It is a bittersweet time for the fans of James Bond. There is excitement and anticipation, as the third James Bond Box Set arrives. Also, there is a sense of melancholy and ennui, as fans realize that this will be the final Bond box set for some time to come. Well, fear not, proponents of 007, this box set shows the same high-quality as the previous two and offers the same diversity in titles. The James Bond Collection #3 brings us the second film in the Bond series, "From Russia With Love". And though this film is nearly forty years old, it still holds up well today and offers viewers an opportunity to witness the Bond mythos being constructed. As with the other DVD in the series, "From Russia With Love" comes to us as a Special Edition from MGM Home Entertainment.
"From Russia With Love" has a plot that may sound familiar to us now, but it laid the groundwork for many Bond films to come. In this movie, James Bond (Sean Connery), must fight a superpower, but instead of being an evil, powerful supervillain, it’s the organization SPECTRE, who are seeking revenge for the death of their agent, Dr. No. (This obviously occurred in the first Bond outing). SPECTRE lures Bond to Turkey, where he hopes to find a machine called Lektor, an encryption device created by the Soviet Union. Bond soon learns of the ruse and must trust Soviet Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) to escape from SPECTRE. SPECTRE leader Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) sends assassin "Red" Grant (Robert Shaw) to hunt Bond. The remainder of the film is made up of spectacular fights and chases as Bond tries to flee to freedom.
While some of the Cold War sentiments and stunts come off as being dated, "From Russia With Love" is still a satisfying thriller. Here, we have Connery in all of his young glory playing the role that made him famous. "From Russia With Love" is also notable as it introduces the character of "Q" (Desmond Llewelyn). While we have become accustomed to the Bond films trying to one-up each other, the action and thrills in "From Russia With Love" come across as very simple, yet still effective. For example, the explosions during the boat chase seem very small by today’s standards, but the chase is exciting nonetheless and stresses how the series has changed in recent years from more character driven stories to action spectacle. "From Russia With Love" is a timeless film featuring one of the best fictional characters ever created.
The Special Edition of "From Russia With Love" offers enough special details and options, that you’d swear that "Q" himself cooked it up. We start with the anamorphic transfer of the film, which has been letterboxed at 1.85:1. This transfer is very crisp and clear, but it does, however reveal some defects. The film shows its age, with many specs, pops, and white marks appearing courtesy of the source print. While the color scheme is impressive overall, with the attributes of the Technicolor process shining through, there are times when the film appears somewhat washed out. But, those issues aside, this really is quite a spectacular transfer, given the fact that the film is going on being three four decades old. The picture is relatively free of any noise and shows no complications caused by compression or artifacting. There is some fine grain on the image, but no where as much as you’d expect for a film from 1963. Truly, this transfer deserves the title "Special Edition."
The audio on the "From Russia With Love" DVD is a Dolby Digital Mono. Don’t be fooled by the mono nomenclature however, as the track exhibits an impressive frequency response with clear high ends and incredibly well produced bass. The track has clearly been enhanced adding sub-harmonics to the mix to give it the sort of richness that we find here. With this soundtrack, we get intelligible and clear dialogue, along with respectable sound effects. There is no audible hiss on the soundtrack and the overall sound imaging is very well-balanced.
Keeping with the "Special Edition" theme, "From Russia With Love" is stuffed with extra features. The first of these features is an audio commentary which features many members of the cast and crew. The commentary is hosted by John Cork of the "Ian Fleming Foundation". He guides the listener through the commentaries, offering many insights and historical facts. He also introduces the other speakers, who are: director Terence Young, actress Martine Beswick, actor Walter Gotell, actress Aliza Gur, composer John Barry, editor Peter Hunt, production designer Syd Cain, sound effects editor Norman Wanstall, special effects supervisor John Stears, and Dana Broccoli, wife of producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli. First things first, this commentary is incredibly detailed and informative. Cork supplies us with scene-specific facts that even include dates and times. The drawback to this commentary, besides the obvious absence of Sean Connery, is that the majority of comments from the speakers other than Cork are taken from interviews taken at various times in the past. (Note the fact that Terence Young, Walter Gotell and John Stears have long since passed away.) What we have is a mixed bag. You will learn a great deal from the commentary, but it is very dry and lacks the kind of spontaneity that we’ve come to expect from "live" commentaries.
Next, we are offered two documentaries. The first is entitled simply "Inside ’From Russia With Love’". Despite this simply title, this 34-minute documentary is one of the most detailed "making-of" featurettes that I’ve ever seen. "Inside ’From Russia With Love’" is narrated by Patrick Macnee and it traces almost every step of the film’s production. The overview begins with Ian Fleming’s source novel and moves through pre-production and the actual shooting of the film. Besides the typical archival footage and interviews with cast and crew, which are included here, we are given painstaking details, including exactly which locations were used and on what days scenes were shot there. There is a very sad look at how the failing health of Pedro Armendariz affected not only the shoot, but the emotions of the cast. "Inside ’From Russia With Love’" is incredibly thorough and should be the blueprint for future "making-of" featurettes. It’s ironic that modern productions pass of a five-minute piece of fluff as a "making-of", while this 1963 film offers an astonishingly attentive look at the film’s production.
The other documentary on the DVD takes a look at the life of producer Harry Saltzman. Entitled "Harry Saltzman: Showman", this 29-minute featurette takes a look at Saltzman’s career and his impact on the Bond films. Saltzman was involved with the nine of the Bond films and we get an impression of how he, along with Albert Broccoli, formed the James Bond style that we are so familiar with today. The documentary is made up of behind-the-scenes footage and photos. But, most of the information comes from the numerous interviews with co-workers and family members. A portrait is painted of a man that could be quirky at times, and very hard to get along with at others, but someone who loved show business and always wanted to make the best film possible. As someone who knew nothing of Saltzman, I found this documentary to be a very intriguing look at this enigmatic man.
The remaining special features follow the typical "Special Edition" variety. There are three theatrical trailers featured on the DVD. The first is for "From Russia With Love", and is presented full-frame. This really squeezes the image onto the screen, making for some comical images. (Who the heck is "Ames Bond"?) The second trailer is for a double-bill of "From Russia With Love" and "Dr. No."and a final trailer is for another double-bill, this one being "From Russia With Love" and "Thunderball." All three of these trailers show significant grain, and many defects from the source prints. But, it’s very interesting to see the ads for the double-bills.
Continuing with the double-bill theme, we have three TV spots for the "From Russia With Love" and "Thunderball" combo. Each of these is essentially the same, with the ads proclaiming a "Bond Sale!" These ads are presented full-frame and show significant grain and source print defects. Additionally, we have three radio spots for the "From Russia With Love"/"Thunderball" double bill. These audio-only tracks almost duplicate the audio from the TV spots.
The boat chase is perhaps the most famous scene from "From Russia With Love" and we can now take a closer look at this scene through a special storyboard sequence. The sequence opens with the disclosure that the scene was originally planned to have taken place at night. With that, the viewer can go through these original storyboards and examine, shot by shot, the original look of the scene.
The last special feature is, to me, the most impressive. Still galleries are typically unapologetically boring, offering us photos in no discernible order and with no background information. This is not the case with this DVD. The still photo gallery is made up of hundreds of pictures, which have been separated into 16 categories. Each category focuses on a particular aspect of "From Russia With Love’s" production and opens with short explanation of what the photo gallery will contain. This way, you not only know what you’re looking at, but how it pertains to the film. This is a very classy closing to a superb DVD.
The collectible booklet contained with the "From Russia With Love" DVD claims that many fans site this film as their favorite Bond movie and after viewing this DVD, it’s easy to see why. MGM Home Entertainment has built upon this superb film by bringing us a great Special Edition DVD. The transfer of the film isn’t flawless, but it’s close to perfect considering the age of the film. And, as with the rest of the Bond Special Editions, the extra features are both informative and entertaining. Bond fans may not see another box set for a few years, but we definitely have some great DVDs to savor at the moment.