Review for Live And Let Die
Live and Let Die is my favourite James Bond movie. There are better James Bond movies, and it’s not even the best Roger Moore outing as the superspy. But, Live and Let Die was the first James Bond movie I ever saw, and nostalgia counts for a whole lot when it comes to these things. And when I eventually caught the rest of the franchise, I realised that Live and Let Die was somewhat unique in its franchise; it does some things that no other Bond movie did before or since.
Three British agents are assassinated, in New York, in New Orleans, and a small Caribbean island. James Bond is assigned to investigate, and the obvious place to start is the island of San Monique, and its enigmatic ruler, Dr Kananga. He’s definitely up to no good, linked to the US drug lord Mr Big. But while Bond has experience dealing with the red menace, he’s yet to come up against voodoo, and tarot card reading fortune tellers.
Live and Let Die gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, with the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, DTS 5.1 French and German, and DD 5.1 Spanish and Portuguese, with subtitles in these languages and Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish. There is bit of a question when it comes to the aspect ratio. From what I’ve read, Live and Let Die was shot at 1.66:1, just like the first Connery movies, and it premiered in the UK at that ratio as well. Yet for its cinematic debut in the US, it got a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, so what we have here is an original aspect ratio. The image is acceptable, clear and sharp, with no print damage, but it certainly looks its age. It’s a smidge soft, colours are pushed a little towards the red and orange, and shadow detail can be lacking. It’s not a great transfer, but when it comes to detail and clarity, it’s still much better than a DVD could be.
The audio is great, nice and immersive, making the most of the action, although the dialogue can be low in the mix at times, necessitating me riding the remote for the duration. But this is Live and Let Die, and with it comes that iconic soundtrack, the theme song from Paul McCartney and Wings, and the film score from George Martin.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray case, with a UV Code within. The disc boots to an animated menu, and there are plenty of extras, both old and ‘new’.
In MI6 Commentaries, you’ll find three tracks.
Commentary with Sir Roger Moore
Commentary with screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz
Commentary with director Guy Hamilton
The latter is a moderated patchwork commentary with the cast and crew as well as the director.
In Declassified: MI6 Vault you’ll find the vintage featurettes.
Bond 1973: The Lost Documentary (21:41)
Roger Moore as James Bond, circa 1964 (7:44)
Live and Let Die Conceptual Art (1:39)
007 Mission Control is the usual Bookmark Glossary, with various characters, items, and plot elements directly accessible in the film. There is also an Exotic Locations featurette here (4:31).
Mission Dossier ostensibly has the DVD era featurettes and beyond.
Inside Live and Let Die (29:47)
On Set With Roger Moore: The Funeral Parade (1:42)
On Set With Roger Moore: Hang Gliding Lessons (3:58)
In Ministry of Propaganda you’ll find two theatrical trailers, 3 TV Spots, and 2 Radio Spots for the film.
Finally in the Image Gallery you’ll find 9 categories of image.
There is something special about those transitional movies, where one Bond actor was being replaced by another, although that doesn’t really hold for the Daniel Craig era, which was a complete reboot. But films like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Live and Let Die and The Living Daylights all had that strange sense of being written for the previous actor, and the new incumbent having to create a new Bond while holding onto elements of the previous interpretation as well. There are aspects of Live and Let Die that do feel written for Sean Connery, and as a result, it is probably Roger Moore’s grittiest and most grounded outing as 007. It has the added effect of making the few comic elements stand out even more.
Yet there are some things that really make this film stand outside the franchise. One thing is definitely the music. When you listen to most Bond theme songs, you’ll find commonalities between them, little musical motifs, John Barryisms that they have in common. You can recognise a Bond theme without being prepared for them, but Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die is a Bond theme like no other. Similarly, George Martin’s score for the film departs from the established music style, and very much does its own thing.
Then there are the villains. Back in 1973, Live and Let Die was riding the Blaxploitation wave in the US. Even still it was a radical departure from the formula for the villains of the piece to be black, but also, much of the supporting cast in general were black. Yaphet Kotto’s Kananga is erudite, educated and charming; certainly not a caricature, and his criminal scheme, to distribute heroin is perhaps the most realistic in a Bond movie until the similar Licence to Kill, even if Kananga has a classic secret lair for the film’s climax. He’s got his henchmen, most of whom are the usual disposable cannon fodder, but then again Tee-Hee presages the oddness of Jaws, with his crushing metal hook for a hand, yet he also gets a couple of great character moments that elevate him beyond the basic leering sidekick.
I go through phases with Live and Let Die when it comes to its casting, shifting between admiring its progressive approach, and feeling a little uncomfortable with its villainous racial delineation, especially given the era in which it was made. But Yaphet Kotto’s performance, lacking for cliché saves the film for me. It’s certainly not as clumsy as the film’s portrayal of voodoo; more a caricature of culture, purely for cinematic effect. There was a time when everything I knew about voodoo, I had learned from Live and Let Die.
There is that comic element to the film, the advent of an element that would come to define the Roger Moore era, but in this film it boils down to just one lengthy sequence, the speedboat chase towards the end of the film, which suddenly turns James Bond into Smokey and the Bandit, as Bond and his nemeses are pursued by Sheriff J.W. Pepper, and the visual gags fill the screen. It almost outstays its welcome, but it’s worth it for the punchline at the end of the sequence.
If there is a weakness to Live and Let Die, it’s the somewhat anticlimactic demise of the villain. Blink and you’ll miss it. But I still love this Bond film. Live and Let Die was my first. It’s got plenty of nods to Bonds past, especially Dr No, but it does its own thing like no other Bond movie before or since. The music is amazing, there are some great stunts, with double-decker buses and crocodiles, and it’s got my favourite Bond gadget in that magnetic wristwatch. The Blu-ray is loaded with extras, but the transfer is showing its age at this point.