The fourth (and final) of the MGM James Bond: Ultimate Edition boxed sets compiles an interesting selection of five films from one of the most recognizable movie franchises of all time. Here's a look at the films before we move on to the technical specifications and massive amount of supplements that have been compiled for this release:
Dr. No (1962):
The first ever James Bond movie (based on the sixth book by Ian Fleming) did a fine job of introducing audiences to the character. The film begins when three Jamaican assassins, posing as blind beggars, kill Commander John Strangways (Timothy Moxon) of the British Secret Service. Shortly after, while on the radio with London, his secretary is also killed. Suspicions arise as to why the radio transmission was cut short and the MI6 office decides to send in Agent 007 – James Bond (Sean Connery, though the producers did originally want Roger Moore who was tied up with The Saint at the time). After a briefing from M (Bernard Lee) in which he tells James that they figure it's got some connection to some issues that the Americans have been having with their rocket program and a brief flirtation with Ms. Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), M's secretary, Bond flies off to Jamaica to find out what happened to Strangways and why. He's annoyed that M made him trade in his Beretta for a Walther, but he doesn't let that stop him from doing his duty.
Upon his arrival in Jamaica, Bond tricks some would be assassins sent to cut his trip short and soon after teams up with an American C.I.A. agent named Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) and his local friend Quarrel (John Mitzmiller) to investigate an island called Crab Key. The locals won't go there as they believe it to be prowled by a dragon but Bond's insistence soon pays off and he convinces Quarrel to take him there so that he can investigate rumors about a Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman) who uses it as his headquarters for reasons unknown. Upon his arrival at Crab Key, Bond meets the lovely Honey Rider (Ursula Andress) but soon learns that he's in for much more than he initially bargained for and that Dr. No is not one to be taken lightly.
While better films would be made with the character, Dr. No was a fantastic way to get the series off the ground and it did an excellent job of introducing the character to moviegoers across the globe. It's interesting that producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman chose to start with the sixth book in the series rather than with an origin story. The audience is thrust into Bond's world quickly but never has a problem getting a feel for the character or his (now famous) character traits. All of what makes James Bond work is here – the one liners, his way with the ladies, his prowess, his penchant for martinis and card playing, and his cocky attitude with his superiors. He flirts with Moneypenny as he always has, and while he doesn't have the fanciest of cars in this film, he does manage to get an Alpine flown in to Jamaica for his own personal use. We see him with three beautiful 'Bond Girls' for the first time here – Eunice Gayson, Zena Marshall, and Ursula Andress – and he has different experiences with each one of them.
The audience is also given the first taste of a Bond super villain. Dr. No is played with no small amount of sinister gusto by Wiseman who does a great job as the part Chinese-part German man who lost his hands only to have them replaced with metal replacements. Like many of Bond's best villains, Dr. No has a sense of class to him that makes him more than just a regular 'bad guy.' His affiliation with S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (an acronym for SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion and a name that comes up time and again in the series) foreshadows events to come later in the series.
As great as the villain is and as lovely as the Bond girls are, this is pretty much Connery's show entirely. Bond is always slick and the very definition of cool when dealing with the ladies and a formidable and resourceful fighting machine when dealing with the opposition. Connery handles both sides of the character with ease, sliding in and out of cool and dangerous as the script requires and really embodying the spirit of the character.
You Only Live Twice (1967):
Widely considered one of the lesser films in the franchise and the weakest up to the point it was made, four decades later You Only Live Twice is still not up there with the best that the series had to offer but as a good, entertaining popcorn movie it works well enough.
The movie begins when Bond (Connery) is in the thick of things with a lady in Hong Kong. Before you know it, the bed flips up into the wall and some soldier come in, machine guns blazing, sending Mr. Bond to the great bedroom in the sky – or so it would seem. We see his body buried at sea, but no sooner than he sinks to the bottom then a team of divers rescue him and bring him into a submarine. There he's briefed on his mission – someone has been stealing space ships, it could be the Russians, and they're operating out of Japan – before he's shot out of a torpedo tube and sent on his way.
Soon enough, Bond is in Japan where he meets up with his contact (Charles Gray of The Rocky Horror Picture Show) shortly before he's murdered. From there, he teams up with the lovely female agent Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi of King Kong Vs. Godzilla) and the head of the Japanese Secret Service, Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba). After enjoying the pleasures that Tanaka's pad has to offer, Bond does s little snooping by way of some industrial espionage where he meets and starts to connect the dots but in order to learn more he'll have to go undercover as a married Japanese worker (this allows him to team up with his wife, another foxy Japanese agent named Kissy Suzuki, played by Mie Hama of King Kong Escapes). Q shows up with a whirligig helicopter that Bond uses to investigate a volcano that S.P.E.C.T.R.E., lead by Blofeld (Donald Pleasance) and his fluffy white cat, just might be using to launch their scheme from and it'll be up to him Kissy to prevent this dastardly criminal organization from starting a war between China and the United States.
The entire film is pretty ridiculous, but if you throw caution to the wind and don't worry about realism (this is a Bond film after all) it's hard not to appreciate the effects set pieces, Connery's charm, and the hammy, villainous overacting that Pleasance provides. It does feel a little long in spots but the Bond girls here are on par with the best that the series has had to offer even if the names aren't as recognizable (their broken English adding a 'cute' factor), and the theme song from Nancy Sinatra is tops. There are some problems with the story (mainly which stem from adapting a later novel that was written as a follow up to On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which obviously hadn't been filmed yet) but that doesn't stop the movie from entertaining even if it does keep it out of the top tier.
Director Lewis Gilbert and cinematographer Freddie Young make the most of the Japanese locations that much of the film takes place on. Sweeping shots of the coastline and the volcanoes that populate the area add some class to the movie, and some obvious care and attention was put into designing the volcano base where Blofeld and his cronies have dug themselves in. The base is a highlight of the movie, as it's fairly impressive in scope and design with a monorail system in place and a roof that opens and closes to allow for helicopters and spacecraft to come and go. Connery's got a few good lines, quipping that maybe he'll retire to Japan once Tanaka tells him that men always come first and exchanging some witty innuendos with sultry villainous Karin Dor during the time that she holds him bound to a chair. The opening credit sequence is also impressive, making great use of the colors and the silhouettes that the series has become known for.
Like You Only Live Twice, 1979's Moonraker has a pretty bad reputation among Bond fans. There's no doubt at all that the movie was meant to cash in on the science fiction craze that was sweeping the world in the wake of Star Wars mania and the Bond producers obviously wanted a piece of that potentially lucrative pie. The results are pretty mixed, but as hokey as the film is, it isn't completely without merit or its own off-key charm.
When the movie begins, Bond (Roger Moore) and is fighting with his archenemy Jaws (Richard Kiel) on an airplane high above the ground. They topple, but Bond has a parachute, which he opens in time to watch his foe fall to the ground below where he lands on a circus tent. While Bond is of fighting Jaws, someone sinister is up to no good, stealing Moonraker model spaceships while they're in transit by blowing up the airplanes being used to transport them.
M (Bernard Lee) has Bond brought to London for his briefing and off he goes to try and sort out who is behind these thefts in hopes of keeping the technology out of the wrong hands and preventing more deaths. M points him in the direction of one Hugo Drax, a wealthy businessman in California who operates the company responsible for helping to construct the units. When Bond arrives in California, one of Drax's cronies, Chang (Toshiro Suga), makes an attempt on his life but of course, Bond prevails and soon he's teaming up with a sexy C.I.A. agent named Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) to try and right the many wrongs that Drax has put into play. The two head off to Venice to do more snooping and witness a biological disaster, which finds them soon en route to Rio where Jaws is waiting. If James can make it out of Rio alive, there's only the final frontier awaiting him, and his mission will lead him to the very reaches of outer space before its' finished.
Completely ridiculous even by Bond standards, Moonraker suffers from horrible jokes, bad puns, and some hammy acting from Moore in the lead. There are obvious nods not only to Bond films of the past but also to some of the science fiction movies that were popular in theaters at the time, and much of the story seems to be recycled from these two sources. With that said, it's hard not to enjoy the film. There's so much going on and so much of it is completely over the top that you can't help but get a kick out of the whole thing, particularly during the stunt scenes and the space scenes. Sure, you can't take a lick of it very seriously at all but that's half the fun and if at times the movie feels like a self-parody, well, maybe that's not such a bad thing.
The opening credits sequence for the movie is nicely done and Shirley Bassey, back for her third Bond theme, does a nice job on the vocals. Lois Chiles makes for a great partner for Moore and stands out as an exceptionally foxy leading lady for the series while lesser Bond girls Corinne Clery, Emily Bolton and Irka Bochenko are almost as easy on the eyes as she is. If you can handle the groan inducing humor and look past the ridiculous concept, Moonraker proves to be an interesting and entertaining film throughout, even if it isn't ever likely to be anyone's favorite of the series.
Around the same time that Octopussy (based on the short story of the same name with elements from Property Of A Lady thrown in) was made, Kevin McClory had successfully sued Sir Ian Fleming for the right to make his own Bond film, which is why Never Say Never Again exists outside of the MGM franchise. McClory had lured Connery back to play the lead, while Broccoli and company once again convinced Roger Moore to play the part in their film. It might be a tad confusing, but the end results was that two Bond films played in theaters within months of each one another, with the two most popular actors to play the part almost competing for box office dollars.
When the movie begins, Agent 009 is discovered dead in Berlin at the British Embassy. The fact that his corpse is found holding a Faberge egg is of some concern to MI6 and so 007 (Roger Moore) is called in to find out what exactly happened to his fellow secret agent. It turns out that the valuable egg was the apple of Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan)'s eye – he's a rabid collector of such things and will stop at nothing to get the ones that he wants. Adding to the confusion for Bond is the fact that Khan seems to be somehow allied with General Orlov (Steven Berkhoff), a rogue psychotic Russian military man who wants nothing short of complete world domination for the U.S.S.R..
In order to make his dream a reality, Orlov comes up with a plan that will smuggle a nuclear bomb into an American military outpost that lies on British soil so that he can cripple it and move in with his troops. While Orlov is planning this attack, Bond is chasing Khan through India where he meets a woman who goes by the rather suggestive name of Octopussy (Maud Adams). Soon Bond is able to tie Octopussy, Khan and Orlov all together to figure out what is going on but by the time that happens, the bomb is already en route by way of a circus train and he finds himself with no time to spare and the lives of thousands of people at stake.
John Glen's direction isn't bad but there are problems with the script for the film that keep this from being the movie that it should have been. It's not that Octopussy is bad, it's that it should have been better. Maybe the production was a bit rushed with the threat of Never Say Never Again and Connery's return looming over head, or maybe it was inexperience on the part of the writers but the story jumps around a bit and doesn't really flesh out the supporting characters as well as previous efforts in the franchise had. Orlov could have and should have been a great Bond villain, instead he's only mediocre. The same can be said of Moore's performance here, as he's been better in other Bond movies and seems to kind of be going through the motions with this film. The girls look good, and Octopussy is quite a memorable character, but too much of the film is set in India where not a whole lot that is important to the central plot actually happens and this results in what feels like some padding even if they are very pretty to look at.
As usual, however, the action scenes are very well done here and the gadgets are interesting. Some of these scenes are hampered by some rather corny jokes but that doesn't take too much away from the excitement that the film can offer when it's firing on all cylinders. The movie is quite well paced and it's never dull, it's just that it should have been so much more...
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997):
The most modern of the five films in this set starts when 007 (this time played by Pierce Brosnan) is scoping out a terrorist swap meet where various high tech gadgets and weapons are for sale. He's sending a video feed to MI6 and the army decides to take out a large portion of the world's terrorists, including the sinister Henry Gupta (Ricky Jay), with one well-placed missile. They launch it and M (Judy Dench) tells Bond to get out of there, just as Bond shows them that one of the planes has nuclear missiles attached. Too late to abort the launch, Bond has no choice to but shoot his way through the bad guys and hop into the plane in hopes of piloting it off and away from the explosion and preventing a massive international incident. Of course, through some clever thinking and fast action, his plan is a success – cue the opening credits and the theme song courtesy of Sheryl Crow.
A couple of days later and it turns out that Gupta also made it out alive and that he took with him an encoder that jumbles up GPS satellite systems. Gupta uses this device to trick a British war ship into Chinese waters where a plane threatens to open fire on them. What the poor sailors don't know when their ship gets hit is that the torpedo didn't come from the Chinese but from a stealth craft operated by men hired by a media mogul named Elliott Carver (Jonathon Pryce). Seventeen survivors are left, and these cold hearted killers head up on deck to shot them all dead with machine guns loaded with Chinese ammunition. Someone leaks the details of this attack to the press, and Carver's organization seems to have beaten everyone else to the punch.
With a ship down and a bunch of British sailors dead, the navy sends some ships towards China – there's no way they're going to take this lying down. M, on the other hand, thinks that somehow Carver and his crew just might be involved in this as there was no way that they should have known about it before anyone else. She calls in her best man, James Bond, who had a relationship with Carver's wife (Teri Hatcher) in the past, to infiltrate his organization and find out what is going on before Britain finds herself at war with the Chinese. The Chinese, on the other hand, have got one of their top agents, Wai Lin (Hong Kong cinema goddess Michelle Yeoh) on the job.
Tomorrow Never Dies gets a few things right – the car chase is fantastic even if it's odd seeing Bond in a BMW (which, of course, Q has had customized for him) and the chemistry between Brosnan and Yeoh works really well on screen. There are some solid action scenes and the opening sets the movie up very effectively. The problem with the film lies with the villain, Elliot Carver. In the past, Bond was taking on larger than life bad guys, those who dwelled inside volcanoes or operated off of secret islands. Here, Bond is going head to head with a media mogul – it just isn't the same. Sure, Carver has a nuke and he's definitely off his rocker enough to pose a threat, but still... he's a glorified businessman. When media personalities like Rupert Murdoch are household names, this takes some of the charm out of the film, it's almost that it's too grounded in reality.
As far as the performances and characters go, Judy Dench does make a really good M. While it might irk some to see a woman in the role (when she's told she doesn't have the balls for the job she retorts that she's okay with that as it means she doesn't have to think with them), it's not always a bad thing to break from tradition from time to time and Dench personifies the staunch, classy and stern figurehead that the part calls for. Samantha Bond, on the other hand, makes for a less impressive replacement and as Moneypenny, she leaves virtually no impression even if she does get a couple of good lines. Teri Hatcher isn't given a whole lot to do and she doesn't quite have the class that a Bond girl should have, and Ricky Jay is more annoying than he is intimidating.
That being said, as an action movie this one is alright. There are plenty of chase scenes and shootouts and the stunts are handled really, really well. Brosnan isn't the best man for the part but he does fine with the material here, playing the part with a sparkle in his eye and seemingly enjoying every minute of it. Tomorrow Never Dies isn't top tier Bond material but it's entertaining enough, and hey, Joe Don Baker shows up in a small supporting role. Everyone loves Joe Don Baker.
How Do The Films Hold Up Overall?
Despite the obvious flaws in a few of the movies on this set, Moonraker and Tomorrow Never Dies specifically, the five movies in this set are still a lot of fun. James Bond has been one of the most popular franchises in movie history for over forty years now for a reason – and that's that the movies are always enjoyable even when they're not necessarily all that good. When you check out a Bond movie you're pretty much guaranteed some excitement, some laughs, some sex appeal and some creative gadgets and each and every one of the movies in this set delivers that much at the very least. There are better movies in the franchise than the ones in this set and everyone has their favorite film in the series but for even casual fans of the series this set is exceptional (It's annoying that the original United Artists logo has been replaced though). It's easy to pick apart the weaker entries and compare them to the undisputed classics of the series but if you're able to put preconceived notions aside, you should get plenty of enjoyment out of this set.
Now, on to the technical stuff....
The five films in the set are all presented in their original widescreen aspect ratios, properly flagged for progressive scan and enhanced for anamorphic playback. How do they look? In short, pretty amazing. The full restoration done on the films has cleaned up all but the most minute instances of dirt or debris but nothing is so glossed over that it no longer looks like film (some really mild grain is present, just as it should be). Color reproduction is quite strong throughout and the amount of detail present in both the foreground and the background of the picture is impressive. No problems with mpeg compression artifacts make themselves known, and aliasing and edge enhancement are kept firmly in check.
One thing worth noting is that about twenty-four minutes in to Dr. No there is a small stutter on the picture after Bond picks up the picture frame. It's very brief, and it is just barely noticeable but it is there (a kind reader has since noted that this problem has always been there as it's part of the film itself). It should also be said that there appears to have been some changes made to the color of You Only Live Twice, and things look a little on the blue side in some scenes.
Each of the five films in the set comes with 5.1 Surround Sound remixes available in Dolby Digital (French or English) or DTS (English only)options as well as the original tracks (these vary by film – mono for Dr. No and You Only Live Twice, Stereo Surround for Moonraker, Octopussy). Optional subtitles are provided for each film in English, French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Korean and Thai.
As far as the quality of the sound goes, again, MGM has done a fantastic job here leaving little room for complaint. The surround sound mixes make great use of the rears during the action scenes and they spread the scores around appropriately enough. If you're not one for new remixes, you've got the option to enjoy each of the five movies by way of the original mixes, which are also quite clean and very clear. There are no problems to report with hiss or distortion and the levels appear to be properly balanced across the board.
Extras are spread across the two discs afforded each of the five movies in this set, with the only supplement on disc one of each movie being an audio commentary. Here's a look at what's in store...
Dr. No (1962):
The commentary on this release is identical to the one that was recorded for the previous release of the film by MGM and it features director Terrance Young and a few cast members who have all been recorded separately and then edited into one scene specific track moderated by John Cork of the Ian Fleming Foundation. The result is a pretty informative track that covers the origins of the film, provides plenty of interesting trivia about cast members both major and minor, as well as details on what was shot where and how it was done. Because everyone was recorded separately, there's no sense of camaraderie to be found and on that level it is a little stale as far as the presentation goes in that you don't have people playing off of one another's enthusiasm as you tend to get on the better group commentaries out there, but in terms of the wealth and volume of information that can be found here, there is little to complain about.
The second disc is where the rest of the extras are and we start off with the forty-two minute Inside Dr. No documentary (also included on the previous special edition release). This is a great look at the making of the film put together buy using new and vintage interviews with most of the principal cast and crew members including some recent footage with Connery. There are some nice clips and production photos used throughout to illustrate various points along the way, and it does a fantastic job of explaining how Fleming's book became the movie we all know and love from casting decisions to directorial efforts and scripting facts. Also carried over from the last disc is the twenty-two minute Terence Young: Bond Vivant featurette that paints a very nice tribute to the director through interviews with many of the people who worked with him throughout his career. What makes this segment interesting is hearing just what a large role Young had in the way that the movie turned out. Of course it was all based on Fleming's original vision and on Connery's charisma but Young is the man who put it all together and this turns out to be a genuinely interesting look at his work.
A brief black and white featurette from 1963 is also included. Originally devised to promote the television premiere of the film, it's interesting to see from a historical perspective but doesn't offer nearly the insight that the commentary or the Inside Dr. No piece do. Also included here is an interesting documentary on how the Lowrey restoration process was used to restore Dr. No and the other films in the set to the near immaculate condition that you see it on this DVD. This runs for eleven minutes and change and it features interviews as well as some telling before and after clips. The Guns Of James Bond is a fun piece about, well, the guns that James Bond uses in the movie. It's a very cool segment that clocks in just shy of five minutes and which was shot in black and white. It's hosted by Connery who does a good job of staying in character. Premiere Bond is a nifty look at the Bond-Mania that broke out on the opening nights of some of the movies. There are some really great vintage clips of various celebrities showing up and interviews with many of the players from the films, and this thirteen and a half minute piece covers not only Dr. No but all of the Bond movies up Tomorrow Never Dies.
Rounding out the extra features are the original theatrical trailer for the film, an alternate trailer entitled Introducing Mr. Bond, a trailer promoting the re-release of the movie with From Russia With Love, another re-release trailer where the film is coupled with Goldfinger, a couple of television spots, six radio advertisements and a very generous still gallery of photos and production art from various sources (including some shots from scenes that have been lost) – these are all found in the Ministry Of Propaganda section. A 007 Mission Control bit is also found here, which allows you to navigate the menu screens via your remote to learn more about various aspects of the production by way of some clips from the movie.
You Only Live Twice (1967):
The first disc for You Only Live Twice contains the same commentary track that was on the previous special edition DVD release from MGM. Like the track recorded for Dr. No, it's been created by splicing together recorded conversations with various participants and edited into a scene specific discussion of the film with John Cork piecing it all together. Gilbert shows up here to talk about his work on the movie as do a few of the performers and those who worked on the picture behind the scenes. It would have been nice to see a new commentary track but this one is perfectly sufficient and anything else might have been overkill.
On disc two, things start off nicely with a fantastic fifty-two minute documentary/clip collection entitled Welcome To Japan, Mr. Bond, which is new to this DVD. This was created back when the film was gearing up for its theatrical release so it's a little dated in that regard and obviously not comprehensive given the amount of sequels that have been made since, but it's a fun look at the James Bond movies that had been made up until that point in time. It's held together by Moneypenny and another woman discussing James' exploits which leads into the clips. Later on she heads into Q's laboratory and talks to him about Bond's behavior. It's goofy, but it does make for good, fun viewing and having Moneypenny and Q take care of hosting the ordeal was a nice touch.
The thirty-minute Inside You Only Live Twice that was on the last issue of the film has been carried over to this new disc as well. For those who haven't seen it, it appears in the Mission Dossier section alongside the twenty-three minute Silhouettes: The James Bond Titles and the brief Plane Crash Animated Story Boards segment. Each piece is narrated by none other than Patrick MacNee, the first one is a good, overall look at the making of the movie by way of some interviews with Gilbert and Peter Hunt. It's entertaining and interesting and even if Connery isn't involved, it does a fine job of detailing the movie from start to finish. The second segment is a look at the work of Maurice Binder and the work he did on the series before he passed away. The third is, as it states, a collection of storyboards shown in sequence to music.
Also new to the disc is On Location With Ken Adams which, at fourteen minutes in length, which provide a narrated look from Adams himself at the work he did on the film designing and organizing the construction of the now famous volcano base. There's some nice behind the scenes footage in here as well as some location footage from the era, which gives the piece some historical importance. We also get a peek at Connery and Gilbert doing their thing as well as footage of the base being built (it's huge!).
Whicker's World, again exclusive to this new DVD, is a piece that runs just over five minute and which starts with Michael Wilson opening the show and from there gives us clips of Broccoli and Connery appearing on the show. Dated, it's still very amusing to see the two of them interact and to hear Connery discuss his interaction with the Japanese locals. It would have been nice to see the entire episode here, rather than clips, however.
The new 007 Mission Control feature is laid out the same way here as it was for Dr. No. It is basically just a series of menus and submenus that allow you to check out clips from the movie based on content – navigate to the 'women' section if you want to see the ladies, for example. There's not much here that you won't see by simply watching the film but dig around enough and you will find the opening sequence without the text credits over top. There's also a bit in the locations section where you see the clips with commentary from Maude Adams where she gives us some background information on what we're seeing.
Rounding out the extra features are three original theatrical trailers, one television spot pairing the film with Thunderball, seven radio advertisements and a very generous still gallery of photos and production art from various sources – these are all found in the Ministry Of Propaganda section.
The first Moonraker disc contains the commentary that was recorded for the last release which features director Lewis Gilbert, producers Michael G. Wilson and William P. Cartlidge and screenwriter Christopher Wood. It's a decent track, even if it could have been more. Wilson carries the discussion and seems to have the sharpest memory when it comes to talking about how the project came together while the other participants fill in the blanks when and where they can with Wood lending some insight into why the story is the way that it is in the finished version of the movie.
New to the Ultimate Edition release, however, is a second commentary track this time with the star of the film, Sir Roger Moore. While it's a shame that Moore doesn't bring more to this talk in terms of what was required of him on set, he does tell some amusing stories about the director and some of his co-stars and he gets some good background information into the mix more than once. A lot of the track is observational, with Moore sort of commenting on what is happening in the film fairly randomly but he's got a great sense of humor about the whole deal and comes across as likeable here as he always does.
Disc two is, as you've probably guessed, a mix of new material and old material carried over from the previous release. First up is a forty-two minute Inside Moonraker featurette which is an extensive behind the scenes documentary that shows us how much of the effects work was done and which details the origins of the film in quite a bit of detail. Interviews with the cast and crew are mixed in with photos and clips from various sources to really paint a big picture of the experience that was making Moonraker and it actually proves to be very interesting stuff. Also quite interesting (and carried over) is the nineteen-minute Men Behind The Mayhem featurette which explores a documentary that is specific to the stunts and effects set pieces that this and other Bond films contain. There are plenty of clips and some nice narration to keep it all in context along with interviews and behind the scenes clips.
New to this release are more of Ken Adam's Production Films which, at twelve-minutes, give us a look at narrated footage that Adams shot while building some of the sets to be used in the movie. Like those seen on You Only Live Twice, this are pretty keen in that we get a look at the sets as they're being built in addition to little bits and pieces of general behind the scenes information. Also new to this release is an eleven-minute collection of interviews with the cast and crew entitled Bond '79 where we get a chance to enjoy little talks with Broccoli and a few other cast and crew members as organized by Michael Wilson. None of these are deep or meaningful but they're interesting enough and it's always nice to see vintage material included whenever possible.
Another new featurette is 007 In Rio which is a thirteen-minute look at the crew doing their thing in Rio for the scenes that take place there in the feature. It's interesting enough to see and some of the location footage is quite impressive. Also new to this release are two test footage clips - Circus Footage, Skydiving Test Footage - and two storyboard collections, both specifically for the cable car scene.
Rounding out the extra features are the theatrical trailer, a generous still gallery, animated menus, chapter stops, and the seemingly obligatory 007 Mission Control interactive bit that follows the same formula as those on the other discs in the set.
The first disc finds director John Glen providing a commentary track over the film. Carried over from the last special edition release, it's an interesting discussion as Glen's memory of the movie and the time he spent making it is very sharp. He covers casting and the locations shoots as well as how some of the action scenes were put together. He's very amiable throughout and quite an interesting guy. Unique to this ultimate edition release is a new commentary track with Sir Roger Moore. As with the other tracks that he's recorded for the film he stars in, it's an amusing if slightly unfocused talk. Moore always comes across as a very kind man with a great sense of humor and that does a lot towards making this more interesting than it actually is because although he talks a lot, he's not really saying all that much about the movie or his involvement in it so much as he is just sort of commenting on what happens on screen. It's a fun track, and fans will definitely enjoy it for the moments where he does go into some detail, but it isn't really essential.
Up next on the second DVD are a few featurettes, some new to this release and some carried over from the older disc. James Bond In India is a new, half hour look at the scenes that were shot on location in India and it features some very nice behind the scenes footage of the movie being made as well as some more candid moments of Moore relaxing when things allow him to take a break. This featurette was originally made to promote the film before it hit theaters. From the older disc we once again get Inside Octopussy which is an interesting thirty-five minute piece that once again uses Patrick MacNee's narration to explain the making of the film in a fair bit of detail. All the main cast and crewmembers show up here for brief but interesting interview segments and there's some good behind the scenes footage and photographs included as well. The twenty-one minute Designing Bond – Peter Lamont featurette that was on the last release is here as well, and it's a look at Peter Lamont's production design work on the various Bond movies which he was involved with. Everyone knows that the production design has always been a huge part of the appeal of these films and Lamont was the man responsible for a lot of the more memorable pieces that we've seen over the years. This is an affectionate and interesting tribute to his work.
Also new to this release, and something that is sure to be of interest to most fans, is the collection of screen tests that feature James Brolin in the part of James Bond. Brolin was the back up man that Broccoli and company had on deck if they weren't able to get Moore to reprise the role, so it's keen to see this material included here. This starts off with an introduction from Brolin who talks about his brief flirtation with the part, and from there we get three clips. The first clip shows Brolin and Maude Adams recreating a scene from From Russia With Love, the second involves a snake and Vijay Amritraj (who played Vijay in the film) and the third shows Brolin in a fight scene. These are really interesting to see and while no one can say for sure if the film would have turned out to be any better with Brolin in the lead, having them included on this release is a definite plus.
Also new to this release are four shorter featurettes. Ken Burns' On-Set Films is seven minutes of footage that a young Ken Burns shot on an 8mm camera on the set of the film. He narrates the footage as it was shot without sound and talks about his personal experiences on the set. On Location With Peter Lamont is a five-minute clip of location scouting footage that Peter Lamont shot of Berlin before production started on the movie. Lamont narrates the clip and talks about the Berlin of the day and how it has obviously changed since the 1980s. The last featurette is Shooting Stunts which, presented in two parts, is a collection of clips that show how the airplane and jeep sequences from the movie were assembled and cut, narrated by director John Glen. Testing The Limit – The Aerial Team is four and a half minutes of test footage from the plane fight scene, again narrated by Glen.
Rounding on the extra features are the interactive 007 Mission Control bit that we've seen on each of the discs in the set, a massive still gallery, a music video for All Time High from Rita Coolidge, a pair of storyboard to screen comparisons, and four theatrical trailers. Animated menus and chapter stops for the feature are also included, but you probably knew that already.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997):
The extras start off nicely enough with a commentary track from second unit director Vic Armstrong and producer Michael G. Wilson that has been ported from the previous special edition DVD release. These two have worked together for a while now and been involved with more than a few of the Bond films so it makes sense that they have a good chemistry here. They talk about the roles they've played in getting this production off the ground, they detail some of the location work and the stunt work and give us a nice, overall feel for the making of the movie and they do it with a nice sense of humor and a lack of pretension. Even if the movie isn't as good as it could have been, this commentary is very strong. The second commentary, which is exclusive to the new ultimate edition release, features director Roger Spottiswoode who is accompanied by Dan Petrie Jr.. This track isn't quite as interesting as the first one mainly because it suffers from quite a bit of the dreaded dead air syndrome. Petrie does his best to keep Spottiswoode talking, and when he's got something to say he proves to be a pretty interesting subject, but he clams up here and there and despite Petrie's best efforts, the track drags because of this. Also included on the first disc is the film's isolated score available as an optional audio track and presented in Dolby Digital Stereo – a nice touch. Animated menus and chapter stops are of course provided for the feature as well.
The second disc starts off with the excellent fifty-eight minute long documentary, Highly Classified: The World of 007 that comes stars with an introduction from Q who talks about the video cassette you're playing! Q beams into your living room from a satellite and from there we get a wealth of interview and behind the scenes footage from the making of the movie. We see how the credits were put together and learn about the musical score, and we even get to talk to Michelle Yeoh a bit about her work on the movie. Brosnan shows up here a few times and we get a look at the storyboarding process and plenty of the stunt work as well.
An equally interesting documentary that also runs roughly an hour in length is The Secrets Of 007 which has been ported over from the last special edition release. Despite the fact that it is included with Tomorrow Never Dies it doesn't really cover that film in a whole lot of detail as this was made to promote the theatrical release of that film. Regardless, as retrospective documentaries go, this one is quite interesting and it gives us a look at the history of the franchise by way of some interesting interviews and an abundance of clips from throughout the series.
If that weren't enough, there is also featurette provided on the Making Of The Special Effects entitled Special FX Reel which again has been carried over. This is basically a before and after look at a few of the main special effects scenes from the movie that demonstrates what was done digitally to create them. A three minute Interview With David Arnold gives the composer of the movie's score a chance to talk about his work, however briefly, and it's interesting to hear his thoughts on the movie. Another segment entitled simply Gadgets gives us an insider's look at the creation of the trick cell phone, the customized BMW and the Sea Vac that Bond uses in the film.
Director Rodger Spottiswoode introduces a selection of deleted and extended scenes – Gupta In Office With Cards, Moving Assignment, Bond Gets A Jag, Full Sir Angus Black Story, Get To Know Him Better, Rental Car, Gupta Throws A Card At Guard, What The Hell Do I Pay You For, and Let's Stay Undercover. He also introduces a milt-angle segment that allows you to check out two different scenes - The Car Chase and White Knight – from three different angles by way of your remote control.
Rounding out the extras on the second disc is a music video for Moby's cover of the James Bond theme, some storyboard to film comparisons, a second music video for Sheryl Crow's theme song, and two original theatricals trailer for the film.
Also worth noting is that inside the attractive embossed box that holds the five slim cases are five separate booklets of liner notes that provide production details and a history of each of the five movies in this set and which is illustrated with promotional artwork and photographs. Each booklet also gives some interesting background information on the villains and Bond girls featured in each film. No author's credits are given.
The old adage that 'you can't please everyone' holds true in the world of DVD. Any time a major restoration is done or something is labeled as an 'ultimate edition' it opens itself up to careful scrutiny and nit picking. If you want to find flaws with this set, you will but there's no denying that, small grievances aside, this is a fantastic package. The films look and sound terrific and the extras are not only plentiful but most of them are actually quite interesting. Opinions will obviously vary as to the quality and merits of the individual films in the set but James Bond – Ultimate Edition Volume Four truly deserves the DVD Collector's Talk rating stamp of approval.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.