In the early 1970s, the real world was still in the midst of social and economic upheaval, and the changing of the Bonds was for many a welcome distraction. Sean Connery had retired from the role, replaced in On Her Majesty's Secret Service by George Lazenby, the shortest-tenured 007 in the history of the film series. Connery returned for Diamonds are Forever before hanging up the Walther PPK for a second time. So who would the producers turn to for the inevitable next installment?
Known to audiences as a capable action hero from the TV series The Saint and The Persuaders!, Roger Moore had a knack for playing up the humor in his roles. Despite his own brand of gravitas, he was a softer, prettier Bond who moved the character away from his darker, heavier roots. His approach clicked with moviegoers, and would lead to six more films, through 1985's A View to a Kill.
In Live and Let Die however, James Bond faces off against an army of black drug dealers working under the auspices of the prime minister of a small island nation. I mention their race only because of the perceived racism on display, essentially black versus white for two hours, dishing up more than a couple of stereotypes, including a current of voodoo worship. That's the most dated aspect of an otherwise fun, satisfying spy adventure.
This was another of the full 4K-resolution video transfers created by the restoration experts at Lowry Digital Images, and once again their unique process has managed to pull out the most minute detail, often exceeding the quality of the original theatrical presentation. The off-putting grittiness of Harlem of the early '70s is even more striking in contrast to the pristine figure of Bond, first as a visitor and soon as a prisoner. There's some twitchy artifacting in the shadows, more actually than I observed in the earlier Dr. No, but certainly less than on many of the recent Blu-rays I've watched. The color choices in the art direction and the costumes are often wild, bordering on garish, with some extreme lighting to liven up the sets too, and these hues are more fully realized in high definition. Gone too is the telltale warmth of age seen in subsequent TV broadcasts. While I don't have crystal-clear memories of my big-screen viewing back in 1973, I'd dare say that this is the best that Live and Let Die has ever looked.
The dynamic range possible with DTS HD Master Audio combined with the aggressiveness of the 5.1-channel remix enable us to really appreciate the different orchestrations in the opening strains of the Bond theme from the very first moment. The new score was penned by Beatle producer George Martin, building upon a title song from Paul and Linda McCartney, and is considered by many to be the best of the entire series, or at least the most accessible, musically. The clarity suggests that the original tracks were beautifully recorded and the ambitious remix/remaster shifts everything from door knocks to car horns to voices into the rears, while a setpiece car/motorcycle/bus chase flaunts bold directionality. A helicopter flyover complete with strafing run also exploits the power of the multichannel soundfield, while a Southern swamp uses more subtle cues to feel truly "alive." The overall mix is well-balanced and extremely enjoyable.
The MI6 Commentary features three different voices each on his own track, an incredible array of talent providing their own unique perspectives on the making of this chapter: one from Sir (!) Roger Moore, one by director Guy Hamilton and another by screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz. Declassified: MI6 Vault opens to reveal "Bond 1973: The Lost Documentary" (22 minutes, in standard definition), the rare TV appearance "Roger Moore as James Bond, Circa 1964" (eight minutes, SD) and a brief SD bit about the conceptual art. 007 Mission Control takes us to any one of a number of listed topics within the film: 007, Women, Allies, Villains, Mission Combat Manual, Q Branch, Exotic Locations. The Mission Dossier featurettes take us "Inside Live and Let Die" (30 minutes, presented in AVC), "On Set with Roger Moore: The Funeral Parade" (two minutes, SD) and again "On Set with Roger Moore: Hang-Gliding Lessons" (four minutes, SD). Ministry of Propaganda showcases theatrical, TV and radio promos, and the Image Database serves up plenty of photos.
Live and Let Die introduced us to the first lasting successor to Sean Connery as James Bond, and Roger Moore's fast-paced romp is also a nostalgic throwback to the more carefree '70s. The restoration is squeaky-clean, the hip music further enlivens a fantastic soundtrack, and the trio of commentaries is a special gift to 007 fans.
The movie is available individually, or as part of a handy three-pack that spans nearly the entire Bond catalog, combining Live and Let Die with Sean Connery's debut turn in the in the very first outing, Dr. No (3.5 stars), another stunning 4K restoration, and the thoroughly modern Die Another Day (3.5 stars), Pierce Brosnan's 007 swansong and the last mission before the series reboot that took place with Casino Royale in 2006.
All three in this set feature spectacular DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio and their own long lists of supplements. Amazon.com is also offering an exclusive six-pack of all titles in the first wave of Bond Blu-rays, the above three plus From Russia with Love, Thunderball and For Your Eyes Only.
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Also available in the following sets: