The first wave of Blu-ray Bond movies leaves behind Sean Connery and moves into the Roger Moore era with his first film, Live and Let Die. For his first trick as 007, Moore avoids a lot of globe trotting and exotic locales and heads for a place no Bond has gone before: blaxploitation.
Live and Let Die may be the oddest James Bond movie to date. Not only does it have to deal with a new actor playing the part of Bond, but it also clearly attempts to capitalize on the blaxploitation genre of the era. The result is somewhat surreal, but still manages to be one hell of an adventure, and a movie that remains one of my favorite Bond stories, even if it is more of a guilty pleasure than an honest one.
The movie’s story starts out as more of an espionage tale than it ends up being. MI6 agents are being killed, and Bond is sent to New York to try and discover why. Whoever came up with the idea of the proper gentlemen Bond in Harlem, New York must have been joking, because the result on film is almost entirely laughable. For instance, an enemy in another car takes down Bond’s driver, leading for CIA agent Felix Leiter to put out a cry for “a make on a white pimpmobile.” Just hearing those words uttered in a Bond movie is weird enough, but as Bond descends into a world of voodoo and a criminal drug plot, he moves farther from espionage and the early scenes in Harlem almost seem normal by comparison. Still, in a world where we complain far too much about regurgitated ideas, Live and Let Die is absolutely original, and earns a lot of credit for that.
Previous Bond movies have put Bond’s enemies in black, but here they just are black. With rare exception, if you see an African American on screen, they’re a bad guy. The performances border almost completely on racist stereotypes, if not for the brilliant boss character excellently played by Yaphet Kotto. Yet, for a movie that attempts to capitalize on blaxploitation concepts, some of the decisions made are extraordinarily bizarre. For instance, this is the first movie to not use John Barry’s classic Bond score, which feels strangely absent, but the replacement doesn’t tie into Harlem or New Orleans at all, nor does the movie’s theme song, written by Paul McCartney. For a movie playing on black stereotypes, how white can you get then that?
Moore’s Bond is exceptionally different from the previous portrayal by Connery. Classic catchphrases aren’t there or are interrupted, cigars are the smoke of choice instead of cigarettes, and Bond doesn’t even order his signature drink. None of that stood out to me much while watching the movie, but it’s worth mentioning since we’re going through the same thing with the newest actor to take on the mantle of Bond. Changes have been made to the character’s mythos before and the franchise has survived it. Just because we have the Internet available to bitch about it now doesn’t mean Bond not ordering a martini shaken, not stirred, will spell the end of the Earth… or the franchise.
The difference in Moore’s Bond is more than just the typical things, however. Gone is Connery’s joyfully lecherous style, along with the feeling of watching a master at work as Bond makes his way through his mission. Moore comes across as a more lighthearted Bond. Instead of lechery, there’s more of a flirtatiousness with the women he encounters. Meanwhile, the new Bond throws comedic one-liners around with such casual skill, you can’t help but feel like the script was beefed up to add more based on the new actor. Moore’s bond feels less serious, but more playful about his work.
Taking Bond into the urban settings and stereotypes of blaxploitation films could have been a huge misstep for the spy. Instead it pays off with a memorable first jaunt for the new actor and one of 007’s more enjoyable, if less serious, adventures. It’s definitely not the best of Moore’s legacy, but Live and Let Die remains one of my favorite Bond pictures, a highly-quotable guilty pleasure.
Looking at the bonus material for Live and Let Die, there is instantly a visible difference in the Connery and Moore eras - primarily the key actor’s involvement in supplementary material. Connery was all but absent from everything but the movie on the Blu-ray releases for his movies, but Moore takes an active part in filling in the audience on the goings-on behind the scenes of his movies, from a commentary track featuring the actor to involvement in featurettes both then and now.
The Blu-ray transfer of Live and Let Die suffers a few of the same problems I noticed with the last movie in the series, Thunderball. I didn’t see any errant dirt or hairs, but one or two dark scenes show quite a bit of grainy noise. There’s a lot of this movie that takes place at night, so thankfully it’s not a recurring issue throughout, but it’s still annoying to see on a high definition transfer.
Honestly, I think I’ve said just about everything I can say about the kind of bonus material included on the disc in the past three reviews, both from complaints about repeating footage (and repeated bonus material) to praise for the “Inside ___” series that goes behind the scenes of the movie. What has been good on the other discs is good here. I still wish the vintage featurettes had been remastered and cleaned up a bit for their presentation here, since that’s really the only new thing MGM/Fox has given the series, and I still think these discs haven’t really given Bond fans enough of a reason to pick up the high definition editions. Still, the contents are pretty nice, and I’m sure if this was the first time this material was coming out I’d be rating the discs higher.
It’s nice to finally see the actor behind Bond involved more in explaining how the movie was made, but other than that Live and Let Die brings the same things the previous Blu-ray flicks offered for their respective movies. Of this first wave of Bond Blu-ray discs, this one is probably one of my favorite, just for the movie alone.