Considered some of the most comprehensive ever to be released on DVD, the James Bond Volumes released in fall/winter of 2006 were must-own for anyone who had ever taken it upon themselves to whistle the theme, introduce themselves last name first or wish they could own a PP7. With a two-disc release for each film, packed with commentaries, documentaries and whatever Fox and MGM could dig up from the archives, the “Ultimate James Bond” volumes were truly that—ultimate editions of these classic films. Now with the advent of Blu-ray, Fox is revisiting the Ultimate editions and giving them the 1080p treatment—complete with lossless audio!
Recently restored and re-mastered for the highest quality picture and sound quality via the state-of-the-art Lowry process digital frame-by-frame restoration and featuring special features galore, Bond is primed for Blu-ray Disc with a selection of 007 adventures spanning the storied career of cinema’s most recognizable spy. Bond titles arriving on Blu-ray Disc, timed to the highly anticipated worldwide theatrical premiere of the 22nd James Bond mission Quantum of Solace this November include Dr. No, Die Another Day, Live and Let Die (Volume 1) and For Your Eyes Only, From Russia With Love, Thunderball (Volume 2).
The first volume of the Blu-ray releases includes a completely different order of films when compared to its DVD brethren. Starting somewhat chronologically with the debut Connery effort Dr. No, the set also includes Roger Moore’s Bond debut with Live and Let Die. Surprisingly the trend stops there, as rather than including Pierce Brosnan’s first we end up with his last with Die Another Day. It’s certainly an odd mixture of Bond films, as none of the films represent the men’s best (although I’m sure that’s up to debate), but with the original DVD releases playing a similar game of “random collections”, I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised by how the Blu-ray trend is starting.
I’m sure I’m going to shock all of you by saying that yes, I have in fact seen all of the Bond movies previously. I’ve become so accustomed to writing “no I haven’t seen these” in my reviews for these older classics (I had to type it for The Godfather for cryin’ out loud…how embarrassing), but last Christmas season, Circuit City had all of the Bond sets up for incredibly cheap ($14.99 each or some such nonsense) and I sprung on the deal. Once the four volumes arrived, I tackled the films one by one (in chronological order, not the weird ass collections that each of the volumes contained). Previously I’d only seen a few of the Brosnan efforts, so I knew only him as Bond but after watching the twenty-one films in a row, I’ve decided that…yes, Connery is the man. Anyone who says otherwise is quite delusional.
Of course that isn’t to knock the other Bond’s; while I definitely leave Connery at the top, I can get similar enjoyment from the others, although I honestly became rather bored with Moore’s Bond after awhile, simply because he seemed to repeatedly do the same things with him in every film (by the time I came up on Octopussy, I started to tune him out). Daniel Craig is promising and may eclipse Brosnan for me, but I also enjoyed Dalton. Hell, even as entirely strange as it was, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was very entertaining for me.
So enough prattle about my experience watching the films for the first time, how did the experience go with these specific three? Well even on DVD I thought the films looked good (especially for their age), but if Blu-ray has taught me anything, older films look fantastic on the format and the Bond films are no different. Watching them again on Blu-ray was almost an entirely new experience, with increased depth and detail all over the place—something that especially had me dropping my jaw upon popping in Dr. No. While I wasn’t immediately impressed with the Bond in this film (remember, my initial exposure to the character was Brosnan’s take, which was much more gadget and explosion filled), watching it again does make me appreciate it more. It’s still a bit hokey, but that’s part of the charm of watching these films in this day and age. It helps that no matter which way you cut it, Connery fits the role of the character impeccably, right from the start; charming, suave and every bit the embodiment of Bond. While not the best of Connery’s Bond efforts, Dr. No is definitely required viewing for the uninformed. It starts you off easy for what will be a wild ride of 21 other films.
Moving onto Moore’s debut actually gave me more hope for Moore than I’d originally heard. While it was a great deal off-beat and downright campy than the other Bond flicks, it still was highly entertaining and the theme alone made for a good intro to the film. It’s not often with these Bond films that I actually enjoyed listening to the themes (I know you can lambast me for that too), but for this one I really think that was one of the best things about it. Of course Jane Seymour as the love interest was perfectly cast and there isn’t much else about this film aside from the camp to mention. It is definitely entertaining, but, sadly, I think Moore peaked a bit early in his Bond career, so this is the best we see him under the role (for me, anyway; obviously the Bond fans are so diverse and obsessed that I’m probably angering a whole array of people with this review, but hey—I grew up with Brosnan).
After solid efforts from Connery and Moore, how does Brosnan fair? Well, while Die Another Day isn’t without it’s entertaining element (giant ice house melting + Aston Martin driving through it? Yes please!), it is my least favorite of the Brosnan films for one reason: Halle Berry. The series has enough camp going on for it enough as is and her dialogue and character throughout seems to be made entirely to drive this point home and hammer it into our heads. Yes, Bond’s world is full of innuendo and sexual euphemisms, but moving your whole body and giving a sly glance while delivering such a line is not required when it comes to these films. So it’s a bit over the top, you say. Well it could be that I just don’t like Berry period, but for me this was the least engaging of the Brosnan films. Still, the villain is fun and the female baddy, played by Rosamund Pike, is one of the better ones to cross Bond’s path.
Overall fans know what to expect from the Bond films and picking up these volumes is going to go without saying. With Bond, you know you’re going to have to take the bad with the good and these volumes are a perfect example of this. I just wish there were more movies per volume this time around (three per set versus the five per set prior). Yeah it’s a big upgrade in the A/V department, but everything is contained on one disc each, so even a fourth film per set seems like it’d be plausible to me. But, costs are high for Blu-ray still, so to keep it in the same price bracket we’ll have to split these films up into seven volumes rather than four. Bit of a bummer, but hopefully Fox keeps the releases coming at a steady pace so we don’t have to wait to have the greatest action hero in high-definition. Recommended.
One nice thing about these new releases is that rather than picking up all of the films in their special edition incarnations, you’re given the option to pick up the individual releases as well. This means that while fans will no doubt pick up the tri-volume sets, those who only want the best of Bond can get that easily as well. Sadly I can’t comment on the volume packaging as I was sent the individual releases, but I’m beginning to think the volume casing is nothing but a slipcase that houses the three standard Blu-ray cases. As is these releases come with a very shiny reflective foil slipcase (which his already flaking printing—they’ve done nothing but slide across my desk since I got them and the spines, back and cover are already missing print), with inserts for Fox Blu-ray’s and a notice to update your players firmware. Disc art is the same across all of the six films that comprise the first two volumes: a replication of the famous movie intro with the film title below it. Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done. Also included on each of the releases is a movie ticket to Quantum of Solace. The ticket is not included inside the packaging, however, but rather as a sticker on the cover. You merely peel the sticker off (which again tears off some more printing—thanks!) and behind the goo is the sticker you punch in online to redeem. Not sure this is the greatest idea, as you can just go into the store and tear the sticker off of the slipcover and you have an instant free movie ticket, but hey…whatever works for Fox I suppose.
While it goes without saying that Die Another Day looks the best out of the trio (it’s the newest, so why wouldn’t it), I really am just more impressed with Dr. No and Live and Let Die due to their age. I’ve seen Fox do it with Patton and I had hoped that these films would have similar clarity and I was greatly pleased to see that they did. While it isn’t up to par with the clarity of Patton, there is still an amazing amount of detail and depth to the images for these films. Film stock really does offer up elements that digital can’t and I’m glad that Fox didn’t attempt to smear away all the grain and occasional dust to make it look “cleaner.” The AVC encoded transfers for these films are nearly perfect; I hesitate to call them entirely perfect simply because there will always be some tiny little element about them that can be taken issue with, but they are mighty impressive. Each of the films is encoded with an AVC with an average bit-rate of around 29mb for the Connery and Moore films and 22mb for Brosnan.
Also included for our listening pleasure is a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio track. Before you even begin to ponder…yes, these are amazing. If you were astounded by the DTS mixes that the DVD releases boasted, then you’ll be even more impressed by the clarity and room spread that these tracks give off. Aside from some dated deco, these films don’t look and sound as old as they are (show anyone Dr. No who doesn’t know Bond and they would never guess this film was from 1962) and the restoration and new sound mixes offered for these films is simply fantastic. Alternate English (original audio) and Spanish Mono tracks are offered for Dr. No and Live and Let Die, while French 5.1 is offered for all three. Subtitles are in English and Spanish.
The extras for all three of these releases are, to the best of my knowledge (and recollection—I passed off the DVD sets awhile back in anticipation for these releases), identical to the original Ultimate collection extras. Dr. No comes complete with an audio commentary with director Terence Young and members of the cast and crew, a “007: A License to Restore” featurette which details the exhaustive Lowry restoration process, “Inside Dr. No” featurette, “Terence Young: Bond Vivant” featurette and a vintage 1963 “Dr. No” featurette. A huge collection of images is included, as are theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots.
For To Live and Let Die we have audio commentary with Sir Roger Moore, audio commentary with director Guy Hamilton and audio commentary with screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz. Yes…we have three commentaries for this film and while three may sound like a lot, they all offer unique viewpoints to the film, so it’s quite a treat to listen. On one hand I wish they would’ve cut them together, but it’s best to leave everything uncut, especially if there’s disc space (and there’s plenty of it on this format). The rest of the extras include a “Bond 1973: The Lost Documentary”, a “Roger Moore as James Bond” circa 1964 featurette, “Live and Let Die” conceptual art, “Inside Live and Let Die” featurette, “On Set with Roger Moore” featurettes, an image database, theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots.
Finally we have an audio commentary with actors Pierce Brosnan and Rosamund Pike as well as another track with director Lee Tamahori and producer Michael G. Wilson for Die Another Day. I really enjoyed the actor track a bit more, perhaps because the two participating were my favorite thing about the film, but both are worth a listen if you enjoyed the film (or want to watch the film but not listen to Berry). “MI6 Data Stream trivia track”, “From Script to Screen”, “Shaken and Stirred On Ice” Featurette, “Just Another Day” featurette, “The British Touch: Bond Arrives in London” featurette, “On Location with Producer Designer Peter Lamont” featurette and an image database round out the extras for this release.
All three films contain a “007 Mission Control” interactive guide that allows you to explore more into the films back-story and characters. All three also contain “smart menu” technology, but quite honestly aside from slick new animation, the menus look nearly identical to the previous two-disc DVD releases. The extras across all three releases are a mix of high and standard definition.
Overall you’d be upgrading to these new releases for the video and audio and they do not disappoint. Although I’m hesitant to recommend such a pricey upgrade, especially when the original sets themselves weren’t so cheap when original hitting, but if you’re a fan of 007 then there’s really no choice but to pick up these sets. They’re put together well and the new transfers will immerse you in the films in a way that DVD just couldn’t—you’ll see all the little details on the screen and hear every bit of audio as it surrounds you. Perhaps just pick up your favorites for now if dropping over $100 on six Blu-ray’s isn’t appealing to you (it isn’t to me), but no matter which way you cut it the statement plastered across the back of each of these releases rings true: “Blu-ray was made for Bond!” Highly Recommended.
James Bond Blu-ray Collection Three-Pack, Vol. 1 (Dr. No / Die Another Day / Live and Let Die) arrives on Blu-ray on October 21st.