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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > Action > Thriller > Cold War > Terrorism > Aquatic > James Bond Ultimate Edition – Volume Two (Thunderball/The Spy Who Loved Me/A View To A Kill/Licence To Kill/Die Another Day)

James Bond Ultimate Edition – Volume Two (MGM DVD)





Thunderball (1965/reconstructed version) B-/B-/B+/B

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) B-/B-/B/B-

Licence To Kill (1989/shorter PG-13 version) B-/B-/B/C+

A View To A Kill (1985) B-/B/B/C

Die Another Day (2002) B-/B/C+/D





The fourth James Bond epic remains the biggest ticket-selling Bond of all time worldwide and in this country alone sold more tickets than even Forrest Gump.  It was the height of the Spy craze which was still red hot for a few more years afterwards.  The film marked a change in the series and was intended as the first Bond film, but the lack of budget and a plagiarism lawsuit over the original book which we will not go into.  Planned as the first film, it became the fourth and along with Goldfinger proved that blockbuster moneymaking event films were not restricted to large frame format mega-productions that had exclusive road Show tours before opening across the country at popular prices.  The two films had spectacularly invented the blockbuster as we know it today.


In the film, SPECTRE has stolen a couple of nuclear warheads and plans to hold the United Nations ransom for their return, or they will use them to kill millions of people.  It is a famous plot that has been remade, ripped off and spoofed endlessly, but it is played for high stakes here and it works.  Bond takes on a SPECTRE agent in the opening of the film, which is connected to the body of this truly spectacular production.  Some thought the gadgets and larger production cut into the characters and Bond, but director Terence Young helmed the first two Bond films and kept better balance here than he and the film are given credit for.  Blofeld remains unseen, but Adolfo Celi as the evil Largo, Claudine Auger as lead Bond Girl Domino and Luciana Paluzzi as the seductive hit woman are classic performances for classic characters.


A lawsuit caused the fortunate delay of the production of this film, giving it a larger budget later.  The suit also led to co-plaintiff Kevin McClory (who co-wrote the teleplay with Jack Whittingham Fleming stole SPECTRE and Blofeld from) producing on the film, which led to his one inarguable contribution to the series: switching from a flat 1.66 X 1 aspect ratio to full 2.35 X 1 anamorphic Panavision.  Except for the first two Roger Moore films, they have been in scope ever since.  For the old 12” LaserDisc format ten years ago, the film was upgraded to a new transfer that recaptured the three-strip dye-transfer Technicolor shot by the great British cinematographer Ted Moore and upgraded the sound with corrective editing (like adding missing music or changing to original music that was replaced for the early VHS and Beta versions) and even remixing the film for Dolby Pro Logic sound.  That was the best at the time.


A basic 12” LaserDisc of the film added a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound with some good bass and was a decent remix.  When the special edition DVD came out in the late 1990s, the beautiful picture might have been anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1, but it was too harsh and depth was lost.  The 5.1 on the DVD was not as good as the LaserDisc and that version quickly went out of print.


For this new edition, each frame has been cleaned by Lowry Digital’s 4K (4,000 progressive scan line) per frame for the entire film and upgraded with other repairs, while the sound has been upgraded to a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and DTS 5.1 mix to boot.  Since the film had been upgraded before, the film footage was in better condition than it might have been otherwise.  A few years ago, Capitol/EMI reissued the soundtrack with the help of Film Score Monthly’s Lukas Kendall, as covered in Volume 8, No. 4 for their print magazine (go to www.filmscoremonthly.com for more details) and the great music score by John Barry had originally been recorded in three-track magnetic stereo.  Other tracks exist only in two-channel or mono copies.


Unfortunately, it sounds like the remaster involved the existing optical analog sound effects and dialogue stems, but relied on the previous 5.1 mix and PCM Pro Logic LaserDisc mix from the compression throughout in the music and some scenes.  The one scene that is fixed is the key Junkanoo Chase (Chapter 20) when Bond runs bleeding into the parade.  It was too harsh and Shrill on the DVDs and too old on the LaserDisc, but is cleaned up nicely here and is a real plus.  Unfortunately, the mix is often too much towards the speakers and sometimes too monophonic in nature.  It can also be a bit more bass heavy than necessary.


A nice option for the titles is going to Dolby Digital 2.0 English track six and listening to the original theme song Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang by Dionne Warwick, which was originally intended as the theme until it was changed to the Tom Jones title song at the last minute.  Too bad the titles are not available in the 007 Mission Control section with stereo versions of the song by Warwick and a previous recording of it by Shirley Bassey.  Was it too cost-prohibitive?


For the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image, the new version has more of the original scope frame as shot by Cinematographer Ted Moore, B.S.C., and has been cleaned up.  Some shots are definitely superior to the transfer that goes back to the 12” LaserDisc and this does not have the digital harshness of the DVD equivalents.  However, I have to question if some of the color here is accurate.  Fleshtones may be too reddish in the older versions overall, detail is superior to the older versions and this looks far more natural looking than the original upgrade.  However, the color Blue seems to be missing in certain shots (the opening gun barrel, the underwater sequences) that have always been there and were likely added as a wash that Lowry forgot to read in all their digital zest.  Unlike Diamonds Are Forever, the improvement in color and detail at the same time are not necessarily the improvement or upgrade they should be and when the viewing was over, I was surprised by some of the second-generation materials that were not so in the new print and transfer originally introduced on the LaserDisc.


Also, while there are some great moments of color, including improved detail in some such shots, others are not as good looking as the previous print, often lacking that three-strip dye-transfer Technicolor look that Moore intended and put the film on the map.  There is also green in places during the underwater footage where it might have been blue before.  Though this is better than the previous DVD just by not being so harsh, but upgrades are inconsistent, fine detail can be an issue and more work needs to be done before its Blu-ray arrival.  Note the color and detail on Moneypenny’s shirt in Chapter 10, or how the man-to-man underwater battle in Chapter 28 is not as blue-toned as it should be.  See more to compare in a supplement below.


For the 5.1 sound mixes, the film was issued in mono and simple stereo, but its popularity brought on all the aforementioned upgrades.  More recently, its music master tapes noted above were transferred to a hard drive (Macintosh) at 24-bit/44.1kHz for the CD reissue and future uses.  Why were they not used here?  If they were, it was not enough.


Extras add an extra missing from the previous DVD that was on the 12” LaserDisc box set for this title, the hour-long classic TV special The Incredible World Of James Bond as shown on NBC.  Nice to see it back with the original radio, TV and theatrical advertising, the making of featurette hosted by Patrick Macnee, Secret History and Phenomenon featurettes on the film and great set of audio commentaries from that LaserDisc set.  New additions besides the interactive 007 Mission Control feature are a terrific On Location piece with Ken Adam, a Ford promo tie-in film amusingly titled A Child’s Guide To Blowing Up A Motor Car that includes footage shot on the set during production running 17 minutes, Thunderball Boat Show Reel offering an alternate cut of the manned underwater battle in its blue-toned glory, Selling Bonds offering tie-in products and the TV advertising selling them in England (coats, slacks) & both sides of the sea (toys) and Bill Suitor – The Rocket Man Movies.  That all together is as massive as anything in these reissues.


Of course, the film was remade in 1983 outside of the series (and these four new 007 DVD sets) as Never Say Never Again with Connery as more of a comedy with less production values, but directed by Irwin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back, the Connery film A Fine Madness) minus the famous James Bond theme.  More on that when it is reissued.




The Spy Who Loved Me


The beginning of a new era commenced in 1976 as Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli became the sole producer of the series with Harry Saltzman cashing his half of the series out.  This was Roger Moore’s third Bond and put him on top as 007 once and for all.  Many think of the film as a sort of remake of You Only Live Twice and it is that grand, but it still has things going for it that distinguish it from that film and was a hit.  They even brought back Lewis Gilbert, who directed that film, to direct here.


Originally written as Blofeld’s return, the series was fighting over the rights to the character, so the underwater-obsessed Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) is plotting against the U.S. and U.S.S.R. by strategically stealing their submarines and getting them to blame each other at the height of The Cold War.  If a nuclear holocaust happens, he can wait it out and take over what is left of the world.  Immediately called to find out what is going on, Bond steps in on a journey that takes him to Egypt, where the KGB has already sent some henchman to accompany their #1 agent XXX (Barbara Bach in an underappreciated performance) who can equal Bond in part.  No fool, Stromberg has some tricks of his own, including a few henchmen and assassins, including a titanium-toothed giant named Jaws (Richard Kiel as one of the most successful characters in the series’ long history).


Broccoli, Writer Richard Maibaum and newcomer/writer Christopher Wood refined the comedy Tom Mankiewicz brought to the series and opening the same season as the original Star Wars, were still ahead of the game.  I was already very happy with Moore when he did this film, so it was more of a refinement than improvement as far as this fan was concerned.  Though I thought it lost some of the character Moore’s previous Bond’s had, with Harry Saltzman gone and the last film (the always fun Man With The Golden Gun) not doing the business it deserved to do, a relaunch was necessary.  They could still bask in the glory of the counterculture they helped to create, taking the fun in a stride everyone understood.


For the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image, the great Claude Renoir used regular color film processed in modern ways for the film, as the film left the more complex color systems of the past behind.  This actually worked for the first few films, taking advantage of color film advances of the time.  Many also know that as Mr. Renoir was having vision troubles as the film progressed, production designer Ken Adam convinced his good friend Stanley Kubrick to help with lighting of the giant 007 Soundstage built especially for this film and was used for the set where the submarines were captured by the villain Stromberg.


For this transfer, it is an improvement over the problematic last Special Edition DVD, which was not as good as the more basic THX edition which this critic recommended until this release as the best edition.  On the one hand, there are obvious improvements in depth and color.  Bach’s outfit starting in Chapter 11 not only looks good, but you can finally see how expensive it really is, seeing the money on the screen for the first time outside of a 35mm or 16mm film print.  On the other hand, some shots can look strained and detail can be an issue where it was not on the THX version.  Note the word “Esprit” on the Lotus Esprit car in Chapter 18 is hardly readable.  That is typical of the lost detail in some shots, and with Video Red an issue even in the best HD, that particular logo in red is one to use as a point of reference problem.


For the 5.1 sound mixes, considering this was a simple stereo film at best to begin with, but has this interesting score by Marvin Hamlisch and classic theme song Nobody Does It Better by Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager was produced by the amazing Richard Perry and sung by Carly Simon.  Besides the constantly amusing referential movie theme moments Hamlisch had nothing to do with, his score is an interesting change of pace and his instrumental “Bond 77” piece is an all-time classic of the series.  It may have somewhat of what we would now consider a Disco beat, but every Electronica genre variant of the Bond theme since owes its roots to this work.  The way some of the sound design deals with diegetic and non-diegetic sound and music can be seen as a forerunner of what we now know as sampling.  As compared to the previous Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, the new Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes almost might have come from 24-track masters at Abbey Road Studios, but Lukas Kendall (see Thunderball above) and company never found out when he was remastering Bond soundtracks because they did not get to that one for an expanded CD reissue.


After playing the film back, it is obvious they did not have the 24-track, with the Hamlisch score sometimes sounding more strained than it should.  The dialogue and the sound is too often in the front three channels, much like Thunderball, as if the same mixers used the same approach for both films.  In both Dolby Digital and DTS, there is a bass-heavy tendency too, typical of this series.  Maybe both aspects will play better in the upcoming Blu-ray version.


Extras are decent, again including TV, radio & theatrical trailer spots, Ken Adam: Designing Bond featurette, Inside the film with Patrick Macnee and the original audio commentary with Gilbert, producer Michael G. Wilson, Adam and Wood.  New extras include the Interactive Guide to the film, 007 In Egypt featurette, Roger Moore: My Word Is My Bond featurette, On Location with Ken Adam, Escape From Atlantis: Storyboard Sequence, 007 Stage Dedication vintage featurette and yet another terrific new feature-length audio commentary by Sir Roger Moore himself.  All that makes it one of the most improved Bond reissues in this series, with some vintage footage likely coming from a very extensive 12+ hour’s mini-series on filmmaking using this film as example.  Maybe we’ll see that one of these days uncut.




A View To A Kill


Roger Moore’s last Bond film was really one too many.  Christopher Walken as the villain Zoran, Grace Jones as female henchman/love interest Mayday and a very darkly odd sense of humor make this still interesting.  Tanya Roberts walks through the film as eye candy with a limited performance, though the screenplay can be blamed as much as her for that.  Patrick Macnee also shows up, as does Dolph Lundgren (then dating Jones) in a cameo as a KGB henchman/bodyguard, but the film has not dated well.  The end of The Cold War is the least of its problems.


Moore would have likely walked after Octopussy, but with the Sean Connery Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again coming out a few months afterwards and not even doing as well, Producer “Cubby” Broccoli and Moore did not want it to look like Connery put them out of business.  Also, Broccoli may not have wanted to let go of Moore after the business Octopussy did, though he was testing James Brolin for the role in case Moore’s departure was final.  Either way, Walken’s performance saves the film from being worse and Jones is better here than she is given credit for.  The plot is about Zoran trying to become the king of microchips by wiping out the competition literally, but Bond is on to him.  Locations run from France to the U.S. and Britain.


Following the Goldfinger formula too much, with some From Russia With Love at the beginning, Director John Glen allows the crude humor get out of control in a way that is not amusing and the firetruck chase is almost as ludicrous as the casting of former TV Charlie’s Angels co-star Tanya Roberts, who seems like a nice lady in real life but has a terrible reputation for bad acting.  As in the bizarre Sheena feature, she is here because she has the body and looks.  Unfortunately, she is not the worst thing about this film by a longshot and the Richard Maibaum/Michael G. Wilson screenplay is just too silly and deconstructive to ever work. 


For the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image, a new digital HD transfer was made, but this is washed out-looking in most scenes.  The Maurice Binder titles are famous for their multi-color black light look, but the color is a tone too dark where on the first DVD, they looked more vibrant.  Definition has its moments in the transfer, but cinematographer Alun Hume, B.S.C., delivered a better-looking film than this overall and hopefully the Blu-Ray version will be more color rich, vibrant (where duller here) and with more consistent definition.  I have seen this one several times in 35mm and can tell you it is not where it should be.  Technicolor did the processing, but the final prints were MetroColor and you don’t see that much anymore.  Wonder if that has something to do with it.


For the 5.1 sound mixes, this was a film only issued in Dolby analog A-type theatrical sound and limited sonically.  The upgrade for the previous DVD was also mixed in 5.1 as well, but was a terrible wreck with a harsh edginess and other mixing problems too numerous to go into.  Since the Dolby 5.1 was supposed to debut on a basic 12” LaserDisc that was abandoned when DVD arrived, so whether that format switch, bad mix or both is hard to tell.  Though this new one is markedly better, it also shows the age of the fidelity of the original analog Dolby mix more.  The Duran Duran title song is a little more bass heavy than expected too, but is not bad sounding, with the late Producer Bernard Edwards of Chic remaining one of the only producer credited in a Bond title sequence and just about any film’s opening credits to date.  It is a Bond classic and the credits design is very good.  John Barry turns in one of his more unusual scores for the series.


Extras originally on the older Special Edition DVD have been retained, including a full length audio commentary featuring Director John Glen and the members of the Cast and Crew, Inside A View To A Kill Documentary, The Music of James Bond Documentary, Deleted Scene, original promotional Music Video for the Duran Duran song directed by Kevin Godley and TV spot.  New extras include another brand-new audio commentary with Roger Moore that is surprisingly blunt about how he sees the film, though Moore does some of the best commentary tracks out there.




Licence To Kill


This is the roughest and in some ways, most political film in the series.  Unfortunately, the PG-13 cut is a mess and anyone hoping the extras footage would be restored will be greatly disappointed.  It did great overseas business, but not as well in the U.S. because of the violence, the majority of the U.S. audience never warming to Timothy Dalton and the Reagan-friendly MGM decided not to back the film as strongly in U.S. release.


Why the controversy?  It is in the story.  Bond is attending the wedding of his best friend Felix Leiter (David Hedison, the only actor to repeat the role in the series, playing the character again after Live & Let Die in 1973), who is getting married finally to the girl of his dreams (Pricilla Barnes from the TV sitcom Three’s Company).  Since we last saw Felix (played by another actor in The Living Daylights) and every other time since the first Fleming book, he was a CIA agent.  Here, he has joined the DEA and has long been targeting the powerful drug lord Sanchez (Robert Davi) when opportunity knocks just as he is going to get married.


With Bond’s help, they capture Sanchez, but by the time the wedding and honeymoon begin, Sanchez finds a way to escape and immediately retaliates by sending his top henchman Dario (Benicio Del Toro as a knife-welding maniac) to rape and kill the girl and bring him Leiter.  Leiter promptly has his legs fed to some take shark and dumped him unconscious with a note back to the U.S. authorities to discover.


Bond, who is already at odds with the British Secret Service of late (a good characteristic Dalton established in his debut), is also weary of the U.S. Government.  His boss tells him the Americans will not do anything, but Bond will not let it go due to a big theme in the film, loyalty.  And that is where the politics are involved.


Dario is a former Contra, a group of U.S. sponsored “freedom fighting” guerrillas in Latin America who were funded illegally by the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages deal that kept U.S. hostages in Iran until Ronald Reagan officially became president.  Just mentioning that fact alone at the time was a problem.  That the reason the U.S. was not going to avenge Leiter since they had “more important” obligations is remarkable of any film let alone the most commercially successful film franchise in cinema history.


Of course, Bond resigns from the Double-O section and goes after Sanchez whether the U.S. or Britain likes it or not.  Sanchez does not know who he is and when he finds out what he can; Bond is a few steps ahead of him to lure him into trusting Bond as an independent agent.  Sanchez sees him as a potential new Dario, with different uses, but Bond intends to make the grandest statement he can against Sanchez, both governments and all in the know of his zero-tolerance for terrorism and murder no matter what the cost.


In some respects, the film could have gone further and it turns out in the R-rated cut does.  Here, we get the PG-13 cut edited in odd and suspicious ways that work against the narrative.  Without going into details (and ruining the film for those who have never seen it or need to rescreen it), this cut makes the fate of the bad guys less potent and abuse of women more so in its editing as if to distract from its mature points.  Originally, the drug lord was going to be from China which would have been an interesting and different film, but a writer’s strike forced Michael G. Wilson to finish the Richard Maibaum screenplay (his last, as he passed away before the Brosnan revival) and the transplant to Mexico and turn towards a darker film resulted.


It still has issues, even if it were the R-to-NC-17 cut, there are still choices that lack both the Broccoli Touch and are too far removed from Fleming’s original material.  By not being over-the-top and out-of-the-world, the best parts of the film help it stand up better than the Brosnan Bonds that followed and in tone has just been picked up by the debut of Daniel Craig.  There are also logic issues that would be spoilers, of which this critic hopes to address another time.


For the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image, the 35mm print was fine and there was no digital used, so this might be what we might consider the last of the organic Bonds.  It looks dirty, but that does not always translate to gritty.  Production design for an early scene in a bar is one of the phoniest setups the series ever had and the sets for Wayne Newton’s faux church look too much like Diamonds Are Forever.  Yes, Newton is synonymous with Las Vegas.  We get it.  He is actually amusingly obnoxious as the phony preacher.  The transfer has some better color and depth than the previous DVD and 12” LaserDisc, yet still has detail issues and should look a bit better than this.


For the 5.1 sound mixes, the film was originally issued as a Dolby theatrical analog SR (Spectral Recording) film, but the older 5.1 mix for the first DVD was choppy and problematic.  That affected the Gladys Knight title song and Patti LaBelle’s end theme If You Asked Me To, now best known as a big hit for Céline Dion a few years later in a cover version that both ruins and massacres the original song here.  The film remains the only Dolby analog SR release and though the first DVD had a Dolby Digital 5.1 upgrade, this new upgrade is too bass heavy and once again shows that it is not easy to take a complex SR master and make it 5.1 without possible problems.  That SR can be heard on the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix if you decode it with Pro Logic, but this DTS 5.1 mix should sound better too considering how new it is.  Let’s hope the Blu-ray exceeds these limits.


Extras retain the original Music Videos with Knight and LaBelle for their songs, original trailers, behind the scenes featurette hosted by Patrick Macnee, Kenworth Truck Stunt Film featurette, Inside LTK documentary and two audio commentary tracks.  One is with Glen, the other with Wilson, both joined by others.  New extras include the interactive guide to the film, Bond ’89, On The Set with Glen, On Location with Lamont, Ground Check with Corkey Fornoff and deleted scenes with Glen introductions.  These are interesting exclusions, some of which just did not work in the film for continuity reasons, others for reasons of mood.


A few should have remained, like Bond In Isthmus, but Glen knew he had to hold back after being too comical in the later Moore Bonds and somewhat so in The Living Daylights.  Bond Returns To Casino is a bit politically incorrect, Bond Captured… shows that some scenes were not salvageable and none offer the R-to-NC-17 cuts that are in other copies outside of the U.S. somewhere.  Until then, we will only have this PG-13 version.




Die Another Day


One of the worst films in the series for reasons too numerous to go into, this 2002 hit will likely remain so for decades and even centuries to come.  For the time Halle Berry is on screen as Jinx, she is good, but not on nearly enough.  The villains and plot are lame, Bond’s car can go invisible, Brosnan looks bored, I was very, very, very bored and the North Korea/China plotline has dated so badly that it has made this film even more of a joke than it was upon arrival.  Thanks to Berry’s Oscar win and that it was the first post-9/11 James Bond (which made the North Korea/China bit seem somewhat misguided) amounted to another hit.  However, in content, it almost totally destroyed the series, which is why they had to start over with Casino Royale.


The Bond’s have referenced other Bond’s before, but Director Lee Tamahori instead is left stringing endlessly tired visual references to every other Bond before than makes you want to see all the older ones again instead of this mess.  John Cleese is wasted as Q’s replacement and Judy Dench is wasted as much as she was in The World Is Not Enough.  The “traitor inside the organization” bit is obnoxious and the tying of it to North Korea beyond dumb. 


For the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image, this film did not look that good in 35mm since aspects that should have shined visually like the Ice Palace are so badly shot and overdigitized that only pictures and stills can show what we missed.  In a particularly all-time awful moment, Bond is seen gliding in one of the worst digital composites in the short, painful history of such visual effects work.  That the producers allowed this to happen and be bested by a similar scene in the otherwise unusual Bond knock-off XXX with Vin Diesel is the true nadir of the series.  The old DVD transfer looked worse than the 35mm prints and this new version


For the 5.1 sound mixes, the film was an across-the-board digital theatrical release in Dolby, DTS and SDDS, but has always had a terrible mix, bizarre title song by Madonna and could be the mix for any other action film.  It has Dolby EX and DTS ES, but they are very unimpressive to say the least.  The Danny Arnold score is one of his worst and questions abounded as to whether he would stay with the series.  The same could be said for the fans, but will save that answer for later reviews.


Extras are not working or missing on DVD 2 of these copies.  When we tried our copy, all we got were the new items like the image database, On Location with Peter Lamont, From Script To Screen, Shaken & Stirred On Ice, Just Another Day and The British Touch – Bond Arrives In London featurettes, along with the usual 007 Mission Control items like textless titles, but the DVD-ROM items are nowhere to be found.  There is no link.  The two audio commentaries (Tamahori/Wilson and Brosnan/Pike) are on DVD 1, but also lacks the DVD-ROM the package says exists.


Furthermore, the MI-6 Data Stream and all the TV spots, radio ads and theatrical trailers are missing!  What happened?  Better keep your older edition in this case.  It is the poorest of the twenty for extras as a result, despite promising “the best collection of features ever assembled for Bond” with an emptiness much like the film itself.  No wonder the series needed a change.



For coverage of the other three Ultimate Edition sets and the first Blu-ray wave, try these review links:















-   Nicholas Sheffo


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