No Time to Die (4K UHD Review)
DirectorCary Joji Fukunaga
Release Date(s)2021 (December 21, 2021)
Studio(s)Eon Productions/MGM (Universal Studios/Studio Distribution Services)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
James Bond (Daniel Craig) has retired from MI6 in the aftermath of the events SPECTRE and is preparing to begin a new life with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). But first, he must make peace with one final ghost from his past… Vesper Lynd. When he’s nearly killed in his attempt to do so however, Bond learns that Swann may have betrayed him and ends their relationship. Five years later, after an MI6 scientist working on an off-the-books weapons project known as Heracles is kidnapped, Bond’s old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) pulls him back into the action to find the man. So Bond travels to Cuba, meets up with a CIA agent named Paloma (Ana de Armas), and together they infiltrate a SPECTRE gathering celebrating the birthday of Ernst Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), who Bond knows remains imprisoned in the UK. But when every SPECTRE agent at the party is suddenly killed by a strange mist, and Bond and Paloma subsequently retrieve the missing scientist, it turns out that the trail of Heracles leads back to M (Ralph Finnes) in London, and to Madeline Swann, who’s been helping MI6 to study Blofeld. And when all of their secrets are finally revealed, a new enemy emerges from the shadows with a plot more sinister than any the free world has ever faced. So Bond is reinstated as a “Double O” and joins the new 007 (Lashana Lynch) on a desperate mission to stop this threat before all is lost.
Directed by Cary Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation, True Detective), No Time to Die is a surprisingly gripping and enjoyable experience from start to finish. The film starts with a genuinely creepy pre-credit sequence, which—in something of a rarity for this franchise—isn’t actually from Bond’s perspective. We next see Bond finally attempting to get real emotional closure from Vesper’s death (in Casino Royale), but it’s that very act that launches No Time to Die into high gear. Once the action kicks in, the stunt work is nearly all practical and it’s terrific across the board. Each member of the supporting cast (including Finnes, Wright, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, and Rory Kinnear) is given something interesting to do, and the new players (including Lynch and de Armas) are used effectively too—not so much that they distract, but just enough that each adds something to the story. What’s also interesting is that No Time to Die features scores of callbacks to classic Bond—right down to an enigmatic villain with a Ken Adam-inspired lair—but somehow they feel more organic here than they did in SPECTRE. Rami Malek is perfectly off-kilter, almost a cipher in his own role, and even Léa Seydoux—who felt a bit out of her depth in the previous film—seems more at home this time around. No Time to Die also features a more human, less invulnerable Bond, but that simply makes him more compelling and gives Craig more dimensions within which to work. Beat for beat and bullet for bullet, this is a solid film.
No Time to Die was shot on 35 mm and 65 mm photochemical film by cinematographer Linus Sandgren, using a variety of Arriflex, IMAX, and Panavision cameras and lenses (this was the first Bond film ever to use 65 mm IMAX film cameras), and it was finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio for wide theatrical release (with some scenes presented in 1.43 and 1.90 in IMAX theaters). MGM’s 4K disc (which is distributed by Universal Studios Home Entertainment via Studio Distribution Services) includes the 2.39:1 presentation only on a BD-100 disc, with an image that’s graded for both HDR10 and Dolby Vision. In a word, the result is spectacular. Detailing is exquisite, with delicate and beautifully-refined texturing visible in brick work, stone, foliage, and frankly everything else too. As you’d expect from large format cinematography, the grain is light yet organic (though it’s a bit stronger in the 35 mm footage). The film’s color palette is lush, nuanced, and natural, rendering a wonderfully dimensional image that really benefits the film’s Italian, Cuban, and Norwegian locations. The Matera and Port Antonio settings in particular are dazzling, with vibrant color that nearly pops off the screen. And the contrast is remarkable, with deep, inky blacks and bold yet detailed highlights. To top it all off, the extra disc space really allows the encoding room to breathe. This is a reference 4K image and one of the best looking UHD presentations I’ve seen in quite some time.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is offered in an English Dolby Atmos mix that’s also exceptional, if perhaps a little more immersive and naturally atmospheric than truly aggressive. The soundstage is medium-wide and enveloping, with clean dialogue, and abundant height channel activity during set pieces (with steady environmental fill in between). Panning and movement are constant and well-motivated in the surrounds, the bass is firm and meaty, and the overall fidelity is outstanding. The mix exhibits a rich and velvety tonal quality that particularly benefits both Hans Zimmer’s score and the opening title track by Billie Eilish. Additional audio options on the UHD include Spanish and French 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, with subtitles available in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
The 4K disc (but NOT the Blu-ray included in the package, a BD-50 that features only the film in 1080p HD) offers the following extras:
- Anatomy of a Scene: Matera (4K SDR – 11:32)
- Keeping It Real: The Action of No Time to Die (4K SDR – 6:15)
- A Global Journey (4K SDR – 7:50)
- Designing Bond (4K SDR – 11:04)
- Being James Bond (10-bit HD – 46:39)
Note that the separate Blu-ray SKU includes most of those extras on an additional BD bonus disc except for Being James Bond, which is exclusive to the UHD. And here’s a nice surprise: Most of these featurettes are in actual 4K on the UHD disc—a welcome touch. They’re brief, to be sure, but they feel more substantial than the usual EPK fare typically included on a disc like this, and they exhibit much more style. (Complements to everyone at The Workhouse involved in creating them.) The highlight of the extras, however, is Baillie Walsh’s Being James Bond documentary, which some fans may have experienced as an Apple TV exclusive in the lead-up to the film’s release. The piece is deceptively simple: It’s just a conversation between Craig and producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli about the actor’s time as Bond, from start to finish. But we never actually see them talking—as they reflect on their collaboration, we’re instead treated to tons of behind-the-scenes footage that illustrates their conversation, much of which has never been seen before. The result is a delight—fascinating, candid, even emotional. It’s very clear that this trio has genuine affection for one another and a real appreciation for what they’ve accomplished together. Being James Bond is one of the best features on a Bond disc to date. I still wish an audio commentary had been included on this release (such a track was apparently recorded), but even so… this is one of those rare examples where less is almost more in terms of special features. What you do get here is well worth your time. And the usual Digital copy is also included on a paper insert in the package.
I must say, I’m sad to see Daniel Craig’s run as 007 reach its end. For my money, and for all of the ruffled feathers when Craig was first revealed to have won the role, he’s been my favorite Bond since Sean Connery and certainly the most believable. But I’m not sure where this franchise can go next, unless Eon starts making these films as period pieces, because the very things that make 007 who he is—the classic Bond formula—have either been done to death at this point or simply feel out of step with today’s audiences. While the Craig era has at least made the character feel more grounded, it’s had difficulty overcoming its own problem: Casino Royale was such a great introduction, and Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd was so compelling a match for Craig’s Bond, that none of its sequels (which we’ve reviewed in 4K here) have quite measured up. But while No Time to Die is definitely not in the same league as Casino Royale, given the way its characters and their stories have evolved over those sequels, I think it’s about the best conclusion to Craig’s run as anyone could reasonably expect.
You’ve done your bit for Queen and Country, Daniel Craig. And I thank you for your service.
No Time to Die on 4K Ultra HD is definitely recommended.
- Bill Hunt
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