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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Licence To Kill [Blu-ray]

(aka "License To Kill")

 

(John Glen, 1989)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: MGM Pictures

Blu-ray: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: A-locked (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 133 min

Chapters: 32

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray case w/ slipcover

Release date: May 12, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC @ 25 Mbps

 

Audio:

EEnglish DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1. Original Audio Dolby Surround. Spanish & French 5.1 Dolby Digital

 

Subtitles:

EEnglish SDH, Spanish, Korean, Cantonese & Mandarin

 

Extras:

• Audio Commentary with Director John Glen & Members of the Cast

• Audio Commentary with Michael G. Wilson & Members of the Crew

• Deleted Scenes with Introductions by the Director – in HD/SD (10:32)

• Bond 89 – in SD (11:43)

• On the Set with John Glen – in SD (9:28)

• On Location with Peter Lamont – in SD (5:23)

• Ground Check with Corky Fornoff – in SD (4:45)

• Production Featurette: Behind the Scenes – in SD (4:57)

• Inside Licence to Kill – in HD (32:01)

• Kenworth Trucks Feaurette – in SD (9:31)

• Music Video with Gladys Knight – in SD (4:27)

• Music Video with Patti Labelle – in SD (4:02)

• Theatrical Trailer

 

 

The Film:

Licence To Kill was Timothy Dalton's second, and last movie as 007. Until Pierce Brosnan signed on for Goldeneye, it resulted in the largest gap (5 years) between Bond films until Casino Royale. I realize there is a tendency for some of these movies to blur into one another (there's an understatement!), but Licence To Kill has to be one of the strangest and most uneven of all the Bond films in the Eon canon.

First, there's the way it starts off – not with a set piece that usually seems tacked on for the sake of a stunt, but in medias res, as it were. This should be a good thing, right! Bond appears to be on vacation in the Bahamas on his way to a wedding where he is to be Felix Leiter's best man. Suddenly, Felix (David Hedison) is called away to go after very bad guy and drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) who has just kidnapped (or rescued, depending on your point of view) his girlfriend from a dalliance with some luckless sap (what a dope!). It's no surprise that Bond hitches a ride for the chase nor that he is most responsible for Sanchez' capture. Said captivity isn't for long, we can be sure, since a cop is bought off to free him in what looks like just another excuse for underwater photography, but turns out to have plot significance, though we soon forget why Bond encounters Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell - more on her in a bit.)

The dialogue is uniformly awful with correspondingly wooden line readings by all concerned (except maybe Davi and Bouvier). The sadism is more rampant and sex jokes more out of place than usual for a Bond movie. The plot soon drowns itself in complexities that make one's head swim. Why, for example, does Sanchez have it so in for Felix that he kills his new bride and feeds Felix to his pet shark? And why risk exposure for such a lowlife crime (we later learn that Sanchez practically owns the "Republic of Isthmus" - I guess they couldn't pay Panama enough money to use their name). Lupe (Talisa Soto), the kidnapped girl from earlier, has repeated encounters with Bond throughout the movie and gradually falls in love with him, though it's hard to explain why. Q (Demond Llewelyn) shows up en route and insinuates himself into the chase just for the fun of it. Very embarrassing. Bond tells Q and Pam to go home three times ("I work best on my own") and each time they reappear, saving his life on a couple of occasions. Felix actually recovers from having been made a meal of by a Great White in a small cage, having forgotten that his bride was just murdered!!!!!!!!!

More than usual, character and situational motivation passes understanding, as when M (why and how did he get teleported to Key West at just that moment?) reminds James of a job waiting for him in Istanbul and to not go off after Sanchez, to which Bond responds by resigning on the spot and shooting at his fellow officers. I can't tell character is behaving the more foolishly. Bond is surely placing loyalty to a friend about duty, but it reads as simple petulance.

All is not lost, however: both Bond girls are delicious, especially a relatively unexotic Carey Lowell as ex-Army pilot and CIA informant Pam Bouvier (Ms. Lowell has since redeemed herself as Jamie Ross in the TV series, Law & Order). She has the unusual quality of looking like a completely different woman in every scene. Lowell, a very young Benicio del Toro forcing idiotic grins in all of his close-ups, and Wayne Newton as a slimy tele-evangelist, are really the only good reasons to watch this movie.

 


 

Image: 5<8/8
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

The first couple of reels suffer from extreme black crush, to which the transfer seems to respond with increasing contrast and oversharpening – or so it appears. But after about thirty minutes the image settles down and is generally quite satisfactory, minus a little edge enhancement. The exteriors in the "Republic of Isthmus" look very good indeed, with excellent contrast control. Shadow detail remains a problem throughout, though not to the same degree as in the beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 6/7
Like some of the early Bond films in their Blu-ray incarnations (cf: Live and Let Die) the new uncompressed audio mix strikes me as unbalanced: When I set the dialogue level for maximum comfort and clarity, I am overwhelmed by the action scenes. Moreover the dialogue is not nearly as crisp on the (compressed!) original mix. On the other hand, the DTS HD-MA mix did allow for better and more accurate surround cues, once I brought the overall level down.

 

Operations: 6
Fox's menu for all the Bond films on Blu-ray, while quick to load, are clumsy and arcane, with vague and arbitrary titles like "Declassified: MI6 Vault" "Mission Control" "Mission Dossier." Why are some features under one category and not another? Now at least, whenever you return to the main menu from a bonus feature, you find yourself at the following feature.

 

 

 

Extras: 5
The curious thing about the documentary "Inside Licence to Kill" is that one could easily come away with the idea that this is Robert Davi's picture not Bond's, and certainly not Timothy Dalton's. This segment is the only one (not counting the introductions to the deleted scenes) that is in (upscaled, I think) 1080i and doesn't look washed out and poorly resolved. There seems to have been no attempt to restore most of these extras to enjoyable proportions. All the same, you can't pass up the Kenworth Truck stunt feature. These all seem to have been imported from the 2007 DVD.

 

 

Bottom line: 5
The movie is uneven, the screenplay (which producer, Michael G. Wilson is largely responsible for) laughable at times. The stunts are good – the final bit with the truck is outstanding, and the grinding duel between Bond an del Toro's character would make Dexter Morgan very happy. The girls are both appealing to look at, but Dalton tries much to hard to be gritty. He's not particularly sexy – not here, anyway. The image quality is problematic to start with, but settles down after a half hour. Audio is acceptable but not satisfying. I read that critics in general are more favorable about this movie than I am, so consider my remarks in that context. All the same, thumbs down.

 

Leonard Norwitz
May 17th, 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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