Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Welcome to your briefing 007. Your mission: The Spy Who Loved Me. One of our nuclear submarines has gone missing 007. Your task is to join Russian agent XXX to track down whoever is responsible for it. Be prepared, as always, and be sure to ready for the worst.

The Beginning:
The film opens with the man dilemma of the movie: missing submarines. There are a few submarines that go missing and the sequences are quite well made, creating a sense of doom and tension. But the real fun begins when Agent XXX and 007 are contacted to respond to the crisis for their respective countries. It is clear from the beginning that Agent XXX will be a comparable counterpart of 007, a worthy opposite if you will. We get to witness one of my favorite opening scenes in the series when Bond dons the crazy yellow and red to descend from his mountain getaway with a doubling crossing dame. The ski chase is great fun and actually a pretty well shot action scene, special effects notwithstanding. The stunt work is great and especially the concluding British flag parachute. It may be a bit zany, but I'll be darned if it isn't a ton of fun.

Which segues nicely into one of my favorite Bond themes: "Nobody Does It Better" by Carly Simon. To this point the themes have been a mixed bag, but I really dig this one and have no problem placing it among my very favorite in the series. And what it interesting is I am finally starting to notice a minor difference in the title sequence too. It still is basically the same, featuring the famous silhouetted naked women, but it seems more technologically advanced and polished.

Location:
Cairo, Sardinia

Allies:
Captain Benson: 
There really aren't too many allies for our man Bond this go around. Sure, there is Anya, but she is more a rival, and also more a "Bond Girl", than an ally. But there is the minor character of Captain Benson, the American submarine captain who provides Bond with nothing more than a means to an end. Then again it is Benson who helps rally the troops when Bond needs them to take down the evil man behind the mysterious submarine disappearances.

Enemies:
Karl Stromberg:
Stromberg is the crazy millionaire of everybody's nightmare. There really is not much background on the man apart from he made his money in aquatics and marine biology ventures and has a crazy sick compound at sea. And also that he is a ruthless SOB who is willing to kill just about anyone in order to make more money and get what he wants. He has all the power in the world and plenty of minions at his disposal, and he is not afraid to use them, or his shark tank. But we are clearly dealing with a maniac who wants to speed up the destruction of mankind in favor of civilization at sea.
Jaws:
Jaws, or more properly Zbigniew Krycsiwiki (according to the IMDb page), is perhaps the most famous Bond villain of the franchise, or at least the most famous henchman. I mentioned Stromberg has plenty of willing henchmen in his employ and Jaws is the most ruthless. He seems soulless, apart from his ominous grin and clear enjoyment in what he does. And what is does is just be huge and super strong and have teeth of steel that allow him to mangle metal. Perhaps what makes Jaws most terrifying is his inability to die. He survives the most incredible things, but it is almost believable based on what we know of the character.

Q Branch:
Q has another blockbuster outing in this film. It starts small with a message printer watch, and builds into two much bigger devices. One is a Sea-doo neatly packed into an oversize dufflebag for Bond to assemble at his need. But the crown jewel of the film for Q, and of the series at least to this point, has to be the amphibious Lotus car. That's right, Q makes an amphibious car! It is so awesome when Bond plunges it into the depths after the chase. I want to leave some details for that section of my review, so I will, but needless to say, the car is awesome.

The Girls: 
Anya Amasova a.k.a. Agent XXX:
Anya Amasova, played by the lovely Mrs. Ringo Starr, Barbara Bach, is one of my favorite Bond girls to date because she is everything Bond is. She is a secret agent like he is, but she also has no problem going to bed and has the same attitude towards her job as he does. Everything for her country, which in this case is Cold War rival Russia. She is fully capable of holding her own in the company of Bond and even promises to kill him after their mission to save the world is complete. The Bond formula tells us this doesn't happen, but it is definitely clear that while the two are on the case she is fully capable of not only keeping up, but sometimes being one step ahead of both Bond and Jaws. Her character also reminded me a bit of From Russia with Love. She is a part of the Russian secret service and the comparisons end there as she is much more capable than Tatiana Romanova, but their nationality wasn't the only thing in the film that had me hearkening back to the second film in the series.
Naomi: 
Naomi is a minor Bond girl, but worthy of mentioning as such. She is the well built woman of Stromberg, the typical evil Bond girl who has too little screen time, no character development, and even less to do really. But she makes her presence known from her very first time on screen to the last time we see her.

The Car & the Chase:
So back to that amazing car. I must say that when Q unveiled the car I got excited because I knew what was coming. The actual chase is so-so, containing a bunch of mini chases as Bond quickly dispatches a motorcycle, then a car, then even a helicopter. All of this is made possible, however, by the very cool counter measures that are contained in that great little car. But things getting even more interesting when Bond plunges it into the sea and it becomes a submarine. Uber cool, but then he even gets chased down there, and more counter measures are used until they must resurface on a beach full of confused onlookers. One of the better Bond moments in the series thus far in my opinion.

Mission Debriefing:
Coming off the mixed bag effort of The Man with the Golden Gun and the none too great Live and Let Die, the producers had to do something to keep the famed franchise going, so they decided to make another change and install a new director, Lewis Gilbert, perhaps not a good sign for the longevity and success of Roger Moore as the newish Bond, though history tells us he would appear in more Bond films than any other actor. Also new on board is screenwriter Christopher Wood, who joins longtime Bond writer Richard Maibaum for the script. So needless to say there was promise for more of the same Bond fun, just done with a fresh new look. And that is exactly what we get with The Spy Who Loved Me, the best, most complete Bond film since OHMSS in 1969.

From the very start there is a visual style that is clearly different from what we have been seeing with the series under the direction of Guy Hamilton, who had one of two great Bond films under his belt, but whose direction had run stale. I must say that I have only seen the upcoming films, after this one that is, only once or twice, so I cannot as of yet comment on Gilbert's ability to sustain the success he has here, but with this film a fresh new look is exactly what the producers and audience got. I said the opening sequence was one of the better ones in the series recently and I say that because of the very cool camera and stunt work in the ski scene. And on top of that Gilbert is establishing early on the stakes and players of the film. The subs get captured under suspicious circumstances and we meet the beautiful Agent XXX, who it is clear will be a player and be able to handle herself.

By the time the plot really starts to thicken, it has been set up so that everything that follows really seems to matter for once in the Bond series. The endgame of Stromberg's plan is still a mystery, as is his full capabilities, but once we get to Cairo Gilbert crafts one of the most tense scenes in the recent Bond films that we forget about Stromberg for a while. And that is okay because whearas before Hamilton would lose focus on where the film was going, Gilbert is able to insert tense, entertaining scenes in the middle of the film to keep the momentum building to the final showdown and reveal and nothing is more evident of that than Cairo.

Egypt is a great location for Bond and the pyramids scene I have been applauding truly is great all around use of every element available. The lighting is great as the show that is happening in the film helps create the tension of the scene with the flashing lights. But in addition to that, it is a great opportunity for composer Marvin Hamlisch to utilize his talents to add even more mood and tension to the scene. Then you have the players involved, which includes Jaws, played by Richard Kiel, who all deliver, but really it is the camera work by Gilbert and the editing by John Glen (remember that name people) that really make this scene work. Then there is a second, equally tense, scene in Cairo between Jaws, Bond and Anya.

But before I go any further, I would like to also champion the score by Marvin Hamlisch, which was nominated for an Academy Award. It is unlike any other Bond score to this point and just adds to the freshness of the film. It is extremely electronic in its influence and it really fits with the era and setting of the film. But Hamlisch makes all the right choices to make it fit, much like Vangelis did in Chariots of Fire with his iconic score. Hamlisch may not be as good as Vangelis was there, but his work certainly bears mentioning, especially considering he helped compose the theme song, "Nobody Does It Better", which I like so much.

The film is certainly not without its faults, which include sub par special effects, which seems to have become a norm at this point. But there is also the over abundance of one liners and wink wink, nod nod moments in the film. But honestly, they seemed to really work here and maybe that is because I was already having fun with everything else. Moore is only average compared with Connery in his delivery, but I must say some of the lines are quite creative, like "Tell him to pull out immediately" - cut to Bond in the sack. Or of course the famous last line, "Keeping the British end up" as Bond closes the curtains and continues to make out with Anya in the escape pod. There are also the cheesy costumes, like the abysmal yellow and red ski suit Bond wears, but perhaps I should persecute the times for that one. But it is almost as if this type of thing has become a part of the series, and has been a part of the series from the beginning, so they are only minor complaints. I mean it hasn't been until recently (probably starting with the Bronson film and more so with the Craig ones) that the series has taken a more serious turn than the films at the beginning of the series.

We also finally get a film with some characterization of the leading man, Bond. Brief mention is made of his marriage, reminding us of the wonderful OHMSS, but we also learn that Bond attended Cambridge, which seems to suggest that he is not only very intelligent in his upbringing, which was probably assumed at this point, but also comes from money. It would seem to indicate, along with the nature of his work, that he is an orphan, which is exactly what Vesper Lynd will suggest in the 2006 Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale. Anyway, it is nice to finally getting back to learning about his character more. But there is also the opening scene which suggests again that his allegiance to Britain is paramount above anything else, including his love affairs with beautiful women.

But now I am just writing a ton of stuff, which is good because that means that there is plenty from this film to write about, but I also feel like I haven't really discussed the film and its craft all too much. But I will be brief in closing, suffice it to say I really had a good time with this film and think it is definitely the best Moore so far. The acting is okay, but the fresh direction and its ability to be interesting and entertaining from start to finish really distinguishes it. Not to mention the really cool gadgets, sets (once again by Ken Adam) and action scenes. I will admit there are weak moments, but really not too many. This is really just a film that rocks. Enough said. I need not defend myself further. I just hope that the rest of Gilbert is as fun, though I rememberMoonraker being a bit ridiculous in its plot.

Uhhhhhhh, I mean James Bond will return in...

2 comments:

  1. I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed this one. It's one of my favorite Bond films and at the top of Moore's outings. Unfortunately, Moonraker pretty much remakes this movie, but goes too far over the top. It's just ridiculous.

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  2. This is easily my favourite Bond film, from the opening scene to the final confrontation with the unforgettable 'Jaws'...it never gets old no matter how many times I watch it.

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