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Die Another Day: Ultimate Edition

Pierce Brosnan doesn't quite own the character of James Bond — not yet, at least. There will always be the Sean Connery aficionados (should we call them Bond snobs, those who refuse to appreciate any 007 movie made after 1971?), and the Scotsman made an indelible mark with the first several franchises. But since 1995, Brosnan has been an enjoyable secret agent, avoiding the camp that derailed so many Roger Moore outings (there are no Moore snobs, it seems), while still delivering the smooth panache that eluded Timothy Dalton in his two underrated turns. Goldeneye (1995) was a stylish debut for Brosnan, unfortunately followed up by the lackluster Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and The World Is Not Enough (1999). But with Die Another Day (2002), Bond is back in one of the series' best installments. The plot itself kicks off by breaking format — rather than having 007 pull off an extravagant operation before the credit sequence, Bond instead is captured by the North Korean government and held for more than a year in isolation. After being traded back to the west in exchange for another spy, Bond is determined to find the traitor in his midst. Unfortunately, in order to do so he breaks ranks with MI6 and 'M' (Judi Dench), operating as a rogue agent. After traveling to Cuba to infiltrate an advanced plastic-surgery facility, Bond gets on the trail of one Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), a smart-mouthed young tycoon who will soon reveal his "Icarus" project — a satellite that can deliver sunlight to any part of the world (and in lethal doses, as it turns out). On the way, Bond also joins forces with Jinx (Halle Berry), an American operative who has her own agenda to look after.

As the "40th Anniversary" entry into the 007 series (and the 20th installment to date), it's clear the producers of Die Another Day felt the need to make a statement with the project, which is simultaneously forward-looking and nostalgic. For longtime Bond fans, the film's subtle nods to the Bond legacy are fun little asides, particularly during the visit to the lab where 'Q' (John Cleese) keeps a clutch of high-tech trinkets from the past four decades. In addition, all of the things that make Bond so Bond are front-and-center, including plenty of sexual innuendo and groan-inducing one-liners (avoiding a fall to his death by clutching a bell-rope, our hero notes he's been "saved by the bell.") But beyond that, Die Another Day is a film designed to jolt 007 into a new era, thanks in part to some stiff competition in the action-film market that has threatened to put the old man in retirement. Many edits are done in smooth "bullet-time" sweeps, a la The Matrix, and while XXX took a jab at a tuxedo-clad agent by killing him in the opening scene, this time around Bond surfs off the coast of North Korea and parasails the waters of Iceland, extreme-sports style. There is the traditional twosome of women — MI6 rival Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike) plays it cool to Bond's smooth moves, and while Halle Berry as Jinx doesn't bring as much spark as one would hope for, she looks awfully good wearing a little bikini and a great big knife. In the meantime, Toby Stephens as bad guy Graves is just dastardly enough for matinee action such as this. A welcome return to form, Die Another Day also securely places Bond in the new century. As it turns out, Madonna's techo-beats (and her cameo as a fencing instructor) were unnecessary.

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Included in MGM's James Bond Ultimate Edition: Volume 2, the two-disc release of Die Another Day: Special Edition features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby 2.0 Surround. Features on Disc One include a commentary track with director Lee Tamahori and producer Michael G. Wilson, while stars Brosnan and Pike can be heard on a second track. Also included is optional "pop-up" trivia, seen as the film plays. Disc Two includes featurettes "From Script to Screen" (52 min.), location-centric "Shaken & Stirred On Ice" (24 min.), day in the life of "Just Another Day" (23 min.), "The British Touch: Bond Arrives in London" (4 min.), "On Loaction with Peter Lamont" (14 min.), sections for clips from the film that highlight 007 staples, his women, his allies and villains, his missions, Q branch, and the film's exotic locations, and five still galleries. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.

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