George Lazenby (in plaid)
Remember my last blog about hiking to the Hollywood Sign? No, well go read it!
For the rest of you, I headed back to the same area yesterday. I had a ticket to watch On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the third film in the Alex Theatre's five-week event series "James Bond 007 50th Anniversary" which featured an appearance by that film's Bond, George Lazenby. The trail leading to The Batcave is on the way to the Alex Theatre in Glendale. And since my New Year's Eve mission this month was to "Visit the Batcave", I did just that!
The Batcave I'm talking about is the actual shooting location used in the 1960's Batman TV series starting Adam West and Burt Ward. It's located in an area just east of Hollywood called Bronson Canyon. I discovered this area last month while researching ways to get to visit the Hollywood Sign, my March NYE mission.
Now I've been a Batman fan for practically all my life, through both comic books and the 60's TV series. Watching it as a little boy, the infamous camp humor of the show was nowhere to be found. Instead, all I found were the brightest colors of the Dynamic Duo fighting against the forces of evil. Caped Crusaders to the rescue!!
So when I discovered where the actual Batcave was, where they shot the scenes of the George Barris-designed Batmobile roaring out of a secluded cave that was supposedly outside Wayne Manor, I was more than thrilled to check the place out for myself.
So nearly a month after I was here, I was back again! Back to the Camp Hollywoodland sign in Bronson Canyon to trek up the other pathway leading away from the Hollywood Sign and onto the bygone lair of Batman's secret underground headquarters.
Viewing the trail on Google maps, it was certainly a much shorter hike than the hike up to the Hollywood Sign. But I was surprised by how much shorter. It's about a ten minute walk from where I parked. Just up a curvy hill and you're there.
Me and The Batcave
I'll be honest. The entire moment was a little anti-climactic, not the least of which was due in part to the fact that there were a lot of cars parked in the area! Apparently, I showed up on a day when a music video was gonna be shot here. Also, it looked different than how I remembered it. I'd been told by a friend who'd been there that it'd be different, but it's a lot more striking to actually be there and see the difference.
I asked a nearby security guard if it was okay to roam through the area, and he said it was fine since they hadn't started shooting yet. I walked to the cave, walked through the cave, found more set ups for filming, and was pleasantly surprised to find a beautifully framed view of the Hollywood Sign from the other side of the cave. There's a road that circles around that leads you back to the front of the cave and that was the end of my tour.
I brought with me a small die-cast model of the 60's Batmobile and a DVD movie titled "Return to the Batcave". I had hoped to showcase them in the foreground of a shot of the Batcave somehow. But there were no rocks or low hills in front of the cave that I could use as a stand to put them on, the ground here being very level and plain. Plus there was production people walking around and the winds today were really gusty, so the notion went away fairly quickly.
But I was glad I got here in the afternoon, with the sun was behind me and flooding The Batcave area with a lot of natural light. I'm sure I got better shots at this time than if I'd decided to avoid freeway traffic and get here in the morning.
So that's my short visit to The Batcave. All told, I was there for probably just over a half hour. Nothing like my hours-long trek to the Sign. It was a productive little trip. And with some Adam West Batman action figures coming out this summer that might inspire better ideas for some pictures, methinks I'll be back...TO THE BATCAVE!
You can see the rest of my Batcave photos at my Flickr site.
This week's retailer exclusives gives me a great opportunity to talk about SteelBooks (SB) and my own SteelBook collection and the little bit of drama (for Bond Blu-ray enthusiasts anyway) that surrounded the original debut of Secret Agent 007 onto high definition.
Quantum of Blu
I've mentioned before that I'm not an enthusiastic SB fan. But just for the sake of having some examples of them in my Blu-ray collection (which ultimately came in handy during some product design assignments I got to work on), I ended up finding a fun motivation to pick a few up. The motivation: The name is Bond. James Bond.
The year was 2008, but unlike the release that took place earlier this month when the Bond 50 box set debuted, the films were released in two waves of smaller groups three or four films at a time over a period of several months.
But some retail chains were allowed to offer exclusive SB packaging for selected titles. I love me some James Bond every now and then, so I figured this would be a fine way to get some SBs in my library. And since this is a film series, I realized having all my James Bond films sharing the same SB packaging would look nice on my shelf.
So that's how I started my SB and James Bond collection.
The first wave was released on October 21, 2008. And Best Buy was the first retailer to offer them exclusively in SBs. I picked up Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Thunderball and For Your Eyes Only.
The second wave of Bond Blu-rays debuted on March 24, 2009 and this time, Amazon offered them in SBs exclusively. I picked up two more, Goldfinger and The World Is Not Enough.
By this time, 11 out of the 20 total pre-Daniel Craig James Bond films were out on Blu-ray. The titles that were out that I didn't add to my collection were Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun, Moonraker, Licence To Kill and Die Another Day. Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008) both debuted on Blu on October 21, 2008 and March 24, 2009 respectively, but were not offered on SB in the US. I figured that Craig's Bond films defined an entirely new era of 007 movies, so I was content to own those two in the standard plastic Blu-ray cases.
But of the original Bond classics, there were nine left still to come out. Did they release them? No. Why not? For the same reason it took four years for there to be a Bond film made between Quantum of Solace and the upcoming Skyfall. MGM was broke.
Licence to Blu - Uh...NOT!
Even as Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace were being produced, MGM, a co-distributor with Columbia Pictures of the James Bond films, was mired by over $3 billion in debt. This prevented any more home videos releases until their financial state was resolved.
After spending several months soliciting bids from studios and other investors to buy itself, MGM finally filed for bankruptcy on November 3, 2010. It came out of bankruptcy the following month and was able to finaiize distribution deals that not only allowed production of Skyfall to proceed but eventually lead to the January 2012 announcement of a new 22-movie Bond 50 box set and further releases of each of the movies separately.
For Your Blu Eyes Only...
The new Bond 50 box set went on sale October 2, 2012 in both Blu-ray Disc and DVD formats. It includes 22 James Bond films produced by EON Productions plus a bonus disc exclusive to the box set. Two other well-known James Bond films, Never Say Never Again and the 1966 spoof Casino Royale, were not produced by EON, so they are not included in this set. But they each have been released on Blu-ray already.
The remaining nine classic Bond films that we were waiting for when the other eleven were released finally got their individual releases on Blu-ray. However, for a short period of time, you'll need to do some hunting to find them as they are all retailer exclusives, each available only either at Best Buy, Target or Walmart.
Target Retailer Exclusives - Available Now
Walmart Retailer Exclusives - Available Now
Best Buy Retailer Exclusives - Available October 23, 2012
This exclusivity is a limited time thing. I expect in about three or four months, the titles will be available to buy from other retailers. And of course, the previous eleven titles that debuted back in 2008 and 2009 have also been re-issued individually with updated packaging art.
...but not on SteelBook
However, none of the nine new individual releases will arrive in SteelBook packaging in the US. There will be one title released on SB this December, GoldenEye, from an online UK retailer Play.com. But it's a Region B disc, and like we talked about last week, this UK release will only play on Region B Blu-ray players.
So for GoldenEye, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Tomorrow Never Dies and maybe The LIving Daylights (just to have a token Dalton Bond even tho' I really didn't enjoy his Bond), I will have to be patient and wait maybe until next year to see if somebody finally offers these on SB in the US. I mean, I just can't have my classic Bond collection not be all SteelBooks now, right?
In honor of today being Global James Bond Day, I decided I would do what thousands of other bloggers are doing this week: post my Top Five favorite Bond movies list.
How original, eh?
Now every top five list is subjective. Each person has their own criteria for what qualifies as “best” or “favorite”. They’ll probably justify it quantitatively and also mix in personal whims like “This was the one that introduced me to…” or “Despite its flaws, I’ll always have a soft spot for…”. And all that’s fair. That’s because it’s not your top five favorite list. It’s theirs.
And this one is mine.
But before I present my list, some disclaimers.
I’d like to point out that I’ve only read one Ian Fleming book, Dr. No. That was a looooong time ago, and all I remember from it is that through the book, I learned what guano is and also that the ending is quite different from the movie. I think I also read License Renewed, the first Bond adventure not written by Ian Fleming and intended to extend the publishing arm of the franchise. I don’t really remember much about it either. So for this list, I’m definitely not gonna be comparing books to movies in this list.
And finally, for this list I also considered the non-EON Productions films Casino Royale (the 1960’s parody with David Nivel and Woody Allen) and Never Say Never Again (the 1980’s Thunderball remake starring Sean Connery). A lot of Bond fans consider them non-canon. But a film’s a film. So I considered them. Well, I considered Never since I actually watched that. I’ve chosen to avoid the Casino Royale parody so far.
So, in no particular order...
Let’s get this one out of the way first. It was awesome! So awesome that it’s pretty much ruined my enjoyment of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond that I was a great fan of. In fact, Tomorrow Never Dies was my favorite Brosnan Bond until I watched it again recently, about a year after Craig's introduction into the Bond role. Craig’s straight, non-cheeky version of Bond completely screwed up my appreciation of all the cheeky lines in TND. I mean, cheeky lines were a part of James Bond as far as I was concerned, and Brosnan had played them off well. Once upon a time anyway.
And remember when there was a huge to do about Craig’s do? How the media and fans made such a brouhaha that Bond would now be a blonde. Remember that? Thank you, Mr. Craig, for blowing that issue out of the water.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
This one makes the list because (a) I didn’t expect much when I first watched it and (b) I love underdogs. George Lazenby was obviously an underdog when he took over the Bond role from Sean Connery. Now I only started watching Bond films in the 70’s, so Roger Moore was my favorite Bond as a kid growing up. And I enjoyed my first Moore Bond films not in theatres but as movies of the week on television.
When I finally got around to seeing OHMSS on television, I didn’t really know the history of Connery’s legacy playing Bond in the first five films of the series, and I probably had a tangential awareness that this was Lazenby’s only Bond film. But the script was solid, and Lazenby didn’t stand out as terrible to me. And the tragic ending earned big thumbs for me too. So I guess I’m saying for as bad as it could’ve been, it just wasn’t. Plussed out with The Avengers star Diana Rigg, Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All the Time in the World” and John Barry’s amazing new title theme, and it just couldn’t go wrong.
From Russia With Love
It was quite a while before I sat down and really watched Dr. No for what it is, the movie that introduced the character of James Bond to moviegoers. It was definitely after I graduated high school, maybe even after I graduated college. Like I said, Moore was the Bond I grew up with, so it took a while for Connery’s Bond to grow on me. Connery was more serious, more ruthless, less cheeky with the one liners. But as I got older, I ultimately outgrew Moore and started appreciating Connery. I eventually watched all of Connery’s Bond films, in chronological order, to see the development of Connery’s Bond character as well as the development of the Bond film series overall. And I got it. I got why Connery has legions of Bond fans. For me, Dr. No is a very raw Bond film, which makes sense as it was the filmmaker’s first pass at creating a cinematic James Bond. That’s why Connery’s second Bond film, From Russia with Love, is a bigger win for me and on this list. You can clearly see the filmmakers’ confidence in presenting the cinematic James Bond. Plus, this script was a solid action spy film. Throw in Desmond Llewelyn’s first appearance as Q and the formula (for me anyway) was set.
For Your Eyes Only
As an adult, I’ve grown to really dislike Moore’s Bond films as too campy to overcome. All of them except this one. The script for For Your Eyes Only was a complete change in tone from Moore’s previous five Bond films. It took a serious, decidedly less campy tone, and it completely works for me. Well, maybe not completely. There was the teenage ice skater character with the crush on obviously ancient Roger Moore that could’ve looked much creepier than it did if Moore hadn’t played it as well as he did. I also didn’t mind Bill Conti’s score. It’s decidedly got a rather dated 80’s vibe to it, so if it ain't for you, I’ll claim the “Despite its flaws, I’ll always have a soft spot for…” alibi on this one.
Plus, the beautiful Sheena Easton shown in the main title sequence singing the title song is a significant plus.
Like I said, I loved Pierce Bronsan as Bond when his series of Bond films debuted. The first two, GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies, were the better films of his oeuvre, with the Tomorrow being the better one for me. But damn, Daniel Craig, and your cool but ruthless seriousness! If I had watched TND since watching Craig's Casino Royale, a Brosnan Bond would’ve made this list. (And sorry, Timothy Dalton, but your Bond just never clicked for me.) So alas, I round out my top five Bond movies list with another Connery adventure.
The film after From Russia with Love was Goldfinger. And for some reason that I cannot clearly identify, Goldfinger just didn’t do it for me. I think maybe it’s that Bond had become less tough-as-nails from his previous adventure and too self-assured during Goldfinger. On the other hand, the fourth Bond film Thunderball plays better for me. It’s less over-the-top than Goldfinger was. And I love the Bond Girls in this one more. Almost 20 years later, Connery starred in Never Say Never Again, essentially a remake of Thunderball, a film produced by parties other then EON Productions due to movie rights ownership. It’s a flawed film, but good. If it had just taken the character seriously more often and had a much better soundtrack, it might’ve had a chance to make it on this list.
All About Me
A fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, comic books, Blu-rays, Disney, soundtracks, taking pictures, theatre and...Barry Manilow!