Chief Justice Michael Stailey has dibs on playing the next incarnation of Felix Leiter.
Moore Action. Moore Excitement. Moore Adventure.
With two DVD Verdict reviews of Live and Let Die already in the archive, the only reason to write a third is to justify the triple dip MGM/Fox has put before us. Now I know this is going to piss off a lot of people who invested in the 2007 Bond Ultimate Editions (Volumes 1-4), but these new Blu-ray transfers are wildly impressive in terms of video and audio quality, even though the bonus content is exactly the same, compressing the two-disc SD presentation into a one disc BD package.
So here's the deal: I setup both the standard definition Ultimate Edition and the Blu-ray to run simultaneously and bounced between the two throughout the film. The color balance and depth of detail is striking. Whereas the standard definition is color saturated with a more diffused focus, the BD image is as natural as the naked eye with a sharpness that reaches as far back into the picture as the eye can see. The deeper we get into the story, the more the SD version appears almost over-saturated, with a warmer, brighter I Dream of Jeannie sitcom feel. On the other hand, the clarity of the BD version seems to date the film's production values even more than before, making it as much of a kitschy time capsule as Warner Bros. BD release of The Omega Man. Some may find this naturalistic image colder and less appealing, but in terms of sheer cinematic experience there is no comparison.
I won't shy away from admitting that this is one of my favorite Bond pictures. Considering I was born into the post-Connery era, I have a fondness for Sir Roger Moore, with this being his first foray into the Bond universe. Having seen Live and Let Die more times than I can count, I was struck by how much my eye wandered to the edges of the frame. In fact, there were moments it felt like I was seeing the film for the very first time—the trees in Central Park, the back alleys of Harlem, every line on the expressive face of the great Geoffrey Holder, and so on. There were times I stayed on the SD longer than expected, but I was continually drawn back to the BD to see just how much better it looked and was never disappointed.
The dialogue remains very front heavy, as expected, but the immersive DTS HD 5.1 Lossless mix will rock your home theatre system, with Sir George Martin's magnificent score never sounding better. While that may be sacriledge to John Barry purists, there's something very infectious and haunting about these tracks. Now, to be honest, I was expecting a bit more action in the rear during both the bus and the boat chase, what with all the vehicle carnage and all, but no such luck. You may even pick up a few instances of dialogue that sounds like it was recorded in a bathroom after the fact, most notably early on between James and Felix, but those are few and far between. Everything else comes across rock solid and, in the end, it's the underscore that defines the mix.
As a Bond fan, I can't walk away without making a few observations on the film itself, some of which dawned on me for the very first time.
• Compared to the later Moore films (and the series as a whole) there's surprisingly little interaction with the home office, save for the opening, and absolutely no scenes with Q. In fact, the only real gadget was James' buzzsaw/magnet watch, because I'm not counting those Star Trek rejects used for bug detection and long range signaling from his resort hotel room.
• The threat level Kananga poses to world security is minimal. He's basically Sam Walton of the drug trade and—as far as I know—the CIA and MI-6 never tried to shut down Wal-Mart for driving their mom & pop competition out of business.
• I love how Kananga's people have a near omnipresent control over every element of their environment—the New Orleans funeral procession, the car chase through Harlem, the land surrounding his San Monique estate—and yet James is left completely alone to die at the hands of the crocs out at the farm, with no one watching the outcome. What, was it time for their bad guy union lunch or smoke break?
• Pound for pound, you can't beat the sheer personality of Kananga's thugs or their slick headquarters. They may not stack up in the villainous Bond pantheon, but these boys got style.
• Live and Let Die had the pleasure of giving us the big screen debut of Jane Seymour and the first African-American Bond girl in Gloria Hendry, even though Rosie turned out to be a poor excuse for an agent, let alone a double agent. Solitaire, on the other hand, remains a treat to watch even 35 years later.
• The day-for-night shots still bug the crap out of me, but that was a Guy Hamilton choice that can't be undone. And it was a convention of the day, one I'm glad we've since done away with.
• One of the many wrinkles Moore brought to the Bond cinema-verse were the humorous interactions he had with real people—Mrs. Bell the flight student, Sheriff Pepper (who we run into again in The Man with the Golden Gun). It just adds a unique element to the series.
• Speaking of unique, if someone (god forbid) ever decides to remake the film, they need to hire Miss J from America's Next Top Model to play Baron Samedi. Geoffrey Holder was doing that same schtick more than 30 years ago.
• And I have to agree with Judge David Johnson that the death of Kananga by over-inflation is one of the worst bad guy kills in cinematic history. Not sure what Hamilton and his team were thinking, because it only serves to undermine an otherwise fine (if borderline campy—Mr. Big) performance by Yaphet Kotto. The sheer ridiculousness of the concept and the pathetic execution of the effect puts it squarely in Austin Powers land.
I'll leave it to the rest of my team to review the remaining five new Bond Blu-ray releases, but my recommendation is this: If you own the complete collection and enjoy it, don't blow your hard earned cash replacing all these films with their BD equivalents. Pick and choose your absolute favorites and make the investment. Oh, and be careful when removing the packaging sticker that says "e-Movie Cash for Quantum of Solace. Details on Reverse." Much of the ink remains on the cardboard sleeve, as does the glue used to secure it there. It's a mess. You've been warned.
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