007 on DVD. Talk about "Bond and beyond."

If, like most James Bond fans, you've coveted the director commentaries, '60s featurettes and similar extra goodies on Criterion laserdiscs, but had no intention of buying into that expensive format (a hundred bucks apiece!), your wait is over. Now that DVD has proven itself a viable and increasingly popular format, MGM Home Video has had the uncommon good sense to plan special edition DVDs of every Bond movie. The first seven have just been released for the Christmas buying season and to tie in with the debut of the 19th Bond film, The World Is Not Enough.

The films — apparently chosen to showcase every Bond actor save poor old George Lazenby — are Sean Connery's Goldfinger and Thunderball, Roger Moore's Live and Let Die and For Your Eyes Only, Timothy Dalton's Licence to Kill, and the two most recent films, Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies, released in support of current 007 Pierce Brosnan.

While we '60s diehards would have preferred to see the entire Connery oeuvre and Lazenby's beloved On Her Majesty's Secret Service, MGM's plans call for a continuing mix of releases. In the spring of 2000, we should see Dr. No, OHMSS, and the Moore mediocrities, The Man With the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. The remaining holes should be filled in the fall of 2000 with From Russia With Love, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, Octopussy, A View  to a Kill and The Living Daylights.

For completists, MGM may even release non-series films Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again on DVD, since the studio now controls those movies after prevailing in its legal battle with Sony Pictures over Sony's ridiculous attempt to steal the Bond film rights (also sparking the possibility of a long anticipated serious remake of Casino Royale — but that's another story).

Now you may think Bond has been out on DVD before, and you'd be right. But tough luck if you were an early adopter. Previous DVDs — which included Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, as well as post-theatrical releases of Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies — were standard DVD packages containing the movie in pan-and-scan and wide-screen versions, with the only extra material being the film's original trailer (although the special edition release a year ago of Tomorrow Never Dies is identical to the current disk; the new disk simply has new cover art to make it look like the rest of the set).

In the special edition packages, trailers are just the beginning. There is so much extra material, in fact, that it takes up all the disk space that would have gone to the pan-and-scan version of the movie, so only the wide-screen picture appears on these disks. Tough luck again if your TV-wired brain can't stand "those damn black bars" at the top and bottom of the screen (or you could ask Santa for a wide-screen TV; they have dropped below $5,000).

Along with the trailers, TV and radio spots, behind-the-scenes featurettes, storyboards, still galleries, running commentaries from directors, writers, producers, cast and crew, music videos of recent title songs, and such oddities as the cast of Live and Let Die urging good British children to drink their milk, the Goldfinger and Thunderball disks contain their respective "Making of" documentaries. These comprehensive little films were produced several years ago for MGM by the knowledgeable Bond fans behind the Ian Fleming Foundation and the Bond memorabilia dealer Spyguise. But they were available only in boxed sets of the Bond films on videocassette, and not many fans were willing to spend a hundred bucks on tapes we already had just to get the documentaries. Much nicer to find them as part of the goodies on individual disks. MGM seems to be getting downright reasonable.

As for the movies themselves, they are as always a mixed bag in this longest running of film series. Goldfinger, released in 1964 and only the third in the series, is truly the ultimate Bond movie. It could never be topped in plot, villains, girls, gadgets, jokes, music, sets and action sequences. But they tried. Boy, how they tried to duplicate Goldfinger in subsequent films, while soon ignoring the Ian Fleming novels the films were allegedly based on.

But Thunderball, released only a year after Goldfinger, is nearly as good, with the entire Bond filmmaking team still operating at its peak. At the time, Thunderball was indeed "the biggest Bond of all," and is often criticized as the beginning of the ascendance of gadgetry over plot and character. But Q's toys are kept in their place here; the hardware didn't really take over until You Only Live Twice.

Thunderball's many highlights include one of the best sequences in the series: Bond dancing with sexy SPECTRE assassin Fiona, surrounded by her men as John Barry's dance-band source music suddenly becomes a throbbing background score, then just as suddenly returns to source music when Fiona is shot. The scene ends with the perfect quip as Bond leaves her body with some unsuspecting partiers.

The Bond Dark Ages of the 1970s were ushered in with Diamonds Are Forever but were exemplified by the cartoonish Roger Moore films. Moore's debut in the role, 1973's Live and Let Die, actually is not as awful as subsequent films. It's just stunningly mediocre. It's almost impossible to believe that this slack-jawed take on James Bond was produced by the same people who made From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and OHMSS only a few years earlier. Notable only for the film debut of a very young Jane Seymour, the entire picture is a crass and plotless mess, full of endless chase scenes, idiotic caricatures, juvenile humor and a remarkably unmenacing villain who sometimes appears in a ridiculous disguise while pretending to be another character.

Live and Let Die also began the deplorable trend of allowing rock groups — in this case Paul McCartney and Wings — to write and perform the film's title song. But the picture suffers far more from the absence for the first time in the series of composer John Barry. His inexplicable replacement was Beatles producer George Martin, who obviously had no gift for composition nor any concept of how to place music to film.

Moore starred in another three '70s Bond films, each more spectacularly stupid than the last, culminating in Moonraker, unquestionably the nadir of the series. By then even Bond producer Cubby Broccoli agreed things had to change. For Your Eyes Only (1981) was an astonishing about-face for Bond, a refreshingly down-to-Earth adventure and a long overdue return to the source. The screenplay cleverly interwove two Fleming short stories while eschewing the customary exploding fortresses and plots to destroy the world.

FYEO is the only Roger Moore picture that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of the Bond films, with Moore proving he could play a tougher Bond if the director forced him to. The Bill Conti score (Barry lamentably was absent again) is merely adequate, but the title song is undoubtedly the best in recent years.

After seven appearances as 007, Moore finally gave up the role and was succeeded by Timothy Dalton. A classically trained actor and a professed admirer of Fleming's novels, Dalton was determined to make Bond a more nuanced and motivated character. Fleming fans applauded that approach; Moore fans did not. But even those who welcomed a hard-edged Bond thought Licence to Kill (1989), Dalton's second and final appearance as Bond, took things a bit too far. The film has some wonderful moments and characters but it's all predicated on the shaky premise that Bond has an argument with M and runs off to become a rogue agent, tracking down the vicious drug lord who maimed Bond's old pal Felix Leiter. The subsequent action features a lot more blood and brutality and a lot less savoir faire than we've come to expect from James Bond.

After settling the legal fracas that kept 007 off the screen for almost seven years, the series returned to life with its fifth star, Pierce Brosnan. In Goldeneye (1995) and Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Brosnan gives the role everything he's got, but he remains something of a lightweight compared to Connery and Dalton. Nevertheless, he takes the part far more seriously than Moore ever did, and his first two outings were laudable if not entirely successful attempts to continue in the direction Dalton turned the films.

In Tomorrow Never Dies, the media mogul villain played by Jonathan Pryce seemed intriguing at first but quickly became that hoariest of Bond cliches, the megalomaniac out to destroy the world for his own profit. And half the film's running time seemed to consist of Bond firing machine guns at someone, or someone firing machine guns at Bond. Goldeneye had a twistier plot and better villains, including former agent 006 gone bad, but suffered from Eric Serra's electronic beeps and boops — the most atrocious score in any Bond film, and possibly the worst score in cinema history.

MGM's list price for the new Bond disks is $35 each or $200 for the set, but they are, of course, available for less from many on-line dealers. If you were still looking for a reason to buy a DVD player, the James Bond Special Edition series is it.