It goes without saying that the James Bond franchise is the crown jewel of the MGM and Sony vault. And in preparation for Daniel Craig’s turn as the man who likes his martinis shaken and not stirred in Casino Royale, it was decided to let them run with some things in order to double-dip Joe Q. DVD Buyer. And in the UK, where Bond reigns supreme, these new “Ultimate Editions” of all the James Bond movies have just been released (don’t worry US fans, these are on their way in November).
The UK version …f this collector’s set is somewhat snazzy, as there’s a locking metal attaché case that houses all of the films (20 in total), and each film gets a 2 disc edition to boot. So the bottom line is that if you’re a fan of Connery, Moore, Brosnan, Dalton and Lazenby, get that fridge by the TV installed and get a case of diapers ready, because you’re getting married to that furniture for the short and intermediate term with 40 discs of James Bond cinematic joy. I did some skimming of the titles, and decided to get this party started by watching Octopussy. I think the reason I might have gone with this is that I think this may have been the first Bond film I saw in the theater, and I remember it being a really cool thing to see as a tyke growing up as the son of a British mother.
A funny story surrounds the production of this particular Bond film. Around the same time, Sean Connery had apparently secured an appearance as Bond in Never Say Never Again, and Moore (who had grown tired of played 007) had been riding the fence for this production, so much so that American (?) James Brolin (Traffic) had even gone through some screen tests. But Moore compromised, the film was made, and all were happy.
Now from a story point of view, it’s Bond versus the Russians again, that’s fine, but in a roundabout way, he hunts down who may have killed a fellow agent, which takes him to a Russian general (played by Steven Berkoff, Beverly Hills Cop) who wishes to detonate a bomb in Germany. Using various settings around the world (the main one being India), Bond and his crew work to stop the General before this grand experiment. Are there Bond girls? You bet, as Maud Adams returns (she played in The Man With the Golden Gun), and Louis Jourdan (who acts an awful lot like Klaus Maria Brandauer in Never Say Never Again) is the villain for James to deal with. Moore plays a lot of the scenes with tongue in cheek and one-liner bravado, but he does it for all its worth, and it remains one of my personal favorite Bond films.
A restoration effort for the Bond movies was undertaken by Lowry Digital, and there are a lot of screenshot comparisons on the web (so far) and on the discs themselves, and watching the first of these new works, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation given to Octopussy is pretty good. There’s a little more detail flushed out that I didn’t notice before (granted I haven’t watched the Bond films in a couple of years), but there’s very little to complain about. Black levels are sharp, no pixelation issues to deal with, the image is reproduced faithfully.
Another perk in these discs is that they all come with Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS soundtracks. Granted, going with a Bond film recorded in Dolby Stereo was something I was looking at (because the older Dolby and DTS mixes can sound a bit hollow), and the soundtrack for Octopussy is also very good. Low end fidelity with the many explosions through the film and solid reproduction of the effects and score. For recent Bond films, this is as good as you’ll get (on SD for the time being).
Attaboy MGM! You kept the originals from the first versions of these DVDs and put them (along with some new ones) onto a 2nd disc for each and every film. On Disc 1, the original commentary with Director John Glen is retained, but the highlight is Moore’s commentary track. He gives an immediate disclaimer that his won’t be a commentary but more of a stream of consciousness track about things in and out of the world of Bond. Like Glen’s track, Moore’s track does have some gaps of silence in it, and Moore’s “straying” does start rather early as he talks about his UNICEF charity work, but at least knowing that things are a little more leisurely on this, it’s not really that big of a deal.
On Disc 2, extras are broken down into several sections. The “Declassified: MI6 Vault” focuses more on the production, and starts with a look at the film’s production in India. The on-set film (which is almost like an EPK) covers the filming, and lots of Moore enjoying himself in this cool mystical place. Lots of “fly on the wall” and “bird on a branch” viewing of some of the scenes on set. Brolin introduces his screen test footage and provides his recollections on almost getting the part. And the screen test footage is horrendous. The British accent is horrible (and that’s the Bill Walton horrible). There’s some additional footage with him and Vijay which is a little better, though not by much, along with some stunt footage. So it’s clear they were pretty serious at the time. Next are several small looks at the production that run about 3-6 minutes each in length. Ken Burns (the British extra, not the American documentarian) was an extra on set, and he shot some on-set film which is included as well. It’s a little longer than the screen test footage and features narration by Burns on his recollections. Peter Lamont (who was the production designer on the film) includes his camera footage of some of the locations that were used in the production, followed by some longer looks at the stunts the film included, along with the aerial plane team. The “007 Mission Control” section covers the opening sequences, the villains, Q’s devices, locations, and everything else the film is known for, and it’s basically a series of clips. The only thing that isn’t a completely recycled clip show is a look at the locations of the film, which is narrated by Adams, and features..clips from the film. The “Mission Dossier” section of the disc includes the old extras, including the “Inside Octopussy documentary that sheds some light on the production and provides some interesting trivia (some of which has already been discussed). Narrated by Patrick Macnee, the Never Say Never Again battle is talked about as well, and the cast members recall how they came to the project and what they thought about each other. All in all, it’s an excellent look at the production that not a lot of people have seen. Lamont returns for another look at the production design with interviews by other members of the production, and at 20 minutes, it outweighs some of the other newer pieces. A couple storyboard sequences (and a music video) follow. The “Ministry of Propaganda” section covers all four trailers of the 13th Bond film, while the “Image Database” section is (naturally) a series of still galleries that complete things.
I kinda wavered on the overall grade of this, as the newer extras (with the lack of the Moore commentary) are a little bit weak. However, the audio and video presentation really are substantially better than the previous versions, and this is as good as things will get before the inevitable picture bump.
Special Features List
- Director Commentary
- Roger Moore Commentary
- Stunt Footage
- On Set Stunt Footage
- Production Location Footage
- Screen Test Footage
- Interactive Guide
- Making of Featurette
- Music Video
- Storyboard Sequences
- Trailers & Stills Gallery