James Bond
Live and Let Die
Ultimate Edition 2-Disc DVD Set

Starring: Roger Moore
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: 16.99
Certificate: PG
Available 17 July 2006

James Bond faces his most terrifying ordeal yet. Battling the forces of black magic in a high-octane adventure that takes him from the streets of New York, through Louisiana's bayou country to voodoo-infested Jamaica, 007 must take on the powerful drug lord Dr Kananga and his gangland "associate" Mr Big...

Making an impressive debut, Roger Moore manages to inject a little more humanity into Bond, as George Lazenby attempted to do in 1969. Although the tactics he uses to woo Solitaire (Jane Seymour) are undeniably underhanded, Bond nevertheless demonstrates a tenderness towards his lover that we had seldom seen before.

The task of replacing Sean Connery is made easier for Moore by the efforts of writer Tom Mankiewicz and the rest of the production team, who engineer dialogue and situations that are free of associations with previous Bond movies, thus helping to avoid direct comparisons between the two actors. As the "making of" documentary and three (yes, three!) audio commentaries reveal, Bond's dialogue in Live and Let Die contains none of the familiar catchphrases, aside from the inevitable "My name is Bond, James Bond." At no point during this movie does 007 order a vodka martini, don a tuxedo, or even appear on the familiar set of M's office. Even the supernatural subject matter, with its references to voodoo and Solitaire's use of Tarot cards, is unique among the Bond films - as was Fleming's original novel among his Bond books.

The plot, in particular the role of Solitaire, bears closer comparison with Fleming's book than Diamonds Are Forever does with its source material. Nevertheless, the details of the story are sufficiently different that the screenplay could be adapted and integrated with relative ease into the literary Bond canon. The gap of almost 20 years that exists between the novel and its cinematic counterpart means that Solitaire in the latter version could actually be the daughter of the original Tarot reader - though not, I hasten to add, a daughter by Bond, because of course he ends up sleeping with her! This would actually tie in well with the screenplay's references to how Solitaire's mother fulfilled a similar function until she lost her ability to read the cards. "Mr Big" could be a title that has been held by a succession of gangland bosses, a position that Kananga has now adopted as an alias. The names Tee Hee and Whisper would need to be changed, though Quarrel Jr could remain the same character.

Other memorable aspects of the movie include further assaults upon the American police force during the spectacular speedboat chase. This involves the first of two Bond appearances by the unforgettable Clifton James as the loud-mouthed Southern sheriff, JW Pepper. Yaphet Kotto puts in a charismatically unhinged performance in his dual role as Kananga/Mr Big. Composer George Martin fills John Barry's shoes expertly with a rousing and refreshing incidental score and one of the best Bond title songs ever, performed by Paul McCartney and Wings.

In addition to previously released extra features including an amusing cross-promotional TV advertisement by the UK's milk marketing board, this Ultimate Edition offers rare gems such as 20 minutes from a lost 1973 documentary and a 1964 sketch from the short-lived comedy show Mainly Millicent, starring Roger Moore... as James Bond! The production values of this sketch aren't terribly high, and there are a number of action-related fumbles, but it still makes fascinating viewing.

Moore has also recorded additional commentaries for all seven of his Bond movies. Owing to the decades that have elapsed since the production of these films, the actor does not attempt to provide scene-by-scene commentaries, but takes a more conversational approach, using the movies that play out in front of him as a springboard for often witty and sometimes intimate recollections from the entire span of his career.

Thankfully, now that it is spread over two discs, the Ultimate Edition isn't as painfully slow to load as the previous DVD release had been. Altogether, it's to die for.

Richard McGinlay

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