Licence To Kill: Special Edition

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Details At A Glance

Category Bond Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette - Inside Licence To Kill
Audio Commentary - John Glen (Director) et al
Audio Commentary - Michael G. Wilson (Producer) et al
Featurette - Production Featurette
Featurette - Kenworth Truck Stunt Featurette
Music Video - Gladys Knight: Licence To Kill
Music Video - Patti LaBelle: If You Asked Me To
Photo Gallery
Rating m.gif (1166 bytes)
Year Released 1989
Running Time 127:24 Minutes
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (91:53)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director John Glen
UnitedArtists.gif (10720 bytes)
Fox Home Entertainment
Starring Timothy Dalton
Carey Lowell
Robert Davi
Robert Brown
Desmond Llewelyn
Caroline Bliss
Case Transparent Amaray
RPI $36.95 Music Michael Kamen
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9Yes.jpg (4536 bytes)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes, and it's the last Bond film in which this occurs
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement Yes, the usual Bond product placements
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    The good: an actor who plays Bond the way that one would envision the character after reading Ian Fleming's novels, and a halfway decent story that explores a most intriguing possibility.

    The bad: Pam Bouvier, played by Carey Lowell, whose biggest claim to fame is literally slashing Law And Order's ratings in half after stepping into the spot vacated by Jill Hennesy. Thankfully, her successor, Angie Harmon, can act and doesn't look like she thinks she's doing the audience a favour by being there.

    The ugly: this transfer, but more on that in a moment.

    In any case, if I had been watching James Bond films at the time when Roger Moore announced that he was quitting the role to let another actor step into the shoes of the world's most famous secret agent, I would have cheered happily. I've actually met people who believe that secret agents behave the way that the James Bond played by Moore did during his frankly feeble tenure, and it never ceases to amaze me. Anyway, after stepping into the role and bringing the real James Bond back, Timothy Dalton was called upon to take a risk similar to that which George Lazenby took with On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Essentially, the writers wanted to use a plot other than the one that had been recycled for fourteen of the previous Bond films, and if you want to see a good reason why Bond simply hasn't survived the move into the twenty-first century, it is the collective intolerance to change exhibited by Bond fans.

    Licence To Kill is widely regarded as being the second most underrated episode in the Bond franchise, with On Her Majesty's Secret Service being the first in line to that dubious honour. This is pretty ironic considering that so-called Bond fans denounce this episode when it is actually the closest in spirit to Ian Fleming's novels, even in comparison to the Sean Connery episodes. Like Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton is more believable in the role of James Bond than any of his predecessors, simply because he behaves the way you'd expect from a professional in the situation depicted here. The Dalton version of Bond is prone to fits of rage and anger like a real human being, but above all else, he is prone to taking things personally. As the tagline states, his bad side is a dangerous place to be.

    The story of the film itself is extremely simple in nature, in spite of having far more layers than most other Bond films. James Bond (Timothy Dalton) attends the wedding of his best friend, CIA agent Felix Leiter (David Hedison) to Della Churchill (Priscilla Barnes). Unfortunately, just prior to this wedding, Felix had been engaged in arresting a rather nasty drug lord by the name of Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), and Sanchez manages to escape just before the honeymoon. It all ends in tears as Felix is fed to the sharks, with James coming to Felix's home, finding Della dead and Felix with major injuries that preclude him from continuing service as a DEA agent. Naturally, Bond is very upset about this and requests that he be assigned to continue the investigation of Sanchez's activities.

    After Bond's request is refused, he neglects his assignments and displays the sort of behaviour that you'd expect after some drug lord has your best friend fed to the sharks, which results in M (Robert Brown) deciding to strip Bond of his authority (hence the title) and place him under arrest. Bond, of course, has other ideas, and proceeds to carry out a personal vendetta against Sanchez with the help of Q (Desmond Llewelyn) and a rather poorly-cast Bond girl named Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell). So, on the positive side, we have one of those instances where the real James Bond is committed to film, one of the better actors to play Bond, a more active Q than usual, and some of the best stunt sequences the series has ever seen. On the negative side, we have the second worst Bond girl the series has ever seen (numero uno being Teri Hatcher in Tomorrow Never Dies), some extremely dated music, and a generally dated look to the overall picture.

    To cut a long story short, if you're after everything that has made the Bond franchise what it is today (same old recycled plot, extremely moronic villains, and a cardboard cut-out Bond), then I advise you to give Licence To Kill a miss. However, if you enjoy such episodes as On Her Majesty's Secret Service because of its actual character development, or episodes such as The World Is Not Enough and GoldenEye because they feature a Bond who acts like a real secret agent, then Licence To Kill will be one of the few Bond films you'll consider worthy of purchasing.

Transfer Quality


    Considering the transfers that have been afforded to GoldenEye, and such ageing episodes in the franchise as On Her Majesty's Secret Service, I think the word that sums up this transfer best would be disappointment.

    The transfer is presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced. The transfer is generally very sharp, although other elements lead to believe that the interpositive used to create this transfer must have been in shocking shape. The shadow detail of the transfer is good, but not great, and there is no low-level noise.

    The colours in this transfer, though dated, are rendered quite faithfully to how they were originally photographed, with the unusual colour schemes in the sets being particularly impressive. Occasionally, skin tones would become a little too red, but this is probably the best representation of the colours in this film we're likely to see for some time, barring a proper restoration effort.

    MPEG artefacts aren't a problem in this transfer, but film-to-video artefacts, specifically aliasing, are quite a major annoyance. The worst examples were at 2:58, 13:34, and 58:15, at which points the entire picture literally seemed to break out in shimmering that took over from the overall picture. I counted an average that alternated between one and two aliasing artefacts per minute for the first hour of this feature, after which the transfer settled down to showing aliasing once every two minutes or so. Compounding the problem was the presence of numerous film artefacts, with scratches and spots of at least four different colours making their way onto the picture (hence the comment earlier about the shape of the interpositive). All in all, this is a very disappointing transfer considering the relative youth of the film.

    This disc makes use of the RSDL format, with the layer change taking place in the middle of Chapter 23 at 91:53. This is right in the middle of a movement from one actor, and sticks out like George Lazenby at a Bond convention.


    Thankfully, the audio transfer is in noticeably better shape than the video transfer, and it even manages to impress on a couple of occasions.

    Three soundtracks are provided with this audio transfer: the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a bitrate of 448 kilobits per second, and two English audio commentaries, both of which are in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding and a bitrate of 224 kilobits per second. I listened to all three of these soundtracks, but I will comment more on the commentaries in due course.

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, although I kept the English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles on anyway in order to learn the names of some characters. Now if only there was an option to seamlessly replace Carey Lowell's dialogue with something more tolerable. There were no discernible problems with audio sync, save for some suspect sound effects.

    The music in this film can be divided into three parts: a score by Michael Kamen, a theme song called Licence To Kill by Gladys Knight, and a closing song by the name of If You Asked Me To, performed by Patti LaBelle. The score by Michael Kamen is passable, but generally shows the same fault as most of the Bond films after On Her Majesty's Secret Service, in that experimentation was obviously a big no-no. Now, it has been widely held that opening theme songs are generally reflective of a Bond film's overall quality, but in contrast to Live And Let Die, a pathetic Bond episode with an excellent theme, Licence To Kill is a superior Bond film with a pathetic theme song. I swear that if I hear the words "got a Licence To Kill, and you know I'm going straight for your heart" again, I'm going to experience cliché-and-lameness rage!

    The surround channels are aggressively utilized during the action sequences to support the sounds of passing aircraft, whizzing bullets, and boat engines, just to name the most obvious examples. Two standout occurrences of surround channel usage occur when Timothy Dalton is surprised by a shark at 27:22, as well as when Timothy Dalton and Carey Lowell are startled by a ship's horn at 54:57. Occasionally, the sound field became somewhat monaural, but these moments were few and far between. The subwoofer received a great deal of usage to support explosions, gunshots, and all the other action sounds you'd expect from a Bond film. It was quite well integrated into the overall soundtrack.


    One suggestion I have for an Extra on the DVD release of whatever the twentieth Bond episode is called is a trivia game with a slightly more humorous look at the series. One question I'd like to see relates to Sean Connery's mode of speech: Q. "How many O's are there in the word 'pussy'?" A. "Normally, none. When Sean Connery says it, however, at least three." All kidding aside, this is the same comprehensive collection of extras that we've come to expect on Bond DVDs.


    The menu starts with the usual Activate button, features the usual Bond-style animation with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, and it is 16x9 Enhanced.

Featurette - Inside Licence To Kill

    Clocking in at thirty minutes and forty-one seconds, this featurette is presented Full Frame with footage from the film in the ratio of 2.35:1, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced. The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack sounds a little flat in comparison to the main feature, but the topics discussed are quite interesting. Much is made of the return to the harder-edged Bond of Ian Fleming's novels, although in retrospect, the attempt to "modernize" the character didn't quite work in favour of the overall film. Almost everything of interest to do with the film is discussed, including the reasons why Carey Lowell was cast as CIA agent Pam Bouvier (I still put it down to too much sun exposure). The most interesting input, however, is from Benicio Del Toro, for whom Licence To Kill was the feature film debut.

Audio Commentary - John Glen (Director) et al

    If I could suggest a new law with regards to the making of audio commentaries, it would be that the pasting together of commentary tracks from interviews should be strictly forbidden. Again, this commentary continues on and on with comments from director John Glen and various cast members, but it never really reveals anything interesting about the filmmaking process. I wasn't disappointed, however, because the commentary tracks on Bond DVDs have long had a tendency to bore.

Audio Commentary - Michael G. Wilson (Producer) et al

    Again, this is another audio commentary that gives this feature a bad name, with a string of interview snippets with Michael G. Wilson and various crew members pasted together that have little or no relation to the on-screen action. No serious indication is given as to who is speaking at what time, which makes following what they're saying a real challenge, not to mention the fact that what they have to say is not all that interesting. Again, this really didn't disappoint me as such, because I have pretty much come to expect this from Bond films and their commentaries.

Featurette - Production Featurette

   This Full-Frame, Dolby Digital 2.0, four minute and fifty-six second featurette is basically another extended promotional piece that varies between a sales pitch or a travelogue.

Featurette - Kenworth Truck Stunt Featurette

   Presented in Full Frame with footage from the film in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, this nine minute and twenty-nine second featurette goes into detail about the climactic truck sequence, which happens to be one of the most blatant product placements in the film. It is well worth watching if you are into trucks.

Music Video - Gladys Knight: Licence To Kill

   Four minutes and twenty-five seconds of the second-worst Bond theme in living memory, presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is not 16x9 Enhanced. If you want a demonstration of all that was wrong with music videos even in the late 1980s, then this is the one to look at. The audio quality is okay, but the video quality is so lacking in resolution that it brings back memories of watching early-morning broadcasts in the mid-1980s.

Music Video - Patti LaBelle: If You Asked Me To

   Clocking in at exactly four minutes, this is a Full Frame, Dolby Digital 2.0 music video for the song that appears in the end credits. Like the theme song, it is extremely dated Top Ten Radio-oriented trash that you couldn't convince me to watch again if you paid me. Again, the quality of the picture is such that I would not be surprised to learn that this promotional video was captured on what was then a current generation video camera.


    There are two trailers presented under this submenu. Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, the seventy-six second trailer labelled in the menu simply as Trailer #1 does an excellent job of selling the film without ruining its few surprises. Trailer #2 clocks in at one minute and fifty seconds, is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, and is 16x9 Enhanced. The quality of both trailers is quite good considering the age of the film.

Cast & Crew Biographies

Photo Gallery

    A collection of eleven photo galleries, with some annotation that makes them a little more interesting than the usual Photo Gallery efforts.


    The usual eight-page effort that accompanies Bond films on DVD, this booklet features a chapter listing that bears no relation to the actual chapter stops found on the disc. The total number of Chapters listed on the booklet is fifty-six, but the disc itself only has thirty-two, which makes one wonder exactly who is in charge of fact-checking at MGM. Thankfully, the trivia contained within is somewhat better presented.


    Licence To Kill was initially passed by the BBFC for display in UK theatres with a 15 classification, with approximately three minutes and thirty-five seconds of footage cut. When the original version of the film was resubmitted for classification to be released on DVD, the previous cuts were waived and the film was allowed to be sold to the public in its entirety. It appears that we have received the same uncut master of this film, as both versions of this disc have a running time of 127 minutes and 23 seconds.

    It is interesting to note that this is the first time Licence To Kill has been presented uncut on any format in the Australian market.

R4 vs R1

    Although I can't say this for certain, reliable descriptions would have it that there is less aliasing on the Region 1 version of this disc. The aliasing on the local disc is bad enough to warrant a two-and-a-half star rating, not to mention that there are enough film artefacts to suggest the source materials were stored in a kitty litter box for much of the last ten years.


    Licence To Kill is probably the most dated entry in the Bond franchise, but its poor reception also proves that Bond fans obviously don't give a damn about anything like plot or character development. Those who want to see Ian Fleming's Bond rather than Albert Broccoli's Bond will be well-advised to consider this film, but the video transfer makes the DVD hard to recommend for purchase.

    The video quality is very disappointing, marred by excessive aliasing.

    The audio quality is very good, although not nearly as impressive as later episodes in the franchise.

    The extras consist of the usual fluff from the Bond archives.

Ratings (out of 5)

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 © Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
June 1, 2001 
Review Equipment
DVD Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm) in 16:9 and 4:3 modes, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NS-C120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer