Friday, 28 December 2012 02:01

James Bond at 50: Is Bond 50 the Best Blu-ray Box Set Ever?

by Mark A. Altman
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“I am arrogant enough to claim that these films have made one of the greatest contributions to the cinema in 50 years” – Dr. No director Terence Young

It’s hard to believe the only gentleman secret agent with a license to thrill has turned 50.  With Dr. No’s debut now five decades ago, 007 still looks as good as when he first donned a black tuxedo and we first saw him casually sitting at a baccarat table uttering the immortal words, “Bond, James Bond.”

Over the years, I’ve bought the James Bond movies in a variety of formats ranging from VHS to laserdisc and then numerous times on DVD, but there has simply never been a set that comes close to matching this ultimate BD collection. Bond 50 includes all 22 official Bond movies as well as an empty space for Skyfall (coming on disc early next year), along with virtually all the copious bonus materials that have been created over the years ranging from the giant Goldfinger and Thunderball laserdisc special editions to the original DVD box sets from a decade ago.

If there’s any problem with this new volume, it’s that the “never-before-seen” material is so lackluster, comprising only a few new short featurettes, weblogs and montages. Of course, that may also be attributable to the fact that the supplemental material that’s been created over the last 15 years is so immensely satisfying and complete featuring in-depth documentaries and commentaries on almost every film along with spotlights on the most significant figures in the series five decade history ranging from Cubby Broccoli to Maurice Binder to Terence Young. Unfortunately, there’s also the notable omission of several docs from the Die Another Day DVD and Casino Royale BD releases and the lack of digital copy for each of the films. Furthermore, the long-rumored Quantum of Solace special edition featuring commentary and additional bonus material is nowhere in evidence. That said, these are minor quibbles, given that the sturdy and elegant packaging is stunning and finally having every Bond movie in chronological order looking and sounding as good as they’re likely to ever get, courtesy of the 4K restorations from a few years back. Along with The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the Alien series set, Bond 50 clearly exists among the greatest Blu-ray collections to ever grace the medium.

Not to be found in the set is the excellent new EpixHD premiere of Everything or Nothing (more of a Bondian title than Skyfall, by the way), which is yet the latest in a long line of documentaries about the history of 007.  It’s also probably the best as it features refreshingly candid new interviews with all the men who played 007 with the exception of Connery who is seen here in vintage footage.  There’s an extensive look at the relationship between Bond producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman which has always gotten short shrift I previous docs and some classic Ian Fleming footage that I hadn’t seen before.  The doc is exceptionally well-produced, well-shot and informative and is highly recommended (You can check it on if you don’t already have Epix –  it’s worth the time).

The Bond 50 Blu-ray Box Set

But what of the films themselves? With the theatrical arrival of the latest film, Skyfall, it seems only appropriate to look back at the vast tapestry of Bond’s exploits through the decades at the movies that shaked and stirred me – as well as those that didn’t. I’ve listed the films in order from the best to the worst. Note that I’ve included Never Say Never Again for completeness sake, even though it’s not considered an “official” Bond film:

From Russia with LoveSerious Cold War espionage, a deadly Robert Shaw and a heart-stopping Daniella Bianchi as the beautiful Tantiana Romonava. They sure don’t make them like this anymore.  Sean Connery at his absolute best and Lotte Lenya as the fearsome Rosa Klebb is a kick. A+

Goldfinger – The template for the future of the franchise; girls, guns and gadgets – with some very witty bon mots thrown in for good measure.  “Do you expect me to talk, Goldfinger?” “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” A delight from start to finish in which a bomb set to atomize Fort Knox is stopped at, what else, 007 seconds by the resourceful gentleman secret agent. A

ThunderballDespite a protracted running time in large part due to its many lethargic underwater scenes, Thunderball is still full of kicks and quips and one of the most beautiful Bond girls to grace any of the films, Claudie Auger as Domino with a sexy, deadly villainess to match, Fiona Volpe. “Do you mind if my friend sits this one out, she’s just dead.”  I think you get the point. A

Dr. NoAs Ernie Anderson used to bombastically proclaim at the beginning of the ABC Sunday Night Movie, the one that started it all” – with a sensuous Ursula Andress emerging from the ocean and one of the best Bond baddies ever played by a sinister Joseph Wiseman: “I see now you are nothing more than a stupid policeman, Mr. Bond.”  Hardly. A-

The Spy Who Loved MeRoger Moore’s shining moment is a superior faux-remake of You Only Live Twice with the most ravishing of all Bond girls, Barbara Bach. Triple X indeed.  Huge set pieces (including the film’s remarkable pre-credit teaser as 007 skis off a mountain) and sophisticated (and, admittedly, some sophomoric) wit abound, but in the summer that gave us Star Wars, Spy was no slouch either. And for those of us who were still kids back then, Atlantis rising from beneath the waves was almost as cool as the Death Star.  Almost. A-

Casino Royale – Back to basics with a great new Bond and the best 007 foot chase ever committed to celluloid with a potent romance with the luscious Eva Green to boot. Along with smart dialogue, including a scene between Bond and Eva’s Vesper Lynd on a train that could have been right out of North by Northwest, Casino Royale proved Daniel Craig was the real deal. A-

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – George Lazenby didn’t have all the time in the world in this marvelous off-concept Bond, which has some of the most dramatic moments in the entire franchise, including Diana Rigg’s unceremonious death at the hands of Telly Savalas’ sadistic Blofeld.  A film that demands a Daniel Craig remake. A-

You Only Live Twice Bond’s turning Japanese, he’s turning Japanese; I really think so. But despite some silly plot twists (including the aforementioned Bond turned Japanese) nothing compares with Blofeld’s secret base inside a hollowed-out volcano. No CGI here, it’s all one giant set. Admittedly, production designer Ken Adam is the bigger star than a somnambulistic Connery in this film, but despite its bloated running time, it still has some of the best scenes in the series, including Bond being pursued by Japanese thugs along the Osaka docks. B+ 

Diamonds Are Forever – The beginning of Bond 70’s insipid phase, but there are still some great moments here, including fisticuffs inside the claustrophobic confines of an elevator between Bond and Peter Franks, whose identity he assumes, and the effete Mr. Wynt and Mr. Kidd who work in the employ of Charles Gray’s effective Blofeld. The film also includes what remains one of Connery’s greatest one-liners as he deadpans to a well-endowed Lana Wood as Plenty O’Toole. “Named after your father, perhaps.” B

The World Is Not Enough – Another Bond film that doesn’t have the street cred it deserves. A complex plot and treachery from the beautiful Sophie Marceau makes this a welcome return to form and the boat chase across the Thames is one of the series most enjoyable pre-title sequences. It’s just missing a crackerjack gun battle with the baddies at the end that buttoned so many of the classic films and the final fisticuffs between Brosnan and Robert Carlyle, who’s a lackluster villain, feels like a letdown. B

Octopussy – One of the most underrated entries in the series as 007 infiltrates Maud Adams’ band of female smugglers cum circus performers to uncover an atomic Bond set to be detonated by a completely unhinged Steven Berkoff.  Moore is at his best here and the circus milieu for smuggling nuclear technology works surprisingly well as does its sumptuous Indian travelogue sequences.  The best of the John Glen Bonds – by far. B

Quantum of Solace – Although Quantum, Marc Forster’s follow-up to Casino Royale lacks the punch of his predecessor and Forster tries far too hard to stamp his own imprimatur on a series which remains blessedly auteur-free with some frenetic Bourne-like editing and over-the-top supertitles, there’s still some great Bond set pieces, none more impressive than Bond’s night at the opera as he blows the lid off the sinister SPECTRE-lite Quantum crime syndicate.  The greatest villain Bond couldn’t overcome here was the crippling Writer’s Strike when this was produced, leaving Paul Haggis’ unable to complete a new draft in time that resolved some of the gaping plot holes in the film’s third act.   Too bad because Quantum had the potential to be far greater than the sum of its parts with two great Bond girls in Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton and a terrific new Bond villain, Mathieu Amalric as the wormy Dominic Greene. B-

Moonraker – Yes, it’s absurd. Yes, James Bond goes into space and fights with laser guns on an orbiting space station and yes, even Jaws gets a girlfriend, but Hugo Drax, played by a scenery chewing Michael Lonsdale, turning to his bodyguard, Chang, as Bond walks out of his palatial dining room, “See that some harm comes to him,” priceless. And despite all the rampant silliness, the scene in which Drax and Bond trade witty bon mots during a hunting expedition leaving Corinne Clery’s Corinne Dufour to wonder who let the dogs out is a series standout. B-

GoldenEye – Pierce’s first film is a tasty mélange of Bondian tropes with a great henchwoman in the form of Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp. Pierce got better with every outing, unfortunately his scripts didn’t.  Fortunately, the franchise overlords jettisoned composer Eric Serra after his sole Bond score in which he almost ruined the franchise and replaced him with David Arnold who has been the first composer since John Barry to do justice to the rich musical lineage of the character. B-

For Your Eyes Only – The film that brought Roger Moore back to earth is the last of the really good Bond Cold War films marred by an atrocious teaser in which an uncredited Blofeld begs for his life by offering Bond a delicatessen. Is this 007 or Austin Powers?  Otherwise, a somewhat dated Bond adventure which doesn’t live up to its rep. Carole Bouquet, on the other hand, does.  One of the best and most ass-kicking Bond beauties. B-

Die Another Day One of the series most schizophrenic films. The first hour, up through a sensational and frenetic fencing duel with Toby Stephens is truly top shelf Bond as Bond escapes a North Korean prison and tears his way through Hong Kong and Cuba on a mission of revenge.  However, the second Bond sets foot in Iceland, the film turns to complete shit with invisible cars, goofy dialogue, subpar visual effects (particularly in a scene in which 007 hang glides his way to safety) and yet another space based laser weapon that deep-sixes a potentially great film. C+ 

The Living Daylights – Timothy Dalton’s dated Cold War relic never really turns on the lights. Have you tried to watch this lately? 007 helps the mujahedeen defeat the Russians in Afghanistan. As painful as it is dated.  And Dalton’s a bit of a bore as Bond. C

Tomorrow Never Dies – Despite a fab teaser as Bond escapes from an arms bazar targeted by British cruise missiles and the presence of a kick-ass Michelle Yeoh, Tomorrow dies long before it reaches its third act and the usually reliable Jonathan Pryce is a dud as a Rupert Murdoch-like media baron who wants to rule the world. The late and dreadfully miscast Vincent Schiavelli shows up as a hitman who plans to off Bond and Teri Hatcher in one of the scene’s many stunningly inane sequences which isn’t to say it’s not without it’s occasional joys including a scene in which a handcuffed Yeoh and Brosnan are pursued on a motorcycle by a helicopter. C-

Live and Let Die – Great theme song, terrible dialogue. The most dated of the Bond movies, produced in the thick of the 70s Blacksploitation movie craze, with cringe-worthy lines like “Great disguise Bond, white man in Harlem.” Jane Seymour as the virginal Solitaire is sultry, but Yaphet Kotto’s Mr. Big (aka Kanaga) is a bust as the film’s primary baddie. Geoffrey Holder, however, as a malevolent, mystical henchman is more effective and his laugh still gives me chills… or, at least, makes me want to drink a Sprite. C-

Never Say Never Again – A dated and god-awful campy unofficial remake of Thunderball with a horrific Michel Legrand score and Connery vamping like he’s, well, Roger Moore. The problem is Roger Moore could get away with it, Connery couldn’t.  Kim Basinger looks hot, at least. D+

The Man with the Golden Gun Ian Fleming’s cousin, Christopher Lee, is great as Scaramanga, the man with a powerful weapon that charges a million a shot.  Unfortunately the script’s a dud and the Seventies-era McGuffin of a solar agitator is one of the worst, as is a trampy and vampy Britt Ekland, in this unforgivably cheap looking and uninspired Bond film that almost killed the franchise. D

A View to a Kill – Two words: Tanya Roberts. A long in the tooth Roger Moore attempts to foil Lex Luthor, I mean, Christopher Walken’s Max Zorin’s insidious caper to drop California into the sea. A deadly rear projection fight ensues atop the Golden Gate Bridge. Ugh! And let’s not forget the use of the Beach Boys during Bond’s escape on a surfboard-like contraption in the film’s terrible teaser. D

License to Kill – Made in Mexico on the cheap back when MGM and Eon were spendthrifts, License to Kill came across as a glorified episode of Miami Vice filled with lackluster performances (none more so than a vacuous Talisa Soto) which makes for a leaden Timothy Dalton swan song.  Whether Dalton would have grown into the role, we’ll never know.  Litigation let to the franchise being mothballed until its welcome return with GoldenEye and Pierce Brosnan taking over the mantle of 007 and saving the franchise, something for which he gets far too little credit these days from snarkier bloggers who are quick to dismiss his tenure after the impressive success of Daniel Craig in the role. D

- Mark A. Altman

Follow Mark’s latest musings on Twitter: @markaaltman

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