I thought my days
of writing about or for James Bond were over. But as Al Pacino bemoaned in The Godfather Part III,
'They keep pulling me back in!'
And that's exactly what the recent so-called "Ultimate Edition"
DVD releases of the Bond series did for me. After having not viewed many of the pictures in years, it
was a treat to go back and watch them all again in chronological order, dip into the bonus features, and
reassess the official EON 007 films' something I hadn't done since the publication of the updated
edition of The James Bond Bedside Companion in 1988. Twenty years is a long time and I'm a very
different person than I was in 1988. For one thing, I've been on the other side of the fence with Bond.
Thus, I'm not really in a position to opine whether or not this or that film is good. It's the main
reason why I don't update the Bedside Companion-it just wouldn't be ethical for me to write critiques of
the Bond books or films since 1988. I leave that for others to do.
But suffice it to say that my opinions on many of the films have changed since the Companion,
some for better and some for worse. I still feel that the best entries in the series were those made
during that first, exciting decade when a 'Bond film' was fresh, innovative, and played relatively
straight. During the sixties, the films' humor wasn't overt and was played with sardonic slyness. The
pictures of the sixties were more like the recent Casino Royale, which in my mind is a perfect Bond
film. It faithfully captured Ian Fleming's character in an updated world without relying on unrealistic
gadgetry, sight gags, ridiculous Southern redneck sheriffs, and unbelievably indestructible henchmen.
Casino Royale didn't have a plot that is buried and made suspense-less by too much fast-paced,
videogame-style action. (And that's all I'm going to say about the Bond films of which I'm not too
Instead, I'm simply going to examine the new DVDs as products (and note that I am
speaking of the American releases). What do they have to offer that previous releases didn't, and,
since every serious Bond fan surely already owned the earlier set of DVDs, do the new sets warrant
'double-dipping'? Are they worth the high price tag, even for casual fans who didn't own the films in
the first place?
My answer(s) are yes and no.
From a consumer point of view, the American releases are too expensive and marketed in
such a way that is unfair to the casual fan. By grouping five films from different Bond eras into one
volume and splitting the series into four volumes, 20th Century Fox and MGM Home Video have forced the
fans to buy all four box sets in order to have, say, all the Sean Connery films or all the Pierce
Brosnan films. There is no way to buy the titles individually (you can, but the single releases do not
include each film's second disk of bonus material). This seems to me to be a calculated manipulation to
force the consumer to spend the maximum amount of money in order to collect select, favorite titles.
For films that have already been released on DVD, this marketing approach is callous. I could be wrong,
but it seems that this packaging concept would dissuade casual parties from buying the sets. It
wouldn't be so annoying if the retail price tags for the sets were not so high. They become much better
deals at half that figure, and more in keeping to the cost of re-released titles made by other
That said, I will admit that the new DVDs benefit from breathtakingly good
transfers. The remastering is exquisite. Each film, especially the older ones, look as if they had
just been released. The process is discussed in a bonus feature on the Dr. No disk, and Lowery Digital
is to be commended for the work performed.
Each film also boasts 5.1 stereo (for the first
time on the early films). Played on an adequate system, the movies sound great. There are several
instances, though, in which formerly very loud sound effects (crashes, punches) are mixed at a lower
volume. This is disappointing.
Most of the films contain the same voice-over commentaries
that were on the previous releases; however, Sir Roger Moore has contributed new commentaries to each of
his pictures. These are entertaining and informative.
Each title comes with a second disk of
bonus material, and this is what makes or breaks the decision on whether or not to purchase. They all
contain most, if not all, the bonus material from the previous releases, including the excellent Inside
(Title) documentaries produced by Cloverland or TWINE Entertainment. Various trailers and teasers are
included when available, along with tons of still photographs and poster images from around the world.
Somewhat perplexing is the inclusion for each film an interactive '007 Mission Control' section that is
merely a selection of scenes from the movie. One can view various highlights of The Women, or The
Villains, or the action scenes. Rather pointless and not always inclusive of the best scenes, either.
But each Mission Control section includes a Location Guide for each film that is most welcome'Maud Adams
or Samantha Bond narrates several of these.
I'm not too fond of the transition animations.
They are the same for every title and become tedious after seeing them for the fourteenth time. The
previous releases at least had distinctive menus and transitions that were designed for the individual
titles in the series.
Some of the better previously unseen features include the following.
Ian Fleming on the set of Dr. No at Pinewood Studios
Michael G. Wilson
narrates and points out various celebrities in attendance in a short but interesting feature on the Bond
premieres from Dr. No to Die Another Day. A featurette filmed in 1964 on the Guns of James Bond is
introduced by Connery from the Goldfinger set (why this is included on the Dr. No is rather strange),
but the treat is that the star of the program is the real Geoffrey Boothroyd, the man who advised Ian
Fleming on Bond's weaponry.
card for From Russia With Love. The copter chase was shot in the hills of Scotland.
From Russia With Love
Some great stuff is on this one'Ian Fleming's often chopped-up CBC
interview, probably the longest and best television segment in which the author appeared that we know of
is presented in its entirety (I think'it's difficult to say if it's truly complete); an entertaining
audio conversation between Fleming and Raymond Chandler; and another audio interview of Fleming on the
radio program 'Desert Island Disks.'
Alf Joint and
Sean Connery rehearse the pre-credits fight in Goldfinger.
There's a good
interview with Connery on the set and Theodore Bikel's odd screen test for the title role, but otherwise
the lack of better bonus material for this, one of the most beloved titles in the series, is
"Meester Bond gave you this little toy, I would
imagine!" Adolfo Celi confronts Claudine Auger in Thunderball.
Finally, the excellent 1965 TV special The Incredible World of James Bond is
presented in its entirety. It's one of the best documentaries on Bond ever made, even though it covers
only the first four films. The program does include a great wealth of Fleming bio material as well.
Another delight is Ken Adam's home movies, shot during location scouting and some of the shooting in the
Bahamas. Watching Connery clown for the home movie camera is surprising and hilarious.
Mie Hama as Kissy Suzuki in You Only Live Twice. The
character's name is never mentioned in the film!
You Only Live Twice
again, Ken's Adams home videos are wonderful. Another TV special, Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond, is
included. This is an odd hour-long promotional documentary that features Lois Maxwell and Desmond
Llewelyn as Miss Moneypenny and Q, respectively, in an original storyline. Miss Moneypenny has heard
that Bond is about to be married on his new mission (to Kissy Suzuki) and she sets about trying to find
out who the lucky bride is. Corny but fun.
George Lazenby and Diana
Rigg as Mr. and Mrs. James Bond in OHMSS.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
best featurettes are the various interviews with George Lazenby conducted during different times of his
life. There is one from the casting sessions and just after being cast, one during the film's shooting,
and one after the decision to leave the role. A contemporary interview caps it off, illustrating how
the role of Bond can really change someone's life'for better or worse.
Connery and Jill St. John on the set of Diamonds Are
Diamonds Are Forever Sean Connery appears in a vintage interview that
reveals where the actor's head was at during this point in time. Fascinating. Other featurettes are
Roger Moore's dapper debut as 007 in Live and Let
Live and Let Die Roger Moore is hilarious as James Bond in a skit from
a 1964 BBC television comedy show. His self-mocking characterization is ironically indicative of the
way he would eventually play the role ten years later! A lengthy vintage documentary on the making of
the film has been unearthed as well.
The Man with the Golden Gun
Roger Moore and
Herve Villechaize appear on a BBC talk show together and there is a nice on-location featurette; but the
best thing is the set of outtakes of Hip's fighting nieces.
Caroline Munro in posed publicity shot for Spy Who Loved Me.
The Spy Who Loved Me More Ken Adam home movies. We get to see the legendary luncheon for the crew in which Cubby Broccoli
cooked and served his own pasta.
Moonraker Ken Adam home movies and the skydiving test
footage are the best things here.
For Your Eyes Only Deleted scenes and expanded angles
are interesting (all introduced by director John Glen), and the vintage on location featurettes are a
Octopussy The most interesting things in this set of bonus features are
the James Brolin screen test footage and contemporary interview. What would it have been like had
Brolin been cast?
A View to a Kill
Again, the deleted scenes are worth looking
looking dangerous for The Living Daylights.
The Living Daylights Some good
material here, especially the interviews with Timothy Dalton, deleted scenes, and John Glen's home
Licence to Kill
More John Glen home movies and deleted scenes.
"Bond. James Bond"- Brosnan style in
GoldenEye Several new features abound, including deleted
scenes and a handful of behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Tomorrow Never Dies Deleted
scenes and Moby's Bond Theme remix are worth checking out.
The World is Not Enough Deleted scenes and the '007 Down River' featurette are good.
Die Another Day Someone
screwed up here. The packaging indicates that the disk includes features that are not there (such as
the DVD-ROM extras). Much of the bonus material from the previous release is not included (such as
Madonna's music video, trailers) and all this should be on the disk. What is included is a terrific
documentary entitled From Script to Screen, which illustrates in great detail how a Bond film is made
from conception to premiere. But the missing features are a dire problem with this title. So, yes,
there is a ton of material to keep fans glued to their televisions for many hours. The films themselves
look and sound wonderful. The previously released extras are all top-notch. Some of the new bonus
features are worthwhile and many of them are filler. I can't answer for you whether or not you should
spend the several hundred dollars to collect all four Ultimate Edition volumes. The hardcore fans will
most likely do it anyway, fulfilling some marketing executive's evil plan to take even more money from
loyal customers. Double-dipping indeed.
So do I recommend the Ultimate Editions?
Yes and no. ************
RAYMOND BENSON was the official author of James Bond
continuation novels between 1996 and 2002. He wrote six original 007 novels, three film novelizations,
and three short stories during his tenure. He is also the author of the original suspense novels
Sweetie's Diamonds, Face Blind, and Evil Hours. Writing as 'David Michaels,' he is also the author of
the best-selling Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell'Operation Barracuda.
(All photographs in this article are from the Cinema Retro archive and
are copyrighted by Eon Productions.)