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James Bond Ultimate Edition: Volume 3
"Bond. James Bond."
Were ever more iconic words uttered in the annals of cinema history? (It's a rhetorical question, folks -- don't flood me with e-mails.) Tailor-made for splashy, big budget action dramas, Ian Fleming's British superspy James Bond has proved to be one of filmdom's most durable heroes, not to mention one of its most successful and profitable franchises. Playing James Bond made a superstar out of Sir Sean Connery, a mildly successful character actor out of Sir Roger Moore, a Trivial Pursuit footnote out of George Lazenby and to a lesser degree, Timothy Dalton and re-ignited Pierce Brosnan's somewhat flagging career. The latest Brit to step into Bond's oh-so-stylish shoes, Daniel Craig, has effectively re-energized the flagging series (like Brosnan before him) -- lean, mean and pulsing with a dangerous energy, Casino Royale is a brutal, gritty re-boot that sets Bond upon a firm foundation and has this reviewer, at least, eagerly anticipating the 22nd Bond film in 2008.
Suave, debonair and misogynistic to a fault, the smooth operator Agent 007 has evolved from a Rat Pack-era jet-setter to a modern day man about the world -- every actor to have filled out 007's tuxedo has had a certain je nais se quoi about him, a rugged, adventurous sensibility that impressed guys and seduced the ladies. In point of fact, if someone wanted to distill the Bond series to its glib essence, you could do it thusly: girls, gadgets and globe-trotting. With minor variations here and there and nods to world events, the Bond films remain refreshingly the same, treading a predictable path with familiar signposts that link each film to the next, providing an astonishing sense of continuity, despite the franchise's numerous ups and downs.
In recent years, Pierce Brosnan has no doubt supplanted Sean Connery in a new generation's mind as the James Bond, but in viewing these films, selected from random points in Bond chronology, it's fascinating to see how each different actor leaves his stamp on this larger-than-life role -- Connery is wryly funny, Roger Moore is a classier, more urbane Bond, George Lazenby comes off as the uber-Bond, all cocky and hot-headed while Brosnan combines both, with an emphasis on puns and double entendres. The scripts are also of varying strengths, but with such an ironclad formula, it's not as though many will notice.
I'll go into slightly more detail about each individual film below, but suffice to say that, as far as this third volume is concerned, there are relatively few clunkers (one of my all-time favorite Bond films - GoldenEye - is here, as is a terrifically underrated Bond one-off: On Her Majesty's Secret Service). I'd imagine many fans will throw a fit that Sony/MGM/20th Century Fox have elected to release these volumes in non-sequential order, but I think it gives those who might be new to the franchise an opportunity to appreciate all of the Bonds, rather than just Connery, Moore or Brosnan. Also, I should note that I'll be treading into spoiler territory with most, if not all, of the films in this set so virgin eyes beware.
The Bond films have a brief but active history on DVD: first appearing in 2000 (all 19 movies were issued individually as single disc editions and in a box set), all 20 films (now including 2002's Die Another Day) were collected for a second release in 2003, as the "James Bond Collection (Special Edition)" sets -- three in total -- with each box containing seven films. This newest round of sets (again featuring all 20 films, arranged in no particular chronological order) is comprised of four volumes, this time with five films in each box, with each film given a two-disc set. These "ultimate editions" were originally slated to be released in late 2005, but when MGM scrapped this date, these sets were pushed back to this year, timed to arrive with the 21st Bond film Casino Royale. To further frustrate Stateside fans, all of these "ultimate edition" DVDs have been released individually in region two -- as of this writing, it's unknown if and when these region one sets will be offered as stand-alone purchases here in the States. I should probably also point out at this juncture that very little of the supplemental material included on this latest "ultimate edition" is new: much of it has been ported over from the previous DVD releases and from what I can tell, only the "007 Mission Control" features and the "Declassified: MI6 Vault" features are newly created for these "ultimate editions."
This third volume of the four "ultimate editions" completes the planned releases for 2006 and rumors are already circulating that these sets will be split up into individual two-disc sets sometime in 2007 (very possibly when Casino Royale makes its debut on DVD). These "ultimate editions" are very handsome packages indeed: all 10 discs are housed inside dual-disc thinpaks, tucked comfortably inside the embossed slipcase, where the informational booklets for all five films are also kept. Kudos to MGM for keeping these sets space-friendly, rather than turning out a quartet of shelf-swallowing beasts. The titles in each set are listed on both spines for easy storage and selection, although, again, the chronologically minded will be frustrated.From Russia with Love, dir. Terence Young (1963)
The character of James Bond wasn't quite fully formed in this sequel to 1962's Dr. No -- Connery certainly doesn't have the heft that he does in later Bonds -- but it's proof that the formula was working: exotic locales, beautiful women and delicious intrigue pitting SPECTRE against MI-6. The subsequent Bond outing, 1964's Goldfinger, would definitively catapult Bond and his films into the spotlight, but From Russia with Love still has its pleasures.
Charged with tracking down the Lektor encryption device (one of only a handful in the world), Bond finds himself smitten with Russian spy Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) and hanging out with gypsys in Turkey; perhaps this Bond film doesn't have the flavor of the later installments precisely because it's not hung up on gadgets and gee-whiz set-pieces. It feels fuller somehow, really allowing the characters to breathe.
With plenty of firsts -- John Barry's iconic "007 Theme," Bond's beloved Bentley and the pre-credits sequence are all seen/heard here for the first time in the series -- From Russia with Love remains one of the truly classic Bond films, a work that paved the way for an incredible run that continues to this day.On Her Majesty's Secret Service, dir. Peter Hunt (1969)
Ah, George Lazenby -- his first (and last) appearance as James Bond is found here, in the grossly underrated On Her Majesty's Secret Service. I'd imagine that part of the resistance to Lazenby was that he just wasn't what moviegoers were used to (sound familiar, Daniel Craig?) and therefore must be automatically inferior.
This Bond film leans heavily on the love story and even, arguably, takes its sweet time getting to where it's going; On Her Majesty's Secret Service also isn't helped by the fact that Lazenby and his female co-star, Diana Rigg, have close to zero chemistry (legend has it they loathed one another). It really undermines what the filmmakers are striving towards in that final, devastating sequence -- nevertheless, this film isn't nearly as bad as some would have you believe.
With breathtaking Swiss skiing sequences and that nifty mountaintop lair occupied by Blofeld (a very suave, menacing Telly Savalas), On Her Majesty's Secret Service mostly makes for up for the fact that the story-line meanders a bit and doesn't quite pack the punch intended; as Bonds go, Lazenby - perhaps above all other non-Connerys - certainly deserves a re-assessment.Live and Let Die, dir. Guy Hamilton (1973)
Sean Connery turned down a reported $5.5 million to reprise the role of Bond just one more time so that allowed Roger Moore to bow as Bond in this, his first outing as 007. Featuring that classic, kick-ass Paul and Linda McCartney title track (which was actually nominated for an Oscar), Live and Let Die lets the quips fly unfettered, somewhat lightening an otherwise dark, voodoo-flavored plot: Bond is turned loose on a drug lord (Yaphet Kotto), armed with a scarily accurate psychic, Solitaire (Jane Seymour, in her feature film debut).
Essentially a series of chases (in New York, New Orleans and Jamaica) stapled to a tried-and-true narrative, Live and Let Die still feels like a lot of fun some three decades later, thanks mainly to Moore's disarming performance as Bond and the exotic flavor of the screenplay; Moore stepped into the role after Connery's forgettable farewell in Diamonds Are Forever and made it his own.
If there are any complaints that can be lobbed at the film, it's that much like The Man with the Golden Gun and its grafting a martial arts sequence onto its narrative, Live and Let Die leans a bit too heavily on the early Seventies advent of the blaxploitation genre, somewhat dating the film (again like its 1974 antecedent). Nevertheless, it's a solid debut and one of Moore's better efforts.For Your Eyes Only, dir. John Glen (1981)
Following the borderline lunacy of 1979's Moonraker, James Bond needed to be brought back down to Earth -- which he was with the lean, efficient For Your Eyes Only, which, in some aspects, can't help but feel like something of a From Russia with Love retread, only with an Olympic ice skater plugged into the role of Tatiana Romanova.
Charged with tracking down a missing device that could control a fleet of nuclear submarines, Bond travels to Greece and indulges himself in the pleasures of Melina (Carole Bouquet). Quite frankly, after the near-operatic excess of Moonraker, it's very refreshing to have a scaled-down (well, scaled-down for Bond) film where everything just feels a lot less bloated than it did up in outer space.
With back-to-basics action sequences and a Bond girl who's a lot tougher than usual, For Your Eyes Only is a great change of pace from the overwhelming spectacle of the preceding films and one which helps set the slightly darker, more immediate tone of the Eighties Bonds.GoldenEye, dir. Martin Campbell (1995)
Rounding out this third volume, a dash of Pierce Brosnan, arguably a Bond just as beloved as Connery -- and one whom kick-started the 007 franchise back to life, as previously mentioned, with this film, GoldenEye. Much of the film feels like a series tentatively re-finding its way as the rapid-fire quips compete with the bombastic set-pieces and Famke Janssen, as murderous Bond babe Xenia Onatopp, overacts with a vengeance; yet, Brosnan seems perfectly at ease from the opening frames.
Another element of GoldenEye that continues to hold up well is Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein's taut screenplay that dispenses with murky Cold War shenanigans and doles out a surprisingly potent piece of drama that deals with betrayals and conflicting loyalties -- not to mention some truly astonishing sequences. The opening bungee jump still elicits gasps a decade later. Lean, mean and an indication that the franchise was going to go darker and simultaneously come to rely on goofy gadgets.
GoldenEye is up there as one of Brosnan's best outings as Bond -- his five appearances would vary greatly in quality, but this film, which also debuted Judi Dench as the new M, includes terrific performances from Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Robbie Coltrane, Joe Don Baker and a slightly hammy Alan Cumming.The DVDs
From Russia with Love
Put simply, this 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is damn near a revelation -- having been restored frame-by-frame by the fine folks at Lowry Digital Images, From Russia with Love fairly pops off the screen with vibrant, saturated colors and crisp, rich blacks. You might even say this image is too clean -- there are several instances where you can see the seams in the rear projection or effects work, but these are minor, nit-picky points. Sit back and revel in this slick, sharp picture.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
With nary a speck or scratch, this 37-year-old image looks sterling with this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, having been buffed and polished by the Lowry Digital Images team. The vivid colors, inky blacks and warm skin tones look great and again, there are instances where the restoration works overtime, occasionally revealing the lame effects work. Aside from these fleeting seams shown, this is an exceptional image.
Live and Let Die
Not to sound like a broken record, but again, this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of three-decades-old material is flat-out amazing -- sharp, clean and lush, Mr. Big's poppy fields, the gritty Harlem streets and the lush Jamaican foliage all look startlingly vivid. The Lowry Digital Images team scores another hit with this fantastic restoration; there's not a defect to be found.
For Your Eyes Only
Fresh off its 25th birthday, this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer nevertheless sparkles -- the penultimate film in this third set to have undergone the Lowry Digital Images treatment, the Greek and Bahamian locations are vibrant and free of grain or shimmer. Crisp, saturated and spotless, this image is a breathtaking sight.
Despite its relative youth (although the film is over a decade old), GoldenEye was also given the Lowry Digital Images once-over, resulting in this re-mastered 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Strangely, this film, out of all of the cleaned up Bond films I've seen, looks the least great. It's a little soft, missing the crispness that every other film I've seen in the other volumes has. Slightly disappointing, but it's still a mostly solid image.
From Russia with Love
The oldest film in this set sounds relatively modern -- thanks to the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Neither of these have the room-filling punch of a modern movie soundtrack, but both are appropriately lively when necessary (explosions, gunshots and revving engines). For the purists among you, the original mono soundtrack is included, as is a French Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and a wide variety of optional subtitle flavors: English, French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Korean and Thai.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Considering On Her Majesty's Secret Service is pushing 40, it sounds pretty solid here, although, surprisingly, not as robust as I thought it would: equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks, the action sequences (and explosions in particular) lack a certain fullness and punch. Again, the original mono track is preserved for posterity, with a French Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and a veritable United Nations of optional subtitles on board: English, French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Korean and Thai.
Live and Let Die
As with On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the re-mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks feel full at times and thin at others -- mostly in scenes with a lot of dialogue. The action sequences pack some punch, but again, lack the commanding presence of more recent films, although the McCartney title song still sounds fantastic. Strangely, no original mono track has been included, although a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track has, along with a multitude of optional subtitles, available in English, French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Korean and Thai.
For Your Eyes Only
Plenty of gunfire and explosions to give the re-mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks a workout here -- dialogue, score and every whizzing bullet is reproduced with crystalline fidelity and presence. Also on board is a French Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and, in keeping with the other films offered, a plethora of optional subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Korean and Thai.
No mono or stereo tracks here, thank you very much -- we're back in the modern multiplex moviegoing era with the original Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which is augmented with a DTS 5.1 track that edges out the Dolby Digital ever so slightly in terms of warmth and clarity, as well as fullness. A French Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also included here as is the requisite bounty of optional subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Korean and Thai.
From Russia with Love
Split across two discs, From Russia with Love recycles much of the supplemental material from the previous 2000 and 2003 releases. On the first disc, a commentary track -- one hosted by the Ian Fleming Foundation's John Cork and featuring director Terence Young, actors Walter Gotell, Aliza Gur, Martine Beswick and Lois Maxwell, editor Peter Hunt, composer John Barry, dubbing editor Norman Wanstall, special effects supervisor John Stears, production designer Syd Cain and producer Albert Broccoli's wife, Dana -- accompanies the film, providing plenty of information, trivia and fond remembrances.
The second disc contains the bulk of the bonus features. For each two-disc set in this volume, the menus are laid out in an identical fashion. Each supplemental disc has five headings (as detailed below) which contain the supplements. For From Russia with Love, the "Declassified: MI6 Vault" holds the following: the seven minute, 42 second "Ian Fleming: The CBC Interview," the five minute, 11 second featurette "Ian Fleming & Raymond Chandler," the five minute, 11 second featurette "Ian Fleming on Desert Island Discs" and an animated storyboard sequence for the climactic boat chase.
The "007 Mission Control" is likewise identical on all five films in this set -- it's a superfluous feature, one which basically presents clips germane to each of the subheadings -- "007," "Women," "Allies," "Villains," "Mission Combat Manual," "Q Branch" and "Exotic Locations" -- that are playable all together or separately. There's no narration or other information; it's quite literally brief clips from each film. The "Mission Dossier" heading includes the 33 minute, 42 second featurette "Inside 'From Russia with Love'" and the 26 minute, 42 second featurette "Harry Saltzman: Showman."
The "Ministry of Propaganda" includes the original theatrical trailer, two additional theatrical trailers, three TV spots, and three radio spots. Finishing up this first set is a photo gallery.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
The first disc here sports a single commentary track, featuring (largely) director Peter Hunt, actors Lois Maxwell and Angela Scoular, set decorator Peter Lamont, editor/second unit director John Glen and others, all of which is edited together and moderated by Bond historian John Cork.
As stated above, the "007 Mission Control" is likewise identical on all five films in this set -- it's a superfluous feature, one which basically presents clips germane to each of the subheadings -- "007," "Women," "Allies," "Villains," "Mission Combat Manual," "Q Branch" and "Exotic Locations" -- that are playable all together or separately. There's no narration or other information; it's quite literally brief clips from each film. The "Mission Dossier" heading includes the 41 minute, 39 second "Inside 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'," the 10 minute, 25 second "Inside Q's Lab" and the five minute, 40 second "Above It All," a vintage featurette. The "Ministry of Propaganda" houses a theatrical trailer, five TV spots, three radio ads, and radio interview with George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas and Peter Hunt with a photo gallery completing the two-disc set.
Live and Let Die
A trio of commentary tracks (which might explain the absence of the mono soundtrack) can be found on the first disc -- one featuring director Guy Hamilton, one featuring screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz and a third which is (from what I can discern) new to this set and featuring Sir Roger Moore. Taken together, these tracks provide the expected insight and remembrances of working on Moore's inaugural outing as Bond.
The "Mission Dossier" section houses the 29 minute, 45 second "Inside 'Live and Let Die,'" the one minute, 42 second "On Set with Roger Moore: The Funeral Parade" and the three minute, 57 second "On Set with Roger Moore: Hang Gliding Lessons." The "Ministry of Propaganda" includes two theatrical trailers, three TV spots and two radio spots, with a photo gallery tying everything up in a nice, big bow.
For Your Eyes Only
The first disc boasts a trio of commentary tracks -- one featuring John Glen, along with actors Lynn-Holly Johnson, Topol and a couple crew members, one featuring producer Michael G. Wilson, production designer Peter Lamont, skiing expert Willy Bogner and other techie crew members and a third, newly recorded track featuring Sir Roger Moore. Taken together, these tracks provide a great overview of the film and its technical challenges.
"Mission Dossier" contains the 29 minute, 45 second featurette "Inside 'For Your Eyes Only,'" a pair of animated storyboard sequences for the snowmobile chase and underwater, along with the two minute, 45 second Sheena Easton music video for the film's theme song. The "Ministry of Propaganda" is outfitted with one theatrical trailer, three TV spots and two radio ads with a photo gallery finishing things off.
Last but not least, this most modern Bond film in the set includes a lone yack-track -- one which features director Martin Campbell and producer Michael G. Wilson; in keeping with prior Bond commentaries, the track is balanced between technical and creative information, with both men contributing a fair amount of information.
The "Mission Dossier" section includes the 43 minute, 27 second vintage TV special "The World of 007," the 14 minute, 14 second "The GoldenEye Video Journal," a five minute, 21 second vintage promotional featurette and the three minute, 32 second music video for Tina Turner's rendition of "GoldenEye." The "Ministry of Propaganda" houses two theatrical trailers and 12 TV spots (playable separately or all together) and a photo gallery completes the two-disc set. Final Thoughts:
Fresh from its most recent re-boot -- thanks to Daniel Craig's incendiary turn in Casino Royale -- these newly released "ultimate editions" provide the perfect chance for those who've not yet pulled the trigger and bought Bond on DVD to do so. Those who have purchased one (or both) of the previous Bond DVDs should be sorely tempted to upgrade based upon the sterling treatment afforded each film by Lowry Digital Images. Tailor-made for splashy, big budget action dramas, Ian Fleming's British superspy James Bond has proved to be one of filmdom's most durable heroes, not to mention one of its most successful and profitable franchises. These sets, with some of the best audio/visual presentations this reviewer has seen in 2006, and plenty of supplemental material to sate even the most diehard Bond fan, easily secure DVD Talk's highest rating: Collector Series.Other James Bond Ultimate Edition reviews:
James Bond Ultimate Edition: Volume 1
James Bond Ultimate Edition: Volume 2
James Bond Ultimate Edition: Volume 4