03 November 2007

Guest: Bond, James Bond (1969-1971)

1969 - On Her Majesty’s Secret Service - The series is in its darker days. A lead actor has quit and the replacement is doomed to unfavorable comparisons. It’s time to pick up the pieces and carry on. Is it pulled off? IS IT? HUH?

In several cinematic throwbacks to Dr. No, actual introduction of (the new) Bond is held off to the last possible second, George Lazenby finally revealed after a beautiful fight sequence on an underexposed beach. Fourth wall breakage, live-zooms, dropped frames, and echoed sound effects ensue.

For better or worse, it looks like the old school style is back. Using a veteran Bond editor and second unit cameraman as this movie’s helmer works very well. Peter Hunt has a definite vision for the series, and his portrayal is accurate; he clearly knows what he is doing, thankfully abandoning much of the style of the previous picture.

The film’s major downfall isn’t the casting change, but the length. It definitely feels as long as it is, and doesn’t ever recover from the pacing drop in the middle. Excellent sexual tension and interplay with the female lead is abruptly halted in favor of the main story, confining the budding relationship to a cheap montage.

So then the main plot steals center stage… and it’s a drag. Some of the blame goes to the poor pacing of the act. It takes Bond forever to uncover SPECTRE’s simple quest for world domination, and his method for doing so is interviewing (read: screwing) the girl test subjects. Gee, thanks for that giant waste of time, movie, it wouldn’t have felt like a Bond film without the womanizing.

It’s a huge relief when the romantic subplot returns to the forefront, and I can’t remember feeling that way about any movie. Ever.

Lots of love goes to supporting characters. Diana Rigg gets to hurt some bad guys, and Blofeld takes a hands-on approach to his work, hunting right along side his henchmen. Very refreshing to see, as opposed to trying to be Bond’s friend and killing the guy standing next to him by way of example. Telly Savalas is my favorite on-screen portrayal of the villain, hands-down.

In a sharp contrast to the brilliance of the fistfight at the beginning, the rest of the fight sequences aren’t convincing enough, especially the ski battles. Background plates are used frequently throughout, quality ranging from poor-looking to terrible-looking, and the climactic Bond-Blofeld fight could have been staged a whole lot better.

It’s typical early-007-era throughout, save for the ending, which still hits me pretty hard. This time, I don’t know if it’s because of content or context. The further I venture from the ‘good old days,’ the more depressed I get. Bond’s heyday is clearly at an end, and even the production team is palpably losing their passion for the material, letting the smallest things bother them (bad press, Lazenby’s set behavior, the lack of fitting lyrics to the title). Like the Korean war and the third season of Arrested Development, it is easy to forget this ever happened.

Farewell, Lazenby. Noble effort. I would have gladly accepted more.

“We do not discuss the affairs of ze cleaning!” (5.5/10)
d. Peter Hunt

[ASIDE - This marathon is already beginning to drain on me. It is no MST3K yearlong thing, for certain, which is the thought that keeps me going. This should be easy. These movies don’t require much thought to enjoy, and like the Eon Productions team stubbornly insists, they are fluffy escapes from the drudges of reality. But man, I had to watch Goldfinger a total of three times to knock out the commentary, unnecessary since (and I hate it when studios do this) most of the comments are edited from interviews from at least ten years prior. I understand when most of the crew is long dead, but it is annoying when comments are repeated in the featurettes. If these movies are nothing but escapes, why do we need multiple commentary tracks for any of them? I don’t care how ten minutes of Thunderball sounds in Italian, I really don’t.

I am getting through it all quickly enough, quicker than these reviews are appearing on the site (it takes time for me to write in a less interesting manner than ‘rex, after all). John Cork of the Ian Fleming Foundation does a fair job of moderating and explaining most of the contributing comments, but On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the first time the commentary kept me interested. Peter Hunt talks about the stresses of being a first time director, the artistic choices he made with some of the scenes, and insists that this stuff is a lot harder than it looks. I believe it.

Save for getting all of the visual references in Madonna’s Die Another Day music video, most of this information is going to end up being useless to me. Maybe in situations where I could annoy people by rambling on and on about which title sequences Maurice Binder designed or how Tom Jones passed out at the end of the Thunderball theme. Does that make it worth pressing the right arrow button over and over again in the image gallery menus? No. It does not.]

1971 - Diamonds Are Forever - Sean Connery makes a triumphant return. This means it will be awesome, yes?

Not by a long shot.

Connery hurts his previous performances with this sad, sad show of near-B-movie antics. No one learned their lesson from You Only Live Twice, though unlike the slow build to crap in that movie, it is apparent right away that this one won’t be good, no, not at all.

After a poorly sound-designed rampage across the world in search of Blofeld, we are reintroduced to 007, who looks worse than ever, suffering from a clear case of ‘I should have been in the last one.’ He can’t throw a punch fast enough to knock someone out from behind, is distracted by breaking glass, and manages to make running around on the moon look ridiculous. His government offers no assistance, and I don’t care what anybody says, jewel smuggling will never be an interesting subject.

This was scribed by Richard Maibaum (he wrote Thunderball… THUNDERBALL!) and yet it’s so thin it could escape a prison cell a la stupid Catwoman. SPECTRE’s behind it, they despise the space program, and they want money. How interesting. Watch Bond kill somebody in a batch of mashed potatoes! Watch him run around Las Vegas! Watch him make unfunny quips about being helped out of hairy situations! Gasp at the ridiculous villains! You think killing somebody on their property in broad daylight is ridiculous, think how bad it is leaving him in a pipe and walking away. Surely Bond will die and the situation will work itself out. How in God’s name was this filmed, let alone written?

When it comes time for Bond to figure out where the climax will be, all he has to do is look at Whyte’s updated model of his factories, now including the newly constructed secret base where the laser control center is housed. Good thinking, Blofeld, villains have to keep the world current, after all.

The movie is little beyond an excuse to feature a car chase, a moon buggy chase, a three-way fistfight between Bond and two women, and an oil rig explosion. Hard evidence of how low the series can get, and I sincerely hope it never gets any lower.

See ya later, Connery. Bring me Roger Moore.

“And Tree was a crowd, Mr. Kidd.” (4.0/10)
d. Guy Hamilton