There are major religions, entire systems of political thought, that are less adoring of their founders than MGM/UA is of its signature superspy — a revelation that will dawn on anyone who spends time with The Ultimate James Bond. This exhaustive compendium of 17 Bond films, from 1962’s Dr. No to last year’s GoldenEye (excluding the 1967 spoof Casino Royale and 1983’s ”renegade,” as it’s labeled here, Never Say Never Again), includes dozens of quirky bios and character sketches, hundreds of photos and video clips, and a challenging quiz. And the two-disc set — which comes with a videocassette of GoldenEye — doesn’t just break the Bond oeuvre into its constituent parts, it pulverizes it as surely as Ernst Blofeld tried to decimate civilization in You Only Live Twice.
Cleverly configured as a futuristic personal digital assistant — a gimmick that should appeal to the Walter Mittys, tech-heads, and sophisticates who seem to constitute Agent 007’s core fan base — Bond has been organized according to the familiar story elements that have helped propagate the longest-running series in movie history. Thus, you can fawn over the luscious Bond women (such as Dr. No‘s Honey Ryder and Goldfinger‘s Pussy Galore), hiss at the odious Bond villains, and visit Q-Sector for a nostalgic peek at favorite gadgets, including Bond’s handy Walther PPK and Licence to Kill‘s exploding Dentonite toothpaste.
It’s fine to catalog, categorize, and cross-reference this abundance of minutiae; the trouble is, the encyclopedic level of detail can grow wearying — and you know that 007 himself wouldn’t be caught dead comparing the features of a Toyota 2000 GT with those of an Aston Martin DB-5. Fortunately, the producers throw in some neat bonuses: animated ”mission maps” (while Dr. No transpires in a straight line from London to Jamaica, The Living Daylights is a veritable tangle of such locales as Gibraltar, Bratislava, and Vienna); behind-the-scenes photos (Sean Connery, in suit and tie on the lunar set of Diamonds Are Forever, shooting an ad for the British Milk Board); and cocktail-party-ready nuggets of trivia. If you’ve ever chuckled at producer Albert Broccoli’s name, you may be edified to learn that according to this disc, the vegetable was actually named after his ancestors in Italy.
Commendably, MGM Interactive isn’t averse to peeking behind the surface of the object of its veneration. There’s a hilarious essay about one-time 007 George Lazenby, who endeared himself to colleagues in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by declaring ”I am James Bond. I take chances as they come and, like Bond, I have an eye for the chicks.” (Responded Britain’s Family Weekly, ”george lazenby: arrogant egotist”.) And the story about Pierce Brosnan’s decade-long dalliance with 007 is fascinating, though the writers make the ex-Remington Steele star sound like the heir to the Dalai Lama.
One problem with The Ultimate James Bond is that it’s so centered on all things officially 007 that it comes off as, well, arrogant and egotistical. Too bad the producers didn’t include any parodies, like that hilarious Saturday Night Live sketch in which the Bond bad guys exchange tips at a roundtable. (”No more three-hour countdowns! Three, two, one … that’s it!”) No matter: If you know someone whose idea of heaven is TBS’ annual James Bond Marathon — accompanied by a pitcher of perfectly shaken martinis — I can’t think of a better holiday gift. A-