Bond is back and looking better than ever with brand new transfers and DTS sound.
The volumes are not packaged chronologically or with any order whatsoever, and for some people that may seem like a cheap move to get people to buy them all.
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 in 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.
From Russia With Love (1964): In the second Bond film we find our favorite secret agent travel to Istanbul to find a cipher machine from a Russian agent. What Bond doesn't know is that this a trap set up by S.P.E.C.T.R.E to seek revenge for their late agent, Dr. No. Sean Connery continues the series fittingly and we see Robert Shaw as another memorable Bond villain. Shaw is best known for his role as Quint the fisherman from Jaws. The only film my dad really loves since it's the only one that takes place in Istanbul (I'm Turkish by the way).
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969): George Lazenby's only outing as Bond was a rather low-octane ride than what Bond fans had been used to. Lazenby seemed to be a strange choice for the British super spy since he is Australian and really didn't embody that Bond charm and "manliness" if you will. Sure he had the Cary Grant thing going for him, but he wasn't a great Bond. The film itself was a tad bit slow-paced and low on the action, not the best Bond film in the series. There are some great ski chases though, and this is the film where Bond finally finds a wife only to realize that his job will always be his life. It's also the only Bond film (besides Dr. No) that didn't have an opening title song, the entire sequence was a composition by composer John Barry.
Live And Let Die (1973): Roger Moore's first outing as Bond was a thrilling outing indeed. Moore was the first actor to portray the role in a more light-hearted comedic fashion. At this point the franchise had already established itself in film history and popular culture, so I think having fun with the role was in store. Baron Semedi makes a ghoulish villain as Bond travels down south and gets tangled up with some voodoo. Also, let's not forget Paul McCartney's amazing title song that became a classic all on itself.
For Your Eyes Only (1981): I think For Your Eyes Only is one of the top films in the franchise. It has everything a Bond film should have, including a great title. When a high tech encryption device is lost at sea it's up to James Bond to recover it before the Soviets do. What ensues is a fantastic Bond adventure.
GoldenEye (1995): Pierce Brosnan's first outing as Bond is also one of the best Bonds ever made. Martin Campbell took the director's seat and delivered a very realistic Bond that stands as a benchmark in the action genre. In a very bold and daring move, Eric Serra was hired as the film's composer and composed a very modern synthesizer based score. It fit the entire tone of the film perfectly. Famke Janssen plays an iconic Bond villain with Xenia Onatopp, a woman with very strong thighs that could only be in a Bond film. Tina Turner performs the powerful title song which was written by Bono and The Edge. Martin Campbell would return in 2006 to direct the franchise saving Casino Royale.
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.
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.
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.
The previous sets were your basic DVD's slid into a cardboard box. These new sets are much more space saving since they use slim dual-panel DVD cases. So both discs to each film fits in an incredibly slim case. The box slides out to reveal a magazine rack type sleeve that holds all the DVD's, including all the booklets. The booklets sit nicely on the side of the DVD's since the slim cases can't hold them. The cardboard box is nice and sturdy with a glossy outer covering. The only problem with the packaging are the cover art inserts. For some odd reason it looks like someone made some bad measurements. The cover art does not fit correctly in the case, in other words they are too tall, the width is fine. That makes the top and bottom edges of the cover art susceptible to bending and creases. Otherwise this is a mighty fine looking set.
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.
From Russia with Love was released October 11, 1963.