The Spy Who Loved Me appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though generally satisfactory, some parts of the transfer caused concerns.
Edge enhancement was my primary complaint. Some rather prominent haloes cropped up during the movie, and it occasionally took on a slightly rough “digital” appearance. This also led to more than a few moderately soft shots, though the majority of the flick demonstrated pretty good definition and delineation. At least these problems decreased as the movie progressed. I noticed no signs of jagged edges or moiré effects, and source flaws were limited. A handful of specks and blotches showed up, but these were exceedingly infrequent.
Colors were usually more subdued than in most Bond films. Some instances of bright and vivid hues occurred, but for the most part, the film used gunship gray or brown as the primary tones. As such, this rendered the movie in a somewhat bland manner and makes the picture appear a bit flat at times. Still, the colors we saw did look fairly accurate and true, so I didn't have any major complaints about them. The black levels were fine, with deep and dark tones, and shadow detail appeared perfectly adequate. Overall, Spy offered a pleasant and watchable image, albeit one with a few problems that dropped my grade to a “B-“.
A bit better but also erratic were the film's soundtracks. As with all the Bond “Ultimate Editions”, this one featured both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes. If any significant differences cropped up, I didn’t notice them. I thought the pair sounded virtually identical.
The tracks offered pretty decent little soundfields given the age of the material. Unsurprisingly, the center channel bore much of the audio burden, but the imaging often spread to the front right and left speakers and did so effectively. The transitions could seem a little harsh and the image wasn't incredibly well-blended, but the localization appeared decent and the effect spread out the sound adequately.
The mixes used the surrounds sporadically but well. For the most part, they kicked in only during the action scenes but some other appearances occurred as well, such as during the "Pyramids" scene when the rears nicely reinforced the echo effect. For an old movie, the activity level of the various channels seemed more than adequate.
The quality of the audio was a bit iffier, however. Like many Bond flicks, dialogue seemed heavily dubbed, but not always effectively. I found the tone of the speech to vary quite a lot throughout the movie; much of it seemed relatively stiff and cold, but at times it could appear decently warm and natural. Barbara Bach's lines were the worst-sounding overall. I got the impression someone else's voice was dubbed over hers, though I found no evidence this was the case.
The music worked fairly well. Marvin Hamlisch’s score appeared acceptably smooth and lush, and the famous pseudo-title song "Nobody Does It Better" came across nicely. Effects were also generally clear and realistic, though these could be erratic as well. For example, look at the chase scene when Bond drove the Lotus; its engine seemed thin and wan, but the motorcycle behind it appeared full-bodied and taut.
Some distortion negatively affected the explosions and other loud effects, though not to an unacceptable degree, as a bit of harshness from these elements is typical for an older film. I noticed slightly distorted dialogue during the scene in which Bond met his MI6 crew in the Pyramid. A light layer of tape hiss could be heard on occasion. All of this added up to flawed but more than acceptable audio given the vintage of the source material.
How did the picture and audio of this “Ultimate Edition” compare to those of the prior release from 2000? The audio was a wash when I compared the two, as I heard no significant differences between the discs. However, the picture was another matter. I gave both discs “B-“ grades but they earned those marks for different reasons. The UE seemed cleaner than the 2000 disc but it was less well-defined and a little flatter. Which one you prefer will depend on whether you like a clean but soft image instead of a sharp but somewhat dirty presentation. Neither stands out as a clear winner.
This “Ultimate Edition” includes many of the previous package’s extras along with some new ones. I’ll mark exclusive elements with an asterisk, so if you fail to see a star, the component also appeared on the old disc.
On DVD One, we get two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Lewis Gilbert, set designer Ken Adam and special assistant to the producer Michael Wilson; screenwriter Christopher Wood joins them after 33 minutes for this running, screen-specific chat. They discuss locations and set design, characters and story issues, stunts and effects, cast members and general production subjects.
This commentary offers a decent look at the movie, but it featured too many "that was good!" moments. I found lots of interesting information, but those other moments of reflection weigh down the piece to a degree, whereas they're rarely heard in the assembled commentaries. Still, I enjoyed the track and think it's worth a listen.
In addition to a few brief periods without any statements, the track includes one major gap that goes on for a few minutes. This break occurs at 47 and a half minutes; the track remains silent for about six minutes. While the old DVD offered a subtitle that alerted us to the amount of time we needed to wait for the commentary to restart, this one cuts us adrift. It seems odd that the DVD’s producers would eliminate such a helpful feature.
For the second commentary, we get a running, screen-specific chat with *actor Sir Roger Moore. At its start, he tells us that he plans to provide general notes and not give us actual screen-specific material… before he delves into very screen-specific material. Actually, this dominates only the first portion of the commentary, as Moore loosens up after a while and offers more anecdotal information for much of the rest of the track.
Moore chats about his impressions of various cast and crewmembers, sets, locations, stunts and other technical issues, and various thoughts about making a Bond movie. As I noted, early parts of the track focus strongly on the film’s specific scenes, but as Moore warms to the task, he digs more general subjects. Moore boasts a nice wry sense of humor that he exhibits as he offers many interesting story about his life and career. These always connect to Bond in some way, so even though they may relate to other projects, there’s always a link to Spy.
Moore also proves to be quite frank about his experiences. No, he doesn’t sling dirt about co-stars or anyone, but he isn’t afraid to tells stories at his own expense. This is one actor who doesn’t pretend that he did all his own stunts, and he even lets us know how a nasty case of the shingles affected him during the Spy shoot! Occasional examples of dead air make this track a little slow at times, but Moore gives us enough useful and entertaining material to make it a winner.
As we shift to DVD Two, the extras appear under five different banners. Declassified: MI6 Vault starts with *007 in Egypt. This six-minute and 11-second featurette runs 16mm footage from the set accompanied by commentary from Michael Wilson. As we watch the behind the scenes material, Wilson tells us about the images and general notes about the shoot. Some of this repeats information in the main audio commentary, but Wilson fleshes out the shots well, and we see some interesting elements.
Another featurette called *Roger Moore: My Word Is Bond goes for four minutes, 31 seconds. Wilson introduces the piece, which then leads into a compendium of interview snippets. We hear from Moore on the set late in 1976. He chats a little about how the role affects him, comparisons with The Saint, what he does between Bonds, his family, and other aspects of the 007 movies. Despite this piece’s brevity, Moore proves witty and engaging. That makes this an enjoyable program.
*On Location With Ken Adam fills five minutes and 55 seconds. These give us more “home movies” shot on location for Spy. Adam himself narrates the images. He tells us about the spots and lets us know more about what we see. Adam gives us some nice insights in this quick but effective segment.
For an original 1977 featurette, we go to the one-minute and 10-second *007 Stage Dedication. It takes us to the Pinewood studio’s opening in December 1976. Don’t expect anything scintillating, but it’s nice as an archival piece.
“Declassified” ends with a *Escape from Atlantis Storyboard Sequence. It goes for two minutes, 20 seconds and comes with another intro from Wilson. These offer a slightly different version of the movie’s ending, and that makes them moderately interesting.
With that we head to the *007 Mission Control Interactive Guide. This splits into components under seven different headings: “007”, “Women”, “Allies”, “Villains”, “Mission Combat Manual”, “Q Branch”, and “Exotic Locations”. An odd form of “greatest hits”, this simply presents a few selected scenes that match the topics.
One of the only interesting elements comes from the presentation of the opening credits without text (2:42). Pervs rejoice: the absence of text means we can see some full-frontal nudity originally obscured by the words. “Locations” (4:50) also gives us a narrated set of clips. Maud Adams chats over the scenes and tells us about the locations. That makes it more useful than the others since they just show snippets from the final film. Those parts are a waste of time.
Heading to Mission Dossier, we begin with Inside The Spy Who Loved Me. The 40-minute and 38-second piece includes comments from Gilbert, Moore, Adam, art director Peter Lamont, actor Richard Kiel, and editor John Glen plus lots of great archival interviews and other behind the scenes footage. In the latter category we find such great stuff as raw shots of the stunts and Barbara Bach's test scene plus a plethora of other wonderful material, such as details about how Stanley Kubrick (!) became involved in the film. All in all, it's a genuinely entertaining and informative program.
A second video program appears as well. Called Ken Adam: Designing Bond, this 21-minute and 41-second piece provides a nice biography of production designer Adam, who worked on seven Bond films. Adam deserves a lot of credit for the success of Bond, since his elaborate sets helped create the atmosphere for the movies, and this documentary does a nice job of relating his successes to us. We get a basic biography of Adam but the main focus is on his work for the Bond films, of course, and we discover a lot of good information about this area through interviews with Adam and his cohorts plus a variety of behind-the-scenes materials. It's yet another fine documentary that is very enjoyable and interesting.
Ministry of Propaganda splits into three areas. Theatrical Archive features three trailers. Two of those are very good teasers - the first one, which has a fun introduction from Moore, is the best - and the other is a standard theatrical piece. Six TV spots can be found, all variations on the trailers except for the sixth, which features intermittent narration from a bevy of seemingly-naked beauties. Twelve mildly interesting radio ads complete this area.
Finally, the Image Database presents a Photo Gallery. This breaks down into nine areas. We get sections devoted to “The Filmmakers” (five images), “Portraits” (11), “Pre-Credits Ski Action” (10), “Sardinia” (10), “Bahamas” (7), “Egypt” (4), “Pinewood” (4), “The 007 Stage” (8) and “Around the World with 007” (13).
The Spy Who Loved Me stands as possibly the best of Roger Moore's Bond films, and although that may seem faint praise, it shouldn't diminish the fact that this is a very good film. The DVD provides decent picture and sound plus a strong array of supplemental features. Spy makes a good purchase for Bond fans and for those who think they might find it interesting as well; it's a fun movie and a fairly positive DVD package.
How about those aficionados who already own the original Spy DVD – should they snag the “Ultimate Edition”? Only if they care about the new supplements. Audio seems similar for both discs, and while the new transfer fixes some problems, it adds a few of its own. The Spy UE is desirable mainly for its smattering of added supplements.
Note that this “Ultimate Edition” of The Spy Who Loved Me can be purchased only as part of “The Ultimate James Bond Collection Volume Two”. This five-movie set also includes A View to a Kill, Thunderball, Die Another Day, and Licence to Kill.
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