L e n s V i e w s
A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz
Modus Operandi The Scorecard:
James Bond Blu-ray Collection Three-Pack, Vol. 1 [Blu-ray]
(Dr. No / Live and Let Die / Die Another Day)
(Terence Young, 1962 - Guy Hamilton, 1973 - Lee Tamahori, 2002)
Review by Leonard Norwitz
Theatrical: EON Productions
Blu-ray: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review by Leonard Norwitz
Custom Book-style Case
Release Date: October 21st, 2008
The James Bond and Star Wars films are 20th Century Fox's most profitable franchises – the Bond movies being the second highest grossing franchise worldwide after Harry Potter.
The Good, the Bad, but never Ugly James Bond movies, from 1962 to infinity and beyond: The fabulous Bond Girls; the exotic international locales; the great gadgets, often based on the latest technological development; the remarkable lack of investigation needed to find or bring to justice some of the nuttiest criminals and most grasping of corporate entities; the awesome stunts that beg topping in each succeeding Bond movie; James' dinner jackets that rarely get ruffled – like his belief in the righteousness of the British Empire; the rampant, but comical sexism and racism. It was pretty much all there from the first, regardless of the actor playing the part.
Beginning late 2006, Fox began releasing the first of its "Ultimate" series on DVD: Resmastered in 4K HD, restored in many cases, from Dr. No through Pierce Brosnan's Die Another Day: a total of 21 titles when you add in Daniel Craig's Casino Royale, which is a bonus volume when you order the entire collection from Amazon. (Neither David Niven & Woody Allen's Casino Royale spoof nor Sean Connery's Never Say Never Again is included.)
The Ultimate DVD series were organized into four volumes of 5 titles, later released separately. Each title had its own bonus disc, chock full of extras. The new Blu-ray series source the same masters as the Ultimate DVDs and are organized into 3-title, 50 GB dual-layer, single-disc volumes that also include the bonus features and, like the DVDs, are taken out of chronological order to make them more attractive to early collectors. This way, no one set is likely to have the best or worst of the lot.
The bonus features are presently in much the same way as we saw on the Ultimates, only cooler. They include one or more commentaries, often pieced together from contributors sitting separately; segments titled "Interactive Guide into the World of . . . " or "Mission Control Interactive Guide" which are bookmarked scenes that fans are likely to want to return to; trailers, radio &TV spots, some of considerable length (one of my favorites being Roger Moore as 007 on a sketch British TV series back in 1964 called Mainly Millicent, found on the Live and Let Die disc); and making-of documentaries and featurettes of various lengths.
"BLU-RAY WAS MADE FOR BOND!"
We have to grant that the Ultimate DVDs not only represent a great improvement over previous incarnations, they were often outstanding in their own right. With the Blu-rays, we expect benefits of a high definition image and uncompressed audio mix (with the choice of the original audio mix, whether mono or stereo), but are there extra bonus features, some of which have origins back to laserdisc? The simple answer is "No." Not so far, and probably not likely in the future – although there is the occasional bonus feature that is bumped up to HD. So, should we bother to upgrade or buy Blu-ray outright, especially now that you can find Ultimate DVDs at bargain prices?
The answer, not surprisingly, depends on your commitment to the genre: If you're an aficionado or held off when the Ultimate Series were introduced, you should buy the Blu-ray, taking advantage of special sales such as the promotional that Amazon is running with the release of Volumes 1 & 2. If you bought the Ultimate DVDs, all or in part, you could wait until the titles you want most are released separately, which we can expect eventually. Conversely, if you purchased only the Ultimate titles most important to you, then I'd like to urge you consider these Blu-ray sets. Even the weaker Bond movies will come to life in ways that a more leisurely revisit may surprise you.
If your experience in the theatre has been anything like mine, then you will never have seen these movies as sharp and clear as they are presented here. Bigger and louder, yes, but not nearly as clearly. Lazy projectionists and poor or worn out film gates are often responsible for an aggravating theatre experience. Half our brain activity is expended on trying to maintain dramatic continuity in spite of mechanical and human efforts determined to prevent it. Not so on high-definition video. The picture is always sharp – frame-to-frame and edge-to-edge. We enjoy sharpness, resolution, luminance, contrast, color and audio in a way that, except for size, only the rare visit to the theatre can begin to approach.
As the slogan on the box says: "BLU-RAY WAS MADE FOR BOND!" - especially true in these awesome restorations made from 4K high-def masters.
• Dr. No
Directed by Terence Young
Aspect ratio: 1.66:1
Codec: AVC @ 29 MBPS
Capacity: 50 GB
Audio: English DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio + Original English Mono. Spanish mono, French 5.1 DD.
Subtitles: English & Spanish
Duration: 110 minutes
The Movie: 6
• Live And Let Die
Directed by Guy Hamilton
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Codec: AVC @ 29 MBPS
Capacity: 50 GB
Audio: English DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio + Original English Mono. Spanish Mono, French 5.1 DD.
Subtitles: English & Spanish
Duration: 122 minutes
• Feature Commentary with Actor Roger Moore
• Feature Commentary by Director Guy Hamilton, cast & crew.
• Feature Commentary by Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz
• Inside Live And Let Die (29:45)
• Bond 1973: The Lost Documentary (21:39)
• Roger Moore as James Bond, circa 1964 (7:44)
The Movie: 5
Live And Let Die is the first of seven Bond films to star Roger Moore as 007. It was the eighth film from EON Productions, who have produced 22 Bond films thus far, Moore being the third actor (not counting David Niven and Woody Allen who remain outside the pale) to try on the role. As is widely known by now, Moore was approached by the producers before Connery but he passed, partly because he was tied up with The Saint, which was to begin airing that year (1962) and, so we hear, partly because he felt himself too young for the part. By the time he took on the mantle, Moore was 46, the oldest starter thus far (Connery was 32, Lazenby 30, Dalton 41, Brosnan 42, and Craig 37.) By the time of For Your Eyes Only, his age had begun to work against him.
Live And Let Die did well at the box office, taking in well over 20 times its budget ($800M in today's money). Considering how weak a film it is, this figure is striking compared to the recent Casino Royale, a much better film in every way, which earned less than six times its budget ($500M). It gives you some perspective on how much it takes to recoup what have become very expensive projects (In today's dollars, Live And Let Die would have cost about $39M vs. $139M for Casino Royale.)
Live And Let Die also introduced audiences to Jane Seymour, at a time when she was still seen, at 22, as something of a sex kitten, and just as she was beginning to adopt her signature Giaconda sneer. The movie is unusual for its not having a megalomaniacal supervillain, nor an international cast, but instead being a thinly disguised blaxploitation film centering on drug trafficking, with lots of voodoo over- and undertones set in Harlem, New Orleans and the Caribbean. Yaphet Kotto, in his disguise as Mr. Big, looks more like a black wolfman. It's to retch for!
Live And Let Die is also remarkable for its being one of the early Bond films whose score is not by John Barry. In his place (that's a joke!) we have George Martin who couldn't resist bringing along Paul McCartney and Wings for the title song. All the same, I thought B. J. Arnau's rendition sung in a nightclub scene pissed all over McCartney's. Barry's theme music is present but not as he would have done it.
I don't happen to be one of those who reflexively dismiss Roger Moore's Bond, not that there's anything to write home about in his first outing. Rather, I think he suffers mostly from weak material. Out of his seven films, how many can you name that you would consider good movies regardless of his part in them? Now, how many are weak or just plain bad? My count is 1 and 4, respectively. What I like about Moore, and what distinguishes him from the others – even if not entirely in keeping with Fleming's character - is his charm and sly sense of humor. Connery was neither funny nor witty so much as acerbic and ironic, with a touch of sarcasm – which is how we liked him. Dalton & Lazenby, nearly humorless. Brosnan was more like Moore, with a touch of the Sean. Craig is like Connery, only more so – darker, pained. Who, but Moore, could have delivered the line "I'm sure we'll be able to lick you into shape" sans smarm or a wink at the audience? Of all the post-Connery Bonds, was there any other with a voice to speak of? Roger Moore had a way with his adversaries that almost made them human. Can you imagine reviving Jaws (Richard Kiel) for any other 007? Action may not have been his forte, but he brought his own style to the part, and I always liked him more than his movies.
Image: 8/8 NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.
I believe Live And Let Die was the last Bond film to have this kind of studio look to it even when on-location, of which there is a great deal. Color and contrast are pumped up – not to excess, but enough to make a stylistic statement that supports its locations. As I recall, even Moonraker, the most phantastic of all the Bond movies, had a more naturalistic look than Live And Let Die. The lighting and photography here results in sharpness that is sometimes scary. The scenes where Bond first meets Solitaire with all her robes and glitter is one where Moore could not have tolerated a few years later. There are only a few instances where, for brief seconds at a time, the image is less than zippy. Bit rates are in the low 30s.
CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION
Note: We couldn't obtain Blu-ray captures of Die Another Day
As in earlier Bond films in Fox's Blu-ray Volumes 1 and 2, the music track gets pumped up during the action sequences, especially near the climax of a chase, particularly noxious during the speedboat chase. All the same, I prefer the uncompressed audio to the original mono, which, while even-tempered, is relatively lifeless.
All three commentaries provide useful information but contain lots of dead air, even the ones with several participants (the result of being recorded separately). For the first half of the film, Moore's comments, often anecdotal, are the most absorbing. Then, too, there's that voice: can't get enough. Thus the segment: Roger Moore as James Bond, circa 1964, where he appears as a guest artist in the British TV sketch TV series, Mainly Millicent: Silly. Droll. Historical. Is it camp or merely Memorex? The documentary (or is it a featurette?) Inside Live And Let Die is another piece to watch here, touching on the difficulties of production. As for Bond 1973: The Lost Documentary, it's superficial, but depending on what you already know about the state of the Bond franchise when casting Roger Moore, is not without interest.
• Die Another Day
Directed by Lee Tamahori
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Codec: AVC @ 22 MBPS
Capacity: 50 GB
Audio: English DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio + Original English 2.1 DD. Spanish 2.0, French 5.1 DD.
Subtitles: English & Spanish
Duration: 127 minutes
• Feature Commentary with Actors Pierce Brosnan & Rosamund Pike
• Feature Commentary by Director Lee Tamahori & Producer Michael G. Wilson
• Featurette: Shaken & Stirred on Ice (23:33)
• Documentary: From Script to Screen (51:57)
The Movie: 6
Die Another Day is the last of Pierce Brosnan's four Bond movies (each with a different director). It would be four years before the next Bond film: Casino Royale with Daniel Craig. (The longest interruption was between Timothy Dalton's License to Kill (1989) and Pierce Brosnan's Goldeneye (1995). Die Another Day asks a lot of its audience in that we learn by the end of the opening credits that 007 has been imprisoned in North Korea for over a year before he is released as part of a prisoner exchange. Now I ask you: where's the science-fantasy in that! Though it's not unrealistic, I still think it's too long for the character.
Bond knows someone set him up, and while M (played by Judy Dench, who came on board with Brosnan in Goldeneye) is concerned that he may have been compromised while in prison and gave up more than a year to stay alive. For a time, Bond's license is revoked but that doesn't stop him from doing what he does best. Along the way he runs into Jinx (Halle Berry), an NSA agent who helps him trail Zao (Rick Yune as the North Korean agent who was traded for Bond) to Gustav Graves (Toby Stevens) and subsequently to Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike, a double agent - but for whom?).
I felt Pierce Brosnan to be the most convincing and engaging post-Connery Bond until Daniel Craig. Though a little lightweight, he had wit, charm, and was comfortable in the action sequences. Goldeneye proved all that. Brosnan always had looks, he even looked great disheveled and unshaved as he does when released from a North Korean prison in Die Another Day. Craig, on the other hand, shows us a hard case Bond. He's really not all that much fun, but he has guts, intensity and determination. He's out to prove something from deep in his core, and he has the scars – emotional and physical – to show for it. Brosnan will likely be the last of his kind, so enjoy him while you can.
By the time of Die Another Day, 2.35 had been the order of the day for some while, as was surround sound. The image quality on Blu-ray is superb. Fillmlike, naturalistic (unlike the saturated, higher contrast "Technicolor" we see in the early Bond films.) The transfer is blemish-free, with plenty of shadow information in the dark scenes, but with modest amounts of noise in some of the skies. Die Another Day demands that the image does not blow itself out in the snow and ice scenes. It would be curtains for the movie if a projected image had no detail, but this one stays alive. Bit rates often in the mid-20s.
Die Another Day begins with one of the most striking images in any Bond film: a lone surfer in black, and then another, in a high surf. But what makes this image so immersive is the uncompressed surround track. The power and sheer mass of the sea has rarely been realized with such potency in a feature film. Unfortunately this same level of dynamics and scale does not follow the movie with impunity. By comparison, the dialog is sometimes dull, and other action sequences, such as the first big hovercraft chase scene, lack focus.
There are two running commentaries: the first is headed by first-time Bond director Lee Tamahori and the omnipresent Michael G. Wilson, whose name I confess I never noticed under a dozen Bond title credits. I wonder why! The two talk technical, casting, effects and gadgets. The second is by Brosnan, joined later, but recorded separately, by Rosamund Pike. Entertaining, though sporadic. From Script to Screen is exactly what it suggests. Very detailed. Shaken and Stirred on Ice examines all the challenges of filming the ice sequences and the stunts and chases withal. And lots more.
Recommendation (Vol. 2) : 8
As a group, the titles in Volume 2 are higher quality than Volume 1, but both must-haves for the Bond aficianado. The earlier films benefit most from their restorations, already evident in the Ultimate DVDs, but the extra vivid dimensionality – that reach out and touch it feeling we get with a high definition image is worth the investment. It's also nice that all the titles come with their original audio tracks for the purists among us, though I found myself preferring to the uncompressed audio, despite its being exaggerated in moments of excitement. Thumbs Up.