A legend begins here. Still going strong after 22 official feature films (thus far), James Bond is one of cinema's most enduring characters. The reasons for that are plentiful. Among other things, the world's most impossibly perfect secret agent is brave, strong, resourceful, ingenious, debonair, seductive, and ruthlessly skilled at his job. That job just happens to be saving the world, time and again, an act he achieves with unflappable determination. The six actors who've portrayed the character to date have brought their own qualities to the role, each crafting the right James Bond for their era. Nonetheless, for most fans, Sean Connery remains the one true James Bond, the measure against which all who follow in his footsteps must be compared. Even in his first outing, 1962's 'Dr. No', it was clear that an icon had just arisen on screen, fully formed.
When one of Her Majesty's undercover assets goes missing, secret agent 007 is sent to Jamaica to investigate. There he teams up with CIA operative Felix Leiter (Jack Lord, later of 'Hawaii Five-O' fame), beats up some baddies, seduces some ladies, and ferrets out a nefarious scheme by the title villain. The half-Chinese/half-German Dr. No operates out of a fabulous underwater lair where he plans to destroy the American space program with a nuclear-powered interference weapon of some sort. Which he will do just as soon as he explains the whole diabolical plot to our hero. Unless, of course, Bond can stop him.
As the first James Bond film, 'Dr. No' set the template for many of the franchise's recurring themes. It has intrigue and suspense, exotic locales, beautiful women falling over themselves to be with the hero, and a larger-than-life villain with a world domination complex. In addition to Bond, we're introduced to his superior M (Bernard Lee), and M's faithful secretary Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), with whom Bond shares an unrequited flirtation. Maurice Binder's eye-catching animated titles sequence plays over the legendary "James Bond Theme" by Monty Norman and John Barry (the series wouldn't get its first opening theme song until 'Goldfinger'). Not yet part of the formula are weapons master Q or his crazy gadgets. Instead, the MI6 armorer Maj. Boothroyd provides Bond with the Walther PPK pistol, soon to be an indelible part of the 007 mythos.
Unlike many of its follow-ups, 'Dr. No' is primarily a mystery and suspense film with a tropical backdrop. Although Connery engages in some brawny fight scenes, other than a single car chase and a doozy of an explosion at the end, the picture does not feature the sort of over-the-top action heroics that fans would later associate with the franchise. It does, however, have a pretty strong script, stylish direction, and the iconic image of Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) walking out of the ocean in a white bikini. Nearly 50 years and over 20 sequels later, it's still an enormously entertaining movie.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Dr. No' comes to Blu-ray from MGM Home Entertainment (distributed by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) in a few packaging options. The movie is available singly in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with slipcover or in a Steelbook case exclusive to Best Buy stores. 'Dr. No' is also included as part of the 'James Bond Collection: Volume 1' box set with 'Live and Let Die' and 'Die Another Day'.
Upon loading, the disc prompts a BD-Live network connection for no particular reason. There is no BD-Live content on the disc. The Blu-ray is Java-enabled and very slow to load in a standalone BD player. At the time of this writing, many standalone players are having problems loading the disc at all. Several manufacturers have released or announced impending firmware updates to resolve playback problems with this first wave of Bond titles. Fortunately, the Sony Playstation 3 and the Panasonic DMP-BD50 used for this review are unaffected; both play the disc without issue.
As had become a habit with all of MGM's DVD releases of the James Bond franchise, the disc has overly-elaborate animated menus that are obnoxiously designed and confusing to navigate.
Wow. Just wow.
The James Bond franchise is MGM's most valuable property. Over the years, they have released and re-released each Bond film countless times on every home video format. 'Dr. No' has had at least three distinct DVD releases so far, not counting packaging variations. Owing to their age and over usage, many of the older films, especially the Connery pictures, have taken a beating and usually appear in rough condition, with faded color and a lot of print damage. For the 2006 Ultimate Edition DVD set, MGM contracted Lowry Digital Images to restore each of the 007 movies by scanning the original camera negatives and digitally repairing as much damage as possible, frame by frame. The results also formed the basis of this Blu-ray edition. Frankly, it's stunning, and I don't say that lightly.
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is presented in the film's proper 1.66:1 aspect ratio with small pillarbox bars on the sides of the frame. The picture is very bright and sharp. Fine object detail is frequently extraordinary, bringing out textures in the cast's wardrobe that have never previously been visible on home video. Colors are rich and precise. The contrast range is equally excellent. There's plenty of shadow detail and a fine sense of depth. I swear, after watching the high-resolution clarity of this disc, I felt like I'd just spent time in Jamaica myself.
Some light film grain is present, which is entirely appropriate. The transfer has wonderful film-like qualities. The movie's dated rear projection effects and day-for-night photography have always been too obvious, but the proper color and contrast grading at least helps them to blend slightly better than usual.
Any flaws are minor. A very small touch of edge ringing is apparent in some shots, but it's very rare. In a few scenes, film grain freezes as though being affected by Digital Noise Reduction. The worst occurrence of this is at the 1 hour mark. Again, this is an infrequent problem and easily forgiven. I've never seen 'Dr. No' look this good. Never mind that the movie is almost 50 years-old. Even by the standards of films produced this year, this Blu-ray looks amazing.
The soundtrack has its own issues to overcome. It sounds OK, but isn't nearly as impressive as the video. Most of the clean-up effort was spent remixing the originally mono sound design into 5.1 surround, encoded here in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio format. I'm not a big fan of remixing mono tracks into 5.1 in general, and this is no exception. The surround tinkering sounds very artificial. It has hollow ambience, boomy low end, and gimmicky directional pans. Dialogue is quite weak, and the high end of the signal seems to have been rolled off too much, resulting in a dull tonality.
In a move that purists like myself will appreciate, MGM has wisely also included the original mono soundtrack. Unfortunately, it's encoded only in lossy Dolby Digital 1.0 format. Despite some shortcomings, I found it preferable overall. Dialogue is much sharper and better balanced. The focused directionality was also more pleasing to my ears. On the downside, the mono track is very bright in character. It's clear that whatever sort of re-equalization was performed on the 5.1 remix was not done here. This means that the louder scenes are often shrill and uncomfortable. Nevertheless, of the two options, I personally preferred the mono track.
Impressively, all of the bonus features from the Ultimate Edition DVD released in 2006 have been carried over to the Blu-ray. There's a lot of worthwhile content in here.
More than just the start of what would become a cinematic phenomenon, 'Dr. No' remains a very entertaining movie in its own right. The Blu-ray has an incredible video transfer and an excellent assortment of bonus features. The disc comes highly recommended.