Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Brandon Peters dissects the 007 series part 10: The Spy Who Loved Me.

With Skyfall dropping in theaters in just a few months, along with the 50th anniversary of the James Bond series, a close friend and fellow film nerd, Brandon Peters, has generously offered to do a comprehensive review of the entire 007 film franchise. Today is the tenth entry, with a full review of one of the very best films in the franchise, The Spy Who Loved Me. I hope you enjoy what is a pretty massive feature leading up the November 9th release of Skyfall. I'll do my best to leave my two-cents out of it, give or take a few items I have up my sleeve (including a guest review from my wife as she sings the praises of her favorite 007 film, you won't believe what it is). But just because I'm stepping aside doesn't mean you should, as I can only hope for robust discussions in the comments section. Without further ado...

The Spy Who Loved Me
Director:  Lewis Gilbert
Starring:  Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Richard Kiel, Curt Jurgens, Desmond Llewelyn
Rated:  PG

All those feathers and he still can’t fly.
                        ~James Bond

Kills: 18 + unconfirmed amount in the control room bombing
Girls:  Anya Amasova, “Log Cabin Girl”, random “Arab Beauty”
Car:  Lotus Esprit
Locales:  Egypt, Sardinia
Odd Villain Trait:  Jaws is a giant with a set of metal teeth
Song:  “Nobody Does It Better” performed by Carly Simon

The Spy Who Loved Me delivers one of, if not the, ultimate James Bond films.  Plot driven with big scale action scenes, memorable villains, a fantastic song, cool gadgets, stunts, a highly complimentary score, Bond heroics and a beautiful female who can go toe-to-toe with 007 all come gelling together in this fun and exciting 70s spy thriller.  While the previous three entries were rather tame and almost like elongated television episodes in spectacle, The Spy Who Loved Me isn’t afraid to be ambitious and completely go for it.  The production team really doesn’t hold back on what is one of the highest points in the 007 series.

When Soviet and British submarines carrying nuclear missiles disappear, 007 is paired with Soviet agent XXX (Anya Amasova played by Barbara Bach) to discover who is behind it.  Their search for a submarine tracking device leads them to Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), a megalomaniac hell-bent on destroying the world to create a new civilization under the sea.  Stromberg sends his henchman, the giant metal-mouthed assassin Jaws (Richard Kiel), to kill anyone associated with this submarine tracking device used in capturing the submarines.  Following the gun barrel sequence, we get a teaser of the best quality.  For one, it’s completely connected to the film’s plotline.  We are given multiple layers of information through introductions and actions which will also affect things later in the movie.

This is also the first Bond film where the teaser scene is based around a death-defying stunt (which would be the big selling point of these from here out).  In this case, there’s a ski scene (#2 if you’re keeping score) where Bond is hunted by Soviet agents.  In just a few minutes, this scene outdoes all 3 ski/bobsled scenes from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  The rear projection on the close-ups of Roger Moore is still obvious, but who cares, pay attention to the stunt work at hand instead.  Bond’s got a really cool gadget ski pole that serves as a rifle.  The big breath taking moment is when 007 just goes jumping straight off the cliff of a very high mountain, falling to the depths until its revealed he’s got a parachute.  The chase, the musical accompaniment and the stunt are just perfectly paced and timed for this sequence.  

Of all 10 films, this one completely blows away any previous opener.  And right away, you know this film is going to be much better than the previous few we’ve sat through to get to here.  The opening credits even wow.  It’s a nice little sequence that compliments the film.  The silhouetted women are quite a bit more risqué, but it comes off more avante garde and “artsy”.  The song is fantastic.  Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” is one of the most iconic songs from any of the Bond films.  It not only works for the film, but it works even for regular listening.  Simon’s song is an absolutely great tune that I’ve been a fan of for years. Fun fact on my 007 geekiness; I had this song played during my wedding ceremony as the exiting procession music.

Carly Simon isn’t the only one getting it right with the music this time around; the score is quite good too.  Marvin Hamlisch makes his only appearance in the role of composer for the 007 series.  His scored features a disco’ized rendition of the Bond theme.  More importantly his score comes very complimentary to the film itself.  The stunt in the opener is a very good example of building up the suspense through his score.  Roger Moore finally looks 100% comfortable in the James Bond role for his third turn.  The script builds around his strengths.  He’s got a stockpile of one-liners, but one moment in the film acknowledges without winking to the audience that the writers are well aware.  This time around, Moore comes less of the brute.  The portrayal of Bond in this film is sly, cunning and charming.  It’s one of the absolute best on-screen performances of the secret agent we've seen. 

Opposite the British secret agent is Anya Amasova.  Amasova is, for the most part, well written and given far more depth than to just be the girl who holds Bond’s hand while running from explosions.  A lot of the film has her few steps ahead of 007 in regards to the chase for the submarine tracker.  She also is able to resist his charm and fool him early on.  Bach and Moore’s chemistry bring a lot of the enjoyment to the film.  We are actually given scenes to let them grow and build affection/trust toward one another through more than just action.  And it’s not in the ole “this is how the British do it” – “Oh but we Soviets do it like this” getting-to-know-each-other piss poor writing convention.  She does become a damsel in distress, but Bond is also captured in that same moment, too.  Plus I’ll give her the benefit that she is being held hostage with Jaws on watch.  She’s also somewhat of a wild card after discovering Bond disposed of her lover during the opening ski chase.  But in the end, after Bond has rescued her, she is unable to keep her promise to put a bullet in him.  Because in the end, she falls For Bond’s One-eye Only.

The primary menace of the film comes in the form of hired assassin, the scene-stealing Jaws.  Richard Kiel is already a hulking presence, but he is shot and scored in such a way that there is an added level of terror.  Every time there is a hand-to-hand combat scene with him you are clenching your fists wondering how in the hell are Bond and Amasova going to get out of this one.  Some of his strength may be over the top, but Kiel and director Lewis Gilbert manage to make it almost unquestionable.  Jaws is a relentless pursuer and amps up the level of intensity with every scene he’s in.  While getting a few good moments played for laughs, he is still quite scary.  Jaws made such an impact with this film that he was brought back in to the next film, Moonraker, making him the only baddie not named Blofeld to show up in multiple films.

While we don’t get a whole lot of him (most comes toward the end), Stromberg works greatly as the head of the operation.  Jurgens plays it sinister and straight, coming off rather threatening.  Stromberg kind of looks like an old man Kelsey Grammar.  He has no need to overdo it as there are already Jaws and his forgettable bald henchman to fill that void.  I like that he’s not in it for money like Blofeld was.  I mean, why do you need money if you obviously continually having funds for these elaborate bases?  While the master plan may seem silly, Stromberg doesn’t care what you think and that all the more makes him work.  There’s a great moment after Bond visits him as “Sterling”.  You find that he knew the whole time it was Bond. Stromberg is eating some nuts, and says to Jaws “Let them get to shore…and then kill them”.  It’s a great line delivery.  Originally, the character was supposed to be Blofeld (we’ll talk about the legalities that prevented this in a later article).  Had this guy been actually Blofeld, he could have been my favorite.  But I’m glad he’s not.

Guy Hamilton left Eon with the prospect of directing Superman (later lost out to Richard Donner).  After passing on Steven Spielberg (”wait to see how the fish picture turns out”), You Only Live Twice director Lewis Gilbert was brought back.  With him, he brought the most ambitious and big 007 picture since his last outing.  Instead of rendering 007 into a popular genre again, Bond gets to go back and play in his own sandbox.  This time, while going all out, Gilbert is able to harness and tighten these scenes into a less goofy and laughable affair.  The Spy Who Loved Me contains some of the best pacing and action to progress the story in the series.  There’s a lot of ‘greatest hits’ type Bond action done bigger and better too.  As mentioned, we get skiing, but also a car/helicopter chase, a train fight and an underwater scuba/car battle.  To top it off, the end conflict on the battleship serves as a better version of the volcanic base fight at the end of You Only Live Twice.  It’s much more believable and gives us better stakes and people to care for instead of faceless ninjas and confusion.  It may contain a few things we’ve seen before, but it’s ramped up and done at such a high level that it bests its predecessor’s scenes.  Bond’s heroics are a lot bigger and more breathtaking than ever before.  Gilbert puts the stunt players to work and it pays off. 

The Spy Who Loved Me marks one of the very high points of the series.  It’s a terrific action/adventure/love story/thriller.  After a 3 year hiatus following one of its dullest films, The Spy Who Loved Me breathed a whole new life into the 007 canon and completely reenergized and rejuvenated it.  And it needed to, this was kind of a “let’s give it one more shot” effort.  When I think of “ultimate” James Bond or a film that can completely give a new viewer a good idea of this series at its best, I always think of The Spy Who Loved Me.  Time and time again, I have always enjoyed going back to this one.  The Spy Who Loved Me, nobody does it quite the way you do.  Why’d you have to be so good?

Brandon Peters will return in For Your Eyes Only

…unless Star Wars does well at the box office…

…then we’ll do Moonraker

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Aaron Neuwirth said...

Easily one of my favorite Bond pictures period.

Rick said...

I've never really liked the Roger Moore films, but it's been ages since I've seen any of them and your write up makes me want to go back and reconsider at least this entry. Again, fantastic job on this series

KL said...

No mention of Caroline Munro as the showstopping jawdropping bikini-clad Naomi?


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