Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Viewpoint Blog's Ranking of the James Bond Films. 19: Die Another Day.

As we continue the countdown of the James Bond films from worst to best, we reach number 19, and the first Pearce Brosnan entry on the list.  It was also his last outing as James Bond, at least in films, as he would have one more outing in the computer games world.  But his last film, was also his worst.  Die Another Day.

That was the teaser trailer, and next, the full theatrical trailer.

Now, it's no secret that most Bond fans don't like this film, and it does contain the worst moment in James Bond history, but why do I rate it above Moonraker, Live & Let Die and A View To A Kill?  Well, time to reveal why, as I review what was the 20th official Bond film, Die Another Day.

Before I get to the pre-title sequence, I must mention this film's gun barrel sequence, which infamously features a bullet coming down the barrel towards the audience.  Some of called this cheap and tacky, and I can see where they're coming from, but actually, I don't mind it in the slightest, and have never minded it.  Okay, I can already hear the boos, pipe down...


The plot of the pre-title sequence can be summed up pretty easily.  James Bond infiltrates North Korea, kills a Colonel, Colonel Tan Sun Moon and gets captured.  You don't really need to know any more than that.

Some points out of it though.  The first is the fact that Bond surfs into North Korea.  Surfing?  Really???  This is not a criticism of the actual surfing itself, the guys performing the stunt are excellent, but I really don't think surfing into North Korea is either very realistic, or indeed, necessary.  I don't think we need to see him actually surf, I think we can cut all that surfing footage out, and just have him arrive on the beach, a scene that was shot around Newquay in Cornwall.  In fact, Cornwall features a fair bit in this movie in a couple of different ways.  In the early going, it partially substitutes for North Korea, before switching back to Pinewood.  However, there is more of Cornwall to come.

Secondly, I love the detail that they go into with the infiltration and how they pull a helicopter carrying a Mr Van Bierk off-course, so that Bond can take his place.

Thirdly, and this will crop up throughout the movie, I love the little references that get thrown in all over the place.  When Bond opens the briefcase to reveal the diamonds, we get a very Roger Moore-style raised eyebrow, which I think is great.

There's also a lovely humorous moment, when Colonel Moon is beating up this bag, only for it to be revealed that there's a man inside, and Moon directs his subordinates to find him a new anger therapist.  Honestly, if that's the way you treat your therapists, I think you'll have a hard time finding anybody who'll want to treat you.

Having been introduced to Colonel Moon, we are now introduced to Zao, who takes a photograph of Bond as he exits the helicopter that flew him into the compound.  They do go into a lot of detail here, which does slow up this part of the sequence, but that's not totally bad thing, it just ends up evening out.  The detail is good, but if it could have been done a bit quicker, a bit better, maybe the slowness of the sequence wouldn't feel quite so grating, but it's not bad.

During the Pierce Brosnan era, mostly from Tomorrow Ever Dies onwards, the pre-title sequences would feature a really big action sequence, and this film is no exception.  It's a great sequence, and there's an added time pressure in that General Moon, the father of Colonel Moon, is on his way to the compound.  It's a fun, exhilarating sequence, and actually gets the film off to a good start.  At the end of the sequence, I love the fact that Bond is hanging onto a log that is ringing a bell, and the quip is perfect, but then Bond is captured by General Moon and taken to a facility where he is tortured, and at that point, it transitions into the title sequence, using footage of Bond in captivity, being tortured as the canvas for the titles.


I have to be honest her and say this, along with On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Quantum Of Solace, is a candidate for the worst title sequence in Bond history.  Not everything can be brilliant, and most of the title sequences in themselves I don't have a problem with.  But here, the visuals of Bond being tortured actually compromise the quality of the work that Daniel Kleinman does.

The music here is another issue, and Madonna's song, whilst not being a bad song in and of itself, just doesn't feel very suited to a James Bond film.


Bond spends 14 months in captivity, before being traded for Zao.  Bond is drugged and taken to a facility where he is in essence a captive again, and is visited by M.  It's here we get a lot of exposition about things that have gone on that we haven't been privy to, such as Zao blowing up a summit meeting between South Korea and China.  We also get the information that Bond is to be held in an evaluation facility in the Falklands until M decides his fate.  This is more like the M we first see in Goldeneye, not like the one we see in Quantum Of Solace.  That film really didn't do Judi Dench any justice at all with that character.  Here, she's much better and much more like the "Evil Queen Of Numbers" that we came to know.

Bond manages to escape the facility, which is based on a ship, anchored off Hong Kong.  Okay, what happened to the wreck of the Queen Elizabeth?  Also, this is post 1997, which is referenced later in the film, but really?  Just feels strange to be honest.

Bond literally just walks into The Yacht Club in his dishevelled condition, and whilst he is given some suspicious looks by the staff, the person who we think is the hotel's manager, Mr Chang, recognises Bond and orders The Presidential Suite be opened for him.  It feels a little weird, but Bond is probably well known at a lot of places, so I can go with that.

Bond cleans himself up and makes himself more presentable, when a masseuse arrives at the door, compliments of the manager.  We get a classic "I'm sure you do." line from Bond, which is always good.  Bond tries to seduce the masseuse and she shows some resistance.  "I'm not that kind of masseuse."  but Bond reaches inside the bottom of her dress to where a gun is holstered on her thigh and he takes the gun, and holds it to her head.  "I'm not that kind of customer."  He then grabs a nearby ashtray and throws it through a mirrored door, revealing Mr Chang and some Chinese agents, and a video camera.

This little sequence is quite good, revealing Mr Chang to be part of Chinese intelligence.  Bond negotiating to help them get Zao is also good.  I guess he is currently "independent" so he can ply his trade where he wants.

Mr Chang discovers that Zao is currently in Cuba, and provides Bond with some travel documents to get there.

It's a pretty good start to the film, and I don't mind it in the slightest.  A slight in-congruency or two aside, I can't overly complain.

Bond in Cuba is interesting.  He uses Universal Exports as a cover, but of course, he is not part of the British Secret Service.  We are introduced to Raoul, who is a contact in Havana, who provides Bond with some information about a clinic being run by a Dr Alvarez.  We also get some interesting references here, such as the book that gave James Bond his name, The Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies, written of course by James Bond.  It's good to see this stuff, and don't get me wrong, the series very rarely references itself, despite it having plenty of good reference material, so I am quite happy to see this film reference the past of James Bond.

We see Bond driving a car, I'm not quite sure what the car is, but it's a nice looking car, and fits in with the available cars in Cuba at the time, so I don't mind this.

As Bond arrives at some beach place, we get a little bit of Bond theme played on a spanish Guitar.  It's quite good actually, a little less harsh than the usual electric guitar, but just enough edge in it to build some anticipation.  It's here that one of the elements that I most dislike crops up again.  I mentioned it in Live & Let Die and I have to mention it again here.  Bond smokes a cigar.  Not a cigarette, a cigar.  Yes it's a smaller cigar than the ones Roger Moore smoked in Live & Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun,  but still, that feels wrong for the character.  It's the only time we see it in this film, but still, I'd prefer if it wasn't here at all.

We're also introduced here to Giacinta Johnson, better known as Jinx, played by Halle Berry.  The sequence is acknowledged by the film makers to try and channel the moment where Honey Ryder came out of the water, but it's trying to hard, and the slow motion just doesn't help it.  I'd actually have preferred it if the filmmakers before hand hadn't said that's what they were trying to do, and had allowed us to make that connection.  There's also in this sequence a reference to From Russia With Love, referencing the lines that Daniela Bianchi and Sean Connery spoke when Tatiana Romanova first met James Bond.

Bond and Jinx get talking before we get a scene where we see them getting it on.  This scene had to be trimmed in the US to get a PG-13 certificate, but in all honesty, I don't see what the problem is.  It looks fine, it's not over the top.  Don't be prissy about this.

Bond wakes up alone and discovers that Jinx is getting on a boat to the island where the clinic is.  Bond uses a thug who is going there to get to the clinic, then dumps him rather unceremoniously.  Bond finds his way into a secret part of the clinic, and whilst this is happening, Jinx is meeting with Dr Alvarez, who is rather stereotypically written.  Jinx kills him.  Meanwhile Bond finds Zao, and gets his attention.  Not sure grabbing a bag of drip-feed is going to hurt him or get his attention, but oh well.  Turns out, Jinx is also after Zao as well.  There's a fight and some action, but Zao gets away.    Jinx also get away from some local soldiers, and Bond managed to pick up some diamonds that were hanging in a capsule around Zao's neck.  Upon closer examination they are discovered to be conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone, but they bear a laser signature from Gustav Graves, who has a diamond mine in Iceland.

We get a brief scene of M being given short shrift by her opposite number at the NSA, Damian Falco, played by Michael Madsen.  This is some poor casting really here.  Michael Madsen is an okay actor, project dependent, but just doesn't fit into the world of James Bond.  

Bond arrives in London, drinking his usual vodka martini on route, served to him, in a cameo role, by Deborah Moore, who's father was a previous James Bond.  Yes, Roger Moore.  The music here is a little out of place.  It's London Calling by The Clash.  It's a great song, but it just doesn't belong here.

We get introduced to Gustav Graves here by him parachuting out of a plane with a Union Jack parachute.  It's obviously meant to be a reference to The Spy Who Loved Me.  Gustav Graves is played here by Toby Stephens, who would later go on to play James Bond in some BBC Radio productions of the Ian Fleming books.  We are also introduced here to his publicist, Miranda Frost, played by Rosamund Pike.  Bond witnessed Graves arrival and impromptu press conference, and we next see him at a local fencing club, where it turns out Miranda Frost is regarded by Verity, played by Madonna, but surprisingly uncredited in the film, as her protege.

Gustav Graves is also at the fencing club, and we get a sword fighting sequence between Bond and Graves.  I'm usually a fan of sword fighting sequences, the ones in Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars are excellent, and the sequence is choreographed by the same person, legendary sword master Bob Anderson.  Bob also has previous connections to James Bond as he was a stunt performer in From Russia With Love, and in the 1967 spoof, Casino Royale.  I don't quite know what it is about this sequence that I don't like, perhaps it's the gratuitous amount of damage that Bond and Graves cause, but I think it's more than just that.  I think the length of the fight has something to do with it too, it does feel too long.  But even adding that in, that's not entirely the issue either.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you work on something it just doesn't come up to standard.  I felt that was the case with the cable car fight in Moonraker, and I think it might be the case here.  I am left to wonder though if they weren't deliberately trying to compete with the Star Wars prequel trilogy here, by having a sword fighting sequence.

Graves is impressed with Bond's sword fighting ability and invites him up to Iceland for a party he's giving to announce a science project.  Miranda Frost seems somewhat less impressed.  Frost by name, frosty by nature...

After Graves and Frost leave, a man comes up to Bond and refers to him as Commander Bond.  He gives him an envelope that contains an old key.  I like the reference to his rank here.  His rank is not mentioned too much in the films, and it's good to remind people of that.

Bond goes to an old door just off Westminster Bridge, and goes down to an old abandoned underground station, where he meets M.  M decides that Bond has become useful again, and we then get a scene that really is out of sorts with the rest of the film, where we see Bond, in his office, cleaning his gun, when suddenly he hears gunshots, slightly muffled gunshots.  This sequence is shot in a slightly different way to the rest of the film.  The camera follows Bond around, always keeping about the same distance from him, just like they do in video games.  There's a reason for that, and that's because this is a virtual simulation in Q Branch, and we are introduced here to our Q for this film, played by John Cleese, who was R in the last film.  Q demonstrating the gadgets is good, and I love the line when he gives Bond his new watch, "This will be your 20th I believe".  Good way of referencing that this is the 20th official Bond film.

We're also introduced here to what remains the most controversial car in all of Bondom.  "Aston Martin call it the Vanquish, we call it, the Vanish."  Yep, the invisible car.  This is something that I know a lot of Bond fans hate, and yet I'm not entirely sure why.  A lot of fans that was the point when the Brosnan Bond era jumped the shark, but I have to say I think they're being unkind.  The technology they were talking about in the film, definitely existed in 2002, and was used for a promotion unrelated to James Bond in 2012.  The execution might not be exactly as was shown in the film, but I don't mind that in the slightest.  So, why do most Bond fans hate the invisible car?  I really don't know.  Now, maybe because I'm a Star Trek fan as well, and used to the idea of a cloaking device from that series, the whole idea of the invisible car doesn't bug me.  But I'd be interested to know.

I don't have a problem with the invisible car, and to those who do, I suggest you check out the fact that the technology to do this, in a real world sense, was actually available at the time, although as Q himself would have put it, it wasn't quite perfected yet.

Okay, back to the plot, and we get an interesting scene in M's office where she's briefing an agent.  But it's not Bond, it's Miranda Frost.  Ah, so Miranda Frost is also an MI6 agent.  She's either not very good, or she's a double agent.  We'll find out which later.

So Bond arrives in Iceland, and it's here that we get one of my main bugbears with the film rearing its ugly head for the first time.  The editing.  Up until this point, the editing had been fairly conventional, even in the virtual simulation sequence.  But here we get sped up film for no reason, and over extravagant shots that actually add nothing to the storyline.  If you're going to use a shot, it has to have a story purpose.  We also see Jinx arrive, wearing a tight leather outfit that, even though it doesn't show a lot of skin, somehow seems way too inadequate for the cold conditions.

Bond is shown to his room by Miranda Frost, and she continues to be as cold as ice.  I guess she's right at home in an ice palace then.  Something tells me I know where this is going...

At the party, Bond meets up with Jinx and they exchange some words on a slightly cold level.  "I'm a girl that just doesn't like to get tied down."  Something tells me you'll be tied down later...

We then cut to a weird sequence with Zao arriving, and we get a strangely homoerotic moment between Graves and Zao.  It turns out that Graves is actually Colonel Moon, not in disguise, but as a completely new person.  He had gene therapy to completely change his identity.  It's not perfect as he has permanent insomnia.  I have odd nights of insomnia and those drive me crazy.  I can't imagine what permanent insomnia would do to a person.

We get a catty moment between Jinx and Miranda, right in front of Bond.  "I take it Mr Bond has been explaining his big bang theory."  "Oh, yeah, I think I got the... thrust of it."  Those lines make me laugh, and I notice here that Bond is looking a little uncomfortable.  I like that moment, it just adds a little extra punchline to the scene.

Graves demonstrates Icarus, a satellite that can project sunlight anywhere in the world.  Yeah, I'm having Batman & Robin flashbacks here, and that's not a good thing.  Another thing, how are we seeing the footage from space?  That's not quite explained.  If the editing hasn't made this film jump the shark, then this moment certainly has.  How did we go from a diamond mine to a satellite that can project sunlight?

Bond watches them take the satellite control device back into the compound, and sneaks in using his invisible car.  Admittedly, it takes computer technology to make this work, but it does work.  Bond is discovered and an alarm sounds.  There is an in-congruenty in this sequence.  We see Graves at one point with his tech geek, trying on a piece of equipment, yet no more than a minute later, in real time, he's suddenly with Zao?  This is a mistake, and quite a blatant one, and I'm surprised more people haven't mentioned it.

Just before Bond is going to be caught, Miranda Frost reels him in, and starts making out with him.  The guards are quite confused by this, and leave them to it.  The banter between Bond and Miranda in this whole sequence is excellent.  Miranda is definitely in the Fiona Volpe mould of women who won't fall for Bond, but will play him at his game.

Meanwhile, Jinx, back in her leather outfit, is investigating the compound too.  A compound that looks suspiciously like The Eden Project near St Austell in Cornwall.  That might be because parts of this film were actually shot at The Eden Project, and they used the biodomes idea for Graves' compound in Iceland.  I don't mind that, quite happy for that idea to be used.

Miranda agrees to sleep in Bond's room for the night, and we get a nice reference to Tomorrow Never Dies, where Bond actually puts his gun, under his pillow, referencing the question Paris Carver asked Bond at the launch party for Carver's news network.

We cut back and forth a lot between James Bond and Jinx in this sequence, as Jinx is captured, tied down, oh yeah we know you don't like to be tied down, but you're a female in a Bond film, you're going to end up tied down at some point, and is about to be subjected to decapitation by laser, but through Bond's assistance, and some fun timing, Jinx manages to survive, and they manage to escape.

It's here that Bond realises that Zao isn't alone and Colonel Moon must also have survived.  Bond confronts Graves/Moon.  Uh-oh, here we go with the multiple identities thing again.  This can get troublesome in a hurry, because you're not really sure what to call him.  When the different identities have different faces, like Bruce Banner and the Hulk, or Bruce Wayne and Batman, it's easy.  Here, it's not so easy.  Is he Graves?  Is he Moon?  He is both, so which name do you use?  He can't change his face back to the Korean one, so I guess he has to stay being called Graves at this point.

It's also here we get the reveal that Miranda Frost is in fact, a double agent, working for Graves primarily, rather than MI6.  It's here we get a chase sequence, which starts off in Moon's compound on foot, as Bond tries to escape "death for breakfast", and continues in Graves' rocket sled, or whatever you want to call it, and ends with Bond in the rocket sled hanging precariously over an ice cliff, with an intense beam of sunlight headed straight towards him.  How is he getting out of this situation???

Yep, you guessed it, the infamous para-surfing sequence.  The music is about the only good thing here.  David Arnold's score here is brilliant and plays the emotion of the scene well, but the scene itself is appalling.  It's all done on computers, except for the close-ups of Pierce Brosnan, which were shot on green-screen.  It's so bad, that it beats the Bondola from Moonraker, as the worst scene ever in James Bond history.

Meanwhile, Jinx has gotten herself trapped in Miranda Frost's room, and there's a catty little conversation between the two, before we see Bond returning to the Ice Palace, and remote controlling his invisible car.  Hmm, I liked the remote control car from Tomorrow Never Dies, as that made sense, but the remote control here doesn't make sense at all.  As a Mythbusters fan, I know you need a remote control to handle steering, throttle, brake, and changing gears on a car.  There's no way in hell that Bond could do all that from the tiny little keyring style remote that he has.

Bond and his car are accidentally discovered by a snowmobile driver who runs his snowmobile into the back of the car, and flies right over it.  He wasn't going fast enough to do that.  And so begins the chase sequence between Bond's car and Zao's car.

There's no doubt that the action is great, and the driving here is amazing, it's all done on ice, and is incredibly dangerous, no two ways about it.  However, just like for some people, the car flip from The Man With The Golden Gun is ruined by the slide whistle sound effect, so for me, this car chase sequence is ruined by the damn editing.  Randomly sped up and slowed down shots do nothing for me.  The slow motion shot that was used earlier in the fight at the clinic with Zao was useful in order to highlight Bond grabbing the diamonds that Zao had in that capsule hanging around his neck.  But in this sequence the use of sped up and slow motion makes no sense and is horrible, not to mention the snowmobiles getting blown away from each other and Bond's car towards the end.  I do like though how the bullets bouncing off the car cause the adaptive camouflage system to fail.  The sequence ends Zao trying to ram Bond's car, but by using the adaptive camouflage, and some spikes in the tyres, Bond reverse out of the way, and Zao's car crashes into the water in the melting Ice Palace, with Bond killing him by shooting a chandelier, and having it fall on top of him.  Bond then rescues Jinx, and she survives, barely.

We then cut to the US Command Post on the South Korean side of the Demilitarised Zone, where Charles Robinson, M and Falco are.  Does anyone else think that having the leaders of MI6 and the NSA at the edge of a potential warzone is a bad idea?

Turns out Graves is in North Korea in the middle of an airbase, and Falco thinks they can't touch him.  Bond disagrees, and volunteers to go after Graves.  M agrees to send him in.  Turns out the idea of the British getting all the credit doesn't sit too well with Falco and he orders Jinx to go with Bond.  Typical bloody American...

Bond and Jinx go in on switchblades, which seem to be single person flying machines.  They separate  from the crafts and parachute in.  Meanwhile the missile that was fired to shoot down Icarus gets torched by the satellite.

The final sequence of the film, begins with Bond and Jinx trying to sniper kill Graves and co, but circumstances prevent that, and they have to get on the plane, which they manage to do somehow unseen by anyone.

We get a scene which is totally weird.  Graves is wearing some kind of robosuit, and totally not cool, and General Moon is brought to him.  They talk in what is supposed to be a tender father son moment, but it ends up flat.  I can't put this down to the actors, not entirely, and I can't put it down to the writing, not entirely, there's some other element that just isn't working right, and I'm not too sure what it is.  Graves uses Icarus to explode all the mines in the demilitariesd zone.  General Moon doesn't like what he sees, or maybe what he fears he will see, and turns on his son/Graves.  Graves kills General Moon in a scene that is meant to be poignant, but the intolerable editing again completely undos the actors' work there, the editors and director of this project have a lot to answer for when it comes it to the editing.

We also get a Goldfinger reference in reverse, where it is Bond that fires the gun that pierces a window, that causes explosive decompression, and people are sucked out of the plane.  Honestly, this whole sequence is poor here.  Too much intercuting between the Bond/Graves fight, and what Jinx is doing, and too many bad edits.  Also, the slow motion disintegration of the plane after going through the Icarus beam is stupid.  The whole ending sequence, where Jinx stabs Miranda, and Bond electrocutes Graves before he falls into one of the plane's engines, and somehow doesn't cause it to explode, just beggars my belief.  After doing so much right in the early going, they screw up the ending so badly that it leaves me cold.

Everything from the Icarus announcement onwards is so bad, that it completely not only undermines all the good work that was done earlier in the film, but also holes it below the waterline.  As a movie, it sinks rather quickly.  I can't blame it on the actors, I have to put the blame here on the writers and director.

And just to top off the badness, we get Miss Moneypenny having virtual sex with a virtual version of James Bond, whilst Jinx has the real one to herself.


The villains ensemble here is really a mixed bag.  Colonel Moon/Gustav Graves is really over the top, and doesn't come off well in this film.

Zao is more understated, but just like Hugo Drax, not in a good way.  He comes across as quite boring and not really engaging as a character.

The only one who manages to do well, is Miranda Frost, and she is still quite two dimensional and not as well written as she could be.  She does have some depth, but because she doesn't come into the movie early on, we're not really given enough time to see her character play out more.  Her coldness is her main characteristic, and that's played brilliantly but other than that, there's not much more depth to play with.


I like Halle Berry here as Jinx, she is actually probably the best written character here.  She has nuances and depths, she has some great lines, and some really good moments, and I think she gets a bit of a raw deal from some fans just because she is part of this movie, which is undeniably a bad movie, mostly though in the final act.

Halle Berry may have done some bad films, but I have to be fair to her and say that I haven't seen her do a bad performance, even in Catwoman, where she did well even with a bad script.  Here, she is given more to work with, and does very well with it, but most of the worst things about this film just undermined her work.


When you have ensembles like this, henchmen don't usually add anything to a film, and that's the case here.  Mr Kil looks interesting but we don't really get to see enough of him to have him be much more than that, and Vladimir Popov, the geeky guy who is meant to be Graves' personal scientist, really doesn't come across as much more than a geek who's been given lots of money and expensive toys to play with.


I've already mentioned Michael Madsen earlier on, but to repeat, he just is not right for a James Bond film.  His style just clashes so much with the Bond style that it is a total mess.

Kenneth Tsang is a highlight of this film as General Moon.  His acting is superb and even though he isn't in much of the film, his whole presence just adds so much to the whole film, that I actually wish he'd been in the film more than he was.

Madonna's quick cameo as Verity is over quickly, but she plays her basic role well and doesn't detract from the film.

I should also mention Mr Chang and Raoul, who make short appearances in the film, but they are pretty memorable and help give the early part of the film some nice colour and texture.  Their characters are fairly basic, but they both have a good screen presence that really helps the film.


In the first part of the film, the action sequences were quite good, and really helped move the film and the plot along.

The sword fight between Bond and Graves was the moment for me when the action sequences stopped being good in this film.

And it wasn't helped by the editing of some of these sequences which really didn't help the film at all...


I really have to turn on Lee Tamahori here as well as Editors Andrew MacRitchie and Christian Wagner.  Whilst Andrew had been an Assistant Editor on Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough, Christian had no connection to the Bond films at all.  Neither would have any future connection to the Bond films, as this would be their last project for the James Bond filmmakers.

And to be honest, it's easy to see why.  Too many sped up or slowed down shots that had nothing to do with emphasising key moments.  The editing in places really undermined the work of other people in the film, and if you notice the editing, it's not well edited.  A good edit should be pretty much unnoticeable, because you're thinking more about the story, than the editing.


I've already mentioned the Madonna song, but I should mention the score by David Arnold.  It's very good and does the job it should do, which is lead the audience through the action on an emotional level.  It's just a shame some of it was stuck with some really horrible scenes.


This film starts off as quite enjoyable and then goes south rather quickly.  Even the bad bits in the early going don't compare to just how bad the worst of the worst in this film is, which is testament to how bad the last act of the film is.

It's kind of a shame that it falls apart that badly.  If it had held it's early form, it could have easily been top 10, but the bad writing at the end let it down.

Next time on the list, number 18, and a film that had so much potential, but in the end didn't deliver well enough on that potential.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Viewpoint Blog's Ranking of the best James Bond Films. 20: A View To A Kill

So, we hit the top 20 in our countdown of the best James Bond films ever, and at number 20, we have quite possibly the weirdest film in the official series, although the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale outdoes it in the weirdness stakes overall, and also Roger Moore's final Bond adventure.  A View To A Kill.

That was the teaser trailer, and this is the theatrical trailer...

It's notable that for all these trailer promotions for the film, they're still using the same gun barrel style footage that was first shot back in 1973 for Live & Let Die, even though the films since 1977 had used a different gun barrel.

After the success of Octopus, Roger Moore had been persuaded to do just one more film and this was to be his Bond swan song.  He was 58 at the time, and was regarded by a lot of people as being too old for the role really.  But, he'd pulled it off quite well in Octopussy, so how was he going to fare here?

Time to find out.


So after the same gun-barrel sequence that we've seen since The Spy Who Love Me, with the same arrangement that we've heard before in Moonraker and Octopussy, the circle opens out to reveal an icy landscape with a helicopter flying over it, and the pilot speaks to the person in the other seat, in a language we don't understand, but we guess is probably Russian.  Okay, I guess we're setting up the enemy here.  We then, barely, see an individual against the snow, who is frantically searching through the snow for something, or as it turns out, someone, as we see a dead body being uncovered in the snow. 

There's one moment where I really cringe, and that is the moment when the helicopter suddenly flies over this guy, and the sound just comes out of nowhere.  That never happens.  You'd have heard that coming a long way off, and the sound just wouldn't suddenly appear out of nowhere.  Such an obvious mistake to make, so early in the film, but one that really just shouldn't have been made.

Anyway, we see that the man in the white coat is in fact, our man James Bond.  Information reaches other Russian skiers, and they set off after our hero.  Bond finds a locket, which inside has a microchip.  But he is then spotted, and he has to get away, starting a ski chase, which is something the Bond films seem to have done a lot, ever since On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  It was in fact the 4th such ski sequence in the Bond films, and like the previous 3, this one was directed by Willy Bogner, who seems to be brilliant at getting ski footage on film.  

The first part of the ski chase is interesting, if a little standard, but not in a bad way.  It gives us a good start.  But Bond can never just ski, and so he ends up losing a ski.  But Bond hijacks a Russian skimobile and tries to make his escape on that.  But he is quickly spotted, and dives aside, just before the skimobile is blown up.  But one piece lands near Bond and he improvises with it, to make his escape, to the worst selection of music ever, not just in a Bond film, but in movie history.

It comes in at about 3:30 in this video of the entire pre-title sequence.

Now, a lot people think that the recording of California Girls used in the film is done by The Beach Boys.  That is, in fact, a myth.  The version used here sounds way too 80s to be The Beach Boys.

Here's the real recording of The Beach Boys' California Girls, and you'll notice the beat is slower here than it is in the version the film uses.

The actual version used in the film, is a cover version by Gidea Park with Adrian Baker, which had been released in 1982, as part of a medley track, called California Gold.  You can hear it here, and you'll hear that is sounds exactly like the version used in the film.

Okay, so the version used in the movie has been settled definitively.  But why was it used in this improvised snowboard scene?  Trying to evoke surfing thoughts?  It's inappropriate for the film, no matter what you're trying to do.  Thankfully, they only use it for about 40 seconds or so, before they go back to proper John Barry music for the climax as the helicopter tries to kill Bond, but Bond uses a signal flare to take the helicopter down and signal for pick up from his hidden submarine, and he seduces an MI6 operative who is piloting the craft, and has sex with her.  Seriously?  The woman is young enough to be his daughter.  I get that some women like older men, but this feels cringeworthy.  Bond looks old here, and not in a good way either.  

This is a common theme that will crop up at other points in the movie, and I know it is present in other Bond movies too, but in this one, it feels particularly bad.


Okay, these title sequences are all good in their own way, and this one is no different, but in a way, that's exactly the point.  There isn't much about this title sequence that particularly stands out, for either good or bad reasons, other than perhaps the woman skiing on the spot, but that's a minor quibble really.  

It's just okay, there isn't a lot special about it.  I can't say much more than that.


So the film itself opens up with an exterior shot of Universal Exports, before we cut inside to the outer office of Miss Moneypenny, only no sign of Moneypenny.  Did Penelope Smallbone from the previous film, Octopussy, replace her?  Bond comes into the office and goes to throw his hat onto the hatstand, but stops when he sees the hat that's already there.  It looks like something that might be worn at Royal Ascot.

Moneypenny appears from the inner office, and she is dressed in a very fancy dress.  Bond asks if it's a little over the top for the office, and it's setting up something that will happen later on.  But we get a little banter between Bond and Moneypenny, before M interrupts over the intercom, and tells Moneypenny to "Omit the customary pleasantries..." which is a line we haven't heard for a while.  Nice touch.

Bond goes in to find M, Q and the Minister of Defence, as well as a robot dog.  Have we just strayed into Doctor Who territory here?  Is K9 making a guest appearance in the Bond franchise?

It turns out that the mission in the pre-title sequence, actually has some relevance to the plot.  Q gives a briefing detailing how one of their contractors came up with a chip totally impervious to magnetic pulse damage.  Huh, they should have been using those in Goldeneye.

The chip recovered by 007 in Siberia in the pre-title sequence is exactly the same as one that came direct from the manufacturer.  That indicates that the KGB has a pipeline into that company.  Just 6 months earlier that company had been taken over by Zorin Industries.  The Minister of Defence is wary about investigating a man who he understands to be a staunch anti-communist with influential friends in the French Government, and informs M that they have to be discreet about this.  

Bond is then told to get properly dressed, and we cut to what looks like Royal Ascot.  It might be Glorious Goodwood for all I know, but it's certainly a major horse racing event.  Whilst most of the crew, Moneypenny included, good to see her out of the office, she hasn't done any field work since Diamonds Are Forever, watch the race, M & Bond are watching our antagonists in this film.  Max Zorin, played by Christopher Walken, and May Day, played by Grace Jones.  Zorin's horse wins the race, and Zorin is presented with the prize, a gold cup by the looks of it.  Huh, was this the Ascot Gold Cup?  Or maybe it's silver, I'm not too sure.

We are introduced to Sir Godfrey Tibet, played here by Patrick MacNee, who is best known for playing John Steed in the Avengers TV series of the 1960s and The New Avengers of the 1970s.  Sir Godfrey is a racehorse trainer, who has a french detective friend called Aubergine investigating Zorin's horses on behalf of the French Jockey Club.  Bond arranges to meet up with Aubergine and Aubergine tells Bond what he knows over a dinner at the Eiffel Tower restaurant.

Okay, at this point, apart from the robot dog and the California Girls music in the pre-title sequence, everything seems pretty normal so far, but it's from this point onwards, that everything starts getting a little weird.

During dinner, they are treated to some 'entertainment', and I use the term loosely, which allows May Day to come into the restaurant in disguise, and kill Aubergine, using a poisoned butterfly prop of some kind.  Don't ask me to explain it really, I don't really get it.

This leads into a chase sequence up the Eiffel Tower, which is quite well shot considering all the obstructions and structure.  But I have to admit, running up the Eiffel Tower to escape Bond is just about the dumbest move you can make.

Which gives me an excuse to talk about the action sequence direction here.  Arthur Wooster was doing his third Bond film as second unit director, so what's happening with the action sequences here isn't being done by someone new, and also the writing team of Michael G Wilson and Richard Maibaum were also on their third film, so everything should have been coming together.  Instead, we seem to have a sequence that seems to have been put together purely for the purpose of having someone parachute off the Eiffel Tower.

In story terms, it makes no sense how we get to that point.  If I'm an assassin, who's just killed someone, I am not going to go running up the Eiffel Tower, to get away from a pursuer, you are effectively cornering yourself.  You will run wherever you can, to make an effective ground escape.

So that is my first problem with the sequence.

The second is the taxi part of this sequence.  The sequence plays far too comedically, especially at the start with the driver that Bond ejected from the car, running after it.  His reactions are way over the top, and badly dubbed too, which doesn't help.

At the end of the chase sequence, Bond is arrested, by what looks like a couple of chefs with meat cleavers.  Yet, we saw him fall into a wedding cake.  You don't need meat cleavers for a wedding cake...

Anyway, there was a sequence cut from the film here, where M arrives to bail out Bond.  Having watched the sequence, it is intended to be a light hearted sequence, and we get a guest appearance of Red Grant's garrotte watch from From Russia With Love, which would have been nice to see, nice touch of continuity, but overall, the sequence is probably better out.  John Glen says it more resembled something out of a Pink Panther film, than a James Bond film, and whilst the guy playing the French policeman here is no Clouseau, it does feel somewhat wrong in tone.  It was just one of many moments in this film that were wrong in tone and this was rightfully cut.  To me it felt like a scene out of a Bond parody, rather than an official James Bond film.

So, the next scene we see is Bond being driven away from the police station, and being reminded that this is meant to be a discreet operation, and arranging with Sir Godfrey to attend a sale at Zorin's stables.

Bond and Sir Godfrey go undercover to the event, Bond under the name St John Smith, pronounced Sinjon Smythe, and we are introduced to Scarpine, head of security, played by Patrick Bauchau in his first major Hollywood production.  He makes a good henchman here, but nothing special.  There isn't really anything about him that makes him stand out.

We're also introduced to Jenny Flex, played by Alison Doody.  She really only has this scene where she speaks at all, and a couple of shots elsewhere and that's it.  It's almost pointless to introduce her here, other than for a cheap gag, and really that's all she gets.  This is her first role in her career, and she would later make a more substantial appearance in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade.

We get a nice little moment where Bond and Tibbett find a bug in their room, and their interaction actually in this film is one of the highlights.  Patrick MacNee is a great actor, if you never saw his John Steed in The Avengers, you missed someone who was in many ways, a pre-cursor for the film version of James Bond, especially how he developed from Goldfinger onwards.  It makes the Ralph Feinnes version in that disastrous late 90s film, look all the worse.  In a way, it's kind of appropriate here to have him as part of the Bond universe, you almost want it to be James Bond and John Steed together, rather than Bond and Tibbett, but the moments with them are good and helps raise the film up a bit.  After the farce of the chase in Paris, this feels much more Bondian.

There's also some wonderful solo moments with Tibbett with his investigation of Pegasus' stable.  It's nice that we get a little bit, just a flavour, of John Steed in this film, even if he isn't called John Steed.

As a helicopter arrives at the mansion, we are introduced here to Stacey Sutton, played by Tanya Roberts, although we know nothing about her at this point.  She could be another wealthy horse owner, or something else entirely, we really don't know.  There's a party scene, which I know is meant to help move the plot along, but really, it just feels like an excuse to have Bond in a tuxedo, it really doesn't do much for me.  I'd prefer a different way of him finding out who all these people are, than photos taken with a camera the size of a ring, that's just ludicrous, even for today's technology, so back in 1985, it was even more ludicrous.  We also get a moment where Bond meets Zorin.  Like the rest of the party scene, it's weak and really feels slightly contrived.

Bond also meets Stacey Sutton here, but doesn't get her first name, he only knows her as S. Sutton from a cheque that he managed to obtain via some strange photocopying device.  Again, it feels weak and isn't even referenced later on.

That night, Tibbett goes to check out the stable where Pegasus disappeared from earlier, only to encounter Bond in a strangely suspect way.  Anyway, they discover an underground lab, where the doctor, who we discovered at the party was called Dr Mortner, has performed surgery on Pegasus to implant a small capsule of natural horse steroid into Pegasus, controlled by a remote device, that could fit into the tip of a jockey's whip, or a cane.

Anyway, a security team discovers the stable has been breached and go down to check it out, but beneath the lab is something even weirder.  It looks like a factory/warehouse, where boxes of microchips are being hoarded by Zorin.  This is never explained in the film, why he is doing this.  We can figure it out based on other things in the plot, but it's a setup without a payoff, and I'm afraid brings the film down a bit.

Anyway, the security team find their way down to this area, and a fight breaks out.  It's not as bad as the cable car fight in Moonraker, but it's pretty weak.  Neither Roger Moore nor Patrick MacNee were young guys at this point, and the whole fight feels very contrived as though the filmmakers are having to work around this, and it doesn't make for a great fight sequence.  Not bad, but not great, just okay really.

We're about 2 reels in and there's been nothing really that was particularly good, and a couple of moments that have been really cringeworthy, and some slightly non-sensical things, but nothing that jumped out at me as particularly awful.

Anyway, we get a sequence here that really feels awful.  May Day is training Max Zorin in martial arts.  Okay, I guess I can go with this.  It kind of presents her as maybe a bodyguard-type, but doesn't really fit in with the outfit she wore at the race.  An outfit like that one didn't really say bodyguard.  But Zorin ends up on top and looks like he's turned on by this, and he kisses her.  It's weirdness without purpose, really.  What is this scene in the film for?  Is it meant to show that he's not quite right in the head?  There's better ways of doing that.

Anyway, Zorin gets notified of a break in at the plant, and they decide to check in on St John Smith.  Finding him not there, May Day remembers that he was the man chasing her at the Eiffel Tower.  Obviously facial recognition and memory were not things the good Dr Mortner thought were important... you'll understand what I'm saying later...

May Day goes to get properly dressed and discovers St John Smith/Bond in her bed waiting for her.  This is perhaps the most cringeworthy part of this film yet.  Bond beds May Day, instead of May Day immediately trying to kill Bond?  Holy non-sequitur, Batman!  Oops, sorry, wrong franchise...

Next morning, Bond meets up with Zorin, with Zorin pretending to be searching for a horse in his database.  In fact he's using a KGB computer link to discover St John Smith's real identity.  Bond sends Tibbett into town to get a message to London, whilst he goes riding with Zorin.  Err, okay...

Tibbett is killed in a car wash.  It's a shame really that he dies here, it was good seeing Moore and MacNee together like this.  Meanwhile, Zorin tries to eliminate Bond using many elaborate traps on a practice course.  Again, this makes little sense.  This really is nothing more than an elaborate excuse to have Bond riding a horse.  Bond spies the Rolls Royce and thinks he's about to escape, not realising that Tibbett is dead and they plan a similar fate for him.  Bond is knocked unconscious.  Why they don't kill him there, I don't know, but oh well.  They drive the rolls to a lake, and May Day pushes the car into the lake.  Okay, so she's super strong, we've seen that before various henchmen, but this just feels tired now.

I gotta give them some credit though for actually hanging around once the car has gone down, to make sure 007 is dead.  But Bond survives by some ingenuity, of breathing air from one of the tyres.  It's actually a nice touch.  In past films, he's used a small rebreather device, but without such a gadget here, Bond is having to use his wits to survive.  It's a good touch and goes a little way to helping the film feel better, but there's been too many downright weird and plainly stupid moments for that to make up all the ground.  But it does help.

We then get a scene that I'm completely convinced was written just to get Walter Gotell, or if you prefer, General Gogol, into the movie.  Apart from two other small moments in the film, this is his only substantial appearance in this film, and to be honest, it feels kinda forced in at this point, because there really isn't any other point in the film it could go.

Apparently, Zorin is still regarded by the KGB as being a member of their organisation, but Zorin is convinced he's left all that behind, despite having used an obvious KGB computer link earlier.  Zorin did not request permission before his attempt to eliminate 007, even though they think he did.  Zorin doesn't seem to care, and we get a face off between the KGB agents and Zorin's forces.  I do love Gogol's last line in this sequence.  "You will come back to us, comrade.  No-one ever leaves the KGB."

This is kinda the halfway point, alright, it's a little short of halfway, but it feels like a dividing line.  The first half has felt kinda 'meh'.  Not good, not bad, just indifferent really, apart from some slightly and not so slightly cringeworthy moments.  Some things like having Bond rely more on his wits in certain situations actually helps, but it feels like too little really, and can't really save this film from poor scriptwriting and some non-sequiturs.  Even the quips that there have been, and there haven't been too many, haven't been bad, or good, but at least, they've been on tone.  Also, Bond feels a lot more intense here in certain scenes, something we don't normally see a lot of from Roger Moore's Bond.  Heck, in some ways, he comes across as very Dalton-esque, in the film before Dalton is cast as Bond.  This is similar in fact to Diamonds Are Forever, where Sean Connery does a very Roger Moore style film, before they'd cast Roger.

Having seen so many Bond films, I notice that there's a fairly consistent structure to the films, no matter who is writing or directing.  The first hour will always be fairly quick, getting a lot of exposition out of the way, scenes are shorter, there's often little in the way of excess footage in these films, not much filler or padding but when there is filler, it is particularly noticeable.  The second hour will be longer scenes, more action, and less compression, what that means is the scenes are more often following on from each other with less time jumped between scenes, or sometimes no time at all.  In the first hour, you could have up to a week of real time, compressed to the hour of film.  In the second hour, it's more likely to be a day at most that is compressed down to that second hour, and sometimes a lot less than that.

Anyway, back to the plot, and we cut to a meeting that is taking place in a conference room, in a blimp, a large blimp.  Okay, that's a little weird, but not totally unbelievable, as daft as that might sound.  I mean, these guys including Zorin are operating a secret cartel, but they are working against the might of the Silicon Valley behemoths, so whilst not being good, it's hardly evil either.  I do like this in a way, it helps give us a little bit of depth to Max Zorin.  Nice touch.

It's in this scene that Zorin reveals his 'dastardly scheme', to end the dominance of Silicon Valley.  Okay, that's not much of a scheme, kinda weak actually.

Anyway, one man decides that $100 million is too much money to be part of Project Main Strike, and wants out.  He gets dropped, literally out of the craft, and falls into the sea.  Gotta say, the dummy that is used here for this gag, is way too floppy, it looks so fake.  They surely never thought they could get away with that?

Anyway, Bond is in San Francisco.  Wait, how did he get here?  How did he know Zorin was coming here?  I know that filmmaking is about deciding what parts of the story to tell, and what parts to move right through, but heck, when I said that the Zorin/Gogol scene felt like a dividing line, I didn't mean it quite so literally.  It's almost like they've put two films together in one, and not well.  I do feel like we've made a big jump here, and this bit feels disconnected from what we saw before.

We meet up here with Chuck Lee of the CIA, played by David Yip, better known to most of us in the UK back then as Detective Sergeant John Ho, aka The Chinese Detective.  He had previously been in Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom.

The scene between Bond and Lee is meant to help tie the first half of the film to the second, but to be honest it could be done better.  The photos from Bond's ring camera at the party play a part here, as we are introduced to various characters who we saw at the party and get a little more background on them.  It turns out Dr Mortner, is actually Dr Hans Glau, and ties back to the Nazis.  We get some background, and a little bit of setup here for the next big sequence.  We are introduced to a Mr O'Rourke, a local crab fisherman who has an issue with an oil pumping station nearby.  Apparently it ruined one of the best crab fishing areas.

There was a scene, that was cut from the movie, where Bond, Lee and O'Rourke check out the pumping station in the midst of a protest by boat.  Quite honestly, the scene did nothing story wise, added nothing to the film at all, and was quite rightly cut.  Any scene that does nothing for a movie has to be cut and this was one of those scenes that just added nothing really.

So our next scene is the oil pumping station at sunset apparently, or just after sunset.  We see a number of guards, but we know that Bond is very good at penetrating heavily guarded facilities.  I mean, look what happened with May Day earlier in this film...

Sure enough, Bond makes his entrance unseen.  Although it is also clear from this scene that he's not the only one...

This sequence with Bond and the KGB working separately against Zorin is kinda weird and kinda non-sensical.  After all, they worked together against a common foe in The Spy Who Loved Me.  Or do the KGB actually see their problem as an internal matter?  Actually that kind of makes sense too.

In fact, that seems to have been somewhat of a theme here, in every film since For Your Eyes Only.  Bond and the KGB, working separately on objectives, usually the same one, sometimes against each other, sometimes not.  This has been a theme as much as the animal jump scares that John Glen has done in these films.  This theme would incidentally continue into the next film in the film series, The Living Daylights.

I'm not totally sure what to make of it in this film, but all I know is that something feels kinda weird here and that ain't a good thing in this film.  There's been too much weird stuff going on in this film, and we actually need to tone the weirdness down by several degrees.

Zorin and co are doing some testing by pumping sea water through their oil pipeline.  This is kind of important point here.  This plays in to some other stuff later on in the film, which is actually good.  A setup that has payoff later on.

We get a slightly stupid scene where Bond checks out a pipe and goes inside, only for it to start sucking in sea water, and pulling him towards the blades.  Honestly, the stupidity of this scene is mind-numbing.  Bond escapes by using his air tanks to stop the blades and swimming to safety.  But a KGB agent gets captured after planting a bomb, which he is later forced to defuse before he is killed, quite brutally, by throwing him down the pipe into the blades.

Meanwhile Bond has escaped undetected and meets up with Pola Ivanova, played by Fiona Fullerton, a KGB agent who was recording material at the same time that Bond was there.  There then follows a really awkward, cringeworthy scene in a japanese style spa, with Bond and Ivanova reminiscing on how they first encountered each other.  Okay, I get this scene fulfills two roles.  One, to move the plot along by having Bond learn about Project Main Strike from the recording Pola made.  I get that.  I also get that this also establishes that this Bond is old, and is a slight nod to the fact that this is his last film, so having him reminisce about past adventures is a good way of setting that up.  But really, this scene should have not have been in the film.  There are better ways to have the plot move along, and Pola Ivanova is a character that really didn't need to be here.  I like Fiona Fullerton, I have no problem with her being in a Bond film, and heck, I'd have preferred Pola Ivanova to have worked alongside Bond on a mission, not been a supporting character with no real plot relevance.

And to make matters worse, General Gogol is outside, in a car, waiting for her.  The head of the KGB, in San Francisco, waiting for an agent.  Too many times in this film, there have been moments that have taken me right out of the film, because of their silliness, non-sensicalness, many factors.  I don't normally get taken out of the movie this many times in films, except if I'm being critical of a B movie, but normally with a B movie, I'll be watching it purely for the enjoyment of the ludicrousness, not to be carried along by a plot and story that I hope is going to be keeping my interest up throughout the movie.

And A View To A Kill, does feel like a B movie, the B movie of the James Bond franchise.  If you forget about the story, and just go with the action, the quips, the individual moments, without being too focused on the story and the plot, it is enjoyable, just like a good B movie should be.  But for me, this should be an A film, where the story, the dialogue, the plot all make sense and you're able to follow the story of the film, without wondering "Why the hell have they just done that?"  That's not something I can do here.  Even Moonraker wasn't quite this much like a B movie, although it did have certain moments that were very much out of a B movie, but this film does stray way too much into B movie territory.  Yes, there are good moments that are way better than any B movie, but there are too few of them to rescue it from the B movie 'quicksand of doom'!

Anyway, we get through the necessary plot points, and we cut to San Francisco where Bond is posing as a journalist from the London Financial Times, called James Stock.  Okay, that is just lazy.  James Stock, of the Financial Times, a paper that covers the "Stock" market???  The only stocks going up in this film are the laughing stocks...

He is interviewing a guy, who I think at the start of this scene is the Mayor, because he behaves and talks very much like a politician, but he is Stacey's boss at the Division Of Oil & Mines.  Really, it's not that important, it plays into stuff later, but I really dislike this whole scene, it feels like a waste of screen time really.  It does allow Bond to see Stacey briefly talking to the Mayor character.  Bond hangs around at City Hall, and waits for Stacy to leave before following her.  We arrive at an old style house in a rural location, and Bond gains entrance.  We then get the most ludicrous gadget of the movie so far, a card that is slid in to unlock a window, an old style window.  Jeez, I'm taken out of the movie again, by something so small and insignificant really, but so glaring an error that you can just can't not be taken out of the movie by it.

For such a big house, the inside is surprisingly empty with very little actual stuff at all.  In fact, the only place this house really seems to have anything is a bedroom, the kitchen and the bathroom, and that's it.  Stacey ends up pointing a shot gun at Bond, but some Zorin stooges turn up to intimidate Stacey and Bond and Stacey fight them off in a not bad fight sequence, but again, too little too late.

There is one rather glaring error in this sequence though.  The shotgun fires 4 times before Bond discovers it's loaded with Rock Salt.  It then fires 2 more times right at the end of the sequence.  Sorry, but that is just complete bunkum.  There is no way you could get it to fire with just rock salt in it.  Surprisingly though, this doesn't take me straight out of the movie again, partially because the actual fight sequence is well shot, well edited, has a good pace to it.  It's probably one of the best sequences in the movie, but again the scripting here leaves much to be desired.

We then get a really odd sequence where Bond cooks a Quiche for Stacey and himself.  It helps to have quieter moments in between the action, and certainly this scene gives us some backstory for Stacey and Zorin, and actually adds a little bit more to the Bond character, he can actually cook for himself and not badly either, but again, it just feels a little too weird here, and the last thing this film needs is more weirdness.

The other noticeably weird thing, is Bond doesn't bed her, not right away, this is a little strange, but also good, and doesn't make me cringe, so I'm kinda happy to go with it.  My goodness, he's already bedded 3 women in this film, and he will bed Stacey later, but at this point, I'm good with him not bedding her, it gives us a new angle.

We then get some minor stuff with a small earth tremor, Stacey being fired from her job at City Hall, and meeting up with Chuck Lee of the CIA, most of this is actually pretty irrelevant, except for a small moment, where Chuck is killed in his car.  Bond doesn't know about this, as he only see Chuck's car driving away.

Bond and Stacey infiltrate City Hall and discover where Main Strike is, only to be disturbed in their investigations by Zorin and May Day, setting up the whole City Fire on Fire sequence.  Howe, the man who fired Stacey, and the same guy Bond interviewed earlier, is killed by Zorin.  Why he does this, I don't know.  Nothing about this bit makes any sense.

The whole sequence from the moment the fire actually starts is genuinely tense and exciting, it's well shot, well edited, but again, it's trying to rescue this film from the depths of silliness and craziness that we've already been subjected to, and we can't really rescue a film like this, the best we can do is just prevent it from falling further, and maybe make up a little ground.

There is a weird sequence, where some of the local police have managed to get ahold of Bond's gun, that was left behind in Howe's office.  How were they allowed to be in the building whilst it was on fire?  This makes no sense at all.  The scripting here is horrible.

Bond and Stacey have to make an escape and Bond commandeers a fire truck, and the local police give pursuit.  The whole sequence feels like it's out of a Keystone Kops movie, or Police Academy.  The main police character is vaguely reminiscent of Sherrif J W Pepper.  We don't know his name, he's just a Police Captain on the credits, and he makes another short appearance later, but as enjoyable as Sheriff J W Pepper was, this, whilst being funny, just feels weak and lazy and not well written at all.

Anyway, we cut to somewhere out in the wilds of California, at something that looks like a quarry or mine.  I guess this is Main Strike, with Bond still driving the fire truck.  Bond commandeers another truck, this one carrying explosives.  Bond and Stacey manage to secretly get inside the mine, and we get introduced to the setting for our big set piece.  It really looks impressive.  To think this is not actually an inside of a mine but only a movie set, is a credit to the talents of Peter Lamont and the movie's Art Department.  The only thing slightly amiss here is the "table"/display that shows how the plot would work if Zorin achieved his aims.  It just feels too sci-fi for this, but it's not the biggest thing wrong with this film, and doesn't take me right out of it, unlike other things in this film, so I give it a pass, but considering how much else I can't give a pass to, it just adds to the whole "out-of-syncness" that this film has.

Bond and Stacey are discovered but manage to escape, with May Day, Jenny Flex and someone else who we were never introduced to, but saw briefly a couple of times, in pursuit.  May Day sends her colleagues down an easier route, whilst she follows the same route Bond and Stacey took.  Zorin then floods the fault, and then shoots everybody who isn't himself or Scarpine.  Meanwhile May Day, who was in pursuit of Bond and Stacey catches up to them and we get a small confrontation, but May Day and Bond end up falling into the water, whilst Stacey makes it out.  Zorin then goes to a portakabin which converts into a blimp.  At this point, I think I'm going to give up trying to explain the holes in this plot, there's been more holes in this plot than there is in the average block of Swiss Cheese.  It seems that Zorin's inner circle is himself, Scarpine and Mortner/Glau.

Bond and May Day somehow manage to survive the flood and manage to take the bombs that was planted earlier by Zorin and company, out of the explosive filled geological lock,  Minor point here, the explosives are AMFO, so they always need a blasting agent to set them off.

Bond and May Day place it on a trolley to roll it out of the mine, but the brake slips.  May Day sacrifices herself to get the bomb out of the mine.  This is quite a moving moment actually, and genuinely does help to raise the film out of the badness it has mired in.  Stacey then gets kidnapped by blimp.  Seriously?  Bond grabs onto a mooring rope, and hangs on for a long time really, much longer than he'd be able to in real life, and Zorin heads for the Golden Gate Bridge.  Not really sure what Zorin is trying to do here, but Bond manages to use the mooring rope to tie the blimp to the bridge.  Stacey helps by attacking Zorin, and the blimp's cabin crashes into the bridge structure.

Mortner is out, Zorin is in his seat, but Scarpine and Stacey are floored in the crash.  Zorin orders Scarpine to go get him, meaning Bond, in a moment that channels the previous film in this series, Octopussy.  But Stacey knocks him out with a fire extinguisher.  Zorin then decides that if you want something done, you gotta do it yourself.

The final fight between Bond and Zorin is kinda weak actually.  It's meant to be tense, the music is telling us that, but the actual fight itself is poor, and I can't blame the stunt people either, it's really difficult to have a believable fight on a pipe that is only a few feet wide.  I have to put this down to the scripting again.

Anyway, Zorin falls of the bridge.  We get a nice character moment where Zorin laughs at the seeming ludicrousness of his own destiny, which probably actually in a way kind of sums up the film.

Mortner comes to, and tries shooting Bond, but unsurprisingly is a poor shot.  So he gets some dynamite, as though that's going to help.  Bond cuts the rope with the axe that Zorin bought into the fight, and the blimp moves away from the bridge causing Mortner to drop the explosive in the cabin.  Scarpine and Mortner fight over getting rid of the dynamite, before they and the blimp is blown up.

Gogol shows to M and the Minister of Defence a medal that is to be awarded to James Bond.  The Order of Lenin.  A rare thing for a non-Soviet citizen.  Bond is revealed at this point to be missing, and we get a last shot of Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, a nice touch, and the movie closes with Q and his robot dog, discovering that Bond is alive and making love to Stacey in a shower.  Okay, we're going to end the movie like that?


I really have to describe that Zorin and May Day are the main villains of the piece, even though May Day turns to Bond's side later on.  They are memorable villains, very well played by Christopher Wallken and Grace Jones.  I remember hearing about her casting when I was younger and I had serious doubts about her acting ability.  But she pulls off the role very well, without being too cartoonish, which this film kinda flirts with more than once.

Walken is great as Zorin.  He is surprisingly calm and nonchalant at certain points like shooting W G Howe, and shooting all the men, and plays the psychotics of the character well.  I just feel sorry for the fact that these characters are hamstrung by a really poor script.


Stacey Sutton is definitely more in the Solitaire mould than in the Anya Amasova mould of Bond Girl.  It is fair to say that Tanya Roberts gets quite a pass as a geologist, mainly because she doesn't really have any really stupid dialogue to say, unlike Denise Richards in The World Is Not Enough.

Stacey's screams are annoying and she really doesn't appear that much in the film.  Honestly there is more time spent in the film without her than with her.  I think she is utilised enough to make her a presence, but not too much that she becomes totally annoying.  She's not my favourite Bond girl by a long way, but she's not the worst either.


Whilst I'm pleased with the main villains here, the rest of the crew feels very weak.  Scarpine is not much of a henchman.  He doesn't have any real character to him.  Jenny Flex is okay when we meet her but she really doesn't have anything more to do in the film, other than make silent appearances, she really doesn't do much.

The woman I mentioned earlier who was with Jenny in the mine when the flood happened, is called in the credit Pan Ho, and she's another henchman, but again, she isn't utilised well in the film.  She has one line of dialogue, and that's it.  She's silent after that.  I think it's nice that we have female henchmen in that respect in this film, but they are used appallingly, and not allowed to have any real character to them.

Mortner is kinda weird here and I think is meant to be a mad scientist and father figure for Max Zorin, but again he doesn't have anything really that helps you give real insight into his character.  He has one moment when he calls out to Max just before Max falls off the bridge, but again, too little to really make a difference.

The last henchman here is Bob Conley, the geologist who Zorin employs.  Zorin kills him in the mine.  I really again don't get a hell of a lot of character out of this character, we're given very little for the supporting cast here, nothing to help us understand their motivations, their reasons for being, not even much about their character.  Ultimately, these guys are little more than props in the film, Mcguffins really, just designed to move the plot along at certain points, and not much more than that.


I have to mention this here, because once again, like Moonraker, the action sequences aren't quite up to par, and mostly it's because of the writing.  May Day's leap off the Eiffel Tower is a stunning moment, but in one shot, you can see the platform that was used for the stuntman to jump off of, and that moment takes you out of the film.

The fights are generally also weaker, mainly because of Roger Moore's age in this film.  It would look ludicrous if Moore was fighting people half his age, so most of the fights are with older guys, but it just looks silly.

The sequence in the pipe that I mentioned earlier was particularly stupid and really bad, and the horse racing sequence where Zorin tries to dispose of Bond was also very lame.  I almost wonder if the producers set themselves a challenge to have as many different kinds of action sequences in one film as it was possible to do, and it didn't really work at all.


I have to mention this separately, even though I've mentioned it a lot in the writing up of the plot, but it bears repeating once more.  This was an incredibly badly scripted film.  There was one huge plot hole, in getting Bond from France, which I believe is where the stables were, to Bond arriving in San Francisco.  That hole is practically Grand Canyon sized, and yet most people just seem to not notice it.

There are other points where you can tell the writing between plot points is very weak, badly covering up what could have been plot holes, but the writing is so bad that you almost think that the plot holes might not have been noticed by most people, considering how few people mention the Grand Canyon sized plot hole of Bond arriving in San Francisco and knowing Zorin is there, despite having had nothing in the previous part of the film to tell Bond that San Francisco was where he was going.

And there's the moments like James Stock of the Financial Times, and San Francisco's almost Keystone Kops-like police force.  Some of that is just lazy writing and whilst you might get away with one of those moments in a film, any more than that, you are pretty much asking for trouble.

The script is the meant to be the blueprint for the film, or at least, a good starting point, a solid foundation, but here, the script is undermining the whole film and dragging it down.


I know I've been very critical of the film, but it is more enjoyable than any of the ones I've reviewed up to now.  It has a sense of being aware that it's not a great film, and has some fun, and you can go along with that and enjoy the film for the ride that it is, but overall, it's not a good film at all.  And I think Roger Moore knew that, as he retired from the role.  Some good characters, some good moments, but let down by a poor script, and didn't have any major high points to help raise the film out of the mire.  What high points there were were still undermined by too many factors to make them really great, but they were good nonetheless.

If I want to watch a Roger Moore Bond film, I have 4 films I will go to before this, and they are higher up the list, and we have some way to go before we hit the first of them.

Before that, we hit number 19 next time, and the first Pierce Brosnan film on the list, and it will probably as no surprise to you, when I reveal which of his films I rank as the worst...

Monday, October 05, 2015

The Viewpoint Blog's Ranking of the James Bond films. 21: Never Say Never Again.

So we're just outside the top 20, and we've just hot the second and final entry from the unofficial films, the 1983 Thunderball remake starring Sean Connery, Never Say Never Again.  The title is a reference to the fact that Connery said he'd never again play Bond, nor even talk about him in interviews.

The first thing to note here is that the screenplay is written by Lorenzo Semple Jr.  That name will be very familiar to fans of the Batman TV series from the 1960s, where he was the script editor, and also wrote the pilot storyline, Hey Diddle Riddle/Smack In The Middle, and the 1966 Batman movie.  He also did the screenplay for the 1980 Flash Gordon movie.  With pedigree like that, you know what is coming, it's going to be high camp, and probably part parody too.

The second notable thing is that the film is directed by Irvin Kirshner, who directed The Empire Strikes Back in the Star Wars saga.  He also directed The Eyes Of Laura Mars and Robocop 2.  So, we have some really talented people in the creative angle here, who could turn this into a really good film.  So, why is it at number 21 in my list?  Time to find out.


There's no pre-title sequence, as the titles are done over the first sequence of the movie.  A mission that seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the main plot of the film, but hey, a lot of Bond pre-title sequences had nothing to do with the rest of the film either, so that doesn't exactly mean anything.  However, I do think this mini-mission would have worked better as a pre-title sequence.  But it does do the job, it pulls you into the movie pretty quickly, and not have you thrown right out.  The title music, is okay, but it's just not that special.  It's also very much at odds with the action in the sequence.

One thing to note here is that the singer of that song, Lani Hall, is the wife of the man who did the theme to the other unofficial Bond theme, Herb Alpert.

Anyway, onto the plot proper...


That mission was actually a training exercise, and M, played here by Edward Fox, who references the fact he is new as M, chastises Bond for his diet and orders him to detox at a health spa.  Kinda interesting to hear the "too much red meat" line considering that nowadays, the idea that cutting on red meat was a good thing has been long since disproved, but that was the scientific thinking of the time.

There's a quick moment here with Bond and Moneypenny, played here by Pamela Salem, which is really out of character.  Moneypenny should never be like this.  Lorenzo goofed that one.

Bond is sent to Shrublands, a health spa, and we see him roll up in what I think is an old Bentley.  It's a nice car, but really?  Why is it here?  This is 1983, you could give him something else.

Anyway, Bond is checked out by a doctor, and the nurse asks him for a urine sample.  This will play in later, but it could have been done a lot better.  I'm not really sure this scene needs to be here.

We cut to a pair of legs in high heels, walking with purpose, and the owner of those legs tells someone at a desk to open Box 274.  As the two people arrive in an area of safety deposit boxes, we get our first shot of the owner of those legs, Fatima Blush, aka Number 12, played here by Barbara Carrera.  She is the Fiona Volpe of this movie, and surprisingly, is not a creation of Lorenzo Semple Jr's but is actually original from the book, Thunderball.  I always wondered why Saltzman and Broccoli changed Fatima Blush to Fiona Volpe.  Were they a bit sensitive after Pussy Galore in Goldfinger?

It turns out that this is a secret entrance to SPECTRE Headquarters, and we are introduced to SPECTRE's leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, played here by Max von Sydow.  He is leading a SPECTRE  meeting, in a room that looks nothing like the room from Thunderball, and in fact just looks like they shot this is in a conference room in some fancy hotel.

Anyway, we are told the basics of the plot here, called for this film "The Tears Of Allah", the same basic plot from Thunderball, mostly done by Maximillian Largo on a video link, played here by Klaus Maria Brandauer.  Hmm, the casting here is a little suspect.  I'm okay with Max von Sydow as Blofeld, because he has form as evil leader, having played Ming The Merciless in Flash Gordon, but here, he looks more like a kindly grandfather, I almost wish we didn't see his face, it would work much better here.  But Largo is a very poor piece of casting.  I know that some people have a problem with Thunderball, having Domino actually be in love with Largo, considering Largo there looks almost old enough to be her father, but that never bothered me.  So I guess the producers here wanted to cast someone a bit younger, to make that angle a little more believable and it does that, but at too high a cost on other angles.

The next shot is Fatima Blush wheeling Captain Jack Petachi through Shrublands.  Captain Jack Petachi is the equivalent of Commandant Major Francois Derval in Thunderball, but instead of being a pilot, he's part of the operations ground crew.  He's played here by Gavan O'Herlihy, who was known at the time for playing bullies, small time bad guys, side characters who had questionable ethics.  This is the same kind of role, but not as good.

We get introduced here to Patricia Fearing, played here by Prunella Gee, the same role as the Molly Peters one in Thunderball.  But again, not as good.

Is it just me or does Fatima Blush come off in these Shrublands scenes as somewhat of a dominatrix?

Bond spots the fight going on in an opposing window.  How convenient.  So he goes across to check it out, but gives himself away, and has to hide.  Fatima uses a light intensifying pair of binoculars to spot him.

Later, Bond is doing some weight training, and we get a fight sequence between Bond and Lippe, played here by "Bomber" Pat Roach.  This is not Count Lippe from Thunderball, this is just a standard SPECTRE heavy, but Pat was always good at this kind of thing.  The fight sequence is beautifully choreographed and is definitely a highlight of the film.  My one complaint is maybe it is about 30 seconds too long, but it's a good sequence, and Bond eventually defeats Lippe by... throwing a beaker of liquid in his face, which turns out to be the urine sample from earlier on..

Unfortunately the next scene after it feels kinda bad.  It's M chastising Bond for destroying the clinic. I really don't like this scene at all.  It feels like they are just writing scenes where M & Bond are antagonists, even though they are on the same side.

We see the moment where Jack Petachi gets the dummy warheads replaced by actual nuclear warheads.  I know some people, like Calvin Dyson, are critical of showing the plot unfolding, and having us know more than the characters do, but in both Thunderball and this film, the buy required to believe the story without it being shown, would be just far too big to actually buy.  You wouldn't believe it, unless you saw it, so I don't really have a problem with that.

I also like the line from the base's computer when the change is made.  The computer explains that the dummy warheads will be replaced by W-80 thermonuclear devices, and then says "Have a nice day."  Now that is classic Lorenzo Semple Jr, and a nice touch.  I like that.

The mission by the way is a training mission, in case it were to ever have to be done for real.  Hmm, training missions is a recurring theme here...

We see the missiles being dropped, and some wonderful effects shots of the missiles flying, intercut with Fatima Blush killing Jack Petachi by causing him to crash his car by throwing her pet snake into the car.  One thing bugs me about this.  How does she know that Jack did his job for her?  It's a rather gaping plot hole, that just can't be missed.

I do like the fact though that the car doesn't explode on crashing and that Fatima plants an explosive in the crashed car to blow it up.  That's a nice touch of realism, that helps sell the film.

The missiles are brought down over water using a jamming system of some kind, and we get some early computer graphics showing the missiles incoming on a screen in the boat where the operation is taking place.  It kinda looks like either a Sinclair Spectrum or a Commodore 64 was used to create these images.  It's kind of interesting.

The missiles do not explode on contact with the water.  Huh?  Anyway, we see enough to know that SPECTRE have taken the missiles, and we get a classic bad guy ultimatum moment, in a NATO meeting chaired by M(?!?), and the UK Foreign Secretary.  Representatives from various world governments start rounding on the Americans, and there's a lot of cynicism being fired around.  Only those present, British Intelligence and the CIA know about it, but an American representative says "Wonderful! That means by now it's all over the Kremlin!"  This is again very much Lorenzo Semple Jr's handiwork, but it just feels a little too over the top here.  The Foreign Secretary tells M that he has no choice and must re-activate the Double-0 section.  Oh, so James Bond has not really been 007 here?  He's just been Commander James Bond of the British Secret Service?

Moneypenny tells Bond that M wants to see him immediately, and she thinks he's back in business.  We then cut back to Largo's super yacht. Huh?  Why are we seeing this scene, where Largo says Good Morning to everybody, and not seeing Bond's briefing with M?  Some of this feels a little suspect, and I'm not sure where to put the blame on this.  I know Irvin Kirshner, really likes character angles, but I don't see the character angle here, so I'm not really certain on blaming him.  It could be Lorenzo's writing, but again, I'm not sure that some of these scenes were meant to be intercut like this.  And I can't totally dog on the editor either, because he'll be following the instructions from his director.  This could be an ensemble issue, or it could reside in one of those areas I've previously mentioned, but I just don't feel that it totally resides in any of them.

Anyway, in the next cut, we see Largo in some kind of control room, and we're introduced to Domino Petachi, played here by Kim Basinger, via one wall of his room suddenly moving out of the way.  Okay, this is a super yacht, but some of this feels a little over the top.  Largo gives Domino an old pendant, the Tears Of Allah.  Hang on a minute, that rings a bell...

There's quite a good Q Branch scene that follows with "Algernon" and Bond talking, and going through some gadgets, and whilst this Q is nothing like the real thing, actually the scene plays pretty well, and with more than a touch of realism about it.  Algernon complaining about budget cuts is really kinda funny, and feels quite in keeping with the time.  Q/Algernon is played here by Alec McCowen, and is quite a good Q, even if it's nothing like Desmond Llewelyn.

Bond goes to the Bahamas, and it's in the sequence that we see Lorenzo Semple Jr's writing talent come into play.  Bond starts flirting with the first woman he meets, and it is kinda funny that during the Sean Connery era of official James Bond films, Bond was always flirting with women, and Lorenzo plays that well here.

We also get introduced to Nigel Small-Fawcett, from the British Embassy in Nassau, played here by Rowan Atkinson.  The name is brilliant.  Small-Fawcett.  Think about it, it's a hilarious send up of British double barrel names.  Rowan Atkinson is brilliant too, playing what is really an early version of Richard Latham from the Barclaycard ads, which later would become Johnny English in two movies.  A bit incompetent, and very English.  It's wonderful to see this early version, which came about 5 or so years before the Barclaycard ads, but you can see where they got the idea from.

We get our first scene between Bond and Blush in this film, and again Bond is flirting with her.  The two team up tho go diving, which I find strange.  I can't imagine Fiona Volpe doing the same, but Fatima does get it on with Bond, which is something that Bond has done before, bedded the femme fatale.  She plants a homing device on his scuba gear and Bond is soon attacked by sharks who are somehow being attracted to the homing device.  I don't understand this part and it really doesn't help the sequence at all.

Bond manages to discover the homing device and escapes by finding the fishing line of the other woman who he was flirting with earlier.  After discovering that her first attempt to kill Bond failed, Fatima tries again, by bombing Bond's room.  Unluckily for her, he goes to his companion's room, and so avoids the explosion that Fatima sets off.

Bond then travels to Nice in France, where he is met by his contact Nicole, also known as 326.  She is played by Saskia Cohen Tanugi, and is basically this film's Paula.  You'll see what I mean later.  It's also here that we are introduced to Felix Leiter, played here by Bernie Casey.  Bernie actually here plays Felix rather well, better than many of the actors in the official movies.  I'd put on Jack Lord and David Hedison ahead of Bernie in the list of the best Felix's.

One thing the film has gotten right up to this point has been the pacing.  Not too slow, not too fast, not perfect pacing, but pretty good.  Apart from a couple of scenes that didn't need to be here, I don't feel we've had any real issues with the pace.  In fact so far, we've had a good fight sequence, a good scene with Q, the early Johnny English, and a lot of material that hasn't felt bad, but hasn't felt really good either.  It feels like it could have been really good, if they'd just changed a few small elements, but also it could have been really bad if they had changed them in the wrong way.  Up to this point, the film has been walking a tightrope, and could have fallen off a few times, but somehow is still on the tightrope.

Bond spies on Largo's yacht using a telescope at the villa they are staying at, and Bond and Felix make plans to get some scuba gear so they can check the yacht out.  Meanwhile Domino comes ashore, and is followed by Bond to a health spa.  This sequence is very uncomfortable.  It's nothing more than an excuse to have Sean Connery around a lot of sexy females, and that is not something this film needs.  It is at this point that the film goes way downhill for me.  The sequence at the health spa, and the casino sequence later on are times when the film is at its weakest point.  The moment with the bouncer is meant to be funny, but just falls flat.  The "bomb with the tiny gyroscope" is just bad, as we will talk more about that in a moment.

And then we get a typical piece of Lorenzo Semple Jr camp as Domino goes to some mirrored doors and opens them to reveal... a video arcade room.  No, Calvin Dyson, casinos were not like this in the 80s, this is a piece of Lorenzo Semple Jr camp, and doesn't play badly, but honestly, the joke is a little weak.  And it doesn't get any better as Bond talks to Domino, and then meets Largo.  A lot of this "casino" sequence is just an excuse to have Bond in a tuxedo.  The Domination game between Largo and Bond is poor too, it's just a piece of foreshadowing and doesn't really do anything. You could have lost the health spa sequence and this casino sequence, including the tango between Domino and Bond and you would lose nothing plot wise, at all.  That's how bad these sequences are, they do absolutely nothing for the film.  The only moment in that whole sequence that plays even slightly well, is a brief conversation between Largo and Fatima, where there is obviously a little bit of flirting going on between the two.  Do they have a bit of a past together?  That angle would have been quite interesting and would have allowed us a little bit of insight into these two characters.  I don't know if it would have helped the film at this point, but I would be more interested in that, than watching Bond face Largo in a video game.

I must mention the Tango part of the sequence, because once again, in an unofficial Bond film, we have a dance sequence that is well shot and edited, and in a wonderful set, but really, it has no purpose in the film, it doesn't advance the plot at all, and unlike the dance sequence in Casino Royale 1967, it isn't introducing a character.  We do get a nice payoff though to the "bomb" gag from earlier, where Bond takes the 'bomb' right out of the guy's hand, says thanks, leaves him in the closet and the guy feints, and Bond opens it to reveal it's a cigar case for long thin cigars.  Sorry, no, not cigars, not for Bond.

Bond returns to the villa where he finds Nicole dead from drowning in some sort of water feature, not sure what it's meant to be.  And we begin a chase sequence where Bond is chasing Fatima.  Did Fatima kill Nicole herself?  We don't know, but that is clearly what is suggested here.

Bond unpacks the bike that Q sent for him, and he sets off in pursuit... wait a minute.  He's riding a motorcycle in a tuxedo?  That's just a little too silly.

The chase between Bond and Fatima is a good one, especially the bit where they try to load Bond, bike and all into the back of a lorry, only for Bond to escape when he uses the back ramp being lifted up as a ramp to escape.  Bond chases Fatima into an old dockside warehouse, where Bond is captured, and we get an interesting conversation between the two, that allows Bond to bring into play the Pen rocket we saw earlier on, and Fatima gets blown up.  I have to be honest here and say that Fatima Blush is a highlight of this movie, and her demise whilst somewhat exaggerated, does work.

The explosion causes a commotion outside the warehouse and Felix helps Bond escape.  Later, they are checking out the underside of Largo's yacht, but somehow, Bond ends up inside the yacht, separated from Felix, and then when Bond tries to make an un-noticed exit, a butler appears and says "Monsieur Largo is waiting for you, Sir."  Really?  This bit feels very weak, and gets no better as Largo shows Bond round his yacht.  This whole part of the film is a poor excuse to get us to our next major action sequence, and also to set up the change for Domino from Largo's girlfriend to Bond's ally.  But again, these are pretty weakly done, and really don't help the film at all.

It's a shame really that after a pretty good start, this middle bit is where the film falls very flat, very hard.  And the film really doesn't get much better.  Bond manages to send a message back to London, and we arrive in Palmyra in North Africa to get a horrible scene where Domino is to be auctioned to locals , and Bond is locked away in a tower in chains and shackles.  Bond manages to escape confinement thanks to a laser watch, and effects a rescue on Domino.  The chase that follows is really poor, and is just a bad sequence.  This particular sequence is also responsible for the blurb about no animals were harmed during the course of making this movie.  A rocket firing sub manages to dispatch of Bond's pursuers.  Okay, the gratuitous explosion count just started again.  What is it with unofficial Bond films and gratuitous explosions?  Casino Royale 1967 was bad for this but this is pretty gratuitous too.

Anyway, we're into the climactic final reel of the film, and hopefully we get a decent ending.  On the sub, Bond manages to use Domino's pendant to deduce where the bomb is going to be placed.  The sub detects underwater activity and Bond orders a check for underwater caves.  We then get an interesting payoff from the earlier Kremlin comment.  "Commander Peterson, are you equipped with the new XT-7Bs?"  The sub commander looks nervous.  "That's Top Secret.  How do you know about them?" to which Bond apologetically replies "From a Russian translation of one of your service manuals.  Sorry about that."  Nice payoff that one, but it did take a long time to get there.

The XT-7Bs are flying platforms that Bond and Felix stand on, and land after spotting a well.  They then are seen in scuba gear, getting into the water.  No offence, but where did that scuba gear come from?

Largo emerges from the water in an underground cavern.  Bond and Felix are in pursuit.  I have to say that the set for this is incredible.  The production designer obviously pulled out all the stops for this one, and it's large and detailed, and beautifully executed.  I really can't fault the designer here, the ruins that we see here are incredible.  To think this was a set at Elstree, is amazing, it looks real.  Bond tries to get inside, but is basically unable to get too far, and Leiter has to provide a distraction.  He is then joined by US marines and a bullet laden battle begins.  Largo escapes with the bomb and detonates the tunnel behind him, preventing Bond from following.  Bond gets back to Leiter and the marines, and they unleash the heavy artillery on the SPECTRE agents there.

It's kind of sad that we have to cut away there, but cut away we do, to Bond dropping into the well he saw earlier, and catching up to Largo and the bomb.  We get an underwater fight between Largo and Bond, which is a little underwhelming actually.  The sub with the bomb just carries on, and Bond has to fight off Largo once again.  Somehow the sub turns around and manages to pin Largo against a rock wall.  Bond works to deactivate the bomb, but Largo pulls a harpoon gun out that was concealed on the sub, and aims it at Bond.  Before he can shoot, another harpoon shoots and hits him.  Bond looks up to see Domino, and some other divers.  Where did they come from?  How did they get there?  I know some reviewers, especially Calvin Dyson, thought the final fight in Thunderball was bad, but this is worse.  At least in Thunderball we see Domino being rescued, and then when Largo is shot in the back by a harpoon there, the reveal that it was Domino that shot him, was not totally out of left field.  This is so far out of left field that we cannot tell how Domino and the divers got there, or even how long they were there.  Some people would use the term dues ex machina, but I don't think this qualifies.  We know Domino is a good diver, and we know that she has bad feelings about Largo after Largo left her to be sold into slavery, but how they suddenly turn up, just at the right moment, that is just left completely unexplained.

Bond deactivates the bomb, Largo dies, and that's it.

We then get a weird little sequence, where Bond and Domino are relaxing somewhere, a villa I believe and the gate is opened by a mysterious man in a suit.  Bond investigates and throws the man into the pool, only to discover that the mystery stalker is in fact, Nigel Small-Fawcett.  Yep, Rowan Atkinson has one last bit in the movie, pleading with James Bond to return to the service under M.  To which Bond replies, "Never again."  and Domino adds "Never?", and then the end theme begins as Bond winks at the camera.

Jeez, as far as final reels go, that was totally underwhelming, it had all the excitement of a damp squib and all the enthusiasm of a wet lettuce.  If the first part of the film was pretty good, the second part was dire.  It doesn't even have the modest excitement of Thunderball's final fight, and that wasn't particularly great either, but this was worse.


I have to say that the villains crew here is somewhat of a mixed bag.  Blofeld, as portrayed by Max von Sydow, is okay, but nothing special.  Von Sydow was much better as Ming The Merciless in Flash Gordon.  Here, he's kinda going through the motions a bit, but the quality of the actor himself helps it along.

Largo on the other hand, is completely characterless here, and Klaus Maria Brandauer isn't even as good as Adolfo Celi was.

Dr Kovacs is this film's version of Latislav Kutze, but unlike in Thurderball, Kovacs doesn't turn on Largo, leaving him really as somewhat of a cipher character, without anything other than exposition.

Pat Roach as Lippe is a wonderful henchman, and despite only appearing in the fight at Shurblands, is actually a wonderful little character.  He has some little character moments that help elevate that fight sequence.

The best of the villains by far, is Fatima Blush.  Fatima's wardrobe is as outlandish as her accent, and her acting, but Barbara Carrera plus it off beautifully, giving us a well rounded character, with enough distinctiveness about her, that she actually compares favourably to Fiona Volpe, who whilst obviously from a similar mould, was much more cold and calculating.  And whilst Fatima also has that, she also has a certain flair about her that just takes her character to another level.

All in all, a mixed bag that doesn't really help the film overall.


Okay, let's start this bit with Bond himself.  Sean Connery, even in this film, is still very definitely James Bond.  Yeah, his performance is nowhere near his best in Goldfinger.  In fact, it's more on a par with his You Only Live Twice performance.  But even in his early fifties, just 2 years younger than Roger Moore, who was the official 007 at the time, He still comes across as Bond.  The apology to the submarine commander, is reminiscent of a similar apology to a rat in Diamonds Are Forever, in the way that he delivered that line.

Felix Leiter is played quite memorably here by Bernie Casey and as I've already stated, is only bettered by Jack Lord and David Hedison as Felix.  Felix gets a little more of the action here and is allowed to run with it too.  It's almost a shame we don't see him in the last 9 minutes or so, as it would have been quite nice to have him there at the end of the mission, but I can't complain too much.

Okay, now to the allies.  Nicole, Bond's french contact, is in my view, the most underdeveloped character of the bunch.  She is this film's Paula, both in her underdevelopment and in the fact that she exists in this film purely to die.  Also, like Paula, she has one moment of characterisation in the film, and that's it.  It's a shame, cos the ally who dies angle was being done to death around this time by John Glen in the official Bond series.

Edward Fox's M is really lame.  Unlike Bernard Lee's M in the official series, who may have disliked Bond's personality but still respected him, Edward Fox's M has no respect for 007, at least until the end of the film.  I never liked this version of M.

Alec McCowan's Algernon/Q is a real mixed bag.  Whilst nowhere near as good as Desmond Llewelyn, this Q is a distinctive character in himself, and really quite appropriate for the time that the film was made in.  The Thatcher government of the time was cutting back on what they viewed as extravagant public sector spending, so the interpretation of Q was really spot on with what would have been really happening.

Pamela Salem's Moneypenny is in fact the worst Moneypenny in all the films, even worse than Caroline Bliss.  She doesn't even have that much to do in the film, not really.

One character I haven't mentioned is Elliott, played by Ronald Pickup.  Now, Ronald is a wonderful actor, and I've seen him act wonderfully in many great roles, but here, his character is reduced to a pure cipher, giving out exposition only, nothing more.  I guess he's meant to be this film's version of Bill Tanner, but there was no need for this character to even exist.  There was nothing he said in the film that couldn't have been given to Moneypenny or M.


The casino we see in the film, is called Casino Royale, a reference to the other unofficial film from 1967.  I previously mentioned that Lani Hall, who sang the title song here, is the wife of Herb Alpert, who recorded the title music for the other unofficial Bond film, Casino Royale 1967.

There are also connections between this film and Thunderball, other than Sean Connery himself.  Ricou Browning, who had directed the underwater sequences in Thunderball, did the same again for Never Say Never Again.

The deal that Sean Connery is reported to have had, included casting and scripting approval.


As a whole, the film is actually surprisingly weak, considering the talents involved.  Lorenzo Semple Jr's writing here is surprisingly hit and miss.  I wonder if that's because he was adapting an original screenplay, rather than writing one of his own.  Some things are clearly his touch and are really excellent, such as Nigel Small-Fawcett, and the arcade games in the hidden room of the casino, but other parts, like the way Moneypenny is written, and the antagonism between M & Bond, are poor attempts to parody the official films, or maybe poor attempts to copy the official films.

There are some enjoyable moments, especially involving Fatima Blush, but after a good start, the film just goes downhill so quickly, so badly, that it leaves you feeling distinctly underwhelmed by the whole experience.

If the writing had been up to Lorenzo's usual standard, it would have improved the whole movie.  Also, some of the casting was suspect.  I wonder if Sean Connery's involvement in script and casting approval had anything to do with that.

But yeah, this was a poor film really, but at least there were enjoyable parts of it.

Next time, we hit the top 20, and the weirdest film with the oldest Bond, a strange villain combination and some cringeworthy moments...