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James Bond Blu-ray Collection, Volumes 1 and 2 Review

James Bond Blu-ray Collection, Volumes 1 & 2 cover art - click to buy James Bond Blu-ray Collection, Volumes 1 and 2

Volume 1: Dr. No (1962), Live and Let Die (1973), Die Another Day (2002)
Volume 2: From Russia with Love (1963), Thunderball (1965), For Your Eyes Only (1981)

16:9 Widescreen; Thunderball, For Your Eyes Only, Die Another Day: 2.35:1; Dr. No, From Russia With Love: 1.66:1; Lie and Let Die: 1.85:1

DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, all films), Dolby 2.0 Mono (English, all films except For Your Eyes Only and Die Another Day), Dolby 2.0 Surround (English, For Your Eyes Only), Dolby Digital Mono (Spanish, all films except Die Another Day), Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish, Die Another Day)

Subtitles: English, Spanish (all films) / See Below for Cast, Directors and Other Film Details
Release Date: October 21, 2008 / SRPs: $179.96 (Six-Pack), $89.98 (3-Movie Volumes), $34.98 (Individual)
Six single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50s) / Slim-line Blue Keepcases in Cardboard Slipcover

Buy the James Bond Blu-ray Collection from Amazon.com:
Six-Pack (Volumes 1 & 2) / Volume 1 (Die Another Day, Live and Let Die, Dr. No) / Volume 2 (For Your Eyes Only, From Russia with Love, Thunderball)

By Aaron Wallace

If you've seen one James Bond film, you've seen them all. The fictional British spy with a license to kill has been around since 1953, when Ian Fleming published his first of fourteen Bond books.
Nine years later, he made it to the big screen, the venue from which he is best known. Since then, twenty-one James Bond movies have been made and another is on the way. Despite the series' longevity, each installment is essentially identical to the last in every way but the most superficial.

The Bond formula looks something like this: Mr. Bond walks into the picture, fires his gun, and some red blood leaks down the screen. After that, something either flies, blows up, or gets infiltrated or attacked. Then some naked women dance around. After the dancing (oh, and there's singing too -- by the likes of Paul McCartney or Madonna), Agent 007 James Bond receives a mission from the head of the United Kingdom's Secret Intelligence Service, a person known as M. This mission has Bond traveling around the world and getting double-crossed by attractive women who are either bad guys in disguise or good guys who you're temporarily led to believe are bad guys. Insert a few key phrases -- "Bond, James Bond" and "shaken, not stirred" -- here. That all leads to a grand showdown with a Communist or some such villain who, despite setting an elaborate trap for 007, fails in the face of Bond's unending parade of gadgetry. Of course, Bond gets the girl (well, one of them), and then the credits roll.

Throughout all of that, there is lots and lots of action. In fact, that's the most reliable element of all. A popcorn blockbuster ahead of its time, the first Bond film, Dr. No (1962), makes a story out of very little plot and an excessive number of overactive action scenes. Every film since then has followed suit, upping the ante with bigger and flashier stunts. Bond now fights on land, in the air, under the sea, and in any other environment where things can explode. To compensate for the cookie-cutter narrative and the absence of any substantial storytelling, these movies try to trick their audience into thinking that a lot is going on by adding unnecessary plot components and characters, big names for weapons and devices, and an overkill of twists.

Rather than make them more enthralling, the action and thin-yet-convoluted storylines make the movies disengaging. Something so simple shouldn't be so hard to follow. But it's as if the Bond franchise doesn't even want you to follow along any more than necessary. The whole point is to take in the innuendo and spectacle. That's the kind of charge that gets leveled against the very worst of Hollywood. So why is Bond so persistently popular?

Part of it is self-manifesting. For nearly half a century, the James Bond series has been a constant staple of our cinematic culture. Without a single substantial gap in time (the longest was six years in the early 1990s), there has been a Bond movie in the works at any given time since 1962. Each of them has opened in theaters and opened big, always a bankable tentpole. No other film entity can claim that kind of remarkable impact. Seeing the newest 007 release has become a mandatory right of passage and a tradition, akin to watching A Charlie Brown Christmas every year on CBS.

Yet more than that, there is something inherently American about these adventures in British espionage. First and foremost, it's the clear distinction drawn between good (democracy) and evil (communism or something closely resembling it... and occasionally illegal dealings and more recently, terrorism). Dr. No was released during the height of Cold War era anxiety. That its sequel was entitled From Russia with Love is no coincidence. From 1962 to today, audiences have always been able to look upon James Bond as a guardian of justice against whatever evil society faces at the time.

Therein lies the only thing that's really interesting about Bond films and maybe the best explanation for American audiences' enduring embrace of them -- their symptomatic value as capsules of their time. We enjoy movies because they resonate with our own experiences and we study them because they reflect what goes on around us. For all their detestable foibles, the Bond films do this better than perhaps any other.

Even as escapist entertainment, I enjoy putting in a 007 installment every great once in a while. Viewing them in rapid succession, however, is quite a different story. All that mindless action really starts to take a toll on the nerves and the mind starts begging for stimulation. That's the only problem with Fox/MGM's new James Bond Blu-ray Collection. The home video market has seen more than its fair share of James Bond releases, both on VHS and DVD. Reissues come as frequently as the movies themselves. But now, the series makes its debut on Blu-ray Disc.

The first two volumes of this new collection were released concurrently, carrying three films each. The six featured titles have also been made available as individual Blu-ray discs and Two-Disc Ultimate Edition DVDs. As DVD collections have done previously, the Blu-ray Collection opts for a random assortment rather than chronological. This arrangement is unquestionably less preferable than one that orders the movies from 1 to 22. But it also prevents consumers from selectively purchasing just the films featuring their favorite leading man (say, only the Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan films) -- meaning if you want any kind of multi-disc set, you'll have to buy multiple in order to get your favorites.

Volume One includes Dr. No (1962), Live and Let Die (1973), and Die Another Day (2002). Volume Two includes From Russia with Love (1973), Thunderball (1965), and For Your Eyes Only (1981).

Six men have played James Bond and three of them are represented here. Three films serve up the original Bond, Sean Connery, two have Roger Moore, and one stars Pierce Brosnan. Generally speaking, this series has gotten better with time, so the focus on the older movies doesn't make a marathon any easier to bear. That said, two of the stronger Bond movies are alongside three fairly weak ones and a tolerable recent outing, so the collection is even if nothing else. The current Bond, Daniel Craig, is notably absent, but his one released film simultaneously got 2-Disc Blu-ray treatment from Sony last week.

MGM distributor Fox supplied the six movies in their individual Blu-ray releases for review, but the comments below are relevant to the box sets in everything but packaging, regardless of which route you take in your collecting. For a closer look at each of the six titles and their Blu-ray presentations, keep reading.

Dr. No movie poster Dr. No

Theatrical Release: May 8, 1963 / Running Time: 110 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Terence Young / Writers: Ian Fleming (novel); Johanna Harwood, Richard Maibaum, Berkely Mather (screenplay)

Cast: Sean Connery (James Bond), Ursula Andress (Honey Ryder), Joseph Wiseman (Dr. No), Jack Lord (Felix Leiter), Bernard Lee (M.), Anthony Dawson (Professor R. J. Dent), Zena Marshall (Miss Taro), John Kitzmiller (Quarrel), Eunice Gayson (Sylvia Trench), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Peter Burton (Maj. Boothroyd), Yvonne Shima (Sister Lily)
Dr. No Blu-ray cover art

Buy Dr. No from Amazon.com:
Individual Blu-ray Six-Pack (Volumes 1 & 2) Volume 1 (3-Pack) Two-Disc Ultimate Edition DVD Ultimate Collector's Set DVD

Dr. No started it all in 1962. Sean Connery stars as the original James Bond, forming a mold that has been preserved for decades since. The story finds Agent 007 on a mission to Jamaica, where a British agent has been assassinated by a hit group known as the Three Blind Mice.
Bond follows a series of clues that lead him to Crab Key, a mysterious island widely feared by locals. On the island, Bond meets Honey Ryder (original Bond girl Ursula Andress), a young woman whose parents were murdered by Crab Key's chief resident, Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman). Ryder seeks justice against her parents' killer but alerts Bond to the legend of Crab Key's dragon, a fire-breathing monster that stands between them and Dr. No.

Though far from the best Bond film, Dr. No is an enjoyable one. Here, before the narrative became a formula employed dozens of times, the concept of James Bond feels fresh. There's a certain novelty to hearing "Bond, James Bond" and seeing the agent's encounter with a Bond girl (who, in terms of beauty, ranks near the top) for the very first time. Dr. No is an all-time great villain name and his mysterious abode compliments that to superb effect.

From Russia with Love movie poster From Russia with Love

US Theatrical Release: May 27, 1964 / Running Time: 115 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Terence Young / Writers: Ian Fleming (novel), Johanna Harwood (adaptation), Richard Maibaum (screenplay)

Cast: Sean Connery (James Bond), Daniela Bianchi (Tatiana Romanova), Pedro Armendariz (Ali Kerim Bey), Lotte Lenya (Rosa Klebb), Robert Shaw (Red Grant), Bernard Lee (M), Eunice Gayson (Sylvia Trench), Water Gotell (Morzeny), Francis de Wolff (Vavra), George Pastell (Train Conductor), Nadja Regin (Kerim's Girl), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Aliza Gur (Vida), Martine Beswick (Zora), Vladek Sheybal (Kronsteen)
From Russia with Love Blu-ray cover art

Buy From Russia with Love from Amazon.com:
Individual Blu-ray Six-Pack (Volumes 1 & 2) Volume 2 (3-Pack) Two-Disc Ultimate Edition DVD Ultimate Collector's Set DVD

One year after Dr. No, Sean Connery was back as James Bond in From Russia with Love. The film opens with an intriguing sequence in which Bond prowls around an estate at night and is strangled by an assassin. Though initially alarming, it turns out to be only a training simulation by enemy organization SPECTRE. But the movie has already established that the excitement level has been elevated for Bond's return.

M informs Bond that Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), a SPECTRE intelligence agent working in Turkey, has agreed to defect with an important device, but only to James Bond. The more interesting foe, however, is Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), SPECTRE's #3 who coercively commands Romanova and sends henchman Red Grant (Robert Shaw) after Bond.

Klebb is a magnificent villain, as is her head honcho, Blofeld (uncredited Anthony Dawson), the most prevalent Bond nemesis and the impetus for Austin Powers' Dr. Evil. Together, they're a big part of why From Russia With Love stands out as one of the very best of Bond (though we actually see very little of Blofeld here). Drenched in Cold War paranoia and delicious duplicity, this is a model of the early spy film and one of the most satisfying Bond movies.

Thunderball movie poster Thunderball

Theatrical Release: December 29, 1965 / Running Time: 130 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Terence Young / Writers: Jack Whittingham (story & screenplay); Kevin McClory, Ian Fleming (story); Richard Maibaum, John Hopkins (screenplay)

Cast: Sean Connery (James Bond), Claudine Auger (Dominique 'Domino' Derval), Adolfo Celi (Emilio Largo), Luciana Paluzzi (Fiona Volpe), Rick Van Nutter (Felix Leiter), Guy Doleman (Count Lippe), Molly Peters (Patricia Fearing), Martine Beswick (Paula Caplan), Bernard Lee (M), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny)
Thunderball Blu-ray cover art

Buy Thunderball from Amazon.com:
Individual Blu-ray Six-Pack (Volumes 1 & 2) Volume 2 (3-Pack) Two-Disc Ultimate Edition DVD Ultimate Collector's Set DVD

Thunderball is the fourth 007 movie (the first wave of Blu-ray Bond skips over Goldfinger) and once again, Sean Connery takes the lead.
This time, SPECTRE has stolen two nuclear bombs and threatens to bring an end to a major Western city unless they receive a substantial sum of gold. Bond seeks out the stolen weapons in Nassau, arriving during Junkanoo. There, he encounters Blofeld's #2 agent at SPECTRE, Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi).

Despite a memorable, now familiar story, another classic Bond villain in the eye-patched Largo, and the interesting setting, this installment in the series strikes me as less thrilling. Popular opinion dissents, it seems, but the whole affair is too over the top for me. Having directed the first two installments, Terence Young returns to the Bond franchise after Guy Hamilton helmed Goldfinger. Following in Hamilton's footsteps, Young puts a lot of emphasis on gadgets and spectacles. Granted, it's kind of cool to see Bond jet pack himself into the air and then wage a large-scale underwater battle, but it all feels a bit gimmicky. What's better than James Bond? James Bond in the ocean! That seems to be the selling point but I don't really buy it. I'd rather have time devoted to the storyline's potential instead.

Live and Let Die movie poster Live and Let Die

Theatrical Release: June 27, 1973 / Running Time: 121 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Guy Hamilton / Writers: Ian Fleming (novel), Tom Mankiewicz (screenplay)

Cast: Roger Moore (James Bond), Yaphet Kotto (Kananga, Mr. Big), Jane Seymour (Solitaire), Clifton James (Sheriff J.W. Pepper), Julius W. Harris (Tee Hee), Geoffrey Holder (Baron Samedi), David Hedison (Felix Leiter), Gloria Hendry (Rosie Carver), Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Tommy Lane (Adam), Earl Jolly Brown (Whisper), Roy Stewart (Quarrel Jr.)
Live and Let Die Blu-ray cover art

Buy Live and Let Die from Amazon.com:
Individual Blu-ray Six-Pack (Volumes 1 & 2) Volume 1 (3-Pack) Two-Disc Ultimate Edition DVD Ultimate Collector's Set DVD

After Thunderball, Sean Connery played James Bond two more times officially, with George Lazenby taking the lead once in between. Connery bowed out after 1971's Diamonds are Forever and two years later, a new era of Bond emerged with the casting of Roger Moore in Live and Let Die.
Moore would go on to star in more EON-produced 007 films than anyone else. His first go-round finds him battling not SPECTRE, but a drug lord known as Mr. Big. The murder of three MI6 agents leads Bond to Mr. Big (Yaphet Kotto) and his chain of Fillet of Soul restaurants. Working for Mr. Big is Solitaire (Jane Seymour, in the role that made her famous), a psychic who retains her powers only as long as she retains her virginity. Lucky for Mr. Bond, that's one weakness he has never been unable to overcome.

Live and Let Die is one of my favorite in the series. That's because it's such an unconventional James Bond film. The attention on drug smuggling rather than evil international organizations is a symptom of Richard Nixon's War on Drugs in the early 1970s. But that isn't the only way in which Live and Let Die reflects a new chapter in history (and thus a new chapter in Bond). Released in the heyday of blaxploitation cinema, the movie borrows many of the genre's unfortunate conventions. Many have criticized Let Die for taking part in blaxploitation or, alternatively, for dating itself with those attributes. These critics miss the cleverness of pulling conventions from one genre and planting them into another, particularly into a franchise as established and as popular as Bond. If anything, the hallmarks of blaxploitation are revealed as absurd when viewed in this foreign arena. Intentional or not, it's a kind of commentary that makes this feel more like high art than anything else in the 007 line. Besides, the new setting feels like a breath of fresh air and at least provides something to think about years later. (The awesome theme song by Paul McCartney & Wings helps too.)

Buy the James Bond Blu-ray Collection from Amazon.com:
Six-Pack (Volumes 1 & 2) / Volume 1 (Die Another Day, Live and Let Die, Dr. No) / Volume 2 (For Your Eyes Only, From Russia with Love, Thunderball)

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Reviewed October 29, 2008.

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