"Dr. No: Special Edition"

James Bond fights bad guys, saves the world and has lots of sex -- but in this one he does all of it better.

Published November 21, 2000 8:00PM (EST)

"Dr. No: Special Edition"
Directed by Terence Young
Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord
MGM Home Entertainment; widescreen
Extras: Cast and crew commentary, making-of documentary, documentary about director, featurette, trailer, TV and radio spots

"Dr. No" is the best of all the Bond films. It was the first in the longest-running series in movie history and remains the freshest installment of the lot. There may be girls and gadgets galore in "Dr. No," but there is no formula. This is the movie that defined James Bond as a screen presence and that established the tone and look for all the films that would follow, some wonderful and some pretty darn awful. It is also the movie that made Sean Connery an international star and Ursula Andress a pinup queen. All of this is explored in exquisite detail in the special-edition DVD version.

The plot, sticking faithfully to the Ian Fleming novel, has Bond dispatched to Jamaica, where mysterious energy waves are interfering with U.S. missiles and where a British agent has been murdered. Bond makes his way to the private island sanctuary of Dr. No, meets the curvaceous Honey Ryder (making one of the great movie entrances of all time) and soon finds himself a guest of the island's lord and master. In short order, Bond is fighting scores of bad guys, duking it out with the archvillain and saving the free world. He has lots of sex, too.

It all seems so clichéd now. But when "Dr. No" first opened in 1962, this was entirely new and very, very exciting. It was the "Star Wars" of its day.

The DVD's 40-minute making-of documentary, "Inside Dr. No," explores the genesis of the film, from the battle for the rights to the Bond books and casting the movie to production in Jamaica and England. "Dr. No" was a unique challenge for the filmmakers; they just didn't know what to make of the material. Terence Young was the producers' fourth choice as director, but his selection ended up being pivotal in creating the Bond character that is so familiar today. A playboy himself, Young used his own sense of style and sophistication to add color and flair to a secret agent/assassin who was a shade or two darker in the novels.

Finding an actor to play Bond was especially tricky. The part almost went to Cary Grant, but the producers knew they'd have trouble getting him back for sequels. They liked Roger Moore from the outset, but he was busy with TV. Connery's name came up after one of the producers saw him in "Darby O'Gill and the Little People." Young liked him immediately but knew he'd need work. As set director Ken Adam recalls: "Sean was a pretty rough diamond at that time. Terence taught him everything." Noel Coward was considered briefly for the role of Dr. No, but the part eventually went to Joseph Wiseman. Andress was cast as Honey Ryder as soon as the producers took one look at her, but her thick accent required all her dialogue to be dubbed by another actress.

Among the many info tidbits on the disc, viewers learn that the too-cool James Bond theme was adapted from music written for a stage version of V.S. Naipaul's "A House for Mr. Biswas." Who knew?

The DVD's audio commentary is a hodgepodge of recollections from the movie's cast and crew, mostly culled from long-ago interviews. The observations don't always jibe with what's on the screen, and many viewers may find it all a bit distracting. In any case, all the best stuff is used as well in the accompanying documentary.

This is the kind of package DVDs were made for. The disc's colors are bright and the soundtrack is crisp and clean. The extras, for a change, actually add to the film instead of serving as an adjunct of the marketing campaign. For Bond fans, it's a must.

By David Lazarus

David Lazarus covers business and technology for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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