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Blu-ray Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Bill Hunt and Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits

Dr. No (Blu-ray Disc)

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Dr. No
1962 (2008) - MGM (20th Century Fox)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on October 21st, 2008
Also available in Bond Blu-ray Set: Volume 1


Film Rating: A-
Video (1-20): 17.5
Audio (1-20): 17.5
Extras: A-

Fans of 007 will know, of course, that Dr. No is the film that started it all - the first "official" film in the series, and the film that introduced and firmly established Sean Connery in the role of James Bond. As such, in many ways it's also the closest of all the films, prior to the recent Casino Royale, to the spirit of Ian Fleming's novels.

The film finds Bond on a mission to investigate the death of another British agent, Commander John Strangways. Bond travels to Jamaica, where he's immediately met by a driver sent to kill him. After a series of close calls and attempts on his life, Bond meets CIA agent Felix Lighter (Jack Lord of Hawaii Five-O fame), who happens to be investigating the same case. The two join forces, and the trail eventually leads them to the remote island of Cray Key, and the hidden lair of Dr. Julius No (played by Joseph Wiseman), a prototypical evil genius and member of a mysterious organization called SPECTRE, which has plans to destabilize the world.

Lowry Digital's 4K-sourced HD transfer looks quite good overall, though it's not quite up to the level of some of the other Bond titles on Blu-ray. Very light grain is visible, along with very good image detail. Contast is solid, with good, if very slightly gray, blacks. Color is excellent - both accurate and vibrant. Surround sound is available in the usual Fox DTS-HD 5.1 mix that's offered on all their Blu-ray titles. Music, effects and dialogue are all well presented in the mix, with good fidelity and clarity. The original mono mix is also available for those who may prefer it.

As with the Bond Blu-rays, all of the special edition material that was available on the previous DVD Ultimate Edition has been ported over. Again, select material that was standard-def on the DVD is now presented in HD, though there's nothing else unique to this edition. Highlights include audio commentary with the director and select cast and crew members, multiple featurettes both new and vintage, theatrical trailers, TV spots, an image archive and more. The overall package is nicely comprehensive and satisfying. The insert booklet (with liner notes) from the DVD hasn't been replicated here, but otherwise this Blu-ray is the perfect replacement for the DVD. The packaging is of the standard blue plastic case variety, with a cardboard slipcase.

Dr. No is a must have for Bond fans on disc simply because of its importance as the first entry in the series, not to mention the fact that it's an entertaining film. The comprehensive extras and enhanced presentation quality on this new Blu-ray edition make the case for upgrading even more legitimate. This is going to start sounding repetitive, but if you're a fan of 007, it's absolutely worth the purchase.

From Russia with Love (Blu-ray Disc)

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From Russia with Love
1963 (2008) - MGM (20th Century Fox)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on October 21st, 2008
Also available in Bond Blu-ray Set: Volume 2


Film Rating: A
Video (1-20): 18
Audio (1-20): 17.5
Extras: A-

If Dr. No was the perfect beginning for the Bond franchise, it was From Russia with Love that officially powered the series into financial success, firmly cementing the character of 007 (again played by Sean Connery) into the minds of moviegoers and establishing the spy genre in general as a legitimate big screen entertainment.

The specter of... well, SPECTRE... is back again, and this time the group is out for revenge after Bond foiled the plans of their very own Dr. No. Led by the megalomaniacal Ernst Stavro Blofeld (referred to as "Number One" and played by Anthony Dawson, also known for his appearance in Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder), SPECTRE plans to teach the British government, and 007 in particular, a lesson. So Bond steps knowingly into their schemes, which involve stealing a secret Russian decoding machine, multiple scuffles with dangerous SPECTRE assassins and, of course, a scuffle of a different sort with a sexy KGB temptress. Classic Bond doesn't get much better than this.

As presented on MGM and Fox's new Blu-ray Disc release, From Russia with Love looks fantastic. The high-definition transfer exhibits excellent color and contrast, with deep, dark blacks, good image detail and very light grain. The result is a very pleasing, film-like presentation. Audio-wise, the DTS-HD offers excellent clarity and fidelity. The score in particular benefits from the latest mastering improvements, though the dialogue and sounds effects are also good, even considering the limitations of the source material. Audio isn't quite as good as some of the other Bond titles on Blu-ray, but it supports the images well. The original mono audio is also available.

Once again, the extras available here are excellent. Everything from the previous Ultimate Edition DVD has carried over to the Blu-ray, and a select few items are now offered in HD (they were in standard-def on the DVD). Director Terence Young and key members of the production team are represented with an audio commentary track. Several new and vintage featurettes are available. There's an image database, and an archive of trailers and TV spots. You even get an animated storyboard sequence. Nothing here is new or unique to the Blu-ray, and again the liner notes booklet is missing, but this is otherwise an outstanding upgrade of the previous DVD release. As with the other Bond titles now available, it all comes packaged in a typical Blu-ray plastic case with a cardboard slipcase.

From Russia with Love remains one of the best entries in the Bond franchise, and it still holds up well even forty-five years after its big screen debut. The film looks and sounds terrific on Blu-ray despite its age, and the extras once again are excellent. If you have a Blu-ray player, but are on the fence about upgrading to this new edition, we say find a good sale price and take the leap. You won't regret it.

Die Another Day (Blu-ray Disc)

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Die Another Day
2002 (2008) - MGM (20th Century Fox)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on October 21st, 2008
Also available in Bond Blu-ray Set: Volume 1


Film Rating: C
Video (1-20): 18
Audio (1-20): 18.5
Extras: B-

Finally, we go from the great to the... well, not so much. Die Another Day was the last film in the Bond series to star actor Pierce Brosnan (previously of TV's Remington Steele fame) as Agent 007, and it represents the zenith of the franchise's modern tendency to embrace the camp, the glib and the fantastical.

The film opens with Bond being betrayed and captured while on a mission to kill a rogue military officer in North Korea. After more than a year of torture in captivity, Bond is eventually released in a prisoner exchange which also frees a terrorist named Zao from British custody. Realizing that Zao knows the identity of the person who betrayed him, Bond traces Zao to a shady British billionaire named Gustav Graves and soon uncovers an elaborate plot to spark an all-out war on the Korean peninsula. Along for the ride (and the usual sexual intrigue) are an NSA agent named Jinx (Halle Berry) and the icy Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike).

Die Another Day looks generally very good on Blu-ray Disc, though right off the bat you'll notice that location text titles are surprisingly washed out and blurred. Something obviously went awry with the optical work involved. In any case, as the film continues, the image is quite good, with excellent color and detail. The blacks look a little gray, but contrast is adequate. Light grain is visible. Sonically, the DTS-HD 5.1 mix is excellent, with a big, wide soundstage, lively surround channels, smooth panning and terrific bass.

Once again, all of the extras on the previous Ultimate Edition DVD have carried over to this Blu-ray version, some of them upgraded to HD. There are two commentary tracks, including one with Brosnan and Pike, a trivia track, numerous featurettes and more. Unfortunately, that's not good enough in this particular case - the original 2-disc Special Edition DVD release from 2002 offered ample bonus material that's available nowhere else, including the very good Inside Die Another Day documentary (produced by Charles de Lauzirika), multi-angle scene explorations, a digital grading featurette, Madonna's music video for the theme song and more. Why this material wasn't carried over to the Ultimate Edition DVD remains a mystery, and it's unfortunately still not available here. So if you want EVERYTHING, you have to keep Disc Two of that original DVD release in addition to this Blu-ray.

Die Another Day is far from our favorite entry in the Bond franchise, but it's not the worst either. In any case, we remain grateful that the producers decided to ditch the camp after its release, and take 007 back to his roots with the recent Casino Royale and the forthcoming Quantum of Solace. We do have a certain fondness for Brosnan as Bond, of course, but Daniel Craig has taken on the role so completely that it now seems impossible to think of the character without him. Bond fans will certainly want (and be glad to have) Die Another Day on Blu-ray, but if you're new to the franchise, we suggest starting your viewing elsewhere.

Bill Hunt and Jeff Kleist
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