Everyone Has Their Favorite Bond

12 Feb
2012

This is the second post in a year-long celebration of 50 years of 007.

The interesting thing about a franchise with 22 movies over 50 years is that it’s incredibly difficult to come up with an undisputed “best” movie. Since most series have fewer than ten movies, it’s a lot easier for fans to agree on the relative strengths of those movies. But when you have more than twice that many, it throws your whole analysis out of whack. You see people starting to prefer the safety of discussing “my favorite Bond movie,” rather than the finality of a phrase like “the best Bond movie.”

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise why consensus is so hard to come by. For starters, Bond movies across the decades have differed significantly from one another in terms of tone and purpose, bearing few of the stylistic hallmarks that make shorter series easier to compare side by side. That’s in part because the 22 Bond films have been directed by ten different men, meaning there’s little continuity in terms of creative vision. Not to mention that our world itself has undergone a great change in 50 years, which becomes especially evident when you’re dealing with cutting-edge gadgets used for espionage. Instead of comparing apples to apples, you’re comparing potato chips to microchips.

But it’s not just the movies that are very different over five decades — it’s the fans making the assessments of those movies. If you consider a generation to be 20 years long, it’s fair to say that three different generations have come of age loving James Bond movies. This is why it’s also hard to agree on who’s the best Bond. Out of the six men who have played the role, the “right” answer is that Sean Connery is the best. He was the original, and the role catapulted him to more general stardom than it has done for any other Bond. But what if you are part of the two generations of movie fans who came of age after Connery hung up his tux? Are you required to accept him as the definitive Bond, even when you grew up watching Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan or Daniel Craig?

Sites like Flickchart are designed to turn many subjective opinions into one objective distillation of reality, no matter how different the items being compared. (In fact, you might say that Flickchart thrives particularly on comparing items that are different.) But those findings still tend to be influenced by the demographics of the users using the site, and in the case of Flickchart, the youngest of those three generations of Bond fans may exert more influence than the older two combined. Two of the five highest ranked Bond movies on Flickchart are Craig’s two turns as 007 — in other words, the most recent two films  in the series. While Casino Royale was highly regarded (and stands at #1 among Flickchart users), Quantum of Solace (#5) was not a critical favorite at all. (Interestingly, the other three in the top five are all Connery movies, which may mean the age of the viewer is not as much of a factor as I’m suggesting.)

Considering all this potential for uncertainty and individual bias, I offer you the following ridiculous argument:

Why not Octopussy?

Why couldn’t this 1983 movie — the 13th Bond film, the sixth (of seven) starring Roger Moore, and the second (of five) directed by John Glen — be the best Bond movie of all time?

Having been born in 1973, I was at just the perfect age for Octopussy — or at least, I was at the perfect age when I recorded it off cable a couple years later. I was too young to get why the title was a titillating double entendre, so I enjoyed it just for its grand, goofy thrills. In fact, I probably watched my VHS tape of that movie until its plastic housing was ready to fall apart.

Since I’ve already suggested that we love the Bond movies we love because we encountered them at key junctures in our lives, I don’t really need to give a rational explanation for why I love Octopussy. And I don’t need to admit that the only reason I saw it ten or more times was that it was the only Bond movie I owned on video. If Moore’s previous outing as Bond (For Your Eyes Only) had been similarly available to me, I might have loved that movie instead. But Octopussy was the Bond movie that was constantly playing on The Movie Channel for the short time my family subscribed, so that’s the one that got recorded.

And since it was in fact Octopussy I fell in love with, I hereby offer ten reasons why Octopussy might just be The Greatest Bond Movie of All Time. What’s more, as a special tribute to the movie, I’m publishing this post on the birthday of Octopussy Bond girl Maud Adams, who plays the title character. (And also appeared in 1974‘s The Man With the Golden Gun, also starring Moore, as a different character. Go figure.)

10. James Bond rides almost every vehicle known to man in this movie.

Talk about a travelogue. In Octopussy, Bond travels in two planes (one riding on the outside, another as the pilot escaping a heat-seeking missile), two cars (one of which rides on train tricks, sans tires), a train (he fights on the roof), a three-wheeled taxi cab, a tour boat, a horse, a mechanized aquatic transport shaped like an alligator, and even a hot-air balloon (piloted by gadget guru Q).

9. James Bond knows his own theme song.

When making his way through a crowded Indian marketplace, Bond is signaled to by an Indian intelligence agent (Vijay Amritraj) who is posing as a snake charmer. The agents plays 007′s theme on his flute, and Bond immediately connects up with him. Ponder that for a moment: In the reality of this film, James Bond knows the tune to his own theme song.

8. And speaking of music…

I re-watched Octopussy a full two weeks ago, and I still have the theme song “All Time High” by Rita Coolidge in my head. It’s delightfully hammy and romantic, and its sweeping instrumentation has actually been incorporated into the movie’s score quite effectively. They must have sensed a need to make a change after this holdover from the 1970s, as Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill” went in a very different direction two years later.

7. Circus knife-throwers are very frightening.

Two of the film’s colorful slate of villains are Mischka and Grischka (David Meyer and Anthony Meyer), knife throwers from Octopussy’s Circus. They are so deadly with knives that they send another British Secret Service agent, code-named 009, scampering wildly through the woods in a clown outfit. This man is, theoretically, the equal of James Bond, and a couple circus performers put the fear of God in him.

6. And speaking of weapons…

What has to be about the coolest weapon in any Bond movie is what I’ve always thought of as “the yo-yo razor blade.” That’s right, one of the goons hired to kill Bond comes at him with a razor blade about the circumference of a Frisbee, which has the retracting action of a yo-yo. It’s silent and deadly, and when you’re 12 years old watching it, you remember it for years to come.

5. And speaking of villains…

Louis Jordan as Kamal Khan is a classic. When Bond beats Khan in a game of backgammon after borrowing Khan’s pair of loaded dice, Khan issues him this terrifically ominous threat: “Spend the money quickly, Mr. Bond.” (Before his bodyguard Gobinda, played by Kabir Bedi, crushes the dice to powder in his bare hands.) Khan later serves Bond a dish of what looks like raw sheep’s head, and takes pleasure in plucking out and eating one of the sheep’s eyeballs. Delightfully icky.

4. James Bond makes his most improbable escape ever.

While Bond is hiding inside a gorilla suit (!) on the train, Gobinda hears him move and believes he has him caught. Instead of telegraphing that he knows Bond’s there, Gobinda casually strides over to the gorilla suit and chops its head off with a sword. That’s when we see Bond escaping through a hatch in the roof of the train. That Bond froze time without anyone knowing is the only explanation for his escape.

3. Best MacGuffin in any Bond movie.

For much of the first half of the movie, the various parties are all in search of a Faberge egg. That’s all I really have to say about that. It’s just nice to look at.

2. The banister scene.

Accompanied by his theme song, Bond slides down a long, curving banister in Khan’s palace, shooting assailants with his machine gun as he slides. Just before reaching the bottom he turns the gun on the oval-shaped ornament at the bottom of the banister, blowing it away just in time to prevent a collision with his groin. For my money, one of the iconic moments in Bond history.

1. Roger Moore is having a heckuva good time.

Octopussy may be more of a comedy than almost any other Bond movie, and that’s thanks to Roger Moore. He engages in everything from shameless sophomoric sexual humor (using a spy camera to focus in on the cleavage of a fellow agent) to silly animal humor (while he’s being hunted on safari, he raises a finger and tells a tiger to “Sit!”). Not to mention his usual quantity of bad puns. (In fact, his most serious moment in the whole movie is disarming a nuclear device while dressed in a clown suit.) I think it’s that twinkle in Moore’s eye that lets you know he’s not taking the whole thing very seriously … and perhaps that speaks to me as a guy who always preferred the comedic version of Gene Hackman‘s Lex Luthor to the serious villain version.

Of course, this is all just one man’s opinion, with tongue knowingly planted in cheek. The Flickchart community at large clearly does not agree, as Octopussy is ranked a mere 16th out of all Bond movies.

And in a series the size of the James Bond series, that’s as right an answer as any.

After all, everyone has their favorite.

JAMES BOND WILL RETURN IN FLICKCHART: THE BLOG.

 

  • http://travismcclain.blogspot.com Travis McClain

    Terrific stuff, Derek! You’ve managed to piece together an actually reasonable defense of Octopussy, which I suspect few Bond fans would have attempted (or believed possible). Excellent points about generational perspectives and the way that our views on Bond are largely informed by our initial first exposures to his world. It’s worth noting that Roger Moore played Bond longer than anyone; seven movies across twelve years (versus Connery’s six across ten).

    Nice nods on the music but I’m stunned you neglected to mention John Barry by name. For my money, this is one of the gems of his Bond work–which is saying something indeed, as he’s responsible for the definitive sound of the whole franchise! His Octopussy score was especially welcome following Bill Conti’s disco-themed For Your Eyes Only work…and the assertion of vintage Barry was doubly important in 1983, with Never Say Never Again set to pit Sean Connery’s one-off return to the role outside the Eon Bond canon. Barry = Bond, frankly, and this score proves why.

    If I was to add an eleventh great thing about Octopussy, it would certainly be Kristina Wayborn as Magda. Not only is she absolutely gorgeous and alluring, but that moment when she leaves Bond’s hotel room–with the Faberge egg–by falling over the rail and letting her body scarf unravel is one of my favorite moments in the entire series. It’s one of the cleverest things I’ve ever seen done with clothing in any movie, and it could only have happened in a Bond picture!

    Just a couple of minor notes:

    Readers should be mindful that Kamal Kahn presented the sheep’s head soup almost an entire year before Indiana Jones visited the Temple of Doom.

    The Bond franchise is one where creative continuity has been maintained by the producers, rather than directors. Albert R. Broccoli produced the first seventeen movies from Eon Productions (the first nine with his Eon co-founder, Harry Saltzman) and the reins have been handed over since to his stepson, Michael G. Wilson and daughter, Barbara Broccoli. Each of them has worked their way through the ranks of the production company over the years; Wilson began as an assistant on Goldfinger back in 1964 and co-wrote all five of the Bond movies made in the 1980s…including Octopussy!

  • Nigel Druitt

    Great post; love it.

    My favorite Bond movie is either GoldenEye or Tomorrow Never Dies. My favorite theme is “The World is Not Enough” by Garbage. (Brosnan is, of course, my Bond.)

    My favorite pre-Brosnan movie is either Licence to Kill or From Russia With Love. (I lean towards the former.) They are also, I think, the only pre-Brosnan 007 movies that I’ve seen more than once. The glaring omission on my Bond list is Diamonds Are Forever; I’ve never seen it, and that’s bad, because Connery would be my second-favorite Bond.

    • http://travismcclain.blogspot.com Travis McClain

      Nigel, would I be correct in guessing that you started with Bond with GoldenEye?

  • Nigel Druitt

    Great post; love it.

    My favorite Bond movie is either GoldenEye or Tomorrow Never Dies. My favorite theme is “The World is Not Enough” by Garbage. (Brosnan is, of course, my Bond.)

    My favorite pre-Brosnan movie is either Licence to Kill or From Russia With Love. (I lean towards the former.) They are also, I think, the only pre-Brosnan 007 movies that I’ve seen more than once. The glaring omission on my Bond list is Diamonds Are Forever; I’ve never seen it, and that’s bad, because Connery would be my second-favorite Bond.

    • http://travismcclain.blogspot.com Travis McClain

      Nigel, would I be correct in guessing that you started with Bond with GoldenEye?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Derek-Armstrong/810542963 Derek Armstrong

    Thanks Nigel and Travis.

    Nigel, I’m with you on Tomorrow Never Dies. Brosnan’s first two Bond movies are great, but I prefer TND. After that, Brosnan goes WAY downhill.

    Travis, excellent point about the creative vision being managed by the producers. I agree I was painting a somewhat misleading picture when I indicated that the Bond movies over the years have not had a consistent vision or tone. I think I was thinking primarily of Casino Royale, when it was decided to make Bond a lot more “hip and modern” and remove most of the humor. Then again, I found the Timothy Dalton movies pretty humorless as well.

    Yeah, I neglected to mention Barry because I am generally not as confident speaking about film scores as I am about other aspects of making movies — and would consider myself especially unqualified to compare this score to other scores in the series.

    Good point on Khan’s eyeball snack preceding Temple of Doom. I did actually think of Temple of Doom when I watched that scene this time around.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Derek-Armstrong/810542963 Derek Armstrong

    Thanks Nigel and Travis.

    Nigel, I’m with you on Tomorrow Never Dies. Brosnan’s first two Bond movies are great, but I prefer TND. After that, Brosnan goes WAY downhill.

    Travis, excellent point about the creative vision being managed by the producers. I agree I was painting a somewhat misleading picture when I indicated that the Bond movies over the years have not had a consistent vision or tone. I think I was thinking primarily of Casino Royale, when it was decided to make Bond a lot more “hip and modern” and remove most of the humor. Then again, I found the Timothy Dalton movies pretty humorless as well.

    Yeah, I neglected to mention Barry because I am generally not as confident speaking about film scores as I am about other aspects of making movies — and would consider myself especially unqualified to compare this score to other scores in the series.

    Good point on Khan’s eyeball snack preceding Temple of Doom. I did actually think of Temple of Doom when I watched that scene this time around.

  • sanjay maurya

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