From Russia with Love - Bond 50 Box Set Blu-ray Review
I have reviewed this transfer of From Russia With Love already when the film had its standalone Blu release. Here’s what I said back then.
Okay, well taking the previous Lowry-restored transfer from the Ultimate Edition and giving it further revitalisation with an AVC 1080p encode produces a 1.66:1 image that is very obviously better than any version of FRWL you've seen on home video before. Damage is virtually non-existent, contrast is impeccable throughout and DNR, which has surely been applied to some degree, is not a problem at all. Finite detail is very definitely there - just look at how bad Connery's skin is as he leans down to confront Bianchi in the bed, for example - and faces in close-ups, activities in the boisterous mid-grounds of Terence Young's settings of choice, and figures, landmarks and vehicles etc in the far-off background are all so much clearer and richer than ever before.
Colours are tremendous. They are not realistic - they never were - more of an enhanced, ruddy take on skin-tones and some flamboyant primaries, but this is totally of the era's style of filmmaking. The Bond movies were the celluloid comic-books of their day, so the effect is heightened. The great thing is that the BD transfer totally embraces this visual look, and does so with more vibrancy and stability and with better saturation. The various colours dotted about the gypsy camp, lit with flame and gunfire, the beautiful greenery of the moorland helicopter pursuit, the thick red of the night-scope assassination and the lush blue skies as Tania approaches the church are wonderfully brought to eye-pleasing levels that leave previous incarnations far behind. Look at the yellow of the van that Bond and Tania commandeer, and the yellow of the pursuing helicopter, for that matter. And as for the explosions of the fuel canisters and the ball of flame from the whirlybird when it hits the deck, I think I can safely say that you'll be happily languishing within incendiary nirvana with the detailed swirls of orange, red and black against either the blue water or the green heatherland. Even the expressive warmth of the wood-panelling aboard the transcontinental train or in the various other interiors and environs look more oozing with vitality.
Blacks are superbly deep and strong and I don't that there is a problem with detail loss as a result within them. Those subterranean passages and river-ways look amazingly atmospheric - like a flooded Mine of Moria. And the shadows on board the Orient Express or bathing the gypsy camp are very smartly defined. I had suspected trouble with some finite detail, such as the pattern on Bond's Saville Row suit, but the transfer exhibited no trace of shimmering at all as the fine herringbone stitching moved past the camera. Walls and canvas tents, costumes, weaponry, the furniture in M's office, the food on the train, the crags on Connery's face, the wisps of dyed-eyelashes on Shaw, the sweat on Klebb's skin and the odd, bewitching knicker-flashes all have greater definition and clarity. But again, if you feel the need to compare and contrast, just check out the detail of the blending of shades and the grain in the wooden panels of the compartments on the Orient Express with those seen in the previous SD Ultimate Edition.
Even though some edge enhancement is still apparent, this hi-def Bond is a clear winner.
Once again, what I said for the previous Blu release applies here.
So, pleasing fans still further is a lossless DTS 5.1 audio track that ticks all the right boxes and refuses to make a big, bogus hash of things. Things are certainly louder and clearer, and dialogue - with only one brief moment when Bey's speech seems to drop a tad lower than usual – sounding crisp and well presented. There is plenty of rear activity, too, though much of it is ambient bleed-through that tends to support environmental colour - gypsy voices and local music, street hubbub, etc - with most of the special stuff reserved for the frantic two chases at the end. Here, we get some decent separation across the channels from the chopper whistling about overhead - some nice steerage around the set-up and some definite and quite convincing, front-to-back dynamics without ever once going overboard with any ineptly-added effects - and some churning aggression to the boat chase.
All of these set-pieces are aided by a nice, firm level from an agreeable bass presence. Whilst gunshots have a more polished and emphatic bark than the tinny pockets of sound we are familiar with, explosions and crashes are now given a lot more weight to play with. The chopper crash, the burning boats, the tumbling masonry and the solid eruption of the Russian Embassy assault are all great examples of the remix overcoming the tendency of engineers to supply just a little too much oomph to such scenes. Nothing sounds out of place or horribly created and lashed over the top of the original effects. But I particularly enjoyed the added strength and heft that the DTS-HD MA track bestows the big fight between Bond and Grant. The door getting slammed in Grant's face and his body being smashed from side to side have real tigerish crunches, and the impact of blows and the overall struggle is very well contained within the field without sacrificing any of the enjoyable clout that a skirmish of this class demands. The sound of the breaking window isn't overdone either, but it is nice how the noise of the train's wheels over the tracks enters the fray with the rushing of the wind outside. The chain-reaction of exploding fuel canisters during the boat-chase is smartly done and there is some serious new heft to the shooting walls of flame and the Spectre-vessels blowing-up.
There is no doubting that From Russia With Love has a new track that has been really respectfully designed. But, with no surprise at all, and more than a little joy on my part, the score from John Barry is exceptionally well-treated, with far more verve than in prior releases. There is that scene when the 007 theme, heard for the first time in this film, seems a little engulfed by the fire-fight raging all around it at the gypsy encampment, but this has always been the case and is not a fault of the audio transfer - and, besides, this may just be me being overly-picky about not hearing this essential piece of musical adrenaline with total bombast.
The film's original mono track is also included but I definitely found the new mix to be the most enjoyable, with added spatial depth and atmospherics, much more pleasing weight and impact and an altogether more interesting and exciting experience.
The fabulous selection of Bond-a-mania that so draped the Ultimate Edition is all present and correct here on Blu, as well. The somewhat clumsy interface and section headings - reading like an MI6 itinerary - are in place too.
Unlike some of the other titles in the series, we only get the one commentary track here, but it is a typical ensemble offering and it is very, very good. Commencing with a somewhat ponderous introduction from the president of the Ian Fleming Association who also provides very scene-specific throughout the film, this also brings in archived interviews with the production crew and the cast, their anecdotes and trivia placed strategically at appropriate junctures in the movie. John Barry is given plenty of room to discuss how he took the character and the franchise to a new and fresher level and how with the 007 theme, he sought to let audiences in on the joke by injecting the score with such a fun and thrilling cue. He doesn't go into the legal wrangle over the authorship of the James Bond theme, however. Monty Norman is credited, but Barry orchestrated it and has always claimed the signature tune to be his. There is absolutely plenty to enjoy with this track and all those who contribute do so with fondness, detail and a wealth of entertaining insight.
The documentaries and featurettes start off with a trio of interviews with Ian Fleming that scratch beneath the surface of the author, his background and, of course, his literary alter-ego. Ian Fleming: The CBC Interview (7 mins) is a filmed session on the veranda of his Jamaican home, Goldeneye, in which he discusses the sex and violence of his stories and their validity to the intelligence game as he understood it. Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler (5 mins) is an audio chat between the two esteemed writers playing over a rather creepy montage of b/w images of them both that seem to glide over still photos in the background. Fleming does all the talking because Chandler just doesn't seem either interested or, in fact, able to. They discuss their mutual characters of Bond and Marlowe, but this is mostly more exposure for Fleming. Ian Fleming On Desert Island Discs (5 mins) sadly does not provide us with the records that he would prefer, but is a snapshot (again set against those creepy stills) giving us insight into what makes his character tick and how regimented his writing actually is (or was) - three hours in the morning and one in the evening for around six weeks to produce a book a year. Representing the cynical side of the British outlook, post-war, Fleming is, nevertheless, a gentleman and always interesting to listen to.
The Animated Storyboard Sequence, lasting for 1.28 mins is good fun. Recreating, in lots of colour panels, the climactic boat chase, this is embellished with the Bond theme and some cool camera zooms and movements that attempt to bring the illustrations to life.
Under Mission Control, you have access to various elements of the film - from the women, the weapons and the locations to code words, combat and having dinner - but this is nothing more than a gimmicky scene selector that puts you straight back into the movie at the various appropriate points for a brief spell. Erm ... not very impressed with this as a special feature I'm afraid.
Mission Dossiergives us Inside From Russia With Love (33.46 mins). Narrated by Patrick Macnee, this could, obviously, have gone for hours - and I wouldn't have minded if it did - but boiled down to some wonderful interviews and reminiscences from the likes Peter Hunt, Daniela Bianchi, production designer Ken Adam who actually missed out on because of commitment to Dr. Strangelove, and was replaced by Syd Cain, and Martine Beswick and Aliza Gur (both of whom look stunning many years after their cat-scrap) and some very brief words from Connery, himself. The production troubles are covered quite comprehensively, from doubles that look too much like Connery, helicopter crashes that almost kill off the director and a car crash that almost does the same for the leading lady, script re-writes and expensive explosions that go off during rehearsals to innovative visual techniques in the editing room to iron continuity errors. Plus, there is a very touching tribute paid to Pedro Armendariz and his selfless devotion to getting the film completed despite being in considerable pain. Excellent stuff, folks.
Harry Saltzman: Showman(26.42 mins) is a portrait of the “clued-up”, resourceful and somewhat enigmatic producer and how he came to help pilot Bond's leap from the printed page to the movie theatre. Told by all those who knew and worked with him, including his son and daughter, this is as much a tremendous insight into the legacy of Bond and Ian Fleming as it is about Saltzman, himself. That he and Fleming were almost totally on the same wavelength was apparent and this, of course, could only engender success for the franchise. Saltzman also had two German Shepherd Dogs - one called James and the other called Bond.
The whole thing is rounded off with an assortment of stills, trailers and TV and Radio Spots, making this just about as complete as can be a set of extras, without the mighty Connery providing a commentary, that is. Other titles in the series provide more than we get here, but the quality of the stuff supporting this package is still very worthwhile, so From Russia With Love a strong 8 out of 10 in this department.
Quintessential Bond, From Russia With Love is remarkably assured. Connery and director Terence Young had cut their teeth on Dr. No and even won over the initially reluctant Ian Fleming with their on-screen interpretation of 007, and now they would fine-tune things even further and successfully embrace the etiquette and plausible machinations of the international spy-game with even more style than before. Their second mission together tells a proper story and doesn't just link together a series of stunts and set-pieces, as a great many of the ensuing entries would do. Connery is smoother in the role than in his debut, though he would truly take his characterisation to its natural and culture-establishing zenith in his next entry, Goldfinger. Classic scenes aplenty, but that violent free-for-all aboard the Orient Express tops the lot. John Barry takes the stage with his lushly dynamic wall of sound and some truly memorable characters flit, quip or bludgeon their way into Bond's dangerously attractive world.
Now in its second Blu-ray release as part of this exquisite Bond box set, FRWL also looks and sounds better than ever. The great array of extras may still come stocked in that apt, but really rather naff Mission Dossier style, but there is much to savour here. Fleming gets his very proper say and the production is thoroughly stripped-down for us with a slew of featurettes.
With Goldfinger on the horizon, the series was going from strength to strength, and gaining more popularity with each outing. Returning to this early mission reveals subtleties and extravagances in equal measure, and with a full score from John Barry, the dye was set and the franchise was to become a force to be reckoned with. Connery proved that he wasn’t just a flash in the pan, and the character proved too great and alluring to let go of. Audiences were left gagging for the next movie.
We don’t have to wait long at all. We can just put in the next lavish disc!
Blu-ray Bond - 007th heaven.
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