REVIEW: When you talk about something as iconic as James Bond there really isn't much to say that you as a film enthusiast don't already know. With the release of Casino Royale we finally see the definitive editions of the Bond films on DVD. Let me tell you right now that these sets are absolutely stunning, the treatment that the films got are worthy of their iconic status. The Bond films have thrilled generations from 1962 to 2006 and we all know Bond will return to thrill in the future.
Ian Fleming had no idea what he had on his hands when he wrote Casino Royale and introduced this mysterious super spy into the world of fiction. It's a shame that Fleming only survived long enough to witness the first two films in the franchise. The reason why the films have lasted as long as they have is because of the formula, which is discussed a bit on The World Is Not Enough DVD. There are certain elements to the Bond formula that audiences have come to expect. It's funny, because if any of these ingredients are used in any old action movie then that movie is labeled unoriginal and formulaic. However, with the Bond films it's a rule of thumb that certain ingredients have to be used: there has to be some sort of plot of world domination, a villain with some sort of unique physical characteristic, the girls (both good and bad), the car, the gadgets, the romance, the stunts, the locales, and of course that element of fantasy. Every Bond film has those ingredients, the only thing that stays the same between the films is the element of fantasy. Well, that still doesn't explain why the Bond films have continued to be successful, I mean what is the appeal? We have a protagonist that cannot die, an antagonist who must die, we know how the gadgets work before he uses them, and we all know Bond gets the girl and saves the world. Why does that appeal to people so much? I think it's because it's fantasy yet it seems extremely attainable and realistic. We want to believe that there is a man out there who is a spy, who travels around the world to foil terrorist plots, who gets all the women, and basically can escape from any situation no matter how grim it looks. No other action film has replicated what a Bond film can do even though there have been so many attempts.
The new DVD sets are what DVD sets should be. The "Ultimate Edition" label on them couldn't be more true in that these sets are the definitive Bond experience. Lowry Digital did a frame by frame restoration of every film and the result is absolutely spectacular. We also have brand new DTS 5.1 tracks for each film. Each film is also loaded with extras, an incredible amount of extras that will take you probably months to get through. The films are divided into 4 volumes with 5 movies in each set. The only downfall of the sets are that they are packaged and sold out of chronological order, which makes it irritating for collectors like myself who likes everything to be in order. Everybody is complaining and wondering why they released them like this, and it's really simple marketing here. If they were to sell the sets with films going chronological order then people who maybe only like Connery as Bond will only buy one volume. By spreading each Bond across all four sets then people are forced to buy all the sets. My question is why don't they just make one huge box set for the dedicated fans with all the movies set in order. They did that with the previous releases in the UK, and I think that die hard fans would go for a set like that. Anyway, despite the compilations of the volumes, these are amazing sets.
Thunderball (1965): The one and only Bond film to win an Oscar (Best Visual Effects) takes Bond to the Bahamas where he tracks down SPECTRE's number-two man, Largo. The film has some incredible chases and of course the famous jetpack escape. Tom Jones delivers an incredible performance for the opening title song and sets up a classic Bond adventure with shark tanks and all.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): This was one of my favorite Bonds mostly because of the seemingly invincible Jaws, a Bond villain as iconic as Oddjob. Only in a Bond film can you have a villain who has steel jaws that can bite through metal and it all seems completely plausible. An incredible fight atop a cable car is one of the film's most memorable scenes.
A View To A Kill (1985): Roger Moore's last film in the series is a memorable one, mostly because of Christopher Walken's portrayal of Max Zorin. You also have the incredible and climactic action scene atop the Golden Gate Bridge including a giant blimp. The only thing about the movie that I didn't like was the character of May Day who is just bizarre looking and doesn't look like a femme fatale at all, although she does lead Bond up an exciting climb up the Eiffel Tower.
License To Kill (1989): The first Bond film to achieve a PG-13 rating is a bit different than Dalton's first outing as Bond. I found the truck chase at the end to be really well done, but overall the movie just didn't cry out Bond to me. I mean, Bond is basically a rogue agent in this movie and that just doesn't seem to fit the character. Robert Davi creates a deliciously evil drug lord, except instead of a cat he has an iguana. You'll recognize a really young Benicio Del Toro as a disposable henchman.
Die Another Day (2002): The 20th official Bond film would also be Pierce Brosnan's last, a descision to this day that has a few people scratching their heads. While Daniel Craig looks to make a good bond, it was Brosnan who embodied the new age Bond, but apparently he wasn't hip enough. Die Another Day was directed by Lee Tamahori, a choice I still question since he went on to direct xXx: State Of The Union right after this. In this film Bond battles a Chinese guy who gets a race change and turns into a British guy, who wants to be all powerful, who lives in an ice palace. Yeah, so the film is a bit overstretched, but there are some great scenes that make it worthwhile. The hovercraft chase at the beginning will give your home theater a great workout, and the car chase on the ice was very impressive. The fact that the bad guy is just some guy with diamonds imbedded in his skin makes it kind of lame, and Halle Berry doesn't make a good Bond girl at all. Her lines and her acting are all laughable, but she does look good in an Ursula Andress style bikini. There is one scene were Bond takes a parachute and a piece of metal and surfs a giant tidal wave that was called one of the most ridiculous Bond moments ever. Madonna also hurts the film not only with her techno title song, but her pointless cameo. Die Another Day has some great action, but the plot is over the top even for a Bond film.
VIDEO: Okay, now let's talk about how pretty these sets are. Lowry Digital (now DTS) did a frame by frame restoration for each film. The older films are where you will notice the difference. The color and quality are not just brighter, but they are richer. What once looked faded and washed now looks lively and textured. Black levels are not fuzzy and they are incredibly sharp. In Goldfinger the Aston Martin is so shiny you feel like you can touch it. Overall it's breathtaking what they accomplished with these restorations.
AUDIO: The sound department is even more impressive. My old Bond DVD's were not fun to watch on my surround system. Now every single film in the set has a brand new 5.1 DTS mix that will blow you away. Sound is an important component to film, and even though some people oppose creating 5.1 mixes from mono and stereo tracks there is an undeniable advantage to the new mixes. The sound now envelopes you and the explosions truly use the surround channels. The dialogue is mostly dedicated to the center channel for the older films. Overall the improvements are noticeable and truly benefit the viewing experience.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Just when you thought that the improved picture and sound was enough, we have a seemingly endless supply of special features and goodies. For owners of the old sets there will be some familiar stuff. The main "making of" featurettes, which run for around 30-40 minutes each, are the same documentaries that were found on the old sets. However, we have a bunch of archival footage added on and some bonus featurettes that have never been seen before. There is even an incredibly old on set interview with Connery on the Goldfinger DVD that looks like it was about to disintegrate before it was digitalized. The DVD's also have lots of screen tests, lots of featurettes on the cars and the supporting characters. There also various commentaries on the DVD's. There is so much bonus material to work through that you will probably still be watching featurettes once the other 2 volumes are released in December. While the new transfers and sound mixes alone make the sets a must buy, the new special features should make you flip with joy.
BOTTOM LINE: I have been a huge Bond fan ever since I was little. I owned all of them on VHS and previously on DVD. These Ultimate Editions are absolutely stunning and are in no way some marketing stint to mooch off the publicity of Casino Royale. Yes they are being released with the opening of Casino Royale in theaters, but you can tell a whole lot of work went into these sets. Definately worth the upgrade, this is the longest running franchise in film history and it continues to deliver quality action entertainment.