This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.
What, you thought that with us having watched all 23 movies there would be no more posts?! HA!
Alex: I love lists. They amuse me greatly. So I thought I would make some lists of things from the Bond movies. I also love tables…
Best Bonds: it has to be done. How do we rank the Bonds, best to worst?
|Dalton||Connery (too many fond childhood memories I think)|
Alex: Connery? Really? You let the nostalgia blind you. Also how can you put Moore above Lazenby? Hooooooow?!?
James: Lazenby is ok, but while Moore is cheesy as a body of work the combination of films is still more impressive than the bumbling efforts of Lazenby for one films as ‘Hilly’. Neither of them are great, even Brosnan wasn’t as good as my faded memory. The strength of Dalton was a surprise for me.
Best Bond girls: choose whatever metric you like, but pick the top six (because there are six Bonds)…
|Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale)||Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale)|
|Wai Lin (Tomorrow Never Dies)||Honey Ryder (Dr No)|
|Pam Bouvier (Licensed to Kill)||Dr Goodhead (Moonraker)|
|Triple X (The Spy who Loved Me)||Wai Lin (Tomorrow Never Dies)|
|Tracy di Vicenzo (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)||Kara (The Living Daylights)|
|Camille (Quantum of Solace)||Camille (Quantum of Solace)|
James: What about Dr Christmas Jones (The World is not Enough)? Quality Acting… or Bibi (For Your Eyes Only). Notes: Vesper is clearly the strongest character across all the films, Honey Ryder iconic, Goodhead just appeals to me, geek girl. Wai Lin kicks arse, Kara is the best of the innocent but involved girls and Camille is great, but not top 5.
Alex: I cannot believe you went there with Dr Jones. Seriously. I love that Pam Bouvier takes the lead in kissing Bond, and that she takes no crap from him. Tracy was always going to be a favourite of mine because Diana Rigg… and also she’s quite plucky. The other one that nearly made my top 6 is Melina, from For Your Eyes Only, and yes I agree that Dr Goodhead is indeed awesome. The ‘innocent’ girls have never worked for me – it’s too much like Bond is taking advantage of them. Which he does.
Best theme songs: let’s go with six again.
Alex: with the caveat that on a different day I might pick quite different songs… well, maybe three would be the same, but they too might be different on different days…
|From Russia with Love||A View to a Kill|
|Live and Let Die||From Russia with Love|
|Quantum of Solace||Quantum of Solace|
Alex: I am astonished that we have so many in common!
Best Bond villain:
|Blofeld (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)|
|Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun… does he really count as a villain?)|
|Alec Trevalyan (Golden Eye)|
|Kananga and Sanchez (Live and Let Die/ Licence to Kill)|
|Elliot Carver (Tomorrow Never Dies)|
James: I’m struggling to get excited about the baddie list, there are a few I don’t mind, Carver, Trevalyan and Blofeld. Scaramanga is a fun character, but he’s not a villain like the others. Largo? Number 1? I do like the SPECTRE films, but maybe that’s just because they remind me of Inspector Gadget somehow? Oh I like Dr No also. But the best? I just dunno.
Alex: this is my problem too! I think we (society) have this vague idea of Bond dealing with nemesis after nemesis, but the reality is that very few of them actually come close to being as good as Bond. I think the other thing that we sometimes forget is that Bond is an employee: with very few exceptions (Scaramanga, Silva) the villains are not after Bond as Bond. They are interested in either World Destruction/Domination, or Making A Great Deal of Money – and Bond keeps getting in the way of that.
I was also going to suggest we talk about Best Henchmen too, but since the winner is clearly Jaws by an enormous margin there’s just no point in even discussing it. (OK, Dario – played by Benicio del Toro – comes a close second for sheer insanity.) And as for Bond henchmen, Leiter (especially Jeffrey Wright) and Quarrel, for me, are the best.
Alex: I think one of the most interesting things about looking at the entire oeuvre of Bond films is the different (British?) preoccupations they each reveal – what disasters are most relevant at this time? Are we more worried about a country or a person? The flip in GoldenEye to being more worried about intangibles – information – than about physical death and destruction is a really significant one that you maybe don’t get without considering the whole suite.
James: I was struck by the preoccupation with space lasers… Always space lasers. I was also surprised by how little time Bond actually spends in casinos and ordering Martinis shaken not stirred; somehow that and the gadgets is my strong memory from childhood.
Alex: it’s completely the stereotype of Bond, which means I think that those childhood memories get reinforced by cultural/societal ‘memories’. I really liked that the writers for Craig in particular played with those expectations a bit; in fact it happened a few times, that Bond got all meta on itself. I approve of this.
Alex: it has certainly been an … interesting… experience. I have to admit that actually, I am disappointed by the franchise overall. Perhaps that’s too strong, perhaps that’s not fair; until you hit about Dalton you actually can’t judge the films by modern standards – well you can but, well, you just get disappointed. Having said that though there are lots of films made post-1990 that I don’t think meet what I consider even mediocre modern standards, so maybe my standards are too high? So be it.
My main problem has been the level of cheese. I pass over the sexism – in the early Bonds that’s part and parcel of the era, in the later Bonds it’s slowly improving, and in all of them it’s not like they’re out to challenge Hollywood which we all know isn’t great on the Women Existing As Characters front. And while there are problematic racial aspects I feel that Bond is less problematic in that regard – over the 23 films – than might be expected (not great, but not entirely cringeworthy). No, it’s the number of times that the story isn’t taken seriously, that silly glib lines are used to no effect – this is what I did not really expect to see as a feature, despite having seen a few Moores before this year. It really doesn’t work for me. And it’s also (to hark back to the previous discussion) not something that features in the cultural memory of Bond, so I was quite unprepared for it.
Will I watch some of these again? Absolutely. I can see myself rewatching the Daltons, possibly the early Brosnans, and the first and third Craigs. Maybe one or two of the Connerys? When enough time has passed? If the Moores all develop unexpected scratches, though, I will not lose any sleep.
James: Perhaps in future Bond should consider not pointing out to his arch enemy that he knows, that they know, that he knows. I’d re-watch Dr No, From Russia with Love, perhaps the Daltons, Golden Eye and Tomorrow Never Dies plus the Daniel Craigs. Only Casino Royal and Skyfall could even be considered great films and even then none of them are desert island material.
Bond, James Bond… now for a Martini or three.
This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.
Summary: in which microchips are a thing, and so are horse-breeding and earthquakes; Christopher Walken and Grace Jones are A Thing; and Roger Moore is really quite old. But that’s ok, because this is his last Bond!!
Alex: last Moore last Moore last Moore…
This is the first (only?) Bond to start with a legal disclaimer. Weird! But it turns out that when they named the villain’s company Zorin – which, among other things, makes microchips – they creators didn’t realise that there was already a company in existence called Zoran which, among other things, makes microchips. How on EARTH does something like that get past the people in charge? Or the researchers?
Anyway, the microchip appears set to be at the heart of the story when that’s what Bond retrieves in the Siberian snow in the prologue (which is a relatively good chase scene, until it turns out that his iceberg hidey-hole is actually a submarine complete with blonde and cocktails). This particular chip has somehow been manufactured to be resistant to the EMP of a nuclear bomb – clearly a useful advantage if you’re worried about nasty commie retaliatory or preemptive strikes. But then it’s discovered that the commies have this tech too! So we need to go investigate the producer of the chips.
Which leads to the racetrack, and Moneypenny wearing an appalling dress. Zorin’s horse comes first out of nowhere, which leads to Bond visiting the stud farm (oh gahd the possible jokes, most of which are avoided). It turns out the horse what won had a microchip in its leg which released a hormone when activated.
… all of this stuff about the usefulness of microchips is actually build-up for the fact that Zorin is put out about Silicon Valley producing way more than he does, so he’s got a Cunning Plan: destroy Silicon Valley. Buy the factories out? Use poisonous gas? Direct a space-controlled laser on to them? Goodness no! He’s going to instigate an earthquake in both faults that run alongside the Valley, which will destroy it and leave it flooded. Of course! And then the rest of the film is about how Bond finds that out and how he Foils the Dastardly Plan.
Is it obvious that I am so over Moore?
Moore: is old. Seriously. Um, what else… the scene where he drives a Citroen taxi, badly, through Paris is about the most forgettable Bond chase sequence ever, even though he’s chasing Grace Jones with a parachute. And he’s shown, yet again, to be unbearably Good At Everything when he’s able to ride the unrideable horse, over the unrideable steeplechase course. He has a moment of not sleeping with the cute young blonde woman – which was refreshing – but it doesn’t last.
The villain: Christopher Walken chews scenery. Once again we have an ‘abnormal’ villain: this time it’s revealed that he is (almost certainly) the product of a Nazi experiment, where pregnant women were injected with steroids. And the doctor in charge is the same doctor responsible for dosing his horses, which just… ew. Weird. Zorin is also a KGB agent, at least in theory – he has a chat with General Gogol, played by the same actor as always, about having decided to ditch them and go his own way now, thanks. In case we were in any doubt about his villainy, Zorin’s headquarters a lot of the time are on an airship. Most intriguingly about Walken’s character is his relationship with Grace Jones: Mayday.
Mayday: It’s unclear early on whether they’re an item or she is just his bodyguard; they kiss after sparring, but then he allows he to go sleep with Bond (when he’s put himself in her bed, to avoid being found out as wandering the chateau). At the end, though, Mayday helps Bond because Zorin has left her for dead in a flooded mine – she shrieks: “I thought that creep loved me!” and then she sacrifices herself for Bond, after making him promise to “get Zorin for me.” Grace Jones is the best bit about this film. She is tough and competent, she has outrageous costumes (including that most 80s of outfits, a g-string leotard – and a look on her face that says “go on, I dare you, make a comment about my black butt”).
Women: well, there’s Mayday. … And a random Soviet agent, working for Gogol, with whom Bond has already had a relationship and with whom he ends up in a hot tub… and there’s Stacey, the geologist (who seems to be a precursor for Denise Richards as nuclear physicist, but maybe I’m just scarred by that. Stacey is not nearly as bad as Christmas). Bond first tries to chat her up at Zorin’s stud but it doesn’t work (again with the possible innuendo that doesn’t get exploited! It seems like the writers were actually calming the heck down!). He meets here again in America, where it turns out she hates Zorin because he took over her oil company (inherited from her father, but totally still her thing) in a highly dubious manner. He rescues her, and ends up sleeping in a chair – thank goodness. Then there’s discussion of geology and nearly getting burned alive, a truly appalling chase scene with Bond then Stacey driving a firetruck, and the Golden Gate Bridge scene where she’s hanging from a girder and he’s fighting Zorin, after she got kidnapped on an airship. Only THEN do they get it on.
Race: the American CIA agent who connects with Bond is Chinese-American. Sadly, we’re back to PoC-sidekick-dying territory. And while I quite liked him, I was sad it wasn’t Felix Leiter. Plus of course the Walken/Jones couple – there’s no mention of race in any discussion of Mayday, as far as I noticed. Bond films never seem to have a problem with mixed race couples, which is admirable.
Finally, I have to share this photo:
James: Jumping off the Eiffel Tower. Saggy old Bond. I struggled to get excited about the last of the awful Moore Bonds… bring on the new era. 1 Martini.
This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.
Summary: in which we get an Indian Cultural Showcase, a confusion of villains, and Q gets out into the field!
Alex: aaaaand we’re back to crappy Moore films. Once again a film takes us two sittings to get through. If we’d had popcorn I would have been throwing it at the screen.
See what they did with the film poster? I see what you did there!
The prologue starts in what I think is meant to be Cuba, at a horse race. There’s definitely a Castro analogue. Bond gets busted trying to blow something up, and captured; his lady accomplice distracts his guards by being very sexy. Bond gets rid of them by pulling their rip cords, because for some reason these soldiers in a jeep are wearing parachutes. Then he gets into a horse float… which turns out not to have a horse in it, but a folding plane.
This prologue was an omen of things to come. Bad things, confusing things, and eye-rolling things.
The plot of Octopussy is confusing because it’s unclear who the villain is. In For Your Eyes Only, there’s a twist to the villain, and that’s quite clever and neat. Here, there are several potential villains, all vying against each other, and the actual point of their villainy is sometimes confused. I have no problem with messy films that are trying for real-life verisimilitude. In a Bond film, however, it is out of place – and this is just messy, not clever-messy. Let me try to lay it out:
1. The Russians are fighting. General Gogol – head of the secret service? – is trying to convince the top brass that going along with NATO’s ideas of compromise is sensible. General Orlov, however, says nyet! (… sorry…) – because he’s a frothing-at-the-mouth expansionist. He may be my favourite character. Orlov has been selling Russian jewellery in the decadent West to fund his ventures, including – at the start of the film – a Faberge egg. He has a cunning plan to explode a small nuclear device on a US base in Germany, which will be confusing because there will be no trajectory! So NATO will be forced to completely disarm because they’re scaredy cats!! and Russia will take over the world!!! For this he needs…
2. Octopussy. Leader of a smuggling ring that has branched out into, among other things, circuses (…?!?). Orlov will use Octo’s circus trains to get the bomb to the base. But Octo doesn’t know this; she thinks she’s just smuggling jewellery. Their connection was set up by…
3. Kamal Khan. Suave, debonair, meant to be Indian but played by a French actor. (Sigh.) Kamal’s motives are… unclear. I think he’s ultimately just into money, because he’s never shown to be a true believer in the Soviet way or even especially interested in changing the world.
So at first Bond thinks he’s up against Kamal, because he’s chasing the origin of the Faberge egg that comes up at Sotheby’s (with a marvellous moment of egging the bidding on, giving his friend from the government a heart attack). Then it seems like Kamal is taking orders from a lady, with whom Bond ends up in bed. But then we see Khan reporting to a mysterious woman in a dressing gown with an octopus on the back – and we know she’s mysterious and powerful because we don’t see her face at this stage. We see Orlov and Khan chatting together so clearly they’re connected… then Bond goes to check out Octo’s island… and look. This is just confused, right? The villains are playing off against each other. Frankly I think this would be a better movie if it was entirely focussed on the villains and Bond just wasn’t in it. In fact, that would be an AWESOME movie.
Race: well, I was mighty sad Khan was played by a French dude. I really liked Louis Jourdain, don’t get me wrong – I think he’s delightful – but it’s not like there was a shortage of Indian actors (even Indian-American or Indian-British, I would have guessed) in 1983. It’s a throwback to Dr No. Bond has an awesome Indian sidekick, Vijay, who gets some great lines and is delightfully engaging – and then he dies. Dead brown man alert! And then there’s that delightful line from Bond, when he’s spreading around some largesse: “This should keep you in curry for a few weeks.” Ho ho! The film does its cultural showcase thing with India as it has done with some of the other Exotic Locales the franchise has visited. When Bond arrives there’s a lingering shot of the Taj Mahal, which I’m going to guess is entirely incongruous from a geographical perspective. And then there’s the equivalent of the Winter Olympics scene from the last film: during a chase, we see a man lying on a bed of nails, sword swallowing, fire walking, fire twirling, and ‘gurus’. And then there’s hunting scene – hunting a tiger, on elephants, in the ‘burbs – where Bond swings on a vine and does the Tarzan yodel. I’m serious.
Gender: Octopussy only gets that name, and it’s a nickname from her father. The first main woman, Magda, is only named some minutes after Bond sleeps with her. Bond goes to visit Octo’s island after hearing that it’s women-only, to which Bond responds: “sexual discrimination! I’ll have to pay it a visit.” Way to go negating a real issue, film! Octo and Bond appear to be working on the same level for a while… until Octo says “we’re two of a kind” (hello theme song reference), and appears to be offering Bond a job. Bond gets snippy, Octo gets offended by his sanctimonious attitude and storms out – and Bond follows her and forces her to kiss him. She fights a bit and then gives in. Because it’s soooo sexy when a guy forces you to do something you don’t want! Also, we get a short scene with Moneypenny – and Moneypenny’s assistant, who is young an glamorous and whom Bond chats up and then realises it’s not Moneypenny. Oops. Moneypenny does a lovely line in snark, at last, and the assistant says somewhat drily that she’s been warned about him. Of course, when he leaves the room they both have a little sigh.
Also, there’s this:
James: You gentle reader might expect me to write things about a balloon with a Union Jack on it (and Q in it), or the TV watch which Bond uses to ogle a pretty young thing in Q’s lab, but the truth is … ZzZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz…….. I fell asleep in this one… Slow, confused, no truly great gadgets or cars. My favourite part ? This.
Summary: in which
Tywin Lannister Charles Dance has a non-speaking role as a thug, Walter Donovan Grand Master Pycelle Julian Glover is a double-dealing villain, and James Bond refuses to have sex with a young woman. There’s a plot in there somewhere, too.
Alex: First of all: WHAT THE HELL is with that promo poster?? There is… I can’t… there are no words.
Second of all: I’m really sorry, Moonraker. It turns out I maligned you, because there is a worse theme song than yours, and it’s this one. I don’t remember 1981 except that I got a brother, so I don’t know whether Sheena Easton was just All That, but this is the first (…and only?) Bond in which the singer actually makes an appearance in the credits sequence (I was going to say that she’s lucky to be wearing clothes, because none of the rest of the women are, but actually I’m not sure I can say, definitively, that she is). And it’s just… forgettable.
This movie has perhaps the oddest, and weakest, opening of any Bond. Bond goes to put roses on Theresa Bond’s grave, and then his helicopter is hijacked by a bald man whose face we never, in a wheelchair. This is clearly meant to be Telly Savalas’ Blofeld, and I guess that means Bond throwing him (wheelchair and all) down an industrial chimney is meant to be just retribution or something? It’s weird, and without context quite uncomfortable. The helicopter aerobatics, and the cinematography of that section, is indeed spectacular.
Anyway, the film itself is about attempts to recover an ATAC – device that orders submarines to launch ballistic missiles – from the ocean floor off Albania. Of course the Russians want it as much as the Brits want it. This leads to the Havelocks – underwater archaeologists – being killed, in front of their daughter Melina’s eyes, which in turn leads to this masterclass in acting (you have to imagine the camera steadily getting closer in):
… and also leads Melina to declare that Greek women, “like Elektra,” always want revenge. Because that worked out so well for Elektra.
Bond ends up working with a Greek businessman, Kristatos (Julia Glover), who tells him that his former comrade in arms (Columba, played by Topol) is responsible. But surprise! It turns out to have been Kristatos all along! Columba is just an honest smuggler – he would never deal in heroin, or deal with those Ruskies. While we’re here: Columba is totally adorable. Always with the munching on pistachios!
I’m a bit worried that I am acquiring an immunity to Roger Moore, because I actually rather liked this film. This feels like a problem. There were still lots of issues – I’m getting there! – but the plot itself mostly worked (except for Melina leaving an oxygen tank on the ocean floor for no reason at the start of the film, and then OH LOOK it’s there when they need it at the end… oh right, and that bit where the parrot disclosed where the villains were heading). The pacing was pretty good, and – oh heck – even Moore was ok. In the accompanying features, Michael Wilson makes the point that they felt like Bond needed to literally and figuratively “come back to Earth” after Moonraker, and so they made this… dare I say it… grittier. So perhaps this is approaching the feel of my first Bond, Brosnan? Or yeh, maybe I’m infected with something.
But it’s not all sunshine and skittles! Of course I got cranky! Where to start… hmm… how about Moneypenny? Sprung putting on some lippy at the time she’s expecting Bond. Now I love Lois Maxwell a lot, but she has aged a lot since she started as Moneypenny, and while I have no problem with older ladies flirting with anyone they like (in a responsible, consensual manner), I do have a problem with the writers making her look pathetic at lusting after a man for nigh on 20 years, like this. She’s better handing out the snark and being arch. Then there’s Bibi – oh Bibi. A young, bubbly, blonde, ice skater – Kristatos’ ‘protege’ (aaaand all the eyebrows shoot up). Lynn-Holly Johnson is a fine enough actress given the circumstances, but Bibi actually has no role in this film. Actually no role. She serves no plot purpose. She does two things for characters: first, she makes Bond look marginally less like a womaniser because he refuses to sleep with her (oh so magnanimous), and then – when we already know Kristatos is the villain – she has the throw-away line “I know what you want. You’re too old for me.” So she makes one man look good, and one look bad. But those things are already established by other aspects of the film, so she’s irrelevant. Except, as James points out, as eye-candy…. There’s a “countess,” Lisl, whose role consists of sex for Bond and a bit of information on the side, and then she’s killed. The main woman, though, is Melina. She gets involved because she wants revenge (see above); she helps Bond out of difficult situations a few times, and he rewards her by bullying her out of her plans. I would have no problem with Bond saying “look lady, I’m trained for this, plus I have no compunction about killing, so maybe I could help you not die in getting revenge?” But Bond ordering her to leave, without explaining who he actually is – yeh, that’s just rude and high-handed. I was also cranky at the scene in the sleigh where they’re giving conflicting orders to the driver and the driver listens to Bond. And when they stop arguing, he looks over his shoulder and sighs “Amore!” um NO. Really NO. Anyway, she gets to be competent – she’s a skilled scuba diver, she knows her father’s codes, she navigates the 2-man sub, and she’s a dab hand with a cross bow. So that’s something.
Worth noting: M is “on holidays” while these events take place, so Bond has to deal with the Minister and some random flunky. And this is because Bernard Lee died at the start of 1981, so presumably he was already sick and/or too old while filming was going on. Very sad, and I’m therefore on fire to see whether/how they replace M for the next four movies, given the glory that is Dame Judi Dench with Brosnan.
James: Is this the part where I write about all the awesome stereotypically boy parts of the film which Alex has neglected ? Why yes it is. Basically this is everything that happened in the film anyway. First the car … a Lotus Esprit Turbo which meets a quick end in the film when one of the thugs trips the ‘car alarm’ and self-destructs the car – angular, 80s and cool.
Next we have a winter sports montage chase scene where Bond and his pursuers take part in four or five winter olympic events on a mix of skis, motorbikes and feet; the ski jump and the luge are the highlights. Out of the snow and into the water via the Neptune mini sub searching for the secret (but tracked by the Russians and quite obviously not secret) British ship with the ATAC – this section of the film culminates in a hilarious fight against an enemy with a comically HUGE diving suit getting his head literally blown off by a limpet mine Bond just happens to have from the ATAC unit. Finally we get some modern technology too in the form of Q’s new identigraph system which takes a series of very Tron (or is it logo writer) graphics and suddenly punches out a face on a 9pin dot-matrix impact printer using nothing but ASCII characters (with the identity and dossier also of course). The movie finished up with a suspense filled infiltration of a cliff top monastery, culminating with a dying Columbo saving Bond and Melina from Kristatos, saving her from the previously mentioned revenge task of digging two graves. Oh, wait… Bond and Melina kiss at the end; come on it’s James Bond people.
Summary: in which, space. And Jaws. But no sharks.
Alex: still not a fan of Moore. However, there were some parts of this film that I actually liked. It’s definitely better paced than the earlier Moores, and who doesn’t love a good giggle over the hilarity of 1970s space stations? It does, however, feature my least favourite Bond theme. Sorry Shirley, it does nothing for me.
The prologue introduces us to the shuttle, Moonraker, as it gets hijacked. We also see Bond encounter Jaws again, henchmanning for some random villain, and then they both end up out of a plane sans parachute. This section had some truly awesome cinematography, and the feature on the DVD about how it was shot is definitely worth watching.
The shuttle was built by Drax Enterprises, and himself is pissed that the British lost his shuttle. So Bond is off to California to snoop around, see who might be responsible for it going missing. I WONDER WHO IT COULD BE? Oh wait, Drax is dressed almost entirely in black and speaks with a slight accent and in a monotone! Nothing suspicious here! No visible deformities, anyway, which is just about a first for this franchise. He does have two Lady Friends, one black and one white, who don’t speak; and two perfectly trained Dobermans; and a Generic Asian Servant. And yes, I really do think those three things can be listed as about equal, from the film’s perspective.
Drax graciously allows Bond to meet one of his chief scientists, Dr Goodhead. Who is, surprise! Female. Bond, condescending: “Are you training to be an astronaut?” Goodhead, I Am So Used To This Crap: “I’m fully trained, on loan from NASA.” What follows would be termed willy-waving if it were between two men, but because it’s between a man and a woman there’s the mandatory sexual frisson – from Bond anyway – as he tries to demonstrate to the woman WHO HAS AT LEAST ONE PHD that he knows as much as her. Because showing you’re smarter than her is a sure way into a woman’s pants. Or something. Still, hurrah for a competent female scientist! She may be my favourite woman from the Moore era yet, which still isn’t saying a whole lot because I didn’t love her. As an actress I found her boring and wooden; as a character she started off well but, as always, goes downhill after she (inevitably) succumbs to Bond’s irresistible charms. Not only does Bond have an ORGAN I CAN’T MENTION that turns women from evil to good, it also apparently saps the competency from them.
Anyway. Bond chases Drax’s establishment to Venice – hello gondola chases – and has a tour through a glass museum, which as soon as it comes on screen you just KNOW is going to be the scene of a horridly destructive fight. And it was. Then Bond goes to Rio, as far as I can tell just so that he can sleep with the local MI5 contact and the film can showcase Carnevale. And then he and Goodhead, who have now teamed up because she’s actually CIA, are off down the Amazon and there find Castle Anthrax. Seriously. All the astronauts in training there are beautiful and lissom and – it turns out – paired to one another, because Drax’s goal is to sterilise the Earth and bring back his genetically perfect humans to Rule The World! They all end up in space, and eventually, after some pretty cool null-grav scenes, Bond escapes and destroys it.
Brief space rant now. It can’t be that far out in orbit because it doesn’t take that long to reach it in their shuttles. How did they avoid detection? Well, Drax has developed a cloaking device (basically) that prevents radar from detecting them. Ta dah! … but wait – what about the astronomers?? This is pre- any space telescopes. It’s also a time when, I presume, the light pollution wasn’t nearly so bad as it is today. I can guarantee that amateur astronomers would have spotted it, let alone the pros. Heck, I’ve followed the ISS in a telescope by moving the scope manually, and you can see the shape quite easily. This space city is meant to be much bigger than the ISS.
That issue aside, the end of the space city is actually the most terrifying part of the whole movie because US-trained space troops fly up to occupy it (once they know it’s there): they know how to fight in space, and they have laser guns. This is what the 1980s feared with discussion of the militarisation of space. And I can well understand the fear.
Weird moment: the code to get into a secret lab is the signature motif from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
From a racial perspective: Generic Asian Servant gets to beat up Bond a bit, but of course can’t win. There are some non-white astronauts in Drax’s plan for perfecting humanity, so that’s awesome – but it is overwhelmingly white.
From a feminist perspective: Goodhead isn’t bad; she takes a while to succumb to Bond, and she is blunt about her lack of trust in him. She stays mostly competent when she’s allowed to demonstrate it. There are three other “Bond women.” He’s smooching one at the start, who then pulls a gun on him – hilarious, but she is then nowhere while the fight takes place, and given it’s on a plane that makes no sense. Then there’s Drax’s helicopter pilot. Bond kisses her, she responds with “You presume a great deal” – and then kisses him back. She dies. The Brazilian contact is attacked by Jaws in a clown outfit.
Jaws! How remiss of me not to mention: Jaws gets a girlfriend! Aww… they meet when he’s just finished destroying a cable car with Bond and Goodhead on board. They both end up on the space city, and Jaws actually helps Bond when he realises that neither he nor Braids meets Drax’s standards of human perfection. And he even gets to speak, which I’m sure meant that he had to take out the metal teeth.
James: Classic movie poster – almost as awesome as the vintage Star Wars ones. It might be my favourite part though. The effects are improving as we move forwards in time too but like Alex I’m bored with Moore and ready to move on. More space, more lasers – I had never really noticed in the past how central space, orbital weapons and lasers are to Bond (and it’s not about to stop yet…). 2 Martinis.
Summary: in which Russia’s best agent is a woman, someone is stealing submarines, cars turn into submarines and Bond visits Egypt. All to a very groovy 70s version of the Bond theme.
Alex: well, it turns out that James was right. There are a lot of Bonds I haven’t seen! … most of the Moores, in fact. And you know what? I am not sad about that fact. Because if I had, indeed, seen these movies before, then I would now have sat through them at least twice each, and I’m just not going to live that long.
I’ve figured out how to make a decent Roger Moore Bond. Take this plot, make Christopher Lee play Stromberg, and Jane Seymour Triple X. Ta dah!
Back in From Russia with Love, we were introduced to the idea of a Russian agent being female. The prologue here opens with the Russians deciding to put their best agent onto the case of a submarine going missing – then cutting to a bedroom scene – and it turning out that Triple X is actually the woman. Surprise fake out! Amusingly, this is then replicated with the British doing the same thing and, of course, cutting to Bond also in bed. He then escapes from dastardly Russians via a parachute with a Union Jack on it…
The credits feature an astonishing number of nude women in silhouette. And Carly Simone, whose “Nobody does it better” has grown on me a lot since I’ve stopped automatically associating a real estate agent with it.
We meet the man responsible for the disappearing subs very quickly, and the fact that he’s ruthless immediately: he kills his lover for apparently giving away secrets, and for I think the third time? is a villain with a penchant for sharks. He, too, continues the villain-as-deformed theme, although less obviously than some: his thumb and forefinger webbing is very pronounced. I guess this is meant to account for his love of the life aquatic? Or something anyway. Writing that I realise that other villains have a thing with water – Dr No, and the guy in Thunderball I think? Stromberg gets the coolest looking lair to this point, although it’s spoiled by the narcissism of calling it Atlantis. Stromberg’s villainy is further amplified by, of course, his henchmen. Let’s just glory in the fabulousness that is Jaws for a moment:
Yup, fine specimen of a henchman. To my everlasting joy, the film managed to combine both Stromberg’s love of sharks and Jaws’ ability and willingness to bite anything and everything by featuring a fight between a great white and the metal mouth himself. You know who wins already.
There is actually a plot here, and I think it’s a better one than the previous two – so surely that’s a good sign, right? The first was rock bottom, the second clawed its way out of despair, this one is almost conceivably bearable? Almost? Bond and Triple X (who is named at some point, I know, but I missed it and anyway the code name works) end up in Egypt chasing down the owner of a microfilm with details about the sub-thief. Bond turns out to rock pseudo-Tuareg gear and to speak Arabic, as well as having an old Cambridge chum who sets him up for the night in a totally Lawrence of Arabia tent and a member of his harem. Then, getting back to the point, Bond continues searching and manages to get a third woman killed by a bullet intended for him. There’s some killing, some arguing, and then Bond and Triple X find themselves having to work together when Jaws makes off with the microfilm.
To James’ eye-rolling, I must stop here a moment and squeal about how awesome it was to see Bond on location in Egypt, having been there myself. I’m astonished they let them film in Karnak, but I guess the 70s was a different time. The most hilarious bit, though, is when they’re at the Sound and Light show at Gaza… because the voice-over from 1977 is exactly the same one that I heard in 2013. Exactly.
Bond and Triple X fight Jaws at Karnak; there’s a hilarious moment where Triple X can’t get their escape van into gear, because everyone knows that women can’t drive, especially not manuals! Ha ha! And then neatly reverses into Jaws. Bond notes “You did save my life;” she tartly replies with “Everybody makes mistakes.” And then they walk in the desert, because the van breaks down, and they seriously, no jokes, do so to the strains of the Lawrence of Arabia theme. My eyes rolled so hard it hurt.
And then Triple X and Bond discover they have to work together. Gee, thank bosses. Off to Sardinia they go, via a train trip featuring Jaws in Triple X’s wardrobe (Bond electrocutes him, she falls into Bond’s arms afterwards) and the discovery that Stromberg is capturing nuclear missiles in order to blow up both the USSR and the USA so that he can start the world anew… apparently under water or something? Isn’t this all sounding very familiar, a la Blofeld? I guess there are only so many supervillain prime motivating factors to go around, and wealth is not Stromberg’s concern at this point. Anyway, Bond foils the plot, making the nukes blow up the subs instead… which still means that there were two nuclear explosions in the middle of two oceans, but apparently we don’t care about that. Triple X is taken by Stromberg back to Atlantis and forced to wear an outrageous dress; Bond rescues her and they get away in a bachelor pad escape pod, complete with Dom Perignon 52:
I really liked Triple X most of the time. She has a lovely line in snark, is well aware of what Bond is about, and is mostly allowed to be competent. Blowing sleeping powder in Bond’s face when he gets amorous? Priceless. Apparently getting over her dead lover very quickly is less so. Vowing to kill Bond after the mission, when she discovers he killed her lover, was awesome – I love her professionalism in agreeing to finish the mission before killing him. And she didn’t blow their cover as his ‘wife’ even when Bond tells her “don’t be a bother” when being shown around Atlantis. Reneging on that vow to kill him – without even trying! – was disappointing. I would have liked her to put up more of a fight.
Bond continues to be a snob and ludicrously knowledgable. He poses as a marine biologist, he knows Arabic, he gets a detonator out of a nuclear bomb, and he can reprogram computers.
Underwater car … one of the coolest Bond cars yet? Another lukewarm film otherwise. The opening ski chase is classic bond and Triple X is a nice evolution for Bond as a franchise but there was still more cheese than a 1970s fondu set. Great music.
Summary: in which Bond meets his assassin-y match and there’s something about solar power? Also, Bond seems surprisingly disinterested in teh ladeez. With bonus Christopher Lee!
Alex: another Bond that I’d never seen before! So that was exciting! … which was something, at least, since this is another film that took us two sittings. Partly that was tiredness on our part, but partly that was because this film so soooo slooooow. Better than Live and Let Die, but slow nonetheless. Probably the most exciting part of the entire film was thinking, “hey, Scaramanga looks familiar. He actually looks a bit like Christopher Lee!” And then realising omg it IS Christopher Lee!!
I’m being slightly unfair, I guess. Let me start then with ways in which this film shows its cleverness. I had always thought that the theme song for this, sung by Lulu (does that make it the most pop song of the lot? does she beat Madonna and A-ha?), was an amusing conflation of the villain with Bond. Turns out that all of the lines are actually applicable to Scaramanga, right down to the “Love is required/ Whenever he’s hired / It comes just before the ki-ill.” But the entire film is actually intent on making the similarities between Scaramanga and Bond quite clear. Scaramanga himself draws the parallel – “Ours is the loneliest profession” – noting somewhat tartly that the main difference is that he makes good money from it, as opposed to Bond. Bond of course defends himself by saying he only kills on HM’s government’s orders, but that’s after quite a strong assertion of kinship from Scaramanga, and I must say Bond comes off as less than convincing. So I do really like that the film is problematising Bond’s position as ‘licensed to kill’.
Let’s talk about Scaramanga, since we already are. He’s shown in the prologue and immediately established as evil, because he’s physically different from the norm: he has “a superfluous papilla or mammary gland,” as Bond – that supercilious snob – so pretentiously puts it (he means a third nipple). He also has a servant named Nick Nack, a cordon bleu-trained chef who happens to be a dwarf. Again, this clearly places Scaramanga in the villain category for the Bond universe, because who else would tolerate a ‘freak’? This sort of ableism and Othering is really, really wearing. Anyway, from a narrative perspective Scaramanga and his servant are intriguing. Nick Nack allows an assassin – whom he’s paid – into Scaramanga’s inner sanctum. The assassin and Scaramanga proceed to play hide and seek, with Nick Nack sadistically commenting from behind the scenes. Turns out, this is a game they play – Nick Nack will inherit everything if Scaramanga is killed. So Scaramanga is fearless and rates his own abilities, but is also very keen to keep honing his skills. And he’s obsessed with his beautiful hand-crafted golden gun.
Backtrack: to plot. Bond takes on the task of chasing Scaramanga down when a golden bullet with ‘007’ inscribed on it arrives at HQ. Scaramanga turns out to be connected in some way to Bond’s earlier assignment, tracking down a solar energy scientist, who appears to have gone rogue and maybe defected to the Chinese? This was unclear to me. There’s also a Thai businessman, Hai Fat, somehow connected to everything; his appearance really confused me because I thought Bond went from Macau to mainland China, but it turned out that he went to Thailand. Hai Fat ends up dead, Bond and Scaramanga fight – partly over who’s a better assassin, partly over who is better – the one who makes money or the one with ‘morals’ – and partly over Scaramanga having access to solar power that will not only power lots of batteries but can also (natch) be turned into a laaaaaserrrr. Um, the end. Oh, except for Bond zipping Nick Nack into a suitcase, because that’s always hilarious.
There are three women in this film, and they have far less significant roles than in the last couple of films. They’re even more boring than Solitaire, who at least got reasonable airtime. There’s Goodnight (yes, seriously), an MI6 agent that Bond’s slept with previously. At one point she gets feisty, declaring “Killing a few hours as one of your passing fancies isn’t quite my scene” – but it’s ruined by the incredibly thick layer of Vaseline on the lens, and that she ends up in his bed very soon thereafter (“My hard-to-get act didn’t last very long” – I kid you not, that’s what she says). This in turn is ruined when Ms Anders walks in. She’s Scaramanga’s latest lover, who is actually responsible for the 007 bullet. She initially seems to be awesome – Bond surprises her in the shower, but she gets out all cool and calm with a gun in hand, demanding her robe – but goes all to pieces quickly. Mind you, this is after Bond has been very rough with her, so maybe I’m being too harsh. When Anders walks in, Bond puts Goodnight in the cupboard… then when Anders leaves, Bond apologises with “next time.” Goodnight is further shown to be incompetent when she leans on a master override switch that will destroy Scaramanga’s base, with her and Bond still left inside – Bond gets very cranky, as if she did it deliberately. The other woman in the film? A bellydancer, from whom Bond plucks a bellybutton charm with his mouth. Yes, really.
Racially… well, again we at least have non-Anglos being played by non-Anglos. I really enjoyed Soon-Tek Oh, playing a Chinese agent in Macau and Thailand (even if Oh is Korean…) – he was great, even if they did give him some cringe-worthy stereotyped moments like he and his nieces being ace karate experts. He’s a good sidekick and hurrah! doesn’t die. Richard Loo, playing Hai Fat, does die but he’s a villain and is done in by his ally, and what do you expect anyway? I don’t think there’s anything mean said about him for not being white, which is at least a bare minimum. Oh, and as befits Bond the Great White Messiah, he’s quite good at fighting karate experts – he ignores the expectations of respect, and kicks his opponent while he’s bowing.
The very weirdest thing about this entire movie is the inclusion of JW, the absolutely appalling, tobacco-chewing/spitting, nigh-unintelligible good ol’ southern boy sheriff from Live and Let Die. How is it even possible that he was popular enough as a character to be worth imagining as someone who would take a trip to Thailand? So that he could see Bond and end up ‘helping’ him? Every scene he was in made me want to throw something at the screen.
Project Bond has been a bit out of whack over the last month, initially due to holidays and then latterly thanks to tragic DVD player heartache. But now we are BACK and on schedule with the first of the Roger Moores!
Summary: in which James Bond takes an excruciatingly long time to deal with a voodoo-manipulating, heroin-dealing president of a fictional Caribbean island. There are not enough alligators, chases, or explosions.
Alex: it took us two nights to watch this film. After 80 minutes, with another 40 still to go, we cracked it: it was so boring. How does a film with probably the greatest theme song of the oeuvre, and Roger Moore’s introduction, get to be so dull?
You want to know the plot? OK. Three British agents have been killed and their deaths have all been connected to the island nation of San Monique. Bond is sent in to find out what’s going on. There’s clearly something weird going on with Kananga, the president, and it turns out that he is growing opium poppies… and somehow finding time to also be Mr Big, a drug boss in New Orleans. Bond steals Kananga’s Tarot-reading fortune-teller, Solitaire; foils all of his plans; and lives happily ever after the end.
It should not have been so boring. Why was it boring? Because the chase sequences – and there are some really awesome ones – like the boats! brilliant! – Just. Go. On. And on. The cinematography doesn’t help: the angles are weird and don’t create any tension whatsoever. It’s a quintessential villains-revealing-all-their-plans story, which is also boring. There is so much that could have been done with a discussion of politics – why would a foreign president want to flood the American market with free heroin, and then sell it when there are many more users? I can imagine this working in the 21st century: what a way to kickstart your economy after the GFC. But motivation never gets discussed; instead the villains are just… villains. And the dialogue is utterly lacking in zing. And and there’s a lot of dead air with girls.
Perhaps the most interesting moment from a Bond perspective is the opening: Bond is in bed with an Italian spy, then M arrives… because Bond is at home. At home. Bond has a home! This is the first time in any Bond movie that Bond is even vaguely domestic, which is rather exciting. In order to distract M from the woman, Bond makes M coffee. In his kitchen. With a really remarkable coffee machine – which makes M ask “is that all it does?” But the point is, Bond has a house and occasionally uses it. That’s cool.
Anyway. This movie is boring but it has a lot for discussing about gender, and about race. This starts with the credits, where there are remarkably nude black women doing some dance-y, vaguely white-version-of-voodoo, moves.
Let’s start with race. It must be said that I am white, so of course that makes my perception. Other readings are absolutely welcomed… because I think that Bond as a character is remarkably unracist. He’s a condescending son of a gun, but he’s that way with (white) Leiter as well as, in this film, as well as the black CIA man and the black henchmen. And he has no problem with sleeping with non-white women, as has been demonstrated here and in previous movies. This is not to say that the film is not racist; it would have been hard pressed not to verge on racism: all of the villains are black, and it uses (a 1970s white version of) voodoo as a plot device. In some ways the black villains are actually egalitarian: Bond treats them in exactly the same way as he treats white villains (with contempt). And Kananga is certainly shown to be intelligent: he outwits the CIA eavesdropping with ease. There’s an interesting moment of the film being self-aware of what it’s doing: white tourists are shown watching a ‘voodoo’ show that’s being performed specifically for tourists. In much the same way that voodoo is being used by the film, for voyeuristic purposes, epitomising the fetishising of the Other. Also, just for a wee nod to continuity, Bond goes out on a fishing charter… with Quarrel Jr. There is no way this can actually be Quarrel-from-Dr No‘s son, but it’s a humorous Easter egg anyway. (Others are avoided; Bond order a bourbon, no ice, instead of a martini.)
On the topic of racism, the most revolting character in the film is white. A ludicrous, stereotyped, good ol’ southern boy sheriff, complete with chewin’ ‘baccy. He’s so awful it’s not even funny.
And then there’s the gender stuff. Bond sleeps with three women. The first is an Italian spy; I’m not even sure she’s named, and she barely speaks. Then
there’s the black, female CIA operative who turns out to be The Bad One (I feel I should be keeping score). It looks like she will hold out for at least 5 minutes – saying “Felix warned me there would be moments like these.” Bond replies: “What did good old Felix suggest?” “If all else fails, cyanide pills. I settled for two rooms” – which is GOLD. And is completely spoiled by freaking out about a (presumably) voodoo curse, and insisting “please don’t leave me alone tonight” (Bond replies “All right dear, if you insist.” There’s also a moment later where she tries to convince him not to kill her, because they’ve just had sex – “you wouldn’t, not after what we’ve just done” – to which Bond replies “well I certainly wouldn’t have done it before.” URGH.) However, this pales in comparison to the role of Solitaire. Solitaire is played by Jane Seymour, in her first big role, and I simply cannot see her as anything other than Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman (which means Roger Moore ought to have waaay more hair, and be wearing leather… I was SUCH a sucker for that show). Solitaire is a pawn, more than any other Bond girl to this point. Other women may have been passing fancies for Bond; other women might have moved between the villain and Bond; but Solitaire is nothing but an object to both. Kananga is outraged that Solitaire sleeps with Bond partly because it means her Tarot ability is gone, but largely because, he says: “when the proper time came, I would have given you love – you knew that!” So not only did you remove your gift from my keeping, you also had sex with a man other than me. Bond is no better; he wants her simply for what she represents: a means of screwing with Kananga. He seduces her in the most disgusting, despicable manner: coldly manipulating her belief in the Tarot by making her pick the Lovers card… from a stack that was entirely Lovers cards. He thereby ruins her entire life, and makes her think that she had no choice because it’s what the cards willed – and they have never lied. I hated Bond in that moment, and it’s going to take me a while to get over it.
On an aesthetic level: I like Moore’s voice, but I Do Not Understand a cleft chin. And the lines are so so cheesy that I can’t ever take him seriously as either an action man or a romantic lead.
I wanted to embed this video, but it’s a bit dodgy so I’ll just give you a link. Yes, the Wings theme song is one of the best Bond songs ever; yes the Gunners cover is awesome. However, Chrissie Hynde (the Pretenders) does THE best version, hands down. This is on the same compilation as the Iggy Pop covering “We have all the time in the world,” and if those two covers together don’t want you to go out and get Shaken and Stirred, you are not as big a fan of these songs as I am.
0 Martinis. (Although you might need 4 or 5 to get through it.) You do get to see Bond run across some alligators like it’s a game of Frogger, though.