Thursday, January 04, 2007

# Posted 8:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BOND JUMPS THE SHARK: On Tuesday I asked if Casino Royale was the best Bond ever. What can surely be said is that isn't the worst. Conventional wisdom holds that the young Sean Connery made the early Bond films all classics. You Only Live Twice (1967) proves otherwise. It is simply terrible. But it isn't Connery's fault.

It would be generous to say that You Only Live Twice (YOLT for short) has a plot. It does have a story about an evil genius -- the ever-presentBlofeld -- who kidnaps US and Soviet spaceships, but that story is just a framing device for a series of disconnected and increasingly less plausible action sequences. The culmination of that story, of course, is Bond's infiltration of the kitschy lair of said villain.

Admittedly the film begins well, with Bond's "death", funeral, and emergence from his underwater casket wearing an immaculate tuxedo. From there it's downhill. First, Bond meets with the head of Japanese intelligence who, in apparent homage to his foes, has an underground lair of his own that can be reached by falling down a long metallic slide in a Tokyo alleyway. Although I'm willing to accept that evil geniuses are a bit erratic in their taste of lairs, it's just plain silly for the head of a great power's intelligence service to have an office like that.

Bond's gadgetry also goes well past the point of being ridiculous. In YOLT, Bond requests the dispatch of a portable miniature helicopter froom Britain to Japan. By portable, I mean that the copter can be disassembled, placed in a large trunk, and reassembled in a matter of minutes. In the copter, Bond looks like a cross between a cartoon character and an adult riding a children's tricycle. When Bond knocks an entire squadron of enemy helicopters out of the sky with his toy, it seems like a joke, like taking out a tank with a pistol. Bond's essence is charm, and this has none of it.

The greatest travesty, of course, is the final scene in which Bond invades the enemy lair with the aid of several hundred "ninjas". The scare quotes are necessary because these guys resemble Keystone Kops more than they do the silent killers of Japanese legend. (If you don't believe me, just ask a ninja.) The lair itself is supposedly the launch site for Blofeld's massive spacecraft. How, exactly, is it possible to launch massive spacecraft without alerting the locals to one's presence? Have you ever watched a space-shuttle launch?

The climactic battle in the space lair delivers a lot of noise and explosions, but not much excitement. The same could be said for the movie as a whole. What I want to know is, did audiences enjoy the movie at the time? Perhaps those of you with longer memories can add your thoughts below.

Next time: From Russia With Love.
(7) opinions -- Add your opinion

It takes a great villain to make a hero, and so the best Bond movies have been those with the best bad guys.

For me, it was Sean Bean walking out of the fog and simply saying, "Hello James." Shivers. And it helps to have a great assistant bad guy, like Alan Cumming.

Next up a great Bond movie has to have a great Bond chick. Izabella Scorupco always did it for me. Famke Janssen wasn't a bad villainess, but she doesn't come anywhere near to a Grace Jones.

The M's, Q's and Miss Moneypenny's neither make nor break a Bond movie. They add a bit of business, but they get harder to justify.

Lastly, if Bond can spell VW then he fits the bill as a hero, as long as he doesn't get in the way. Brosnan wasn't a very good Bond. Still he was better than Moore, and he didn't get in the way.
You must know that at some point the movie plots got far away from the books. For one thing, YOLT came AFTER OHMSS - it was Bond revenging Tracy; he strangled Blofeld with his bare hands. As we all know, Blofeld lingered on and on...

As for YOLT itself, it was a very quiet, atmospheric plot that had nothing to do with spaceships.

But though they took enormous, unforgivable liberties, they at least attempted homage.

Accordingly, the chute Bond went down in the YOLT movie was a tribute, IMHO, to the book's oubliette in Blofeld's castle in Japan, where Bond was trapped. That would seem to be the only reasonable explanation.

I would say, in fact, that a major reason we all love Sean Connery is because he had the best scripts. Scripts actually based on, and faithful to, the novels of Ian Fleming. Roger Moore's works offered the last traces of any connection other than the titles and a few scenes.

The Casino Royale movie, though adapted to the modern era instead of being filmed as a period piece (for which I would have drooled, myself), was a pretty clever, relatively faithful adaptation, preserving the spirit of the book.

That is why it was so neato, and also why I was able to accept Daniel Craig. But I think Pierce Brosnan would have done just fine with real plots (though too old for CR, honestly). His scripts were turds of the first water. He would have been just fine for, say, OHMSS.


anon: VW?
I haven't seen the new Casino Royale, but the first movie version of Casino Royale is arguably the worst Bond movie of all time.
Surely the most ridiculous thing about YOLT was Bond impersonating a Japanese person?
Otherwise your points are all good, but I still think that Moonraker is worse for numerous reasons such as the fight with the giant python, Jaws getting a girlfriend, a pigeon doing a double take and the various lame attempts to cash in on the popularity of Star Wars.
That said, I think it is so bad that it is actually worth watching ... so maybe that actually puts it above YOLT.
CR was never really a movie. There was a 1954 TV episode of "Climax!" based on it (with Barry Nelson as "Jimmy Bond," an American agent!) that can, with great effort, be found on the Internet. The 1967 movie with David Niven and Woody Allen was a strange spoof, but on its own terms was enjoyable. Certainly it had little or nothing to do with Ian Fleming. The TV episode was relatively faithful but a poor and truncated adaptation.

I actually enjoyed YOLT though it was way off the Fleming reservation. (The book also has Bond passing as a Japanese, BTW. The English apparently have a tradition of outlandish disguises as other ethnicities - an adventurer named Richard Burton used this technique to gain access to Mecca and its holy shrine.)

But the biggest problem IMHO was the deviation from the Ian Fleming *sequence* as Blofeld was supposed to die in YOLT, after killing Tracy in OHMSS. Instead, he makes his getaway and ends up offering Bond a delicatessen in FYEO before Bond dumps him down a smokestack. (I don;t find the smashing if his Bathysub (sp?) in DAF conclusive.

For some reason the franchise shied away from the Fleming canon. Dumbasses.
I rise in defense of YOLT. In 1967
when I was 12 years old I saw the
picture at the El Rancho Drive-In
Theater in South San Francisco,
California, and I thought it was
pretty neato. The way the Japanese
elements were folded into the plot
--Sumo wrestling, a wedding ceremony, a fishing village--gave
me the feeling that I had actually
learned something. A few years ago
I would have agreed about the implausibility of the plot but having seen numerous recent instances of comprehensive governmental incompetence I can now
accept the idea of bad guys carrying out massive, expensive schemes of criminality right under the nose of authority. Trivia note:
Back in the late '60s I would watch
the weekly professional
wrestling show on local TV. One of
the prominent grapplers of those
days was a beefy Samoan named Peter
Maivia. Imagine my surprise when
I saw him in YOLT--he plays the bad
guy who battles Bond in the highrise office of Osato. It was his one and only movie gig. Trivia bonus: Maivia's grandson is
the current wrestler-action-star
The Rock.
There are several replica Hermes that are sold for really low prices. However, it does not mean that all of these are fakes. The difference of a real from the sham is that the former does not have a hangtag made from paper. We just need to be careful and serious when decide to pay for one.
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