"The Spy Who Loved Me" is the tenth entry in the Bond series, or the eleventh if you consider the silly "Casino Royale" with Peter Sellers, David Niven, and Woody Allen in 1967; or the twelfth if you count the live, television production of "Casino Royale" in 1954 with Barry Nelson and Peter Lorre. After Sean Connery had perfected the part, Roger Moore got off to a rocky start as the new Bond. But by the time "The Spy Who Loved Me" rolled around, Moore was at his best. If I have a personal preference for the outer-space motif of "Moonraker," that's another story. Moore never completely filled Connery's shoes, but he was author Ian Fleming's first choice for the role as far back as 1962. This "Special 007 Edition" makes the "The Spy Who Loved Me" better than ever.
In this one, Bond teams up with Russian agent Triple-X, Major Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach), to thwart a rich industrialist, Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), bent on, what else?, conquering the world. The villainous Stromberg is using a specially outfitted super tanker to capture nuclear submarines from both the British and the Russians in his bid for world dominion; thus, the union of the two countries to track him down.
In this picture Moore finally matures out of his Connery imitation phase and becomes his naturally wry and debonair self. It's about time. Bach makes an exquisitely beautiful and brainy secret agent, but she seems a little fragile to be Russia's top spy. Jurgens huffs and puffs his way through a fairly routine Bond villain's role, never matching the depth of the best of Bond's adversaries--Dr. No, Goldfinger, or even Telly Savalas's Ernst Stavro Blofeld in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service."
But the cast does its best, especially the wonderfully inept assassin with the mouthful of metal, Jaws (Richard Kiel), one of the few Bond heavies who went over so well he was brought back for a second film. It is mainly the derring-do, however, and the gimmicks, the atmosphere, and the exotic locales--from the Austrian Alps to the Egyptian pyramids to the depths of the sea--that carry the day. And we mustn't forget the brief appearances by regulars Bernard Lee as "M," Desmond Llewelyn as "Q," and Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, as well as some agreeable music by Marvin Hamlisch.
As always, the folks at MGM do an outstanding job with this Special Edition, providing everything the home viewer could want. The movie is quite handsome to watch in its 2.17:1 widescreen transfer. I did notice some unusual white flecks on the screen early in the film, things looking suspiciously like flaws in the original print, but they soon disappeared. Otherwise, the picture is beautifully defined and richly rendered.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is enormously dynamic, very well detailed, and not a little bright. Thank heaven for tone controls. There is also a slight background noise audible in the quieter passages. Nevertheless, considering that it was not initially made for surround listening, the soundtrack's conversion from two-channel stereo to multiple-channel surround went surprisingly well and provides a convincing image, at least in the front channels. In the back, there isn't always a lot going on.
In addition to the movie, MGM have added a number of bonus items, following the same formula as all their new 007 editions. Foremost among the extras is a full-feature commentary track with director Lewis Gilbert ("You Only Live Twice," "Moonraker") and members of the cast and crew. Of corresponding importance is the customary behind-the-scenes documentary, this one titled "Inside The Spy Who Loved Me." Forty-one minutes long and narrated by Patrick Macnee, the piece comments on the financial difficulties the filmmakers had in getting the production under way, furnishes a number of recent interviews with the film's actors and team members, and offers the juicy tidbit that famed director Stanley Kubrick helped with the big submarine set. A second, twenty-two minute documentary, "Designing Bond," tells us about the work of production designer Ken Adam, who worked on many of the Bond films up through "Moonraker." Then there are thirty-two scene selections, a still gallery, an eight-page informational booklet, six television ads, a substantial twelve radio spots, and three theatrical trailers. English and French are the spoken languages; English, French, and Spanish are the subtitles.
MGM have done another first-rate job remastering a first-rate Bond flick. "The Spy Who Loved Me" finally pulled Roger Moore from the shadow of his predecessor and established him as a bone fide Bond who had not yet fallen into self-parody. The movie is available either individually or in a boxed set with "Dr. No," "Goldfinger," "The Man With the Golden Gun," "Licence to Kill," "GoldenEye," and "Tomorrow Never Dies."