Sunday, 8 May 2011

You Only Live Twice

The evil plans of his subordinates have been so routinely foiled by 007 (Dr No, FRWL and Thunderball), that Ernst Stavro Blofeld (SPECTRE’s #1) has obviously decided that if you want a master-plan done properly, then do it yourself...! SPECTRE have been capturing space capsules launched by both USA and Russia; of course each nation blames the other for the missing probes and it looks like a full-scale war is imminent. Her Majesty’s government (ever the voice of reason!!!), don’t think either nation is to blame as their Intel indicates that the mysterious Pacman-style-shuttle-gobbling-rocket is being launched from somewhere in Japan. So, following an elaborate plan to convince the world’s baddies that he’s dead(..!), James Bond is sent to Japan to track down the source of the rocket.

The pre-credit action starts with the capture of an American space capsule by SPECTRE, before going to Hong Kong where we see 007 killed “on the job”! I like this, as both scenes tie in with the movie as a whole; instead of some fake-widow-beating and escape by tin-foil-jet-pack. The title tune, sung by Nancy Sinatra, is perhaps as well known as Goldfinger, and is also quite unusual (I think) in terms of Bond tunes, as the theme is recurrent throughout the entire film. In fact the whole film has a terrific score by John Barry.

This has always struck me as quite an iconic Bond film; probably a combination of great title tune, Donald Pleasence being the archetypal Blofeld (helped by Austin Powers no doubt), and a secret volcano base (the only kind of secret base worth having)! The fact that it is all set in the Far East gives the film a more exotic feel; though this brings with it some of the film’s more bizarre elements. Despite Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) being a leading Japanese actress, her English accent sounded like Mrs Peignoir’s French accent from Fawlty Towers; the assassin/driver who Bond fights in Osato’s office looks more Polynesian than Japanese. At this point I was very happy to see 007’s penchant for fighting with furniture was taken to a whole new level as he fights not just using a chair, but an entire sofa (see also FRWL and Thunderball for other furniture fights!)!!

                                                        You're holding the wrong end!

Another random moment is making Bond Japanese!? I can see the point of him training to become a Jedi Ninja (in a camp as crazy as the SPECTRE training camp in FRWL; instead of flame-throwers there is ice-block-head-breaking!), but is it really necessary to have fake eyebrows/lids and a crap wig? Especially as he ditches them as soon as he puts on his Phantom disguise!


Otherwise, Sean is as good as ever, though he does seem to get a bit more sweaty than in the other films. Any thoughts that perhaps he is getting bored with the franchise seem to be dispelled during the fight with Hans (Blofeld’s bodyguard) towards the end of the film. This is quite a full-on fight that is far more dynamic than some of the more slapstick offerings that we’ve seen in the previous two films. Donald Pleasence manages to create a truly iconic villain, even though he doesn’t have much time on screen. Of course as a genius, he even has an “Erupt Volcano” lever installed in his base! I think Charles Gray is great as Dikko Henderson (yup, “Dikko”!?!), it is a shame that he is only alive for about 5 minutes... Obviously his talent didn’t go unnoticed which is why (according to my James Bond encyclopaedia) “It is rumoured that a few years after Henderson’s death, Blofeld used him as a model for his surgically-created looks”! What a wonderfully unlikely way to get Charles Gray back into the franchise! Mie Hama is pretty enough as Kissy Suzuki, but she doesn’t do much other than run up and down the volcano a few times in a bikini.
                                                                Perfect hiking gear

Overall, I think You Only Live Twice is tremendous fun (though clearly not as thrilling as doing the voice-over for the trailer). Helped along by Roald Dahl’s screenplay, direction by Lewis Gilbert which really gives the film a freshness, and a brilliant production design by Ken Adam. There are almost as many memorable moments from this as there are from Goldfinger, but I think the plot is more intriguing and the extra dimension of Bond being involved in the space-race ups the ante in terms of the Bond franchise. As a final thought; we should take a moment to remember the Russian astronauts who put on the white henchmen overalls (at Bond’s behest) who were most likely shot in the climactic battle!

Order of preference so far:

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