14 January 2012

BlogalongaBond- OCTOPUSSY Review

Five minutes earlier, I thought "Something really stupid is about to happen..."
I saw most of the Bond movies for the first time during an ITV marathon in 2000. The ones I haven't seen, largely of the later Roger Moore canon, were missed because my dad, who then decided my bedtime and what channel would be on TV, decreed that they weren't worth watching. Octopussy was one of these overlooked titles, and ever since, I've had the misconception that it was going to be the nadir of BlogalongaBond. Instead, it's not even as bad as The Man With The Golden Gun.

This isn't to say that the plot holds any great surprises- it's still a Bond movie. The titular Octopussy (heh heh, titular) is the head of an exclusively female cult that also has a line in jewellery theft. Her agent in the field is Kamal Khan, an exiled Afghan prince who is mucking about with dodgy Fabergé eggs. After 009 is killed in the line of duty, delivering one of these eggs to the British ambassador, James Bond is assigned to untangle the confusion. He doesn't do a great job, but he is beguiled by his unknown connection to Octopussy, and presumably, by the assumption that she has eight of something.

Like the action in For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy really runs Bond ragged, which I always prefer to the usually unflappable antics of our super-spy hero. The difficulty is that Roger Moore is still in the role of Grandpa Bond, so "run ragged" is pretty much his starting position too. For the second film in a row, the producers sought to recast Bond, but opted for the established star when Warner Bros. announced their rival Bond film for 1983, a remake of the execrable Thunderball. In fairness to the then-56-year-old Moore, the continued casting was probably the least of the evils committed by Never Say Never Again, which somehow managed to be not better, not worse, but equally as bad as Connery's first run at that film.

So, once again, this one seems to have all the nuts and bolts of a series reboot, with more of the jumping and running and punching that typifies Bond at its best. The now predictable outbursts of awful comic relief would seem, therefore, to have been added in at the last moment. If James Brolin had taken the role, as planned, I don't believe that Eon could have countenanced dressing him up as a clown, or a gorilla, or getting him to swing on vines to the wailing of Johnny Weismuller's Tarzan. Even the usual surfeit of quips seems like an afterthought, with a lame gag in which Moore tells a snake to "Hiss off" seeming to show that he couldn't stop doing comedy bits if his life depended on it.

These gags often soil the otherwise terrific action setpieces too. The Rajasthan chase scene is almost completely comical, but look at the scenes towards the end of the film. The train-hopping fight scene is adrenalised Bond at its best, and really puts the character, and Moore, through his paces, but when he's pitched off of it, he's embarrassingly foiled in his attempts to rejoin the chase, by a number of comedy locals. This from an action sequence that would have been good enough to end the film, but instead segues into a further thirty minutes of buffoonery.

The film's Indian flavour is a far cry from the travelogue segments of previous outings. If You Only Live Twice turned out as quite a risible and accidentally racist depiction of Japanese culture, Octopussy holds a consciously caricatured version of India, which even seems too obvious for this series. Khan and Gobinda are a particularly ineffectual, ethnically repurposed rehash of Goldfinger and Blofeld, despite the best efforts of Louis Jourdan and Kabir Bedi. Khan tells Gobinda to kill Bond, and Bond wriggles out of the big lug's grasp- lather, rinse, and repeat until Khan attempts to land on the wrong bit of a cliff and explodes on impact.

Swinging back to the relative plus sides, (without the Weismuller wail, thank you very much) Maud Adams is much better in her second run at the vaunted Bond girl role. Perhaps in conciliation for her role as a helpful punchbag in The Man With The Golden Gun, Octopussy is another of those characters whose strong femininity is undercut by a ridiculous double entendre of a name, but still manages to pack more of a wallop than her predecessors. With an army of similarly kick-ass women at her command, she fights the good fight at the film's conclusion, while Bond and Q fuck about in a big, patriotic hot-air balloon. See how the comedy ruins it? Besides which, bringing Q into the action actually serves to make Moore seem even more like Grandpa Bond- it's not a suave and able man with a curmudgeonly old bloke, as much as two old mates on a lark, each chowing down on Werther's Originals and laughing at nothing.

Octopussy actually surprised me, in the end, with some thumpingly enjoyable action sequences and a more energetic performance than we could reasonably have expected from Roger Moore at this point in his career as 007. Yes, the series was still long overdue a change of lead actor at this point, and the story is inscrutable bunkum, but I've heard defences of less enjoyable films from this series that trade on exactly the same points that I enjoyed about this one. If any Bond film could stand to lose half an hour, it's this one, but it bounces back from a number of bad mistakes in a way that shows a renewed energy in the stalwart production team. That said, I still don't hold high hopes for another of the unseen Moore outings- his swansong, A View To A Kill...

#13- "Octopussy" was just a cute nickname from her dead dad. This series is corrupting my mind.

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

The Mad Prophet Will Return, With A View To A Kill... in February.

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