James Bond Ultimate Edition Volume 2 (DVD)

Del. Toro. Grinder.

Having consumed and enjoyed James Bond Ultimate Collection (Volume 3), it is time now to turn to the second installment in the superb four-part treatment of the world’s most popular action icon. Once again, all manner of Bond is represented in this eclectic offering, bringing you The Original (Sean Connery, Thunderball), The Suave Elder Statesman (Roger Moore, A View to a Kill, The Spy Who Loved Me), The Slickster (Pierce Brosnan, Die Another Day) and The Bad-Ass Mofo (Timothy Dalton, Licence to Kill).


The Mission
Bond (Connery) travels to the balmy tropics of Nassau to prevent the evil criminal organization SPECTRE from extorting the free world with a pair of nuclear warheads. Bond’s nemesis this go-round is Emilio Largo, a high-ranking SPECTRE member with a high-tech yacht, an army of deadly spear-fishermen and an eye-patch. With the help of the beautiful Domino (Claudine Auger), Bond must halt Largo’s plans and retrieve the nukes.

The Debriefing
These sets have allowed me to get reacquainted with Connery’s Bond and it’s been time well spent. The adoration that Connery boasts for his tenure as 007 is warranted, though somewhat nostalgia-tinted; the guy was good, combining machismo and lethality with solid acting chops. He set the standard that other Bond actors would emulate (Brosnan) or flee from (Moore).

This adventure is quite entertaining, beginning with the spirited brawl between Bond and a cross-dresser, culminating in the iconic jetpack blast-off. That last bit seems a bit hokey in these Bond days of invisible cars and satellite laser beams, but I have yet to see someone so effectively pummel a man in a dress.

Thunderball doesn’t have Bond jet-setting around the globe much as he pretty much parks it in Nassau, but the Bahamas prove to be a good setting for shenanigans like rolling around in the sand with a bikini-clad hottie, eluding sharks while deep-sea diving and shooting spears into bad guys.

That last one…oh yeah. So many spears. The climactic, underwater battle scene is marvelous, with so much happening on the screen, it’s tough to follow. The action is well-choreographed and lengthy, and segues nicely into the big fight on the out-of-control yacht, which is hurt slightly by the blatant projection work.

All in all, a great Bond flick, and one my favorite Connery gigs.

The Intel
What a great-looking transfer. The bright, tropical colors of the Bahamas spring to life in a clean anamorphic widescreen treatment. The big battle at the end looks especially nice. A pristine sound mix pushes the action.

Quality of Main Bad Guy’s Demise
Largo puts up an impressive fight with Bond, but eventually succumbs to a fatal wound from a — you guessed it — spear! The exploding yacht is gravy.

The Spy Who Loved Me

The Mission
Following up on the pitiful The Man with the Golden Gun (sorry, not a fan), Roger Moore dons the Walther PPK for his largest-scale adventure yet. Someone’s been pilfering seagoing vessels with a giant boat, and all signs point to Karl Stromberg (Curd Jurgens), a wealthy ocean-loving industrialist who hides a madcap world-ending scenario behind his seemingly innocuous fish hatchery.

Teaming up with XXX (Barbara Bach), the KGB equivalent of a 00, Bond investigates Stromberg’s dealings, and soon finds himself grappling with the metal-mouthed giant Jaws and a host of gun-toting villains.

The Debriefing
Sure, there’s a submarine car and Jaws punches a shark in the face, but The Spy Who Loved Me still stands proudly as one of Moore’s least-campy Bond adventures. Next to For Your Eyes Only, this film remains my favorite Moore outing, and though its hampered by a few flaws, contains enough 007 gusto to earn it a thumbs up.

Here’s what bugged me about the film: a) the pacing dragged, b) the Bond girl sucked, and c) Jaws began his journey toward self-parody. Though the big finale was loaded with gunfights and grenades and explosions and even a shark, the action stalled, and the entire boat-raid sequence went on too long. Leaner and meaner would have been more effective. Secondly, Barbara Bach. No doubt the girl’s a looker, but has there been a more listless Bond girl? None spring to mind. Well, maybe Jill Masterson after her gold dip. Finally, Jaws, an arch-villain who debuted here with promise but one day ended up on space-station with the girl from the Swiss Miss packages. His brouhaha with the shark is a harbinger of what’s to come.

The rest of the flick is good, though, and Moore manages to suppress the smirking self-awareness that would creep into his other Bond performances. His dispatching of the bad guy in Cairo is a vintage cold-ass Bond execution and I liked his final, understated face-off with Stromberg. The action highlight of the film happens during the pre-credits sequence when a killer ski sequence is capped by Rick Sylvester’s eye-popping parachute drop.

The Intel
Another beauty: crisp, clean and clear. The video quality shines throughout, with a special heads-up to the beginning ski sequence; that stretch of transfer is fantastic. The gunfight at the end is brought to live with the Dolby and DTS surround mixes.

Quality of Main Bad Guy’s Demise
Stromberg goes out like the punk he his — a bullet to the junk.

A View to a Kill

The Mission
In Moore’s final film, Bond, now carrying a Dunkin Donuts senior discount card along with his license to kill, tangles with Max Zorin (Christopher Walken), a psychotic businessman and the offspring of Nazi genetic experimentation. Paired with bodacious 80s babe Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts), Bond unravels Zorin’s maniacal plan to corner the microchip market by destroying Silicon Valley.

The Debriefing
Roger Moore’s swan song looks good on paper. Overblown pre-credits action sequence? Check. Megalomaniacal villain? Check. Attractive blonde sidekick? Check. Proto-snowboarding? Check. Blimp? Check. But the parts don’t add up to a successful Bond outing. There are plenty of decent moments — the fight at the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, the trap-door-laden blimp of evil, the escape from the flaming elevator — and more than enough dopey ones to offset them — the iceberg submarine, the fire truck chase that depends too heavily on blue-screen work, death by butterfly fishing poles.

Also, Roger Moore is in his 60s during this film, and besides the awkward connotations of him snogging a woman who could be his granddaughter, his physical presence is considerably more…er…rickety than in other Bond films. Granted Moore was never the bad-ass Bond, nor was he brought on to be, but the guy was just pushing it too far in this movie. And save for Walken, the rest of the cast was weak. Tanya Roberts had the trashy 80s look going, but worked primarily in clueless, damsel-in-distress mode (the girl was abducted by a gigantic blimp for Pete’s sake). Grace Jones makes for a typical unorthodox back-up heavy, but she has the on-screen charisma of a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot.

The Intel
The great anamorphic widescreen transfer measures up to the high standard set in the rest of the set. Color and details are strong, especially the opening arctic stuff and the horse-riding sequences. Good sound work as well; the explosive finale will really work over your system.

Quality of Main Bad Guy’s Demise
Actually, one of my favorites in the Bond canon. For some reason I think big, dramatic death plummets are fascinating and Zorin’s belly flop from the top of the Golden Gate is a prime-time nosedive.

Licence to Kill

The Mission
Picking up the Bond baton, Timothy Dalton rocked the casbah in The Living Daylights and returns for his follow-up mission in this film, the hardest-core Bond film ever made. Licence to Kill is a straight-up revenge tale. When drug kingpin Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) applies lethal force to Bond pal Felix Leiter à ­s family. Pissed that MI-6 won’t act in retaliation, Bond goes AWOL, pursuing his own deadly vendetta. This involves teaming up with CIA operative Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) and infiltrating Sanchez’s sprawling drug-producing infrastructure.

Before he finally exacts his revenge, Bond will toss a guy into a drawer full of maggots, electrocute someone with an electric heel, water-ski behind an airplane, shoot some sucker with a harpoon gun, facilitate one of the bloodiest deaths in James Bond history (Anthony Zerbe’s adventures in a decompression chamber), feed Benicio del Toro to a cocaine grinder, pop a wheelie in a semi, and mug Wayne Newton.

The Debriefing
Next to the mighty Casino Royale (2006), Licence to Kill stands as my all-time favorite Bond film. There are Dalton-haters and Dalton-lovers out there and I firmly plant myself into the latter camp (though “Dalton lover” may have some unsettling connotations for my marriage). The guy may not have the suaveness of Roger Moore or the feminine appeal of Sean Connery or the pampered pretty-boy good looks of Pierce Brosnan, but no one well has been able to so effectively kick ass as Dalton’s Bond — and it do it with such gusto no less! In my opinion, Daniel Craig, who is rightfully earning praise for his portrayal of 007, provided an extension of what Timothy Dalton brought to the character. The edge, the physical presence, the wanton death-dealing, the shoot-first/woo-the-girl later attitude, that’s Dalton’s bread-and-butter, baby, and nothing so illuminated these qualities than this movie.

In a way, Licence to Kill embodies much of the 80s excess that characterized action movies in the era and separates itself from Bond conventions. The violence is overblown and flirts mightily with an R-rating (the decompression chamber sequence is particularly grisly), Dalton’s Bond is easily the least suave of anyone to don the tuxedo (except for maybe Lazenby), sex takes a back seat to cold-ass revenge and the big heavy is a coke dealer. Yet it is precisely this change of tone and pace that has enamored me and other Dalton brethren to the film. For some the action-movie-first-Bond-movie-second approach can be alienating, but those I have talked to that are familiar with the Fleming’s novels (alas, I have not read any), claim that Dalton’s portrayal is closest to the literary Bond. That’s all well and good, but at the end of the day, Licence to Kill rocks so hard because it’s so hardcore.

The Intel
Beautifully transferred, the anamorphic widescreen boasts some excellent detailing and color work. Lots of stuff happens in this film in many locales, and video quality renders the dark, gritty elements and the lighter more exotic sequences with equal efficiency. The 5.1 mix blasts out the tanker explosions and del-Toro-mincing with much ballyhoo.

Quality of Main Bad Guy’s Demise
Sanchez and Bond square off with each other, soaked in gasoline, and Bond nails his opponent with a well-laced Bic flame, sending Sanchez running, screaming, burning and, eventually, exploding. Solid.

Die Another Day

The Mission
In Pierce Brosnan’s final assignment as Bond, he gets himself nabbed by the North Koreans after a bit of surfing and hovercraft demolition. Cue credits and some extended Bond torture sequences overlaid with the even more torturous Madonna theme song (which is then out-tortured by Madonna’s cameo later in the film). Needless to say, Bond doesn’t stay incarcerated for long and the Brits trade him for a lunatic North Korean mercenary named Zao. Bond is given a stern talking-to before MI-6 relents and lets him do his thing.

As the adventure unfolds, Bond meets Jinx (Halle Berry), an elite CIA operative who’s on the same mission to nail Zao. After a sprinkling of fornication and gunfire, the two agents part ways and Bond’s investigation leads him to Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), an enigmatic billionaire who’s launched a satellite into space that can redirect sunlight. Bond discovers more about Graves’s intentions at his palatial igloo. Space lasers and tidal wave surfing commence.

The Debriefing
I actually like Die Another Day despite the fact it’s more of a roadrunner cartoon than a serious Bond adventure. The invisible cars and ice buildings and laser amputations and diamond-encrusted villains grow tiring very quickly, sure and Halle Berry makes for the most unbelievable action heroine in some time, but the movie is still fun. I’m a guy who likes his action films more grounded in reality (see the above Licence to Kill write-up and yes I know that Bond popped a wheelie in a semi) and I don’t think there’s any Bond movie, including Moonraker that features such outlandish set-pieces. What really hurts the proceedings is the dependence on CGI that infests the film toward the end, most egregiously in Bond’s wind-surfing escapade which is high on my list of Most Ridiculous Melding of Visual Effects and Human Actors.

The characters are mixed. Brosnan does his Bond thing with suitable efficiency and, before turning into Vin Diesel’s XXX, did some good stuff with a tortured, vulnerable and eventually vengeance-driven 007. Stephens blows out his villainous dialogue until the big finale where that moronic Robocop suit he’s outfitted in steals his scenes, and Rosamund Pike is a pro as the morally ambiguous but wholly alluring Miranda Frost. The movie very nearly self-destructs whenever Berry takes the sate, however. The girl just is not an action star. She doesn’t have the presence or the delivery (her girl-on-girl fight at the climax is eclipsed in its ineptitude by her smarmy one-liner after dispatching her foe). Tensions with Iran and starving children all around the world give reason to lament, but at least the rumored Jinx movie was axed, so that’s one thing we can all take comfort in.

The Intel
Another great-looking technical achievement. Slick anamorphic widescreen and a boisterous 5.1 mix keep the overblown action sequence churning.

Quality of Main Bad Guy’s Demise
It’s cartoonish, sure, but Graves’s dive into a jet engine is pretty cool.

A Note About the Special Features
Like its brethren, Volume 2 is stuffed silly with bonus materials. The feature films contain at least two audio commentary tracks, highlighted by the newly recorded tracks by Roger Moore, which are always great; apparently he thought A View to a Kill was too violent, making me wonder if even dared watch Licence to Kill. Documentaries, promos, deleted and alternate scenes, narrated on-set footage and featurettes populate the second discs of the sets, and from top to bottom, impress. Taken as a whole, the sheer volume of grist to sift through on these discs is overwhelming. My personal favorite of the box: the 1965 NBC television special “The Incredible World of James Bond,” riding on the Thunderball disc. We get a crash course in Bondisms and learn that women are “personal property.” Gotta love the 60s!

All the extras from prior releases are accounted for and a generous helping of never-before seen material supplements the old stuff. These sets just ooze craftsmanship, from the attractive front ends to the menu system to the content itself — I may just have to think that indeed these are the be-all and end-all of Bond DVD releases.

The Verdict
Buy this set or Grace Jones will punch you in the face.


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