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James Bond Shakes Us In Volume 4; Are We Stirred?
on December 1, 2010
ULTIMATE EDITION INTRO (applies to all 4 Volumes)
I think fans need to accept that James Bond 007 won't be divided into chronological DVD sets, anymore. Because these movies are drastically different from each other in terms of style, plot, background, and audiences' & critics' reception... the most sensible move is to divide them up. Thankfully, all of the special features from older DVDs, plus some new bonus content, are on these Ultimate Edition sets.
With the exception of the first "official" James Bond movie on this set, I think this 4th volume represents the more action-packed side of 007. Bond becomes Japanese and trains with ninjas. Bond gets a sidekick who kicks even more ass than he does. Bond goes to space, for crying out loud! I suppose after reviewing the other 3 volumes, I've run out of things to say about this franchise. But each movie on this set is worth a look.
DR. NO (1962 - Movie #1)
---Ah, the first time that James Bond was "officially" brought to world-wide audiences (that 1950s TV play of "Casino Royale" doesn't count). I feel I should warn newcomers who haven't watched this movie yet, because while the character will be instantly familiar, this is the most low-key, modest picture in the entire franchise. After all, how could anyone know "Dr. No" would be successful enough to spawn a franchise anyway? James Bond is introduced to us when we see his hands playing baccarat, and his voice flirting with his opponent. The first time we see his face is when he gives that immortal introduction, "Bond...James Bond." When Sean Connery speaks those words, he commands our attention immediately. Agent 007 is sent to Jamaica after an agent has disappeared. The movie is more of a mystery than an adventure. Shady characters turn out to be allies. Lovely locals turn out to be dangerous. What separates James Bond from any other detective though is his confidence and willingness to get his hands dirty. Watch the way he dispenses his first henchman, and then casually carries on after the bad guy kills himself. Much has been made about Honey Ryder, the iconic beauty played by Ursula Andress, but I think this character is badly overrated. She's hot and interesting, but nothing legendary. Come to think of it, I prefer the slower first half to the second half when Bond goes to a remote island, finds the villain's lair, with a beautiful woman tagging along. I know the second half is what most Bond movies are known for, but it feels more dated that it did 10 years ago when I first saw it. But for the most part, "Dr. No" is a solid mystery, and the elusive villain is intriguing. (7.0 / 10)
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967 - Movie #5)
---Aside from a really dumb introduction to James Bond (he fakes his death so that his worldwide enemies won't look for him), this movie finds a fun story and runs with it. An American shuttle is stolen in space, and the USA & Russia are on the brink of war. The leads point to Japan, where James Bond's investigation leads to one of the most action-packed entries in the 007 series. The fight scenes are intense and exciting, and the final battle between the villain's army and ally Tanaka's ninjas is simply awesome. The whole Japanese setting is just pleasing to the eye. I love Nancy Sinatra's song and John Barry's music score. There are some pretty odd plot points, though. A sexy henchwoman captures Bond, makes love with him rather than kill him, and then tries to kill him in the very next scene! Also, the plan to make Bond blend in with his Japanese ally by becoming Japanese makes no sense when several assassins try to take him out while he's training. But I quickly forgot about the plot stumbles because the movie moves at such a nice pace and has such great style & action that I quickly forgave those missteps. (7.5 / 10)
MOONRAKER (1979 - Movie #11)
---I have very mixed feelings about this Roger Moore movie. It's basically a hybrid of director Lewis Gilbert's "You Only Live Twice" and "The Spy Who Loved Me", with some silly comedy thrown in. The good news is that this mostly-engaging movie is incredible when it works. The villain, Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), is delightfully egomaniacal, and is one of the few bad guys whose elaborate deathplans for 007 actually fit the character. The action is very exciting (except for a dumb Venice boat chase). And when the story goes to space (sorry if I spoiled that), "Moonraker" somehow makes it all work and becomes a terrific entertainment. The problem I have is that when "Moonraker" tries to be funny, it often comes at the wrong time. Bond literally shoots a tree-perched assassin right in front of Drax's eyes, and trusts that Drax's driver will still take him to the airport. Every time fan-favorite Jaws shows up, his attempts to kill 007 are filled with some comedic punchline. He can't kill Bond because a bunch of Rio partiers get in the way, and he can't kill Bond because he breaks his own parachute strap. I missed the combination of sinister and humor in Jaws from "The Spy Who Loved Me". And what's with Jaws' goldilocks girlfriend, anyway? Never mind. "Moonraker" is a Bond movie that isn't afraid to try anything. For the most part, it worked for me, especially in its final act. (7.0 / 10)
OCTOPUSSY (1983 - Movie #13)
---This one of the toughest Roger Moore movies to talk about, because its greatest qualities come at some costly prices, just like "Moonraker" felt to me. I think every Bond movie has some give-and-take involved; the difference with fans is whether you gain more than you are asked to forgive. In the case of "Octopussy", I like it overall, but was annoyed by some aspects of it. The plot involves Bond tracing a forged Faberge egg to a prince named Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan, whose speech mannerisms are always captivating). Bond's encounters with Kamal Khan and his henchmen are mostly entertaining, but then when 007 is captured, it takes a while to find out just what the heck is going on. When Bond discovers that a mysterious smuggler named Octopussy (Maud Adams in her 2nd 007 appearance) is involved, I was initially confused how she fit into the whole plot. When I figured out how the Russian General Orlov (Steven Berkoff) was going to bring his plans of global domination into the mix, I still didn't understand how he related to the other two. This sense of mystery is both a great delight and a bit frustrating. The questions are all answered, but I think the movie needed better pacing to let me know when I was supposed to be in on it. "Octopussy" uses the Eastern Europe and India locations very well, but each of its exciting action sequences has something to distract me from it. For example, an exciting jungle hunt for 007 includes our hero letting out a Tarzan yell as he dangles from vine to vine. I must say that the stuntwork in "Octopussy" is top-notch, like when Roger Moore's stunt doubles climb a speeding train or hang onto an airborne plane for dear life. Overall, I think "Octopussy" is a solid movie, but when the plot took its mysterious twists and turns, I wished the movie would've focused more on the dramatic stakes than its carefree sense of fun. (6.5 / 10)
TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997 - Movie #18)
---What a novel concept we have here. A man attempts to control the world through mass-media manipulation. Don't be mad at me if I spoiled that for you, because when Elliot Carver (a scene-chewing Jonathan Pryce) holds the movie's first meeting with his cohorts, you know exactly what he's capable of. This adventure takes this fascinating plot point, and pits James Bond against the media baron's schemes. After a pointless-but-fun pre-title sequence, Bond is tasked to use a former flame (now Carver's wife) to get closer. Along the way, Bond runs into a Chinese agent named Wei Lin, who's played by Asian action star Michelle Yeoh. Their combination of skills and witty banter is one of the movie's best aspects. Yet, I can't say why I'm not giving this movie a stronger recommendation. I think that's because "Tomorrow Never Dies" features a lot of action, with less emphasis on the spy elements of James Bond. I love the chase sequences and hand-to-hand combat, but some of the shootouts are a bit outrageous. In other words, as well-crafted as the movie is, I was constantly aware that most Bond movies tend to have similar moments. "Tomorrow Never Dies" does it better than most 007 movies, but it didn't do it first. If you're looking for originality beyond Elliot Carver's dastardly plans, then you might be a tad disappointed. But if you want bigger, badder, and better, then Pierce Brosnan's sophomore appearance doesn't slump. (7.5 / 10)
VOLUME 4 RECAP
Although this is my least favorite collection of James Bond 007 movies, I wouldn't call this a throwaway. After all, I do like every movie that's included on this set. But if there's one Volume of the Ultimate Edition collection that I'd get last, it'd be this 4th one.
7.0 > Dr. No (1962)
7.5 > You Only Live Twice (1967)
7.0 > Moonraker (1979)
6.5 > Octopussy (1983)
7.5 > Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)