A smokey London casino. A woman in a red dress is defeated at the baccarat table by a tuxedo-clad man. "I admire your luck Mr...?" she says. "Bond. James Bond," he replies, casually sparking up a cigarette. So goes Sean Connery's now-iconic introduction in Dr No. Charming, sophisticated and with a licence to kill, Ian Fleming's 007 has entertained cinemagoers for 50 years, and now his exploits are available in one impressive 22-film Blu-ray collection.
For Bond aficionados and movie fans, the collection is an absolute steal at £90. The 007 movies may cycle through peaks and troughs, but they've played a vital role in defining the Hollywood blockbuster and modern action hero. Without Bond, there would be no Indiana Jones, Jason Bourne or Ethan Hunt. When it comes to saving the world, nobody does it better.
Sean Connery, a former Mr Universe contestant, was the key man in shaping Bond's cinematic portrayal. Guided by producers Albert R Broccoli, Harry Saltzman and debonair director Terence Young, he brought lethal charm and icy cool to the role straight from the off. If Dr No was about fine-tuning the character, then sequels From Russia with Love and Goldfinger were near-perfect.
Russia still stands up as one of the series' best with its intricate spy thriller plot and keen eye on Cold War paranoia, while Goldfinger's bombastic Shirley Bassey theme, menacing villain, gilded Shirley Eaton and no-nonsense love interest Pussy Galore (Honour Blackman) pulled together crucial elements that the franchise would repackage to great effect in the years to come.
As the '60s drew to a close, Connery became unsettled in the role and voiced a desire to leave 007 behind. The straw that broke the camel's back apparently came during a press trip to Japan for You Only Live Twice when photographers followed him to the bathroom.
Australian model George Lazenby bagged the role for 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a film that saw 007 marry then tragically see his wife gunned down seconds before the end credits rolled.
Lazenby was awkward as Bond but his lack of confidence seemed to serve the character well - he was more human and vulnerable than Connery, who by the time of You Only Live Twice had transformed Bond from spy to superhero. OHMSS may lack a convincing leading man, but its stunning Swiss Alps-set action, incredible John Barry score and memorable performance by Diana Rigg make it a movie that's collected many new fans over time.
Lazenby departed the role after OHMSS and Connery made a brief return in Diamonds are Forever before handing the baton on to Roger Moore. His turn as Simon Templar on TV's The Saint made him a natural fit, and he quickly managed to put his own stamp on the series. Whereas Connery could be brutal and savage, Moore played Bond for laughs. A quip or raised eyebrow followed the dispatching of his latest foe as this incarnation of 007 could sit comfortably alongside the playful action-adventure antics of Indiana Jones.
Moore's third outing in The Spy Who Loved Me is easily his finest hour as Bond. From the breathtaking pre-credits parachute jump to the finale in Karl Stromberg's underwater lair, it has the franchise formula down pat. Plus, who could forget the giant metal-toothed henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel)? The fact that Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan has singled it out for praise speaks volumes for its quality.
Whereas Bond had often been a trendsetter, as the series moved into the '80s it began to get creaky and imitate popular movies of the time. Moonraker was rushed into production due to the success of Star Wars and Superman, and Octopussy was a direct reflection of the Indiana Jones adventures. Sandwiched in between them, however, was the impressive For Your Eyes Only, a pared-down thriller that took 007 back to basics.
Moore signed off the the limp A View to a Kill in 1985 (at 57, he was older than Bond girl Tanya Roberts's mother!) and an exhaustive search for his replacement danced around Sam Neill and Pierce Brosnan before finally settling on Timothy Dalton.
The lean, brooding Welshman's first outing The Living Daylights ditched the humour of Moore's era to harken back to Ian Fleming's source material and Connery's early outings.
Dalton's hard edge suited Daylight's Cold War story of defection and deception, but his follow-up Licence to Kill saw him fully take hold of the part. Operating outside of MI6, Bond embarks on a violent revenge mission after his CIA pal Felix Leiter and new wife Della fall victim to a ruthless drug lord. However, Licence to Kill diverted from formula and slipped behind blockbusters such as Batman and The Last Crusade at the box office.
Dalton resigned from the role in the early '90s as legal wrangles between studio MGM and Eon kept 007 off the screen, leaving the path clear for Pierce Brosnan to pick up the Walther PPK eight years after his close call with Living Daylights.
Many questions hung over the series prior to the release of GoldenEye in 1995. Was Bond still relevant now that the Cold War was over? Were audiences still interested after the long screen absence? Could 007 still compete with "everymen" action heroes like Bruce Willis? Martin Campbell's film answered all those questions and more in spectacular fashion. Communist Russia crumbled during the opening credits and the casting of Judi Dench as M was a masterstroke. She quickly cuts Brosnan's smug 007 down to size by branding him a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur".
Bond, though, did not really change. Brosnan blended Connery's fighter with Moore's lover to create a "greatest hits" 007. By investing his Bond with humour (something lacking in Dalton's portrayal), the character was a hit with audiences again, even though the films that followed GoldenEye perhaps didn't do his performances justice. Brosnan's final outing Die Another Day veered into the ridiculous, leading producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson to reboot the franchise with a new leading man.
Daniel Craig emerged as the sixth 007 after screen-testing against the likes of Sam Worthington and Henry Cavill. His casting was met with derision by the hardcore Bond fanbase, but the actor's earlier turn in crime drama Layer Cake and career momentum (he had just finished Munich with Steven Spielberg) pointed towards someone who could bring a new dimension to the character.
Using Fleming's Casino Royale as the starting point, returning director Campbell and Craig managed to humanise Bond, now an MI6 rookie, by having him fall for Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). The relationship's tragic end mirrored that of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and was a key element in re-energising the franchise in 2006. Matt Damon's Jason Bourne had overtaken Bond as the number one movie spy, but Craig's 007 experienced pain and heartbreak just like the amnesiac CIA agent. Suddenly, the Bond series felt more personal.
Craig's second outing Quantum of Solace didn't match the high of its predecessor, but with the promise of "Bond with a capital B" for Skyfall, all signs point towards a positive big screen future for 007.
The Bond 50 box set is immaculately presented in two book-style cases containing the 22 007 films, a blank space for Skyfall's eventual home release and a disc reserved for bonus material.
Each individual film Blu-ray is stuffed with extras, with cast and crew commentaries, behind-the-scenes features and music videos from the likes of Duran Duran, Tina Turner and Jack White and Alicia Keys. Much of the content will be familiar to Bond fans who've purchased previous DVD and Blu-ray releases, but the bonus disc packs include material about the six actors who've played James Bond, a 'World of Bond' documentary taking in girls, gadgets and 007 style, and a collection of the Skyfall video blogs.
Much of this is archive material or previously-seen footage, but nevertheless this is an absolutely essential purchase for 007 completists.
James Bond star ratings film-by-film:
Dr No (1962) / From Russia with Love (1963) / Goldfinger (1964) / Thunderball (1965) / You Only Live Twice (1967) / Diamonds are Forever (1971)
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Live and Let Die (1973) / The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) / The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) / Moonraker (1979) / For Your Eyes Only (1981) / Octopussy (1983) / A View to a Kill (1985)
The Living Daylights (1987) / Licence to Kill (1989)
GoldenEye (1995) / Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) / The World is Not Enough (1999) / Die Another Day (2002)
Casino Royale (2006) / Quantum of Solace (2008)
The James Bond 22-Film Blu-ray collection is available to buy from September 24. (c) 2012 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. TM Danjaq, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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