Here’s the one that started it all. Although the sixth novel in the series by Ian Fleming, Dr. No is James Bond’s debut on the silver screen and turned Sean Connery into an international star. This film serves as a template as so many of the signature elements found within have been repeated throughout the series, from the opening gun barrel sequence to Bond ending up with the girl in the film’s conclusion. The major element missing is Q the gadget man.
British agent John Strangways is on assignment in Jamaica to discover what is disturbing tests done at Cape Canaveral, the United States base in Florida. After his death, Bond is sent by M (Bernard Lee, who played the role in eleven films) to investigate. Once there, Bond quickly makes the acquaintance of friends, like CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), and enemies. The clues lead Bond to a nearby island and its main resident, Dr. No. Once on the island, Bond crosses paths with seashell collector Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress whose voice was dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl). They both get captured and at dinner Dr. No, in typical villain fashion, reveals his plans and announces he is a member of the international terrorist organization known as SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion). Naturally, Bond saves the day.
While Bond fans may enjoy Dr. No’s historic significance and there are a number of good scenes, the film doesn’t hold up in modern times. Its old age is apparent from the almost sluggish pacing, the filmmaking techniques, and the attitudes. Long stretches go by with characters talking. There’s not a lot of action and what there is isn’t very impressive. The sequence in Miss Moneypenny’s office is poor. The lighting casts shadows every which way from the multiple lights, and the set looks hastily thrown together like a high school production. Bond walks around like he’s in an Axe bodywash commercial as nearly every woman falls under his spell just from looking at him. It’s such a pathetic male fantasy it’s hard to take seriously. The worst decision is white actors playing main characters who are Chinese. Dr. No is Eurasian but they should have gotten someone who looked the part because the actor’s eye make-up is terrible. The choice for Miss Taro is even more ridiculous as they use eyeliner to augment the shape of her eye. It’s not like actress Zena Marshall was a major star so surely a Chinese actress could have played the part.
One of the sillier moments in Dr. No is an attempt on Bond’s life involving a tarantula. It’s not clear how this was supposed to work, but at the very least the villain had to sneak into Bond’s room while he slept and place the tarantula in his bed, if not on his person. Bond awakes to find the creature crawling on him and remains perfectly still to avoid its dangerous bite. Considering how close he got, why the tarantula wrangler couldn’t have killed Bond while he slept is inexplicable. They had already killed one agent, so Bond’s death would have caused the arrival of more agents regardless.
The video looks fantastic for a film that came out in 1962. The transfer must have come from a recent printing of the negative. The colors are bright and crisp, especially evident when a red shirt contrasts with the blue Jamaican sky. The blacks are strong and the detail of Bond’s tux is evident. Speaking of detail, while all the lines may not be as sharp as modern films, there’s a great depth of field and textures are evident throughout.
The audio is presented in DTS HD 5.1, but is just the original film audio split up. The surround doesn’t get a great deal of use and it doesn’t always sound natural. For originalists, a mono track is available. The famous “James Bond Theme” sounds great and appears throughout.
The special features are carried over from the recent Ultimate Bond DVD release, but what a treasure trove. The commentary track features audio from interviews with director Terence Young and others who worked on the film. “License to Restore” is a well-deserved look at the film’s restoration. To compare the work done, there is archival footage in really terrible condition visually, yet the inclusion of this material should send Bond fans reeling with excitement from a 1963 featurette on the film to different advertising materials. A few features not specific to Dr. No include a look at the Bond films’ premieres and at the guns of James Bond. The only drawback is the Blu-ray menu requires a bit of work and is more difficult than it needs to be. Only a few options can be accessed at a time. Three features are presented in high definition: one about director Young, one about the locations, and one about the film itself.
Dr. No is part of the first collection of Bond films on Blu-ray. Bond fans will surely want it in their collection, especially if they don’t have the Ultimate Edition DVD. Its historical significance in cinema and the special features make up for the film’s flaws that time has revealed.