Little did the world know, 1962 would be the beginning of a new generation for film making and commercial enterprise. Yet despite some initial mixed reaction, Dr. No went on to become the foundation for, what would soon be, the era of spy-dramas and new global franchises. It was of course, the arrival… James Bond had arrived on screen.
Unlike Disney, who control their “classic” releases under a very slow stopwatch and sharp pitchfork, MGM haven’t been shy in dishing out the DVD’s and VHS’s over the past 10 years. And while I’ve had the opportunity of owning each of the more reputable works of Bond (such as Dr. No) on these mediums, I have no doubt that MGM’s latest release, welcoming Blu-Ray technology, is a truly fitting tribute to a genuinely classic and important film of an era gone by.
Yet although Dr. No is the most important outing of the entire saga, it is also one of the more modest. This doesn’t give the film any bad attributes; it actually, in many respects, only betters the experience. Bond relies on the flesh between his ears rather than fancy gadgetry or terrible one-liners to progress to a final show-down with ‘Doctor No’, a Chinese scientist who plans on toying with the Americans (isn’t it always the case?) by disrupting their early Space missions using radio technology.
No world domination here – Bond is a rookie, and it’s only fitting that his assignment is somewhat less detrimental to the stronghold of mankind. Though later missions would prove he knows how to fly Space Shuttles suddenly…
It isn’t just the story that’s attractive, but the general look of the sets and chosen locations. On what was then a limited budget, all staging was done efficiently and close attention was paid to character development rather than action. This makes for a much more refreshing movie that feels so distant to the wonderful From Russia With Love, yet it is a distance characterised by the fashions of the time. Little touches such as the iconic Ray Ban Wayfarers, the choice and tailoring of Bonds/Leiters wardrobe and the constantly cycled soundtrack are just some of the elements that take you back to a time when glamour and style were much less sophisticated, and ultimately more now, much more appreciable.
But I haven’t even got to the best bit yet. Before discarding this as just another release with a new, fancy Menu (which are always slow anyway, and nothings changed!), you should begin to sweat when I tell you that the film has been completely restored frame-by-frame by Lowry Digital, who are world leaders in video repair. Lowry, who have also been restoring the latest batch of traditional Disney films, take a rare opportunity to appear in the Bonus Features and takes us step-by-step through the restoration process. It is a well deserved feature, as once you get a feel for how much effort and technology goes into repairing these films, it’s hard not to imagine how much pride the staff must feel seeing this level of detail.
Dr. No is, excuse the pun, No exception. This release is a revelation, revealing in an amount of detail that surpasses anything I’ve seen before from live-action footage of this age. Although the original film grain has been kept (and quite rightly), the new definition between foregrounds and backgrounds contribute to a far greater detailed experience, unlike Standard Definition which tends to merge the two perspectives together and look very flat. The result is that there are more ‘portrait-like’ shots, and in turn, more dimension is created. It has amazed even me how good quality the cameras were during production.
The soundtrack has also had an excellent treatment and reveals a much cleaner frequency range. Although some bounces in levelling still occur (all part of the production process unfortunately), it’s so good to hear the lossless fidelity of this Blu-Ray disc. Much of the ‘tinny’ output you will have heard on older DVD/VHS issues have been fixed, though I was surprised to hear just one anomaly that hadn’t been fixed, and that was right at the end when Bond and Honey sail into the sea, following the Credits. The brass music warbles and is disjointed just like previous releases, which I’m disappointed couldn’t be fixed.
My only gripe visually concerns the Aspect Ratio, which has been zoomed in to fit standard Widescreen (16:10) TV’s, when the film is actually a 1.66:1 ratio. It baffles me why MGM have taken this route considering they’ve spent thousands of dollars restoring the film, and even then, later releases such as Thunderball are all presented in their original Aspect Ratio. The only consolation is that no important action is missed on screen (since roughly, only 13% of the footage is lost), and the zooming only presents this new detail further to the viewer, unlike CinemaScope/Technirama recordings.
Despite these little hiccups, there is no reason not to buy now. Other Bond Blu-Ray titles have varying degrees of quality due to the condition of the film, but Dr. No is the one that utilises the restoration and High Definition technology best. In its 4K resolution, it makes the ignorant tale of “old films can’t be ‘put’ in HD” to bed. Though I cannot help but envy those who were lucky enough to see this film on its original release, the Blu-Ray edition is the closest step you can take to going back in time.
Dvd reviewed: Blu-Ray