Sunday, April 29, 2012

Banned Criterion Collection #1: Dr. No

The James Bond films hold a special place in my heart.  They were some of the first films my father and I bonded over.  It was one of the things we'd watch when we had the house to ourselves.  Just a guys night, eating pizza, drinking soda, and watching some fun action films.  I thought I'd take a look at the franchise and revisit some of these films of my boyhood days.

The first James Bond film, Dr. No, solidified a franchise that's lasted for fifty years.  Criterion released the first three Bond films on laserdisc in 1991, but soon afterward EON Productions (they produced the Bond films) asked Criterion to recall all of the unsold laserdiscs.  They found the commentary tracks unflattering to Albert R. Broccoli (one of the original producers) and so the Criterion versions of the film became scarce and valuable.

People traded mp3's of the commentary online that could be synced up and listened to while watching the film.  It was tedious, but workable until someone made the laserdiscs into DVD's which can be found online with a little detective work.

I want look at these first three films which also fit nicely into my neglected column: Crawling through the Criterion Collection.

Dr. No
United Kingdom 1962, 109 minutes
Directed by Terence Young

James Bond was one of my favorite cinematic experiences when I was a kid, so I was interested in seeing if they measured up to my expectations.  The opening sequence certainly did.  The classic Bond walking out and shooting right at the camera sent waves of excitement through me.

The 3 blind assassins is a great way to open the film by showing us Jamaica through them.  Plus its just a great little character bit.  Once it becomes clear they aren't truly blind, and we've seen them kill a British agent, the stage has been set for James Bond to come and set things straight.

We're introduced to Bond while playing Baccarat in a casino.  This is the same moment where he picks up what is the first of many women over the course of the franchise.  Then there is the classic flirtations between James and Ms. Moneypenny, before the boss gives him his trademark Walter PPK and sends him off to Jamaica to figure out what the devil is going on.

He's thrown immediately in the thick of some intrigue, where all signs point to a mysterious island that no one ever comes back alive from.  The locals are all afraid of and a man by the name of Dr. No.  This first of the Bond villains has been a busy boy building the island while at the same time knocking American rockets out of the sky.  The Americans know whatever is ruining their rockets originates from the area but they don't know how.  Bond ends up finding his way to the island with the help of his local contact.

Ursula Andress plays Honey Ryder, the first Bond Girl.  She's a naif who collects shells on the island but gets mixed up in things once Dr. No's henchmen begin searching for Bond to capture him.  It's clear that both she and Sean Connery are busy sucking their guts in while they cavort on the beach, which was kind of funny.  Got to look more fit than you actually are.

Bond and Ryder are picked up and taken to Dr. No's headquarters and sent through a decontamination machine, then locked into a room before a face to face meeting with Dr. No who readily admits he has his own nuclear reactor that powers the island.

Of course Bond escapes, and throws a wrench into Dr. No's plan to destroy another American rocket just for good measure.  How does he do that?  Simple, he melts down the reactor and blows it up.

Wouldn't that kill him you may ask?  Surprisingly not, and with Jamaica only a few miles away, it has to be the cleanest nuclear meltdown ever.  One only needs to think of the recent reactor problems in Japan to realize how silly this sort of thing truly is.

Dr. No works for a group called SPECTRE which wants to flex its muscle on the world stage, and I believe rears its ugly head again in later films.

I found the movie to be somewhat campy, which is why it was spoofed so spot on in Austin Powers.  Don't get me wrong, there were still some great moments that kept it from sinking too far into B-Movie status, but just barely.  This is a Bond film I won't soon return to.  I hope the rest of the films aren't as slow and plodding as this one was.  Stay tuned to find out.

Laserdisc Supplements:

There was a making of Dr. No slide show that lasted 30 minutes.  It had a few good bits of information, but was mostly tedious. 

The commentary was insightful and a little pointed at times, but is only something of interest to completist fans. 

The real gem for me were some amazingly well done bread commercials for Bond Bread.  They were done in the character and manner of James Bond.  It was a fantastic bonus that I'd never heard about before.

Since the Criterion is pointless to buy unless you own a laserdisc player, get the blu ray here: