Next to possibly only the Star Wars universe, there isn’t a more bankable film franchise than the series delving into the exploits of British super spy James Bond. One could argue for the Indian Jones and the Lord of the Rings series, but with over 20 movies to his credit – something not even a slasher movie villain could ever hope to attain – the now 50 year old 007 hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. From Sean Connery in the 1960s to the current reign of Daniel Craig, the life and times of the Ian Fleming created character are chronicled in the intensely comprehensive Bond 50 box set. Not only does the set give new life to the franchise, but it finally brings into one place everything one wanted to know about Bond but they were afraid to ask.
For the first time ever, all 22 films (including an added empty slot for this year’s Skyfall) appear on Blu-ray. With nine of the films previously unavailable in the format, it’s certainly a landmark release worthy of the series’ golden anniversary. The stylishly packaged box set is available now, but single discs of a handful of the titles will become available on October 21st. Since talking about the picture and sound quality (which are across the board top notch, provided that you like your films to retain the same gritty feel of their theatrical exhibition along with the clarity) and the overall minutiae of the films themselves are somewhat redundant, in honour of Global James Bond Day today, lets go through this set disc by disc and talk about some of the highlights in a set that’s a must own for fans. Here’s part one of our look at the martini loving, kiss stealing, jet flying, wheeling and dealing secret agent that shot his way into our hearts spanning the years 1962-1981.
NOTE: Every film comes with a commentary track from various crew members from writers and directors to other various actors that didn’t play James Bond. With over 125 hours of special features to cull from, I can safely say that I didn’t listen to a single one of these, but they’re the same commentary tracks from the original DVD releases. Each disc also comes with trailers and image galleries.
Dr. No (Terence Young, 1962) – The film that started it all for Bond feels like a slow burn now in comparison to the series that follows it. There aren’t too many huge set pieces in Young’s film, but in his first outing as Bond, Sean Connery sets the standard for the misanthropic and almost amoral behaviour the character will display throughout his reign. He’s a hero even though we probably don’t approve of the methods. Ditto Ursula Andress, setting the stage for every Bond femme fatale to follow her. The story of Bond having to get to the bottom of a stationed Jamaican operative and some jammed space shuttle signals isn’t the strongest, but it will do, and there’s a great reason why Joseph Wiseman still endures as one of Bond’s titular nemeses.
The disc, in comparison to the film around, is actually the best in terms of telling the genesis of the Bond legacy. The making-of documentary (which appears on nearly every disc and are all narrated by Patrick Macnee, best known as John Steed in TV’s The Avengers, and who will show up very briefly in A View to Kill) follows in great detail the challenges faced by Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to bring 007 to the big screen. It contrasts nicely to a 1963 archival featurette which doesn’t even scratch the surface on the difficulties and headaches of getting the franchise off the ground. A look at director Terence Young feels most congratulatory and biographical, and bits and pieces of it show up in the special features from From Russia With Love and Thunderball, both of which he would return for. It’s really for the most hardcore of Bond completists. Even the trailer section (every disc includes TV spots and trailers, with some of the older films including radio hits) has some really awesome grindhouse/drive-in trailers from the re-releases of Bond films that played as double bills. Be sure to check out the Dr. No and Goldfinger combo trailer, if only for the awesomely cheesy conclusion to it. There’s also a really neat archival featurette from the early 60s where Connery introduces a talk with late British arms expert Geoffrey Boothroyd, who acted as a consultant on the film and was part of the inspiration for MI:6’s arms and gadgets dealer Q.
Some of the best material on Dr. No, however, probably would have been better suited to the final Bonus Features disc. There’s a wonderful featurette on work of Lowry Digital Images (including a talk with the recently deceased John Lowry) about restoring the films from the original camera negatives. There’s also footage of almost all of the Bond premieres up through Die Another Day with Michael Wilson talking about why each one was special.
From Russia With Love (Terence Young, 1963) – Coming only one year after the original film, From Russia With Love remains one of the Bond films that could benefit the most from a re-examination. Sandwiched between the first film and the iconic Goldfinger, feels a lot more serious than the two films around it. The story of Bond on the run from SPECTRE after the last film and his attempts to help a Soviet defector feels a lot more assured than Dr. No did. It has extremely interesting cinematography, it’s easier to care about Bond’s plight, the quips are more deftly integrated, the villains aren’t outlandish, and it shows the only time Connery would get a chance to be a blunt instrument in the same way Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig would later get to be known for. Robert Shaw also plays an antagonist as equally cold blooded as he is as a SPECTRE assassin. It’s unquestionably the most underrated of the franchise and also easily one of the best.
The making-of documentary talks about the introduction of Q and some of the film’s tightly constructed casting (aside from maybe Daniela Bianchi who was Italian and couldn’t speak a word of English OR Russian), and touches on one of the greatest effects snafus in the series. There’s also a 30 minute biographical look at Harry Saltzman and his career and producer of the first nine Bond films. What this disc focuses most heavily on, however, is archival footage of Ian Fleming, including a CBC interview that was dug up after his death and a radio conversation between Fleming and noir writer Raymond Chandler.
The disc also introduces a “jump to a scene” feature which pops up on several of the discs that takes viewers to some of Bond’s most iconic moments.
Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964) – The film that launched probably some of the most iconic aspects of the Bond series from being the first to feature an impactful Shirley Bassey title song to swapping the main character’s Bentley for an Aston Martin, Goldfinger caused near riots during it’s premiere in the UK before going on to become a merchandising juggernaut and a truly worldwide sensation. It’s also, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the silliest and most nonsensical films of the franchise. Sure, it has more action than any of the film’s up until this point, but when someone starts joking about how Bond villains have incredibly outlandish and implausible plans, the character of Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) should spring immediately to mind. The over the top gold baron’s plans to inflate the value of his gold supply would never work by the standards of any villain in the franchise, and he could easily kill Bond thirty or forty times, but he’s too stupid and egomaniacal to do it. It’s a fun movie, but also maddening if you stop to think about it for even a second.
In addition to the standard making-of documentary (oddly one of the shorter and more to-the-point making of’s in the set), there’s an entirely separate featurette talking specifically about how Goldfinger became such a phenomenon thanks to Connery’s rising star and the iconic image of a woman covered from head to toe in gold body paint. There’s also an archival featurette that looks briefly at Harold Sakata’s screen testing for the role of famed henchman Oddjob. Man, was that guy a legitimate tough guy who didn’t even need a hat to kill a man. There’s also a few screen tests and some B-roll of Sean Connery doing an on set interview.
Thunderball (Terence Young, 1965) –Thuderball is an enjoyable, if somewhat slight yarn that gets back to the series’ main Cold War fuelled SECTRE plotline as Bond has to stop a madman holding the world hostage with nuclear weapons for 100 million pounds. Back in Young’s hands, the tone gets a bit more serious than it was in Goldfinger, and the underwater fight sequence towards the end is as chaotic as it is beautiful.
It would later get remade in 1983 independently through Warner Brothers as Never Say Never Again with Connery back in the lead (not included here and not in any way seen as canon with the series), a lawsuit surrounding the film’s relation to Feming’s estate doesn’t get dwelled on all that much in either of the featurettes that talk about the making of the film or the iconography of it instead sticking largely to the film at hand. By this point the featurettes start to cover a lot of the same ground with regard to Broccoli and Saltzman’s roles in the series. There’s a great featurette little featurette about some differences and inconsistencies between different cuts of the most successful Bond film of the 1960s. The best of the special features lot here, however, are a pair of promotional specials from 1965: One an NBC special focusing on Bond’s history and the other a promotional video from Ford playfully titled “A Child’s Guide to Blowing Up a Motor Car” which is about exactly what you would think it’s about.
You Only Live Twice (Lewis Gilbert, 1967) – For the Japan set entry that gave the world Donald Pleasance’s giving the best performance of Bond’s kitten stroking, swivel chair enthusiast Blofeld, the making of documentary here talks quite a bit and quite frankly about how Fleming had written an almost unfilmable book that had to go ahead without a script because it was greenlit at the last possible second. This entry was supposed to be On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (scrapped due to location unavailability), the film Connery ultimately wouldn’t do after resigning his post and hanging up his gun when his contract ran out. Children’s author and essayist Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay for this, which accounts for the gadget and whimsy heavy second half of the film and not as much for the strong set up that gets squandered in its wake. Kudos are in order for the people in these featurettes fully copping to the film not working all that well. The archival TV special-slash-clip show “Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond” doesn’t add new material, but it helps to add to the encyclopaedic feel of the set and some kitsch appeal with its mockumentary style. Most of it doesn’t even take place in Japan.
The disc also has an unrelated look at the famed Bond title sequences and their construction that will appeal to anyone wanting to look deeper at the creation of the most consistently iconic credits sequences in film history.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Peter R. Hunt, 1969) – With Connery opting not to come back and a difficult shoot scaring off past directors, Australian model turned actor George Lazenby steps into Bond’s finely tailored suits for his only go around, and series editor Hunt steps into the directors chair for a somewhat unjustly maligned one off that really doesn’t feel all that much like a Bond film. The plot involving Blofeld (now played by Telly Savalas of all people, still not touching Pleasance’s turn) attempting to poison the world’s food supply goes back to being sillier than it needs to be, but the addition of Diana Rigg as the love interest (which in a HUGE no-no for the series, Bond marries at the end) adds some spark even when Lazenby can’t stop winking and nodding in an unbalanced performance.
This disc doesn’t dwell on the negative of Lazenby only being around for a single film aside from being brought up in the overall featurette and in a brief talk with Lazenby himself, but it does have the most eclectic range of special features for all the 60s films. Ford makes another appearance in a promo reel about how well their cars handle on ice, a few period featureettes, a Portuguese press day, and an unrelated retrospective about Q and his laboratory that will appeal greatly to series purists.
Diamonds Are Forever (Guy Hamilton, 1971) – Snapping back to life briefly after the previous film’s misstep, Connery got a then unheard of $1.3 million and a two picture deal to do whatever he wanted at United Artists to come back for his final (official) go around as 007 in easily the best of Hamilton’s turns as director. Considering that this film gets even campier than Goldfinger, it says a lot that the film can make it to the end with straight faces intact. It ends the Blofeld and SPECTRE plot arc, but it sends things out on a high note. Major bonus points for casting country star and sausage magnate Jimmy Dean as a Howard Hughes styled baddie and a brief appearance from Sid Haig as hapless henchman. Oh, and Shirley Bassey comes back in and blows the doors off the place with the title song.
This disc wisely doesn’t pay too much mind to the ridiculously convoluted plot, but instead focuses a lot of the film’s impressive stunts and action sequences across several featurettes. There’s also a priceless if somewhat tense BBC interview with a very clearly disinterested Connery getting railroaded into admitting he just came back for the money, and a few unrelated featurettes: one on the life of producer Cubby Broccoli and one on some of Bond’s more exotic shooting locations. The main making-of featurette pretty much admits that this film was going to be made for pure camp value. They almost cast Adam West if they couldn’t get Connery. That should tell you all you need to know about this one.
Live and Let Die (Guy Hamilton, 1973) – This was the film I looked forward to reliving the least out of the entire series. Even as someone who generally defends Roger Moore (the longest reigning of all the Bonds) and his comedic abilities in the role, there’s no defending his first outing as Bond, a silly and goofily racist outing that gets saved ever so slightly by Paul McCartney’s title track and a generally good performance from Yaphett Kotto as an evil drug baron that sees himself as a cultural equal to Bond.
The idea of plunking Bond into the middle of an all black community makes about as much sense as serving McNuggets at a steakhouse. It never works, and when it tries for camp it seems racist. When it tries to be serious, it’s actually even more laughable. There’s no saving this film and it’s handily the worst of the whole franchise.
The special features are better than the movie, including a fascinating aborted period documentary from the set and rare footage of Moore playing Bond on a sketch comedy show way back in 1964. The making-of pretty much admits that the creative staff was trying to make a Blaxploitation film grafted onto something that just doesn’t work, but they also seem to be deluded into thinking it’s a good movie. They also admit that Burt Reynolds almost starred in this entry as Bond, which in all seriousness would have added the camp value this film so sorely could have used.
The Man with the Golden Gun (Guy Hamilton, 1974) – The final film to be produced in part by Harry Saltzman and also one of the lowest grossing in franchise history, it becomes apparent by this point that campy Bond is here to stay, but thankfully this film manages some genuine fun once again thanks to it’s villain (played here by Christopher Lee playing a dapper assassin looking to kill using solar energy) despite Moore still not quite having a handle on the character yet.
It attempts to combine serious interplay between Lee and Moore, but with silly gadgetry and Herve Villechaize as a henchman. The featurette does have some interesting insight about how the film had one of its screenwriters quit AND how they started shooting without Moore even being on set due to inability. There’s some good dailies footage narrated by Michael Wilson again that makes up for not a lot of footage being left from this entry to make extras out of. Also making appearances are Moore and Villechaize doing interviews with Russell Harty and Guy Hamilton talking about his overall experiences.
The unrelated featurette on this disc focuses on the tireless work of the stuntmen and women that work on these films. Much like the look at Q and his gadgets, this one dates back to just around the Goldeneye era, but it’s still a great look at the influence these workers had in shaping the series’ action sequences.
The Spy Who Loved Me (Lewis Gilbert, 1977) – The exact point in the series where the production team really just throws up its hands and gives in to out and out comedy, not a single frame of The Spy Who Loved Me can be taken seriously. It’s so glib about how little it cares to craft even a film as believable as Goldfinger, but it’s also one of Moore’s best outings as the character (and his own personal favourite). The appearance of Richard “Jaws” Kiel for the first time and the best character ever to be given the moniker XXX goes a long way. Also, the sequences aboard a garish underwater sub pretty much spells out the series’ M.O. from here on out. It also looks phenomenal on Blu-ray; even more so than any other entry in the series made prior to Casino Royale.
The making-of featurette here immediately addresses Saltzman’s financial problems that nearly sunk the film and forced him to walk away from the franchise. It also talk about how Anthony Burgess and John Landis almost wrote the film from scratch since they were unable to use any of Fleming’s book due to those pesky legal problems that kept rearing their heads. It’s probably the best of the making-of docs in the set next to Dr. No. The archival featurettes include a series of interviews that show how Moore dealt with the press and an interesting piece of history as we get to see London’s famed Pinewood Studios get deemed the 007 Stage.
The non-specific featurette here takes a look at unsung series hero, production designer Ken Adams. Eagle eyed viewers can see him pop up on almost all of these discs to talk about his work and to talk about some B-roll and location scouts. His presence here isn’t one of a Bond scholar, but as a consummate worker striving to always do his best work. Having a look at his work makes sense since his sets here rival only those in Goldfinger.
Moonraker (Lewis Gilbert, 1979) – The ultimate “love it or hate it” film in the series finds Bond investigating a stolen space shuttle that plays into a plan to create a new master race is something you either go along with or you don’t. It literally involves Bond going to space. If that sounds like the kind of film you want, then that’s exactly the kind of film you’ll get from this. Personally, next to Live and Let Die and Die Another Day, I think it does the best job of sucking the hardest.
Lots of storyboards and stunt breakdowns here and some clips from the 1979 press visit junkets in Rio. The overarching featurette here looks at the special effects team across all the films, and the making-of featurette has seems to want to throw the film under the proverbial bus in the most diplomatic way possible. It admits it was made just to cash in on the success of Star Wars and it’s one of only two featurettes in the early years entirely in HD (next to Man With the Golden Gun).
For Your Eyes Only (John Glen, 1981) – Another series editor comes onto the scene to try and right the ship after the ridiculousness of Moonraker, Glen would end up sticking around for a few more films and even longer than Moore will. Not so much based on a single book from Fleming, but rather two short stories and discarded elements from Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Live and Let Die, Bond attempts to stop nuclear war again in Greece this time in a film so forgettable that try as I might I can barely remember it an hour after I watched it. It’s muddled and confused, and despite Moore’s efforts to tone down being a smart ass, the damage has been done to the character following the last two outings. It’s attempts at classic Bond don’t really hold that much weight, but at least it takes itself seriously and with some genuine dignity.
There’s surprisingly not a ton here in terms of supplemental footage, but it is one of the few titles to have deleted scenes. Aside from that the making-of states the somewhat obvious “return to form” for Bond and there are some location highlights and storyboards. Also, there’s a Sheena Easton music video for the title song, a franchise first, but sadly it’s for one of the oddest Bond themes, sounding like the forgotten AM radio hit it was designed to be.
Check back soon for part two of our look at Bond, but while we have you here on Bond day: If you live in the city of Toronto, don’t forget about the upcoming North American debut of Designing 007: 50 years of Bond Style, an exhibit running from October 26th, 2012 to January 20th, 2013 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox which can be glimpsed on the special features disc on the Bond 50 box set. Presented by the Barbican Centre in London and in association with Bond’s main production company, EON Productions, the exhibit allows fans and fill buffs to see up close such rare Bond artefacts as Jaws’ teeth from The Spy Who Loved Me to the Casino Royale poker table (and of course a bunch of Q’s gadgets). Hand in hand with this exhibit, the Lightbox will be screening all of the restored James Bond films during the same time frame. Dates and showtimes aren’t set yet, but tickets for Members for both the films and the exhibition go on sale October 9th, and the general public on-sale date is October 17th. If these films look this great on Blu-ray, just imagine how they’ll look on the big screen.