Dr. No (Ultimate Edition) Review
"Three blind mice / See how they run..." Three hitmen hidden behind sunglasses pass by British secret agent Commander John Strangways (Timothy Moxon), who never returns to his Jamaican home. That home is later rifled for files and Strangways' secretary, who's also stationed there, disappears with her absent director.
As reports filter back to London, MI6 call in agent 007, James Bond (Sean Connery), from the Chemin de Fer table at his favourite casino and assign him to Jamaica, where he is to investigate the disappearance and suspected deaths of these two British nationals. Whilst there, M (Bernard Lee) asks that Bond determine if a connection exists between the missing British agents and the disruption of American rocket launches.
Arriving in Kingston, Bond is tailed out of the airport but in losing the car behind him, realises that his own driver is an agent of SPECTRE and one who'd rather die than talk. Soon, all Bond's investigations lead to Crab Key and geological samples taken there by Strangways but again, few will talk. What kind of power does one hold over all of Jamaica such that men prefer to end their own lives than to be interrogated by Bond? As 007 learns, the answer may lie in a small island that few will go near, a fire-breathing dragon and Dr Julius No (Joseph Wiseman)...
Dr No is largely overshadowed by those Bond films that came later. There's precious few gadgets, Q (Desmond Llewelyn) does not appear at all and rather than an Aston Martin, Bond drives a rather ordinary-looking Sunbeam Alpine during the film's one chase scene. Indeed, there's a certain amount of revisionism within Bond with many looking over Dr No and From Russia With Love towards Goldfinger being the start with the cycle of modern Bond films. That can't really be helped given how the third Bond film capitalised on what would help it succeed but to accept that as writ does the two earlier films a disservice, particularly Dr No, which, with its Jamaican setting, its megalomaniacal villain and the spectacular shot of Honey Rider (Ursula Andress, voice by Monica Van Der Syl) emerging from the sea is a film to have a great deal of fun with.
In that sense, Dr No is a wonderful little film and its two hours pass swiftly by. Thanks to Island Records (Chris Blackwell was an uncredited Location Manager on this film), we all know something of Jamaica, but in 1962, the days before easy access to air travel, the bright blue skies and white sands of the island were a world away from the grim grey skies of early-sixties Britain. Here was an island paradise in which a British spy mingled freely, danced with death and had ladies swoon at his touch. More than that, he dressed in the very best of Saville Row and Jermyn Street, gambled in the casinos of Monte Carlo and with his licence to kill, stepped lightly over matters to trouble one's morals. Following the founding of Playboy magazine a decade earlier and almost hand-in-hand with the election of John F Kennedy (1961) and the imminent rise of The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, Bond signaled that the world was changing. In his shooting dead of Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) and his taking pleasure in the bed of Miss Taro (Zena Marshall), despite her arranging for a hit on Bond, 007 is part and parcel of the changing attitudes of the sixties. But, given the symbiotic nature of these cultural shifts, Dr No is as much a reflection of its time as a setter of trends and few are the women who fell for a secret agent man, legitimate or not.
The success of Dr No is also in how well it fits within the series of Bond films. Of course, some of this will be due to Dr No being the sixth book in Fleming's series - it was published in 1958 between From Russia With Love and Goldfinger - but much credit can also be given to Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and their view on how best to introduce Bond. Given the option of a backstory, the filmmakers chose instead to introduce him via his habits - his card playing, his sense of style, his willingness to use violence and his attitudes towards women, being protective of Honey Rider but ruthless towards Miss Taro. Dr No becomes an opening chapter without ever feeling like one and the audience is immediately put at ease. We know this character from the gently guiding hands of Ian Fleming and director Terence Young and not from a pre-credits filler of Bond's upbringing and early adventures. Even the handing in of Bond's Beretta in favour of the Walther PPK is less of an insight into the man than business-as-usual, with dialogue informed by the letter received by Ian Fleming from a Geoffrey Boothroyd, who described Bond as having, "a deplorable taste in firearms" with his Beretta being a, "ladies' gun".
Yet, with the odd omission, it's clearly a Bond film, even down to Dr No's island hideout and his tendency to welcome Bond with a splendid meal and a bottle of Dom Perignon whilst describing his plans to hold the space race to ransom. Even as Bond mocks No with a, "World domination...same old dream", he outlines the appeal of later villains with the audience nodding back to Bond's wink that the world will always be safe from these foolish tyrants so long as Bond is around. But it's also a film that makes do without the later gadgets and the silliness that would blight the later films from both the Connery and Moore eras. Never particularly serious but so very glamourous, Dr No is a great little film and a perfect reason why we've welcomed Bond back again and again.
These Ultimate Editions have certainly had the prints restored and cleaned up with any damage from the old MGM Special Editions now excised in favour of a bright, sparkling image. Compare the screen shots below to see how sharp and clean this looks but note also how grain and detail within objects, such as the face of the actors, has also been removed. Certainly it looks better than the old Special Edition, and it's been presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 but, I would suggest, not necessarily worth upgrading for.
MGM Special Edition (Above) / Sony Ultimate Edition (Below)
MGM Special Edition (Above) / Sony Ultimate Edition (Below)
As the picture has been cleaned up for these Ultimate Editions, so the films have all been treated to Dolby Digital and DTS remixes with the earlier films bearing the fewest scars from the process. As will be described in later reviews, films like Thunderball and Diamonds Are Forever sound and sometimes look quite awful but Dr No comes off rather well with it never sounding as though the restoration team have actually done very much other than filter much of the action through the front three speakers whilst using the rear channels for ambient effects.
This is going to be something of a regular opening sentence in discussing the extras on these Ultimate Editions but Sony Home Entertainment, in spite of sending us all of the films, sadly didn't provide DVD Times all of the extras discs.
Where the old single-disc Special Editions had, obviously, all of the extras with the film, these Ultimate Editions move all of the features, trailers and the like onto the second disc, leaving the first free for the main feature and commentaries. Hence, with us having been sent only the first disc of this two-disc Ultimate Edition, I can only offer you my thoughts on the Commentary, which is the same as that on the old Special Edition. Held together by John Cork of the Iam Fleming Foundation, this cuts together interviews with various members of the cast and crew and aims for scene-specific contributions from each. As such, we have composer being interviewed during the opening titles and the commentary continues in this vein throughout. A touch dry but rarely dull, this is a good commentary that's made all the more interesting by the many, many contributors involved.
Otherwise, there are all of the features brought over from the old Special Edition as well as a feature on the restoration of the Bond films, one on the guns of James Bond and, as is common on these Ultimate Editions, an Interactive Guide to this feature.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 04:58:06