in a Chinese orphanage. Unable to shoot his "brother", he lets Kenji slip away. Re-teamed with the motor-mouthed Carter, they head off to Paris to find the Shy Shen and commit justice.

Jeez, that's just one paragraph and I've pretty much summed up the story. So, what else is there to occupy the viewer for 90 minutes? A: Set pieces! That's right, there isn't really a story as much as a consecutive string of bits that probably started life as ideas on index cards accumulated until the bulletin board was full, and the stack budgeted and green-lit for production. See Lee fight a blade-throwing Dragon Lady (Youki Kudoh)! See Carter get the hots for a exotic French woman with a secret (Noémie Lenoir)! Witness an Abbot and Costello routine done with Chinese men named Mi and Yu (Henry O)! (e.g. "He's Mi and I'm Yu." Har-har. Ahem.) Observe Max von Sydow collect a check! See Roman Polanski(?!?) as a French police detective who gives our heroes a warm, um, welcome to town! Experience Lee and Carter singing! Thrill to a death-defying climactic battle in a precarious location! Step right up! Don't be shy! (Don't be too picky about quality either.)

The whole movie trudges along like a well-oiled but not particularly elegant machine. Big stunts occur. Cracks are wised. Tucker makes a lot of noise. Chan does some semi-astounded stunts, though he is really starting to slow down at age 53. And so on and so on. We aren't surprised by many of the supposed twists and are grateful that they're quick about wrapping things up. The only stab at an original character is George (Yvan Attal), the surly Parisian - that's doubly redundant, isn't it? - cab driver who spews anti-American diatribes at first before eventually bemoaning that he will "never know what it is to be American; to kill someone without reason." (Come to Detroit, pal!) As dim as the storytelling may be, the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is excellent, presenting J. Michael Muro's slick primary color cinematography clearly with minimal flaws. The rich and saturated colors - especially golds, reds, and blues - are free of noise and smearing. Detail is excellent with only a few instances of high-frequency shimmering due to too much fine detail in fabrics or brick-paved streets. As more hi-def titles enter our viewing diets, it's tempting to dock standard discs for their limitations, but it wouldn't be fair and this is another quality New Line presentation.

The lead audio options are English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround and English DTS-ES 6.1 (English Dolby Surround is also available; subtitles are in English and Spanish) and other than the usual traits of a little more loudness and bass definition on the DTS track, there is not really a lot of difference between flavors. Both are mastered at a higher level than usual, but there is no hiss or distortion; they're just loud. Dialog is well-balanced so you won't miss anything Tucker yelps. Surround activity is good.

In keeping with New Line Platinum Series tradition, the supplemental materials verge into overkill territory considering the slightness of the feature. Other than a trailer, the only extra on the feature disc is a commentary by Ratner and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson. It's not exceedingly illuminating as Ratner simply seems pleased with everything onscreen. (Considering his reported hookups with numerous Hollywood starlets, I suppose he's entitled to like himself. I would like me, too.)

Rushing to the second disc, things start inauspiciously with a boring, unfunny batch of outtakes (2:32) featuring more blown lines and Chan's horrific English skills than the end credits could hold; and seven deleted/alternate scenes - with optional commentary by Ratner and Nathanson - that are superfluous and unlamented in their absence from the final cut.

Accessing the Making Rush Hour 3 section (totaling 94 mins.) sends us spiraling down the extras rabbit hole opening with The Story, the Script; Casting the Rush; and Teaming Up. The first two are little more than EPK happy talk bits of fluff while the third is a little more in-depth, but still lightweight. Things get deeper with Creating the Rush: Scene by Scene with sub-chapters for The Opening, The Hospital Shootout, The Hospital Morgue, The Interrogation Scene, Lee vs. Dragon Lady, The Follies, and The Eiffel Tower. Plenty of behind-the-scenes machinations are shown and while hardcore extras geeks may yawn from time to time, they're more than enough for civilian viewers. The editing, sound effects and score are given the once-over in Cuts, Sound, and Music, with Ratner effusively praising composer Lalo Schifrin and his score to Enter the Dragon.

Rounding out the parade is a two-minute-long Visual Effects Reel showing the seamless magic woven by ILM through FX buildups and "Le Rush Hour Trois" Production Diary - 25 episodes clocking in at just over an hour - which appear to have been made for webisodes. Mostly consisting of fly-on-wall camcorder footage, it's a mixed bag best saved for those who just can't get enough of this stuff. All of the extras are presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 with stereo sound and English and Spanish subtitles and the case comes in a slipcover with a snazzy animated lenticular cover with the stars punching out at us.

If you're a fervent lover or hater of the Rush Hour series, your choice of whether to buy or avoid Rush Hour 3 is probably not reliant upon my opinion of the film. For those who don't dwell upon the philosophical relevance of the series, the most I can say about Rush Hour 3 is that while it's not particularly good and my quality of life wouldn't have been adversely impacted had I missed it, I'm not mourning the loss of the time it took to view the flick. (Look for that quote to be splashed in the trades!) However, with a very good technical presentation and a near-overkill load of supplemental materials running over 2-1/2 hours, the Rush Hour 3: Platinum Series edition is worth a pick-up for those who can't live without the antics of Chan and Tucker. There's just no need to rush and get the movie.

Peter Schorn
[email protected]

Alien Nation: The Ultimate Movie Collection

Alien Nation: The Ultimate Movie Collection
1994-97 (2007) - 20th Century Fox
Released on 9/11/2007 as a Best Buy exclusive
Widely available on 4/15/08

Films Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/A

Based on the hit 1986 film, Alien Nation the TV series is more of a classic science fiction story. It takes everyday life and introduces a fantastical element that acts as an allegory to our own reality. In this case, that reality is the wild and diverse population of Los Angeles, and the growing pains of a cultural melting pot.

The story of Alien Nation becoming more than just a one season wonder is an odd one. Like many many science fiction shows on Fox, it was sent to an early grave. UNLIKE most of those shows, however, not only was it fairly popular, but when the network realized what kind of following it really had (and after Barry "The Sci-Fi Killer" Diller had split - ironically he's now in charge of USA Networks and the Sci-Fi Channel), they commissioned no less than five TV movies based on the property over the next three years.

Originally planned as a single release of the first movie only, this box set (a Best Buy exclusive through 2007 - it'll be available everywhere in early 2008) contains all five Alien Nation movies - Dark Horizon, Body and Soul, Millennium, The Enemy Within and The Udara Legacy. The source materials are all in great shape, and while some of the special effects work doesn't quite stand up today, the full frame image (the original aspect ratio) is still nice throughout all five films. Certainly, it's fair to say that quite a few programs of newer vintage that haven't fared as well. Occasional, video noise and other artifacts will show up, but these DVDs all certainly look better than the series did in original broadcast. On the audio side, TV movies are not generally known for their stellar soundtracks, and these are no exception. The sound mixes are well represented, but they're not going to blow you away.

The extras are where this set really shines, starting off with A Family Gathering. Typically, when a reunion gabfest is help for a series like this, the result is a clip show (think M*A*S*H, Married... with Children) with some laughing and chatter in between. In this case, it looks like they just let the cameras roll on what is obviously a great group of friends having a blast seeing each other again. It's these kinds of supplements that really let an audience connect with a show, and coming back to it after ten years makes it all the sweeter. In addition, virtually every film contains a gag reel, as well as home movies and still photos from writer/producer Kenneth Johnson's personal collection. Rounding off the package are commentary tracks with Johnson and his daughter on each film. If you've ever listened to his V track in particular, you know that Kenneth Johnson is one of those rare people that either does extensive preparation, or is naturally good at keeping the flow going so that he can continue to be interesting and entertaining for hours (ten in this case).

One nitpick for me with this set is that the other four movies were added to make a box set fairly late in the game, so Fox mysteriously decided to use DVD-10 flipper discs instead of DVD-9s (possibly for the extra few hundred megabytes of space they offer). That means they don't match the first disc. Flipper discs really should be a thing of the past at this point, and I'd gladly pay an extra buck or two if they had split out the video extras to a fourth disc.

One other word of warning: If you're new to the show, make sure you pick up the TV series along with it, because a lot of the TV movies assume that you've watched the series, and you'll be lost otherwise. It wouldn't hurt to have seen the original feature film either, though it's not necessary.

For the rest of us, this set is finally the "Season 2" (not to mention the extras) that Alien Nation fans have been waiting for. Special thanks to Fox for this, and also to Kenneth Johnson for fighting the good fight to give the fans something special.

Jeff Kleist
[email protected]
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