Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Brandon Peters dissects the 007 series part 12: For Your Eyes Only

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 twelfth entry, with a full review of the 'back to basics' spy thriller, For Your Eyes Only. 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 possible 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. Without further ado...

For Your Eyes Only
Director:  John Glen
Starring: Roger Moore, Julian Glover, Carole Bouquet, Chaim Topol, Cassandra Harris
Rated PG

Think twice 007, it’s a long way down.
            ~looks like him, talks like him, dresses like him, but isn’t credited as Blofeld

Kills: 14
Girls:  Melina Havelock, Countess Lisl von Schlaf, Bibi Dahl
Car:  the Lotus from SPY returns, is blown up and replaced with 1981 Lotus Espirit Turbo
Locales: Greece, Italy
Odd Villain Trait:  Erich Kriegler – another rendition of big strong blonde brute
Song:  “For Your Eyes Only” performed by Sheena Easton

Moonraker was a massive success for the 007 franchise.  It was the highest grossing film of the series (w/o adjusting for inflation) making over $200 million worldwide, locking down the series for some more longevity.  Moonraker was a huge film and took Bond to some extraordinary limits (outer limits, if you may).  For Your Eyes Only grounds Bond back in reality and attempts to take it back to the feel of some of the older entries.

A ship carrying an Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator (ATAC) is sunk in the Ionian Sea.  The British have employed marine archaeologist Timothy Havelock to find where the ship has sunk.  When Havelock and his wife are murdered, James Bond is brought in to find the hit man and hopefully discover who is behind the attack on the ship.  Along the way he is joined with Havelock’s daughter Melina, seeking revenge for her parents’ murder. 

For Your Eyes Only is definitely a throwback to a more serious, plot-driven Bond film.  Diamonds Are Forever to Moonraker had been a journey of going bigger and bigger with each entry.  However, in taking 007 back to his roots, For Your Eyes Only borrows a lot from the films it wants to be like.  The plot is basically a modern update on the Lector MacGuffin from From Russia with Love, even borrowing its henchman in the form of Erich Kriegler-a dead ringer for Donald Grant.  Also, Milos Columbo is a dead ringer for Kerim Bey.  The film not only opens with Bond visiting the grave of his late wife Tracy, but is inspired by On Her Majesty’s Secret Service  winter action bits as well (yes, skiing, again.  That’s three).  The end sequence even features Bond teaming with a mobster storming on a high altitude facility that feels like the allergy facility ending to Lazenby’s Bond film only in the summertime.  It also has an underwater search akin to Thunderball.  The film isn’t entirely as much a knockoff as it is sounding, but the series is leaning on itself rather than borrowing from the hot genre of the time.  It sports plenty of original action sequences.  But aside from the opening teaser, none of them really stand out or are as breathtaking as the two prior entries.

Where it should have borrowed is the score.  The music is pretty wild and almost distracting at times.  Maybe it’s a sign of where things were in 1981, but I can’t say I can familiarize it with any other movie of the time.  The film’s song by Sheena Easton is pretty solid though.  She even appears to sing it in the opening credits sequence.  It’s kinda weird at first, because you just think its one of the normal dancers and then she sings and it’s a “woah” moment.

The goal was to take this back to a more grounded, “realistic” approach.  The film isn’t without goofiness though.  Bond discovers the drop for the ATAC last minute by luckily hearing a parrot repeating what the villain Kristatos had revealed earlier.  There’s also the absolutely annoying and pointless character of Bibi Dahl.  She’s a pro figure skater backed by Kristatos.  Her character has a lust for James Bond and really brings nothing to the story.  Bond doesn’t even sleep with her.  We also get a cheesy end tag with the parrot again.  All this really is noticeably out of place in this film grounded in reality.

James Bond is a bit more the tough guy he was in Live and Let Die and in an appreciable fashion.  He has a cold blooded kill when he kicks a car hanging off a cliff containing a henchman pleading for help.  We also get to see Roger Moore play baccarat for the first time in 5 films.  He’s also not a complete hornball this time out.  He only sleeps with one woman through the course of this plot and refuses another’s advances.  Bond does sleep with Melina, but it’s at the very end. 

Moore has aged well for a man in his 50s, but they needed to cast someone looking closer to his age than Carole Bouquet.  Melina Havelock does prove to be a great Bond girl.  She has an interesting back-story and agenda that’s aside from the plot.  She even saves Bond’s neck.  One of the things that I liked about her is that she isn’t overly sexified and can hold her own in a battle.  And there’s none of that “she’s good…for a girl!” type attitude.  She’s quite handywith a cross-bow too.

Aristotle Kristatos is a largely forgettable villain.  It’s not that he’s bad or anything, but there’s nothing that makes him stand out among the rest.  He’s serviceable to the story and the performance is fine.  Julian Glover served better in the Indiana Jones franchise.  He was almost paired with Spielberg here, but Spielberg opted to go for Raiders of the Lost Ark before a director was chosen.  Spielberg wanted to do a 007 film and was in talks, he just wasn’t going to wait on it.

John Glen makes his directorial debut.  He’d long been with the franchise since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (editing and 2nd unit directing the films).  Glen will be the longest tenured director in 007 history (not only five films, but five in a row).  The idea to strip Bond down, make it less gadgety and less over the top was backed by Glen.  Glen almost brought Jaws back for a third time in For Your Eyes Only, but ultimately decided this wouldn’t fit with the tone the production was aiming for (but we’ll have a talking parrot dues-ex-machina and that’s ok). 

The opening of the film is arguably one of the biggest highlights.  It pits James Bond against “not named-Blofeld” for one final encounter.  Bond is visiting the grave of Tracy when he is contacted by MI:6 for an emergency.  While being transported by helicopter, Blofeld takes control.  This isn’t the opening to The Spy Who Loved Me or Moonraker, but it’s quite thrilling.  I love the intimate one-on-one battle here for their final showdown.  It’s far better than any we got featuring Blofeld as the main villain.  It’s fun and suspenseful.  Bond finally does away with Ernst by dropping him to his death from high above.  This scene was written into the script for two reasons.  There was worry Roger Moore wouldn’t be returning.  His 007 contract was a three film deal and then went to a film-by-film basis starting with Moonraker.  This opening was intended to make whoever the new Bond was to look like he mattered.  Also it was a message from Cubby Broccoli to Kevin McClory and anyone else that he didn’t need to Blofeld or SPECTRE to carry on with Bond.  We’ll be getting to thick of that ordeal very soon.

For Your Eyes Only is a decent film.  It’s neither the best nor is it one of the worst.  It’s kind of wavering around in mediocrity.  A lot of it feels a bit flat at times.  It’s an enjoyable film for sure, but at this point you’ve seen better and seen what For Your Eyes Only is doing better.  A key observation for me after five films into the Moore era: Where is this goofy Bond character I remembering groaning about?  The guy has been pretty damn good so far.  Two films to go, let’s see how this pans out.

Brandon Peters will return in Octop***y.

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