Sunday, August 18, 2013

007 Project #18 You Only Live Twice

This poster represents everything that is terribly, terribly wrong (or right!) with this film.

Finally!  Dr. Evil, err, Blofeld revealed!  Like Dr. No with a budget, You Only Live Twice gives Sean Connery a spectacular send off and pits him directly against the nefarious leader of SPECTRE!  Much like its predecessor, YOLT makes full use of a big Hollywood budget and pulls out all of the stops.  Mini-personal helicopters, rockets blasting into space, ninja training, and a secret volcano base all prove that while it may be difficult to top the previous classic, Thunderball, it is possible to rival it for grand spectacle.

Amidst the incredible sets and exotic locales is a fairly straightforward plot.  The film opens with the very interesting premise that Bond is killed while on assignment.  This sets up the idea that Bond can work covertly to do some serious spying.  Sounds great right?  But then the whole thing is dropped and Bond just goes on as normal.  It is later referenced by Blofeld, but all along the way it is an intriguing, but scarcely used device.  A shame since it could have led to some far more suspenseful moments.  On the flip side, this film also seems Bond undergo “cosmetic surgery” to impersonate a Japanese laborer.  While I applaud the avoidance of a potentially highly racist interpretation of this transformation, James comes out looking more like a Romulan than a Japanese laborer.  If you aren’t going to change him dramatically, why not go ahead and work the cosmetic surgery into the “Bond is dead” device and pull the whole thing together?  The movie misses chances to increase the suspense to the story’s overall detriment.  The rest of the plot is standard fare.

Blofeld and his iconic cat give us the eye.

Connery is solid as always, but is given slightly less Bond-esque things to do in this film.  The romance is toned way down and the opportunities for his somewhat corny sense of humor are few.  Connery delivers a great performance, but it is clear that he is not having the same amount of fun as in previous films.  Great moments like his face-to-face confrontation with Blofeld pale in comparison to his intellectual sparring with Goldfinger or even Dr.No.  This should be a bigger moment, but it just doesn’t feel as big as it should.

Bond girls are another area that is found lacking in this film.  The main reason is a lack of clarity or focus.  In previous Bond films, the main Bond girl is fairly obvious and usually ends up with Bond in some capacity by the middle or end of the film.  In YOLT the movie casts about for a proper Bond girl, but never seems to land on one that it really likes.  Is it Number 11?  Seems like an obvious candidate, but no, she goes to the piranha after only a brief tryst with our hero.  Maybe it’s Kissy.  She certainly has the name of a Bond girl and she’s his ally and love interest at the end of the film, but no, she is introduced way too late in the film and there are never any real sparks between her and Bond.  Furthermore she’s almost Honey Ryder-like in her usefulness to the plot.  So, I guess if it is anybody, it’s Aki.  She doesn’t have a double-entendre nom de plume and she dies at the mid-point in the film, but overall she has the best love affair with James and she is the closest thing he has to an accomplice in the story.  Three possible Bond girls, two of them rather fetching (sorry #11, you look like man, baby!), but none terribly well defined.

As villains go, you’ll not get much bigger than Blofeld!  He’s King SPECTRE after all and he deploys everything from a devious Japanese version of Colonel Sanders to a brawny German to a green pond filled with vicious, invisible piranha to thwart Bond’s advances and see his master plan reach fruition.  He may lack the hands-on approach of a Goldfinger, but more than makes up for it in resources.  He’ll throw the kitchen sink at you, literally, before he’ll give up his plan and if you defeat him, well he’ll just blow up the whole damn volcano.

Commander Tomalok, you seem to have mistakenly wandered into this James Bond movie. 

You Only Live Twice is a good Bond movie, but it suffers in some key Bond areas.  A good, but not great performance by Connery can be accredited to him being given less to do as well as a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the actor.  Indefinite Bond girls do not help.  The whole thing feels like Dr. No done better.  A lot like the Death Star battle in Return of the Jedi feels like the battle they wanted to do all along, but slapped together a Death Star battle for Star Wars just in case ROTJ never got made.  We’ll make Dr. No, but if we get a budget and a following, we’ll do it better in You Only Live Twice.  Huh.  I guess the name has a deeper meaning that perhaps intended.

Aimee here:

I originally lobbied to have this film come in much, much higher. I thought it was 1960's Bond at his Bond-y best! I loved the super-spectacle, I loved the fake death scenario, I loved the Asian setting, and I loved the ninjas fighting in a volcano. I liked the opportunity they almost took advantage of to show Bond as an accomplished linguist. I can't not love seeing Blofeld and his freaked-out cat. (Seriously, that cat was going bonkers. This was before the days of considering whether or not a cat should be on a set that is exploding.)

Aki is a cute girl Friday... who gets killed too soon.

There were a lot of ladies flying in and out of view, but the girl we want to look at was definitely Aki, who I think Bond really cared about. I found her competent and helpful, which is definitely how I like my Bond girls.

Let's be honest. When a movie is this much fun, the plot doesn't matter, which is good, because if you're looking for the plot to matter, having an honest-to-God ninja battle in a freaking volcano may be troublesome.

But I'll concede a few things. This movie is very overblown. Like, Moonraker overblown. It is weighted by some excellent and very appropriate Bond-movie magic that keeps it from becoming a complete wreck, but since the plot matters a little, I guess I have to admit that the volcano battle is a little... much.

It's all just a bit forgettable, now, which I think diminishes its greatness. I wouldn't readily assign it to the bottom of the list, it's just not top-shelf material. The bits of truly nice Bond work come early, before the plot is lost in epic volcano battles and pointless internal monorail systems.

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