On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Bond 50 Box Set Blu-ray Review

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by Chris McEneany Sep 29, 2012 at 10:30 AM

  • Movies review


    On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Bond 50 Box Set Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £119.99


    “Is anything the matter, Sir Hilary?”

    “Just a slight stiffness coming on … in the shoulder.”

    Gotcha, Mr. Bond!

    We have the Lowry restoration of OHMSS to thank for this splendid-looking, film-like hi-def transfer. Encoded with AVC, this sumptuous 2.35:1 image is alive with vitality, colour and depth. It is highly detailed and suffused with a rich and authentic texture that preserves the grain without elements that become either too noisy or swept clean with any excessive DNR. The film has a life and lustre that I doubt it has enjoyed since the days of its premier.

    On the digital front, there is not a trace of smearing, banding or aliasing. Any haloes that you see are a product of the source photography and lighting, and not a consequence of any artificial sharpening.

    You can’t fault the level of detail here.

    There are certain elements of the frame that fall victim to the softness and slightly out-of-focus veneer of the anamorphic lens of Michael Reed’s cinematography. I think that this may seem a touch more exacerbated because of the hi-def transfer – it may make it appear just that little bit more obvious. These moments are few are far between though, but if you are being picky and looking for such things, then you will see them. So don’t look.

    The level of finite detail is certainly more revealing than I have ever seen it appear before. Close-ups are incredibly revealing. Eyes have depth and lucidity. The craggy, swarthy faces of Lazenby, Savalas, Ferzetti and Steppat’s Bunt (ha!) offer acres of physical character to study. Rigg gets a couple of softened lenses to make her look a little more dreamy, such as when she lets her hair down in the barn during the snowstorm, but this is a crisp and occasionally unforgiving transfer that certainly savours so many rich, lived-in countenances. The big ravens that swirl around the summit of Piz Gloria, notably when Bond’s rather foolish associate of Bernard Horsfall’s Campbell attempts to climb up to the clinic, are much clearer and more distinct. This level of clarity and detail is also afforded the streets and building site outside Gumbold’s office, the trees around the mountain, the chunks of human offal sprayed out from the snow-plough, the gears of the cable-car, the colourful assortment of denizens filling the little Swiss village – lots of attention for the figures in the background, as well as those filling the front of the frame – and the design of the fashions for the Angels of Death and even their well-stocked plates at dinnertime. In a word – WOW! OHMSS presents us with an acutely vivid picture that manages the minute – the flowers and garlands at Bond’s wedding – and the immense – the mountain ranges, the twilight horizon across the sea and the aerial shots of Piz Gloria – with equally pleasing and consistent level of definition. The images that we glimpse of the Playboy Magazine that Bond peruses are also much sharper and better resolved.

    The spectrum is bold and luscious. Just look at the shots of Bond entering the casino near the start, or when Tracy arrives at the bullfight arena. The chemicals bubbling about in Blofeld’s lab. Love the look on Bond’s face when a rogue scientist lobs a jar of some volatile substance at him, and it melts through the toughened glass door in that gorgeously lilac-coloured chamber. Or any image of the Angels flitting about the “clinic”. Colours are thick and radiant, beautifully saturated and committed to providing the sort of “pop” that you know you wanted from this transfer but didn’t dare to expect. It is not exactly naturalistic – but then it isn’t meant to be. It’s James Bond, and his snowbound mission has never looked this visually arresting.

    About the only real concern that could be mounted is that the image now sports boosted contrast than can run quite hot – some whites can really bloom in the early portions of the film at the hotel and the casino, and then during the sunny section at the bull-fighting arena, but especially during the daytime exteriors around the Alps - and a brighter, more flamboyant aesthetic than previously seen. But, then again, is this something that we don’t actually like? Well, personally, speaking, I love the look of the film. It is oozing with comic-book zest. Dark tans compete with gorgeous azure skies hovering above beautifully crisp white snow. Having such dazzling ice and snow in the sunlight is actually very realistic, if we choose to be pedantic about such things, so perhaps this look is more accurate than we might, at first, think. Flares and flames, explosions and fireworks look grand and wildly beatific. Those cool orange jumpsuits that Blofeld’s men sport fit right into the crazy psychedelic environment that dominates the fashions, the décor and the hallucinogenic light show that hypnotises the girls. Made in 1969, OHMSS definitely goes for that late sixties glitz and glamour, yet it also retains that harsh, unyielding “proper” range of midnight blues for the lengthy night-time sequence that smothers Bond’s epic escape from Piz Gloria. Deeply drawn shadows come courtesy of strong and consistent blacks that never compromise. Once again, the lengthy night-time escape-and-evasion is heavy with intense blacks and soothing deep blues, and the transfer doesn’t drop the ball. Nor do these weighty shadows crush down any detail beneath them.

    Damage is almost completely eradicated from the print, with only some occasional and practically infinitesimal pops to speak of.

    All in all, the wait has been extremely worthwhile. OHMSS looks spectacular on Blu, and earns itself a very strong 8 out of 10!

    On Her Majesty


    “I hope my big end will stand up to this.”

    And it isn’t Bond who says this! It’s Diana Rigg’s Contessa!

    The disc carries both a tremendous DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and a DD mono alternative. It would appear that the discs in the American set do not.

    This was always a profoundly exhilarating movie that the sound-design and, especially, John Barry’s phenomenal score played a huge part in enhancing, and with the lossless surround mix, the film now takes on an entirely new dimension that I find extremely rewarding.

    The soundstage is wide and involving, the channel steerage smooth and well-prioritised, the resulting effect sublime and immersive.

    The Bond films had always enjoyed an excessive sound effects track, and OHMSS is possibly the most over-the-top of the classic run. This is the one that made a fist connecting with a jawbone sound as devastating as an Exocet missile slamming into the hull of a battleship. The cartoonic impression of whistling air-displacement is giddily employed and bodily impacts have the rib-rattling intensity of trees being felled all around you. It is alarmingly aggressive at times, but incredibly fun with it. Bass is appreciably deep and solid, packing a meaty wallop whenever it is called for. And, hey, the good news, adrenaline-junkies, is that it’s almost constantly called for! Vehicles crunch into one another, helicopters thrum about all over place, explosions boom-boom-shake-the-room, gunfire belches out and when Bond isn’t battering people with fists packed with subwoofers, he’s arguing with a deeply chunnering cable-car and its demonic gears! OHMSS now carries a thicker, chunkier and more active bass than many modern action movies.

    No problem whatsoever with the dialogue. Some of it is dubbed, as you know, but there is never any issue with clarity, pitch or positioning.

    The rear speakers are delightfully utilised, and in such a way that their presence is never gimmicky or unwelcome. I was very impressed. Score bleed drifts through them, often carrying the more melancholy or wistful refrains of Barry’s romantic elements. When Bond out-manoeuvres Draco’s trio of goons and locks outside the room, the scene changing to his view of his new surroundings, we hear them banging on the other side of the door realistically from behind us. As you would in Bond’s position. Likewise, gunfire and rolling snow during the avalanche emanate from particular areas in the soundfield, but swiftly and accurately move around the set-up to match the direction of the onscreen action. The fireworks that go up during Bond and Tracy’s escape thump and crackle all around us as well. Listen to how convincing the sound of the raging storm is that whistles all around the outside of the barn that the two ill-fated lovers hide themselves away in – it really sounds like it is swirling around the outside of the room you are in, with some neat little squalls that shiver out of the rears. There is one little thing that I reckon sounds a touch bogus and that is the very sudden blurting of a horn and the squeal of a car streaming past Tracy’s Cougar that rips forth from the rear right speaker. Something about it just doesn’t sound right to me. But then you have to remember that they could have gotten a whole lot more than this wrong and made a real mess of things, but, rest assured, they’ve pretty much nailed it.

    Other great little things to listen out for are glorious ringing of the bells in the little hut that Bond goes baddie-bashing in; the rolling of the surf at the start when Bond rescues Tracy from her attempted suicide; the beautifully rapid pupp-a-pupp-a-pupp of Bond’s helmet against the ice as Blofeld holds his head against the wall of the bobsleigh run. And there is the crump of feet in snow, the hubbub of the casino, or the people in the corridor outside Gumbold’s office, the chitter-chatter of the girls in Piz Gloria, and the general cacophony of the festivities down in the party-village to keep the speakers frequently active with subtleties and ambience.

    Controversy revolves around the escalation of Barry’s classic score in the safe-cracking set-piece in Gumbold’s office. Previously, the music, which is a deeply suspenseful and driving motif that continues to rise in strength and urgency, had drowned-out the sound of the safe opening, but I had no problems with how the scene came across here. Comparing it to the old R1 disc, which only had a mono mix, the effect is still clear and the music only adds to the excitement. However, this mix does still add the rather ridiculous chiming of the big clock at the crucial hour of one pm – ridiculous because the clock strikes twice! There are no chimes on the mono track, but then this makes no sense either. We clearly see Bond reacting to hearing the bell, because this also means that his time is up and that Gumbold will be returning – so, the scene plays better in the 5.1 remix, even it does feature the second dong!

    One or two little errors notwithstanding, this is an amazing mix that fully incorporates the full set-up, delivers astonishing depth and viewer immersion from what was originally just a mono track. And you can certainly experience that mono track if you so desire.

    But the surround mix is fantastic.

    On Her Majesty


    The BD release of OHMSS in this boxset carries all the special features that were found on the UE version. They are a typically fantastic selection of solid background, ace interviews and reminiscences from those involved in the production, inspired anecdotes and trivia, bits and bobs regarding the film’s marketing, its glitz and glamour, and some vintage Bondian fluff and filler.

    I am not going to go through all these now familiar extras in any detail.

    But the list of supplements runs thus, so pay attention, Bond:

    Pick ‘n’ Mix Audio Commentary with Peter Hunt and various members of the cast and crew.

    In the Declassified MI6 Vault, we have

    • Casting On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
    • Press Day in Portugal
    • George Lazenby: In his own words
    • Shot on Ice: Original 1969 Ford Promo
    • Swiss Movement: Original 1969 featurette

    Under Mission Dossier we find

    Inside On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

    Inside Q’s Lab

    • Above it All – original 1969 featurette
    • Exotic Locations

    Marketing gadgetry, such as Trailers, TV and Radio Spots are over in the Ministry of Propaganda.

    And, naturally, we can savour a terrific array of stills in the Image Database.

    On Her Majesty


    After Dr. No and Goldfinger, which in turn, opened up the cinematic potential of James Bond and then set the template for what we could expect and love from the franchise, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the next most important film in the entire series. We’ve had returns (Diamonds Are Forever) reboots (Casino Royale) and baton-changes (Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, Craig), but with only one mission as 007, George Lazenby did the unthinkable for what has primarily been a celebrated run of resolutely fantastical and purely escapist excess – he gave it genuine heart and soul and delivered an adventure that told a multi-layered story and stuck rigidly to a strong linear narrative.

    Bond’s greatest snowbound actioner, and also one of the character’s most brutal and exciting. Savalas makes for a terrifically rounded Blofeld. No madcap super-villain traits, just humanistic nuance and an almost sympathetic desire to earn himself the respect of the world without just threatening to blow it up! Rigg is gorgeous, irresistible, resilient and convincingly adaptable whilst also being exotically heightened and profoundly tragic … and you can see exactly why 007 why fall for her. Lazenby is just plain awesome as a confident and courageous yet vain and headstrong Bond. His physicality and single-mindedness ushered in the type of hero that Dalton and Craig would later develop. And this, in turn, would also inspire a far more violent and hyper-kinetic type of action set-piece from the established Bond team. Seemingly, the world wasn’t quite ready for this new version of its favourite secret agent, although Connery’s mostly unsatisfying return would certainly embrace much of Lazenby’s more brutish attitude, and Roger Moore would happily take the hero into a more comical, daft and semi-self-parodic direction with 70’s fluff. But this more realistic and vulnerable attitude has since served Daniel Craig’s interpretation extremely well.

    With one of the best soundtracks in the series, certainly the best and most faithful story to Fleming’s literary source and a Bond that was inarguably brave enough to break the mould, OHMSS arrives on Blu with a glorious transfer that provides fans with the most colourful and detailed home video version that they could have wished for. The audio has been lovingly boosted into a full surround mix that really enhances what was already a powerful and exciting sound design, one or two very small issues notwithstanding. The extras are strong and plentiful, if very familiar.

    OHMSS is my own personal favourite from the entire series, and it is a film that has gained itself a critical turnaround from bold experiment to bonafide classic in the decades since its release. It works as both a standalone adventure as well as a thrilling continuation of Bond’s most compelling manhunt. We have humour, excitement, violence and a shocking, heartbreaking conclusion.

    On Her Majesty

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £119.99

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