Monday, October 15, 2012

Octopussy - Dir. John Glen (The Bond Project # 13)

Octopussy (1983)
Dir: John Glen
Bond Goes to India
By Jay Maronde
                 Director John Glen struck cinematic gold for the Bond Franchise in his second Bond film and it couldn’t have come at a more critical time. The movie easily has the best title of any film in the series as it’s the most blatantly sexualized Bond title that I think the censors could ever even tolerate. This could easily be one of my favorite Bond movies as right from the very beginning it’s action packed, full of great gadgets, and completely full of awesome plot twists.
                Let me start right with the pre-credits sequence as I personally feel that it could be one of the most entertaining of the entire series. Bond is in Cuba, posing as a Cuban General, and trying to blow up some sort of fighter jet. He gets captured, which is about typical for the old-ass Roger Moore Bond, but it doesn’t matter. As Bond is being transported as a prisoner, a lady-friend driving a super cool topless Range Rover towing a horse in a trailer distracts the guards. Bond escapes and takes care of his captors, but alas, mission failed….OR NOT. As more Cuban military personnel pursue him, Bond kisses the girl goodbye, and then hops into the horse trailer disconnecting it from the truck. The viewer is like geez, how confused has Roger Moore become in his old age? This isn’t a western—a horse isn’t going to help this situation. But Q branch and Bond have a plan. As Bond enters the trailer, the horse’s rear end is revealed to be a dummy meant only to conceal the real cargo: a mini jet. In true and perfect James Bond fashion, Bond lowers the retractable wings and accelerates directly towards the enemies. At the very last second he lifts off, scattering the hapless Cubans. Bond then continues to kick ass in the way only James Bond can, and flies back over the base he was supposed to destroy, and in a fantastic piece of cinematography, directly through the hangar that was the original target. Then, trailing the surface to the air missile, he destroys the hangar and all the planes and Cubans inside! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! Then just to remain extra suave, Bond lands at a gas station and says, “Fill her up.”
                The movie then cuts away to the title sequence, again, as always, designed by Maurice Binder. The titles are some of the most interesting Bond titles yet, accompanied by the song “All Time High” by the classic Rita Coolidge. The song, while not one of my favorites, did spend almost a month in the number one spot on the adult contemporary charts, and looking back at this film it’s easy to realize why James Bond is at a new “all-time high.” Speaking of all time high, Roger Moore is at his all-time oldest. Granted he would be older in the next film A View to A Kill, but he’s definitely looking his age again in this film. In reality, Moore had wanted to stop playing Bond after For Your Eyes Only (that movie was so bad it would have made me want to quit the role too), and the producers conducted a very public search for a new Bond (there is a special feature on the Octopussy Ultimate Edition DVD  titled James Brolin: The Man Who would Be Bond, and features 3 of his screen tests). I would also like to comment right now that despite his agedness, Roger Moore puts in an excellent performance as Bond in this film, which was lucky, because 1983 also saw the release of Kevin McClory’s rival James Bond tale, Never Say Never Again, which was of major concern to the producers as McClory had secured the original James Bond, Sean Connery. This opposing casting in a very similar movie (actually a remake of Thunderball) is the reason the producers eventually decided to stay with Roger Moore as Bond as they felt it would be a big leap for an audience to also have to deal with a new actor playing Bond when Connery was busy in the next screen at the multiplex also playing an aged Bond.
                After the titles the story picks back up with a clown-suited 009 fleeing from some knife-throwing henchmen. He escapes and spends the last moments of his life delivering a spurious Faberge egg to the British Ambassador. It turns out that the non-counterfeit egg, which this fake is designed to replace, is actually on sale at Sotheby’s in London the very next day. Bond and nerdy type fellow attend the auction in an attempt to glean what the now departed 009 was willing to die for. Here we meet Kamel Kahn, the real evil villain of this film. Kahn is a fantastic villain, played exceptionally well by the actor Louis Jourdan—an exiled Afghan prince with a castle in India and a business association with the film’s title character, the world wide smuggler Octopussy. Apparently there is a Russian general, bent on U.S.S.R. domination of the world, who has been stealing and auctioning rare Russian treasures, and replacing them with fakes. Since this fake has been “misplaced,” the general must now retrieve the original at auction to avoid being caught by an ill-timed inventory. Bond seems to smell Kahn’s need to have the egg and proceeds to bid (with the Queen’s Money) on the egg and drive the cost to a half of a million pounds. In another moment of sheer Bond brilliance, Bond swaps the real egg for the fake right in the middle of the crowded auction, thereby allowing himself an out later when M angrily asks him what he would have done if he had won the auction. All of this is sheer writing and directorial genius as the viewer doesn’t even realize the swap has gone down until the later meeting with M and I had to go back to watch for Moore’s very quick hands.
                Following this new lead, Bond travels to India in pursuit of Kahn and the egg. The Bond producers had long wanted to film in India with its extreme scenic beauty, but it took until this film to find a province whose ruler would grant them permission. It’s well worth the wait as all of the scenes are filled with so much natural beauty and cultural history that the location is definitely one of the biggest stars of this film. There’s a wonderful homage to the film Goldfinger where Bond goes to the casino and beats the cheating Kahn using his own loaded dice. Here in India we also meet Bond’s Station I connection, Vijay, played sublimely by India’s first international tennis star Vijay Amritraj. Amritraj is a great actor, and there are numerous running jokes in the film about him being a tennis player, including a scene where he fights off henchman using a tennis racket. It turns out that the actor’s union had a huge problem with this “tennis star”  being a film actor, so Broccoli pulled some strings and got him a cameo on the television series The Love Boat so that he could earn his SAG card and alleviate the problems.
Bond has some troubles—being captured and escaping from Kahn—before finally meeting Octopussy, who, as it turns out, knows quite well of James Bond and is very excited to have him as her guest on her Floating Paradise full of only women. This is the perfect setting for the super suave Roger Moore and his senility actually works to the film’s advantage here as his age makes the beautiful Maud Adams look even more radiantly young and beautiful. Octopussy tells Bond that she is traveling to Germany for a business meeting with her circus, and so he follows.
                While in Germany, Bond realizes that this whole scheme has very little to do with stolen jewels, and everything to do with this crazy conquest-bound Russian general attempting to start WW3 (also in Germany, if the viewer looks very close they might catch a glimmer of a 16-year-old extra playing a soldier at Checkpoint Charlie, who would go on to make notoriously thorough award-winning documentaries: Ken Burns). Soon after there is a great chase scene where Bond must catch up with Octopussy’s circus train and stop the bomb from detonating in the middle of a US air base. Of course he’s successful, but in the process he defuses a bomb right in front of a circus audience and becomes the hero of the day. If it wasn’t enough that Bond saved the world from nuclear annihilation, he then travels back to India with Octopussy and her team and storms Kahn’s palace.  Desmond Llewelyn gets probably his largest amount of screen time from any film in the entire franchise when he appears with Bond in a union jack painted hot air balloon over the palace to provide air support and back up to Bond. Personally, I think these are fantastic scenes as the battle that is raging is wonderful and for Q to sail in to the rescue makes this already awesome movie even better. The scenes with the army of ninja girls are also Bond classics, and after Octopussy is captured, Bond chases the villains to their airplane where he jumps from a horse to the back of the plane at the very last second. Then, again in true super hero fashion, he grounds the plane from the outside by disabling a motor and then forcing the flaps down with his feet. He climbs into the plane, frees Octopussy, and the two dive to safety seconds before the plane plunges off a cliff. Bond is then shown “recovering” with Octopussy as the movie closes.
                This film has everything that we have come to expect in a Bond film. There is fantastically beautiful scenery, a big globetrotting plot that takes Bond all sorts of places and requires him to literally save the entire world, truly bent and evil villains, cadres of beautiful women, and enough action-packed scenes to keep everyone cheering. Also this film is the only one to be named after a Bond girl—and who could deny that Octopussy is truly deserving of that honor?



No comments: