The Spy Who Loved Me – James Bond Ultimate Edition

The Spy Who Loved Me – James Bond Ultimate Edition (1977)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curt Jürgens, Richard Kiel
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Documentaries, Featurettes, Still Galleries, Much More

It's the biggest. It's the best. And nobody does it better. I am speaking, of course, of 007's tenth feature, "The Spy Who Loved Me." It may or may not really be the biggest or the best, but that is how it was advertised in 1977. Roger Moore slipped into James Bond's tuxedo for the third time, further developing the character's persona. With veteran Bond director Lewis Gilbert ("You Only Live Twice") at the helm, this film remains a seminal entry in the series all of thirty years later. Like the rest of the Bond films, "The Spy Who Loved Me" has been treated to an "Ultimate Edition" restoration by MGM Home Entertainment and looks better than ever.

Although it takes its name from one of Ian Fleming's novels, the film actually has very little to do with it, as Fleming (before his death in 1965) prohibited any material from the book to be adapted. Screenwriters Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum were enlisted to construct an original story around James Bond, opening up possibilities heretofore unexplored. In their story, shipping megalomaniac Karl Stromberg (Curt Jürgens) has designed a massive underwater dwelling that is capable of tracking and "swallowing" submarines carrying nuclear missiles. His diabolical plan is to obtain enough missiles to destroy all of the Earth's dry land and recreate a new society underwater. When British and Russian submarines are captured by Stromberg, the governments of both countries become allies to stop him, teaming Bond with Russian Major Anya Amasova (the lovely Barbara Bach), otherwise known as Agent XXX.

Bond's mission takes him to exotic Egypt, where he encounters Stromberg's henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel), a seven-foot hulk with a deadly set of steel choppers. Bond's teaming with Major Amasova proves to be his biggest challenge, however, as they are at once partners and rivals. Their love-hate relationship is one of the major highlights of this entry, and it makes a great argument for the possibility of mixing business with pleasure. Naturally, there is a glorious set of beautiful Bond girls lurking about, one of whom is quite handy with a helicopter. The inimitable Desmond Llewelyn pops up once again as the ever-surprising Q, offering more gizmos and gadgets to make Bond's job easier.

Considered to be the first truly original Bond movie, this one is actually more tightly constructed than several of the adaptations and remains consistently surprising and witty. It presents, perhaps, a lighter Bond than what audiences were used to at the time, but it embodies everything we love about him. Roger Moore is dashing and suave, but not without his soft spots. He also sports an ironic sense of humor that perfectly compliments the suspense. The action in this movie is pure spectacle, including the famous opening ski jump, a riveting helicopter chase, and a climactic scene that I can only describe as Jaws meets "Jaws."

Marvin Hamlisch also contributes greatly to the film's appeal with his lush, Oscar-nominated score. He builds on the Bond theme, sometimes giving it a disco vibe, and even providing a clever homage to Maurice Jarre's "Lawrence of Arabia" score. The opening theme song, "Nobody Does It Better," written by Carole Bayer Sager and performed by Carly Simon, is one of the quintessential Bond themes and wonderfully captures the spirit of the film.

As part of the "James Bond Ultimate Edition" set, "The Spy Who Loved Me" has been put through the same frame-by-frame restoration process at Lowry Digital Images as the rest of the films, and the results are extraordinary. Crisp and clean, with amazing detail and bold color distribution, the picture quality is dazzling to behold. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen TVs. Flesh tones are natural, black levels are deep, and there is no evident edge enhancement or artifacting.

The audio is nothing short of amazing, available in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks. The surround is utilized effectively during intense scenes, sending ambience and music around the speakers while dialogue and the main sounds remain clear in the front. There is no hiss or distortion to speak of. Voices sound smooth, and the score is amped up for maximum effect. Also available are a French 5.1 mix and subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.

"The Spy Who Loved Me" is available in Vol. 4 of the "James Bond Ultimate Edition" set, but it may also be purchased separately, albeit in a single-disc edition only. I have the two-disc edition, and let me tell you, if you love these films, you will want to splurge on the box sets. Disc 1 offers two audio commentaries, the first being a newly recorded track with Roger Moore. Moore, who had not seen this film in some time, speaks freely about his enthusiasm for Bond and the fun he had playing him. It is a pleasure to hear him speak, but if you want more solid information, go for the second commentary, featuring director Lewis Gilbert, production designer Ken Adam, co-writer Christopher Wood, and producer Michael G. Wilson. They are obviously having a great time reliving their experiences and offer a lot of behind-the-scenes stories.

Disc 2 houses the rest of the special features, starting with a series of short featurettes. "007 in Egypt" is a six-minute look at the location shooting in Egypt, with behind-the-scenes footage and home movies of the cast and crew. The four-and-a-half-minute "Roger Moore: My Word Is Bond" compiles snippets of an on-set interview with Roger Moore during filming. More light is shed on the locations in "On Location with Ken Adam," a six-minute feature on the location scouting. An original 1977 featurette entitled "007 Stage Dedication" gives us a brief glimpse at the dedication of the world's then-largest soundstage, constructed especially for "The Spy Who Loved Me." I'm not sure, but this may be a shortened version of the original, as it is barely over a minute long. The last featurette is "Escape From Atlantis." At two minutes, this is a storyboard sequence of the movie's climax with unused bits of original dialogue dubbed over it.

Next up is the 007 Mission Control segment. Apparently this is a staple on all of the new Bond DVDs, as "Diamonds Are Forever" had this feature too. Basically, it provides short clips from the movie that showcase all of the substantial characters. It is really a superfluous extra, of interest only for a textless version of the opening title sequence and for a short featurette on the exotic locations, narrated by Maude Adams.

A 41-minute documentary, "Inside The Spy Who Loved Me," turns up next. Narrated by Patrick Macnee, this gives us a very thorough look at the making of the film, featuring interviews with various cast and crew members. Along with the second commentary track, this is a most enlightening offering.

"Ken Adam: Designing Bond" follows. This 22-minute doc provides an overview of production designer Adam's work on seven Bond films, beginning with "Dr. No" in 1962 and culminating with "Moonraker" in 1979. His fanciful and opulent designs helped to elevate the Bond films to a higher level, not to mention earned him an Oscar nod for "The Spy Who Loved Me."

Finishing off this disc are three trailers, six TV spots, 12 radio ads, and some photo galleries. Once again, a very nice selection from MGM.

"The Spy Who Loved Me" is classic Bond, a standout in the franchise that retains all of its charm and excitement. MGM's "Ultimate Edition" reissues are must-haves for every Bond collector. The picture and sound quality alone are reason enough to double dip, but add in the cornucopia of special features that MGM has dug up and this is required buying. So drop into Bond's world of evil madmen and lethal beauties, and don't pull out. For truly, nobody does it better than 007.