Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Sean Connery,
Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord
Director: Terence Young
Audio: DTS HD 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 110 Minutes
Release Date: October 21, 2008
Dr. No was the movie that said ‘yes’ to James Bond, and nearly five decades later, our favorite British super spy is still going strong.
I’ve seen many Bond films over the years, but somehow, I never saw the one that started it all. I guess a part of me was always afraid to go back to the beginning having been well-versed in the vocabulary of the movies…maybe it would be awkward to see the character and the style in an early developmental stage, without the established earmarks that made the series what it was.
In a sense, that was the case. Dr. No in hindsight looks a little less like classic Bond than a film ripe to be spoofed by Austin Powers. The campy opening (no title song, but the theme is in play) is very dated, as is the whole plot about SPECTRE and their attempts to destroy the U.S. space program while still in its infancy.
But while those aspects seem more like cultural curiosities, there’s still plenty here to establish the character and concept of James Bond, starting with Sean Connery in the role. For many, his Bond is THE Bond, and it’s easy to understand why. He had made some films before, but hadn’t become a household name. Dr. No would permanently correct that oversight.
His Bond is suave, cool, witty and charming. He hadn’t yet become the Bond of the kiss-off line or the quip for every occasion, but one could sense that aspect in him, even in this early stage. Connery’s presence gave weight to the character, and in a franchise where it would often be noted that the villains were more impressive than the heroes, made sure audiences had a protagonist that was easy to identify with and root for.
Dr. No launched the series by being the easiest of Ian Fleming’s stories to translate to the screen, at least in the eyes of producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. The plot is simple enough: when an agent ends up missing in Jamaica, Bond is sent to unravel the mystery, and the path leads to a half German half Asian mastermind on a secure island with plans to blow up the latest American Mercury rocket. Not only was it easy to outline, but it got the franchise off to a good start by using exotic Caribbean locales.
The ladies were and are an integral part of the Bond movies, and was there ever one so iconic as Ursula Andress in her white space-age looking bikini strolling out onto the beach in front of Bond? Before the movie would end, Bond would have both the bad guy and the girl. The pattern was set, and the future looked bright.
Broccoli always intended Dr. No to be the first in a series, and he and director Terence Young did an admirable job at establishing the foundation that would build a franchise. The movie is basic, straightforward and unpretentious, and thanks in large part to Connery’s star making turn, the character and the series were grounded enough to keep it all going for decades.
Many would take turns in Bond’s shoes, and many directors offer their own twists and ideas up to and including the reboot film Casino Royale. But Dr. No and Sean Connery showed all the way, and the seeds they planted in 1962 are still bearing fruit in the new millennium.
This is one of the most spectacular looking classic films I’ve seen on Blu-ray, and points well to the future of such movies in the high definition format. With extensive restoration work and a gorgeously rendered Technicolor transfer, Dr. No is as vivid and detailed as many modern movies. Shot after shot is beautifully constructed and brings out the best in your system. I noticed one brief night sequence that was a little murky, as well as one bit of stock footage of an airplane that kind of stood out, but really, so much of this transfer is better than it needed to be that I can’t dock any points for such tiny malfeasances. Colors in Technicolor aren’t always natural looking, but they aren’t meant to be…they’re actually designed to enhance rather than portray realistically, and as such, the style of Bond has never been better suited.
You can opt for the original mono, but the DTS HD soundtrack is well-mixed and startlingly dynamic. The music adds punch, and the explosiveness of the ending actually made me grab for my remote to bring the levels down. Dialogue is clear throughout, but the mix tends to move spoken words around various channels when the speaker is not on screen…unnecessary and slightly distracting, but a minor criticism in an otherwise solid 5.1 remix of a classic film.
The disc starts off with a commentary spliced together from various interviews with cast and crew members including Ursula Andress. It's all brought together by a modern host, who throws in extra bits of information here and there. It's a well-put together listen.
There are plenty of featurettes here, one on the restoration efforts, one on the guns of the series, one on the premiere, one on director Terence Young, and a 1963 promotional one. There is an interactive guide to the world of the movie, including looks at the women and villains. “Inside Dr. No” looks at the film that began the franchise, with interviews from Young, Connery, Andress and others. Rounding out is an image database and trailers, TV and radio spots.
As the box cover boasts, Blu-ray may indeed be made for Bond. If the first movie in the entire series, as old as it is, can look and sound this terrific in high definition, one can eagerly anticipate the future of the franchise on Blu-ray.