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Retro Rental: Prep for ‘Skyfall’ With the Ultimate James Bond Box Set

Bond 50 box set
MGM

[Each week, depending on what's in theaters, what's in the news or what's on his mind, film critic James Rocchi brings you The Retro Rental, an older film on disc or download that connects with the here-and-now ...]

Looking at the mammoth ‘Bond 50′ set, it’s a little startling to realize how compact a package it is considering it’s full of all the films making up one of the more enduring characters and series in the pop-culture canon. The 22 films, starting with 1962′s ‘Dr. No’ and ending with 2008′s ‘Quantum of Solace,’ and even with a blank space for ‘Skyfall‘ when it comes to disc in 2013 — a nice bit of long-term thinking that demonstrates that for Hollywood, for 50 years, selling Bond has been like buying bonds — is a solid investment, but better when you keep an eye on them. If, as has been said, pop culture’s major magic is how it changes your perception of time, (for me, I don’t so much like The Outfield’s “Your Love” as much as I like that it gives me reminders of my life when it came out that, memories that are somehow longer than and contained in its 3:42 running time) then Bond may be the movie franchise that makes that magic happen the most, for me anyhow, in part because I’m not that far from 50 myself.

You need to understand, though, that this set first and foremost looks amazing; as I joked to someone, in ‘A View to A Kill,’ the restoration on Blu-ray means you can see every strand of Christopher Walken’s glorious crazed technocrat hair…and also how incredibly old Rodger Moore is, specifically when Grace Jones prepares to bed him. But, at the same time, Moore is the Bond I grew up with, finding the films in the middle of the nicely-tuned late-’70s/early-’80s trio of ‘The Spy Who Loved Me, ‘Moonraker’ and ‘For Your Eyes Only’ — at that time, the aging, campy Moore of ‘View to a Kill’ and the silly, slapdash ‘Octopussy’ didn’t exist, but I had skipped over Moore’s debut in ‘Live and Let Die,’ which may be one of the most flat-out racist pieces of mass media ever made.

And, like all the great characters of the pop universe — and there’s not many, not many who’ve been pawed between leading men like this, a part of the canon batted Connery to Lazenby and back again like a cat toy — there’s the Bond who finds you and the Bond you discover. I pretty soon discovered Connery was my guy, even when the films were shaky; ‘Goldfinger,’ gorgeously presented here, may be my pick for the best Bond if only because it represents the start of a groove, not any part of a rut. And the fight scene in ‘From Russia with Love’ alone, here in speaker-rattling glory as Robert Shaw fights to kill Connery in a train compartment the size of, perhaps, your bathroom, is great action filmmaking.

And I also have a fondness for Brosnan, too. Before the later invisible cars and comic-book villains with electricity-hurling gauntlets, Brosnan had something hard and steely in his eye in ‘Goldeneye,’ which brought back Bond after Dalton’s wilderness years in the role spent thanklessly keeping it warm. ‘Goldeneye’ gave also us one of Bond’s best enemies, a equally-matched version of himself fallen from grace played by Sean Bean, an indelible bad guy portrait in a series known for great bad guys. Or maybe I just think that because I saw ‘Goldeneye’ with three of my best friends in the world when it came out, in a smalltown mall theater, and it was still a great day.

And Bond keeps surprising me, as well; ‘Casino Royale’ moves and grooves thanks to Martin Campbell’s direction. And Eva Green was everything you could want in a Bond girl — glamorous, tragic, actually involved in the plot for logical reasons and to plausible ends. (Yes, Denise Richards, I’m looking at you.) But ultimately, re-watching ‘Casino Royale’ on Blu-ray I was most invigorated by Craig’s no-nonsense approach to being Her Majesty’s Legbreaker; that bluntness meshed nicely with the sort of fidelity and understanding that kept ‘Casino Royale,’ in a startling development for the series, close to the actual book of the same name — including keeping the excruciating torture scenes of the book in, and in lengthy detail, suggesting a fidelity to the old fists-and-whisky expedient murders of the Connery years. And so the double-0′s circle back on themselves. And now I can’t wait for ‘Skyfall,’ which is both the point of the marketing but also the point of the movies, and good on them for a job well done.

Few franchises, in a Hollywood driven mad for them (and by them), have tried as hard for so long — or done as well — as these films. They’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but they’ve also constantly sought to keep the essential sharp-edged heart of the character and his mission at center, no matter what changes in actor or era or style surrounded it. As long as there’s civilization and its enemies — preferably comfortably fictionalized, separated by a razor-thin line, and walked by one man in a superbly-tailored suit — Bond will be here. Looking at the small-but-mighty punch of pop-culture power in the films and superb extras and loving restoration of the ‘Bond 50′ set, you realize how lucky we’ve been to have him.

‘Bond 50′ is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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