"James Bond Collection: Volume 2" Blu-ray Review

October 20, 2008 by Zach Demeter

Considered some of the most comprehensive ever to be released on DVD, the James Bond Volumes released in fall/winter of 2006 were must-own for anyone who had ever taken it upon themselves to whistle the theme, introduce themselves last name first or wish they could own a PP7. With a two-disc release for each film, packed with commentaries, documentaries and whatever Fox and MGM could dig up from the archives, the “Ultimate James Bond” volumes were truly that—ultimate editions of these classic films. Now with the advent of Blu-ray, Fox is revisiting the Ultimate editions and giving them the 1080p treatment—complete with lossless audio!

Recently restored and re-mastered for the highest quality picture and sound quality via the state-of-the-art Lowry process digital frame-by-frame restoration and featuring special features galore, Bond is primed for Blu-ray Disc with a selection of 007 adventures spanning the storied career of cinema’s most recognizable spy. Bond titles arriving on Blu-ray Disc, timed to the highly anticipated worldwide theatrical premiere of the 22nd James Bond mission Quantum of Solace this November include Dr. No, Die Another Day, Live and Let Die (Volume 1) and For Your Eyes Only, From Russia With Love, Thunderball (Volume 2).

For the second volume of Blu-ray titles we get the second and fourth efforts from Sean Connery in From Russia With Love and Thunderball as well as Roger Moore’s fifth time around as the 007 agent in For Your Eyes Only. Aside from Thunderball, this second volume on Blu-ray doesn’t include any of the volume two releases when the films hit DVD back in 2006 and the set is oddly Connery centric, especially when taking into account that Moore has the highest number of films to burn through.

I’m sure I’m going to shock all of you by saying that yes, I have in fact seen all of the Bond movies previously. I’ve become so accustomed to writing “no I haven’t seen these” in my reviews for these older classics (I had to type it for The Godfather for cryin’ out loud…how embarrassing), but last Christmas season, Circuit City had all of the Bond sets up for incredibly cheap ($14.99 each or some such nonsense) and I sprung on the deal. Once the four volumes arrived, I tackled the films one by one (in chronological order, not the weird ass collections that each of the volumes contained). Previously I’d only seen a few of the Brosnan efforts, so I knew only him as Bond but after watching the twenty-one films in a row, I’ve decided that…yes, Connery is the man. Anyone who says otherwise is quite delusional.

Of course that isn’t to knock the other Bond’s; while I definitely leave Connery at the top, I can get similar enjoyment from the others, although I honestly became rather bored with Moore’s Bond after awhile, simply because he seemed to repeatedly do the same things with him in every film (by the time I came up on Octopussy, I started to tune him out). Daniel Craig is promising and may eclipse Brosnan for me, but I also enjoyed Dalton. Hell, even as entirely strange as it was, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was very entertaining for me.

So enough prattle about my experience watching the films for the first time, how did the experience go with these specific three? Well even on DVD I thought the films looked good (especially for their age), but if Blu-ray has taught me anything, older films look fantastic on the format and the Bond films are no different. From Russia With love is perhaps the more famous of the early Connery films and it even later spawned its own video game of the same name some near forty years after its original theatrical release (and the game included newly recorded lines by Connery to boot). The film itself packs in all that’s great about the Bond films, with plenty of action and countless exciting moments littered throughout the film. From Russia With Love may just be classic simply because of who Bond faces off against (a country that is second only to Germany when it comes to spy and war movies of the past fifty years), but either way you cut it this is one of Connery’s best (in my book, at least).

As much as I enjoyed From Russia With Love, I have to say that Thunderball is actually my all-time favorite Connery outing. I don’t know if I was just really getting into the grove of watching Bond films at the time, but I just really connected with this film and instantly liked everything about it. I don’t know why either, as it does have some kooky elements to it, but overall I just really loved everything about this one. I think another element that aided in my enjoyment of it was the fact that this isn’t a film you often hear about, as it’s usually Dr. No or Goldfinger that gets the most press. Then again, nuclear holocaust is just a universal topic, so maybe that’s why I found it so much more entertaining. Despite enjoying this film so much, I never watched the unofficial remake of it (Never Say Never Again, although I expect I will get around to it someday.

Finally we switch over to For Your Eyes Only which, due to a humorous plot line on the TV show Arrested Development (Watch it!), I can now not say without laughing. Jokes aside, this is about the last Moore film I truly paid attention to, as I found the two after this one to be rather boring and formulaic. To be honest I actually had to double check what this one was about, as I watched about four Moore films in one day at one point and couldn’t remember what each one was about (it also didn’t help that they all kind of had the same kind of jokes mixed into them). But that’s completely avoiding talking about the film itself, which actually has one of the more engaging openings of a Bond film as it harkens back to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with Bond looking over his wife’s grave. The second time around this KGB and nuclear key plot is a lot more interesting and the ending with Bond and Melina (Carole Bouquet) is quite a nice closer to this film.

Overall fans know what to expect from the Bond films and picking up these volumes is going to go without saying. With Bond, you know you’re going to have to take the bad with the good and these volumes are a perfect example of this. I just wish there were more movies per volume this time around (three per set versus the five per set prior). Yeah it’s a big upgrade in the A/V department, but everything is contained on one disc each, so even a fourth film per set seems like it’d be plausible to me. But, costs are high for Blu-ray still, so to keep it in the same price bracket we’ll have to split these films up into seven volumes rather than four. Bit of a bummer, but hopefully Fox keeps the releases coming at a steady pace so we don’t have to wait to have the greatest action hero in high-definition. Recommended.

The Blu-ray
One nice thing about these new releases is that rather than picking up all of the films in their special edition incarnations, you’re given the option to pick up the individual releases as well. This means that while fans will no doubt pick up the tri-volume sets, those who only want the best of Bond can get that easily as well. Sadly I can’t comment on the volume packaging as I was sent the individual releases, but I’m beginning to think the volume casing is nothing but a slipcase that houses the three standard Blu-ray cases. As is these releases come with a very shiny reflective foil slipcase (which his already flaking printing—they’ve done nothing but slide across my desk since I got them and the spines, back and cover are already missing print), with inserts for Fox Blu-ray’s and a notice to update your players firmware. Disc art is the same across all of the six films that comprise the first two volumes: a replication of the famous movie intro with the film title below it. Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done. Also included on each of the releases is a movie ticket to Quantum of Solace. The ticket is not included inside the packaging, however, but rather as a sticker on the cover. You merely peel the sticker off (which again tears off some more printing—thanks!) and behind the goo is the sticker you punch in online to redeem. Not sure this is the greatest idea, as you can just go into the store and tear the sticker off of the slipcover and you have an instant free movie ticket, but hey…whatever works for Fox I suppose.

With all three of these films sitting at the older end of the Bond spectrum, one can’t expect them to have the silver sheen of modern day Bond outings, but the AVC encoded transfers, balancing between 23 to 26.5mb, look fantastic. While there is a bit of grain and haze on the transfers, as a whole these films have never looked better, with ample detail being drawn out from every frame of the film. I wouldn’t imagine it any other way—after all the DVD transfers were immaculate and these are merely higher-definition versions of the same restored prints that the DVD used, so we’re basically just getting even stronger versions of those here. Overall these transfers are going to astound anyone that films from the 60s and 70s could look this brilliant.

Also included for our listening pleasure is a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio track. Before you even begin to ponder…yes, these are amazing. If you were astounded by the DTS mixes that the DVD releases boasted, then you’ll be even more impressed by the clarity and room spread that these tracks give off. Aside from some dated deco, these films don’t look and sound as old as they are and the restoration and new sound mixes offered for these films is simply fantastic. Alternate Mono English (original audio), Spanish Mono and French 5.1 tracks are offered for all three. Subtitles are in Spanish.

The extras for all three of these releases are, to the best of my knowledge (and recollection—I passed off the DVD sets awhile back in anticipation for these releases), identical to the original Ultimate collection extras. From Russia With Love comes with a commentary with director Terence Young and members of the cast and crew, “Ian Fleming: The CBC Interview,” “Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler” featurette, “Ian Fleming on Desert Island Discs” featurette, Animated Storyboard sequence, “Inside From Russia With Love,” “Harry Saltsman: Showman” featurette, image database, theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots. As you can see, aside from a few, most of the extras on this release focus on Fleming, but the “Inside” extra and commentary are more than enough as they go deep into the film.

For Thunderball we have an audio commentary with director Terenc Young and others, as well as a commentary with editor Peter Hunt, co-screenwriter John Hopkins and others. “Selling Bonds” original 1965 TV commercials, “On Location With Production Designer Ken Adam”, “A Child’s Guide to Blowing Up a Motor Car” 1965 Ford Promotional Film, “Bill Suitor: The Rocket Man Movies” featurette, “The Secret History of Thunderball” featurette, “Thunderball” boat show reel, “The Making of Thunderball” Featurette, Theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots, image database, “The Thunderball Phenomenon,” and “The Incredible World of James Bond” original 1965 NBC-TV special. Although I initially thought that this film was one of the less referenced of the Bond films, these extras paint an entirely different picture and I was rather surprised by just how much there was to check out for this film.

Finally we have an audio commentary with director John Glen and members of the cast, a second commentary with co-screenwriter Michael G. Wilson and crew members and a third commentary with Sir Roger Moore for For Your Eyes Only. Three tracks may seem like a lot, but they’re all equally entertaining and it’s great to hear from Roger Moore, even if his comments do get a bit exhaustive to listen to after hearing him comment on seven different films. Moving on we have “Deleted Scenes and Expanded Angles”, “Bond in Greece” featurette, “Bond in Cortina” featurette, “Neptune’s Journey” featurette, “Inside For Your Eyes Only” featurette, animated storyboard sequences, Image database, Sheena Easton music video, theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots.

All three films contain a “007 Mission Control” interactive guide that allows you to explore more into the films back-story and characters. All three also contain “smart menu” technology, but quite honestly aside from slick new animation, the menus look nearly identical to the previous two-disc DVD releases. The extras across all three releases are a mix of high and standard definition.

Overall you’d be upgrading to these new releases for the video and audio and they do not disappoint. Although I’m hesitant to recommend such a pricey upgrade, especially when the original sets themselves weren’t so cheap when original hitting, but if you’re a fan of 007 then there’s really no choice but to pick up these sets. They’re put together well and the new transfers will immerse you in the films in a way that DVD just couldn’t—you’ll see all the little details on the screen and hear every bit of audio as it surrounds you. Perhaps just pick up your favorites for now if dropping over $100 on six Blu-ray’s isn’t appealing to you (it isn’t to me), but no matter which way you cut it the statement plastered across the back of each of these releases rings true: “Blu-ray was made for Bond!” Highly Recommended.

James Bond Blu-ray Collection Three-Pack, Vol.2 (For Your Eyes Only / From Russia with Love / Thunderball) arrives on Blu-ray on October 21st.

 

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