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?
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.)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.