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James Bond Ultimate Edition: Volume 1
"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. What effect stepping into the expensive shoes of 007 has for the talented Daniel Craig remains to be seen, as the 21st Bond film, a gritty re-boot titled Casino Royale, opens later this month. Suffice to say, from the trailer anyway, that the no-nonsense Bond is back.
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, Timothy Dalton is hard-as-nails and almost disinterested in the bedroom games 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 first volume is concerned, there are relatively few clunkers (I myself don't particularly for the deadly serious tone of The Living Daylights, but then, I dig the supreme goofiness that is The Man With The Golden Gun). 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 first edition of the planned four "ultimate editions" (the second wave is due to arrive in December 2006) is a very handsome package 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 four 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.Goldfinger, dir. Guy Hamilton (1964)
From the opening notes of Shirley Bassey's brassy reading of the film's theme song, you know you're safely in classic territory -- this is the Bond film that many, including myself, first saw as their indoctrination into Fleming's world; despite the two previous films, the entire formula didn't really click into place until this, the third Bond adaptation. It doesn't hurt that Connery's wry performance as Britain's top spy helps smooth over some of the rougher patches -- namely the villainous Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman)'s icy demeanor and Auric Goldfinger's rotund banality.
Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), a voracious hoarder of -- you guessed it -- the shiny gold stuff, sets his sights on irradiating the United States' gold supply at Fort Knox, thereby throwing the world's economy into chaos and reaping a sizable profit when his own stockpile becomes the only untainted cache on Earth. Dodging lasers and Oddjob's (Harold Sakata) deadly bowler, the indefatigable Bond must zero in on the cold-blooded Goldfinger and put a stop to his plan, with help from a armload of nifty gadgets, of course.
Guy Hamilton shepherds his cast through a series of impressive set-pieces, although save for the electrifying, near-silent Fort Knox climax, this Bond film doesn't quite pack the adrenaline-charged bang that future installments would. However, Goldfinger continues to hold up as one of the Sixties' more enduring works.Diamonds Are Forever, dir. Guy Hamilton (1971)
Connery must've felt that the character of Bond was wearing thin by the time this film rolled around -- maybe it's his blithe delivery of lines or maybe it's the gray hairs starting to pop up on 007's head, but the franchise was definitely starting to show a little wear. Hell, even Blofeld seems bored.
After Blofeld (Charles Gray) is seemingly dispatched in the pre-credits sequence, Bond is tasked with assuming the identity of Peter Franks (Joe Robinson) and tracking down an AWOL shipment of diamonds in glitzy Las Vegas. After crossing paths with eccentric billionaire Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean), a surprisingly not-dead Blofeld, the femme fatale Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) and, of course, the amusingly monikered Bond dame Plenty O'Toole (Lana Wood), Bond finds himself tasked with shutting down a diamond-studded satellite with the power to incite wars the world over.
Save for the extended, action-packed climax aboard a oil rig, much of Diamonds Are Forever is pretty rote -- none of the action sequences really have much pop (no, not even that nifty driving on two wheels into an alley trick) and Connery seems as though he'd rather be anywhere else, just going through the motions and dutifully doling out quips. This would be Connery's last appearance as Bond until his bizarre one-off return as 007 in 1983's Thunderball riff Never Say Never Again (which competed with the "officially sanctioned" Octopussy, starring Bond 3.0, Roger Moore).The Man With The Golden Gun, dir. Guy Hamilton (1974)
Sir Roger Moore's sophomore outing as Bond, following 1973's Live and Let Die, and Guy Hamilton's last appearance behind the camera (until his uncredited work on 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me) finds 007 visiting southeast Asia in an effort to hunt down the expert assassin Scaramanga (Christopher Lee). It's a film very much of its time, with references to the ongoing energy crisis as well as plenty of attention given the then-burgeoning martial arts craze -- Moore doesn't look entirely comfortable busting out judo moves, but hey, even 007 has to keep up with Bruce Lee, right?
However, by grafting on topical elements from the period, The Man With The Golden Gun feels kind of airless, a film that you can't as easily suspend your disbelief for -- sure, the main story of cat-and-mouse between Bond and Scaramanga holds up well, but the desperate search for the solex agitator, lines of dialogue about an energy crisis and lingering in karate schools just makes this Bond outing feel a little musty.
That's not to say that Moore doesn't bring quite a bit of roguish energy to his second time in 007's shoes -- and howzabout Lee's turn as Scaramanga? The entire climax is a feverish delight, complete with witty banter, genuine tension and plenty o' explosions. The Man With The Golden Gun may not have aged very gracefully, but it's still, in my opinion, one of the better Bonds.The Living Daylights, dir. John Glen (1987)
Timothy Dalton's debut as the dashing 007 marks a notable shift in the geopolitical make-up of the world -- much of the dramatic tension centers around the murky, shifting loyalties of the Cold War, with Bond entangling himself with the KGB and muhajadeen, bringing a harsh dose of realism back to a series that was starting to wander off-track .
Political assassinations and intrigue -- something approaching a real, gritty spy thriller is what The Living Daylights has to offer and I'd argue that draining much of the more fantastical, globe-trotting elements out of the film kind of makes Bond seem less like a cinematic icon and more like a believably crafted protagonist for a standard-issue Eighties action drama. Dalton lends quite a bit of gravitas to the role of Bond, with a genuinely intelligent Bond girl -- Kara Milovy (Maryam D'Abo) -- this time around and a dense, complicated plot that certainly might befuddle any casual viewers.
Dalton would only keep his 007 status for one more movie -- 1989's Licence To Kill -- and the near-flatlined Bond franchise would lie dormant until the injection of fresh blood (Pierce Brosnan) and the smash success of 1995's Goldeneye, which reinvigorated the series. The Living Daylights is an interesting misstep, a worldly thriller that feels like Bond, but mostly in name only.The World Is Not Enough, dir. Michael Apted (1999)
And to round out this first 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, in 1995 with Goldeneye. This film, Brosnan's third appearance as Bond, is typical of the late Nineties-early Oughts Bond films -- bigger, louder and ever more narratively incoherent. With its oil stealing and nuclear bomb thieving, The World Is Not Enough often feels like a hybrid of earlier Bond films.
Brosnan has slipped quite comfortably into the role of Bond by this third film, arming himself with sly quips and killer reflexes -- not to mention a pretty high tolerance for throwing himself off of buildings and ledges. While I don't buy Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist for a minute (or her horrible name), Sophie Marceau isn't a particularly menacing villain either. To make matters worse, M (now played by Judi Dench) is kidnapped for no real reason other than to up the stakes a little bit and the charismatic Robert Carlyle is given nothing to do as the impervious Renard.
The World Is Not Enough is most bittersweet when concerning Q -- Desmond Llewelyn, who appeared in 17 Bond films, passed away in December 1999, after having completed work on this installment of the series. John Cleese was introduced as "R," his replacement and continues to appear in the films. While certainly not the weakest of the Brosnan Bonds (I'd bestow that dishonor upon Die Another Day), The World Is Not Enough pales in comparison to Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies.The DVDs
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, Goldfinger 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.
Diamonds Are Forever
With nary a speck or scratch, this 35-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, revealing the lame effects work (those missiles exploding aren't fooling anybody). Aside from these fleeting seams shown, this is an exceptional image.
The Man With The Golden Gun
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, it looks as though Roger Moore was racing around Bangkok with Britt Ekland just yesterday. The Lowry Digital Images team scores another hit with this fantastic restoration; there's not a defect to be found.
The Living Daylights
Just about to turn 20 years old, this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer nevertheless is sparkling -- the penultimate film in this first set to have undergone the Lowry Digital Images treatment, the Viennese and Afghan locations are vibrant and free of grain or shimmer. Crisp, saturated and spotless, this image is a breathtaking sight.
The World Is Not Enough
Despite its relative youth (although the film is coming up on a decade anniversary), The World Is Not Enough was also given the Lowry Digital Images once-over, resulting in this flawless 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I'm beginning to run out of adjectives to describe just how eye-popping these transfers are, but once again, the image is slick, sharp and devoid of any scratches or specks. A sumptuous visual representation.
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.
Diamonds Are Forever
Considering Diamonds Are Forever 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. However, the dialogue and that great Shirley Bassey-fueled theme song sound rich and clean. 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.
The Man With The Golden Gun
As with Diamonds Are Forever, 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 (most notably the climactic island implosion), but again, lack the commanding presence of more recent films. The diehards can revel in the original mono track, with a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a multitude of optional subtitles, available in English, French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Korean and Thai.
The Living Daylights
Plenty of gunfire and explosions to give the re-mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks a workout here -- dialogue, the not half bad A-Ha theme song and every whizzing bullet is reproduced with crystalline fidelity and presence. In a bit of an upgrade from the previous films in the set, the original Dolby 3.0 stereo soundtrack is here and perfectly adequate. 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.
The World Is Not Enough
No mono or stereo tracks here, thank you very much -- we're back in modern multiplex moviegoing 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.
Split across two discs, Goldfinger recycles much of the supplemental material from the previous 2000 and 2003 releases. On the first disc, a pair of commentary tracks -- one featuring director Guy Hamilton, actors Sean Connery, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Michael Mellinger and Honor Blackman; one featuring the Ian Fleming Foundation's John Cork, stuntman George Leech, optical effects supervisor Cliff Culley, stuntman (and Connery double) Alf Joint, draughtsman Peter Lamont, composer John Barry and crew members Joe Fitt and Burt Luxford -- accompany 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 Goldfinger, the "Declassified: MI6 Vault" holds the following: the three minute, 11 second "Sean Connery On The Set of Goldfinger" featurette, presented in full screen; screen tests for Theodore Bikel (five minutes, 38 seconds) and Tito Vandis (four minutes, 12 seconds); the 11 minute, 42 second "On Tour with the Aston Martin DB5" featurette, presented in fullscreen and the three minute, 58 second Honor Blackman open-ended interview featurette, which was sent out to TV stations at the time of the film's release for promotional purposes.
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 26 minute, two second "The Making of Goldfinger" documentary, presented in fullscreen and narrated by Patrick MacNee, as well as the 29 minute, 14 second "The Goldfinger Phenomenon," also in fullscreen and narrated by MacNee. Rounding out this section is a vintage publicity featurette, running two minutes, 15 seconds and presented in fullscreen.
The "Ministry of Propaganda" includes the original theatrical trailer, three TV spots, original radio interviews with Connery and a staggering 33 radio spots. Finishing up this first set is a photo gallery.
Diamonds Are Forever
The first disc here sports a single, stuffed commentary track, featuring director Guy Hamilton, co-screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, composer John Barry, actors Jill St. John, Joe Robinson, Marc Lawrence, Lana Wood, Bruce Glover, Shane Rimmer, Trina Parks, Jimmy Dean and Putter Smith, production designer Ken Adam, set decorator Peter Lamont, continuity supervisor Elaine Schreyeck, stunt man George Leech and lyricist Don Black, all of which is moderated by Bond historian David Naylor.
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 30 minute, 38 second featurette "Inside 'Diamonds Are Forever'," presented in fullscreen and the 41 minute, 20 second featurette "Cubby Broccoli: The Man Behind Bond," presented in fullscreen. The "Ministry of Propaganda" houses a teaser and theatrical trailer, five TV spots and three radio ads, with a photo gallery completing the two-disc set.
The Man With The Golden Gun
A pair of commentary tracks can be found on the first disc -- one containing edited together appearances from director Guy Hamilton, actors Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Soon-Talk Oh, production designer Peter Murton, cinematographer Oswald Morris and continuity supervisor Elaine Schreyeck, all of whom are moderated by Bond historian David Naylor and another (from what I can discern) new to this set and featuring Sir Roger Moore.
The "Mission Dossier" section houses the 30 minute, 56 second featurette "Inside The Man With The Golden Gun" and the 28 minute, 36 second featurette "Double-O Stunts." The "Ministry of Propaganda" includes a teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, two TV spots and three radio spots, with a photo gallery tying everything up in a nice, big bow.
The Living Daylights
Again moderated by Bond historian David Naylor, the first disc features a commentary track which includes contributions from director John Glen, actors Maryam D'Abo, Jeroen Krabbe, Andreas Wisniewski, Joe Don Baker, cinematographer Alec Mills, publicist Jerry Juroe, production supervisor Anthony Waye, effects supervisor John Richardson, co-producer/co-writer Michael Wilson and still unit photographer Keith Hampshire.
"Mission Dossier" contains the 33 minute, 38 second featurette "Inside 'The Living Daylights'," the 43 minute, three second featurette "Ian Fleming: 007's Creator," the four minute, 32 second music video for A-Ha's rendition of the theme song, as well as a three minute, 54 second music video making of. The "Ministry of Propaganda" is outfitted with two teaser trailers and one theatrical trailer, with a photo gallery finishing things off.
The World Is Not Enough
Last but not least, this most modern Bond film in the set is bestowed a pair of yack-tracks -- one from director Michael Apted and the second featuring comments from production designer Peter Lamont, secnd unit director VIc Armstrong and composer David Arnold.
The "Mission Dossier" section includes the 15 minute, five second featurette "The Making of 'The World Is Not Enough," the 22 minute, 49 second featurette "The Bond Cocktail," the poignant three minute, 21 second featurette "Tribute to Desmond Llewelyn," the four minute music video for Garbage's theme song and nine clips billed as "The Secrets of 007: Alternative Video Options," which takes viewers through the early stages of filmmaking. The "Ministry of Propaganda" houses a theatrical trailer and a photo gallery completes the two-disc set.
As the world awaits Casino Royale to re-boot the James Bond franchise yet again, 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.