Friday, June 27, 2014

You Only Live Twice (1967)

The fifth Bond movie is a solid, wild yet somewhat uneven extravaganza.  By the fifth entry in the series, Sean Connery was getting more than a little tired of things, the emphasis on gadgets in the previous film being part of the issue.  You Only Live Twice is one I enjoy quite a bit, though it does have some issues.  Let's take a closer look.
  • First off, the film tends to lapse into a problem many follow-ups to huge hits have in that it has a pressing need to top what came before.  To be fair, there are some areas where this happens but not enough.
  • Another issue the movie has is one of pacing.  The film runs just under 117 minutes and while there is a heavy amount of action, there are times when you feel every minute of the running time.  The whole spectacle of it all tends to overshadow the plot in a few spots.
  • The setup is good with an American space capsule being swallowed up by a huge rocket that turns out to be deployed by SPECTRE as part of their plan to start Word War 3.  The Russians lose a capsule the same way later and if this sounds familiar, it's because it not only was re-done in The Spy who Loved Me but it was also reworked for Moonraker and Tomorrow Never Dies.
  • Having Bond fake his death is a fun twist before the main titles.  The title tune by Nancy Sinatra is also good.  The faked death ploy is just enjoyably ridiculous for something that is merely supposed to get Bond a little breathing room while he's on assignment.
  • Charles Gray is amusing in his brief role as Bond's contact, Henderson.  We'll see more of him in the seventh movie but for here, he's charming as usual.  His death also leads to a nice foot pursuit and my favorite fight in the film as Bond tails the killer to the office of Mr. Osato (Teru Shimada), a businessman SPECTRE is using where he has a spirited fight with a gigantic man played by Peter Maivia, grandfather of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
  • Tetsuro Tamba is quite good as Tanaka, Bond's main contact.  He plays the role with considerable charm and ends up turning in the best performance as far the good guys go.  Connery is sort of on auto-pilot.
  • Fairly decent trio of Bond Girls this outing.  Mie Hama doesn't make much of an impression as main Bond Girl (really just by default since we don't even learn her name before the end credits) Kissy Suzuki.  She's a member of the Japanese Secret Service and... Well that's it, really.  Akiko Wakabayashi makes more of an impression as Bond's first contact in Japan, giving a fun performance but sadly she ends up getting killed two thirds of the way through.  Karin Dor is okay as Helga, a SPECTRE agent who, after failing to kill Bond, gets fed to the piranhas Blofeld keeps as pets.
  • Osato must have the loudest security cameras I have ever heard.  His meeting with Bond is pretty good and the ensuing car chase followed by a nice running fist fight across the Kobe docks a little later provide some nice moments.  John Barry's great score helps the overall effect.
  • Bond searching for the place the bad guy's rocket landed in the Little Nellie gyrocopter and the ensuing fight with SPECTRE helicopters is a fun sequence.
  • Up to this point, the film has been more or less a run of the mill Bond film with some good action.  The second half of the film is both a fun ride but also sort of drags the film down.
  • First off, the base Blofeld uses is quite simply awesome and one of the most over the top ideas in the entire franchise.  Seriously, a hollowed out volcano from which he can covertly launch rockets to abduct spacecraft?  That's just wonderfully bonkers and production designer Ken Adam makes it appropriately so.
  • The problem comes with how much time we spend on the minutiae of Blofeld's plan.  Like the first Star Trek film, there is a little too much footage of the rocket abducting a Russian craft and landing.
  • Donald Pleasence is quite hammy as Blofeld.  He's nowhere near the genius we see in the books but I gotta say, his performance here is just so brilliantly over the top it's awesome.  He gives the second half of the film a much needed shot of energy.
  • The plan to get Bond into the volcano through a secret entrance is rather contrived and unconvincing.  Disguising him as a Japanese fisherman?  Really, guys?  And I say this in full acknowledgment of some of the oddball crap I've been willing to accept in my time as a movie buff.
  • I like teaming him up with a bunch of ninjas, though.  That's pretty cool.
  • The third act is drawn out a bit little too much for my liking, though it could be the pacing issues the entire second half has that make me feel this way.  It's nicely tense and exciting but it comes off as somewhat arbitrary.
The fifth Bond film has a solid first half but the second half sadly gets bogged down in too much f/x wizardry and scenery ogling.  It's not a bad movie, just a bit of a letdown.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a total fuddy-duddy with most genre flicks. Demanding faithful page-to-screen adaptations and launching jeremiads at the general dumbing-down of movies today, etc.

    That said....YOLW is MY kinda stupidl. I LOVE this movie. An open-air ninja academy, with ninjas practicing in broad daylight, so obviously that someone is able to infiltrate the camp and attack a high security person therein? That's just ****ing dumb. In a glorious way.

    This movie is already a campy delight before we reach the volcano lair, at which point it just becomes iconic as hell. Yeah, I saw Austin Powers long before I saw this. But I'd like to think I'd be impressed all the same even if I hadn't.

    Goldfinger is a dumb Bond Movie. So is Thunderball. But YOLT is SO dumb, it actually works. OHMSS has a similar campiness, and it wears is spectacularly, and by DaF, it was utterly exhausted. Much has been made about how parodies of once-serious works can go too far, like how the Kirk/Shatner impersonation has overwhelmed the character he actually created. This is where I feel Bond is at the peak of a similar self-parody/exaggeration.

    I'll always prefer FRWL as a "real/serious" Bond film. But of all the stupid Bond flicks, this is at the top. In that sense, it's both colorful and timeless, but also rather restrained when compared with the stupidity that was to come.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.