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page added: 10/20/08



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

Casino Royale: Collector's Edition (Blu-ray Disc)

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Casino Royale: Collector's Edition
2006 (2008) - MGM/Columbia (Sony)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on October 21st, 2008

Dolby TrueHD

Film Rating: A
Video (1-20): 19.5
Audio (1-20): 19.5
Extras: A-


Casino Royale was one of Sony's first major Blu-ray Disc releases last year, and one of their first big new release titles on the format, so this Collector's Edition is both a double-dip and an overhaul. Our own Barrie Maxwell reviewed the previous edition last year (you can find his thoughts here). We won't rehash his comments on the plot, except to say that we're in complete agreement with him.


Star Daniel Craig is without question the best Bond since Connery, and there's a real argument to be made that this is one of the very best films in the franchise's history. Certainly, it's the most realistic, ditching all of the usual camp, gadgetry and tongue-in-cheek moments for a darker, edgier turn that's much closer to creator Ian Fleming's original literary intent for the character.

Sony's new Blu-ray version, the release of which is timed to help promote the theatrical debut of the next chapter, Quantum of Solace, next month, is a two-disc set. The film is presented in 1080p high-definition on Disc One, and the quality is excellent. The compression has been optimized to make the most of the extra disc space, so the video quality is even a little tiny bit better than the already terrific previous release. Better still, while the original disc featured an uncompressed PCM track, this new edition features full Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless surround. It's every bit as good as the original mix.

Extras on Disc One include a new BonusView PiP visual commentary with director Martin Campbell and producer Michael G. Wilson, a scene-specific audio commentary with select members of the production crew, and a BD-Live trivia quiz called Know Your Double-O. Disc Two, meanwhile, contains all of the extras that were on the previous Blu-ray release, including the Becoming Bond, James Bond: For Real and Bond Girls are Forever documentaries, and Chris Cornell's You Know My Name music video. Better still, there are substantial new bonus features here for the first time, including several new documentaries and featurettes (Ian Fleming's Incredible Creation, The Road to Casino Royale, James Bond in the Bahamas, Ian Fleming: The Secret Road to Paradise, Death in Venice and The Art of the Freerun), 4 deleted and extended scenes, 6 Filmmaker Profiles featurettes on key members of the production crew, a storyboard presentation for the "Freerun" sequence and the Catching a Plane scene deconstruction. The only thing missing are the film's theatrical trailers and a preview of Quantum of Solace - disappointing, but probably not surprising. The two-disc set is packaged in a standard Blu-ray case, with a cardboard slipcover.

If you're a fan of this film, this is a substantial upgrade of the original release. It's worth the purchase even if you have the previous disc, but I'd definitely try to find a good sale price to ease the cost. If you're new to the film, this is definitely the version to get your hands on. Casino Royale represents not only a new direction for Bond, but also 007 at his finest.



Thundnerball (Blu-ray Disc)

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Thunderball
1965 (2008) - MGM (20th Century Fox)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on October 21st, 2008
Also available in Bond Blu-ray Set: Volume 2

DTS HD

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


Is Sean Connery the best Bond, or what? The guy is ultra-cool, here starring in the fourth film of the Bond series, and (to that time) the biggest Bond film yet. Thunderball ranks highly among our favorite films of the series (right after Goldfinger and From Russia with Love), despite the fact that the film runs a bit long. It would have benefited from a reedit, to trim some sequences down a hair (particularly the underwater battle) and pick up the pace. Still, this film has everything you want from a Bond flick and then some.


Here's the story in a nutshell: the world's most nefarious crime organization SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) is up to its old tricks again. This time, their game is nuclear extortion. The group's deputy, Emilio Largo (played by Adolfo Celi), has managed to steal a pair of nuclear devices, and has demanded a massive ransom, or he'll use them on a major city. To counter this threat, "M" (Bernard Lee) tasks his agents with figuring out how the weapons were stolen, tracking them, and stopping SPECTRE. 007 is sent to Nassau, where (with the help of his friend Felix Leiter, played here by Rik Van Nutter) he goes head to head with Largo's henchmen, and tangles with the villain's mistress (aka Bond-girl) Domino (Claudine Auger). The underwater sequences (while long) are exceptionally well staged, and give Thunderball a look and feel all its own, as a classic entry in the 007 canon. You get sharks, jet-packs, a great John Barry score, Tom Jones singing the theme song, and even appearances by "Q" and Miss Moneypenny thrown in for good measure. Good stuff.

Lowry Digital's 4K-mastered HD transfer looks generally very good, and is certainly improved from the previous DVD releases, though it isn't perfect given the age of the film. The presentation features light grain, with variable detail based on the restored condition of the original elements. Color is exceptionally vibrant (note the deep blues of the "speargun" sequence), and contrast is generally good throughout, though the blacks do look very slightly gray from time to time. Audio-wise, surround sound is available in a DTS-HD 5.1 mix that's satisfying, yet recreates the sonic character of the original theatrical presentation. The film's score, audio effects and dialogue all sound quite good. The original mono audio is also available, for those who prefer it.

Thunderball is presented on a single BD-50 disc, so all of the extras are included with the movie. Having gone item by item through the previous DVD Ultimate Edition, it appears to us that everything from that version has been carried over here. That includes both audio commentary tracks, all the featurettes, the TV specials, the trailers and TV spots, the image galleries - everything. There are no new features exclusive to Blu-ray, so we've lowered the extras grade a little bit, although it's worth noting that SOME of the trailers and featurettes on these Blu-ray editions are now in HD (the material was obviously all SD on the original DVDs). In fact, the only thing NOT included here from the previous DVD is the insert booklet. The main point to take away is, the previous DVD extras were outstanding as they were, and they're all here on this new release.

The main reason to upgrade to Thunderball on Blu-ray is for the new high-definition video and high-resolution audio. If you're a fan and you've never purchased the film before, this is the obvious choice. If you have the previous DVD Ultimate Edition, you're going to have to decide whether the upgrade is worth the cost (the two Blu-ray gift sets are probably the best value if you want ALL the films currently available on Blu). The good news is, this edition replicates all the extras from the earlier DVD, so you can make a little money back by selling the DVD if you wish.


Live and Let Die (Blu-ray Disc)

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Live and Let Die
1973 (2008) - MGM (20th Century Fox)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on October 21st, 2008
Also available in Bond Blu-ray Set: Volume 1

DTS HD

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


Live and Let Die was Roger Moore's first stab at the role of James Bond. He would go on to play the part more times than any other person in the franchise. This is also the "blaxploitation" entry of the Bond series, featuring all the usual pimps, afros and extensive use of the word "honkey" that the genre demands. As such, if you're after good 1970s camp, this one is for you.


This time around, 007 finds himself on the trail of a megalomaniac named Dr. Kananga (played by Yaphet Kotto, who also appears as Mr. Big - Kotto's the best reason to watch this film). Kananga deals heroin to the world from his Caribbean island empire, and Bond is sent after him when a trio of British agents mysteriously bite the dust while investigating the drug trade. When 007 arrives in New York and tries to enlist the help of his old friend Felix Leiter (David Hedison), an attempt is made on his own life. The clues eventually lead him from the streets of Harlem, to San Monique, to New Orleans (and the bayous of Louisiana), in search of his would be assassin. Along the way, he crosses paths with Kananga's thugs, a redneck Sheriff named Pepper (Clifton James), and of course, still manages to entice a female CIA agent (played by Gloria Hendry). All the while, he's being tracked by the mysterious Solitaire (Jane Seymour, in her first film appearance), a priestess of Tarot in Kananga's employ (gee - I wonder if Bond sleeps with her?). Some solid action sequences and a couple of good laughs can't quite save this film, though it's still worth a watch.

In judging the source material and compression of an older film, a lot of people make the mistake of only looking at the superficial. You'll often hear how horrible people think the Blu-rays of 80s movies like Predator or Robocop look, when in reality they're far superior to any other version of the film available on disc previously. The real glory of these new high-def transfers is apparent in the richer and more varied color palette, somewhat improved contrast and detail, and the end of visible compression artifacting. The original 1999 DVD version of Live and Let Die was a mess of edge halos, dull colors and muddy detail. The recent 2006 Ultimate Edition certainly improved on things, but this new Blu-ray version finally brings the theater experience home with across- the-board improvements on the video side. Blacks are good and contrast overall is better than, for example, on For Your Eyes Only. Image detail is good over all, and color is vibrant and lovely. Audio-wise, the big surprise is that the score seems to exhibit (or at least has been restored to) somewhat greater fidelity than the dialog, though the DTS HD lossless audio wrings every bit of quality out of the somewhat limited source material. Both 5.1 and the original mono audio are available.

Again, all of the extras from the Ultimate Edition DVD release are here, many of which are new to those who have only seen the original 1999 DVD. These include an audio commentary with Moore himself. He provides a lot of insight into the process of becoming Bond and offers some amusing anecdotes. About halfway through the film he seems to run out of gas, but the track is still worth a listen. Other highlights of the bonus material include additional commentaries, trailers, vintage featurettes and Bond 1973: The Lost Documentary. The latter is a bit fluffy, but is interesting for addressing the challenges of using a huge African-American cast in a mainstream film at a time when Hollywood was still very much segregated. As with the other Bond Blu-rays, there are no new extras unique to the format, but some of the extras that were in standard-definition on the DVDs are presented in HD here (trailers and select featurettes shot on film). Again, the DVD's liner notes booklet is missing, and the packaging is a standard Blu-ray keep case with a cardboard slipcover.

Is Live and Let Die a great movie? Probably not, though it certainly isn't the worst that Roger Moore has appeared in, and it does have its share of thrilling action set pieces. While you can almost hear the Dukes of Hazzard theme during the boat chases, the solid A/V experience on Blu-ray makes getting through the film as comfortable as possible. There's plenty to like here if you're watching in the right mind set, but we wouldn't recommend it as your first Bond experience.


For Your Eyes Only (Blu-ray Disc)

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For Your Eyes Only
1981 (2008) - MGM (20th Century Fox)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on October 21st, 2008
Also available in Bond Blu-ray Set: Volume 2

DTS HD

Film Rating: B
Video (1-20): 17
Audio (1-20): 17.5
Extras: A-


After the sheer ludicrousness of Moonraker, the Bond production team decided they needed to go back to basics. Thankfully, this resulted in one of the better outings by Roger Moore in the Bond series. Better is a relative tern, of course, but there's just something about For Your Eyes Only that we can't help but enjoy. Sure, it's overlong and the plot sort of meanders from one set-piece action sequence to the next. But it's the campy fun we can't resist. And make no mistake, For Your Eyes Only is definitely campy.


The story has 007 investigating the sinking of a British electronic surveillance ship in the Mediterranean, which is carrying the super-secret ATAC system. ATAC is a computer device which can send nuclear missile launch signals to British submarines, and if it falls into the wrong hands, it could spell disaster. The Brits have a Greek scientist searching for the device on the sea floor, under the guise of an underwater archaeological expedition. But when the man and his wife are assassinated, their daughter Melina (played by Carole Bouquet) decides to extract her revenge. Bond goes looking for the assassin himself, hoping to force the man into revealing who hired him, and thus who may be after the missing ATAC. But Melina kills him first, and Bond and Melina are lucky to escape. Fortunately, Bond managed to spot the man who was paying the assassin for the job - a smuggler and all-around nasty type named Emil Locque (Michael Gothard). He tracks Locque down in Italy, and attempts to learn who he's working for. But Locque's got more assassins ready to keep Bond from learning the truth, and to prevent him from recovering the ATAC, before it can be sold to the highest bidder.

The new Blu-ray exhibits a well done cleanup by Lowry Digital. A standard auto-scrub by computer tends not to be kind to the fine detail and grain often visible in films of late 70s and early 80s vintage. Thankfully, MGM and Lowry took their time here to get it right. Though it's certainly not perfect, the HD transfer here presents a very film-like image with good color, contrast and detail. Blacks are very slightly gray looking and the image is a bit soft overall, but this is definitely an improvement over the already good DVD presentation. The DTS-HD audio shares similar sonic characteristics with the Live and Let Die Blu-ray, with slightly thin sounding dialog but a wonderfully remastered score. Original audio is also available in Dolby 2.0 surround.

All of the special features are once again replicated from the Ultimate Edition DVD. Included is another spotty commentary from Roger Moore, where he seems to talk more about The Saint than Bond. It certainly seems as if Moore has lots of good information to share, but his delivery is a little lackluster. Both of the previous DVD commentaries are included here too, along with a series of deleted scenes, vintage featurettes, trailers, TV spots and more. Again, note that some of the extras (trailers and select featurettes shot on film) that were in standard-definition on the DVDs are presented in HD here. There's nothing specifically new to Blu-ray, but if you liked these extras before, you'll be glad to have them all again here. As with the other Bond Blu-rays from MGM, there's no insert booklet and the packaging is standard with a cardboard slipcover.

For Your Eyes Only ultimately succeeds in its attempt to bring Bond back down to Earth, with beautiful women, fantastic locales and some good fisticuffs and gun play. If you grew up in the 1980s, you probably know this film backwards and forwards as an HBO twice a day special, so the feelings of nostalgia will help you spackle over its shortcomings. Hey - if you're like us, the ski chase sequence alone is worth the price of admission.

Bill Hunt and Jeff Kleist
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com
jeffkleist@thedigitalbits.com
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