We continue our look at one of 2012’s biggest and most anticipated Blu-ray sets… Bond 50.
The set celebrates fifty years of Bond with special feature-filled Blu-rays for each film, and while most have already seen HD releases the collection also includes Blu debuts of You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds are Forever, The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies.
The box-set breaks the 22 films into two halves, twelve from 1962–1981 and ten from 1983–2012, each in their own sturdy book. Due to the sheer volume of material this Disc Spotlight will be broken into two halves as well. Keep reading for a look at 1983’s Octopussy through 2008’s Quantum of Solace, and go here for part one covering 1962’s Dr. No through 1981’s For Your Eyes Only.
Villain – 3, Gadgets – 3, Action – 5
“Having trouble keeping it up Q?”
Bond (Moore) uncovers an international jewel smuggling effort when a fellow agent is killed, and he traces the ring back to a woman named Octopussy. Ahem. Further spelunking on Bond’s part leads to the discovery of an impending nuclear attack against NATO forces.
The brief respite of For Your Eyes Only ends here as Moore’s final entries return to the bottom of the barrel. The problems here are numerous and only start with the lead female’s name. Puns are one thing, but names like Octopussy mean ones like Candy Beaver can’t be far behind. It leaves witty far behind in favor of bold, bald humor. The action here is okay as should be expected from director John Glen, and scenes like the taxi chase and train fight stand out as entertaining. But the rest of the film is just too dull, and in the case of the chick army, it’s also too silly. The one good thing to come out of this entry was the Matchbox toy I had as a kid that included the car and horse wagon with the hidden mini-jet plane inside. Good times.
A View to a Kill (1985)
Villain – 5, Gadgets – 4, Action – 4
“The bubbles tickle my… Tchaikovsky!”
With the world apparently completely at peace MI6 gets involved in an investigation into horse-racing fraud. As luck would have it though the man (Christopher Walken) behind the scheme is also planning to create a microchip monopoly by causing massive physical damage to Silicon Valley.
The elements that work best here can be directly attributed to director John Glen, but as with his previous two efforts he’s also to blame for everything else. The action under his tenure continues to impress including most notably an opening ski set piece and stunt that would be copied more than once in other films. The rest of the action isn’t so lucky though including a fire truck chase through San Francisco that is poorly conceived and executed. Walken is always fun even as he plays it big from beginning to end, and Grace Jones makes for a semi-interesting sidekick… but assassination by butterfly lure on a fishing pole? If nothing else though the movie is notable for being Dolph Lundgren’s film debut.
The Living Daylights (1987)
Villain – 4, Gadgets – 5, Action – 4
“It’s something we’re making for the Americans. It’s called a ghetto blaster.”
Fed up with cases involving Faberge Eggs and stallions, James Bond (Timothy Dalton) is pleased to be assigned a case involving an arms dealer bent on supplying and starting another world war. The mission begins when an assassin takes out an MI6 agent during training with the implication that the rest of the agency is also being targeted. Bond heads to Eastern Europe and beyond to stop the red menace once more.
Dalton’s first go at the Bond franchise feels a little smaller and a little darker than previous films, the Moore years in particular, but the intimate setting works to the actor’s less flamboyant advantage. John Glen returns as director, but even with the famed 2nd unit director calling the shots the action scenes here suffer from the same minimized fate. They’re smaller and less effective.
Licence to Kill (1989)
Villain – 7, Gadgets – 4, Action – 6
Bond’s CIA opposite, Felix Leiter, is brutalized on his wedding day, and 007 walks away from MI6 intent on revenge. The drug lord behind the attack is a far more aggressive and cruel villain than Bond has faced before. Granted, that doesn’t stop him from planning elaborate deaths involving sharks when a bullet to the head would have done the trick far more reliably, but whatever.
Director John Glen and star Timothy Dalton both end their Bond run here, and while Dalton’s films are regularly looked down upon they should both be proud of their accomplishment. Not only does Christopher Nolan owe the opening to The Dark Knight Rises to this film’s mile high plane snatch, but the Daniel Craig films borrowed the film’s tone as well. The violence is darker and more permanent, the female lead (Cary Lowell) is more than capable, and the action is grounded while still managing to be exciting and bloody. It’s a fantastic entry in the series that deserves a re-evaluation.
Villain – 6, Gadgets – 5, Action – 7
“Ready to save the world again?”
A Russian research center is attacked, and James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) teams up with the lone survivor to stop the bad guys from accomplishing their goal of stealing a nuclear space weapon. Bond’s mission reveals a surprising face behind the threat in a fellow agent (Sean Bean) believed to have died years prior while the two were on assignment together.
Brosnan’s debut is considered by many to be the very breath of life the series needed, and thanks for that most likely goes to the sharp direction of Martin Campbell. The pre-credits scene features some strong stunt work (and a terribly obvious double for Brosnan’s first running scene), and there’s a spectacular chase involving a giant Russian tank that is a thrill to watch. This is also the debut of Judy Dench’s M, and she immediately makes the role her own. The weakest element by far here is the terrible score that mistakes electronica for actual music that someone watching a Bond film would like to hear.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Villain – 5, Gadgets – 7, Action – 7
“It’s mostly dull routine of course, but every now and then you get to sail on a beautiful evening like this and sometimes work with a decadent agent of a corrupt Western power.”
No longer content with simply reporting the news, a media mogul (Jonathan Pryce) sets out to create the events that will drive ratings to his channels, magazines and newspapers. His efforts are directly to blame for the deaths of hundreds of servicemen so James Bond steps in to end his life and his empire.
Roger Spottiswoode takes the helm here, and the result is a solid follow-up to Brosnan’s debut. There are some strong action scenes including a car/motorcycle chase, and the presence of Michelle Yeoh as the ass-kicking Bond girl is a fantastic move. Pryce’s villain is a bit of a mixed bag in that he’s incredibly fun and exuberant, but he’s also less threatening because of it.
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Villain – 6, Gadgets – 6, Action – 6
“Remember, shadows stay in front or behind. Never on top.”
A businessman is killed within the walls of MI6 headquarters, and the assassination leads James Bond to a nuclear threat and a villain who can feel no pain (Robert Carlyle).
The series takes a chance on its first oddball choice for director here with Michael Apted, and he delivers another mostly solid installment for Brosnan. I say mostly because while the first hour is exciting thanks to a thrilling opening boat chase and a fun ski chase, the second half gets a fecal pie in the face with the arrival of Dr Christmas Jones (Denise Richards). Her questionable nature is balanced by Sophie Marceau, but the damage is irreparable. From that point forward the movie feels dumber and looks just as bad thanks to same late in the game (and terrible) digital effects.
Die Another Day (2002)
Villain – 4, Gadgets – 3, Action – 4
“I know all about you. Sex for dinner, death for breakfast.”
James Bond is captured inside North Korean and held captive for over a year, but when he’s finally released as part of a prisoner swap he discovers that both MI6 and the CIA believes he gave up sensitive information. He’s forced to go rogue to stop both a terrorist and a diamond mogul bent on terrorizing the world from space.
Welcome to the worst Bond film of all time.The opening action sequence on hovercrafts is good fun (even if it does feel like they’re not going very fast at times), and similarly, it’s nice to see Brosnan go the rogue route previously enjoyed by Dalton even if he never actually feels all that bad. But good god is this movie terrible. Director Lee Tamahori knows how to point a camera, but he’s so far out of his depths here that it’s embarrassing. Halle Berry famously mimics Andress’ ocean exit from Dr. No here while her character, Jinx, manages to be one of the rare Bond girls to hold her own in the action department. Add to that some weak plotting, stupidity like the invisible car and some spectacularly bad effects and logic during the whole Iceland segment and you have the Bond film that even managed to break Brian Salisbury.
Casino Royale (2006)
Villain – 5, Gadgets – 5, Action – 8
“I knew M was a randomly assigned letter, but I had no idea it stood for…”
James Bond (Daniel Craig) is promoted to double O status, and his first mission sees him targeting Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a banker for terrorists, during a poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. The mission seems fairly routine, but events spiral out of control as new details emerge.
From the worst Bond film to the best, Craig’s first foray as Bond starts the character off fresh and more than a little hard edged, and the result is the most dramatic and exciting film in the series. He’s quicker to action and far more likely to act on visceral emotion, and he’s believable in every action he makes. He also benefits from the return of director Martin Campbell who previously reinvigorated the franchise with Brosnan’s debut, Goldeneye. Eva Green classes up the joint too as an MI6 accountant who accompanies Bond on the mission and brings both beauty and emotional heft to the film. The movie also delivers on the action front including an incredibly fun foot chase that opens the film and a spectacular set piece involving a building crumbling into the Venice canals. This is really as close to perfect as Bond has ever been.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Villain – 5, Gadgets – 4, Action – 7
“It’d be a pretty cold bastard who didn’t want revenge for the death of someone he loved.”
Picking up shortly after the dramatic conclusion to Casino Royale, Bond’s latest adventure sees him on a path of revenge. His quest brings a new criminal organization to MI6’s attention as well as a pseudo environmentalist (Mathieu Amalric) manipulating third world countries for their resources.
Let’s just get this out of the way right now… I’m a huge fan of this film. I know it’s viewed as a massive misfire by many, and while some of the criticisms make sense most don’t. Yes it’s too short and yes the stand alone story is slim by comparison, but I think of it as a dark coda to Craig’s first film, a piece tailor made to watch immediately after Casino Royale, and it works brilliantly for me. To be honest, I’m also a sucker for Olga Kurylenko. The addition of a Bond girl who manages to be more than capable while also featuring more depth than all previous “Bond girls” combined is something special. The action scenes are solid, including the opening car chase that while edited a bit too tightly is still entertaining, and Bond’s character arc gets a nice denouement as well. It deserves a re-evaluation.
The Bond 50 Blu-ray set comes packaged in an exterior case holding two sturdy “books” which break the 22 films into the two previously mentioned halves. Each page holds two movies, each in their own sleeve, and final page includes a bonus disc as well as a space for Skyfall (which will be released to Blu-ray sometime next year).
The films look and sound amazingly good for their age with only some minor wear and tear visible on the older titles. The films that have already seen a previous Blu-ray release have simply been ported over with new cover artwork, and the ones that are new to the format will see individual releases in the coming months as well. The extra features are monumental, and even though the vast majority of them have been previously available they’re still an invaluable resource for Bond-related information and minutiae.
The latter half of the set is a bit less impressive than the first though because the awesome “Inside…” featurettes disappear after the first several films. And in an act of laziness the Quantum of Solace disc is the same one that’s been available already including the same menu. That’s a cheap and lame move since it now stands apart from every other film in the set.
Going into this Disc Spotlight I had seen only a handful of James Bond films beyond the two Daniel Craig entries. My opinion of the pre-Craig era was not a good one, instead seeing the series as pure fluff playing to viewers with low standards. Having watched all 22 films in a row though I’m happy to admit how wrong I’ve been. My tastes still don’t align with the masses… Goldfinger is a laughably bad movie people… but I found far more to love than to laugh at.
For the record, my favorite Bond and Bond film remain Craig and Casino Royale, but thanks to this set I’ve discovered a great affection for Dr. No, Live and Let Die, Licence to Kill and Goldeneye too. And while the latest film, Skyfall (my review), has massive flaws it’s still a beautiful piece of entertainment and a sign that James Bond is here to stay.
Buy Bond 50 on Blu-ray from Amazon