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In the beginning there was the word Ö of Ian Fleming; and he created Bond, James Bond, and he saw that it was good. So did filmmakers. Now, 40 years after Dr No hit the screens, youíll be shaken to know that all 19 James Bond films are on DVD in a special box presentation, and we could be stirred into taking it home. Andrew L. Urban remembers how it all began.

I had just started going to the movies when Dr No came out in 1962. James Bond, secret agent 007 with a licence to kill was a suitable object of fantasies for young men aspiring to a life of wicked havoc (and for women, but different reasons), especially those glued to grinding days in a grey world. And James Bond was a perfect fit in a movie menu including the likes of Godardís Breathless (1960) and Truffautís Jules et Jim (1961), for example. The mood of the times, perhaps, reflected in different mirrors.

And here we are in 2002, 40 years on, and on the eve of the release of the 20th Bond film, To Die Another Day. The previous 19 are all packaged up and ready to take home for your hungry DVD player in a Monster Collection (unfortunate and unimaginative name, that). Not only has Fox collected the 19 Bonds, theyíve thoughtfully left space for the 20th in the box. Bless their hearts.

"inside the skin of five different actors"

And where has James Bond been during those 40 years? (Donít ask where Iíve beenÖ) For one thing, heís been inside the skin of five different actors, from Sean Connery to Roger Moore, to George Lazenby, to Timothy Dalton and latterly Pierce Brosnan.†

In Licence To Kill (1989), Dalton gave us the most brooding and ruthless Bond, and the only Bond film that didnít make a profit. Bondís sexual activity is minimal, as is the flippant comedy. Thatís not to say Connery didnít do ruthless: indeed, it was his extraordinary ability to combine ruthless with flippant, deadly with jokey and sensitive with sardonic that made him the ultimate Bond actor. Whenever the script gave him the chance, he showed true grit; we believed he could really kill and really get the girls and really care about the world, too. Iím not sure thatís still true. Pierce Brosnanís far-too-pretty face, gender correctness and voluptuous budgets have moulded a new Bond. The dark edges have gone. He is playing at being Bond. Still entertaining, but no longer the flesh and blood Bond who just might make a mistake. The edge, Iím sad to say, has been blunted. (Not all Brosnanís fault, either.)

It occurs to me that many of todayís Bond fans are unfamiliar with the real legacy of the James Bond movie series; itís not enough to know the last half dozen or so. Take the second Bond film, From Russia With Love (1963): it introduces the fabulous tools of his trade, the gadgets devised by Q, who makes his first iconic appearance.†

It seems almost too obvious to mention that through James Bondís adventures, we can trace social and historical changes; From Russia With Love exemplifies the preconceptions of the original milieu of James Bond: the Cold War. Social mores and attitudes to sex and sexuality have developed through the films as we ourselves have developed new attitudes.

"for collectors and fans"

But the Monster Collection is not about the analysis of James Bond as a social or historical mirror: the box set is about James Bond 007, thrillseeker and thrill giver on the silver screen. The collection provides an opportunity for collectors and fans. (Not every Bond film is a masterpiece; some, like Never Say Never Again, are so forgettable theyíve been omitted from the Fox publicity leaflet.) There are nine titles also available individually. But the big carrot is surely the collection of background features that have started to appear with some of the Special Edition releases.†

The features are (nearly) uniformly excellent, if occasionally a tad repetitive here and there Ė but it would unreasonable to object, since individual consumers of various discs are entitled to the best features that are relevant.

If you are major Bond fan or a DVD collector, you wonít even have read this before ordering a set. But if youíre a casual movie consumer or a keen DVD player, you will want to know if the box set is worth the bucks. I canít decide that for you, but I can vouch for the value of the featurettes; there is a wealth of fascinating and sometimes fantastic material, ranging from the sexy to the serious, which provides a broad background to the films, the characters, the author (Ian Fleming appears in early footage) and the progression of the film series. John Cork did most of the work and he even did some of the early narration. Narration is not his forte, but his research and production are first rate.

Items that stand out include pieces on how James Bondís personal taste was compiled from his creatorsí own tastes. This is the sort of material that adds life to the character, and shows up the superficiality of the evolved Bond.

Fox has issued a special (not for sale) disc with ALL the features from all 19 DVDs, so we scribes can dip in and out of the various featurettes. It is a tough job, but . . .†

Snapshots from the collection:
From Russia With Love: Full of major and minor trivia, the 30 minute doco is rich with content: there is the tragic story - respectfully told by several of the cast and crew - of Pedro Armendriz dying of cancer during filming, and how everyone struggled with the circumstances. Two weeks after he left the set, Armendariz chose not to decay slowly and shot himself. His son, 25 years later, played a support role in another Bond film - Licence to Kill.†

Thunderball: In this case, a few special aspects are worth a mention: one is the interesting sidebar story of how Thunderball was to have been the first of the Bond books on film, but for legal impediments that stalled it.†
Another is the revelation about the troubled history of the great Bond theme song, finally recorded to great world-wide success by Tom Jones. A third is the historic note about getting the full soundtrack into the mass market: it took 30 years.

Diamonds Are Forever: The documentary is fascinating in that it describes the circumstances that brought Sean Connery back. Lazenby had gone, and many others were considered as the new Bond, including Batman TV star Adam West. It was agreed that Bond should be Americanised, and eventually John Gavin was signed. Script problems followed (as well as an earthquake) and eventually Connery agreed to return for a record sum of US$1.2million (which he donated to the Scottish Education Trust Fund for artists, writers & painters).†

Licence To Kill: The supplementary material is outstanding and John Glen has every right to lament the fact that his best effort didn't click at the box office. The writing was on the wall from the beginning when the film's title was changed from Licence Revoked because it was felt that not enough Americans knew what revoked meant.†

The World Is Not Enough:
There must be around eight hours of entertainment to enjoy, the highlights being the two feature length commentaries. The first is from director Michael Apted, who talks about why he was brought into the project, despite the fact that he has not directed action films before. He talks about the extraordinary stunts and how in this age of computer generated effects, the Bond films bring the real thing.†

The one thing that stands out is the depth of these features (mostly) and the serious documentary flavour conveyed, by the combination of research, application and attitude. Here is a multi-layered cinematic, social and historical archive that stays afloat on its entertainment values. Dig it (as James Ellroy would say).

Published October 31, 2002

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Some of the individual James Bond DVDs are reviewed here:
From Russia With Love (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)
Thunderball (1965)
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Diamonds are Forever (1971)
Licence to Kill (1989)
The World is Not Enough (1999)

Others in the Collection:
Dr No (1962)
Live And Let Die (1973)
The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Moonraker SE (1979)
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Octopussy SE (1983)
A View To A Kill (1985)
Living Daylights SE (1987)
On Her Majestyís Secret Service SE (1989)

CAST: James Bond played variously by: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan

DIRECTOR: various

OTHER: Titles: A View To Kill; Diamonds Are Forever SE; Dr No; From Russia With Love; For Your Eyes Only SE; Golden Eye; Goldfinger; License to Kill; Live and Let Die; Living Daylights SE; Moonraker SE; Octopussy SE; On Her Majestyís Secret Service SE; The Man with the Golden Gun; The Spy Who Loved Me; The World Is Not Enough; Thunderball; Tomorrow Never Dies SE; You Only Live Twice

PRESENTATION: Nineteen volume box set with space for 20th Bond DVD, Die Another Day;

SPECIAL FEATURES: includes audio commentaries, animated storyboards, interviews, music videos, features, behind the scene clips, historic background.

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: October 30, 2002

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