Friday, 19 August 2016

007 Roger Moore Part Three: A View to a Bond

Well, we made it. The last of Roger Moore's James Bond. It took some time but we're here. It surely was a ride with a number of ups and downs, thrilling adventure and hilarious camp, with some blatant misogyny and unfortunate racism thrown in the mix too.

I'll do a wrap up at the end but just up top, I'd like to say that I've enjoyed watching Moore's Bond but I'm glad this is done and we can move on. That said, heading seven films in a franchise is an impressive feat and kudos to him for sticking in for as long as he did.

"Why, thank you."

Alright, let's get on with it and see what Moore had to offer with his final two Bond missions. Right off the bat, 1983's Octopussy has to be one of the most awkward title Bond films (although A View to a Kill is quite ungainly grammatically but we'll get there). It's a title that can't help but make you laugh a little at. I understand that it apparently was a legit title of one of Ian Fleming's short stories but that doesn't make it any better.

The only I knew or recalled about this film was once catching it on TV during the scene where the bad guy Kamal Khan is trying to placate Octopussy and keeps repeating her name in a reassuring manner. The actor is trying his best but her name is so silly, it was completely hilarious to me.

It's no wonder Rita Coolidge's theme song is called "All Time High" and doesn't mention the word 'Octopussy' at all. Also, not many words make a perfect rhyme with Octopussy so maybe that was a consideration. While we're talking about the theme song, it's okay I guess. A pleasant slow ballad, it's just a bit forgettable and sleepy sounding.

Aside from its unfortunate title, what else can be said about Octopussy? Well, the plot makes absolutely no sense, even considering this is a Bond film. I usually stop paying attention to the plot of these movies around the half hour to 45 minute mark but I didn't even try with this one.

In short, MI6 discover a fake Fabergé egg but the bad guys need to get the real egg which they were going to sell back to the Soviet gallery they took it from so no realises it's missing, or possibly they want the fake one? It's not clear but this is all part of some jewel smuggling enterprise to finance a rogue Soviet Union general's mad plan to start an invasion into Europe by tank division.

However, he will only lead the invasion only after first causing an explosion on an American army base in Germany which will look like one of the American nuclear bombs went off accidentally, naturally leading to the disarmament of nuclear weapons across Europe because reasons.

Oh, there's also a travelling circus in there somewhere and a couple of trips to India.

"You serious with this shit?"

I never really know why Bond is ever doing anything or what his mission actually is, sometimes he's just in places randomly that happen to be where the bad guys are, but I kinda just tuned out with this one and simply enjoyed the flashing lights and terrible puns.

Because this is a fun movie. And probably the movie which is most "Roger Moore" of the Moore era of Bond films. This isn't to say this is the best Roger Moore Bond movie, personally I would go with The Spy Who Loved Me, but rather it is the film which best highlights what Moore's run on Bond was like.

The story is told straight like it should be but peppered with the occasional campy slapstick and wonderfully bad puns. There's Bond in a tuxedo, Moore doing his trademark raised eyebrow, using cool gadgets which are only useful for one contrived purpose. The main bad guy is decidedly low-key, a gentleman's villain, happy to invite Bond to dinner the night before he is going to torture him.

Speaking on the main villain, let's talk about Kamal Khan for a bit.

"I'm listening..."

Firstly, I think he's great. A real debonair Bond villain but willing to slink into the background to play different parties against each other so at one point you think he might not be the big bad but rather it is the Soviet general or Octopussy herself.

Secondly, this is such an unnecessary bit of whitewashing (in the racial sense) in the casting of a character. Louis Jourdan is fantastic in the role and I can't fault his performance at all. But Mr Jourdan is a noted French actor. Kamal Khan is supposed to be an exiled Afghan prince.

Now this isn't the worst bit of racism in a film that offers a more incorrect and stereotypical depiction of India than Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom but it sticks out to me simple because it seems so unnecessary. They were more than happy hire Indian actors for Khan's henchmen and Bond's contact in India but not an Afghan actor in a lead role?

Or an Indian actor for that matter, since apparently Octopussy was originally going to be Indian but they changed her backstory so a Swede could play her instead.

Nailed it!

Again, nothing against Maud Adam's performance itself. She is amazing in the titular role and actually made me care about a character whose name is Octopussy. That is a feat very few actors can accomplish.

What's interesting is that Maud Adams was already a Bond girl before - Andrea Anders, Scaramanga's lover in The Man with the Golden Guy. You know, the one James Bond smacks around and twists her arm for information in that really uncomfortable domestic violence?

It's a little odd seeing her in a separate role here but her performance just kills it. An international jewel-smuggler who resides on a private island populated entirely by women, at first, they set it up so you might think she is the main villain of the film. In the scene when we are first introduced to her, she's shot from behind, ordering Khan around, and you never see her face like a true Bond villain.

Then Bond meets her, we hear her sad backstory about her father, and she becomes this sympathetic character with some nuanced shades of grey. The leader of a cult but one that gives its group of runaway women a sense of purpose (international crime) and teaches valuable skills (like gymnastics and thievery). She might be a criminal but she's not evil. Octopussy is one of the best Bond girls.

And she knows it.

Just a couple of things to round up Octopussy. One, I really like Bond's contact in India, Vijay. Bond tends to have a buddy in a lot of his films, someone who provides info and helps him out in the exotic location he's in. And Vijay is great buddy, affable, informative, constantly smiling. He's just charming and matches Bond pun for pun. He even delivers one of the best lines in the film.

Bond: We've got company.
Vijay: No problem, this is a company car.

Second, the rogue Soviet general I mention a couple of times? Well, he's played by Steven Berkoff and is just great. If you want an over-the-top campy performance from your megalomaniac Bond villain, Berkoff's  General Orlov is your man. Just read GQ's description of his performance,
Berkoff doesn't so much chew the scenery as gobble it up, screaming at everyone between mouthfuls in a dodgy Rusky accent. There is something highly enjoyable at watching supposedly 'serious' actors completely lose their s*** in a Bond film. (Jonathan Pryce, Javier Bardem - the list is long.)
Lastly, I would amiss if I didn't mention that this is the Bond film in which James Bond dresses like a clown to infiltrate a circus in order to defuse a nuclear bomb.

"I really hope this works better in context." - Roger Moore, probably.
(Surprisingly, it does.)

And so we come to Moore's last outing as James Bond, A View to a Kill. There's no getting around it anymore, he was too old to play Bond. Now, I first started to really notice his age in For Your Eyes Only which came out four years earlier but I don't know what happened on those four years since he does not look good here.

He was 57 years old at this point and I think he must have had some work done since his cheeks seem a bit, um, flat? I dunno how to describe it precisely, but there is an uncanny valley thing going on. Also, I think he has contacts in or something since his eyes look different and they have obviously put some thickening stuff in his hair, which looks bleached, and it just isn't that flattering.

I really don't like saying all this since he was such a dashing fellow in prior films and his performance is as solid as always but his odd appearance is kinda distracting.

This man is supposed to be an international spy despite looking 70 years old.

Do you know what isn't distracting unless you mean in the best way possible? The theme song by Duran Duran. Easily one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Bond themes, Duran Duran's "A View to a Kill" is still the only Bond theme to hit number 1 on the US charts.

A piece of new wave/synth pop perfection, it has all the elements of a great Bond theme without actually sounding like a Bond song. The lyrics hint at danger, murder, sex, and nighttime affairs of espionage. The music is captivating with a sense of the dramatic (just listen to those opening swirling chords), with a sultry vocal from Simon Le Bon and an absolutely killer chorus.

No, seriously, the chorus to "A View to a Kill" is fantastic. It's no wonder that the song was a pop hit and one of the most popular songs of its day. Declaring to "dance into the fire" belted out in an insanely catch melody, it's just a great pop song.

In fact, it was listening to "A View to a Kill" that prompted this second edition of James Bond month. I liked the song so much I wanted to watch the movie, which then got me thinking if I was going to watch Moore's last Bond film, I might as well watch all of them.

So how does the film stack up to its fabulous theme song? Terribly. That sounds dismissive but honestly A View to a Kill is not a good movie. It's just not. So much of this film makes so little sense and has no relevance to the actual plot that you spend more time questioning its logic than paying attention to what is going on.

In the James Bonding crossover episode with How Did This Get Made?, they spend a good 20-30 minutes of the podcast discussing the butterfly show which happens in the third or fourth scene of the film. Not in relation to what effect this scene has on the rest of the story or anything like that.

"I hope my death by fake butterfly will have dramatically significant!"

No, of course not. Rather they discuss the aesthetic merit of the butterfly show itself and why anyone would go see it. This is a show in the Eiffel Tower during which a woman on stage whistles and waves her arms around while fake butterflies on wires are swung around by very visible stage-people. The illogical nature of the show completely derails the scene since it makes no sense.

Talking about making no sense, most Bond villains has nonsensical plans for world domination. They mostly can be boiled down to, steal a destructive weapon, hold world at ransom by threatening to use weapon or plan to use weapon to destroy world while remaining safe in some colony (underwater or in space) to start a new world order. Not that practical but they have a warped logic to them.

But then you get Christopher Walken's Max Zorin. I'll let the late great film critic Roger Ebert lay into the gigantic flaw in Zorin's evil plan to flood Silicon Valley in order to corner the market on microchips.

In case, you didn't watch the video, Ebert points out that Silicon Valley is where microchips are used, not where they are manufactured. So Zorin is taking out his customers, not his rivals. However, I'm sure that as a genetically enhanced Aryan with supposedly super intelligence that Zorin already thought of that and decided it wasn't a problem.

But that is this film's problem. It is complete camp with no weight to balance out the fluff. I love me some campy Roger Moore fun but this film has nothing to support that camp. Everything is illogical and played with a wink. Octopussy might have had Bond dressed as clown when he disarms a bomb but the scene was still filled with tension.

I have no idea what tone they're trying to strike with this film but whatever it was, they missed. Towards the end, Zorin is gleefully mows down his own employees with a machine gun, who are already about to drown in a collapsed mine. Even for a series that flirts with violence, the scene is unnaturally gratuitous for a Bond film.

But earlier in the film, Bond is chasing May Day, Grace Jone's wonderfully weird henchwoman to Zorin, and the roof of his car gets hit off. Okay, a little unbelievable that it would slide off so neatly but whatever. Then the back of his car gets nudged by another car and the entire back half breaks off.


At this point I don't care that the stuntman barely looks like Roger Moore.

I don't know what to say about this movie since everything I can want to say is basically pointing out something that makes no sense (of which there are many, many examples), saying that it makes no sense, asking why they would do that, and despairing at the lack of logic.

A View to a Kill is the worst of what his Bond had to offer. Camp without the knowing wink, adventure without the thrills, illogical storytelling without the suspension of disbelief. Which is a shame since on the whole I really enjoyed Moore's run as Bond and he deserved a better send off than this film. If he had called it quits after Octopussy that would have been fine.

However, we have to accept the world for what it is not what we want it to be. And what we got from Roger Moore was a Bond who was fun and enjoyable to watch. As deft with a sly wink and raised eyebrow as he was with puny one-liners, he brought a lightness and warmth to the character which I appreciated.

But he really deserved better than A View to a Kill.

Stay tuned next week as I look into the black sheep of James Bond, George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton. Do their portrayals of the character hold up against Connery, Moore, Brosnan, and Craig? We'll find out together. 


Octopussy Wikipedia page

James Bonding #0029: Octopussy with Mark McConville and James Bladon

Why Octopussy is the Best (and Possible Worst) James Bond Film - GQ Magazine

James Bond 007: revisting Octopussy - Den of Geek

A View to a Kill Wikipedia page

James Bonding #0026: A View to a Kill with How Did This Get Made?

At the Movies: A View to a Kill (2 of 3)

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