DR. NO – Blu-ray review

Sean Connery is Bond, James Bond. Many fans of Ian Fleming’s long running super spy franchise consider Connery to be the only true Bond and look less favorable at others who portrayed Bond which includes Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan. I am of the belief that Connery is indeed the iconic embodiment of Bond, but I have been very impressed with the first outing by Daniel Craig. My preference towards actors portraying Bond has less to do with the actual actor, but more with the serious tone taken by the actors and filmmakers in the films and both Connery and Craig have been directed to bring a far more realistic atmosphere to the legendary spy and the far removed from the caricature performances by Brosnan, Dalton and especially Moore.

Regardless of whether or not Craig can unseat Connery as Bond, “Dr. No” will always be the greatest Bond film ever made. I know this is a bold statement, but this introductory film introduced the world to the British Secret Service agent who preferred his vodka martini shaken and not stirred, dressed impeccably and never met a beautiful woman he could not seduce. The movie introduces nearly all of the characteristics that have become legendary with Bond and finds Connery spitting out a large number of the familiar one-liners that have long been mocked by films such as the Austin Powers series. This first film portrays Bond as a highly experienced and capable agent who may have a knife in his briefcase, but instead resorts to brawn and brains to get out of dangerous situations. “Dr. No” does not suffer from the over the top stunts and action sequences that have saddened the great series.

In “Dr. No,” James Bond (Connery) is assigned by M (Bernard Lee) to a mission in Jamaica to investigate the murder of a British agent and interruptions to NASA rocket launches from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) is introduced to audiences as well. Once in Jamaica Bond meets up with CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) and his local guide and assistant Quarrel (John Kitzmiller). Bond’s first meeting with these men begins with a fight as they believe that Bond is perhaps working with those the CIA and MI6 are investigating. Once Bond is able to convince Leiter that he is still on their side they begin to detail the investigation, but Bond realizes they are being photographed and followed around every corner. Bond and Leiter are concerned that those paid to follow and photograph them and refuse to talk about those that have hired them regardless of the dangerous situations they are placed into.

Eventually, Bond investigates the murder of British agent John Strangways and is sent into the direction of an island called Crab Key. Bond is told by Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) that Bond’s investigation into some rock samples were nothing out of the ordinary, but the spy is suspicious and believes otherwise and looks at Crab Key as a possible source of the rocket disruptions and the murder of Strangways. As Bond looks more into Crab Key he discovers that the locals, including Quarrel, are afraid of travelling to Crab Key because they believe the island is inhabited by a dangerous dragon that breathes fire. Bond’s investigation into Crab Key uncovers that Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) lives on Crab Key and Dent works for him. When Bond travels to Crab Key to learn about Dr. No’s work on the island and uncover the truth about the dragon he also meets a gorgeous young conch shell scavenger named Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress). And at this point I will discontinue discussing the plot.

“Dr. No” is about style over action and Connery is an actor that seems to just bleed style. “Dr. No” is far closer to Alfred Hitchcock than it is Michael Bay. The numerous action scenes are stylistically shot and framed in a way that is smooth and not loud and glossy. In this film James Bond is suave, but so is the direction by Terence Young. The writing and story of “Dr. No” cannot match the truly great Hollywood films as some of the exposition and dialogue leave a little to be desired. Bond begins with his horrid one-liners in this film, but Connery’s style allows them to work and not come off as if they were spoken by Roger Moore. In “Dr. No” Bond is a stylish and dangerous man who looks brilliant in front of the camera and goes straight for the juggler without trying to be larger-than-life along the way. I won’t call “Dr. No” one of the greatest movies ever made, but it is definitely one of the coolest films ever.

This is a brilliant and classic film that serves as the prototypical and finest of the James Bond films. The first time Connery declares himself as “Bond, James Bond” and orders a vodka martini are cinematic gems that are known to everyone. He defined the character of James Bond and his performance as the veteran spy who uses fists and not gadgets is the best performance in the familiar tuxedo. Other memorable moments include Ursula Andress walk onto the beach in her white bathing suit. The car chases and the less-than-climactic scene between Bond and Dr. No are examples of how “Dr. No” strived for realism and didn’t rely on over-the-top sequences to entertain its audiences. The gritty nature of Bond is lessened with each successive Bond film until the point where Roger Moore completely destroyed the true nature of the character. Daniel Craig has provided a worthy reboot to the series and his performance is a nod to the character defined by Sean Connery.

Video:

MGM had previously remastered “Dr. No” for the Ultimate DVD release a year or two ago. The new digital master has been released in high definition for this Blu-ray release and “Dr. No” has never looked so good. The 1.66:1 filmed motion picture is framed with thin curtains on the left and right to preserve the original aspect ratio and the AVC compressed film is shown cleanly with a throughput of 29 MBPS. While “Dr. No” is not as stunning as the John Wayne film “The Searchers,” it is still an incredibly strong looking catalog title that is even more impressive when you consider the film is now forty six years old. Individual rock pebbles looked stunning and many other textures including the ‘futuristic’ clothing shown in Dr. No’s command center appear as they never have been able to on home video. Coloring is slightly muted given the vintage of the film, but I was very impressed with both detail and coloring. Black levels are very solid detail is retained throughout the entire film regardless of lighting. The print used was very clean and the film grain that is present allow for a genuine film-like look.

Audio:

The Blu-ray release is packed with both the new remastered English DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio mix and the Original Audio Mono track. Spanish Mono and French 5.1 Dolby Surround provide the foreign language support and English and Spanish subtitles are provided. I found the new 5.1 mix to sound somewhat muted, but cleaner than the original mono soundtrack, however, that mix had a little more life to it. The film’s sound design doesn’t provide a strong sense of surround and it is apparent throughout the 5.1 mix that the mono mix and the multi-channel surround mix are not too far separated from one another. The series’ iconic score sounds wonderful and the classic songs such as “Three Blind Mice” come across naturally. Dialogue is clean, although I found the spoken word to come across stronger in the mono mix and I can remember a few moments where an odd echo accompanied the actors because of the attempt to make a surround mix from the mono sound. The sound is still surprisingly clean and I was not overly disappointed by the front-heavy mix.

Extras:

“Dr. No” comes equipped with a nice selection of features that fall under two menu selections. Most of the bonus items are located under “Special Features,” but the “MI6 Commentary” provides access to the Commentary by Director Terence Young and Members of the Cast and Crew. John Cork of the Ian Fleming foundation announces the commentary track and mentions that the track is an assemblence of interviews from the cast and crew of “Dr. No.” Composer Monty Norman is the first to talk in the commentary and talks about the title sequence. Editor Peter Hunt and many others are featured in interviewed segments as John Cork gives background information on the film and introduces each interviewed segment. There is a great wealth of information through this commentary track and Cork acts as a wonderful host. The formula for this commentary is not what you would typically expect, but it is a wonderful listen.

The only option under “Top Level Access” is 007: License to Restore. (11:56) MGM technician Scott Grossman discusses the value of the James Bond franchise and the need to restore these films for preservation and an update to the high definition world. A company called Lowry Digital Images handled the work and this bounces between a pat on the back for Lowry and an informative quick look at how the valuable restoration work was done. “Declassified: MI6 Vault” contains three selections. The Guns of James Bond (5:06) is a brief vintage vignette in black and white that is introduced by Sean Connery and looks at the various guns used by James Bond. This was cool in a retro way and fairly informative. Premiere Bond: Opening Nights (13:09) was filmed during the opening of “The Spy Who Loved Me” and discussed moments from the opening of “Dr. No” and other Bond film openings. This was another vintage documentary that was fun to watch. Credits (1:48) begins with the familiar MGM lion and then provides credits for the MI6 Vault production.

The next menu selection is “007 Mission Control.” Seven items are contained under this menu. Many of the items here are jumps to scenes in the film. “007” features its own seven items and some of them are submenus with their own items. Gun Barrel Textless (3:01) shows the familiar opening sequence without any text and is not a simple scene jump. “Women” features two scenes with Sylvia Trench and “Honey Ryder” includes a large number of jumps including her iconic walk onto the beach. “Allies” includes bookmarks for eleven of Bonds friends and allies. Eight “Villains” can be viewed from this menu. The “Mission Combat Manual” looks at various actions taken by Bond in the film and I would assume this is the best way to do things or it wouldn’t be called the “Mission Combat Manual.” “Q Branch” goes directly to the ‘gadgets’ in the film and oddly only one is used by Bond. The final set of scene jumps lead to Exotic Locations (2:37) and is a very short vignette with Maude Adams talking about the locations.

The features improve after the Mission Control. “Mission Dossier” contains three featurettes. Inside Dr. No (42:10) is a very nice feature that looks at the events that lead to the first James Bond film and the production and arrival of “Dr. No.” This is a highly recommended feature and you will feel far more educated about the Bond films after this great forty five minutes of time. Terence Young: Bond Vivant(17:57) looks at the film’s director. Many members of the cast and crew pay their tribute to Young and what he means to the franchise and how his desire to have the best lead to many of Bond’s idiosyncrasies. The third and final item under “Mission Dossier” is the vintage Dr. No 1963 Featurette (8:40). This is nine very rough looking minutes of footage, but it is quite fun to watch how this first Bond film was marketed and promoted when the world was unfamiliar with the names Sean Connery and James Bond. The seventy minutes of extras under “Mission Dossier” is highly recommended.

“Ministry of Propaganda” pertains to the marketing of “Dr. No.” Four items appear under “Theatrical Archive.” The Theatrical Trailer (3:23) is a wonderful rewind in time and quite fun. Introducing Mr. Bond (3:15) isn’t too well preserved, but funny as how they marketed the character in this short advertisement. James Bond is Back to Back in Dr. No and From Russia With Love (2:00) is simply odd and reminds me of something that would have been at a drive in. A high cheese factor with this one. James Bond Face to Face with Dr. No and Goldfinger (2:19) is another roughly preserved bit of marketing that advertises the first two James Bond films. The “TV Broadcasts” focus on the first two Bond girls with Miss Honey and Miss Galore Have James Bond Back For More (1:01) and Miss Honey and Miss Galore (:22). The six Radio Communication (6:38)items provides a graphical screen with radio ads for the film. The Image Database features a ‘retro photo gallery’ broken into eight separate galleries from the filming of “Dr. No.”

Closing:

“Dr. No” has been reviewed countless times and this is one of those pictures that another critic’s voice won’t matter much to the decision or not in purchasing this film. It is a true classic and for most, it is considered the greatest of all James Bond films. Sean Connery is wonderful as he introduces the world to Ian Fleming’s character. The film is serious in tone, but every passing moment is filled with style. While this isn’t the first time “Dr. No” has been reviewed, this is the first time that “Dr. No” has been available in high definition and the Blu-ray release features a strong set of bonus features and a very good looking transfer that is both detailed and colorful. The sound quality is a marginal improvement over previous releases and while the release may not be a vast improvement over the most recent DVD incarnation, it is still the finest release yet for this vintage film. “Dr. No” has never looked or sounded better and this is the defining James Bond picture.

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