On September 25th, 2012, MGM Home Entertainment released the 'Bond 50' collection, a box set that contains no less than 22 films from the James Bond franchise's first 50 years. In order to provide the most comprehensive coverage, High-Def Digest will review each of the discs in this package separately. For the index of all reviews in this series, as well as details regarding bonus content exclusive to the box set, see our 'Bond 50' hub review.
'Dr. No' was previously released on Blu-ray in 2008. Portions of this article first appeared in our original review of that disc. However, the audio and video technical sections have been freshly updated.
"World domination, that same old dream."
A legend begins here. Still going strong after five decades (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 that he achieves with unflappable determination. The six actors who've portrayed the character to date have all brought their own qualities to the role to craft the right James Bond for their eras. 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. Once 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 doesn't 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.
Aside from the physical labeling and artwork, the copy of 'Dr. No' in the 'Bond 50' box set is identical to the Blu-ray released in 2008. It has the same menus, the same audio and subtitle options, the same everything. For fans who don't care to (or aren't able to) purchase the whole box set, MGM Home Entertainment has also released a standalone reissue of this movie in its own separate keepcase.
When I last reviewed 'Dr. No' four years ago, I gave the Blu-ray a stellar rating. In the meantime, I've upgraded much of my home theater gear, and I think it's fair to say that my standards and expectations have also risen. What was considered a top-quality disc in 2008 may not rate so highly today. Further, a small group of… I would call them home theater extremists… have nit-picked most of the James Bond discs to pieces on Blu-ray discussion forums over the past few years. In revisiting the Blu-ray today, I had to question whether I would still find it impressive.
I'm very relieved to say that 'Dr. No' still looks great. Terrific, in fact.
Derived from a 4k scan and digital frame-by-frame restoration performed by Lowry Digital, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is vividly bright and colorful, with frequently stunning levels of detail. Textures in the cast's wardrobe that have never previously been visible on home video are clearly resolved. The rich black levels and excellent contrast range also lend the picture a strong sense of depth. Honestly, I doubt that even the original 35mm theatrical prints could have looked anywhere near this good. Watching this disc feels like stepping directly back into the past.
The image is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with small pillarbox bars on the sides of the frame. A light presence of film grain appropriately maintains a pleasing film-like quality.
Yes, the disc has some flaws, but I honestly consider them minor. A scene here or there will have a small touch of edge ringing, but that's rare. Around the 1-hour mark, three or four shots are affected by a very strange crosshatch artifact that covers most of the screen. I don't know how that got through quality control. Nevertheless, these are infrequent problems and easily forgiven in light of how much age-related damage and deterioration Lowry Digital had to clean up. On the whole, 'Dr. No' still looks amazing.
My feelings about the audio on the Blu-ray are also consistent with my original review. The movie's soundtrack is offered in two formats: a 5.1 remix in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or the original mono mix in lossy Dolby Digital. Both have their share of issues.
I'm not a big fan of remixing mono tracks into 5.1 in general, and this disc is a good example of why. 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 has been rolled off too much, which results in a dull tonality.
The mono track, on the other hand, is often shrill and bright, with quite a lot of noisy analog hiss. Whatever noise reduction and re-equalization were performed on the 5.1 remix clearly weren't applied here. Regardless, I still found the mono preferable overall. Dialogue is sharper and better balanced, and the focused directionality is more pleasing to my ears.
The bonus features on the Blu-ray first appeared on the Ultimate Edition DVD released in 2006. There's a lot of worthwhile content in here.
The staggering 22-film 'Bond 50' box set is an outstanding collection of one of cinema's most enduringly popular franchises. More than just the start of what would become a cinematic phenomenon, the first Bond film 'Dr. No' remains a very entertaining movie in its own right. Even though the Blu-ray is a simple reissue of a disc first released in 2008, it has an incredible video transfer that still looks excellent and a satisfying assortment of bonus features.
Whether on its own or as part of the 'Bond 50' package, 'Dr. No' comes highly recommended.
James Bond will return.