Bond on Blu-ray…depending on how you feel about the movies, history and franchise that will either fill you with excitement or dread. I’ve actually been a fan of the series since the rain-soaked night in 1971 that my father agreed to take me to see Goldfinger, on its second release. After that it was a while before I’d seen all of the Connery Bonds, and I saw them entirely out of sequence, but I was hooked.
Dr. No was possibly the last of those early bonds that I saw, and I remember that it appeared somewhat rough around the edges compared with the more polished later productions.
I was therefore excited to meet this first outing for Bond again, and perhaps see it in an entirely new light. The irony of that statement is that I’ve just seen an entirely new Bond movie, curiously set in the 1960s called ‘Dr. No’. It bears so little resemblance to the shambolic print that ITV and BBC usually rolls out each festive season that I’ve been transported to an entirely new Bond experience first time. But more of the incredible transfer later on. Let me first talk about the movie as a piece of cinema history.
There are many incredibly cool things about Dr. No, and I’m not just taking about Ursula Andress coming out of the water. Pivotally it forms that all-important first attempt at bringing Bond to the big screen, with many of the elements that later become iconic in the franchise. But tantalisingly there are things missing or different in Dr.No that are added to or changed in From Russia with Love and subsequently Goldfinger. The three movies are like stepping stones from the conceptual super-spy to the finished 007, as presented in Goldfinger.
What first strikes you are that the opening graphics are a bit strange, as is the bizarre Stockhausen-ish ‘music’. This Bond doesn’t actually have a theme as such, just the classic Monty Norman rift. Part way through the credits the entire style changes into what Maurice Binder actually wanted to do, rather than what he was forced to produce. This is all a bit jarring, but once the movie gets going, it’s much more familiar territory for the Bond aficionado. As for other archetypal Bond components, both M and Moneypenny are present, but no Q yet, and there are no gadget-laden vehicles.
As the story progresses, the other well-known aspects – such as beautiful women, megalomaniac villains and spectacular Ken Adams set design – fall neatly into place.
At just 111 minutes it’s one of the shortest Bond outings, and as a result in doesn’t overstay its welcome as a story. Perhaps it doesn’t have the huge set-piece action sequences of its successors, but it exudes a striking tension and palpable edge. Bond’s a stone-cold killer, and never portrayed as anything less than lethal, as charming as he can be on occasion.
I could wibble on in glowing terms about this film for another 5,000 words or more, but it didn’t spawn the biggest and most successful franchise in the history of cinema because it was junk, and it isn’t. This might be proto-Bond, but it’s revolutionary film parading in a commercial disguise. The first scene where Bond is introduced in the casino tells you everything you want to know about he character in less than and minute, and sends a chill down my spine.
Ok, what’s it like on Blu-ray? Gob-smacking is the answer. Forget all those abysmal DVD transfers and nasty telecine duplicates, this version is better than it’s ever been seen before, and I’m not kidding. Among the extras is the explanation as to how this is possible, a short documentary about how MGA contracted Lowery Digital Images, digital restoration specialists, to reconstruct Bond from the actual source negative upwards. The results are breathtaking for Dr.No, and I’m really shaken and stirred about what the other early Bonds are going to look like after this treatment.
Dr. No is now totally free of any scratches and blemishes, entirely colour-balanced and utterly pristine. Some of the scenes are magically crisp, and the colours just leap out of the screen at you. And to entirely gild this lily, they’ve separated the original mono soundtrack into an effective six-channel DTS-HD mix, so it’s never been heard like this either. Film buffs won’t be disappointed; the film is a total revelation.
The only slight disappointment of the disc is the extras section, which while abundant is mostly purloined from the DVD ‘special edition’. The complete list of extras include an audio commentary featuring director Terence Young and members of the cast and crew; a featurette detailing the bond Ultimate Edition film restoration process; a period documentary called ‘The Guns of James Bond’; footage from the premier, and so on.
Highlights are the two featurettes ‘Inside Dr. No’ and ‘Terence Young: Bond Vivant’ both of which have been enitrely rebuilt in HD and combined they represent 40 minutes of extra viewing. There are also the painfully bad original trailers, TV spots and radio adverts, plus a photo gallery. I can’t sell it as definitive, but it’s all presented wonderfully with a super-slick 007 interface. If you’ve got the Special Edition DVD you’ll be less excited, but those who’ve not seen all this material will find it engrossing, especially the ‘Terence Young: Bond Vivant’ and 007:License to Restore featurettes.
Luckily for me I’ve now got From Russia with Love to review next, as it’s in the first batch of HD releases along with Thunderball, Live and Let Die, For Your Eyes Only, and Die Another Day. With more promised next year.
Bond is back, and he looks better than I’ve ever seen him before.
Dr. No is released on Bluray on the 20th of October.