SPECTRE

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

For Your Eyes Only

#12
Kristatos: The odds favor standing pat.
Bond: If you play the odds.
That's why I love For Your Eyes Only.

It would have been easy for the franchise to stand pat. Although it's come into disfavor, at the time the reviews for Moonraker were surprisingly positive. Roger Ebert gave it 3 stars, and Vincent Canby in the New York Times made it a "critic's pick" and declared, "Almost everyone connected with the movie is in top form..." Really, he said that. And Moonraker made a gazillion dollars...in absolute terms (but not-inflation adjusted) it outpaced every prior Bond movie, and was a huge world-wide financial success.

So the momentum was there, the temptation to keep the movies huge fantasy pieces, gala spectacles. Moonraker cribbed from The Spy Who Loved Me, which retold You Only Live Twice, and few noticed or complained at the time. They'd abandoned any real connection with Ian Fleming, and were rewarded handsomely for it. So why not keeping remaking the same blockbuster over and over? Why not keep bringing back Jaws, and keep facing billionaire madmen who want to blow up the whole world?

Yet, for some reason, they didn't. After the spectacular one-two punch of TSWLM and Moonraker, they abruptly changed direction, taking Bond back to his roots. There was precedent for this: after You Only Live Twice and its (for the time) huger than huge spectacle, the producers suddenly retrenched, dumped most of the gadgets, and brought Bond back down to earth with On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Coincidence? Or did Cubby Broccoli and crew realize that, despite the continued praise and money, they had taken Bond a little too far each time, and it was time to reel him back?

There are more similarities between OHMSS and FYEO. In both cases, after the prior movie was written by someone else, Richard Maibaum was brought back in. Both times, after the prior movie was related to Fleming essentially by title only, we were given much closer adaptations of Flemings' Bond stories. And in each case, the series' long time editor and occasional 2nd unit director was given his first shot ever at directing a motion picture. And (in my opinion, at least) both movies rocked pretty hard.

How risky was this reversion to an older Bond archetype? Consider that this was 1981, and we have James Bond without gadgets. None, nada (unless you count the "identograph," which is really just a big Etch-A-Sketch/police artist, and it never was in the field with Bond). After a film in which Bond never even held a gun, and relied 100% on gadgets, this was a pretty big reversal. This is a movie where Bond has to survive on wits and skill, not toys.

And I think Maibaum and co-writer Michael Wilson deliberately comment on this a couple of times. In the teaser, when "Blofeld" gets dumped down the smokestack, I think that's a symbolic way of saying "goodbye" to the style of Bond epics that dominated the 1970s. And when the Lotus blows up early on, not only is it a funny joke in its own right (burglar proof, indeed), I like to view it also as a statement: "We don't need no stinking submarine cars filled with gadgets!!" I'm sure that every person in the theater expected to see a gadget enhanced chase at that point--and the movie subverts that brilliantly.

Of course, one can only wish the teaser were a little bit better.. It gets off to an auspicious start, as we start with Bond leaving flowers at Tracy's grave. Wait--continuity in the Bond franchise?? Explicit acknowledgment of name and dates of Bond's wife?? Color me stunned but thrilled. Unfortunately, things go south fairly quickly. Bond as prisoner on the remote control helicopter isn't bad, really; it just pales next to the outlandishly wonderful stunts in the previous two teasers. While the stunt work is nice, it's also repetitive and overlong, and the direction is unimpressive, as we often aren't given a sense of scale or perspective as to the copter's location or how close it is to crashing.

Really, it's not Blofeld, just an incredible simulation!And of course, the part everybody hates, "Blofeld." For legal reasons, they couldn't actually use a character named "Blofeld," (more on that next week) and the character popularly known as "Wheelchair Man" doesn't even get a mention in the credits. For which, no doubt, the actor is eternally grateful. Because his dialogue is cliched at best, because he exudes no particular wit or charm, and because his personality changes from criminal mastermind to whinging cretin in the space of seconds, this is at best a fraternity follies version of Blofeld. Especially galling is perhaps the strangest and most cringe-worthy line of dialogue in any Bond movie, as "Blofeld" pleading for his life, tells Bond "I'll buy you a delicatessen--in stainless steel!!" 27 years later, I am still waiting for someone--anyone--to explain what the hell that even means. Someone, it's not too late--tell us what the hell you were thinking!! Even if you give this appearance and disposal of Blofeld the most charitable reading--which I mention above--it is terribly executed, and ridiculously inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the movie. And for people who weren't thrilled with Moonraker, the reappearance of an old villain in a jokey end to the teaser wasn't too reassuring.

I expect you to die MEOW(Aside: I guess I'd better share with you the best Blofeld theorem ever. It's not mine--I didn't come up with it--but I can't remember where in the world I've heard it...although it does have the smell of 3AM-waiting-for-pizza dorm room conversation. Anyway, the theory is this: THE CAT is really Blofeld...it just keeps finding a new human to mind control and carry out its will. That's why we always get Blofelds who look different, with different hair, different accents, different personalities...they're not really Blofeld, they're just fronts. Whenever a "Blofeld" dies, the cat gets away to find a new host...)

Before Prince got ahold of herAh, but the theme song...I rated it #4 in my theme song rankings, but I'll be damned if there aren't some days I'm tempted to make it #1. Heresy, I know...and I'm undoubtedly influenced by my (at the time) schoolboy crush on Sheena Easton. Sensuous and hypnotic, I love this song. I'm not the biggest fan of some of the arrangements Bill Conti used throughout the movie, but this song is great and is used well in the film's score. Fact--this movie is the first and only time that the singer appears in the opening credits...it was the MTV era, after all, and I guess the assumption was that people now wanted to see the people singing the songs. The "trend" didn't last. (Note to youngsters--MTV used to show "videos" all day long, not asinine reality crap)

With the next scene, we know something is different about this movie. The sinking of the St. Georges is exciting and well filmed, but it's also different from everything else in franchise history in a very real way--because for the first time in a Bond film it's an accident, not a villain's plan, that is the impetus for all the action in the story. MI6 doesn't stumble across a plot to destroy America's gold supply, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. isn't hijacking planes or space capsules...no, a simple "act of God" in the form of an old WWII mine that puts the MacGuffin into play, and both sides are equally scrambling to get it.

Two things are noteworthy about the A.T.A.C. First, it's certainly the most humble MacGuffin in a Bond movie since From Russia With Love. The fate of humanity, or WWIII, isn't at stake here. Nope, just like the Lektor coding machine, the A.T.A.C. isn't a device that will cause a war or wipe out a continent--it's just a piece of intelligence that will make life easier for one side of the cold war and harder for the other. Probably no one will die, new technology will be found to replace the old, and in 5 years none of it will have mattered (As Spock said, "Military secrets are the most fleeting of all"). For the first time in nearly 20 years, we have a real-world spy situation.

Secondly, and I had to double check this to make sure I wasn't nuts, FYEO is the first time a Bond film makes England and the Soviet Union direct competitors. They sorta kinda were in FRWL, but both sides were being manipulated by S.P.E.C.T.R.E., and Blofeld's organization tried much harder to kill Bond than the Russians did. In the rest of the movies, it was either S.P.E.C.T.R.E. or demented billionaires who were the enemy. Which was a huge change from the Fleming novels, because there, SMERSH was behind almost everything. I find it interesting that after 20 years of trying to avoid Cold War controversy by avoiding the Russians or making them dupes or making them allies, the franchise decided that the time had come to make them rivals, if not actual villains.

SPOLIER ALERT-things don't go well for the villain hereThe quest for the A.T.A.C. is the glue which holds together the merging of two Ian Fleming short stories. In "For Your Eyes Only," M's friends the Havelocks are murdered in Jamaica (again with the Jamaica, Ian??), and he sends Bond on an off-the-books mission to find their killer and protect their daughter, Judy...who it turns out has taken up hunting down her parents killers with a crossbow. "Risico" is pretty much the story of Colombo and Kristatos as presented in the movie. Bond is sent to investigate an Italian drug ring, meets with contact Kristatos who tells him Colombo is the bad guy, Colombo captures Bond and tells him that Kristatos is really the Russian-backed bad guy, and proves it by having Bond join him on a raid of Kristatos' warehouse. The movie also borrows the "shark-drag" from the Live And Let Die novel (which the Venture Brothers did a hilarious riff on last week!).

Check the angular vector of the moon!!Adding spice to this recipe is a collection of memorable supporting characters. Really, aside from Bond Girls and villains, we haven't had a lot of interesting people for Bond to meet in recent movies, and those he did were usually just cannon fodder. But FYEO gives us one of the classics, in Milos Columbo (yes, they change the spelling from the book). Topol charms the pants off the audience as the latest in the Bond tradition of roguish "bad guys" that Bond becomes first allies and then friends with. Watching Bond's initial distrust turn to grudging acceptance and eventual friendship helps humanize Moore's performance. And it brings back a Flemingesque element that's often lost in the "extravaganza" Bond films--the overlap between the spy world and the criminal world, and how 007 is able to tread in both. Bond taking part in a gang war between Greek smugglers, even if a diversion from his mission, is a facet of Bond you don't get often in the movies.

Yes, Topol overdoes the pistachios bit. But you know what I would pay to see a movie of? I would pay to see a movie of Kerim Bey, Draco and Columbo sitting around, drinking and telling roguish stories and sharing philosophies of life. Could the screen hold that much charisma??

Liverpool my ass...Another wonderful character is Contessa Lisl Von Schlaf, Columbo's doomed mistress (and Bond's). Cassandra Harris (the first wife of Pierce Brosnan!) makes the most of her small amount of screen time, turning what could have been another forgettable conquest into a touching and sad bit. We never learn much about her--was she really a contessa, perhaps a girl who married a minor noble as Tracy Bond had? Or was it just a costume, part of her role as a shill for the house at Columbo's casino? Whatever her origin, Lisl's relationship with Bond is believable and touching, and her death is one of the series' most painful.

A lot of people rip on Bibi, which is their right, but forgive me if I disagree. Sure, she doesn't actually do much, and she's no one's ideal of a Bond girl. But she provides a good contrast with Melina, and helps disguise the fact that Kristatos is the villain. Plus, she gives Kristatos someone to slap, so we can really hate him. To address a specific complaint, about the "ick" factor of such a youngster making it with Bond: First, they never do it, and Bond is never even tempted, so where's this supposed ick? Secondly, Lynn-Holly Johnson is one whole year younger than Carol Bouquet, so any queasiness over Bond and young ladies is highly selective. She's pretty, she jumps on a trampoline. What more can I ask?

Do you want to play a game?Continuing the trend of mostly silent henchmen, Michael Gothard is one of the few who can actually pull that off while still being memorable. Locque's quiet menace is palpable, even when he doesn't say a thing. I was surprised to find that he doesn't have a single line of dialogue the whole movie! Yet his presence dominates the first half of the movie--which just goes to show how much impact someone can have without having to resort to metal teeth or prosthetic hands. He earns Bond's enmity, killing both Luigi and Lisl, and hunting Bond during the winter sports chase. When Bond shoots him down, and administers the coup de grace of kicking Locque's car down the cliff, it's one of the most satisfying moments of the Moore era (even though it's been said that Moore himself didn't like that scene at all).

Speaking of that car fall, did you notice how it didn't explode? FYEO took very seriously its commitment to more realism. Despite several car crashes, none of them exploded! That same commitment can be seen in many of the set pieces, which take a much less outlandish approach than, say, Moonraker:
  • The Citroen chase. It could have been turned into a joke, like the hover-gondola, but no--they treat it seriously. Bond has to escape with a less than state-of-the-art car or special gadgets. It's very refreshing to see 007 mount an escape not because of special auto enhancements, and not because the people chasing him just drive into things for no reason (like a Guy Hamilton movie). Bond just out drives them, despite being out-horse powered.
  • The shark drag. Thrilling and frightening, there's no magnetic buzzsaw watch to save James and Melina. They escape through wits and fortitude.
  • Bond's winter pentathlon (cross country skiing, downhill, ski jump, bobsled, and hockey). Silly at times, but never over the top, and exciting. And once again, no magical rescues. 007 just outperforms his enemies. Nobody does it better, and he needs no gadgets. (Special note to those who complain about Kriegler missing Bond--Kriegler may have been an expert target shooter, but that's not the same thing as hitting a swiftly moving object...which explains why he could shoot the gun and ski pole out of Bond's hand when Bond was stationary, but couldn't seem to hit him when Bond was actually moving. Good biathlete, crappy assassin)
  • The climb. Beautiful use of location, wonderful stunt work. One man, one cliff-face to climb, one evil goomba to overcome. Tense and fascinating.
There's more--much more--because this movie never stands still. Whatever else you might say about FYEO, it doesn't skimp on the action, maintaining a brisk pace from Madrid to Cortina to Corfu to St. Cyril's, with auto chases, submarine battles, winter chases, raids on drug warehouses, rock climbing...And for the most part, John Glen knew how to keep it moving, never letting any set piece go on too long, and leaving plenty of room in between for the characters to breath and grow.

I've worked for Darth Vader and survived...evil enough for you??Kristatos makes for a good change of pace villain. No, he's no scenery chewer, but compared with Curt Jurgens and Michael Lonsdale, the existence of actual emotion and charm in his delivery is something of a revelation. He actually has a pulse!! And given the tone they wanted for this movie, Julian Glover's performance is note-perfect. Not a megalomaniac, not someone bent on conquest or blackmail; Kristatos is just a venal little man seeking to make money by betraying his people, first to the Nazis, then to the communists. His veneer of charm is convincing, as Bond (and most viewers, I find) are initially fooled by his performance, and are surprised to find that Kristatos is really the villain of the piece. The final fight between Columbo and Kristatos isn't pretty, but it's perfect--a couple of old men foes flailing at each other over an A.T.A.C., but really fighting over 40 years of bad blood and betrayal. Kiristatos is not one of the great villains, but he is a good one, particularly in the context of the Moore era. Special bonus: Julian Glover has been a Doctor Who villain, a Bond villain, an Indiana Jones villain, and a Star Wars bad guy. That's quite the resume...

For your eyes only, darlingMelina Havelock is a beautiful and deadly companion for Bond. No, Carole Bouquet is not a great actress, but then again, the script never tries to stretch her that much (and compared to Lois Chiles, she's Meryl Streep). Her drive to avenge her parents--while not caring about the big picture--is reminiscent of what Bond himself will be going through in Licence to Kill. And Bond's concern that getting revenge will ruin her is perhaps a hat tip to Domino, who did get her revenge--does this mean that things didn't go well for her later? (And, it should be noted, Bond's concern is rather late, as she had already killed Gonzales, in a pretty cool scene straight out of the Fleming story, before he starts warning her to dig two graves). She's striking, she competent, she has fire, and she's a good partner for Bond.

Yes!As to Bond himself, well, this is just me, but I think this is Roger Moore's best performance as 007. The know-it-all-ism is tamped down, as his smirking (teaser aside). Now when he gives the death quip, it's not to get a laugh, but a bitter taunt at his fallen foe. The visit to Tracy's grave pays dividends, as well--check out the look on Moore's face when Melina tells him that, as an Englishman, he doesn't understand what it is to have to avenge your loved ones. His chemistry with Topol is wonderful, his relationship with Melina adult, not condescending and leering (oh, Moonraker, how you still hurt me). How much credit goes to the writing of Glen's direction, I'm not sure. And the coasting is gone. Despite being in pain for much of the shooting (a badly dislocated shoulder) and reportedly not being thrilled with the direction for his character, Moore gives us his best Bond.

Really, they were THIS big...The ending, of course, is wonderful. What other Bond movie would have the balls to end in a stalemate? The climax line, "That's detente, comrade--you don't have it, I don't have it" would be completely out of place in any other Bond movie, but is a brilliant finish here. And the sale of that line is completed by the return of Walter Gotell as General Gogol...we know these men have some history, and that there is some respect between them (note to Eon: this is how you do a returning character...not Jaws, not Pepper, but Gogol), so his laugh and shrug at the loss of the A.T.A.C. is believable, just another move in "The Game" of Cold War spycraft. Talk about not standing pat, about not playing the odds!!

And that's what I find so magical about FYEO. Not only is it a complete change of pace in the midst of circumstances that might have called for standing pat. But it's a rearranging of the same old Bond elements into a an actual spy movie--honest to god motives, goals, and methods...with just an occasional hit of the outlandish. I don't think that I would want every Bond film to be like this--variety is good, and fantasy is an important component of the series. But I think this was a type of movie the franchise needed at this point in time...and amazingly, they got it.

FYEO doesn't have the best Bond girl of the Moore era, doesn't have the best villain (or maybe it does??), the best gadgets, the best teaser...but somehow, Maibaum and Wilson and John Glen put everything together with a synergy that hits it out of the park and removes the bad taste of Moonraker from our mouths. It's a movie that takes itself seriously, that denies itself some of the easy storytelling tools from the previous two pictures, and reaps huge rewards from the efforts. As someone who prefers the more "straight" secret agent types of Bond movies, I confess I might be biased towards this flick. But I think For Your Eyes Only is the best Roger Moore Bond. No, it's not perfect, it has flaws (more below). But the good so outweighs any less-good that I find this an easy call to make.

This lightning in a bottle wouldn't last--the same writing and directing team is on board for the next 4 Eon pictures, and they would somehow plunge to the depths of A View To A Kill. But this movie? I love this movie.

And I think the Thatcher scene was hilarious. So sue me.

SNELL"S RANDOM NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:


**Let's start with the baccarat screw-up. In the first hand we see against "Bunky," the croupier somehow announces that Bond has a 9, when he quite plainly has a 5:

It's an obvious editing error...the next hand, Bond is dealt the exact same hand, queen of spades + 5 of diamonds, so they just used the wrong frames there.

0+5=9???Still, as this is the first game of chance we see Moore as Bond playing (really--5 movies in, and it's the first), it's a shame they screwed it up.

**An obvious question to ask is, why the hell doesn't Bond just set off the self-destruct on the A.T.A.C. the moment they find it at the bottom of the sea? Having it destroyed and not in Russian hands is clearly viewed as a huge triumph by his superiors. And it's not like you need that particular console--England presumably still has the blueprints and can build more, right?? By recovering it and carrying it around, you run the risk of exactly what happened--the A.T.A.C. falling into enemy hands.

**Q's trip to Greece is not only unnecessary, but ridiculous! Timeline: Bond signals Whitehall that Kristatos has taken the A.T.A.C. to "St. Cyril's." Q goes all the way out to Greece to tell Bond there are 439 St. Cyrils!! Then, and only then, does Bond think, "Hey, I'll ask Columbo!"

Given the need for speed--Russian agents are surely on the way for the A.T.A.C.--couldn't Q have just phoned Bond, or sent a wire to Station G, as opposed to wasting a day flying out there, setting up a rendezvous, etc? And more to the point, couldn't Bond have just asked Columbo in the first place? We have two Q scenes in this movie already...do we really need a third, just as an excuse to put Q in a silly costume?

**The question has been asked, "Why does Locque kill Lisl? Isn't Kristatos trying to convince Bond that Columbo is 'The Dove?' Killing Lisl is counterproductive?" Yes, but seconds afterward they also try to kill Bond. It's clear that Kristatos has given up on having Bond kill Columbo--Bond has gotten too close, and once he meets with Columbo the game is over. So take out Bond now, and Lisl is just the bonus.

**Another reason why Kriegler couldn't hit Bond: An East German athlete from the late 70s/early 80s? It's gotta be 'roid rage:

He was an East German woman swimmer, actually**I know that it was kind of short notice, having to come up with an excuse for M not being around in the wake of Bernard Lee's death. But James Villiers as Chief of Staff (Bill Tanner, but not named as such on screen) is all wrong. He comes across as a somewhat supercilious upper class twitsmug and clueless, not the man who should be running the Double O section. Fortunately, a longer term solution was on the horizon.

Well, I'm far more upper crust than you, Bond!**Yeah, yeah, there's a transsexual in the pool scene. Big whoopity do. Who really cares?

**Did the priest know?

In the teaser, the priest tells Bond his company has called, and is sending a chopper. Even though it is a Universal Exports helicopter, "Blofeld" says the pilot was one of his men. So was there really an emergency, and Blofeld intercepts the MI-6 pilot and replaces him with one of his own? (If so, we never hear of this emergency). Or is it all made up, and Blofeld's show all the way?

And since Blofeld is set up a ways away, how does he know that Bond is at the church? Did he have him trailed? Or is the priest in on it, and he gave Blofeld a call ("he's here, send the copter quick!")?

**There's a crossbow shop in Cortina? (and worse...Melina doesn't re-arm herself before she gets there??)

We have all the latest models**Why does it take Kristatos so long to find St. Georges? Havelock's diary says he found the wreck near where he had earlier seen a diving bell (presumably Kristatos'). Since it takes Bond several days, at least, to get down there in the submarine (London, Madrid for at least one overnight, back to London, Cortina for at least one overnight, Corfu for at least 2 nights before he meets up with Melina)...what are Kristatos' people doing? They should have found it before Bond showed up...

**Speaking of which, this is a good reason why Chief Of Staff Tanner shouldn't be running things, because the mission he gives Bond is ass backwards. Instead of worrying about who hired Gonzales to kill the Havelocks, shouldn't the first priority be recovering the A.T.A.C.?? All the time Bond is traipsing about in Madrid and Cortina and snuggling with Lisl, not a single thing is done to recover the A.T.A.C. Nothing. All that time Bond spends hunting the person who ordered the hit, that same person could have been (and should have been) finding the A.T.A.C. and handing it over to the Soviets. Finding the killers doesn't do you any good if they still recover the A.T.A.C. first. Why not clue in Melina, or hire other fronts, to keep looking?!?

**Is this really the best use of taxpayer funds? Really, Q and Moneypenny...

Q was bored, I guess**Bond Score: 2. Lisl and Melina. Cumulative Bond score: 34

And, as always

Well, sort ofBut wait....there's been another rip in the space/time continuum...TWO Bond movies in 1983? And one of them starring Sean Connery? That could NEVER happen, could it? Tune in next week to find out...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Because God Hates Us

You may or may not have heard already--the US premiere of Quantum of Solace has been delayed one week, until November 14th, as part of the post-Harry-Potter-delay reshuffling.

Dammit, dammit, dammit!!

Well, the countdown clock above has been adjusted.

And since this upsets my delicately planned one-Bond-movie-per-week-until-the-debut time schedule, and since I'm running behind this week anyway, I'll skip this week, and bring you For Your Eyes Only next week.

Enjoy you're weekend.

Damn you, Harry Potter!!!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Moonraker

#11Moonraker is the worst James Bond movie.

OK, now that that's out of the way...

As all of you head straight to the comments section to a) tell me how crazy I am or b) log in your own personal nominees for the worst Bond, let me make my case.

Let me start out by saying that I used to be a Moonraker apologist. "Yes, it's bad, " I'd tell my friends, "but it only made the same mistakes as every other movie of its era--trying to jump on the Star Wars bandwagon. If you factor that part out, it's not as bad as you remember."

What can I say? I was young. Sure, the Star Wars me-tooism does hurt the film. But the movie's problems run much deeper and much wider than that. In almost every category, Moonraker is a substandard Bond film.

Which is a crying shame, because after the franchise's "return to glory" with The Spy Who Loved Me, the sky was the limit. Bond was Bond again, and for one brief shining moment in the 70's 007 was cool again. But rather than build upon that success, Moonraker reeks of laziness and trendiness. "This writer and director did great last movie--let's just throw them back out there, regardless of whether or not they have any new ideas! We did boffo box office last time, so we have a big budget--let's just throw lots of money at the screen and everyone will love it!! Everything we did in TSWLM--let's just do it again!!" Which is how one of the better Bond films ends of followed by one of the worst.

And of course, there was the Star Wars bandwagon. As you know, the "James Bond Will Return" in the closing credits of TSWLM called out For Your Eyes Only as the next Bond film. Oops. Wha' happened? Star Wars happened. While TSWLM was in release, so Star Wars (now known as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), and it made approximately one gazillion dollars. Across the land, producers saw this and learned one lesson: sci-fi=big bucks. Ignoring the quality part of the equation, TV and movie producers began to churn out ridiculous amounts of knock-offs and rip-offs, trying to hit it big while working cheaply in this "new" genre.

In a perfect world, you would hope a venerable franchise such as James Bond would be beyond such a crass attempt at a cash-in. No such luck. As we've already seen, Eon had already spent half the 1970's trying to mimic "hot" movie trends such as blaxploitation and kung fu. So it should be no surprise that Cubby Broccoli would see the success of Star Wars, realize they had the rights to a Bond book that was sorta kinda related to space, and decide to ride that nag until it dropped. The fact that they had already publicly announced FYEO made that decision to hop the bandwagon a little more embarrassing, but in all honesty the decision itself was no different than that made by a hundred different producers and studios at the time.

And financially, it worked: Moonraker had a healthy 50% box office bump over TSWLM. Of course, the question is how much of that was because people flocked to "Bond in space," and how much was carry over from memories of the quality of TSWLM. But critically, the film was far less successful.

On one level, it's a shame because Moonraker was such a good novel. The movie only took the main villain, Hugo Drax, and the fact that rockets were involved, and left everything else behind.

In the Ian Fleming novel, M calls in Bond for an "off the books" personal mission. Sir Hugo Drax, a supposed WWII hero who has become one of the most prominent industrialists in England as well as the developer of Britain's ballistic missile program, is a member of M's club. M is convinced the Drax has been cheating at bridge. M is concerned about the damage that could be done to Britain's defense program by a public gambling scandal, so he asks James to confirm whether or not Drax is cheating, and to help him put a stop to it before Drax gets caught and publicly humiliated. What follows, and I'm not making this up, is one of the best-written scenes in all of Bond, as James tries to out cheat the cheater without causing a scandal. Tense and exciting, no one can write a bridge scene like Ian Fleming. I'm serious!!

Anyway, Bond ends up infiltrating and investigating other nefarious mysteries surround Drax's business. With the help of Special Branch agent Gala Brand, who is posing as Drax's personal secretary, Bond discovers that Drax and most of his higher-ups are actually ex-Nazi's who escaped at the end of WWII and established new identities (remember, this was 1955, when such a scenario was credible, and not just a spy fiction cliche). With the help of those pesky Soviets, the Moonraker missile that Drax is supposed to test fire into the North Sea is really armed with an atomic warhead and will land in the heart of London, to avenge Germany's loss. After horrific tortures and trials, Bond and Brand manage to redirect the missile so it hits the Soviet submarine Drax and his goons are escaping in (yeah, they used that bit in TSWLM). And Bond doesn't get the girl!! All in all, a terrific read...and not a syllable of it gets used in the movie.

With TSWLM, screenwriter Christopher Wood finessed up Richard Maibaum's synthesis of the 902 versions of the script. Here, in Moonraker, he didn't have that to work with. Given a completely clean slate, with the exception of "give me Drax and space and bring back Jaws," we get a true test of his ability to write a Bond screenplay.

The results of that test? He failed utterly. Even given the constraints the producers gave him, you'd think he could have come up with something with a mild bit of originality. But while TSWLM recycled bunches of You Only Live Twice, hey, that movie was a decade old, and it improves on the original in most ways. For Moonraker, he wrote a carbon copy of THE PREVIOUS Bond movie. All he did was run it through the word processor again and change a few of the nouns. Let's compare, shall we?

TSWLM: Teaser involves ship being mysteriously stolen, the girl Bond is macking with tries to have him killed, and the teaser climaxes with a Bond parachute stunt.
MR: Teaser starts with a ship being mysteriously stolen, the girl Bond is macking with tries to have him killed, and the teaser climaxes with a Bond parachute jump.

TSWLM: The plot involves an insane billionaire who believes humanity has become corrupt; he wants to eliminate all humans and start over from his undersea base.
MR: The plot involves an insane billionaire who believes humanity has become corrupt; he wants to eliminate all humans and start over from his satellite base.

TSWLM: The main henchmen is a mute giant named Jaws.
MR: The main henchmen is a mute giant named Jaws (with added bonus: a mostly mute Japanese henchmen!!)

TSWLM: The Bond girl is a Russian spy.!
MR: The Bond girl is an American spy!

TSWLM: A special Bond vehicles comes out of the water onto dry land, as tourists and animals do double takes.
MR: A special Bond vehicles comes out of the water onto dry land, as tourists and animals do double takes. Except in this one, we get lots more double-takes and reaction shots. lots more.


I mean, if nothing else, you have to admire the size of Wood's cojones, to turn in exactly the same script. And he got paid for it. But the staggeringly mind-numbing lack of originality here is simply unbelievable for a supposedly proud franchise.

The teaser, although it is a bit reminiscent of TSWLM, does feature the great, great,GREAT skydiving sequence. It's well shot, well paced, and thrilling. They made 88 jumps (yes, 88) to get all the shots needed for the sequence.

Back, for some reasonAnd then they screw it up and put Jaws in it.

Look, I understand why they wanted to bring Jaws back--they misread the public, who loved TSWLM not just for Jaws, but also for reasons of, you know, quality--but if you're going to bring him back, this was the worst way possible. First, the "comedy" he brings in destroys what was going to be one of the highest-quality teasers. After all the work and care in staging the elaborate suspenseful skydiving sequence, we suddenly have Richard Kiel flapping his arms like a bird and comedy music and a circus and...like the slide whistle and slow motion on the barrel roll jump in TMWTGG, the people making the movie have absolutely NO conception that ridiculous comedy DURING the stunt drains all of the tension out of it.

And then there's Jaws surviving a fall from that height. It's the "Indy nuked in a fridge" problem--once you have a character survive an actual freakin' nuclear explosion in the opening reel, you've told the audience he can't be killed, so there is no more belief by the audience that any of the situations are at all threatening. So when Jaws walks away from the mile-high fall, well, it ruins not just the teaser, but the whole movie...we've moved from half-step-out-of-reality spy action movie to a Road Runner cartoon, and we can't take anything seriously again.

Last week I discussed how having Jaws be so indestructible hurt TSWLM; but this time, they've taken his strength and invulnerability to even greater heights, as the physical rules of the universe no longer apply. He stops a cable car spool with his bare hands?!? A crash that demolishes the whole terminal he just walks away from? He and his cute girlfriend survive the breakup of the space station? Please. With his bare hands he tears up the docking mechanism on the space station? This is now Popeye and Bluto, not Bond and Oddjob. Just as with the re-use of J.W. Pepper, the return of Jaws shows that the filmmakers are so afraid of offending the public by doing new things that they'll torpedo originality and quality for safety. And at least Pepper was back for only about 5 minutes.

And I have to say, Jaws' betrayal of Drax at the end is not at all convincing: there's no foreshadowing, no mistreatment of Jaws or Dolly by Drax, nothing...Bond just gestures with his head and Jaws is converted? And I thought Pussy Galore was an easy conversion...And frankly, Jaws becoming a good guy is also borderline offensive. For the second movie in a row, Jaws was a willing accomplice in the attempted genocide of the human race. In three seconds he and Bond are suddenly best buds? All is forgiven, sorry about all the times I tried to kill you and 4 billion others? Grrrrr...

After the thoroughly mediocre theme song by Shirley Bassey (another reurn!!), we get another clear example of lethargic writing. When Bond is given the mission to find out what happened to the Moonraker, he decides that since Drax Industries made the shuttle, that's where his investigation should begin. Huh? So far there hasn't been a single clue, hint or indication that Drax was involved...so why start your investigation there? Unless there was some evidence, it would be like starting the investigation in TSWLM with the manufacturer of the submarines. In that movie, it took a lengthy investigation, spy work, and the following of clues to get to Stromberg. In this movie, though, Wood clearly has no idea how to lead Bond to Drax, so he has Bond just start out there, on a whim.

So Bond shows up, apparently without a clue (what, he expected to find the missing shuttle hidden under a tarp out back?), and Drax immediately tries to kill him. That was Drax's plan? If anyone shows up to ask about the shuttle, kill them? Seriously? Bond had no clue at that point (and would never have any if you weren't a careless idiot, Hugo)--attempting to kill him just makes him suspicious.

And so Bond follows a trail of bread crumbs that Drax stupidly leaves behind. He leaves a document in his safe that leads to Venice, he leaves boxes laying around in Venice marked Rio, in his warehouse in Rio he leaves behind shipping stickers for Drax Air Freight...jeebus, it's like Drax wants Bond to find his hideout. Of course, most of these clue make no sense, and there's little reason for Bond to follow them. There's nothing innately suspicious, for example, about the blueprints for glass cylinders, and nothing at all to link them to the shuttle. But what the hell, psychic Bond drops everything and rushes off to Venice. And although he and Goodhead say they're going to track all the Drax Air Freight flights leaving from Rio, they never do!! Bond finds the secret HQ because of the orchid nerve toxin...so everything that happened in Rio (except for Goodhead being captured) was completely irrelevant to the plot!! Thanks, Christopher Wood!!

The idiot/rerun plot continues until Bond finds Drax's hidden Amazonian HQ, and we embark on the MOST BORING 40 minutes in the entire Bond canon. Seriously, in a classic case of post-Star Wars syndrome, there is nothing to see here except some great Ken Adam sets on his last Bond movie. The writer/director just assume that "amazing" special effects will enthrall us.

At the end James Bond himself is essentially demoted to an observer. Goodhead flies the shuttle, Goodhead leads him to all the important points on the station and disables the radar-jammer. He turns Jaws to the side of the angels with a glance, but they're captured anyway. He basically just stands around and watches the U.S. military fight Drax's goons, not getting involved until he sees Drax fleeing. Jaws has to free the trapped shuttle. Goodhead flies the shuttle while the auto-target tracks the first two globes. When Bond has to manually shoot down the last one--well, you remember how I complained that at the climax of Stromberg's plot, we might as well have been watching Bond play a video game? Well, that's what we're reduced to here.

The sense of coasting that pervades the script also pervades many of the set pieces. Bond has had boat chases in 2 of the last 3 movies (if you count the underwater Lotus in TSWLM, it's three in a row). So what do we do? I know...let's have a boat chase!! Hey, let's have two!! Sure, the boat chase in Brazil is well done (except for Wile E. Jaws going down the falls), but by that point the audience is going, "Another boat chase?!? What's up with that?" Especially since the one, in Venice, is so terrible. Aside from being an exercise in repeating yourself (water vehicle goes up on land? Check and check...one boat cuts another in two? Check...), the staging is ridiculously poor. When the assassin's "funeral" boat goes by and crashes into the bridge because the coffin makes it too tall--so what, that was their escape plan? Nobody checks the boat's height beforehand? Did this happen to "real" funeral boats? And when Bond turns the gondola into a hovercraft and takes it into the square...

The second most embarrassing scene in Bond historythe people chasing him just sit there and watch while he trundles away at two miles per hour. Why didn't he just get out and run? Why didn't they get out of their boat and chase him?? Why are we subjected to a pigeon doing a double take??

Dear God, MAKE IT STOP!!!!!!!!!!When Bond kills the huntsman at Drax's estate, why does Drax let him leave? Why not turn him into the police? Even if they end up dismissing it as a hunting accident it would tie Bond up for awhile. Hell, why not sick the dogs on Bond like you did with Corrine? Or, since you were going to stage a hunting accident anyway, just shoot him yourself?!?!?

It continues...After Bond leaves the virus factory, why does he leave it unwatched? Why not call some of your people from Station V to watch the place while you're making love to Holly, so the bad guys can't empty the place out? Since the person in the centrifuge trainer has his hands tied down, why is there a control panel inside the cockpit, and how would shooting it override the commands from the control room (you'd think the opposite)?

Sadly, almost the entire film is like this. There's no rhyme of reason to why most of the events occur, nothing organic to the story. There's merely a need to get Bond from point A to point B, and no serious effort put into doing so. We want Bond to meet Drax early--who cares if it makes sense. We need Bond to ride a hover gondola through St. Martin's Square--who cares if it is the world's most impractical escape? We need to get Bond to Vienna--sure, the clue makes no sense, but no one will notice.

Going through the motions also describes the direction in this film. While Lewis Gilbert turned in an impressive job in TSWLM, this time around the pacing feels tired and slow. The dogs hunting down poor Corrine is a stellar scene, but it feels like it's from a different movie--there's an urgency and tension there that's simply not in any of the other scenes. The return of the dreaded "speeded up footage to mimic actual action" is quite obvious, and not a sign of a well directed film. Maybe the turn towards camp, or having to work around special effects, threw Gilbert off his game (and lo and behold...Corrine's death has neither Jaws nor lasers). Even the old Gilbert standby--massive climactic battle all over one of Ken Adam's massive sets--is tepid and lifeless and cold.

SLEEP!!!!!Speaking of going through the motions, there are our acting performances. Let's start with Drax (Michael Lonsdale). I'll give Wood a little bit of credit here...Drax has some better lines than Stromberg did, a couple of very memorable ones. But he's still not fleshed out in the least--like Stromberg, we have no idea why he thinks the world is corrupt and deserves to be wiped out. Especially given that he's a billionaire with industrial concerns on at least 3 continents and brings French mansions to America "brick by brick," we need some reason to believe why a man who has done so well in the world hates the world so much. Nor is any reason shown why he has such an antipathy to Bond from the first moment they meet, as Bond hasn't done anything to annoy or interfere with Drax yet.

And most of the good lines are buried in "low-key" non-energy of Lonsdale's performance. Someone needed to grab Lonsdale by the lapels and scream to him that droll does not equal lethargic, that menacing does not equal monotone, that wealth and power do not equal somnabulance. It's interesting that both villains in this Gilbert "duology" are both played in such low affect, low personality performances. It's as if the actors both watched Dr. No for prep and took the wrong lessons from Joseph Wiseman's performance (while obviously neglecting to watch even a frame of Goldfinger--now there's an insane billionaire). Drax rises above the level of Stromberg, albeit barely...but neither is a terribly good villain.


Hello-James-how-are-you-click-whirrAnd then there's Holly Goodhead. Lois (Voodoo) Chiles performance is straight out of Mannequin--not the parts with Kim Catrall, but the parts where we just see the dummy. She is plasticine, wooden, without a trace of emotion in any of her delivery, her words stiff and robotic. Her performance is out of a 1st grade Christmas pageant. Her timing is almost always off, as her lines are delivered too fast or a beat too late. She's a lovely women, but she's simply not any kind of an actress. It's a shame, too, because it's a decently written role, and Holly is actually a much better spy than Anya from TSWLM--she's a crack shot with a laser, she takes down a couple of goons to turn of the radar blocker (something Anya never did, despite her rep), she knows her way around the station and can fly the shuttle...it's too bad that they gave the role to someone completely incapable of performing it. (Note: fortunately, there's not a scene where Drax and Goodhead both have dialogue, or the entire film, if not the entire universe, would have collapsed into a black hole of ennui and flatness.)

And then there's 007 himself. Upon a careful viewing, I've got to say that this is one of the most atypical roles for Bond ever. Fact #1--Bond doesn't drive any car at all the whole movie. Fact #2--at no point does Bond have a handgun...no Walther, no Beretta, no Magnum, no laser pistol. The only time he has a gun is when Drax forces him to carry the hunting shotgun. James Bond with no cars or guns?!?

Do I look old yet?Bond is also far too chauvinistic towards Goodhead, making several sexist remarks, which is especially surprising given what happened with Anya last movie...maybe it ended badly, and now he has a sour opinion of female spies? Wood also plays up the most annoying aspect of Roger Moore's Bond, the smug know-it-all who likes to arrogantly interrupt and lecture people. He recognizes the orchid from its chemical make-up, and even though it's extremely rare he knows its scientific name and knows better than Q where it was found. He interrupts Holly several times during her tour of Drax's facilities, eager to show off his superior knowledge of space shuttles. This version of Bond is one you wouldn't want to have a pint with...he's a Cliff Clavin who feels compelled to try and one-up you by showing off knowledge on any and every topic.

And, while it's hard to separate from the writing, Moore's performance feels like a step backwards. He comes across as smug and self-satisfied, too eager to play up the comedy rather than let it flow around him as he plays it seriously. Given that the writer and directors and producers and other actors don't seem to be throwing large amounts of energy into this film, maybe it's no surprise that Moore is coasting a bit, too.

Allow me to applaud Derek Meddings and the rest of the special effects team. No, the visuals aren't as good as Star Wars or 2001. But they did this ALL in-house, without ILM or any other special effects house. No computers, just models and overlays and running a negative through the projector 40 times to get all of the elements on screen. For the time, with what they had to work with, it was fairly amazing stuff.

But the producers forgot one of rules of the franchise: Bond should be set ten minutes into the future, not 10 years. Cool gadgets that are at least feasible if not practical? Sure. The U.S., England, and private armies all armed with laser weapons (never to be seen again)? Too far. A super magnetic watch? That's pushing it, but it's not Bond in Space, so we accept it. The public knew that the first space shuttle mission hadn't even flown yet, yet here was Moonraker asking us to believe fleets of shuttles and a U.S. military space special forces squad ready to blast off in 5 minutes notice. Star Wars and Star Trek could get us to suspend our belief by setting themselves in other galaxies or centuries in the future. Bond was supposed to have one foot in the real world, but in Moonraker they rejected that for a world of pure science fiction fantasy.

So amazingly enough, after the triumph of The Spy Who Loved Me, the franchise crashes to Earth (at least in terms of quality) almost immediately with Moonraker. It's a movie that tales no chances--it copies itself, it copies Star Wars, it plays it safe in every respect. And every time something exciting or original might happen, they immediately undercut it with camp and "audience favorites" and seemingly doing everything possible to avoid stretching themsleves. The cast, the writer, the director, the producers--except for some special effects, Ken Adam's and a glorious skydiving stunt, everyone involved is guilty of coasting.

The 1970's was a particularly fallow decade for the James Bond franchise, and this film was the nadir. Fortunately, the 1980's were around the corner.

**Farewell, Bernard Lee.

Died from sheer crankiness overdose**So, when they transport a space shuttle atop a jumbo jet, the space shuttle is fully fueled?? You'd think that wouldn't be so for weight and safety problems, and you'd certainly think the pilot would know. (Bonus huh--the RAF has 747s??) (Oh, and why was Britain borrowing a space shuttle, anyway?)

**If Drax had to have 6 shuttles, why not just make 2 trips with one of the remaining 5 instead of stealing a sixth? If he doesn't steal it, there's no investigation, and we're all dead! Since no one could detect the station (or 6 simultaneous shuttle launches from Brazil!!), why risk exposure with a lame ass theft, when you could just make one more run?

**Speaking of which, sure, the space station was somehow radar shielded...but a U.S. that's capable of launching military strikes into space can't detect a whole bunch of shuttles coming and going (not only at the climax, but all of the launches that must have been necessary to build the station in the first place)? The shuttles weren't radar shielded (Goodhead could see them on radar, but not the station). The U.S. couldn't see six shuttles converging on one point in space??? And let's not ask how the stolen shuttle got from the Yukon to Brazil without being seen on radar...what, they walked it??

**At least Drax thought to include women in his plan to repopulate, unlike Stromberg.

**Another sign of coasting: In Thunderball, the producers paid to stange an out-of-season junkanoo festival, resulting in one of the greatest chase sequences in franchise history. In this movie, they filmed some stock footage of the Carnivale months earlier, and edited that into footage of close-ups of a bunch of extras jumping around Bond and Manuela to make it look as if they're actual at the parade. That's why 97% of the scenes with Bond, Manuela and Jaws take place down a long, dark alley, with no parade in sight.

**Ha ha, this part of the credits is funny because maybe we're supposed to think they were really in space?!?

Ha ha ha haAnd using the Close Encounters tones for the door code? And the notes from Also Spach Zarathustra during the hunting scene? These people are really determined to give us clues to how clever they think they are, when they got actually got to this ground after Buck Rogers and Battlestar: Galactica...and don't get me started on the Magnificent Seven theme..

**Moonraker received an Oscar nomination for special effects, but I'm pretty sure that nomination would have been taken away if any of the voters had actually watched the scene with the snake:

His first role since a 1942 Tarzan epic**"Drax Enterprise Corporation?" They forget Amalgamated, Company and LLC...

Subcontractor for ACME?**And also, a farewell to Ken Adams, as this was his last Bond work. If you've been reading this blog, you know how I love the man's work. The unique look he created for these movies is soooo perfect, and such a factor in the feel the franchise had for it's first 2 decades. Like the meeting room/silo:

We are but insects in Ken Adam's massive world
I could totally pee on you right now!And the control room, which seems to channeling Jim Steranko's Nick Fury comics:

S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ?
I wonder if this place is still available??The pyramid interior:

Why do villains always have such a style sense?
With a crib like this, who ants to leave Earth??The space station control room:

Space:1999 wishes they had it this goodOthers will follow, and many will do note-worthy work. But for me, nothing says "Bond" like the unique, bizarre, and somehow frightening use of space of Ken Adam's designs. Thank you, sir.

**Those chest-mounted lasers can't be very good for aiming, can they? Plus, not to bring physics into a nonsense situation, but shouldn't the soldiers from each side be propelled backwards each time they fire??

A weapon that would bever be seen again...**If "most people" pass out at 7 Gs, and 20 Gs is fatal, why in the world have a centrifuge trainer that goes up to 20Gs? Is there a point to that, other than evil death traps??

This one goes well past 11**On one of the DVD documentaries, Christopher Wood says that he came up with the name Holly Goodhead, thinking it was a perfect Fleming name.

Two words, Christopher: Gala Brand (short for Galatea!). There already was a perfectly good "Ian Fleming name."

**The Iron Law of Bond Movies: Hotel clerks think Bond is hot!!

Made for the ladies, but I like him too!**Bond Score: 3. Poor Corrine, Manuela, and Holly. Attempting re-entry, indeed. Cumulative Bond score: 32.

And of course:

Thank the heavens!Don't worry, this time they mean it...

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Spy Who Loved Me

#10Let Bond be Bond.

Really, it was as simple as that.

After The Man With the Golden Gun, the Bond franchise was in trouble. After the box office ticked upwards for Sean Connery's return in Diamonds Are Forever, the first two Roger Moore movies had seen consecutive box office declines, and generally poor critical receptions. I have nothing to back this up with, but I have no doubt if the next Bond movie didn't show substantial improvement at the box office, Roger Moore would have been cast aside as a failure.

Furthermore, Bondmania was long over, and even the imitators and spoofs had folded up their tents and gone home. The Kevin McClory legal wranglings had raised their ugly head, which resulted in the longest ever break between Bond movies. Harry Saltzman had left the production team, so suddenly Cubby Broccoli was alone. And it became fashionable to question whether or not, in a time of detente, a spy series was relevant. And when cinema was moving towards more realism, whether or not massive spectacles were still viable or desirable.

So there was a lot at stake in making the 10th Eon Bond movie. Attempts to make the series "relevant" (with drugs, or the energy crisis) and cash in on other genres (blaxploitation, kung fu movies) had not proven successful. What to do?

It was simple, really...Let Bond be Bond. Or, as Bond said at the end of Tomorrow Never Dies, "Give the public what they want." Don't try to reinvent the wheel...don't try to stuff Bond's square peg into some other genre's round hole. Commit to the over-the-top secret agent fantasy. Bring back Ken Adam and have him give us mind-boggling sets. Give us exotic cars, not AMC Hornets. We can have fun and wink at ourselves, but the movie must take itself seriously at some level.

And it worked brilliantly. The Spy Who Loved Me more than doubled the box office of TMWTGG. It was also a massive critical success. More importantly, just as the cinema was beginning to shift towards blockbusters and events, TSWLM put Bond back on the map, put the name James Bond back on everyone's lips, and re-inserted Bond back into the cultural consciousness. For an entire generation of Bond fans, this movie defined what the franchise was about.

And I'm here to tell you that it is the most overrated Bond movie ever. (editor's note--Sorry. folks, I tried to stop him...)

That doesn't mean that it's not good--hell, it's really good. But something can be good and still be overrated. Fans and critics of a certain age, by a huge majority, will tell you that this is the best Bond movie. Whenever they talk about a more recent Bond movie, or villain, or gadget, they will invariably phrase it as "the best XX since The Spy Who Loved Me." Check it out...go look at how many Casino Royale (2006) reviews used that phrase in one form or another.

And I'm here to tell you that, not only is TSWLM not the best Bond movie, it's not even the best Roger Moore Bond movie (editor's note--again, sorry, readers...I think he's off his meds today).

One of the first problems Broccoli faced was that he had a Fleming title, but not a Fleming story, to work with, and nobody had any idea what the hell the movie was even going to be about.

Why? Because The Spy Who Loved Me was the one Bond novel Eon was not allowed to the content of...they could use only the title. Why? Because Ian Fleming so hated the novel, he had that stipulated in the deal when he sold the rights--that only the title, and none of the prose from that book could be used!! He so hated the book, he prevented in from being published in paperback in the U.K.

Why? Because TSWLM the book ISN'T a Bond book...it's a romance novel that guest stars James Bond for a few chapters. Seriously. It's told first-person perspective by Vivienne Michel, a young woman who ends up managing a hotel in the Adirondacks. After reminiscing about her past loves, two gangsters (Horror and Sluggsy--really!) show up to burn down the hotel and kill her (and worse). James Bond doesn't show up until 10 chapters in. Thanks to a convenient flat tire, he shows up at the hotel, offs the gangsters, does the nasty with Viv, and leaves by chapter 15, and we watch as Viv deals with the aftermath and pines for the spy who loved her. If you ever get around to reading this book, I promise you that it's even more of a romance novel than I've made it sound like.

So the decision to announce at the end of TMWTGG that TSWLM was coming next was odd, given that there were other titles available that afforded at least some Fleming content to be adapted. Now, for the first time, they would have to make a 100% original Bond movie, with no characters or plot from the books to draw upon--which could only have added to the pressure of having to salvage the franchise.

Although the screenplay is credited to Roger Maibaum and Christopher Wood, at least 8 different writers toiled on prospective screenplays through at least 15 drafts, including comic book writer Cary Bates, John Landis (!), and Anthony Burgess (!!). Ideas from almost all of those versions ended up in Maibaum's scripts. When Guy Hamilton left because he thought he was going to get to direct Superman The Movie, Lewis Gilbert came on board to direct and brought along Christopher Wood to tie everything together.

S.P.E.C.T.R.E. was to be the villain again (with or without Blofeld, depending on which version of the script you're looking at), but just before production was to begin Kevin McClory tried to get an injunction halting the film, claiming he owned S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and Blofeld. Not wishing a lengthy legal battle, Broccoli punted, having Wood remove all S.P.E.C.T.R.E references. All of this wrangling and re-writing was to have an impact on the movie, the result being a weak, generic and underdeveloped villain in a plot that is largely a remake of You Only Live Twice.

Before we go too much further, I did promise you folks some actual frontal nudity, and it's right here in the teaser, 1 minute and 15 seconds into the movie...just on the sailors right...

Don't ask, don't tell?Holy schnikes!! A closer look ( but blurrier, though):

Lots of boobageLadies and gentleman, the first and only fully bare breasts in Bond history. I never noticed this until the first DVD's came out. Obviously the set designer wanted to make the submarine authentic, with nude pin-ups and everything. Did Gilbert not notice when shooting, or not care? Did Broccoli notice? Given that back in those days bare breasts were pretty much an automatic R from the MPAA, it's a good thing that no one noticed...

Back to the teaser. The first half of the teaser, the taking of the British submarine, plays out virtually identically to the teaser from YOLT (albeit much better filmed), when an American spacecraft is captured by forces unknown. And thus we've begun the reincarnation of that movie's plot: ships (space or sea) from the superpowers are captured by a larger ship that swallows them. The reason: to cause a nuclear war. In YOLT, the Chinese want to eliminate the other superpowers and rule what remains of the world; in TSWLM it's Stromberg who wants to eliminate the surface would which he deems corrupt, so he can begin his undersea kingdom. So right off the bat, we get low marks for originality, as the best that all those writers and drafts could come up with was repeating the Bond movie of a decade ago.

Ahh, but the rest of the teaser...that's what everyone remembers. The summoning of Agent XXX. And after this bit:

She's the spy...he's the beefcake..it's a wacky switcharoo!!...all of us sexist bastards in 1977 assumed that XXX was the man. OK, no we didn't...after all, the title and all the publicity had already given up that game. Still, for you young 'uns, this was considered fairly shocking stuff back then.

Then we get the Log Cabin Girl, and perhaps the most iconic "Oh, James" in the entire series. And the printing watch, which is pretty silly (if you have a watch that can receive a radio signal and print out a message, why not just have it scroll on the watch face, instead using an ersatz label maker, which can't have a lot of capacity?), but a good gag nonetheless. Then we get a nice little ski chase, which they don't overdo. Well shot, exciting arrangement of the James Bond theme by Marvin Hamlisch. It is marred a bit, though, by the fact that we (meaning I) don't get initially that it's Barsov, Anya's boyfriend, who is pursuing Bond. When we saw him before, he was naked...now we see him with his body and head covered and, frankly, his face just wasn't that memorable. Even now, on my 526th viewing, in his ski outfit he really doesn't look like he did when he was with Anya. There's also the problem of context--it's less than two minutes of screen time later, and there's been no indication that time has passed, so it doesn't compute in our heads that he's made a journey to Austria in that time. Seriously, the first time I saw this, I had no idea they were the same guy. Better writing/editing direction should have been able to avoid this confusion...or maybe I was just stupid...

Hmmm, so much for plausible deniabilityThis all leads, of course, to the Asgard jump, which is so good and so impressive that it's justifiable to call it the greatest Bond stunt ever. Compare the execution with the Barrel Roll jump in TMWTGG. With the car jump, the movie calls a lot of attention to the stunt beforehand, telegraphing it clumsily. They use slow motion and a stupid slide whistle to call attention to how cool it is. And they use J W. Pepper afterwards to loudly proclaim how cool it was. Not so the Asgard jump. You don't see it coming ahead of time...the cliff is just suddenly there. The score falls silent, letting the stunt itself take main stage. And Bond himself treats it nonchalantly, without self-congratulation or whoopin' about how cool that was. And like any good set piece, the audience is so enthralled and enraptured they don't have time to ask delicate questions (would someone trying to be a secret agent really emblazon their parachute with their country's flag? So much for covert...And where, exactly, does Bond land? And his skis are gone...how does he get out of the mountains? On foot?).

We then proceed to the perfect combination of song and credit sequence. Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better" is one of those songs that has become part of the culture, and is so ubiquitous that you tend to forget how good it actually is until you take the time to really listen to it. And Maurice Binder gives us what is probably his best title sequence, that works well in unison with the song. With the 1976 Montreal Olympics having thrust gymnastics back into the American consciousness, the acrobatic women swinging around the guns seemed to hit a real chord.

Then, after a couple of meetings, we're off to Egypt. And while the filmmakers have obviously used exotic locales to good effect before, they use the living hell out of Egypt, and to great effect. The desert, Cairo, the pyramids, the temples...all make for awesome and memorable set pieces. Jaws' murder of Fekkesh at the pyramid show, with the use of light and sound, is one of the best scenes in all of Bond--almost Orson Wellsian! The atmosphere, the jousting between 007 and XXX, lots of good spy work in tracking down the microfilm...all very enjoyable. Not perfect, mind you...the fight with Jaws trying to destroy the van was a little too cartoonish. Hamlisch is a little too eager to put in goofy music or sample other movies' music as a joke (a habit that would continue through the rest of the Moore movies). And we'll deal with Stromberg in a bit. But overall, 55 minutes in, this movie IS on a pace to be at least the best Moore Bond.

But then the gaps in the patchwork script start to show through. That's not to say the movie becomes bad. But there are definite some valleys of mediocrity popping up in amidst the thinning peaks of quality. For example, after they leave Cairo, Bond and Anya take the train. Now, what route, exactly, are they taking from Cairo to Sardinia that requires an overnight train trip?? Especially when their mission--to locate missing submarines and nuclear missiles--seems a little urgent for such a leisurely mode of transport. So why? My best guess is, they just wanted to have (yet another) train compartment fight. Maybe it made more sense in one of the earlier versions of the script, but as is it just comes across as another attempt to recapture "Bond's Greatest Hits." The fight with Jaws is nice, but it's not substantially any better than the fight with Tee Hee in LALD, and we're already starting to over rely on Jaws to keep interest up.

Then, Bond and Anya go to visit Stromberg at Atlantis, his wonderful sea city. For some reason, they pose as a marine biologist and his wife. This ruse results in a short meeting between Bond and Stromberg, and nothing is accomplished. Bond doesn't find any clues, gets no guilty admissions from Stromberg. 007 does nothing clever or heroic or secret agenty, and Stromberg does nothing particularly menacing. I've had more tense meetings with my mailman. Anya spends the time taking a tour of the facility, off screen. How pointless was this meeting? The only clue they obtain is looking at the publicly displayed model of Stromberg's tanker, the Liparus! That's right, if Stromberg doesn't have that model sitting on a pedestal in plain sight, our intrepid spies are at a complete dead end. Rather than their investigation turning up anything, the clue is shoved beneath their noses, unlike the first hour of the film.

The rest of the movie has about 10 minutes of plot to fill 55 minutes of time. They do a decent job--the action pieces are nice, the pace within each piece rarely flags--but it is noticeable that what's happening over the last half of the movie is a bit padded. Stromberg's goons try to kill Bond; Bond and Anya go on a submarine; submarine gets captured; Bond and sailors capture boat; Bond kills Stromberg and rescues Anya. Most of these pieces aren't bad, some are pretty good...but they all last longer than they should, and several end in distinct anti-climaxes.

The car chase is pretty good--after 3 straight Guy Hamilton films, it's nice to see a director who knows how to stage a vehicle chase in an exciting way. And if you're not going to drive an Astin Martin, well, a Lotus that can turn into a submarine is a pretty fair substitute. Two things slightly mar this sequence, though...having Jaws walk away unscratched from the fatal car crash simply adds to the cartoonishness of the character; and too long is spent having bystanders gawk at the Lotus as it drives onto the beach. Yes, it's cool--but do we really need two reaction shots each from the guy drinking win,e the kid, THE DOG?!?! Too self-indulgent, too much calling attention to how cool the filmmakers thought they were (although nowhere as near as bad as Moonraker would get).

If it's a Lewis Gilbert directed film with a massive Ken Adam set, you know we're going to have an overlong battle at the film's climax. So as it was in YOLT, so as it is in TSWLM. On the plus side, this one is better filmed and more exciting than the battle in YOLT. However, this one is egregiously overlong--the entire battle, up to the sinking of the Liparus, lasts nearly 20 minutes. That's a long time for any set piece, even a good one. (Aside: a number of people, including myself from time to time, have complained about the finale of Tomorrow Never Dies being "too Rambo," too much machine gunning and action movie as opposed to Bond movie. Well, if true, what does that say about this movie?).

And it ends in the most enormous anti-climax possible. Bond defeats the threat--by pushing some buttons on a control panel and watching icons on a screen. Oh, and they give us some stock footage of missiles and nuclear explosions, too. Very emotionally unsatisfying. 007 might as well have been playing a video game.

The rescue of Anya features the fairly unmemorable death of Stromberg, and (yet another...sigh) battle with Jaws, who is now deflecting bullets with his teeth. All in all, a fairly mediocre ending, until the memorable escape pod recovery, and the greatest line in Bond history, "Keeping the British end up, sir." (editor's note--every week you say some line is "the greatest line in Bond history." snell reply--Sue me, I'm fickle).

So a brilliant start, and a substantially less brilliant finish. What drags it down?

Why does everyone make a big deal about my webbed hands when they're NEVER mentioned on screen??First, there's Stromberg. A lot of the problems can be blamed on the fact that they had to make the last-minute change in villains. But this character clearly needed 2 or 3 more passes through the word processor. This was something new for Bond--someone who wasn't out for riches or power, but a megalomaniac who actually thought he has doing the world a favor, a true madman. This could have been very interesting. But, frankly, Stromberg is boring. He doesn't have a single memorable line. His motivation is completely undeveloped...his single speech about how the world is "corrupt" and needs to be replaced has no examples of how the world is bad, no clues about how his undersea world would be better, nothing besides a bare thesis statement--it's the Cliff's Notes version of a Bond villain!! (Not to mention, of course, that his complaint about the corruption and decadence of the surface world is belied by the opulence of his quarters and dining hall...).

None of this is helped by Curt Jurgens' lethargic performance. He didn't have a lot to work with, true, but there's not a shred of charisma is his Stromberg, not a sign of the leadership qualities that would get people to follow such a madman. There's nothing there for the audience to latch on to, to like (as they should at least secretly admire something about most Bond villians) or hate. There's absolutely no chemistry between him and Bond, so the three scenes they have together are flat and lifeless. Stromberg is probably the worst villain in a top-tier Bond film.

Octopus' Garden is my favorite song...And then there's Anya. It is popular to declare that she was "something new," the "first liberated Bond girl," the first to be "Bond's equal." Seriously, even devoted Bond fans who should know better act as if Anya Amasova is the first competent women to ever appear in a Bond film. Allow me to quote, as just one example, Stephen Jay Rubin from the excellent The Complete James Bond Encyclopedia:
Beginning with Major Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me, the Bond flimmakers began to give the women in 007's life a stronger dose of reality. The chauvinistic approach to the breathless, bosomy female of the 1960's was replaced with a more believable female protagonist who could defend herself and sow 007 a thing or two...

Major Amasova is, in effect, the first liberated woman in the James Bond series..
Well, pardon me, but I call poppycock on that. Aside from the fact that they try to sell us this bill of goods every decade or so (Wai Lin is a new type of Bond Girl!! Jinx is a new type of Bond Girl!!), even in 1977 this was revisionism of the rankest kind. Pussy Galore was a "breathless, bosomy female" (well, bosomy, sure, but breathless)? Aki and Kissy in YOLT were both competent secret agents, both saving Bond's life. And I sure wouldn't want to be the one to tell Tracy Bond that she was unliberated and couldn't defend herself. Even Tiffany Case was a hard-nosed and in control character, until the writers lost track of her character in the second half of the film.

And really, what does Anya do that's so impressive? Yes, she outwits Bond with the sleeping powder cigarette...that puts her even with Pussy, who knocked Bond out unexpectedly. Bond has to rescue her from the villains more than once. She lets Jaws get the drop on her while she's picking up the microfilm in a way that would embarrass a rookie cop. She breaks out one martial arts stance, but in her only fight scene she's utterly helpless. The character doesn't even get any stunts!! Bond gets to kill several people, Anya...zero (OK, maybe the guys in the mini sub she dropped the mine on...). Bond does all the heavy lifting to save the world and killing the villains, Anya is tied up for 30 of the last 35 minutes of the film. To claim that she's Bond's equal, or that she's something new even by 1977 standards, is wrong, a symptom of fond memories of people's first Bonds and a belief that what the press releases tell you is the truth. Don't get me wrong, she's not a bad character...but she's not the revelation that many people claim.

A For Your Eyes Only preview poster?And the good parts of Anya are substantially undercut by Barbara Bach. Don't get me wrong, she's verrrry beautiful, and Ringo is one very lucky man. But (editor's note--uh-oh, here it comes) she is a terrible actress. She has no ability to emote. Her laborious Russian accent hides the fact that 100% of her line readings are identical. Happy, sad, angry, vengeful, determined, uncertain...all with exactly the same tone and inflection and cadence, a flat monotone. Seriously...listen to the film without looking at the screen...see if you can figure out her emotional state is supposed to be. (I would consider the excuse that having to do a Russian accent so strained her concentration that she couldn't give anything more to her lines...but that's an explanation, not a defense, and hardly an indication that she's actually a better actress than she showed here.)

So why do people so sing her praises--aside from her beauty, that is? She get's cachet from two things. First, she had the good fortune to fall between Britt Ekland and Lois Chiles, which would make anyone look better by comparison. Secondly, she's got a good role with a HUGE pop culture significance as "the first liberated Bond girl." Well, I'm declaring that the empress has no clothes. She is awful in the role, and hurts the movie.

Wile E. CoyoteFinally, there's Jaws. Yes, he's a pretty good henchman (but again, a lot of that is because he follows Knick Knack, the lamest henchman). But they overuse him in the movie, and turn him into Tom the cat to Jerry's mouse...he's electrocuted, thrown off a high speed train, walks away from a flaming wreck that kills his companions, deflects bullets with his teeth, kills sharks, swims away from exploding sea fortresses...it's too much, too far, and drags Bond too far past the line of not-quite-realism into unbelievability. He's a better cartoon character than henchmen. That's why Bond's fight against Sandor is so much more compelling and more memorable. A fight against someone who can be hurt and killed is much better than a fight against someone who can't, because there can be an ending. Ah, well, at least Jaws won't be back in any other movies...

You like me now! You really, really like me!!As for Bond himself, another popular thing to say is that "he grew into the role of Bond" in this movie. Again, I have to be the contrarian. It IS the film in which the public accepted him as Bond. But as to his performance, I think that he was more hard-edged in LALD and TMWTGG, even though those were inferior movies. Don't get me wrong, he's perfectly fine here, and when he kills Sandor and pumps 4 rounds into a blubbery, defeated Stromberg, yeah, he's a bad-ass. But what most people see as "Moore coming into his own" is really the writers actually giving him better things to do and say. It's not like he had a chance to show his pain at the mention Tracy's death in LALD, or had a line anywhere as near as good as "keeping the British end up" in TMWTGG. It's an improvement in writing, not an improvement in acting, people.

So what do we have overall? A pretty good Bond movie, at times a VERY good Bond movie, which is especially laudable considering some of the circumstances under which it was made. But it's also a movie that's built up a huge amount of critical and cultural baggage--"the movie that saved Bond;" "the first liberated Bond girl;" "the first Bond blockbuster;"--that have caused a lot of people to overestimate (or just plain misremember) how good it really is. It didn't save the franchise (but it may have saved Moore). Even without adjusting for inflation, it still finished far behind Goldfinger and Thunderball in box office, so it was hardly the first Bond blockbuster.

So you see, a movie can be both overrated AND still good. If you remove TSWLM from the context of the hoopla, and watch it for what it actually is, you can see that it's far from perfect, and certainly not the best Bond movie. Too much is recycled, the second half is slack compared to the first, the villain is uninteresting, the girl not as good as advertised.

But it is pretty damned good, because they finally managed, for the first time under Moore, to let Bond be Bond. And now that the series had regained its footing, there's no way they could blow that momentum and screw up the next movie, is there??

SNELL'S RANDOM NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:


**As a consequence of the ad hoc nature of the script, timeline problems abound. In the teaser, XXX and Barsov are on leave somewhere in Russia. Anya gets orders to report to HQ immediately, while Barsov has to leave for his mission in Austria. We then see Bond and Barsov in Austria, where Barsov dies. After the opening credits, we see XXX reporting to Gogol, where she is informed of her mission and of Barsov's death. Wait--Barsov had time to get to the mountains of Austria, die, and have word get back to Gogol, all before Anya even made it to Gogol in person?!? What, she took the scenic route?

Similarly, as they prepare to investigate the Liparus, we learn that Bond killed Borsov three weeks ago. Even allowing for non-precision or exaggeration (but both Bond and Anya say it was 3 weeks...), does that seem credible from what we've seen? Both were told to report immediately, both presumably went to Egypt directly. Is there any way the events we've witnessed could have taken 3 weeks?? That must have been one slooooow train to Sardinia...

**And that, of course, means Stromberg had possession of the British and Russian subs for 3 weeks. WHAT THE HELL WAS HE WAITING FOR!?!?!?! Since the Liparus never put into port during that time, and he had the flipping nuclear subs and nuclear missiles, why the frak didn't he start his own personal Armageddon 3 weeks earlier? Or two?? Why wait until Bond and Anya got closer, and closer?? Why wait for the British and Russians to team up, so they'll know you're responsible, which makes it much less likely you're plan will spark an immediate nuclear war from each side??

**You can't find good help, can you? The nimrods that Stromberg had captain his stolen subs just reset the missile coordinates for the EXACT OPPOSITE DIRECTION of their original targets, and they don't even ask a question? They never think to ask why they're firing their missiles into the middle of the ocean? They don't require a password or failsafe code for that drastic a change in their plans????

**In Dr. No, Crab Key went up in a nuclear fireball. Now, two more spots in the Atlantic have burst into mushroom clouds. Are there any open shipping lanes left in the Northern Atlantic? It must be a pretty damn radioactive ocean by now...Irony: this probably killed a lot of Stromberg's precious sea life.

**So Stromberg was going to trick the surface world into destroying themselves, while he and his droogs live happily ever after underwater. I'm not at all sure how they were going to repopulate, though...In all of Stromberg's ships and complexes, we only saw two women...his assistant, whom he killed, and Naomi, who died. Did he have a hidden cache of women hidden on Atlantis somewhere? Maybe that's why he wanted to keep Anya...

**Speaking of Naomi...va va voom. The camera likes her a lot, and the film would have been better with more Naomi and less Jaws.

Casual day at Stromberg Industries**The Iron Rule of Bond Movies--hotel clerks are hot from James:

Damn, he's sexyIs it just me, or does she get waaay to much screen time? Was she dating Lewis Gilbert?

**He's back:

Ken Adam=lots of headroomMan, you can tell a Ken Adam set from three miles away, can't you? He hasn't been with Bond since Diamonds Are Forever, and won his first Oscar for Barry Lyndon in the meantime. But that hasn't dulled his ability to do completely insane Bond sets. I mean, who in the world has an office like this?

The heating bills must be a bitchOr a nightclub like this...

Beats the hell out of the Fillet of SoulAnd if I'm a super-villain, Ken Adam is designing my underwater lair...

This set makes me so wish I was back in the 70's
I'll avoid the 'pass the salt' jokesand my escape pod.

With an escape pod this luxurious, who wants to be rescued?!?!And of course, there's the Liparus interior, so huge they had to build a a special soundstage for it, the world's largest. By the way, those sub exteriors are about 5/8 scale, while the interiors we see are about twice as big as the real thing. Ken Adam--bringing Time Lord design sense to nuclear submarines.

uhhh.....coolAnd you know what I want for Christmas:

It's a mad, mad, mad, mad worldThat globe.

**Stromberg may have been a lame villain, but he does get the unique honor of the DOUBLE BLOFELD KILL!! First, he makes the two scientists who developed his sub tracking system think that he believes one of them is the traitor...but then he (surprise) kills his unnamed assistant, instead!! Phew...then he lets them leave...and he blows up their helicopter!!! Two Blofeld Kills (with three victims) for the price of one!!

**I am puzzled, though, why he kills the scientists. They did the work for him, right? He promises to give them their $10 million each. Is he trying to save the money? (He does specifically stop the payment on the wire transfer after they're dead..but then again, the cost of that helicopter must have offset that.) Is he afraid they'll squeal, or be traced back to him? Or is it just because he's a dickweed?? No reason at all is given. It's not a mystery of Goldfinger proportions, but it is puzzling. (And what about the copter's pilot?? Hmm??)

**You know that scene where Bond and Anya pretend they're not going to have sex, and get ready, and keep waiting for the other one to come to their room? Spielberg soooo ripped that off in Temple of Doom...

**Hey, look, Bond has learned how to defuse a nuclear bomb since Goldfinger...

**Bond Score: 3. Log Cabin Girl, the Arab Beauty with the rose in Hosein's harem, and of course Anya. A number of missed opportunities, because don't think he wouldn't have gotten it on with Felicca, the hotel clerk, or Naomi if he got the chance. Cumulative Bond Score: 29.

And as always...

No, I'm sorry, that is the wrong answer!!Wait a minute...there must be a black hole or quantum tunnel, because For Your Eyes Only didn't come next...what could possibly have happened to change their minds?? DAMN YOU, STAR WARS!!!!