16 August 2011

BlogalongaBond- LIVE AND LET DIE Review

If Diamonds Are Forever can be viewed as the prototypical 70s Bond movie, Live and Let Die is where the formula was crystallised. James Bond has regenerated once again, now played by Roger Moore. To date, Moore is still the oldest actor at the time of taking on the role, at 45 years old. Then again, he benefits from his acting experience, especially in The Saint, in taking over from Sean Connery, arguably the iconic 007.

To usher in the new era, the producers surprisingly decided to mix in the transgeneric elements of blaxploitation, and the supernatural. And so Bond is dispatched to investigate the deaths of three British agents in the line of fire, discovering an American gangster's plot to monopolise heroin dealing in the United States. Elsewhere, working for corrupt Caribbean prime-minister Dr. Kananga, the mysterious Solitaire reads tarot cards that predict Bond's doom.

In hindsight, Live and Let Die has many of the same elements as Dr. No. The plot centres around machinations taking place on a Jamaican island, Felix Leiter and the CIA lend our hero some support, and the villain is another doctor. Hell, even Connery's boatman Quarrel returns, or at least his son "Quarrel Junior" does. In a series that has by now built up its tried-and-tested tropes, it's unsurprising that the template for Moore's debut should originate from Connery's before it. Happily, there are some departures to be had.

For starters, nobody's trying to pass off Roger Moore as Sean Connery. Although George Lazenby proved very different to his predecessor, On Her Majesty's Secret Service still began with some non-descript Bondfoolery before we first see his face, just in time for a fourth-wall breaking jibe. Our first sight of Moore is in his apartment, which, up to this point, had only briefly been glimpsed in Dr. No. The strange fascination with his coffee machine notwithstanding, it's already distinctive enough that we see he has roots when he's not on a mission. I had always viewed him as an extremely suave, globe-trotting hobo.

But he's also doing an Italian agent, who he strips using a magnetic watch. Girls, gadgets- yep, he's Bond. That lets us move on, and even explore new ground. Although there were a number of black supporting characters in the previous films, this one outright flings itself into the then-popular brand of blaxploitation cinema. The film doesn't always sit comfortably in that territory, and it's hardly a bold cry for equality, considering that every black character in the film is either a criminal or a traitor.

The series also dips its toe into the supernatural with this instalment, a realm to which it has obviously not returned. The paranormal elements always seem vague, and many of their implications remain unexplained by the time we get to the film's unnerving and downright weird final shot. Largely though, it makes Bond's seduction of Solitaire seem more callous. It seems more manipulative and unkind than he has been with his previous conquests, but for her part, Jane Seymour plays the rather quick transition from conflicted to horny rather well, and has decent chemistry with Moore.

The film's fatal flaw is in how good some of the action really is. That might sound contradictory, but it makes the filmmakers are confident enough to stop the whole plot at the end of the second act for an action interlude that includes crocodiles, speedboats and an annoying good-old-boy called Sheriff Pepper. The very knowledge that he's in the next film as well makes me want to quit this marathon now- he is by far the worst character in the series. And aside from anything else, this extended action sequence is so full of unfunny comedic moments, it resembles nothing so much as the mentality of Michael Bay, albeit with less explosions and more impressive action.

Although the practical stunt sequences are reminders of a better time in filmmaking and visual effects, it lessens the effect of an otherwise great chase, in which speedboats aren't necessarily always restrained to water, that we have the failed comedy elements in there. Ditto for the chase with Mrs. Bell in the flying instructor's plane, which adds to the feeling that a lot of this film is Bond being captured and then escaping, repeatedly. The film's true standout action sequence, to me, is the double-decker bus chase, because it's inventive, and exciting, and intentionally not funny.

Live and Let Die ensures that Roger Moore sticks with the audience in the role of our long-established hero, tweaking the formula in a way that George Lazenby's sole outing did not. There's an unmistakable increase in humour, not all of which is actually funny, but there's enough of the character's callousness retained that we know Moore is the same bloke. It never recovers from those 20 minutes of Bay-like action comedy, but up until that point, it's an enjoyable romp that somehow feels much more fresh than the last few adventures.

#8- "A small hat, belonging to a man of limited means, who lost a fight with a chicken"- in another life, Bond might have been a bitchy fashionista.

For a full list of everyone's work on BlogalongaBond so far, click here.

The Mad Prophet Will Return, With The Man With The Golden Gun... in September.

No comments: