Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Ultimate DVDs for the ultimate spy

By Tony Buchsbaum

In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Ian Fleming wrote a motto for the Bond family crest: “The world is not enough.” Well, it seems regular old DVD is not enough, either. Because all twenty James Bond films—from Dr. No to Die Another Day—have been released on ultra-special DVD, using mega-high scanning rates that make the picture as close to high-def as you can get, without actually going high-def.

The films have been around for 40-odd years now, making this the longest-running and most successful series of all time. I have a feeling that’s just how Fleming and the film’s longtime producer Albert R. Broccoli would have wanted it.

Packaged in four glorious box sets, each containing at least one Sean Connery, one Roger Moore, and one Pierce Brosnan (with the other Bonds, George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton, peppered throughout), and you can’t go wrong with any of them.

While Goldfinger has Pussy Galore, these DVD sets have extras galore, some of which are repeats of material created for the Bond DVDs issued a few years back. But these extras dive even deeper into the vaults of EON Productions, maker of the official series since the very beginning. Here, the pickins are impressive, illuminating the films to such an exhaustive level that only aficionados will care—but boy will they! Each film gets a pretty cool Mission Dossier, highlighting the high-points of the action, from gadgets and girls to chases and locations; click an icon, and you jump to scenes from the film. There are interviews with cast and crew, as well as fascinating commentaries. Each film has the requisite stills and art gallery and making-of documentary, but now you’ll also get special material not seen for, sometimes, decades.

Examples: “On Tour with the Aston Martin DB-5”; the Ford Motor Company’s “A Child’s Guide to Blowing Up a Motor Car”; NBC’s 1965 special, “The Incredible World of James Bond”; a 1971 BBC interview with Connery; a CBC interview with Fleming… The list goes on and on, and so do the wonders.

But the real star of these box sets are the films themselves. Rescanned frame by frame, each film comes alive in terms of color and contrast and clarity—I’ve read that the films haven’t looked this good since their original release, but I’ll go one step further and say they’ve never looked this good. I know the casual viewer won’t be able to tell the difference—or won’t care to try—but for anyone interested in film and film preservation, the care that was taken restoring this series is remarkable. It’s a real miracle.

Though sticker shock will keep some people from getting all of these sets, I can tell you they’re well worth it. They’re a great way to relive much of the excitement of the early films, and even find new things to appreciate in the later ones. Frankly, even a casual viewing will remind you why the world fell for 007 in the first place.

That feeling also comes across—loud and clear—upon watching Casino Royale, the new 007 film. Starring Daniel Craig in his first outing as Bond, the film is a gut-punch of fantastic filmmaking. It restarts the franchise in thrilling ways, daring to make Bond a human hero rather than a super-human one. The key is the first scene, Bond's first kill, and when the guy's finally dead, Craig puts it all in his eyes: the exhaustion, the self-loathing, the disgust. It's a real "What have I just done?" moment, and it makes you feel for this guy in ways that are new and strange, considering this is a Bond film.

Another standout is the score by David Arnold (available on CD, of course). This is his fourth go, and it's pretty terrific. He's not John Barry—who is?—but he does a great job here, weaving new themes with old, signalling that this is a new take but also part of a larger mythology. Arnold saves the famous Bond theme for the film's final moments, and it proves to be a brilliant choice; its absence only makes us hunger for for it, and when it comes, it's absolutely exhilarating.

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