Dr. No (US - BD)
Gabe Powers prefers the original title: "Medical Professional: Undecided"...
We start this James Bond Blu-ray review by cranking the Way Back Machine to 1962 for the first cannon film. Dr. No features most of the classic Bondian ingredients: gambling, guns, sexy women, props aplenty, tongues softly crammed into cheeks, and Sean Connery in a suit. The series didn’t hit its stereotypical stride until Goldfinger, but the relative rawness of Dr. No (and to an even greater extent From Russia with Love) is a fun contrast, especially given the enormously successful Daniel Craig reboot. If it had been a standalone picture I imagine Dr. No may’ve been an even more beloved cinematic stepping stone. The film’s obvious impact on later ‘60s crime masterworks like Get Carter and Point Blank might’ve also been more obvious without the more defined and over-the-top 007 adventures, which of course inspired a dafter brand of knock-offs and spoofs.
Dr. No’s budget is a bit lowish, and it does show a few loose joints here and there, but charming shoe strings aside the film’s crisp and loveably early ‘60s look overcomes many of the visual shortcomings. The most obviously innovative aspects are the speedy pacing, consistently moving camera, and tight action editing, styles which would evolve as the series continued, and which would become action movie standbys for years to come. Dr. No has a joyously mod and purely European look, which director Terence Young would practically visually copyrighted during his ‘60s career.
I tend to choose my favourite 007 films based more on their looks than their plots or action set pieces, but Dr. No features one of the better stories in the entire series (especially looking back at the later Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan films), and as I said, I think it stands alone better than most of the rest of the series. Though the plot teeters off the rails a few times (this is a somewhat dated style of storytelling), everything eventually comes around to making perfect sense when needed. Later Bond films would lose the story to bigger and louder set pieces, but the first two films in the series exhibit plainly good storytelling.
MGM and Fox have always managed to put enormous amounts of love and care into these films, and we’ve seen something like four collection releases in the US alone. The Blu-ray versions of the series earlier films don’t quite stand up to your new release discs, but I’m really struggling to find anything to complain about. We’ve got smooth, tanned skin tones, bright and clean ‘60s clothing, and details about as sharp as possible from the original material. The transfer is more impressive in its lack of compression and artefacts than its super sharp details (though grain in darkness is an expected issue), which is perfectly acceptable considering the style Terrance Howard and his gang were really going for. The separation of the colours is probably the transfer’s most impressive asset, as I can’t find any overt cases of edge enhancement of bleeding reds. The colours themselves are occasionally inconsistent from scene to scene, mostly depending on the lighting schemes. For instance, Bond’s deep blue suit is sometimes an amazingly natural blue with workable highlights, while in other shots it appears purely black.
The framing of Dr. No may be an issue for some fans. I’m not an expert on the subject but apparently the film was displayed differently in Europe (1.66) and the States (1.85). For this release the Blu-ray’s producers have opted for the European 1.66:1 framing.
The need for revamped, state of the art surround audio on films that were originally made for mono sound is always going to be an issue among cineastes. Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Thunderball, and Live and Let Die are all presented in their original mono (two channel), as well as in their new super awesome DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks. I’ll be honest here and let you all know now that this section of all six new Bond reviews will be roughly the same, as the same basic rules of critique apply to all three mono to DTS-HD tracks.
The new DTS-HD track is easily among the most graceful and impressive revamps I’ve ever heard. The original material has been fully overhauled and cleansed of any obvious distortion, even during the kinds of high volume moments which often plague smaller studios, like screams, gunshots, and aggressive musical cues. The early mixes are consistent and even-handed. There’s little to no important loss of sound due to a busy audio pallet. The surround effects are minimal and subtle, but there are a few clever directional placements, some effective background noise, and even a few vocal placement adjustments. The LFE track keeps the explosions from sounding too tinny, as is often an issue with older mixes.
The new DTS track also feature the most impressive remix of the film’s incendiary musical scores. Here John Barry’s brassy and bassy themes streak across every speaker in the set without arbitrary movement or artificial break-ups. The loudest and brassiest of the horns never flatten out or buzz with distortion, and the action cues aren’t lost within sound effects, nor do they hinder the impact of the sound effects. Things become brassier and more bombastic come time for From Russia with Love, but Dr. No is no pushover.
Our Dr. No extras begin with a mixed and matched cast and crew commentary track. Almost every important cast and crew member (save Mr. Bond himself) is included at some point in this track, even some folks that aren’t alive anymore thanks to interview archives. The track flows much better than most tracks edited from other interview material, and is largely informative for a passing fan like myself. There’s a lot of importance placed on the films more innovative editing and art direction, but just as much honest talk about the film’s (mostly budget related) shortcomings. My favourite anecdote is told by Young, who remembers the filming of the tarantula attack sequence which scarred the crap out of Sean Connery. Young defends Connery’s fears by telling us that the tarantula had a deadly bite. There’s no such thing as a tarantula with a deadly to human bite.
Next up is a featurette concerning the Lowery restoration of the original camera negatives (which I believe was originally done for the previous DVD release, not this Blu-ray release). The whole thing is pretty techy, and not something I found particularly fascinating, but it’s a nice lesson for a layman. I’m always a sucker for before and after shots though. Curiously the final product examples here are really nowhere near as impeccable as the final Blu-ray discs (due most unfairly to it coming from a non-HD port).
Under the MIG Vault we start a collection of the previous DVD releases’ extras, which were all golden in their own way. First up is the ‘Guns of James Bond’, a five minute featurette filmed around the time of Goldfinger about the reconsideration of Bond’s various firearms when professional questions of accuracy were brought about. ‘Premiere Bond’ is not so surprisingly a look at the film’s premier.
The biggest extra on the set is the forty two minute documentary ‘Inside Dr. No’, presented here in HD. Most fans, even passing fans like myself will likely remember this fully rounded and very entertaining doc from the second round of region one DVD releases. Most of this information is covered on the group edited commentary, of course, but why look gift horses in the mouth? Also under the Mission Dossier menu are previously seen featurettes ‘Terence Young: Bond Vivant’(about eighteen minutes, also in HD, and a classic 1963 EPK. Things finish up with the Ministry of Propaganda menu, which features theatrical trailers, TV Spots, and radio broadcasts, and some relentless image archives.
Well, I don’t own any classic Bond films on standard definition DVD, so I’m obviously happy with such a nice looking version of Dr. No to add to my collection. Fans of the films will obviously want to double (or triple, or quadruple) dip for the impeccable A/V alone, but I’m sure there are still plenty of less concerned folks that will make do with their DVDs a while longer. Dr. No, which is available solo, or in a packaged set with Live and Let Die and Die Another Day (ew), isn’t a must buy, but it’s an outstanding example of what high-definition can do for 35mm films that have already aged forty-plus years.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 21st October 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital Mono English, Dolby Digital Mono Spanish, Dolby Digital Mono French
Subtitles: English HoH, French, and Spanish
Extras: Cast and Crew Commentary, Restoration Featurette, Inside Dr. No, Guns of James Bond, Premiere Bond, Terence Young: Bond Vivant, Trailers, TV and radio spots, Image Galleries
Easter Egg: No
Director: Terence Young
Cast: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord
Genre: Action and Adventure
Length: 110 minutes
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