Pulpy and riddled with sass, "Live and Let Die" is an action packed, fresh ride--a solid first outing for Roger Moore, even if he is a little rough around the edges.
James Bond 08 - Live and Let Die (1973, Blu-ray)
Directors: Guy Hamilton
Producers: Michael G. Wilson, Albert Broccoli
Writers: Ian Fleming (novel) Tom Mankiewicz (screenplay)
Features: * Commentaries * Declassified: MI6 Vault * Mission Dossier * Mission Control * Image Database * Ministry of Propaganda
Roger Moore ... James Bond
Yaphet Kotto ... Kananga / Mr. Big
Jane Seymour ... Solitaire
Clifton James ... Sheriff J.W. Pepper
Julius Harris ... Tee Hee
Geoffrey Holder ... Baron Samedi
David Hedison ... Felix Leiter
Gloria Hendry ... Rosie Carver
Bernard Lee ... M
Lois Maxwell ... Miss Moneypenny
Live and Let Die Blu-ray Review
Following the strange departure of George Lazenby from the Bond franchise, after his enchanting 007 epic, "On Her Majesty’s Secret Service," Bond producers scrambled to find a worthy replacement. When time ran out, they opted to pay Sean Connery the hefty sum he requested to return to the franchise he helped birth. But, Connery’s return to Bond lasted a mere one film ("Diamonds are Forever"), placing producers in the very same predicament as before. This time, after an exhausting search, they found their Bond in Roger Moore.
Moore’s Bond proved strikingly different than Connery’s take on the character, intentionally so. He was more of an English debonair, he smoked cigars and he even bypasses his signature drink, the Vodka Martini, opting for a bourbon whiskey instead (incidentally, Daniel Craig’s Bond is tweaked from the iconic archetype in "Casino Royale"). While most of the alterations disappeared over time, as the character of Bond better solidified in pop culture, Moore’s first outing was exactly what it needed to be--exciting and fresh--washing away fans’ rabid concern that Moore couldn’t fill the shoes Connery wore so well.
"Live and Let Die" involves an underground crime lord, Kananga, who’s recently assassinated several British secret agents for sinking too deep in his affairs. Bond is sent to New York to uncover the truth, but soon he’s whisked off to a secret island where Kananga is running a homemade heroin lab, with plans of worldwide distribution. Along the way, Bond encounters a tarot card reader, Solitaire, who may hold the key to Kananga’s fate, as well as Bond’s.
The film moves swiftly, never skipping a beat thanks to Guy Hamilton’s taut direction. Moore is a bit stiff in the role, but he’s aided by fiendish voodoo lords, zany boat chases and colorful characters that appropriately match the film’s offbeat settings. Jane Seymour’s Solitaire is rather compelling as well, adding a fascinating, almost magical element to this Bond entry. Even better is Yaphet Kotto as the obsessed Kananga. He’s a strong, intimidating foe unlike the throngs of Bond’s tiresome megalomaniacal billionaire villains of Connery’s day.
"Live and Let Die" is not Moore’s best outing (he’s not quite fitting into character just yet), but the film packs the usual great stunts, chases, babes and action. Also, for better or worse, "Live and Let Die" does add a slightly comic, pulp flair that will help define Moore’s topsy-turvy turn as the secret agent (his Bond outings often fall victim to wonky 70s trends). But, this is a delightful entry in this long-running series that’s sure to keep audiences swirling with joy, even if the film itself is a little rough around the edges.
Film Report Card:
Entertainment Value: B+
Film Value: B+
MGM finally gets Blu-ray right! "Live and Let Die" is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen at 1080p/AVC video on a BD50 disc. This was one of the rare Bond films shot using the ‘open matte’ 1.85 frame. This print is simply stunning, topping the 2006 DVD, which featured intrusive edge haloes, artifacting and some ghosting. Here, those flaws are brushed aside, along with other elements like dust and dirt (and even grain--DNR has been applied in some spots).
The encode itself is sharp, with perfect black levels, great contrast and a gorgeous palette of lush greens, golds and reds that whet the appetite. The image is occasionally soft, a fault of this eras film stock. I imagine there will be better restorations as these sets continue to roll out, but like the other films in this set, this is easily the best version of this film available on home video.
MGM provides a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track for fans to enjoy. I wasn’t really expecting much in terms of an enveloping experience with the older Bond titles, but MGM aims to please, presenting an aggressive 5.1 mix for fans to enjoy. Discrete effects flow back and forth between the front and rear surrounds while the score is evenly balanced between each channel. Even bass effects are aggressive and well mixed. Just give Paul McCartney’s rockin’ opening theme a listen and you’ll immediately see how perfectly balanced this track is.
My issues: Some sound effects, like explosions, car and boat engines and gunshots, are a touch hollow at times, not really sounding like fresh, organic effects. Dialogue is also a bit muffled and mono-like. Compared to last DVD release, this track is far more realized and significantly better in almost every way. In fact, this track is probably more aggressive and enveloping than the theatrical experience. Great job, MGM!
MGM ports over the special features from the original two-disc DVD set released back in 2006. I’ll lightly skim over most of these since fans have likely indulged in these goodies before. The only thing missing from this release is the collectible booklet.
• Commentaries -- Three tracks total, the first features director Guy Hamilton, the second features screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz. The final track is a solo track from Sir Roger Moore. The first two tracks are pretty solid, coming at the material from very different angles. The final track is fairly interesting with Moore voicing his observations on the film, but he’s not the most engaging speaker. Still, I’m glad to see Moore contributing to this set. His commentary might be boring, but he’s a class act individual.
• Declassified: MI6 Vault (SD) -- Here, you’ll be treated to a lost documentary (running about 22 minutes), a few rare TV interviews with Roger Moore and a selection of conceptual art that round out this section.
• Mission Dossier (SD) -- This segment features an informative documentary, "Inside Live and Let Die" (running about 30 minutes, in HD) and two featurettes, both titled "On the Set with Roger Moore." They detail specific moments in the film and both run less than four minutes.
• Mission Control (HD) -- Basically a clip reel with footage from the film helping introduce newcomers to the characters.
• Image Database (HD) -- Finally, there’s an extensive image gallery of all things Bond.
• Ministry of Propaganda -- Cute name. This was missing from "Die Another Day," but it’s packed into this set. Basically, this is a promo section with trailers, teasers, TV spots and radio spots.
Bond doesn’t get any new HD gadgets with this release, other than an updated A/V presentation and a sleek menu. But, methinks this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Bond on Blu-ray. Expect PiP tracks on the next release when Daniel Craig’s third Bond outing reaches theaters in 2010.
MGM knocks this one out of the park in terms of presentation, and the design of the packaging is no different. MGM mixes things up, presenting a quality look to a quality release that’s fresher than any Fox/MGM Blu-ray release yet.
"Live and Let Die" is Roger Moore’s first foray into Bond and it’s a pretty solid effort. The setting and villains are much different than your usual Bond adventure which is sure to please some, but leave others wanting more. For better or worse, this is Bond’s first "comic book" adventure and it’s a grand, pulpy experience. The Blu-ray disc sports a near reference A/V presentation and several great bonus features. But, don’t be surprised though, when MGM returns to this franchise for a more high-def exclusive double dip. For now, this is Bond at his best.
Blu-ray Report Card:
HD Content: N/A
Recommendation: Worth owning.
On Blu-ray Disc: October 21, 2008.
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----R. L. Shaffer