Sunday, September 17, 2006

Bond Watch: Sir Roger Moore

Live and Let Die
Yes, I’m rather impressed with Alex and Richard’s idea that Sir Roger Moore learns he’s the new James Bond in his opening scene with M (discussed in the comments of this previous Bond post).

Unlike OHMSS, they keep the new Bond out of the pre-credit sequence and instead tease us with fragments of plot. What connects a killing at the United Nations, a killing in a New Orleans street and a killing in a weird voodoo ritual? The new Bond will surely work it out.

It’s the second film in a row to be set in America, but it’s got a grittier, harder edge than Diamonds Are Forever. We see an America that’s dirty, dangerous and racially segregated. Richard Martin’s atmospheric score also reflects the changing times.

Roger Moore is a skinny little bloke compared to his predecessors and suffers from 70s fashions, with dweeby patterned jackets and ironed creases in his flares. It’s all a bit fussy and uncool.

Is Felix Lighter an inherited title as well? If they’d been worried about establishing the new man, they could have wheeled out Norman Burton again (he’s the one in Diamonds Are Forver). Can’t see him in Licence to Kill, though.

The Man With The Golden Gun
More silly things done by Bond: squeezes a fat bloke’s bum.

Does Scaramanga’s obsession with Bond mean that he thinks Sir Roj is the same man as Sir Sean? Alternatively, do their paths cross because Sir Roj is pursuing Gibson, the man Scaramanga is planning to kill?

The stuff about Gibson and the energy crisis works quite well, lending some weight to the cock-fight plot, though there’s some especially crass infodumping about halfway through, with M detailing science that everyone in the room already knows.

Which is a shame because there’s some deft and witty writing here. Top marks for Bond’s threat to shoot a bloke in the cock if he doesn’t answer questions: “Speak now or forever hold your piece.”

I think Sir Roj is at his best when being a bit ruthless – shagging Rosie Carver in the last one when he knows that she’s a wrong ‘un, or holding Maud Adams to ransom. Yes, in For Your Eyes Only, it is a Good Thing he kicks the car.

Other silly things: Scaramanga’s Shadow Gallery has a life-size Sir Roj on display and it doesn’t occur to him that Bond might use this. And why does the dummy have a real and loaded gun?

The Spy Who Loved Me
The Making of… will tell you that this was a new direction for Bond, pushing the franchise into off-the-wall fantasy.

But it’s the first to obviously repeat stuff: a ski chase as in OHMSS, the swallowing whole of vessels like in You Only Live Twice, underwater battles as per Thunderball and a gagdet-strewn car as in Goldfinger.

We also get the first explicit reference to Bond’s wife since she died. Gogol calls M “Miles” (the only time the films mention his name) and XXX calls Q “Major Boothroyd” – so he is the same man as in Dr No. We also see Bond (again) as a naval Commander.

Setting things up for the future, Walter Gotell makes his first appearance as Gogol and Robert Brown appears as Admiral Hargreaves. As well as taking over as M, he’s referred to as "Admiral" in Octopussy, which might mean he’s the same bloke all along.

The Dr Who cast is pretty good in this one: George Baker, Jeremy Bulloch (though not as Smithers), Kevin McNally, Cyril Shaps and Edward de Souza. No, you can’t count Caroline Munro.

An odd thing: 007 and XXX join forces in Egypt and are briefed by Q. They then take the train to Sardinia (no, I don't think that's possible either), where, er, Q is waiting for them with the Lotus. They don't seem surprised or say, "Didn't we just see you?"

Another odd thing: how many chances does Stromberg give Jaws to kill Bond? It’s far less credible than the number of times he survives buildings falling on top of him. You can almost hear Stromberg saying, “Maybe fifth time lucky…”

Moonraker
It’s been slowly creeping up on us, but this is the first film to really go out of its way to give M and Q more interesting things to do. Bernard Lee’s final film sees him looking unwell in Venice and running an office in Rio. It's like Bond can't be trusted to go out on missions on his own.

This is a sign of a franchise: where the practical wants of the actors supersedes what their characters would do. I gather something similar happens in the West Wing with a promotion for CJ (though I’ve only just finished Season 5).

Moonraker feels a hell of a lot like the last one as Bond gathers evidence on the bloke he already knows is the villain. The villain’s plan to start civilisation over is the same, as is the final gag of Bond caught doing the deed.

The Star Wars-inspired finale is kept relatively brief, though I remember all the marketing pushing James Bond In Space. (Sir Roj even appeared on the Muppet Show with a laser gun).

How many times do they need to tell us that Jaws and his missus have been rescued?

For Your Eyes Only
Blimey. It’s all a bit small-scale after outer space. Bond doesn’t even leave Europe in this one. Bill Conti’s music is very much of its time. It’s not bad, but it lacks the timeless style of John Barry and makes this feel just like any other (low-budget) action movie.

It does feel like a new kind of Bond film (again), and continually undercuts the grandeur of the past. Bond visits his late wife’s grave and finally sees off Blofeld. But:

Why is Teresa buried in England, and in a tiny little church? Her dad Draco seems to be based in Portugal and could probably afford something swankier.

Blofeld is as we saw him at the end of OHMSS - bald, in a neck brace and wheelchair. Which suggests that OHMSS is canon and Diamonds Are Forever is not. Which is a bit odd.

There’s a car chase with Bond behind the wheel of a 2CV, and the countess he shags turns out to be a scally. The finale is not Bond going one-on-one with a terrifying villain or chasing after bombs in a spaceship. He breaks a computer by throwing it off a rock.

Bond is looking old, and Lynn-Holly Johnson’s character just makes that more obvious. As well as turning down a dead-cert shag, Bond is toe-curlingly patrician with her, with lessons on how to behave. Up, I thought, yours grandad.

He’s no less patronising to Melina, and though she laughs at his jokes in the car chase I didn’t feel there’s much chemistry between them. At the end of the film they’re (inevitably) lovers, and I couldn’t help but wonder, “When did that happen?” They’ve not even snogged until then.

Yeah, the plotting is a bit weird. There’s a gratuitous cheat when Bond and Melina go scuba-diving and Melina FOR NO REASON AT ALL takes off her aqua-lung and leaves it by the underwater Greek ruin. Well, NO REASON AT ALL other than that she has read the script and knows that she and Bond will need that aqua-lung there in a few scenes time.

The Greek Temple appears to be near the Corfu coast, whereas the sunken ship is out to sea (and something of a journey). Kristatos captures Bond and Melina as they surface from the sunken ship, but tries to kill them in the water above the Greek Temple (where their handy aqua-lung comes in). So, er, does he take them back towards Corfu because that’s where the scratchy coral is? Doesn’t that mean he’s more likely to be seen doing his killings?

Oh, but bonus points for Charles Dance as a thug!

Octopussy
Cor. It looks amazing, John Barry’s score is gorgeous and the whole thing zips along. Maud Adams is really rather marvellous. Suddenly Bond has got his groove back.

They make less of Bond being an old man now, but play a nasty card with Moneypenny when Sir Roj smarms all over her new assistant.

I’d missed Bond disguising himself as a gorilla from my list of Bond being silly. He also manages to remove himself from the gorilla suit and escape to the back of the train carriage while Kabir Bedi is watching him. But Bond being magic, he is not seen.

It feels like there are a lot more action set pieces than usual, and there’s a nice mix of the exotic (in India) and the very political real. Weird to see Checkpoint Charlie and a divided Berlin having been there a fortnight ago.

Also odd to see Détente creeping in – a theme since the Spy Who Loved Me. I gather this is because the Bond films sold well in Russia, so the producers were keen to push us all being chums. But it means Bond seems ahead of more war-mongering spy stuff from the time. Eat that, John le Carre.

And, er, Q’s set up a workshop in India. Now I can see it might be helpful to give Bond his gadgets, but this makes it feel like there’s a whole industry behind Bond, following wherever he goes. Q even helps in the field, leading Bond into a siege and saving pretty ladies in the process. While Sir Roj is sliding down banisters.

Perhaps Desmond Llewellyn was being considered to take over from Sir Roj? Don’t laugh – have you seen who else they considered?

A View to a Kill
So, Sir Roj’s last one already. Blimey, that went quick. And you can tell by the hair and the rubbish robot dog that it’s from more than two decades ago.

It’s a bit slow, actually – with lots of scenes of people just talking to each other about their various allegiances. The 80s “fashions” don’t help because rather than looking stylish and cool, Bond seems to be stalking the blousy wives of the crassest chinless wonders.

Like For Your Eyes Only, they’re continually undercutting Bond’s cool: his rifle only shoots rock salt, the police think he’s talking bollocks and he woos a girl by making a quiche. Tanya Roberts is also not the most brilliant leading lady, and there’s far more sparkle with both May Day and Fiona Fullerton.

There’s another lady in it who I kept trying to place. The Internet explains that it is her from Last Crusade.

Why does Bond give control of the fire truck to Stacy, and then climb out on to the back? Surely it’s not just so the ladder can detatch and swing him about over the road to add excitement to the chase. That would be silly.

The mine set is amazing, and the fight on the Golden Gate Bridge very impressive. But then it ends in a cut-price version of the endings to Spy and Moonraker. This time, Bond’s having a shower. Half an hour earlier and Q could have caught him taking a shit.

It just seems a bit of an ignominious end for the most prolific of Bonds. I’d been rather sniffy about Sir Roj’s efforts compared to the hard stuff of his colleagues, but some of that was downright cool. Good job, 007.

8 comments:

deejsaint said...

"Richard" Martin? Ha. Poltroon.

D

deejsaint said...

"shagging Rosie Carver in the last one".

Please let that be a euphemism. I want it to be so badly.

D

Robert said...

Also in Doctor Who and TSWLM are Shane Rimmer, Vernon Dobtcheff, Garrick Hagon, Barry Andrews and George Roubicek.

There may be even more.

Robert

Rob said...

You're so wrong about the Bond=Title thing that I almost didn't read on. Oh, who am I kidding?

DAF being "uncanonical" is a very temtping idea, though.

I'm glad that someone else can see how good Octopussy is, and how bad AVTAK is. Mayday ***ing kills people in the movie, and yet when she is herself killed rebelling against Zarin - for entirely selfish reasons - we're clearly supposed to care...?

For "Rog being ruthless" moments, you can add him killing the thug in TSWLM after the guy gives him the information; the obvious pleasure he takes in killing Drax twice; and the half-nelson scene in TMWTGG is just plain disturbing.

You're right about the theme of undermining the cool, though - the weakness of the Rog era is that the franchise is so scared to take itself seriously in the age of the spoof. Fixing that was part of the great success of TLD.

xtsoovm, Mr. Bond.

Alex Wilcock said...

From our inordinately glamorous and Bondian hotel room – Millennium is abseiling down into the atrium as we speak – I’m delighted that you’ve so warmed to Octopussy (and to our ever-so-plausible theory, Mr Rob). It’s my favourite of Sir Roger’s, particularly for that magnificent score you mentioned; it always makes the hairs rise at the back of my neck in that opening clown chase through East Germany (like a mix of John le Carré and The Avengers). Surprised you missed villainous Steven Berkoff as one of your list of attractions, though – he twitches and rants his way through the film in supremely watchable fashion, and when I’m (frequently) rushing for a train that I’m just too late for, I always have General Orlov shouting in my head, “I must get to that train!”

Did it do well in Russia because it suggested Brezhnev was an authoritative figure who was firmly in command and committed to peace, rather than an plodding old dictator who’d only stopped warmongering because he was being trundled to state events in his chiller-coffin by then?

Robert said...

I really love the start of Octopussy, its the Avengers-ness of it really. And it does have some fabulous Rog stuff. 'double six'. But I get bored before the end. And I think Berkoff - as in most things - is a rubbish old ham. Tone it down, man.

Richard Dinnick said...

Funnily enough watch the opening scene of LALD with Clare t'other evening while explaining this idea of titles. We both agreed that as a theory it stood up well in this film.

Otherwise, tip-top observations on the Bond front as usual.

I love ("that's my little...") Octopussy. I think it's actually dying to be quite a serious thriller. Imagine if Dalton had done it post LTK...

I also have to confess to a liking of Moonraker. Everyone I know hates it with a vengeance, but some of it is great IMO.

And yes, always loved Moore when he was being a bit callous. Although prefer violence to men over same to women. Must be a hangover of gentlemanliness or something, but agree with rob when it comes to half-nelsons! (Callous shagging OK, BTW. For some reason. Oh yes. It’s quite funny…! Somebody hand me a spade to dig this trench with, will ya?)

Rob said...

"Double six. Fancy that."

Best deadpan Rog moment ever.

pppjpj, even!