Thursday, June 01, 2006

Bond Bows in Hi-Def

Sean Connery informs Prof. Dent that he's had his six in DR. NO.

James Bond is making his world hi-definition premiere today on Film Fest HD, one of the VOOM channels available from Dish Network. All month long, 24/7, the channel will be showing "Ultimate Bond in HD" -- 17 different classic Bond films in cleaner, sharper, more brilliant detail than they have ever been seen before. The festivities began today with DR. NO, LIVE AND LET DIE, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, MOONRAKER and THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, all hosted by a tuxedoed, Walther PPK-toting David Hasselhoff, who treats viewers between films to Bondian trivia amid a high-tech wash of digital graphics.

After catching the very end of THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, I couldn't resist hanging around to watch a complete feature and had the luck to start at the beginning with 1962's DR. NO. The films are described as being shown in their original aspect ratios (as indeed THE SPY WHO LOVED ME was), but DR. NO was decidedly cropped to 1.78:1 from its original 1.66 ratio. The tops of some heads were cropped off, so we can almost certainly expect the same when the title comes to MGM HD DVD. That by-no-means-minor reservation aside, I was very impressed by the quality of the presentation; in HD, you can see the subtle makeup applied to Sean Connery's knuckles after a fistfight and, unlike some earlier home video releases which bumped up the color, the color volume in evidence here was absolutely realistic, with Quarrel's (John Kitzmiller's) hot red T-shirt standing out brilliantly against pools of pale green sea water. (I can see this will be an interesting and welcome aspect of HD transfers, their ability to present hot and cool colors in the same frame without heating/cooling or neutralizing both.) I don't believe I've seen DR. NO since watching the Criterion Collection laserdisc, and I remember writing about that release that the film looked conspicuously cheaper than its many successors. I don't know why that should have been the case, because this presentation gave the impression of a film that looked a good deal more expensive than I know it was. And the privilege of getting "closer" to Eunice Gayson, Zena Marshall and Ursula Andress through the miracle of HD is itself worth the price of installation. You can almost taste Miss Taro's lip gloss.

Among tomorrow's offerings: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. Having lived with HD television for awhile, one gets kind of used to it... but knowing that these two are in the offing, I'm feeling giddy about the possibilities.

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