Updated: Jun 16
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Daniel Craig returns for his fifth and final appearance as James Bond.
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“NO TIME TO DIE”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, brief strong profanity, and some suggestive material; streaming Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: The 45-minute documentary “Being James Bond” (4K disc only)
AFTER three delays and 18 months, Daniel Craig finally returned for his fifth and final appearance as James Bond. Moviegoer’s response was remarkable. “No Time to Die” became a blockbuster making over $770 million worldwide – 80 percent from overseas. At this point, it’s the top-grossing Hollywood film of the pandemic era.
I saw “No Time to Die” on a large IMAX screen and found, with its varying aspect ratios, the best movie experience I’ve seen since Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk.” Both films were captured on larger format IMAX cameras and 35mm, and were mastered in True 4K.
For Craig, Daniel Craig, it all started 15 years earlier, when Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli selected the 37-year-old actor for the role, the first blond to play the world’s most famous secret agent. Hundreds of actors were considered including Clive Owen, Hugh Jackman, and Colin Farrell to become the next 007.
(1) The iconic James Bond gun barrel shot. (2) American director Cary Joji Fukunaga bypassed the standard Bond perspective to focus on Madeleine, and a childhood flashback, as an intruder seeks revenge for the death of his family killed by her father, a SPECTRE operative. (3-5) Madeline (Coline Defaud) shoots the intruder and drags him into the snow not knowing if he’s alive or dead.
At first, the British media were quite brutal. The Mirror described Craig as “James Bland… he lacks the charm and charisma needed for 007.” But Broccoli always felt he was perfect for the role. “Whenever he was on the screen you couldn’t watch anyone else,” she says during the documentary “Being James Bond.” His performance as John Ballard in “Elizabeth” (1998) is what sold her: “I went, ‘It has to be him.’” She describes a scene where Craig, wearing a long hooded cap, walks down a castle corridor. “It was clear that he was a movie star. And, a great actor to boot.”
During the early 2000’s, Craig wasn’t considered a leading man. “They thought he was a great supporting actor,” Wilson says. And Craig was quite happy with his position in the acting world. “As far as I was concerned, I had a really successful career. But I didn’t have a cool persona. I had done weird, arty movies. You know, it was a harder sell. I didn’t do many suave and sophisticated roles. I really didn’t want to do [Bond] and I wouldn’t know what to do with it,” he says.
But in early 2006, he prepared for a James Bond screen test at the famed Pinewood Studios outside of London. During the test, Broccoli could tell Craig had a change of heart, noting, “He wants to do it … It was like there wasn’t anyone else. We kept freaking the studio out.” Craig felt the story [Casino Royale] stuck together. “It flew,” he recalls.
Broccoli had the honor of calling Craig to tell him he landed the job. After accepting, Craig grabbed a bottle of vodka and some vermouth, bought a cocktail shaker, and returned to his apartment to mix several vodka martinis. “That must have been your first bit of training,” Wilson jokes. Craig says he had a hangover for three days.
Craig was determined to make his Bond different. He trained seven days a week to transform his body into the agent with a license to kill – not just with a gun, but with his bare hands. “He trained like an Olympic athlete,” Wilson says. Negative press continued during the first month of filming “Casino Royale.” But when he unveiled his new physique, the pecs, the abs, the biceps surging out of the water in a tight, light blue swimsuit – the paparazzi went wild. Craig’s image was plastered on every newspaper in the U.K. Instantly, the tide against him changed.
(1&2) Bond drives his restored 1964 Aston Martin DB5 along the Italian coastline heading to the ancient hillside town of Matera. (3&4) He and Madeleine (Léa Seydoux) spend the night in a hotel overlooking Matera. (5-7) The next morning Bond visits Vesper Lynd’s tomb to seek forgiveness and to bring closure to her death. The tomb is blown up by SPECTRE assassins.
“Casino Royale” (2006) set the tone for a more physical Bond, with intense action, car chases, and a serious romance with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). It’s rated as Craig’s best 007, while many critics and fans consider it one of the best Bond’s ever.
“Quantum of Solace” (2008) suffered from an unfinished script. The cameras began rolling as Bond tries to avenge the death of his lost love, Vesper. The visual style by German director Marc Forster looked more like a Jason Bourne film, missing the breadth and scale of its international landscape.
“Skyfall” (2012) Craig convinced friend Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “1917”) to take over the director’s chair, where they pushed the franchise to new heights. Original characters were resurrected, including Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and “Q” (Ben Whishaw), while “M” (Judi Dench) receives an emotional farewell. “Skyfall” earned five Academy Award nominations that included Roger Deakins’ striking cinematography. It won for Adele’s Original Song and Sound Editing.
“Spectre” (2015) Mendes returned as director, but Craig broke his leg during production, and kept working because he didn’t want filming shut down for nine months. Ralph Fiennes returns as Gareth Mallory, the new “M,” while Bond finds a new love interest in Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). SPECTRE founder and leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and his oversized henchman, Hinx (Dave Bautista), became two of the best Bond villains ever.
“No Time to Die” (2021) had its backstage moments when Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and his writing partner quit three months into pre-production. They were replaced by a little-known American director, Cary Joji Fukunaga (“Jane Eyre” “Sin Nombre”) to give Craig a touching sendoff.
The Matera chase
(1) The two-level bridge of the Madonna Della Stella Aqueduct, finished in 1778, was used for the 150-foot stunt, as James Bond escapes the SPECTRE assassins. (2&3) A total of 10 DB5s were used in the car chase, two real cars, and eight replicas. (4) Madeleine is frightened as SPECTRE assassins blast Bond’s DB5 with bullets. (5) Primo “Cyclops” (Dali Benssalah) is the lead assassin during the Matera attack. (6) Bond uses two .30 caliber machine guns positioned behind the headlights and a trail of smoke to escape. (7-9) The Sapri, Italy train station subs for the fictional Civita Lucana, as Bond and Madeleine say goodbye.
As the longest Bond film running – two hours and 43 minutes – the opening scene for “No Time to Die” takes a different direction, bypassing the standard Bond perspective to focus on Madeleine, and a childhood flashback, as an intruder seeks revenge for the death of his family killed by her father, a SPECTRE operative. Fast forward, and we find Bond retired from MI6. He and Madeleine are on holiday at Matera, a well-known ancient city in Italy’s Basilicata region, providing an exciting car and motorcycle chase through narrow, stone streets. Vesper is buried there and a pensive Bond decides to visit her grave and make peace.
The story moves on to Jamaica and Cuba (both sequences filmed in Jamaica) with a new 007, Nomi played by an actor of Jamaican descent, Lashana Lynch, and rookie CIA agent Paloma played by Cuban Ana de Armas (“Knives Out”). Paloma is a colleague of Bond’s longtime friend, Felix Leiter, played by the always solid Jeffrey Wright.
This time, the evil mastermind is played by a soft-spoken Rami Malek as Lyutsifer Safin, scarred as a child by biological poison. His quest for revenge involves an old Soviet missile bunker on a North Pacific Island, with a maze of tunnels and an underground bio-weapon factory.
“Being James Bond” features a number of behind the scene footage and backstories from Craig, Wilson, and Broccoli. Originally, it was only available on Apple TV before the theatrical release of “No Time to Die,” but has since been removed to be watched on disc.
Four featurettes highlight the production, including the incredible action sequence on Matera captured on IMAX cameras; the commitment to practical stunts without computer-generated effects; exotic locations including Jamaica, Bond’s spiritual home, where Ian Fleming wrote the books; and the remarkable production design by Mark Tildesley and costume designer Suttirat Anne Larbarb.
(1) Five years later, SPECTRE agents kidnap MI6 Scientist Dr. Valdo Obruchev from a London MI6 Lab. (2) Bond has retired to Port Antonio, Jamaica. (3) CIA Agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) seeks Bond’s help to track down Obruchev. (4) Bond meets the new 007 agent, Nomi, (Jamaican descent, Lashana Lynch). (5) Rookie CIA agent Paloma (Ana de Armas) places an earpiece into Bond’s ear as they infiltrate the SPECTRE Cuba meeting, to retrieve Obruchev. (6) Blofeld orders Bond to be killed by the nanobots. Instead, Obruchev has reprogrammed the bioweapon to kill the SPECTRE members.
Fukunaga and cinematographer Linus Sandgren (“La La Land,” “American Hustle”) decided to capture Bond in the biggest format possible, with the first 24-minutes filmed on large-format IMAX cameras. All footage on IMAX, 65mm and 35mm was in True 4K providing the highest resolution and clarity possible. There’s a slight disappointment that the IMAX scenes are not presented in the theatrical 1.90:1 aspect ratio, with extra framing above the actors’ heads and below. Christopher Nolan’s films, like “Tenet,” “Dunkirk” and “Dark Knight,” are presented in varying aspect ratios on 4K disc. Sandgren composed the frame with the intended 2.39:1 ratio from the 35mm Panavision cameras and anamorphic lens. The natural film grain is intact and organic, most evident on the 35mm film stock, and much smaller and refined in the IMAX scenes.
HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading bring lush colors from the warm tones of Matera and Jamaica, to the cool blues and whites captured in the dead of winter in Norway. The greens and browns of the Scottish Highlands are well saturated, with a panoramic backdrop for an off-road chase scene. Night scenes are full of deep shadows and inky blacks, while holding plenty of detail. Highlights are controlled, without blown-out hot spots.
The 4K disc, 4K digital, and Blu-ray include the eight-channel Dolby Atmos enveloping environment, with clear dialogue, powerful explosions and gun effects bouncing around the room, and a deep, punchy bass response. Hans Zimmer handles the score with a nice touch of brass and strings, and it’s a nice surprise to hear John Barry’s classic love theme from Bond film No. 6 “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969).
A light and airy orchestral rendition of “We Have All the Time in the World” pops up during the first act, while the late, great Louis Armstrong provides the vocals during the closing credits. Billie Eilish sings the title song this go-'round, but it falls flat compared to the recent Oscar winners, “Writing’s on the Wall” from Sam Smith from “Spectre,” and “Skyfall” from Adele.
Barbara Broccoli may have said it best. “There’s something about this film that the culmination of the five films, and this film in particular, makes me feel as if not only has [Craig] made his mark on the Bond franchise, but has now made his mark in cinematic history.”
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) Dr. Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik) is an MI6 scientist specializing in genetics and nanorobotics. (2) Bond visits Lieutenant Colonel Gareth Mallory “M,” head of MI6. (3) Bond then visits Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) at the HM Prison Belmarsh. (4&5) Agent Nomi 007 and Bond launch a two-seat folding glider from the cargo bay of a Royal Air Force Boeing C-17A Globemaster III. They land on Lyutsifer Safin’s remote island between Japan and Russia, where he’s developing nanobots as a biological weapon against millions of people.
(1) Rami Malek as Lyutsifer Safin, kidnaps Madeleine and her daughter Mathilde (Lisa-Dorah Sonnet). (2&3) The final showdown between Safin and Bond.