Is 'Goldfinger' not the seminal James Bond film? As venerable a character and a franchise as 007 is, he was probably never as much in touch with the cultural zeitgeist as he was with this, his third big-screen adventure. James Bond in 1964 was not just a fad, or a predestined blockbuster, or a marketing phenomenon -- he was the very touchstone of all that was hip and now in pop culture. 'Goldfinger' took the elements that had begun to form with his first two film adaptations ('Dr. No' and 'From Russia with Love') and finally synergized them into the template upon which all future James Bond installments would be judged. The opening sequence, the brilliant Maurice Binder titles, the theme song ("Goldfingaaaa!"), the stunts, the gadgets, a great villain... 'Goldfinger' got it all exactly right. Throw in Sean Connery, who is still considered the best of the actors who has played Bond, and you have spy flick perfection.
The plots of James Bond movies are now so formulaic that it is hard to remember that they were once fresh, inventive, and contrary to the stuffy, rigid conventions of spy movies past. The story of 'Goldfinger' is familiar, of course, to just about everyone, even those who haven't seen a Bond film. There's the classic Bond villain in Goldfinger himself, played by Gert Frobe, and his typically outlandish plot to take over the world (something to do with blowing up Fort Knox -- quite plausible, really, compared to most future Bond plots). There's his memorable henchman, Oddjob (Harold Sakata), who knows how to throw a mean bowler hat. The usual bevy of class-act Bond girls, particularly one painted all in gold, and Honor Blackman as the brilliantly-named Pussy Galore. And the stunts and the gadgets, including an exciting car chase with Bond's Aston Martin (still the best Bond vehicle in the entire series), some tightly-choreographed hand-to-hand fights, and a very memorable scene with a laser beam pointed at a certain part of Bond's anatomy.
Then, of course, there is Connery. As much as I enjoy Roger Moore's wry humor, Pierce Brosnan's unflappable cool and Daniel Craig's brute physicality, Connery still remains the ultimate James Bond. He's rugged, handsome, stylish, a fabulous misogynist, and so damn arrogant he's impossibly charming. Connery in 1963 defined not only Bond, but the very definition of what an English gent was supposed to be and know -- an appreciation for fine food, great booze, impeccably dressed with his own tailor, and absolutely correct in how to present himself with a snobby air yet the touch of the common man. The fact that he worked as what is essentially an assassin for Queen and country only enshrined his vices as virtues.
If there is one thing that 'Goldfinger' has more than any other Bond, and that no other Bond will ever be able to match again, is sociopolitical relevance. It's not only the freshness and vigor in which the filmmakers attack Ian Fleming's greatest novel, nor the smug, brash charisma of Connery, that keep 'Goldfinger' so smart and sharp. It's that 'Goldfinger' came at the exact right place and time -- a spy perfect for the Cold War world, whose sexual politics were revolutionary and reliance on technology ground-breaking. In an era when even a great new Bond like Daniel Craig seems to be chasing the stylish lead of his contemporaries (re: Jason Bourne) rather than leaving them in the dust, 'Goldfinger' reminds us of a time when James Bond set the trends instead of following them. I'm glad 007 is still with us, but James Bond will never be hipper or cooler than he is in 'Goldfinger.'
'Goldfinger is the prototypical '60s James Bond movie -- good looking, but a bit dated and filled with now-antiquated optical effects. Which is why I find this remastered 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.66:1) so impressive -- 'Goldfinger' looks far better than I would have expected. It also blows away the old, 2002 remastered DVD with ease.
What I enjoy about these vintage Bond titles is their naturalness. This is a very stylish remaster, with a cleaned up print (there is only the occasional blemish and speck of dirt) and an appropriate veil of film grain. Blacks are quite consistent, and contrast peppy. Colors are vibrant for a title of this era, being well-saturated if realistic, with beautiful fleshtones. I was surprised with the level of detail -- the image can be a bit soft (typical of '60s flicks) but it remains clear, with great depth and fine textures visible. Shadow delineation holds up quite well, too, with even darker scenes clear and distinct. Only the film's sporadic effects, which are filled with obvious mattes and composites, can look fuzzier, with some fluctuations in brightness and richness of blacks. But 'Goldfinger' looks pretty close to a million bucks.
MGM/Fox has given 'Goldfinger' a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround make-over (48kHz/24-bit). I wasn't too impressed with the remix -- there is only so much that can be done with the source, and this can't hope to rival a modern Bond film.
Dynamics sound dated. High-end is a bit cramped, mid-range far from robust, and low end relatively flat. Dialogue can also suffer from a muddled sound, particularly lower tones. That said, it's clean and clear for a '60s source, and at least the mix is not overly bright or harsh (as is so common with these vintage remixes). Surround use is adequate -- discrete effects usually sound obvious and limited in fidelity. Ambiance is meager at best -- there is little to no sustained atmosphere or creative bleeding of score. 'Goldfinger' sounds fine, but I was hard-pressed to notice as much of a major upgrade over past versions as I could with the video.
A full plate of extras comes with 'Goldfinger.' All materials are culled from the previous DVD special edition, but it's a comprehensive and slickly-produced assortment so no complaints are necessary. Video looks generally fair, with most extras in 1080i/AVC MPEG-4/MPEG-2, but clearly upconverts.
'Goldfinger' is not just vintage Sean Connery-era Bond, it may be the seminal spy movie to beat -- it's a classic by which the entire genre is judged. This Blu-ray is worth its weight in gold, with great remastered video and tons of supplements. Sure, the audio is no great shakes, but I can't imagine James Bond fans will be disappointed with this Blu-ray.