Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bond review: Dr. No

When I was about eleven years old, I became obsessed with film franchises. If there were more than ten movies in a film series, I had to seek it out. This is mainly due to the fact that I have a the collecting bug. Yes, I love the feeling of accomplishment and the anticipation that comes with slowly collecting a whole series of something. To this day I still collect the Godzilla films, Hammer Horror, animated and live action Disney movies, and the ever-popular James Bond films on the newer formats.

Now I am collecting the Bond films on Blu-Ray. This will actually be my first time seeing some of these in their original aspect ratios, as I collected the films back in VHS days and never upgraded them to DVD. So far I have about 2/3 of what has been released on the format. I have Dr. No, Goldfinger, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, The World Is Not Enough, and Quantum of Solace. I will be getting another every week as I can. There will also be a review every week.

To start off, I watched the first Bond picture, Dr. No. As some of you probably know, James Bond first appeared in a book called Casino Royale. It wasn’t an action based book, and was set mostly at the poker table. They made a telefilm of it in 1954 for the TV show Climax!, and it was largely ignored. Dr. No is actually the SIXTH Bond book. The book was chosen due to it’s stand alone value in the series, the magnificent locations, and it seemed just plain easier to make than, say, Moonraker. They made the right choice in my mind.

In this one James Bond must travel to Jamaica to investigate the death of a British Intelligence officer named Strangways. When he gets there, he is watched by various shady people and he uses these people to get to the bottom of things. In great Bond fashioned, “the bottom of things” ends up being something close to outlandish and far bigger in scope than the first part of the film.

The movie is amazing from the very start. The first gun-barrel sequence is introduced, and I can only imagine the audience of 1963’s surprise when they were shot through a gun-barrel. Now it’s just a quaint opening, but back then it was something completely new. This brings me to the opening titles sequence, which is pure 60s pop art. Brightly colored circles moving in time to the James Bond theme, silhouettes dancing to a calypso version of Three Blind Mice… It really is quite bizarre. One interesting point is the absence of a song for the opening. We just have the Bond theme here in an extended version, followed by an odd verse of Three Blind Mice.

Other than the aforementioned, the movie has everything that would become synonymous with Bond films. We have Moneypenny, Major Boothroyd (though not called Q and not played by Desmond Llewelyn), the Maurice Binder opening titles and gun barrel, the sexually named Bond girl, the over-the-top evil lair, SPECTRE, M, and magnificent locales. For a production crew just starting on a new series, they seem to have gotten the feel for the rest of the series from the very start. Sean Connery was not a huge star before this, known mostly for his role in Darby O’Gill and The Little People (excellent movie), and they took a big gamble on hiring him for the role. Yet again, they made the right choice though.

Now, Dr. No is not as action-packed or as exotic as later Bond movies. Those traditions started with the next Bond film. The movie is more of an old fashioned spy film mostly dealing with questioning people, escaping sticky situations, and foiling evil plots. None of this shoot, shoot some more, kill kill kill. In fact, until the end of the movie it’s actually quite calm. When it comes to locales, here we have just Jamaica. It’s beautiful with its clear blue water, lush green trees, and an almost left behind look to it. The production crew also cast local actors in major roles to great effect.

The film may not be one of the most remembered Bond films, and is most of the time not picked as the best… However it is usually on top ten lists of the series. The Bond girl here, Honey Ryder, played by Ursula Andress, is usually number one of the list of Bond girls. The iconic shot of her rising from the ocean onto the beach singing “Underneath The Mango Tree” is one of the most remembered and erotic scenes in filmdom. Dr. No himself became sort of the prototype for the Bond villain. The physical deformity to symbolize the mental problems, the cool on the outside manner, and of course, the magnificent evil lair. Dr. No has a robotic hand. (Even before Anakin Skywalker!)

When it comes to my views of the movie, it is one of my favorites. It’s a beautiful film to watch. It doesn’t keep my interest as much as most of the other Connery Bonds do, but I think that’s because I don’t feel the danger so pressing here. I never really feel like Bond himself is in danger except in a brief sequence with a spider (in which they used a spider not dangerous to humans). He’s always calm and never seems to get himself into impossible situations as he did later in the series. In fact, the bad guys in this movie seem timid and unsuspecting. All these help to make the movie more realistic, I’m aware, but I’m just stating personal preference.

People, you owe it to yourself to see this on Blu-Ray. The detail is impeccable, and you can see details you couldn’t see before. The make of the Jamaican houses, fallen trees under the water, the material blankets are made of, all are able to be seen now. The disc includes a wonderful commentary hosted by a member of the Ian Fleming Association with members of the cast and crew, a ‘making of’ featurette that is pretty in depth, trailers, and many other goodies. You can find the Blu-Ray for about $20 online.

You may recall that I’m using a ten point system for these films instead of Front Row Center’s normal five star system. I am also grading specific parts of the film. So with that said, here we go.

Location: 8/10 Jamaica is shown beautifully in this film, especially on the blu-ray as you can see everything that’s under the bright green water, the mountains in the distance, every deep green leaf. The location lent itself well to the action of the movie too, especially a fiery car crash.

Villain: 7/10 Dr. No is not the best Bond Villain. He seems to brush Bond off the whole movie. He’s not very commanding, but more a murderous diplomat. He’s very odd.

Bond Girl: 10/10 Honey Ryder is the quintessential bond girl with her tight bikini, hard attitude, and beautiful voice.

Direction/Design: 10/10 Terence Young was a brilliant choice. Jump cuts and inventive lighting. Ken Adams’ production design set the standard for the series, and his work here possibly has not been surpassed.

Theme: 10/10 Just the Bond theme, but it’s the first time it was introduced. Unforgetable.

Full score: 9/10 A wonderful movie in the series and even outside of it.

Next week… either Live and Let Die or Quantum of Solace

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