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Why James Bond Movies Never Say Die

No, it's not the cool gadgets. And it's not the sirens with naughty names. The real pleasure of a James Bond movie is the dedication to detail. From the exotic locales (the Alps, Cairo and Sardinia in The Spy Who Loved Me) to the sets of legendary production designer Ken Adam (remember Goldfinger's giant rumpus room?), everything is meticulously chosen to transport you to a world in which a single superspy can save the world from total destruction.

Now -- just in time for the new Casino Royale film with a new Bond -- come the first two volumes of the James Bond Ultimate Edition DVD box sets. How ultimate is it? Each film has been digitally restored so that every one of those expensive details can be fully appreciated. In The Spy Who Loved Me, for example, you can instantly recognize that the painting hanging in the background on the wall of the villainous Stromberg’s aquatic lair is Botticelli’s "The Birth of Venus." In previous DVD versions, it just looked like some run-of-the-mill Renaissance painting.

Then there are the bonus features -- dubbed "Declassified: MI6 Vault." Now it is true that previous Bond "special editions," from 2002, had some extras. But this time it really seems that the studio released every clip they could dig up. The "Vault" for The Man with the Golden Gun even features clips of Roger Moore and Herve Villechaize’s appearance on a 70s talk show (Villechaize studied painting!) and practice footage from a martial-arts scene. There’s even an archival commercial from the stunt company that orchestrated the 360-degree car flip in one of the chase scenes. Watching that ad -- with its praises of the power of FORTRAN computers and the thrill of demolition derbies, which the company apparently also produced -- you’re reminded that as thrilling as Bond films are to watch, they also are marvels of filmmaking. That car’s "Astro-Spiral" lasts less than a few seconds onscreen but lives forever in film history -- kinda like, say, a diamond.

Kenneth Terrell, an editor atU.S. News and World Report, has never had a martini, either shaken or stirred.

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Kenneth Terrell