Tuesday, 30 October 2012

50 Years of Bond: "For Your Eyes Only"

Despite the massive success of Moonraker-it was at the time the highrst grossing Bond film- the Bond producers decided that after taking Bond to space there wasn't really any farther you could go, so they brought Bond back to Earth, both literally and figuratively, stripping away some of the more fantastic elements of the franchise and crafting a more hard-edged and straight forward spy thriller- which would be For Your Eyes Only. I remember watching this year not long after I had seen Casino Royale, and after watching that film, For Your Eyes Only's down to earth approach really appealed to me, and it became my favourite Roger Moore Bond film. After the recent rewatch of The Spy Who Loved Me, that film may be my favourite Moore film, but this film still ranks pretty high for me among his tenure. Similar to On Her Majesty's Secret Service, it has a nice blend of the big action sequences you'd want from a Bond film, but at the same time, it still keeps it real, so to speak.

The film opens with Bond visiting the grave of his wife Tracy, who was murdered in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Right from the get go the film establishes itself as attempting something more emotionally resonant in terms of the Bond character and his world. Like the mention of Tracy in The Spy Who Loved Me, visiting her grave reminds us that Bond is human and there is a cost to living the life he does. Even when he cut ties with the spy world in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, his enemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld came back for revenge. Coincidentally, Blofeld makes an unofficial re-appearance in the pre-title sequence. While Bond is standing over Tracy's grave, a priest tells him that MI6 has called him in. Bond gets in a helicoptor and flies off. The pilot is electrocuted through his headphones, and Blofeld takes control of the helicoptor. Bond eventually gains control of the helicoptor and picks up Blofeld using the bottom of the vehicle, dropping him down a smokestack

Now, the bald headed man in the wheelchair is never referred to as Blofeld, but it's pretty obvious that's who it's supposed to be, especially with the persian cat in his lap. The reason the character isn't referred to as Blofeld goes back a while. In 1959, Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels, worked on a screenplay with producer Kevin McClory for a James Bond film entitled Thunderball. The screenplay was eventually aborted but Fleming went on to write the Bond novel Thunderball in 1961, based on that screenplay. The character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, leader of the terrorist organization SPECTRE, who featured in the screenplay, appeared in the novel and subsequent Bond novels as well. When the Bond films began being produced, and Blofeld appeared, McClory sued, eventually winning the rights to the character in 1971, the year Diamonds are Forever was released, which was the last Bond film in which Blofeld officially appeared. Having Blofeld killed off was reportedly Broccoli's way of telling McClory that the success of the Bond series didn't depend on Blofeld.

I like the concept of the pre-title sequence, it's quintiessentially Bondian and the practical stunt work adds a sense of reality, which makes it more exciting. It also establishes the more balanced tone of the film-spectacular but still grounded. I do wish the bald man had been a different character than Blofeld though. It feels like an anti-climatic ending to someone who is supposed to be Bond's arch-nemesis, even though his demise ties in to visiting Tracy's grave- though that makes things a little too convienent. I do hope that if Blofeld is ever re-introduced in to the Bond franchise, whether it be the Daniel Craig run or later, he gets a better send off.

The plot of the film deals with a British spy ship being sunk. The ship contains something known as the ATAC, the MacGuffin of the film, which is an encryption device that can control nuclear submarines. MI6 comissioned Timothy Havelock, a marine archaeologist, to look for the wreckage and recover the ATAC. Havelock and and his wife are brutally murdered in front of their daughter Melina (Carol Bouquet), who swears revenge against those who murdered them, and which leads to her and Bond crossing paths. What's great about these last three Moore films is the female leads, Anya Amasova, Holly Goodhead, and Melina Havelock, have their own motivations before meeting Bond, which makes them a little more three dimensional and interesting.

The way in which Bond and Melina's seperate missions bring them together is really well done. It also allows us to see that, despite Bond's occasional cold bloodedness, he understands the toll revenge can take on a person's soul. He tells Melinda a Chinese proverb about digging two graves when you set out for revenge. This provides a nice contrast between the two characters. Bond is a professional who always tries to keep hiis emotions in check, whereas Melinda is driven by her passion for vengeance. Despite their differences, they develop a mutual respect and learn to work together, which adds a sense of urgency and genuine teamwork to their relationship.

Aristotle Kristatos (Julian Glover), is the man behind the sinking of the ship, and means to sell the ATAC to the KGB. He's a Greek businessman who's also Bond's contact in Italy and makes Bond believe a smuggler named Milos Columbo (Topol), is behind the sinking of the ship, but whom Kristatos wants out of the way because he's a former business partner but now rival. What's interesting about Kristatos is that's he not introduced as the villain the same way Bond's other enemies are. He's not a megolomaniac in a secret base and at first is someone who we can believe is an ally to Bond.

Kristatos also seems to really care about his protege Bibi Dahl (Lynn Holly Johnson), a figure skater. He tells Bond that when she wins the gold medal at the Olympics, it'll be the proudest moment of his life. Kristatos is a more realistic villain than we've had in previous films, and his relationship with Bibi gives him more texture as a character. Their relationship comes to a head at the climax of the film when Bibi and her instructor Jacoba Brink (Jill Bennett) plan to leave Kristatos. I would've liked more development in terms of the relationship between Kristatos and Bibi. If Bibi had been a more mature character, I think this angle would've had more of an emotional impact. As written and played, Bibi is too childish to be a compelling character, and she doesn't really fit in to the film. There's also her somewhat icky fascination with Bond. It doesn't really work because Moore is too old to be convincingly attractive to someone as young as Bibi. I do however like Bond's wry reactions to Bibi's advances, telling her that he'll buy her an ice cream. I also like that, despite Brink being very hard on Bibi throughout the film, at the climax we see that she genuinely cares about Bibi.

There are some real standout sequences in the film, such as Bond and Melinda being dragged through the coral reefs by Kristatos' boat, which is based on the climax of the Bond novel Live and Let Die. The ski chase with Bond being chased by some henchman on motorcycles also has a great sense of momentum. The scene is also quite humorous because you just know that Moore isn't doing much of the skiing. Bond's confrontations with the hitman Emile Locque (Michael Gothard) are also quite intense, including a car chase on a beach which leads to the death of Columbo's mistress Countess Lisl (Cassandra Harris, who was actually married to Pierce Brosnan at the time). Bond takes out Locque later on during a raid on Kristatos' warehouse, kicking his car off a cliff. It's a satisfying payoff since Locque was such a evil sonofabitch and it's a great moment of pure Bond ruthlessness, which Moore was able to handle surprisingly well. On a sidenote I also like Topol as Columbo. He's actually quite charismatic and I wouldn't have minded seeing him return in another Bond film.

The climax, like the rest of the film, is rather stripped down compared to the previous two Moore films. There's no space station or underwater fortress. Kristatos' hideout  is just an abandoned monastery on top of a cliff. While that may sound boring, the sequence of Bond climbing up that cliff is pretty exciting and suspenseful-while still quite realistic. I do wish the moment between Bond and Melinda before she intends to kill Kristatos had gone on for a few beats longer and that Melinda, instead of Columbo, would've been the one to kill Kristatos. It seems like her arc doesn't quite get the resolution it needed.

I think For Your Eyes Only is a good Roger Moore Bond film for those who don't really like Moore's Bond films. It's less outlandish while still providing excellent thrills-as well as some strong emotional beats. I do think this should've been Moore's last outing as Bond, since he was getting too old for the part. I also think this film could've been a good introduction for someone like Timothy Dalton, who, even though I like Moore in this film, I think would've made this film even better and whose hard-edged portrayal of Bond would've fit in to this film. Still, For Your Eyes Only is a pretty strong Bond film. Dalton, however, will be the next film I talk about, one of the more underrated entries, in my opinion, in the Bond franchise. James Bond will return in: The Living Daylights.

No comments:

Post a Comment