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.
'The Man with the Golden Gun' 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.
"You're that secret agent – that English secret agent from England!"
Roger Moore's stint as James Bond 007 began inauspiciously. His debut in the role, 'Live and Let Die', made a respectable introduction for the actor, if little more. The film allowed Moore to confidently tailor the character to his own screen persona, but otherwise was a rather bland and derivative adventure that lacked the innovation or larger-than-life thrills that made Bond such an icon in the 1960s. Unfortunately, his second entry, 1974's 'The Man with the Golden Gun', represented more of the same.
By Bond standards, 'Golden Gun' is a low-key and small-scale affair. The story pits 007 against Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), an elite assassin renowned for charging his wealthy clientele $1 million a hit. Scaramanga has never been caught or even identified. All that's known is that his weapon of choice is a custom golden pistol, and his only distinguishing feature is a redundant third nipple on his chest. (It's more common than you'd think.) Scaramanga, it turns out, admires Bond greatly, and challenges the agent to what he considers a battle of equals. Super spy vs. super assassin, may the best killer win.
Of course, Bond has to find him first. The trail of clues leads 007 on a whirlwind tour of exotic locales from Beirut to Macau, thence to Hong Kong and Thailand. Assisting him in the mission are agent Mary Goodnight ('70s socialite Britt Ekland, more famous for her short-lived marriage to Peter Sellers than her limited acting abilities), and Scaramanga's abused girlfriend Andrea Anders (Maud Adams in her Bond debut – the actress would later return for the title role in 'Octopussy'). Desmond Llewelyn, who was absent from 'Live and Let Die', returns as Q, though is given little to do here. He provides Bond with a helpful bit of intel, but no gadgets of note.
Indeed, as a change of pace, the villain has most of the cool toys in this outing. Scaramanga's car converts into an awkward and goofy-looking airplane. His signature gun can be assembled from a pen, cigarette case, lighter and other assorted bric-a-brac in his pockets (a trick that John Malkovich would later steal for 'In the Line of Fire'). The plot's primary MacGuffin is a "Solex Agitator" in Scaramanga's possession, a remarkable little doodad that could solve the world's energy crisis. Or, in this case, can be used to power a handy laser cannon that was apparently purchased from the Auric Goldfinger estate sale. Funnily enough, Scaramanga could be considered the first "green" Bond villain. His fabulous secret lair is powered entirely by solar energy and other sustainable resources. I'm sure he even recycles.
Naturally, every good villain requires a good henchman. Here we have Hervé Villechaize as the diminutive Nick Nack. The Cato to Scaramanga's Clouseau, he acts as a personal valet, cleans up after the dirty work, and routinely sets up elaborate booby traps throughout the lair to help hone his master's fighting skills. He also greets all new arrivals to the private island, a job that would later define the remainder of the actor's career.
Director Guy Hamilton had previously been responsible for both one of the best Bond pictures ('Goldfinger') as well as one of the worst ('Diamonds Are Forever'). His work here is more or less a duplication of his efforts on 'Live and Let Die'. The film falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, neither great nor terrible in any distinct measure.
The action in 'Golden Gun' is generally uninspiring. Although Moore's fight scenes are a bit more energetic than the absurd featherweight one-hit knockouts that populated 'Live and Let Die', the star is still entirely unconvincing as any kind of physically imposing threat to his adversaries. A bit of kung-fu fighting nonsense (the movie followed in the wake of Bruce Lee's breakout success and tried to cash in on the martial arts fad) looks especially ridiculous. A boat chase and car chase are well-staged but break no new ground. The picture has one truly amazing stunt, in which Bond's car jumps a broken bridge and does a complete spiral in the air. Mind you, this was in the time before CGI artists could simply paint any crazy thing they wanted on screen. A real driver actually performed this feat live in front of the cameras, in one take. However, what should be a breathtaking, white-knuckle moment is completely undercut by an idiotic slide whistle sound effect on the soundtrack.
Also ruinous to the proceedings is the return appearance of Clifton James as the comic relief, redneck racist Sheriff J.W. Pepper, who we're meant to believe is on vacation in Thailand just as Bond gets there. He even conveniently happens to be at a car dealership when Bond steals a vehicle. Why in the world this man would want to buy a car in Thailand is a question I suppose we're not meant to ask. The character was inexplicably popular at the time, but the alleged humor has not aged well at all.
Aside from one unfortunate track suit, Lee makes an elegant and well-spoken foe. Yet, in the end, he's just not one of 007's greater challenges. In fact, their final confrontation wraps up fairly quickly, after which the movie pads out its climax with some pointless explosions (it couldn't be a Bond picture without a bunch of expensive sets and miniatures getting blown up) and a Rosa Klebb-style comedic denouement.
The film's theme song by Lulu has corny lyrics and isn't particularly memorable. On the other hand, the production design and art direction are pretty terrific. The slanted sets for the secret MI6 base hidden in the wreckage of the RMS Queen Elizabeth are a standout, and play like something out of a German Expressionist silent. Scaramanga's funhouse obstacle course is a silly and frankly nonsensical plot gimmick, but is a lot of fun visually.
At this stage in the franchise's history, Roger Moore was comfortably settling into the role of James Bond. Sadly, 'The Man with the Golden Gun' is another middle-of-the-road adventure that largely wastes his talents. The actor wouldn't truly hit his stride until the next entry, 'The Spy Who Loved Me'.
Aside from the physical labeling and artwork, the copy of 'The Man with the Golden Gun' 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, etc. 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 MGM contracted Lowry Digital to remaster all of the Bond movies for the 2006 Ultimate Edition DVDs, the company was unfortunately not able to strike new 4k film scans for every title. Whether due to budget, resources or other pressures, many of the films were sourced from older high-def masters that Lowry attempted to clean up with dirt and scratch removal, grain management and other digital tweaking. The results of those efforts were hit-or-miss, depending on the quality of the existing masters. Some looked better than others. 'The Man with the Golden Gun' is one such title. The Blu-ray was not derived from a new 4k scan. Fortunately, despite this, the disc came out looking pretty good.
As he had for 'Live and Let Die', Guy Hamilton shot 'Golden Gun' at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This would be the last Bond picture composed for that narrower format. (Most are photographed for "scope" 2.35:1.) The Blu-ray's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is quite sharp and detailed. The picture is bright and vividly colorful, with good contrast and shadow detail.
As is common for the Lowry process, grain has been mostly dialed down without negatively affecting other picture detail. However, the image has a bit of a gritty texture, and isn't quite up to the same standard as the titles that received newer film scans. Dark scenes and shadows are distractingly noisy at times. Some edge ringing artifacts from artificial sharpening also occur every so often, but aren't too disastrous. If not perfect, this is a fairly nice-looking disc for the most part.
Aside from a couple of minor annoyances, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the disc is one of MGM's better 5.1 remixing efforts. For some reason, the track is set for a really loud default volume. I had to pull it down a few decibels from my usual levels. However, at the very least, it's consistent in that respect. Unlike the 'Live and Let Die' Blu-ray, for example, this one doesn't experience wild volume swings from scene to scene. The dialogue, music and sound effects all fall within a comfortable range. More problematic are some occasional sync issues where dialogue is slightly mistimed from visible lip movements. Thankfully, this isn't a severe problem and (in this viewing) only stood out in a few scenes.
The mix remains mostly focused on the front soundstage, with only limited surround activity. I think that's for the best. Gimmicky directional effects are usually very distracting when upmixed from mono. Directional pans sound organic and natural, and work well during the car chase. John Barry's score is broad, loud and clear.
Dialogue is crisp and intelligible. Bass action is moderate, but explosions deliver a nice thump. Sound effects are sharp, especially the cracking gunshots. Bizarrely, no attempt was made to apply a silencer effect to the hit man's pistol at the beginning, even though it quite visibly has one attached. On the other hand, given that real-life gun silencers don't sound anything like the ones in movies, perhaps this was an attempt to bring some realism to the genre.
The disc also provides the film's original mono mix in lossy Dolby Digital format. In comparison, it's extremely flat, weak and dull. The mono track is set for a much lower volume than the 5.1 remix, but no amount of amplification brings any life to it. In this case, the remix is the much more satisfying option.
All of the bonus features from the Ultimate Edition DVD released in 2006 have made their way to the Blu-ray.
The 22-film 'Bond 50' box set is an outstanding collection of one of cinema's most enduringly popular franchises. While 'The Man with the Golden Gun' is certainly far from the worst of Roger Moore's run in the James Bond franchise, it's also far from the best.
Even though the Blu-ray is a simple reissue of a disc first released in 2008, it still has pretty good picture and sound, as well as a bunch of interesting supplements. 007 fans will find it worth owning whether purchased on its own or as part of the 'Bond 50' package.
James Bond will return.