Archive for May, 2016

roger

And so we move onto part 2, part 1 is here in case you missed it. The sixties are long gone, Sean Connery is long gone, and people have probably forgotten Lazenby was ever James Bond. For more than a decade Roger Moore will now play 007 before handing over to Timothy Dalton, but how do their pre-title sequences hold up?

We shall see…

Once again, a word of warning; these reviews will include spoilers!

Live and Let Die (1973)

Duration approx. 4:02

Relevance to the film: The three deaths are all relevant as they prompt Bond’s involvement. We see three locations that will feature in the film, and even get our first look at the film’s villain and Bond girl.

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He’s watching this pre-title sequence too

 

At the United Nations in New York the UK ambassador is looking bored as he listens to the Hungarian representative droning on. He’s still a bit perplexed when the sound suddenly cuts out however. If only he knew this was down to someone unplugging his feed in the translator’s booth and replacing it with some kind of sonic weapon. Moments later he is dead. The shocked assemblage look on, including the representative of a place called San Monique and his attractive assistant.

In New Orleans a man is steaking (sorry) out a restaurant called the Fillet of Soul when a huge funeral procession, led by a jazz band, passes by. Our agent (who let’s be honest stands out like a sore thumb) makes the mistake of asking whose funeral it is. Unfortunately for him it’s his own. The sombre tone of the band is replaced by something more upbeat once the American agent is scooped up by the coffin.

Finally we move on to San Monique, its night and a voodoo like ritual is being enacted, led by a man in a funny hat brandishing a snake. Another white man is tied to a stake. He struggled to avoid being bitten but the venomous snake does its work. He slumps dead against his bonds and the titles start.

And so Roger’s tenure begins and, I have to say, it starts quite inauspiciously and for the first time ever we have a pre-title sequence sans Bond; even From Russia with Love actually featured Connery. Whether this was a conscious decision not to ape the arrival of Lazenby by not making a big deal of Moore taking over the part, or whether it was done for story reasons is unsure, but it does lead to a slightly leaden opener.

It doesn’t help that our first sight is a man who looks bored, and the death of the UN representative is the least interesting of the three assassinations. We do get sight of Yaphet Kotto and Jane Seymour—not the first time we see villain or Bond girl in the pre-title sequence but the first time we see both together—but it is a bit of a blink and you miss them moment.

The murder by jazz band in New Orleans is perhaps the most inventive death, especially featuring as it does the darkly amusing “who’s funeral” line. Still it feels ponderous. It takes the procession an age to draw level with the American agent. Thank goodness they raise the tempo after he’s dead. Plus it’s an awfully involved way to kill someone.

Then it’s off to San Monique where we watch a bunch of people cavort around in a voodoo ceremony before another poor unfortunate man dies. A white man. Three white guys all murdered by nefarious people with darker skin tones. It does feel a trifle obvious. At least the film will redress the balance somewhat with the inclusion of Strutter and Quarrel junior later on, but however much I like Seymour you can’t help but wonder if they should have stuck to their initial plan for a black Bond girl.

So we have three murders of varying imagination. We see the three locales the film will focus on; New York, New Orleans and San Monique, and we get to see Dr Kananga and Solitaire, although they don’t do anything. On the whole it needed something more, some spark. It would have taken some shoehorning to get Moore into the mix, but as we will see it’s possible to have a great pre-title sequence that doesn’t feature Bond. This ain’t it though 4/10

 

The Man with the Golden Gun

Duration approx. 7:18

Relevance to the film: A lot, we meet Francisco Scaramanga, the titular villain of the piece and get to see just how dangerous he is.

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Tired of being staked by Van Helsing, Count Dracula decided on a new approach…

 

On an island somewhere in the South China Sea a diminutive butler delivers champagne to his master, Scaramanga. Scaramanga has just been for a swim and after he emerges from the sea his female companion dries him off, giving us a chance to be shocked (or titillated?) that he has three nipples.

The butler, Nick Nack, goes back inside where he greets a man who looks for all the world like a Mob hitman, probably because he is. Nick Nack ushers him inside and gives him an envelope full of money, telling him he’ll get the rest after the job is done.

When Scaramanga comes back inside he is confronted by the hitman, only before the other man can shoot Nick Nack dims the lights, giving Scaramanga a fighting chance. The two men stalk each other through Scaramanga’s bizarre maze/shooting range/training facility, whilst Nick Nack cackles and taunts them over the tannoy.

Scaramanga finally catches sight of his golden gun, but the hitman is close, turning a flight of stairs into a ramp he skies down, rolls, grabs his gun and places a golden bullet in the hitman’s head. Nick Nack appears and it becomes apparent that the two men have an arrangement, Nick Nack hires men to try and kill his boss. If Scaramanga survives it’s a useful training exercise, but should Scaramanga die Nick Nack will inherit everything.

“You’ll be the death of me yet,” Scaramanga jokes before using the hitman’s gun to shoot the fingers off a nearby manikin, a waxwork of 007!

And so for the second film in a row, Bond isn’t in the pre-title sequence, unless a dummy counts (you can make your own jokes, I’m not doing it for you!) Whereas the pre-title sequence from Live and Let Die had been a dull affair, on this occasion 007 isn’t missed.

As Scaramanga and Nick Nack Christopher Lee and Hervé Villechaize make for an engaging double act, especially once it becomes apparent that the servant is double crossing his employer…sort of. We’ve seen villains and henchmen before in pre-title sequences, but I doubt we’ve ever got such a good look at them in action. Lee really is perfect as Scaramanga; urbane yet deadly, charming yet reptilian. By contrast Villechaize is sneaky and cheeky. Frankly in another universe I can’t help wondering if there is a series of Scaramanga/Nick Nack films…

We also get a look at Scaramanga’s island lair, which is the perfect Bond villain hideaway, and the confrontation between the two men treads a fine line between tense and campy. It’s like an episode of The Avengers (and trust me that is meant as a compliment.)

Yes it’s a trifle cheesy, especially when Western and Roaring 20s’ arrangements of the title track start playing, and yes the hitman (played by Marc Lawrence, a man who made a career out of playing mobsters, and a man who menaced Connery in Diamonds are Forever) should kill Scaramanga the moment he sees him. Yes Scaramanga’s ski and combat roll don’t quite work (though Lee is a lot more convincing than Connery’s combat roll in Diamonds). And you have to wonder why Scaramanga has a waxwork of Bond (and later wonder why said waxwork is armed with a fully loaded Walther PPK!) but in the end does any of this matter? It’s an exciting, funny sequence that sets up Scaramanga and Nick Nack as dangerous opponents, and the lack of 007 hardly matters. 8/10

 

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Duration approx. 7:05

Relevance to the film: British and Soviet submarines are attacked, the KGB assign Agent XXX and Bond manages to kill her lover inside the first 7 minutes. Which might make romance tricky.

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Roger Moore actually did all the stunts here, but the film makers altered the footage to give it that ropey back projection feel in order to hoodwink the insurers.

 

It’s just an ordinary day aboard the British nuclear submarine HMS Ranger, until a quiet game of chess in the rec room is disturbed by a series of vibrations. On the bridge the captain orders the sub to surface before they lose power. He looks through the periscope and whispers “My God…”

At the Admiralty an officer who looks suspiciously like Sir Hilary Bray is notified of the loss of Ranger. A similar conversation happens in Moscow where General Gogol is advised that the submarine Potemkin has gone missing. He advises the politburo that he’ll assign his best agent.

Cut to a rest and recreation centre where a couple make love. The man is handsome, dark haired, he looks a trifle Bondish (no surprise given Michael Billington screen tested for Bond multiple times). The couple’s rest and recreation is disturbed when the music box beside the bed beeps and indicates that it has a message for Agent XXX. Our Bond looking fellow leans up…and then gets out of the way so Barbara Bach can take the message. Yes that’s right, the Soviet’s top agent is a woman!

M is advised of the loss of Ranger and similarly advises that he’ll put his best agent on it as well. Moneypenny advises that Bond is on a mission in Austria (as an aside does M ever know what his agents are doing?) and M orders his recall.

In a remote mountain ski lodge Bond’s “mission” appears to consist of seducing a blonde. He quickly sets aside all thoughts of amour when duty calls and leaves, at which point the blonde, who’s a wrong ‘un, advises a KGB hit squad that Bond is on his way. The hit squad is led by XXX’s lover.

As Bond skis down the slope he is pursued by a gaggle of armed men. Using a gun concealed in one of his ski poles he kills one of the Russians (care to guess which one?) but any hope of escape is dashed as he runs out of slope and skies off the edge of a cliff!

Guess he’s done for.

And he falls…

And falls…

And falls…

And then a parachute opens, and not just any parachute, it’s a Union flag parachute!

Phew!

Of all the Bond pre-title sequences this might be the one it’s hardest to be objective about. In part because it’s the one I’ve seen more than any other(thanks to a bit of a tradition with some friends) in part because it is such an iconic bit of Bond lore, and in part because it’s had the piss lovingly taken out of it by Steve Coogan.

This is perhaps the moment the slightly cheesier Moore era began, so how you feel about this might depend on how you feel about campy double-entendres, because there are a few of them; “Tell him to pull out” “Let me enlarge your vocabulary” “Sorry darling, something came up”.

Personally I like fun Bond films as much as I like gritty Bond films, and the tone of this suits Roger Moore down to the ground. You can also argue that things will get a lot campier, and that in many ways The Spy Who Loved Me is the peak of Moore’s era because it balances the various elements so well.

The initial events aboard Ranger are tense, and despite the quite obvious similarities between this film and You Only Live Twice, at least on this occasion the film makers don’t shoot their bolt by showing you how it’s done, no all we have is a reaction shot of the Ranger’s captain, leaving the reveal of the submarine eating oil tanker for later. We don’t even get to see the Potemkin taken!

The introduction of Major Amasova is a deft piece of misdirection that plays on our assumptions about Bond films. So of course the guy who looks like Bond is the KGB agent, and the woman is just his conquest. Except they’re both KGB agents, and though we don’t get to see XXX in action as a spy, the very notion that Gogol would turn to her to investigate the loss of a Soviet submarine speaks volumes as to her competence. In a film series not often noted for its fair treatment of female characters it’s an exceptionally well done scene.

But, finally, we get to see Roger Moore in a pre-title sequence (wax dummies notwithstanding, and you really can stop making jokes at the back there) and he is fun in this. I’m not quite sure how sex with 007 is equivalent to owning a thesaurus, but it’s an amusing line anyway. His digital watch that spews metallic tickertape is wonderfully clunky, and his choice of ski attire is about as far from inconspicuous as you can get, the back projections while Roger ‘skis’ is obvious and yes, let’s be brutally honest here, why on earth he has a parachute is open to debate (as is why it’s such a patriotic parachute) but if you ignore those issues it is a really great sequence. The camera and stunt work is top draw, culminating in that stunt, a moment that puts any CGI to shame. To this day it still seems to take an age for his chute to open, and now I know that one of the skis so nearly ripped the chute on the way down I can’t help but watch for it.

A wonderfully rug pulling introduction of the Bond girl, Roger Moore at his suavely cheesy peak, a sequence that not only sets up the mission, but creates tension between Bond and the Bond girl, wonderful stunt work and a moment of sheer icon brilliance that will probably have you singing Rule Britannia even if you’re not British. I debated what to give this for ages, but really there is only one choice. 10/10

 

Moonraker (1979)

Duration approx. 5:00

Relevance to the film: Quite a bit. A Moonraker space shuttle is stolen from the RAF, plus we get the reappearance of Jaws!

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“Good God! What’s Bond doing?”

 

A 747 is on its way to the UK carrying a space shuttle on its back. Shortly after take-off a pair of nefarious looking men in matching leather jackets emerge from hiding aboard the shuttle. Within moments they’ve started up the shuttle’s engines, flying away from the 747 which explodes in their wake.

In London M is informed—and as an aside, can anyone say “Good God…” quite like Bernard Lee I wonder? — and for once he actually seems to know where Bond is, or at least where he was. Moneypenny informs him he’s on his way back from the Africa job.

Bond is aboard a private jet and involved in yet another amorous encounter, this time with an air hostess. Before you can say “Really 007…” she’s revealed a gun (yup she’s another wrong ‘un). The pilot (who seems to be James Mason) appears with two parachutes. He shoots up the controls, intending to leave Bond to die when the plane crashes.

Bond isn’t too keen on this idea and a fight ensues. Eventually the door is opened and Bond throws the pilot out. Unfortunately for 007 Jaws was also on the plane and he pushes Bond out after the pilot. And this time Bond doesn’t have a parachute.

After a nifty aerial pursuit Bond grapples with the pilot and takes his parachute. As the pilot spins away screaming Bond clips his new chute into place, at which point Jaws shows up. Before our huge friend with the metal teeth can take a bite out of Bond’s ankle 007 pulls his rip cord and his parachute pulls him away.

Jaws pulls his own ripcord, wrenching it out of the backpack without opening the chute. He flounders around for a while. Tries flapping his arms (hey I guess I’d be pretty desperate too) before finally plummeting onto a circus big top, his fall presumably further arrested by the acrobats’ netting.

This is an annoying one. In parts it’s very good, but some bits seem far too familiar. Jaws again makes for an impressive foe but his appearance here seems contrived.

Watching them almost back to back it’s far too easy to see the similarities between this and the sequence in The Spy Who Loved Me. I appreciate that originally they were produced with the intention that there would be some time between them, and likely no one thought that someday a smart Alec would be able to pop a shiny disc in and watch them whenever he liked. But I can and I am and so I can’t ignore the repeat of certain tropes.

The sequence begins with the theft of a large bit of technology, previously it was a submarine, this time it’s a space shuttle. M is informed at which point he demands to know where Bond is. One double-entendre later and Bond is shown to be engaged in the seduction of a beautiful woman who turns out to be working for the other side. A fight for survival ensues and 007 survives due to the possession of a parachute.

Don’t get me wrong, familiarity can breed contempt but it’s also one of the major reasons behind the franchise’s success, it’s just that this one seems a little too on the nose in comparison to the last one.

It’s also a trifle illogical. As is often the case the villains opt for an overly contrived method of killing Bond. Surely it would just be easier to shoot him and dump his body out of the plane rather than wrecking the controls and parachuting out yourself? You can’t even argue that they feared decompressing the plane given that the pilot blithely blasts away at the controls. Which brings us on to the matter of Jaws. Firstly where the heck was he hiding? It’s not a big plane, was he just crouched in the loo all this time? And why was he hiding anyway once the pilot and stewardess revealed their true colours? Who hires a prominent hitman just as backup without him actually providing backup until it’s too late? Jaws is great, it just feels a tad contrived to say the least.

Irrespective of the logic of the situation, what cannot be faulted is that, yet again, the stunt work is magnificent. The aerial filming is fantastic and the stuntmen themselves do a great job. If anything this is almost better than The Spy Who Loved Me, because the back projection work is more adept, so you really believe that both Roger and Richard Kiel are there during the close-ups. The battle for the parachute is nicely done, and the death of the pilot—however well-deserved—is wonderfully horrible. The only thing that lets this down is how woeful Jaws’ stunt double looks, he’s about half the size of Richard Kiel and just sticking some tinfoil in his mouth isn’t enough to remotely convince.

It probably wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t focus on him floundering about so much. I know some people have an issue with him even surviving the fall but frankly I don’t watch Bond for its gritty, realistic portrayal of espionage (or physics for that matter) so that doesn’t bother me as much.

In conclusion whatever the merits of this sequence are, they’re let down by the contrivances around them. The difference between this and, say, Goldfinger or The Spy Who Loved Me, is that it’s hard to see how they could be improved, whereas here it should have been better. Taken on its own most of the aerial work would make this a true classic, sadly as a whole its less than the sum of its parts so I’m going to be mean spirited and only give this 7/10

 

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Duration approx. 5:42

Relevance to the film: Absolutely none.

fyeo grave

Gone but never forgotten

 

Our first shot is of an English country graveyard, and the grave of Teresa Bond (complete with year of death as 1969). Her husband James stands by the graveside with flowers. A vicar appears, running over to advise that Mr Bond’s office will be sending a helicopter to pick him up. “It must be an emergency,” he suggests. “It usually is,” replies 007.

A Bell 206, complete with Universal Export decals, duly arrives and Bond climbs on board. Soon after take-off however, as they pass over London, the pilot is electrocuted. However the helicopter doesn’t crash, instead a voice advises Bond that he’s now flying remote control air.

As the strangely familiar bald headed man with the white cat (I just can’t put my finger on where I’ve seen him before?) taunts Bond by flying the chopper closer and closer to derelict buildings, 007 clambers on the outside of the helicopter and, after a few close calls, makes it into the pilot’s seat, dumping the unfortunate former occupant into the process.

The bald headed man doesn’t think this will make any difference, but he hasn’t counted on Bond spotting the wires leading to the controls. He pulls them free and suddenly remote control air becomes Bond air.

The erstwhile assassin kicks his wheelchair into gear and tries to make a run (roll?) for it, his cat can see which way the winds blowing however and scarpers. Within moments Bond has scooped up his wheelchair and carries Blofeld (let’s stop pratting about it’s Erst Stavro Blofeld, we all know that!) into the air.

The former head of SPECTRE pleads for his life, but today of all days 007 isn’t in a forgiving mood and he drops him to his death down a tall industrial chimney.

That’s for Tracy!

Before I critique this let’s start with one point. Lazenby wasn’t allowed to get revenge for Tracy, and Connery frankly didn’t seem that bothered about getting revenge for his dead wife, and so it is left to Roger Moore to do what should have been done years ago, if only by proxy.

Because although it clearly is Blofeld, he’s never namechecked as such due to legal shenanigans involving Kevin McClory; an issue that wouldn’t be fully sorted out for over thirty years, leading to the return of Blofeld in the film Spectre in 2015.

But we all know it was him, so well done Roger.

After the world ending, ultra-fantastical two films that preceded this one, the decision was made with For Your Eyes Only to dial back the fantastic and make a grittier spy thriller, and the pre-title sequence reflects this. There’s no hijacked nuclear submarines, no stolen space shuttles, and there are no double-entendres.

Moore is given a rare chance to act and does a good job of looking genuinely mournful over Tracy’s grave, and his “It usually is,” in reply to the vicar shows a rare hint of disdain from this 007 for his job the likes of which we’re more used to seeing from Dalton or Craig. After the previous two pre-title sequences in many ways this one is a breath of fresh air, and you can’t deny it’s tonally very different to the previous two films. This doesn’t mean it’s better, because it’s not really, but each Bond film should be distinctive from the last in my opinion.

Unfortunately what’s good is counterbalanced up by the bad. Reference to Tracy, Bond’s hint of melancholia, the return of (shush don’t tell) Blofeld and some neat helicopter related stunt work are all good, but the flipside of having a lower key sequence is that it all feels very parochial. The quaint English churchyard and the derelict industrial landscape make it feel more televisual, more like an episode of The New Avengers or The Professionals than Bond.

Before I grade this one, I need to mention Blofeld’s line “I’ll buy you a delicatessen, in stainless steel!” which may well be one of the most surreal moment in the whole franchise. Apparently it’s a particular kind of bribe offered by the Mafia, but frankly even knowing that it sounds ridiculous.

In conclusion whilst this is a nice change from the norm, and it’s always good to see Tracy referenced, it all feels a little too low key for a Bond film. 6/10

 

Octopussy (1983)

Duration approx. 6:41

Relevance to the film: Absolutely none.

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Angry scenes when the director insists Roger Moore’s stunt double handles the romantic scenes

 

We’re somewhere that can best be described as ‘Latin’ and a polo tournament is in full swing near a military airbase. An exotic young woman is watching the polo and trying not to be hit on by some unsavoury military types. Bond arrives driving a Range Rover pulling a horse box, and we can clearly see the rear end of a horse poking out of the back.

Bond quickly reverses his jacket and his flat cap (James Bond should never wear a flat cap!) and he’s now dressed like the soldiers. The woman who’d been watching the polo is now revealed as a fellow agent. She gives 007 an ID badge identifying him as an officer named Toro, prompting Bond to remark that it all sounds like bull to him. Bond is concerned about increased security, the woman advises that the flight timetable has been moved up.

She plasters a fake moustache on Bond’s top lip and then he’s off, waltzing past security, pausing only to upbraid one of the guards for looking a little sloppy (which is something only fake army officers do!). Bond enters a hanger and, after knocking out a hapless mechanic with a judo chop worthy of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, he plants a bomb inside the nosecone of a fighter plane. At which point the real Colonel Toro and a bunch of guards turn up.

Bond is escorted to a truck to be taken away, presumably for interrogation. Luckily for him his companion has nabbed his Range Rover and drives along beside the truck, distracting the guards in the back by showing off her thighs. This gives Bond time to pull the ripcords on their parachutes and they’re wrenched into the sky. Bond hops into the Range Rover then uses one of the guards’ rifles to shoot up the truck.

With reinforcements on the way Bond tells his companion that he’ll see her in Miami, then disconnects the horsebox, leaving her to drive away. The back end of the horse swivels up (it was fake, who knew?) and Bond emerges in a tiny jet plane which he uses to escape the oncoming vehicles.

The nearby airbase launches a missile, but after some nifty aerobatics 007 flies through the hanger, with the missile still in pursuit, and the missile does Bond’s job for him by totalling the hanger.

With his plane almost out of fuel Bond just manages to make it over the border where he pulls up alongside a gas station that looks like it’s in Hazard County or somewhere, and tells the bemused attendant to “fill her up”.

This is another odd one. Another nice change of pace, although when you find yourself asking questions instead of just enjoying the action that probably says something.

Question number one is, where the heck is Bond? It’s clearly Central or South America judging by the Hispanic flavour to it all. Coming just a year after the Falkland’s War, and given the polo, it’s easy to imagine this is supposed to be Argentina, or some faux equivalent. Except Bond manages to get to America, so it seems, despite having next to no fuel, and by crossing a physical border. Which seems to suggest that maybe he’s actually in Mexico? MI6 despatching 007 to blow up an Argentinian warplane I can buy, but Mexico? It could be Cuba but there’s that physical border, plus the whole polo stuff doesn’t seem very communist!

The other question is, why the hell are those men wearing parachutes? Seriously what parachute regiment insists their men wear their chutes at all times…I mean is it some kind of health and safety thing in case they accidentally fall off a cliff? It’s all very convenient to allow Bond to outwit them.

By the end of these blogs I think I need to tot up just how many times parachutes have played a vital part in a pre-title sequence. I make it three so far, and just off the top of my head can think of at least two more to come! Did the Bond producers have some kind of sponsorship deal with Barny’s Parachute Rental or something?

But I digress. Back to Octopussy! The franchise has a habit of showcasing nifty technology, often of the kind put together by some British eccentric in his garage; think the jet pack in Thunderball or the mini-copter in You Only Live Twice, and the tiny Acrostar is the latest gadget to be added to the list.

The aerial work is nicely done, and the notion of Bond using his enemy’s own missile against them is a good one. After the televisual sequence in For Your Eyes Only this is a nice step up in scale, it’s fun but essentially a trifle hollow. I’m somewhere between two stools on this but I’m going to tack towards the downward end of the scale. 6/10

 

A View to a Kill (1985)

Duration approx. 5:28

Relevance to the film: The microchip Bond retrieves begins the investigation into Zorin.

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They’re just taking the piste by this point

 

We’re somewhere inside the Arctic Circle, and a Russian helicopter is scanning the icy wastes. Down on the ground 007 (who for once has forgone the bright yellow ski suit) digs up a frozen body and retrieves from it a necklace, inside of which is a microchip (futuristic!). Unfortunately despite being camouflaged for once he’s spotted by Soviet troops and a chase ensues on skis down the mountainside.

Losing one of his skis Bond uses a grappling hook to pull the driver from a snowmobile. His new ride doesn’t last long however as he’s flung from its saddle just before it explodes. Handily it’s front ski survives and 007 uses it as a snowboard to surf downhill—to the strains of California Girls, although it isn’t even the Beach Boys singing it—before surfing across a lake, leaving the hapless Russkies following to take a dip.

Pinned down by automatic weapons fire from the helicopter Bond fires a flare into the cabin of the chopper and in the ensuring chaos the helicopter crashes into the mountainside.

In the distance the hatch of a submarine disguised as an ice floe pops up to display a Union flag. Bond gets inside and we discover a beautiful woman young enough to be Bond’s daughter. She sets a course for home and then Bond impresses her with some caviar and Vodka he picked up (I doubt M sent you to go shopping, Bond!). She goes to get some glasses at which point 007 hits the engines, causing her to tumble onto the double bed handily built into the back of the sub. “Oh, Commander Bond,” she sighs. “Call me James,” says Bond, increasing to smug factor five. “It’s a long way to Alaska.” And he starts unzipping her ski suit.

All Bond films are a reflection of their time, but whilst most appear nostalgic, even cool much of the time, sometimes a film just feels terminally dated, and the combination of Roger Moore and the 1980s make A View to a Kill one of the guiltiest of this. Microchips, neon painted girls, Duran Duran, Grace Jones…this is a film at odds with itself, torn between the old and the new. Just contrast the doddery old MI6 lot with the young vital opposition they’re up against, and the pre-title sequence is as guilty of this as the rest of the film.

Let’s start with the good. The location filming is superb, the scenery is just gorgeous, and the chase is nicely done, as always, with exceptional stunt work from those on skis and whoever was on the snowboard (what, you mean it wasn’t Roger Moore?).

Somehow though, even when actually wearing a white snowsuit, its fur lined hood, in concert with his giant 80s sunglasses, make Roger Moore seem less like an ace secret agent than a rich permatanned old guy trying to pull girls half his age on the ski slopes.

The snowboarding looks like a scene out of an extreme sports video, and though I didn’t find California Girls as annoying this time as I expected, its still a little jarring. If the last 50+ years has taught us anything I think it’s that Bond should never surf (see also Die Another Day). I have to ask as well why Bond only seems to be armed with a flare?

Really it’s with the appearance of Bond’s escape vehicle that this pre-title sequence begins to truly plumb the depths. First off is it really as inconspicuous as it appears to be? You’re telling me the Russians aren’t going to notice an ice floe heading away at speed? The Union flag inside the hatch I can live with, even approve of, but the décor inside is a little…odd.

I mean did Q Branch really build a super-secret camouflaged boat and make the interior look like some kind of groovy bachelor pad? It has a double bed, a double bed, Austin Powers pulled that kind of thing as a joke, but here it’s utterly serious.

And then there’s the girl. Now Bond’s attitude to women has always been a trifle 20th Century, and on the whole I don’t mind, Bond’s a single guy and for me he can have consensual relations with as many women as he likes, but there is something exceptionally creepy about the way he drops her onto the bed and just starts undressing her. You can’t shake the feeling that MI6 are now intentionally assigning young woman to go on missions with him for the express purpose of giving him someone to shag. It’s not terrible, but still only rates 5/10 for me.

 

The Living Daylights (1987)

Duration approx. 6.36

Relevance to the film: The murder of the 00 Agent feeds into Koskov and Whitaker’s Smiert Spionom plot.

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“Hello, is that Girls Inc. This is James Bond and I’d like to speak to your supervisor. I distinctly ordered a blonde for this film.”

 

Flying high above Gibraltar M is briefing three 00 agents in the back of a Hercules. This is a training exercise and the 00 Section has been chosen to try infiltrating the radar installation on the island, if they can get past the SAS who will be expecting them.

Our three 00 agents jump from the back of the plane and parachute down to the island. The SAS may be expecting them but it looks like someone else is as well as a mysterious figure in black watches the agents’ descent through binoculars.

One of the men immediately starts repacking his parachute (because you never know, right?). A second agent gets snagged by a tree and by the time he unhooks himself he’s been spotted and ‘shot’ by an SAS soldier. The third 00 Agent has used his grappling hook and is now climbing up the rock face. Unbeknownst to him the mysterious watcher is waiting at the top of the cliff. When a soldier appears and shoots him with a paintball the man turns and shoots the soldier with a real bullet, before he sends a message down to the 00 Agent tied to a karabiner. 004 doesn’t get a chance to read it before the assassin up top has cut through his rope, and the 00 agent falls to his death.

Hearing the scream 007 (who in a shock twist isn’t Roger Moore) investigates. He finds the dead soldier and the cut rope. He then hears gunfire and sets off.

The assassin has killed another soldier and stolen a Land Rover. Bond races after him, shoving another SAS solider out of the way before jumping onto the back of the Land Rover.

When it smashes through a checkpoint a soldier with a real gun sprays bullets at the vehicle, starting a fire in the boxes of explosives and ammunition in the back. Meanwhile Bond hangs on for dear life as the assassin tries to shake him off, and manages to avoid being shot when the assassin tries to shoot him through the roof of the Land Rover.

The Land Rover smashes through a tourist area and Bond uses his knife to cut through the roof and clamber inside where he and the assassin grapple with one another even as boxes drop out the back of the Land Rover and explode.

As the two men continue to wrestle for the control of the vehicle it smashes through a wall and off the edge of the cliff. Thankfully because 007 repacked his parachute he can make a hasty exit, leaving the assassin to his fate as the Land Rover explodes.

Down below a bikini clad woman on a luxury yacht is on the phone to her friend bemoaning the poor quality of men on offer, when 007 lands on top of her boat, swings onto the deck and snatches the phone off her. He introduces himself (in the way only 007 can) then advises mission control that he’ll report in one hour. She offers him a drink. “Better make that two,” says Bond.

 

Ah the first pre-title sequence I ever saw on the big screen. Dalton was my first cinematic Bond, which may play some part in why I like him so much, or it could just be because he’s so ruddy awesome. I would like to think that even if I wasn’t a Dalton fan this would be obviously a very good pre-title sequence.

Yes it hinges on a parachute, again, but this might be the instance that makes most sense. 007 parachutes onto Gibraltar and his innate boyscoutedness leads him to spend a few minutes repacking his chute. Frankly it makes more sense than it has previously (or will subsequently).

Again the decision was made not to reveal Dalton too early, which frankly makes little sense unless people were going to the cinema without reading a newspaper or seeing a poster beforehand. Still the reveal as he hears a scream is nicely done.

The fates of the other two 00 Agents are well handled, with 002’s paintball ‘death’ providing a nice spot of humour in what is a fairly gritty sequence. 004’s actual death is nastier, as is the murder of the two soldiers.

There’s a certain raw energy to this sequence lacking for the last few films. It helps that Dalton looks the part, and that he did a fair amount of his own stunts, and it isn’t anywhere near as easy to see the joins where a stuntman has been used as it was with the latter Moore films, and I think you can argue that this is the first truly modern pre-title sequence.

It’s a taut action scene that doesn’t outstay its welcome. The Gibraltar locale is well used and John Barry’s soundtrack complements the action well. Dalton hanging onto the roof of the Land Rover is a great sequence, and once he’s inside the car he proves he’s as handy in an enclosed space as any other 007, as well as becoming the first Bond to add head butting to his violent repertoire.

After he escapes the exploding vehicle we get an amusing, and very Bond, end to the pre-title sequence as he—of course—scores with a beautiful woman. Even here though there’s a change. There’s none of that slightly creepy stuff that’s gone on elsewhere. Here it is the woman who propositions Bond. Of course he doesn’t turn her down, but then he is James Bond. An almost flawless introduction for the new, younger, grittier James Bond. 9/10

 

Licence to Kill (1989)

Duration approx. 7.55

Relevance to the film: Quite a bit. We meet Sanchez, Lupe, Felix’s doomed wife and even snatch a glimpse of Benicio del Toro as Dario.

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James Bond at a wedding? I’m sure this will work out just fine!

 

We open with a US coast guard AWACS plane flying over the Caribbean. They’re tracking a private plane that has deviated from its course to land on a small island. One of the men remarks that “if they hurry they might just catch the bastard.”

Meanwhile in Florida Bond is in a limo with his friends Sharky and Felix Leiter (David Hedison becoming the only man until Jeffrey Wright to play Felix more than once) on their way to Felix’s wedding. They’re stopped by a coastguard helicopter with two armed DEA agents inside who advise that a man called Sanchez is in the Bahamas. Felix goes to join them, telling Bond to let Della know there’s been a delay to the wedding. Bond refuses and insists on going along, leaving Sharky to be the one to relay the bad news.

Meanwhile Sanchez and his men burst into a bedroom where Lupe is in bed with a man. Sanchez’s goons grab the guy and Sanchez asks if he promised her his heart? Then orders his men to give her his heart. The man is dragged away to his off-screen demise, whilst Sanchez puts Lupe over his knee and begins whipping her.

Meanwhile back in Florida Della and her grumpy father are advised by Sharky to go round the block again as they wait for Felix.

The helicopter lands near to Sanchez’s plane but Sanchez has anticipated this and leaps from the jeep and into the buses. Felix and the DEA agents engage in a gun battle with Sanchez’s goons and, despite Felix telling him to just observe, Bond gets in on the action, shooting the jeep and causing it to crash. As the goons run off he briefly speaks with Lupe who refuses his offer of help.

Suddenly an engine revs up and Sanchez takes off in a light aircraft he had stashed out of sight. Bond and co pile back into the helicopter but Felix says Sanchez will be back inside Cuban airspace before they can stop him. Bond disagrees, he straps on a parachute before grabbing the helicopter’s winch and saying “Let’s go fishing.”

Felix winches Bond down until he lands on the tail of Sanchez’s plane. The drugs lord is helpless to do anything as Bond loops the winch cable around the tail, allowing the helicopter to take the strain, leaving Sanchez trapped.

Bond and Felix then make the greatest wedding entrance ever by parachuting down to the church. As they’re led into the church, Bond clutching his top hat complete with bullet hole, several of the bridesmaids grab the parachutes of Bond and Felix as if they were bridal trains.

 

This pre-title sequence really has only one flaw, unfortunately that flaw runs through the whole sequence and it comes down to this; This is a pre-title sequence that is tonally at odds with itself.

Bond often walks a darkly humorous line, why else does 007 feel the need to quip after mercilessly killing yet another henchman, but the contrast seems more extreme in this sequence. Let us not forget that this was the first (and so far only) 15 certificate Bond film, it is also one of a handful of films to feature a Bond villain torn from the pages of the newspapers. Yes Sanchez’s fake televangelist set up is ridiculous, but he is most assuredly not. This is no Drax, no Goldfinger. The trouble comes in marrying that kind of villain with familiar Bond tropes which, as we see here, isn’t always easy.

And so we have a man having his heart cut out (off screen admittedly but you do hear him scream) and we have a woman whipped (nice reference to The Hildebrand Rarity notwithstanding). We have a fairly gritty gun battle and actors like Davi and del Toro at their scary best.

And then we have some ridiculous humour at Sharkey’s expense, the grumpy father of the bride saying he knew this was a mistake (oh if only he know how much of a mistake) and then we have Bond and Leiter parachuting into the wedding (yes parachutes, again!) and then having their chutes picked up like they were the trains of wedding dresses.

Don’t get me wrong, individually these elements are good, it’s just that they jar a little when combined.

Now you could argue that Felix’s joy is supposed to be short lived, and this feeds into Bond’s need for vengeance, it’s just that, for me, I’d have toned down either the violence or the silliness.

Other than that the locales provide something a little different, and you can’t argue that going fishing for a plane isn’t quite an original set up, as is their unique wedding entrance, so it isn’t that I don’t think this is a good pre-title sequence, I just don’t think it’s a great one. 7/10

 

So that’s the end of part 2, we’re two thirds of the way through my review now and so far the rankings look like this:

  1. The Spy Who Loved Me
  2. Goldfinger
  3. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  4. The Living Daylights
  5. The Man with the Golden Gun
  6. Licence to Kill
  7. Moonraker
  8. Octopussy
  9. For Your Eyes Only
  10. You Only Live Twice
  11. Thunderball
  12. Diamonds are Forever
  13. Dr No
  14. From Russia with Love
  15. A View to a Kill
  16. Live and Let Die

All this can change however, because there’s eight pre-title sequences still to review, and two new 007s, so join me next time when Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig visit the bathroom!

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The Pre-title sequences is a mainstay of the Bond franchise. A feature of almost every Bond film, a mini-movie (usually) sandwiched between the gun barrel opening and the title track. They’re an initial burst of action before we settle down to the film proper. Often they’re related to the film’s wider plot, but this isn’t always the case. On occasion they don’t even feature 007, but one thing is almost certain; someone dies, or at least appears too…

I’ve always been a big fan of the pre-title sequences, to the point where sometimes, if I have a free five or ten minutes, I might watch one at random. Like I say they’re usually a miniature movie, ideal for when you want a bit of adventure but are pushed for time.

What I’ve always wanted to do was watch them all in sequence, so here we are, a new series of blog postings where I’ll review each pre-title sequence in turn, rate them and finally rank them. I’m going to split them across three blogs. This first one will cover all the Connery films, plus Lazenby’s solo outing. Next I’ll cover Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton, and finally I’ll get onto Brosnan and Craig. By the end of the third blog I should have my definitive ranking of the whole lot of them…at least until Bond 25 comes out. Obviously these blogs will contain spoilers!

You may agree with me, you may violently disagree with me, but hopefully you’ll find this little journey of interest. And now, to coin a phrase from The Sound of Music, let’s start at the very beginning…

Dr No (1962)

Duration approx. 2:28

Relevance to the film: The death of Strangways necessitates Bond’s assignment to Jamaica, plus references to Crab Key and Dr No.

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The seem harmless enough

I know what you’re thinking, Dr No doesn’t have a pre-title sequence, and you’d be right. This is the only Bond film not to, but it seems a trifle unfair to exclude one film out of 24, so I’m going to cheat a little. I hope you won’t think it deceitful of me.

You see I think Dr No has a perfectly serviceable pre-title sequence. It’s just not, er, pre the titles. I am of course referring to the initial murder of MI6 agent Strangways and his secretary in Jamaica by a trio of assassins. Imagine if you will, the gun barrel has just ended, only this time instead of us leaping straight into the titles we hear the Caribbean inflected version of Three Blind Mice, and see three blind men walking down the road on their way to a date with death…

I actually think it would work, and you wouldn’t even need to do much editing. It has many of the qualities of a classic pre-title sequence. The trio of assassins with their fake blindness make for a quirky threat, and we then have two British agents horribly murdered even as they try to contact London, and finally we have one of the assassins rooting around in their filing cabinet, pulling out first a file marked Crab Key, and then a second file labelled Dr No….

…and, cue music.

When the titles end we fade back in to London and the other end of the rudely interrupted conversation. I think that works very well, and whilst the lack of 007 is a bit jarring in a pre-title sequence, this is made up for by the initial references to Dr No, and the seemingly innocuous trio who turn out to be quite murderous. So I’m going to award my contrived pre-title sequence a solid 6/10.

 

From Russia with Love (1963) 

Duration approx. 2:30

Relevance to the film: Introduces Red Grant as an adversary.

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Few people are aware of the Bond/ Weeping Angles crossover episode

And so onto the second Bond film, and the first pre-title sequence proper. It’s the dead of night and a dinner jacketed Bond is stalked through the garden of a country house by Robert Shaw’s Red Grant. Bond has the edge because he’s armed, but so it seems is Grant, and one garrotting later 007 is dead.

Or rather he isn’t, because lights flare into being and we suddenly realise this is a training exercise for SPECTRE (although we don’t know this at the time) and that the man we thought was Bond is some patsy in an extremely convincing mask.

I imagine that if you were sat there on opening night this would have been quite shocking—Bond’s killed in the first few minutes after all—but hindsight isn’t kind to this particular pre-title sequence. Yes it’s nicely staged for the most part, Connery is actually doing a nice turn as someone other than Bond, and it does show us how lethal Red Grant is (the first but not the last time a villain will turn up in a film before 007) but once you know the twist there’s little else to enjoy here, and it doesn’t even segue into the titles particularly well. Grant’s superior rips the fake Bond’s mask off and they just start walking back towards the house. There’s no explanation as to why Grant is hunting someone disguised as Bond, which is fine, we don’t have to have everything explained, but a pithy “Well done, Grant. Now for the real thing” might have helped somewhat.

So despite this being a top drawer Bond film, I’m giving this bit of it a below par 5/10.

 

Goldfinger (1964)

Duration approx. 4:20

Relevance to the film: Nothing apparent, this seems to be an unrelated mission.

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And that’s why Bond only takes showers

Its night time again and this time we appear to be in Central or South America. A duck swims up to the quayside, only it’s actually the camouflaged snorkel of 007 who clambers out of the water before using a grappling hook to infiltrate what looks like an oil refinery. Within a minute he’s incapacitated a guard and set explosives inside a Ken Adams’ designed villainous lair concealed within a silo.

By the time the explosives go off Bond is looking suave in a white tuxedo in a local bar. He’s advised not to go back to his hotel room, and that there’s a plane out of the country leaving in an hour. Before then he has some unfinished business, which because this is James Bond of course means a woman.

Before he can get very far with the attractive flamenco dancer he’s accosted by a cosh wielding thug. A short fight ensues that’s ended in spectacular fashion when a bathtub full of water meets an electric heater…

I’ll be honest here. I think Goldfinger is slightly overrated, but what you can’t deny is that it was the first iconic Bond film, the one that set the template for so many to follow, and the pre-title sequence is no exception. Hell it’s so iconic James Cameron and Arnie homage it in True Lies 30 odd years later.

It’s amazing to consider how much is packed into less than four and a half minutes. Bond’s duck disguise is amusing, and his infiltration of the heroin distribution centre thrilling, backed as it is by the 007 theme. Slipping off his wetsuit to reveal a Dinner Jacket is the epitome of cool, as is calmly enjoying a cigarette as his explosives detonate. He has time to romance a beautiful woman (or at least start to romance her) even going so far as to self-deprecatingly tell her that he always carries his Walther because he has an inferiority complex. As with many ladies who feature in pre-title sequences however, she’s a wrong-un, but thankfully Bond sees the thug reflected in her eyes and she ends up taking the brunt of his attack. A brutal fight ensues before the thug ends up in the bath, but with Bond’s PPK. Luckily there’s an electric heater in the room (isn’t this supposed to be the Caribbean or somewhere?) and before you know it the thug is dead and Bond gets to deliver an iconic pun. “Shocking, truly shocking.”

Really it’s hard to think what else they could have squeezed in here? It’s fun, thrilling, brutal and, in the end, darkly humorous. The quintessential Bond pre-title sequence, so it has to get 10/10.

 

Thunderball (1965)

Duration approx. 4:05

Relevance to the film: Tangential, Bouvar’s death is referenced by SPECTRE but that’s about it.

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To infinity and beyond!

Accompanied by a French agent Bond attends the funeral of Colonel Jacques Bouvar, a SPECTRE assassin who Bond very much wanted to kill himself, due to Bouvar killing two of his fellow agents. 007 is suspicious when Bouvar’s widow opens the car door herself and follows her back to a château where “she” is revealed as Bouvar. A brutal fight ensues and Bond ensures that Bouvar dies for real.

Armed men arrive so Bond makes a hasty exit via jet pack and his trusty DB5…

I’m not a huge fan of Thunderball, but in fairness the pre-title sequence does have its moments. The JB tease suggesting we’re at Bond’s funeral is a trifle cheeky given it was only two films ago that a film again started with the supposed “death” of Bond, but the joke isn’t overdone at least.

Bond working out that the SPECTRE agent is masquerading as his own widow because “she” doesn’t let someone open a door for her feels a little too resonant with Bond twigging Red Grant wasn’t who he appeared to be because of his taste in wine, but the sight of Bond punching out a grieving widow almost makes up for it (and would decades later inspire an amusing homage in the first –and best— Austin Powers’ film “She’s a man, baby!”) and 007’s fight with Bouvar is quite good.

His escape by jet pack probably looked cool in 1965, but the back projection is really obvious and it seems a ridiculous way to get in and out of the château, especially given how much noise and smoke it creates. We then get Bond’s DB5 suffering a spot of engine trouble necessitating the use of its bullet proof shield and oil cannons, which seems a trifle contrived so, if only for the widow punching and the fight, I’m grudgingly going to give it 6/10

 

 

You Only Live Twice (1967)

Duration approx. 5:20

Relevance to the film: Quite a bit given it starts with SPECTRE stealing an American spaceship.

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It’s behind you…

An American Gemini capsule is orbiting around the Earth. One of the astronauts ventures outside for an EVA, at which point mission control advise that there is an unidentified object on an intercept course with them. Suddenly another spacecraft appears, as the horrified astronaut out in space watches the front of the craft opens up and it proceeds to swallow the Gemini capsule whole. As the jaws of the intruder snap shut they cut the astronaut’s lifeline, leaving him drifting in space…

On Earth we’re privy to a summit meeting, which appears to be conducted inside a radar station somewhere in Alaska or Finland. The Americans claim the Soviets are responsible for the loss of the Gemini, the Russians claim innocence. Luckily the ever diplomatic Brits are on hand to suggest that maybe it wasn’t the USSR after all, because their tracking station thinks the intruder splashed down somewhere in the sea of Japan. Don’t worry, say the British, we have our best man looking into it.

Cut to Hong Kong where 007 is, or course, in bed with a woman. After a spot of casual racism (“why do Chinese girls taste different?”) Bond’s latest conquest flips the bed back into the wall with Bond still inside (maybe she didn’t like being compared to Peking duck, eh James?) and two men burst in with submachine guns and riddle the bed with bullets.

Later the police arrive to confirm Bond’s death. They don’t seem terribly upset about 007’s demise, and console themselves that at least he died on the job.

Yes, that’s right. It’s only the fifth Bond film, and for the third time (remembering that the first film didn’t even have one) the pre-title sequence teases us that Bond is dead. Seriously? I guess it wasn’t that noticeable when you were watching films years apart, but watching the sequences one after another it’s a little jarring.

At least this time it has a point in that it’s a ploy designed to give Bond free reign to investigate once everyone thinks he’s dead. Because of course if you want a man to keep a low profile it helps to plaster his picture all over the newspapers and point out he’s a British naval office…

…but I digress. This is actually quite a good pre-title sequence. Better than I remember. Any pretence at making gritty realistic spy dramas (if there ever was any pretence after From Russia with Love) is jettisoned immediately. We’re in space! The effects aren’t bad given the time, and the approach of the SPECTRE craft is quite eerie, accompanied by John Barry’s wonderful space score, and the death of the unfortunate astronaut is quite grisly. Really this sequence wouldn’t look out of place in an actual science fiction film.

The setting for the summit meeting is wonderful, even if the British seems surprisingly trusting of those dastardly Russians.

And then Connery finally shows up, make some innuendos and gets shot to death (he’s really dead this time, promise!). It’s an interesting scene even if the line about Chinese girls is a little wince inducing. Still, there’s a lot to like here, and at least the reveal that Bond isn’t dead waits until after the titles this time, so for me this sneaks a 7/10

 

 

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Duration approx. 5.50

Relevance to the film: Bond meets the love of his life, the woman he’ll marry at the end of the film, so yeah, pretty relevant.

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My career can only go up from here!

In the Offices of Universal Exports Q is boring M with the latest in miniaturisation, radioactive fluff! M just wants to know where 007 is, but even Moneypenny has no idea.

Cut to somewhere in Europe where Bond is overtaken by a woman in a sports car. He initially gives chase before relaxing and opting instead to have a fag. A few moments later he comes across the woman’s car and spots her down on the beach. As he watches through the telescopic scope of his rifle, the woman kicks off her shoes and wades out to sea.

Bond immediately drives onto the beach before racing into the sea, preventing the woman from drowning herself. If he was expecting a thankyou he was mistaken, instead two thugs appear. One takes the woman away, the other plans to shoot Bond, until 007 gets the upper hand. After a fight Bond incapacitates the two men, however the woman has nabbed his car, using it to drive up to the road where she switches to her own vehicle and races away, leaving Bond holding her shoes and bemoaning that; “This never happened to the other fellow.”

And so begins the first Bond film without Connery, and also probably the most faithful to a book other than From Russia with Love. It’s clear from the off that the producers are keen to have us believe that this is still a Bond film. The first three people we see are M, Q and Moneypenny, it’s all about the familiar.

Even when Bond does show up we don’t see much of him, his silhouette from behind as he drives, his chin as he lights a cigarette, in fact we probably get a clearer look at Diana Rigg before we see Lazenby. We get a blink and you’ll miss him glimpse as he races from the car, but the first proper look is after he’s rescued Tracy. He looks down, smiles, and introduces himself the way only Bond can.

It’s a curious thing to say, but given this is the longest pre-title sequence to date it’s one of the least jam packed. There’s no infiltration of a drug baron’s lair, no jet packs and no orbital shenanigans, and yet in many ways it’s all the better for it. Playing the 007 theme over the top of the action helps, and is yet another signal that we can relax; this is still a Bond film.

The reveal of Lazenby is nicely done, the audience effectively see him properly the first time Tracy does. The arrival of the two thugs spoils the mood (although let’s be honest, she likely wouldn’t be too happy with him preventing her suicide even before her dad’s goons show up). In hindsight it’s a little odd that one of the men puts a knife to her throat given they’re obviously there to protect her, but I guess you can explain this away by saying the action is for Bond’s benefit rather than an explicit threat against Tracy.

The fight is great, moving as it does in and out of the sea, and its clear Lazenby does a lot of his own stunts, and boy can he throw a punch! There’s some proper haymakers going on there. Bond still gets no thanks though, the beautiful woman is gone and all he’s left with is her shoes, which is a nice Cinderella style touch.

And then there’s that line, probably the closest Bond has ever got to breaking the fourth wall, and how you feel about this pre-title sequence might come down to how you feel about the ‘other fellow’ line.

Yes it’s a touch obvious, but then a fair few things early on are, and you have to remember that this was a big deal. Nowadays, however people might feel about Dalton replacing Moore, Brosnan replacing Dalton, or Craig replacing Brosnan, they understand that Bond actors change, it’s the nature of the beast. But in 1969 it wasn’t, and so I think we can forgive them for lampshading the issue. Personally I love the line, but then I love OHMSS, and whilst Lazenby wasn’t necessarily the greatest actor in the world, he was the perfect Bond for this film; he’s vulnerable and fallible. He saves a woman’s life, fights off two armed thugs, but he doesn’t get the girl. Given how the film ends that moment is awfully prescient. There isn’t really anything I dislike about this one (ok maybe the overdoing it with the punch sound effects but that’s all) so I’ll go 9/10

 

Diamonds are Forever (1971)

Duration approx. 4.02

Relevance to the film: Bond tracks down Blofeld and believes he’s killed him.  It introduces us to the new Blofeld and the concept that he has doubles.

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Interesting fact. Connery originally auditioned for the role of Mr Wint…

Interior, a Japanese house. Restful music plays before a man is thrown through a paper dividing wall. The man beating the unfortunate victim up demands to know where Blofeld is, and is directed to Cairo.

Cut to a casino where an Egyptian man in a fez is similarly roughed up. He directs Bond to a woman named Marie.

Marie is sunning herself by the pool and seems quite eager to make Bond’s acquaintance when he shows up, until he uses her bikini to start throttling her as he demands, yet again, to know where Ernst Stavro Blofeld is.

At a mystery location a group of doctors are discussing plastic surgery. The latest Blofeld barges in and demands that the procedure is done tonight. Later we witness the doctors lathering a man in mud before leaving him to rest in some kind of larva/mud bath. On the way out they meet another member of the surgical staff coming in and this man is given instructions to keep the temperature to a specific level.

The new arrival is of course 007, but the man in the mud bath is prepared and raises a gun. Bond pulls the cord above the bath and gallons of mud pour down on the man, drowning him. Bond pulls his head out but it isn’t Blofeld.

The head of SPECTRE shows up with two henchman and explains that the man in the mud bath would have looked like him, if Bond had given him a chance.

One of the guards attempts to relieve 007 of his PPK but finds a mini bear trap instead. With him out of the way Bond uses scalpels as throwing knives to defeat the other guard. Blofeld grabs a knife, but he’s no match for Bond, and in moments he’s strapped to a gurney and Bond pushes him into a pool of volcanic mud. “Welcome to hell, Blofeld,” he says just before Blofeld’s cat arrives to meow and show off its lovely diamond choker…

Bond is back, and Connery is back as Bond but this is a curious pre-title sequence. Maybe it’s the fact that this is the first 70s’ Bond film, maybe it’s the fact that Connery returns after someone else was Bond, maybe it’s because he looks a trifle older and, without wanting to be mean, a little heftier, and maybe it’s because there’s yet another new Blofeld, but it feels like there’s been a bit of a sea change in the franchise.

The notion of starting the film with Bond hunting for Blofeld makes perfect sense given how OHMSS ended. Bond should, quite rightly, be out for vengeance, and yet his hunt, and eventual confrontation with Blofeld, lack any emotional weight. Yes beating up a few blokes and strangling a woman shows his determination, but the events are neither brutal nor clinical enough to evoke a man avenging his dead wife. It doesn’t help that Connery is Bond and Charles Gray is now Blofeld, and when they meet there’s very little tension in the air. To be honest it feels like killing Blofeld is just another mission, which is a shame.

The lava/mud surgery setting is a little surreal and I’m not quite sure what it has to do with plastic surgery. Still it’s a little different at least and the notion of Blofeld using plastic surgery explains the physical changes, if not the fact that each Blofeld has had a radically different personality.

The fight is disappointing. It all feels sluggish. Bond’s combat roll is pointless, and the man in the mud bath would seem to have all the time in the world to shoot Bond. Bond despatches Blofeld’s guards with ease and there’s none of the brutality to mirror fights in OHMSS, Thunderball or Goldfinger. Oh, and after finally getting the notion of teasing us that Bond is dead out of their system the producers now switch to making us think Blofeld is!

It’s not terrible, but it is a little pedestrian and this isn’t helped by it having to follow on from the end of OHMSS 6/10

 

So that’s the end of part 1. So far I rank the pre-title sequences thusly, though this of course will change once we get onto parts 2 and 3.

  1. Goldfinger
  2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  3. You Only Live Twice
  4. Thunderball
  5. Diamonds are Forever
  6. Dr No
  7. From Russia with Love

 

Paul Starkey’s review of Pre-title sequences will return when Moore and Dalton drop in!

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Captain America: Civil War

Posted: May 10, 2016 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directors by Joe and Anthony Russo. Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downy Jr. Scarlett Johansson and many, many other people…

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Team Cap rush to battle!

It’s been a year since the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron took place, and the destruction wrought in Sokovia hangs heavily. After a presentation of some new technology Tony Stark (Downy Jr.) is confronted by a woman whose son was killed in Sokovia. Meanwhile the Avengers, led by Steve Rogers’ Captain America (Evans), attempt to stop terrorists stealing a biological weapon in Lagos. In the midst of the operation one of the Avengers inadvertently destroys part of a building, and a group of aid workers from nearby Wakanda are killed.

The events in Lagos prove to be the final straw and the UN propose “The Sovakia Accords” which will establish an organisation to oversee and control the Avengers. Stark, guilty over his involvement in the creation of Ultron, backs the Accords, whilst Rogers believes the Accords could cause more harm than good and trusts himself and his team above bureaucrats. Stark and others, including Black Widow Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) travel to Austria to sign the accords, whilst Rogers and some of the other Avengers refuse.

During the signing ceremony a bomb goes off killing many of the delegates, including the Wakandan King, T’Chaka. Security footage suggests the bomber was none other than The Winter Soldier, the Hydra brainwashed assassin— and former best friend of Rogers— Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). King T’Chaka’s son T’Challa swears revenge. In his alter ego as The Black Panther he goes after Barnes.

Rogers steps in to defend his childhood friend and soon finds himself, Barnes, and his fellow Avenger Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie’s Falcon) incarcerated. When a mysterious man named Zemo (Daniel Brühl) triggers The Winter Soldier’s conditioning, Rogers, Wilson, and Barnes go on the run.

The scene is set for a confrontation between one group of heroes led by Captain America, and another led by Iron Man, but can anyone really win in this scenario, and are they just playing into someone else’s hands?

 

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And in the interests of fairness Team Iron Man

And so the third Captain America film arrives, albeit a film you could argue functions to an extent as Avengers 3 and Iron Man 4! When reviewing Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice at the end of March I went on record and said I’d be amazed if Civil War wasn’t a much better film. Suffice to say that I am not amazed, because whilst not quite everything I’d hoped for, Civil War is by far the superior film.

Now I’ve heard some people suggest that the films shouldn’t be compared, but I’m sorry that argument doesn’t fly with me. We’re talking about two superhero/comic book films here, both of which deal with the notion of heroes who should be on the same side finding themselves instead in conflict with one another. Throw in a very specific thematic conceit that has an impact in the final battles of both films (though in very different ways) and it really is difficult to suggest Batman vs Superman be somehow let off the hook, because Civil War is everything BvS should have been.

Civil War is just as long as BvS, but aside from the opening half an hour or so, the film rarely feels sluggish. The factors that bring our heroes to blows are no less contrived than those which place Batman and Superman at each other’s’ throats but those contrivances feel much more organic, they’re smoother which makes them easier to gloss over. Humour helps but it would be wrong to call this a comedic film, at its heart its every bit as dark as BvS was trying to be, and whilst during the initial engagements people might be pulling their punches, by the time the low key (and all the better for it) finale arrives the gloves are well and truly off, and at least one man is intent on nothing less than killing his opponent.

It helps that we have history with these characters. We’ve seen Steve Rogers and Tony Stark fight side by side, and whilst there’s always been a bit of an edge to their friendship they’ve been friends nonetheless, so to see Iron Man trying to punch Captain America through a wall is a shock. As with so much of the Marvel cinematic universe its long game pays off.

Returning to the fold after directing Captain America: The Winter Solider, the Russo brothers again prove that they have no problem directing an action packed film that’s about more than action, even a film that has a cast of thousands, all of whom pretty much get their time in the sun, even if only briefly, and though at heart this is Cap’s film (and Iron Man’s secondarily) it’s still a better Avengers film than Age of Ultron was. Considering how many characters they have to juggle they do an amazing job of pulling it off. There are a couple of ropey moments. Emily Vancamp’s Sharon Carter feels like she’s dispensed with too quickly, and whilst going off grid is the kind of thing you’d expect of the Black Widow when things go tits up, Johansson is noticeable by her absence in the final portion of the film.

As I’ve said there are plot contrivances aplenty but the Russo’s keep everything going at such a frenetic pace, and the script and the actors make you smile so much, that it’s hard to care except in hindsight (and even then not much).

Some people find Evans a trifle wooden but I’m not amongst them. The Captain America films have consistently been amongst the better Marvel product (and most of Marvel’s product is great) and that’s down in no small part to Evan’s portrayal of a very old school hero, whose square jawed notion of right and wrong could, in other hands, appear cheesy or patronising, yet never does because Evan’s utterly convinces as a man from another age who fought Nazis. Up against him is Downy Jr. who probably gets to imbue Stark with more pathos than he has in many of the actual Iron Man films, and it’s too his credit that he doesn’t even try to overshadow Evans (because at the end of the day this is a Cap film).

There are way too many characters to go into detail re every actor, but suffice to say that no one puts in a poor performance. Johansson isn’t in it enough, but she does a good job of providing balance between Rogers and Stark. Elizabeth Olsen continues to impress as Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch, and not only for her spooky hand gestures, and she plays nicely with Vision, who really should be the most ludicrous of Avengers (even more so than Thor) but Paul Bettany plays the role so utterly straight that you believe in the character. Mackie continues to really impress me as Wilson, and he has some nice scenes with Sebastian Stan, in particular whilst cooped up in an old VW Beetle. The two make an engaging combo that I hope we see more of. Stan is somewhat hamstrung by having to play the monosyllabic killing machine at times, but when he’s allowed to be Bucky he’s very engaging.

Paul Rudd drops in for an amusing cameo as Ant Man when both sides go looking for reinforcements, and whilst I’ll never be Hawkeye’s biggest fan Jeremy Renner gets a lot to do here. Don Cheadle as Rhodey/War Machine is really the only one who feels short-changed, as he often does.

And then there are two never before seen (In a Marvel film at least) heroes. The first of which is Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa / Black Panther, who now has me excited for a Black Panther film, and given I know very little of the character that was a pleasant surprise. Regal and eloquent he makes you empathise with him throughout the film and by the end he’s a welcome addition to the Marvel family.

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Apparently he does whatever a spider can…

And then there’s Spidey. Young Tom Holland almost steals the whole damn film, and he’s only in it for about fifteen minutes. As someone who liked Raimi’s take but was never quite sold on Tobey Maguire, and who thought Andrew Garfield was a great Spider-Man in not so great films, I have to say that however excited I am about a Black Panther film pales by comparison to how jazzed I am about the upcoming Spider-Man film that will finally see Spidey under the Marvel umbrella. Holland’s Parker is wonderfully geeky and spends most of the fight he’s involved in making all too nervous quips which are just hilarious (As Wilson says at one point “There isn’t usually this much talking in the middle of a fight) and his Empire Strikes Back line will probably make you feel very old.

But enough about Spider-Man because, great as he is, he’s just one small part of what makes this a fantastic film. It’s funny, its dark, its heart-breaking, its exciting (the airport fight between the two groups of superheroes might possibly be the best superhero fight of all time) it defies your expectations at times and gives us a very human villain whose motivations and scheme make more sense than Lex Luthor’s ever did. And beyond all of this it’s fun! Zach Snyder could learn a lot.

Yeah it’s too long, and yes there probably are one or two characters too many and people do vanish never to be seen again, and maybe it wimps out of doing anything truly shocking, but these are minor quibbles.

Now the question is, are you Team Cap or Team Iron Man? Me I’m Cap all the way, although kudos to a film that makes both side’s arguments seem valid, because I did waver there for a while…