Requiem for a Lenscap

Farewell, then, Lens Cap for a 12-60mm Olym­pus lens. You leave behind a qual­ity lens shorn of your pro­tec­tion, falling in the line of duty some­where on the Paris metro system.

It is unkind to speak ill of the departed, but in this time of despair we must be hon­est with our­selves and each other. The only sur­pris­ing thing about this tragedy is that it took so long to occur, given your predilec­tion for leap­ing from the lens at the slight­est brush.

We must reflect upon your cre­ator, the good Lord Olym­pus, and ask him why He can­not cre­ate a lens cap across His entire range of oth­er­wise bril­liant lenses that does not suck wholeheartedly.

Lo then, for the great cir­cle of life must con­tinue, and we can only hope that your generic 99p replace­ment that, I note, comes with a lan­yard which recent expe­ri­ence sug­gests will be use­ful, will be at least as good as you were.

Which isn’t say­ing much. Until then, I’m patent­ing my tem­po­rary pro­tec­tion method as the rev­o­lu­tion­ary LenSock™ — It’s Bet­ter Than Noth­ing. Pur­chase your LenSock at any rep­utable pho­to­graphic or under­wear stockist.

Octopussy

The Alai Minar, from my increas­ingly dis­tant trip to Delhi.

So, Octo­pussy.

Octo­pussy.

Octo. Pussy.

Octo­pussy.

The name says enough about it that there seems to be lit­tle point elab­o­rat­ing on it. But, I knew this day would come when I started on the project, so bet­ter to take my pun­ish­ment and live with it. On the plus side, things can only get bet­ter from here on in.

The thir­teenth Bond film, then. John Gru­ber of the Talk Show pod­cast reminds me of a salient point that, if not excuses Octo­pussy, goes some way to explain it. The thir­teenth Bond film. Con­sider that for a moment. The thir­teenth entry in a series. How many fran­chises have we seen that run out of ideas and qual­ity halfway through the sec­ond entry? The answer, of course, being “most of them”. Thir­teenth. Thir­teen films.

It’s unprece­dented and impres­sive. I sup­pose after hav­ing to make twelve Bond adven­tures, it’s nat­ural to get a lit­tle sick of him, which I can only assume to be the rea­son to put the man known for his suave sophis­ti­ca­tion and put him in a clown outfit.

I sup­pose after find­ing twelve at worst com­pe­tent actors to play Bond vil­lains, you’d have to get to Steven Berkoff even­tu­ally. I’m sure no-one was look­ing for­ward to it, or wanted it, or thought he’d be any­thing bet­ter than the dread­ful screech­ing annoy­ance that he is. There just wasn’t any­where else to go.

After twelve plots, even by the vari­able stan­dards to which Bond films are judged, you’d have to cob­ble together some loosely con­nected bull­shit with jew­ellery smug­gling and a cor­rupt Soviet gen­eral attempt­ing to arrange a nuclear ‘acci­dent’ at a U.S. Air Force base using a Tro­jan cir­cus. I’m sure no-one thought it was a good idea. There just wasn’t any­thing else for Bond to do.

I’m sure after film­ing a scene where Bond swings from vine to vine, no-one wanted to over­dub Tarzan yelling on to it. Nobody would want that. There just wasn’t any other option.

I sure after twelve films, there just wasn’t any other option than to replace the series’ trade­marked car chases with a motorised rick­shaw chase.

I’m sure there wasn’t any other way to make this thir­teenth Bond film with­out the god-awful, more stop than start stop-start pac­ing, and ham-fisted action scenes, and struc­tur­ing it to go on for another half hour after the obvi­ous dra­matic con­clu­sion, and to baf­flingly turn Q into a field operative.

There just couldn’t have been another way to do this film. Surely. The alter­na­tive is patently ridicu­lous. The alter­na­tive is that some­one thought that all of the above was fine, and that Octo­pussy would make for a good Bond film.

I’m not pre­pared to believe so unbe­liev­able a sce­nario. I’d find it more believ­able to find out that this had been planted by David Icke’s rep­tile peo­ple to pre­pare us for their unveil­ing, as told in the holy text V. I’d find it more believ­able that the script had been sab­o­taged by the mak­ers of Never Say Never Again to give them an advan­tage in the War of the Bonds.

In fact, I think I shall reject this real­ity where Octo­pussy exists, because log­i­cally some­thing like it can­not exist, so I must be delusional.

Yes, that’s it.

This isn’t a worse film than On Her Majesties’ Secret Ser­vice, because this film doesn’t exist.

Yes, that’s it.

Yes.

For Your Eyes Only

I have been caught slack­ing on the Bond front for a cou­ple of weeks. I shall try to rec­tify this as best as pos­si­ble before the loom­ing duelling respon­si­bil­i­ties of a hol­i­day and cov­er­ing the Edin­burgh Inter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val get the bet­ter of me.

How­ever, I’m going to be put at an imme­di­ate dis­ad­van­tage by For Your Eyes Only, the twelfth Bond out­ing, hav­ing appar­ently been so for­get­table it has already faded in my mem­o­ries. Over the course of this ill-advised exper­i­ment I’ve made ref­er­ence to all of the Moore era Bonds merg­ing together in my mind. I’d assumed this was just a func­tion of the time since I’d last seen them, but it appears that the root cause is sim­ply that few of them are memorable.

So, Wikipedia assures me that the main through line of this piece is the need for the British gov­ern­ment to recover a mis­sile com­mand sys­tem from an acci­den­tally destroyed spy ves­sel. This is also exactly the sort of thing the Rus­sians would like to get their hands on, so the race is on to retrieve the dohickey. This leads, after what’s close enough to an inves­ti­ga­tion, to Bond being placed in the mid­dle of duelling Greek crime bosses, one still sym­pa­thetic to British inter­ests from wartime resis­tance efforts, the other hav­ing made a career of betray­ing his compatriots.

I guess the first thing you’ll note from the above pot­ted recap is that no por­tion of it requires Space Marines, or a plot to kill every­one in the world, or such­like. Why, if you squint a lit­tle, it’s almost plau­si­ble! It’s said that ex-Bond edi­tor John “not an astro­naut” Glen’s direc­to­r­ial stint for this and the next four “offi­cial” Bond films was part of a move back to real­ity from the fan­ci­ful plots and pitched bat­tles of prior films. It’s par­tially suc­cess­ful, with a rel­a­tively sen­si­ble plot and char­ac­ters that, from some angles, approach at least 2.5D rather than the card­board cut out char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion we’ve been treated to over the past few films. Some of these guys even seem to have motive for their actions! Wild con­cept for a Bond film, I know.

For Your Eyes Only’s prob­lem in this regard is that for every step for­ward it takes, it walks into a lamp-post, stag­gers back, falls over, hits it head and soils itself. It’s not start­ing from a posi­tion of strength either, with hands-down the dumb­est and least explic­a­ble pre-credits mis­sion yet, as Bond foils another attempt by a wheel­chair bound Blofeld to kill him in a remote con­trol heli­copter, turn­ing the tables and drop­ping him down a chim­ney (!) while Blofeld bar­gains for his life by offer­ing to buy Bond a del­i­catessen in stain­less steel (!!).

If you were look­ing for your take on the series to have a patina of believ­abil­ity, why on earth go to the bother of res­ur­rect­ing a hap­pily dead vil­lain to kill him in such a daffy way? Per­haps it’s an attempt to sym­bol­i­cally bury the excesses of the SPECTRE-esque grand designs on the world, but if so it’s under­cut by the both the rest of the film and the means of dis­patch­ing Blofeld. Walk­ing up to him and shoot­ing him, point blank, would send a mes­sage that there’s a new Sher­iff in Bondsville. Pick­ing up his wheel­chair from a heli­copter and drop­ping him down a chim­ney — that’s sort of busi­ness as usual, but much worse than usual.

Of course, we can’t be sure he’s Blofeld and not just some other cat-stroking psy­chopath with a grudge, thanks to the ongo­ing legal wran­glings over film rights that resulted in Never Say Never Again, but we’ll deal with that when we get to it.

The rest of the film is a curi­ous mix that’s not alto­gether unpleas­ant to watch, although all of the mem­o­rable ele­ments in the film are mem­o­rable for entirely the wrong rea­sons. Why is this mas­sively annoy­ing, largely super­flu­ous teenage skater given any screen­time? Why are there ice-hockey play­ing assas­sins? Why must we have the a sup­posed KGB spy/assassin break cover by leav­ing dur­ing a cross-country ski­ing race to take a shot at Bond? Did we really need that bob­bins bob­sleigh bit, espe­cially con­sid­er­ing the human cost? Why film cliff climb­ing scenes with an actor who’s afraid of heights, and have to fake “under­wa­ter” scenes because the actress can’t go in the water? Assas­sins in beach buggies?

Now, while per­haps it’s damn­ing it with faint praise, this is my sec­ond favourite Moore era Bond thus far, after The Spy Who Loved Me. Despite the uneven mix of striv­ing for sen­si­bil­ity at the same time as embrac­ing the ridicu­lous, For Your Eyes Only is an enjoy­able watch. Just don’t expect to remem­ber any of the rea­sons you found it enjoy­able a few weeks down the line.

Moonraker

When our civil­i­sa­tion is called to account for itself by some deity or other, or per­haps a suf­fi­ciently advanced alien civil­i­sa­tion, some­where on the list we will even­tu­ally get around to Moon­raker, the fourth out­ing for Roger Moore’s iter­a­tion of Bond. It will, of course, be fairly low on the list of crimes Humankind has com­mit­ted, but there’s at least one def­i­nite charge­able offence com­mit­ted here. Sure, Dia­monds Are For­ever had its excesses, but at least it could say that it stopped short of hav­ing a HoverGondola.

Baf­flingly, that’s not even the sil­li­est ele­ment of this film. It’s the reac­tions to the Hov­er­Gon­dola. I’ll accept the bemused denizens of Venice tak­ing a dou­ble take at this breath­tak­ingly stu­pid mode of trans­port. I have a some­what lower tol­er­ance for the very obvi­ous loop­ing a short sec­tion of film to sug­gest that a pigeon is also giv­ing a dou­ble take.

It’s a minor thing to get hung up on, I sup­pose, although it does seem to be the point at which any hope of return­ing to any­thing approach­ing an espi­onage drama was extin­guished for­ever. How, exactly, am I going to tak­ing any­thing that hap­pens to this ludi­crous clown of a spy seri­ously in any future endeav­our? Is this now a com­edy franchise?

So, we’ve men­tioned before the ten­dency of Bond to unashamedly lift any ele­ments of pop­u­lar cul­ture that are kick­ing around at the time, such as Live and Let Die’s Blax­ploita­tionisms. There wasn’t much more pop­u­lar a slice of cul­ture at the time of Moon­raker’s cre­ation than Star Wars, which unex­pect­edly took the world by storm and prompted a slew of me-too cash-ins, and it seems that Bond wasn’t above attempt­ing to hitch a ride on the gravy train. Eagle eyed view­ers of the cred­its of The Spy Who Loved Me will have per­haps been expect­ing the sched­uled For Your Eyes Only, which was swiftly side­lined in favour of this… thing.

I claim no insider knowl­edge of the gen­e­sis of Moon­raker, but if this wasn’t hastily assem­bled from the script­ing equiv­a­lent of scraps and left­overs I’ll eat my hat. Essen­tially, this lifts the plot almost whole­sale from The Spy Who Loved Me, itself an expe­di­tion in min­ing Bond films past, and swaps out Stromberg’s under­sea utopia for Hugo Drax’s spaces­ta­tion utopia. So much so, I’m not alto­gether sure what to say about this film, other than it man­ages to avoid lift­ing any of the worth­while ele­ments from its pre­de­ces­sor, and mixes it with copi­ous buck­ets o’stupid.

Called in to inves­ti­gate a hijacked space shut­tle, Bond quickly tracks it back to the multi-billionaire Hugo Drax, builder of said shut­tle under sub-contract to NASA. He’s also secretly built a few for him­self, along with a space sta­tion, and a toxin designed to wipe out human­ity. You might have thought some of these activ­i­ties, like, say, shut­tle launches or con­struct­ing an orbital death plat­form would have come to the atten­tion of some­one before now, but appar­ently not. Jimmy’s pok­ing around is the first anyone’s heard of it. I think the CIA and MI6 ought to hire a few foren­sic accountants.

Also return­ing from The Spy Who Loved Me is Jaws, for what­ever rea­son, which I sup­pose is under­stand­able from a cer­tain point of view. Return­ing, recur­rent vil­lains, even if they are hench­men rather than the Big Bad, aren’t a bad idea. In a film that wasn’t so iden­ti­cally struc­tured, this would be a plus point, but here it feels even more like some­one reprinted the pre­vi­ous script, scratch­ing out “Stromberg” and “ocean” for “Drax” and “space”.

Hugo Drax him­self is rather too under­stated and for­get­table, espe­cially for a sup­posed mega­lo­ma­niac try­ing to reshape human­ity in his own image. He seems more like David Brent from The Office rather than a proper nut­ter. If I’m going to have some­one attempt to wipe out mankind, there ought to be a lit­tle more emo­tion and snarling, oth­er­wise I feel like I’m get­ting my annual per­for­mance review rather than watch­ing a drama-laden Bond film. In com­mon with Stromberg, I’d have appre­ci­ated even the vaguest, handwaving-laden expla­na­tion as to why Drax has embarked on this course of plan­e­tary geno­cide, but none is given. This might mat­ter more, were it in a film that had any hope what­so­ever of being enjoyable.

In the­ory, this ought to be a rea­son­able enough film, if mas­sively famil­iar. After all, I did rather enjoy The Spy Who Loved Me. Sadly, Moon­raker has dated abom­inably. The effects, even for the time, are mas­sively shonky and look embar­rass­ing in hind­sight, in a way that’s not afflicted the other Moore Bonds. The story, admit­tedly rarely the strong suite of any Bond film, is a thinly veiled rehash of the last film which feels at best lazy, and at worst down­right insulting.

I’m going to give this a pass on the sci­ence or lack thereof, as it’s pretty much the least of this film’s prob­lems, but suf­fice to say that accu­racy is not a friend to this script. There’s no chem­istry between any of the char­ac­ters, with per­for­mances that are per­func­tory even by the franchise’s occa­sion­ally lax stan­dards. There’s very lit­tle in here that would pass muster back in ’79, and noth­ing that does in Space Year 2011. Skip­ping this entry in the series is rec­om­mended for all but the most masochis­tic of fans.

That pigeon. Christ.

The Spy Who Loved Me

It’s a gob­let of fire! Sort of. Okay, it’s more of a tum­bler with a can­dle, but it’s very nearly a Harry Pot­ter prop.

I am per­haps going to do The Spy Who Loved Me a dis­ser­vice, espe­cially because it is one of the rarest of beasts, one which I per­haps thought was myth­i­cal — a Roger Moore Bond film that I like, with­out any caveats. How­ever, I am quite ruinously exhausted for a vari­ety of rea­sons not suf­fi­ciently inter­est­ing to exam­ine, so this may per­haps sound a lit­tle more per­func­tory and less enthu­si­as­tic than it deserves. My apologies.

The British and Russ­ian secret ser­vices must swing into action when each coun­try has a nuclear sub­ma­rine go miss­ing, no doubt related to the sud­den black mar­ket auc­tion of a sys­tem that tracks the move­ment of said subs. Bond (Moore) is ini­tially in a mildly antag­o­nis­tic rela­tion­ship with his oppo­site num­ber Major Anya Amasova (Bar­bara Bach), code­named Triple X long before the ill-advised Vin Diesel attempt at estab­lish­ing a mod­ernised Bond fran­chise, but before long they’re on the same page try­ing to fig­ure out who’s behind this plot. Per­haps some­one who has seen You Only Live Twice, from which the plot bor­rows heavily.

The main force work­ing against our AngloSov Alliance come in the hulk­ing, brutish shape of Jaws (Richard Kiel), the metallically-beteethed mon­ster who can rip cars apart with his bare hands, and for whom the movie of the same name was more of a serv­ing sug­ges­tion than a tense, ter­ri­fy­ing thriller. He cer­tainly pro­vides a mem­o­rable and iconic wall of mus­cle for Bond to bounce off of, although he’s not going to be stun­ning you with his rapier wit. He’s more of the very strong, very silent type.

Throw­ing in an essen­tially invul­ner­a­ble, at least as far as this film presents him, vil­lain to square off against the essen­tially invul­ner­a­ble Bond is an inter­est­ing idea, although in prac­tise it just means that in the sit­u­a­tions that would have dis­patched lesser hench­men for good merely causes Jaws some slight incon­ve­nience, and requir­ing the dust­ing off of his hor­ren­dous power blue sports jacket.

This, to my mind, is the first of the Moor­eian Bonds that has its own char­ac­ter, rather than des­per­ately try­ing to co-opt oth­ers. The fran­chise has never been above bor­row­ing ele­ments from con­tem­po­rary pop­u­lar cul­ture, but the prior blax­ploita­tion and kung-fu fever influ­ences of Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun felt like des­per­ate, needy attempts at rel­e­vance. By focussing on some­thing more akin to the Great Game of From Rus­sia With Love, com­bined with the more bom­bas­tic supervil­lain schemes, we get some­thing close to the best of both worlds in The Spy Who Loved Me.

There’s not much I like about On Her Majesty’s Secret Ser­vice, but The Spy Who Loved Me at least pinches the most remark­able ele­ment by intro­duc­ing a Bond Girl that’s por­trayed as being as com­pe­tent as Jimmy him­self, although it can’t resist falling back to last act damsel-in-distress-isms which tar­nishes its fem­i­nist cred­i­bil­ity somewhat.

My only prob­lem with The Spy Who Loved Me is the ulti­mate vil­lain of the piece, Curd Jürgens’s Stromberg. Cer­tainly, he’s think­ing big. Destroy­ing civil­i­sa­tion and restart­ing under the sea is a fit­tingly over-the-top scheme, although I would per­haps have had more invested in the char­ac­ter if I was given any inkling as to why ol’ Stromberg’s so peeved with the world that he wants to blow it up. Blofeld might have only been look­ing for money, but as The Way Of The Gun teaches us, at least money rep­re­sents motive with a uni­ver­sal adapter. Regard­less of genre, it’s always less sat­is­fy­ing when we know who­dun­nit with­out know­ing whytheydunnit.

I shouldn’t dwell on the only real neg­a­tive, as there’s a num­ber of nice touches and details through­out the film, to the extent of even car­ing about some of the dis­pos­able red­shirts assault­ing Stromberg’s con­trol rooms. The (very) junior offi­cer of the British sub, hav­ing just been informed of the death of his cap­tain, vol­un­teers to take on a head-on assault that looks exactly like the sui­cide mis­sion it turns out to be, but for per­haps the first time in the fran­chise I felt sorry for the can­non fod­der pseudo-sidekicks rather than find­ing some amuse­ment in the act.

The script­ing appears to finally have got to grips with Moore’s take on Bond, and plays to the strengths of his incar­na­tion. The loca­tions used are suit­ably exotic, and give a globe-trotting feel that’s been a lit­tle lack­ing over the pre­vi­ous few flicks. While by today’s stan­dards the com­posit­ing effects are a shade shonky, I’m prob­a­bly see­ing some worse effects work in cin­e­mas today. What this may lack in exe­cu­tion it at least makes up for in scope, and in that sense at least com­pares favourably with more recent, shinier, com­pletely soul­less exer­cises in pixel-pushing. I refer you to, well, any of the godaw­ful retro­fit­ted 3D brigade we’ve seen of late.

Per­haps the odd thing about The Spy Who Loves me is that when coldly analysing the con­stituent ele­ments of the film, it reads like a wholly deriv­a­tive mix of ele­ments of prior art. That’s not the way the film comes across at all, and would do it a grand dis­ser­vice. It’s a wholly enjoy­able movie, and while it’s not close to reach­ing the giddy heights of ‘Best Bond Ever’, it’s cer­tainly in the upper­most base­camp. Well worth a look.

Eternal Legacy

At some point I’ll get through all of these pho­tos from China. This is a statue in Tianan­men Square, ded­i­cated to the People’s Army, if mem­ory serves. While there’s a num­ber of folks who will insist that there’s no point tak­ing pho­tographs in the harsh mid-day sun this was taken in when there’s per­fectly good light com­ing, maybe, in the golden hours, that’s pretty rub­bish advice if you’re not going to get an oppor­tu­nity to go back wher­ever you are in a hurry. It’ll be a while until I’m back in China, and if I have to go under my own dol­lar, per­haps I never will. This was taken with the sun directly behind the statue in an attempt to do some­thing inter­est­ing with the hand dealt to me, with lim­ited suc­cess as you can judge from the above.

Read­ers of a cer­tain age and pre­dis­po­si­tion may remem­ber the infancy of videogam­ing in the home, with unsus­pect­ing “seri­ous com­put­ers” such as the ZX Spec­trum and Com­modore VIC-20 being abused into dis­play­ing some prim­i­tive ances­tors of the mod­ern gam­ing mul­ti­me­dia extrav­a­gan­zas we take for granted on our Xboxes and Playsta­tions. While Atari might have been a lit­tle more strict about intel­lec­tual prop­erty rights, given that they owned a good chunk of the good arcade games at the time, other for­mats were the rip-off equiv­a­lent of the Wild West.

Cue a mas­sive num­ber of barely, if at all, dis­guised ver­sions of Pac-man and Space Invaders and the like, often of wildly vary­ing qual­ity. A sim­pler, more inno­cent time, where peo­ple shared and shared alike, or at least when game com­pa­nies didn’t have legal teams larger than their devel­op­ment teams.

I’m appar­ently not the only one nos­tal­gic about this era, or reck­less enough to base a company’s release sched­ule entirely around quite bla­tant idea theft. Gameloft have been mak­ing games for mobile phones for as long as they’ve been capa­ble of run­ning the rudi­men­tary Java-based games that seemed fab­u­lous at the time, and as bar­barous as Speccy games in ret­ro­spect. The release of the iPhone, how­ever, seems to have turned them into full time rip-off merchants.

You’d have to be incred­i­bly char­i­ta­ble or com­pletely dis­hon­est not to feel that there’s a mas­sive degree of sim­i­lar­ity between N.O.V.A and HALO, or the Mod­ern Com­bat and COD: Mod­ern War­fare games, or Star­front and Star­craft, or as we’re inter­ested in here, between Eter­nal Legacy and Final Fan­tasy. In par­tic­u­lar, Eter­nal Legacy draws on the graph­i­cal styles of Final Fan­tasy VIII and the plot of Final Fan­tasy VII, so I sup­pose if you’re being aston­ish­ingly gen­er­ous that counts as innovation.

I’d get a lit­tle more shirty about Gameloft’s out­right clon­ery were it not for the gen­er­ally high qual­ity of all of these cover ver­sions. While N.O.V.A and Mod­ern Com­bat are shad­ows of their inspi­ra­tions on the mas­sively more pow­er­ful con­soles, they’re still very com­pe­tent, fluid games and arguably as close as anyone’s come to mak­ing great FPS’s on the Apple iThingys. Eter­nal Legacy in some respects one ups the oth­ers men­tioned, by being a bet­ter game than the Final Fan­tasies it apes.

Of course, this is com­ing from some­one with a very low tol­er­ance for Final Fan­tasy games, so fac­tor that in your cal­cu­la­tions of what­ever that’s worth. Astrian, a spiky haired fel­low car­ry­ing a ridicu­lously over­sized sword in no was resem­bling FF8’s Squall and his buddy, in no way rem­i­nis­cent of Zell, are rebels attempt­ing to steal an oppres­sive government’s shiny crys­tal trin­kets, Varsh Stones, the source of power in this world, which is the first hint that you’re play­ing a game heav­ily indebted plot­wise to FF7. In fact, I’m going to stop point­ing out char­ac­ter sim­i­lar­i­ties to FF8 and plot sim­i­lar­i­ties to FF8, as oth­er­wise we’ll be here all day. Please just assume that any char­ac­ter you play is a barely dis­guised ver­sion of some­one from FF8 and most of the plot’s a homage, shall we say, to FF7.

Mechan­i­cally, the game also shares ele­ments with the FF series, although by exten­sion it shares ele­ments with pretty much every RPG with turn based com­bat. There’s the usual com­bi­na­tions of phys­i­cal attacks, ele­ment based attack magic, stat alter­ing buff/debuffs and assorted heal­ing items and spells, which dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters will use to dif­fer­ing lev­els of effect depend­ing on their abil­i­ties. There’s also a rough ana­logue of Limit Breaks, and a stat/effect boost­ing sys­tem thank­fully far less tedious than FF8’s Junc­tion­ing, as Varsh Frag­ments found through­out the game can be attached to the weapons and armour you use, grant­ing either access to spells that could not nor­mally be utilised by the char­ac­ter, extra defence or attack, and so forth.

So far, so famil­iar, and the over­world sec­tions aren’t going to blow your mind with their orig­i­nal­ity either. It’s the usual RPG deal of wan­der­ing around a town talk­ing to peo­ple, either get­ting a quest or receiv­ing infor­ma­tion that involves head­ing some­where else and fight­ing your way their through a vari­ety of whacky ene­mies and beast that seem to have no par­tic­u­lar sto­ry­line rea­son to be get­ting up in your grill. At least, thank­fully, there’s no ran­dom encoun­ters, as the ene­mies are clearly seen wan­der­ing around and thus can occa­sion­ally be avoided com­pletely, and you can per­haps sneak up on them. Why this isn’t the way all RPGs deal with this is beyond me. I can almost accept it as a lim­i­ta­tion on ear­lier machines, but there’s no excuse for it in the mod­ern age.

So, there’s a brownie point for it, but there’s a num­ber of less suc­cess­ful deci­sions made in the game. The com­bat and cus­tomi­sa­tion sys­tems are far sim­pler than in the games it apes, which to my mind is entirely appro­pri­ate and laud­able for a game designed to be played on the move. As the iDe­vice for­mat is more con­duc­tive to play­ing for short bursts as a time filler rather than full-on gam­ing ses­sions, short­en­ing the nor­mally inter­minable 40 hour RPG grind to a more com­pact 8 or 9 hours fits quite well.

Fits well for me, at least. Given that JRPGs these days seem to make their hay based entirely on how ludi­crously com­plex and padded they are, what’s fine for me may not be so good for the intended core audi­ence. The plot’s suf­fered a lit­tle under the baton of time com­pres­sion, tak­ing a few sharp right turns that could leave you flat­footed if you were hop­ing to actu­ally care about the sto­ry­line or char­ac­ters. It also presents a novel twist on the ‘early doors unwinnable bat­tle with even­tual boss’ trope, as you face off against the game’s main antag­o­nist, kill him with ease, and are imme­di­ately taken to a cutscene show­ing you on prone, defeated and at said antagonist’s mercy. Some­how. Buh?

There’s a few mechan­i­cal annoy­ances that should really have been fixed remain­ing in the ver­sion avail­able as I write. When you equip a new weapon, the Varsh frag­ments do not auto­mat­i­cally trans­fer over to the new weapon from the old, which means another fid­dly trip to the menu sys­tem. That I can deal with, but the menu sys­tem in com­bat is a com­plete pain in the ass when try­ing to nav­i­gate the lengthy item menu. Or at least, it’s lengthy by the end of the game which is about the only time you’ll ever need to use heal­ing items.

You see, the main prob­lem I have with Eter­nal Legacy is that it presents no chal­lenge what­so­ever to any­one with the slight­est expe­ri­ence of these sorts of games. I had won­dered if there was some sort of bug in the game, as my char­ac­ters were very quickly lev­el­ling up to silly degrees. Turns out that’s a func­tion of the shorter game length, but between the stats boost gained and the free heal­ing gained from lev­el­ling up there’s prac­ti­cally no dan­ger of dying, at least until the game pulls one of it’s some­what fre­quent dick moves, split­ting the party and leav­ing you with­out any­one that has a heal­ing spell. At which point we’re often rely­ing on heal­ing items, and the cum­ber­some menu for select­ing them that can take so long to get at that you might be in dan­ger of dying more through menu inef­fi­ciency than through lack of tac­ti­cal nous.

It’s not game-cripplingly unus­able, and to be fair I strug­gle to see how else the menus can be organ­ised. How­ever, even this prob­lem stems from the core prob­lem — a lack of chal­lenge. The menu becomes unwieldy because the game is mas­sively gen­er­ous with dis­patched ene­mies drop­ping heal­ing potions. Apart from this mean­ing you’ve no excuse no to go into each bat­tle in top shape, it also leaves you with a ridicu­lous num­ber of items in your inven­tory, mak­ing find­ing par­tic­u­lar things more dif­fi­cult. By the time the game ended, I had some­thing like four hun­dred spare heal­ing thingys. I could sell most of them to a trader, but in the absence of a “sell all” but­ton that meant tap­ping ‘sell’ some­thing like four hun­dred times, and, well, screw that noise. It’s not as if I needed the money for any­thing, as the few items that the mer­chants sell were eas­ily afford­able from the money dropped dur­ing the nor­mal course of the game.

Dis­ap­point­ingly, for a rel­a­tively short RPG there’s still a bit of arbi­trary game­play padding as you return to pre­vi­ous loca­tions for pretty poorly laid out rea­sons. Thank­fully, it’s pretty rare, and there’s no need to spend hours in one loca­tions grind­ing out either level gains or draw spells, mechan­ics from FF8 that still give me night­mares to this day.

Okay, per­haps it’s a lit­tle slap­dash in places, and I’m not sure if it’s going to com­pletely sat­isfy the JRPG / Final Fan­tasy lov­ing crowd that it’s aimed at. But it’s a rea­son­able mobile fac­sim­ile of famil­iar con­cepts, and it cer­tainly kept me com­ing back to it for those eight to nine-ish hours with only rel­a­tively minor com­plaints. Look at it this way — if you had told the younger ver­sion of myself play­ing that there Pac­man rip-off on the Speccy all those years ago that they could play some­thing of this qual­ity and scope on a mobile phone, he’d have been blown away, at least once you had fur­ther explained the con­cept of a mobile phone to him. I am very old, remember.

And all this for a price less, in absolute terms, less than the bud­get game releases of the day, even before you take infla­tion into account? Lunacy. How­ever, we’re not judg­ing Eter­nal Legacy in com­par­i­son with Chuckie Egg, we’re judg­ing it amongst its App Store com­padres. There are a few more pol­ished RPGs that I’ve seen, but most are either opt­ing for a SNES-y, car­toony, Zelda-y look, or have more in com­mon with the West­ern, Oblivion-style RPGs. Noth­ing wrong with either approach, but it’s left a gap in the mar­ket for some­thing a lit­tle more mod­ern and JRPG-influenced to exist, and Eter­nal Legacy is a very cred­i­ble game to fill that gap.

It’s cur­rently £2.99 in the App Store, a triv­ial amount of cash for such a game on any con­sole, but thanks to the unusual met­rics of the sys­tem it’s in a more expen­sive tier than most games. It’s cer­tainly worth that much, but per­haps you may want to wait (as I did) for one of Gameloft’s fre­quent sales to knock that down a lit­tle before tak­ing the plunge. At fifty nine pence, it’s damn near as good value for money for a game as I’ve ever had. There’s also a free demo ver­sion, should the prospect of part­ing with less than the price of a mediocre cup of cof­fee con­cern you greatly.



The Man With The Golden Gun

One day, I hope to have processed the shots from China and India from the start of the year. This is from the Red Fort, if mem­ory serves.

We should start at the start of The Man With The Golden Gun, or at the very least close to the start of it, with a few words about the theme tune that the poor, unsus­pect­ing Lulu was lured into singing. If there’s a worse theme tune, or one with more asi­nine lyrics, I have yet to expe­ri­ence it. It sounds some­thing like an alien might imag­ine a Bond theme would sound like, were you only able to com­mu­ni­cate the con­cept of music through a series of rudi­men­tary clicks and whis­tles, but the lyrics are more akin to a plot recap for the hard of think­ing. It’s only very mar­gin­ally bet­ter writ­ten than “There’s a man with a gun, and it’s golden, and he kills peo­ple, lala la lala”. Now, Bond themes might not tra­di­tion­ally be the deep­est, soul-rending explo­rations of the human con­di­tion, but they often have a lit­tle more mys­tery and soul than just describ­ing, in broad terms, that this is a film about a man who shoots people.

Or indeed two peo­ple who shoot peo­ple. Roger Moore’s Bond may be offi­cially licensed by Her Majesties’ Gov­ern­ment to go about bust­ing caps in evil’s col­lec­tive ass, but this film is con­cerned with the world’s most pres­ti­gious and expen­sive assas­sin, “San” Fran­cisco Scara­manga (Christo­pher Lee). In ret­ro­spect the only sur­prise about peren­nial vil­lain Lee appear­ing in the Bond series is that it took so long. It is brought to the atten­tion of HMSS that a con­tract is out on Bond, a not-so-subtle warn­ing being sent in the form of a golden bul­let with 007 engraved on it. Pulling Bond off his cur­rent mis­sion, track­ing down a miss­ing solar power expert and his rev­o­lu­tion­ary effi­ciency enhanc­ing McGuf­fin, M gives Bond tacit per­mis­sion to go off and get shot of Scara­manga before Scara­manga shoots him.

It’s funny how intel­li­gence gath­er­ing works. Although, as M says, nobody knows where Scara­manga is, or what he looks like, but some­how we do know he has a third, super­flu­ous nip­ple. Although one could argue that all the nip­ples on a man are super­flu­ous. The point being that there’s no solid leads on how to get hold of Scara­manga, which must make hir­ing him dif­fi­cult, let alone killing him. How­ever, Bond has a solid lead on the maker of the hand crafted cus­tom ammo that Scara­manga uses, and from there on it’s just a mat­ter of shak­ing the right trees until Scaramanga’s island base drops out. Not lit­er­ally, obvi­ously. In accor­dance with Chekhov’s gun, Scara­manga is tied up with a firm of Thai engi­neers who are, I sup­pose, evil, although in no par­tic­u­larly well described fash­ion, other than try­ing to get their mitts on that there solar power gizmo.

I had remem­bered The Man With The Golden Gun quite fondly, which rather goes to show how tricky this whole mem­ory thing can be. This really isn’t a good film, although as I believe some peo­ple do with On Her Majesty’s Secret Ser­vice, if you cherry pick the more suc­cess­ful and inter­est­ing ele­ments from the movie and fill in the remain­der with some­thing a shade less ridicu­lous you can imag­ine a very good film. Sadly, in the bor­ing old con­ven­tional real­ity my doc­tors tell me I’m sup­posed to be deal­ing with, this film kinda sucks.

Gen­er­ally, a Bond film is only as good as the bad guy Bond’s fac­ing. You could argue that The Man With The Golden Gun has as good a chance as any to be one of the best Bonds. The idea of Scara­manga, mys­te­ri­ous hit­man, and Bond’s nom­i­nal equal sounds like a far surer recipe for suc­cess than, say, a jive-talkin’ voodoo-backed island Pres­i­dent. Taken in iso­la­tion, Scara­manga has all the hall­marks of a great Bond char­ac­ter and Lee deliv­ers his role con­vinc­ingly, with the self-assurance of some­one who knows he’s at the top of his game.

The prob­lem is, we’ve only really got his word for it. Scara­manga says he’s the best. Every­one agrees that he’s the best. We are con­tin­u­ally told that Scara­manga is a very cred­i­ble threat. How­ever, we’re never at any point shown why he’s the best hit­man around. We’ve only got one straight shot from across a deserted road, some ridicu­lous tom­fool­ery in Scaramanga’s pri­vate house of mir­rors and an expen­sive taste in muni­tions to back it up, none of which really passes muster. Show, don’t tell, is as old a canard as you could care to bust out, but it’s no less appro­pri­ate in this instance.

Moore looks com­fort­able in his sec­ond out­ing as Bond. It seems I don’t loathe Moore’s inter­pre­ta­tion of Bond as much as my addled mem­ory would have had me believe at the start of this endeav­our, I just find him remark­ably bland. Still, at least this sto­ry­line plays more to the smooth, sophis­ti­cated side of this new Bond, which works rea­son­ably well. While I don’t find Moore as con­vinc­ing as Con­nery in action sequences, We should all be thank­ful he’s not flail­ing around like Lazenby’s drunken mar­i­onette impersonation.

So, it’s not that there aren’t some good ele­ments in The Man With The Golden Gun. Sadly, they are weighed down by some dread­ful deci­sions to arbi­trar­ily play for laughs, which under­mines any dra­matic ten­sion it could be build­ing. This should be a tense cat and mouse game with a leg­endary assas­sin, not a bor­der­line sex­ist dou­ble act with Britt Ekland’s bum­bling, incom­pe­tent secret agent whose only plot func­tion appears to be enabling a damsel in dis­tress act for the last half hour, and indeed giv­ing an excuse for the last half hour to exist at all. Had she dis­played even a bor­der­line level of com­pe­tency, Bond would back in the hotel with tea and crum­pets just after first meet­ing Scaramanga.

There’s just too much stu­pid on dis­play to take the film seri­ously. Scara­manga ought to be an impos­ing fig­ure by sheer dint of his rep­u­ta­tion, but it’s dif­fi­cult to take him all that seri­ously when he’s cart­ing around a com­edy dwarf manser­vant called Nick Nack (Hervé Vil­lechaize). There’s a few chases that ought to be excit­ing, but thanks to the entirely unwel­come, inex­plic­a­bly coin­ci­den­tal return of Clifton James as walk­ing Deep South U.S.A. stereo­type Sher­iff J.W. Pep­per, they instead become teeth-grindingly irritating.

Still, if The Man With The Golden Gun has taught me any­thing, it’s that the most time effec­tive way to become CEO of a large multi-national com­pany is to shoot the pre­vi­ous chair­man. I assumed there would be more paper­work to fill in, per­haps some Board approval or reg­u­la­tory over­sight. No, here at least, pro­mo­tion is by dead man’s boots.

I’ve seen it men­tioned some­where that Scara­manga is the best Bond vil­lain stuck in the worst Bond movie. That’s wrong on both counts, but I can see where they’re com­ing from. I still can’t bring myself to out­right dis­like The Man With The Golden Gun, but there’s cer­tainly a num­ber of things to hate in there. Idi­otic side­kicks, idi­otic return­ing char­ac­ters and the sin­gle most idi­otic sound effect in Bond car stunt his­tory as they exe­cute the oth­er­wise impres­sive corkscrew river jump.

There’s cer­tainly far worse movies that The Man With The Golden Gun, and there’s cer­tainly far worse Bond movies than The Man With The Golden Gun. In the cold light of day, it’s just such a frus­trat­ing film to watch. There’s very nearly some­thing great hid­ing under­neath the lay­ers of obfus­ti­cated idiocy. Ulti­mately, it’s not a entry in the fran­chise I can rec­om­mend as any­thing other than home­work for those who like con­struct­ing a bet­ter film in their heads than is actu­ally played on screen.

Live and Let Die

The above is the guts of a bar­gain base­ment Android tablet that would make a barely ade­quate ebook reader, were it pos­si­ble to get any elec­tric­ity into it’s woe­fully under­de­vel­oped bat­tery. You get what you pay for, I guess. If noth­ing else, smack­ing it with a ham­mer was fun.

Live and Let Die proved quite the sur­prise for me. By which I don’t mean that it’s a far bet­ter film than I recall, or that, actu­ally, the newly installed Roger Moore was a bet­ter Bond than Sean Con­nery. The sur­prise for me is that it doesn’t start with that ludi­crous sequence of Moore pick­ing up a wheelchair-bound ‘Blofeld’ in a heli­copter and drop­ping him down a chim­ney like some evil, dead Santa.

That hap­pens about eight years later in For Your Eyes Only. My addled mem­ory had put that scene as Moore’s first actions as Bond for the obvi­ous rea­son that it makes a hell of a lot more sense, pro­vid­ing at once a con­ti­nu­ity with the prior films in the series as well as break, and a new begin­ning with a new actor and, inevitably, a new actor’s take on Bond.

Choos­ing Moore as Bond seems, ret­ro­spec­tively, almost inex­plic­a­ble. I can’t have been the only one to think that by the time Dia­monds Are For­ever rolled round, Con­nery was look­ing a lit­tle too long in the tooth for this spy caper. Cast­ing some­one older than Con­nery to replace him must have, fit­tingly enough, raised a few eyebrows.

I’m not the biggest fan of Moore’s inter­pre­ta­tion of Bond. While the char­ac­ter as a whole has devi­ated con­sid­er­ably from the colder, more cal­cu­lat­ing per­sona of Fleming’s nov­els, regard­less of how daffy the script­ing of the films became Con­nery often man­aged to present the idea that his charm and swag­ger was a front for not really car­ing about any­one other than him­self. This is a sen­si­ble self-preservation mech­a­nism given the turnover of Bond girls in his life.

Start­ing here, that side com­pletely van­ishes. I don’t want to give the impres­sion that it’s been par­tic­u­larly preva­lent over the end of the Con­nery era either, but los­ing all hint of it makes the char­ac­ter mea­sur­ably less inter­est­ing. By mak­ing Bond eas­ier to like, and by play­ing up comedic ele­ments in the scripts to degrees that are often laugh­able in entirely the wrong way, it becomes far less compelling.

That said, per­haps there’s the least of the play­ing for laughs in Live and Let Die, which is odd, because it’s prob­a­bly the most ridicu­lous of the sce­nar­ios that Moore finds him­self in. Not so much in the sense of the over­ar­ch­ing plot, con­cern­ing a Caribbean tin­pot dic­ta­tor cum crime boss Dr. Kanaga (Yaphet Kotto) attempt­ing to flood the United States with cheap heroin, dri­ving his com­peti­tors out of busi­ness, increas­ing the num­ber of junkies then cream­ing money from the monop­oly he’s created.

This is quaintly small scale, in com­par­i­son to SMERSH’s hi-jinks. Why, this doesn’t even require a rocket launch pad! It’s sur­pris­ing Bond even both­ers to get out of bed for it. No, the plot is believ­able enough. It’s the ancil­lary non­sense that sur­rounds the cen­tral story that’s bizarre, almost to the point of out­right racism.

Appear­ing at the height of the Blax­plo­ti­a­tion era, this makes no bones about hitch­ing on to that band­wagon. Almost from the out­set, Bond’s being chased by what’s described as a pimp­mo­bile, and from there on in there seems to be approx­i­mately one black per­son around who isn’t in some way con­nected to Kanaga and by exten­sion, evil. Which is, I imag­ine, to be expected in the inves­ti­ga­tion of a crime syn­di­cate run entirely by black folks, and shouldn’t feel any more racist than a plot cen­tred on the Mafia being full of Ital­ians or Italian-Americans. Except some­how it does.

In iso­la­tion, I doubt I’d have a prob­lem with the por­trayal of Big Mis­ter Doc­tor Kanaga’s restau­rant fronted heroin dis­tri­b­u­tion scheme, if it wasn’t for the assorted non­sense that Kananga ties him­self up with. Despite seem­ing sane and ratio­nal, he places an inor­di­nate amount of trust and faith in the guid­ance of his per­sonal for­tune teller, Soli­taire (Jane Sey­mour). He’s involved with a bunch of loincloth-attired lunatics who are tying peo­ple to stakes and wav­ing rub­ber snakes at them, although come to think of it they were per­haps sup­posed to be real snakes. One of his hench­men, if the end­ing of the film is to be believed, is actu­ally an immor­tal voodoo spirit, or at the very least a chap who is sur­pris­ingly resilient to snake venom.

Frankly, Live and Let Die seems to be about one step away from shout­ing “ooga-booga” at you and start­ing tirades with, “I’m not racist, but…”. Maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be an under­cur­rent sug­gest­ing that we should all fear black peo­ple that I found off-putting, if not out­right offen­sive. Per­haps it’s just a child of its time, although that’s some­thing of a lame excuse even if it is.

I shall per­haps hold major judge­ment on Moore’s Bond for a few more films. It only seems fair to give the man a lit­tle time to get his feet under the metaphor­i­cal desk, but I’m cer­tainly not alone in find­ing his ini­tial out­ing lack­lus­tre. He dis­plays such a casual, off-hand atti­tude to every­thing up to the prospect of being eaten by an alli­ga­tor that it removes almost any of the impact the events shown should have.

Mechan­i­cally, it’s com­pe­tently made film, and I sup­pose the march of time has made the effects work far more effec­tive. There’s no real com­par­i­son between, say, the car chases of Goldfin­ger and the car and boat chases of Live and Let Die. It’s no longer a film than the other Bond movies, but there does seem to be a lit­tle more dead­weight to be car­ried here that per­haps ought to have been excised.

I’m think­ing mainly of a seem­ingly inter­minable sequence of Soli­taire and Bond tool­ing around on San Monique before find­ing Kananga’s heroin poppy crop, and the clos­ing chase sequence’s con­tin­ual interup­tions to intro­duce us to hick Lou­siana Sher­rif J.W. Pep­per (Clifton James), who I’m guess­ing was sup­posed to pro­vide comic relief rather than the mas­sive, mas­sive irri­ta­tion that he actu­ally induces.

While Paul McCartney’s post Bea­t­les work (and to be hon­est, a lot of his during-Beatles work) aren’t exactly my cup of tea, for rea­sons I would strug­gle to ade­quately explain (unfor­tu­nate, given the nature of this increas­ingly unweildily paren­the­sised para­graph) the Live and Let Die theme is one of my favourites. I think it’s because it sounds like three seper­ate songs crudely glued together with some sort of rudi­men­tary musi­cal adhesive.

I realise now, as I draw this mono­logue to a thank­ful close, that I’m almost giv­ing the wrong impres­sion of this film. There’s not really any sin­gle ele­ment, music aside, that I could say that I par­tic­u­larly enjoyed. It cer­tainly wouldn’t be the Bond film that I rec­om­mend to any­one look­ing to get into the series, and I have issues with most of the sub­ject mat­ter. Yet still, there’s enough pol­ish and struc­ture to the movie that I, if not exactly enjoyed it, didn’t mind pass­ing the time with it too much,

Inof­fen­sive” might not exactly be glow­ing praise for the movie, but given some of the hor­rors we’ll be sub­jected to over the com­ing weeks as we delve into Moore’s stint as Bond, I’ll take what I can get.

Diamonds Are Forever

There’s some­thing about this lantern that gives me night­mares. Although, that’s prob­a­bly more of a reflec­tion on my psy­che than the lantern.

I believe I made my opin­ions regard­ing On Her Majesty’s Secret Ser­vice rea­son­ably clear in my last scrivven­ings, but it should be noted that at the time of its release it wasn’t exactly regarded as the colos­sal dis­as­ter that I think that it is. Sure, it didn’t make quite as much money as the pre­vi­ous Con­nery out­ing, but there didn’t seem to be a press­ing eco­nomic need for Dia­monds Are For­ever to run away scream­ing back to the com­fort­ing for­mu­las that OHMSS devi­ated from.

That said, nat­u­rally I am pos­i­tively over­joyed that they did. George Lazenby appar­ently feared becom­ing type­cast and departed the fran­chise, to the dis­ap­point­ment of nobody, and the Broc­co­lis backed up a lorry load of hun­dred dol­lar bills into Sean Connery’s garage to con­vince him to return for one last stint. Well, last apart from another con­tro­ver­sial side note that I’ll sup­pose get to in due course.

It seems Bond’s still upset about his short-lived mar­riage, track­ing down and killing Blofeld before the cred­its even roll. Well, that was easy, although you think he might have passed com­ment that he’s yet again mor­phed between films, now look­ing much less Telly Savalas-y and a lot more like Hen­der­son from You Only Live Twice. Charles Gray’s intro­duc­tion to the role at least has the cour­tesy to men­tion plas­tic surgery as a get-out clause, and I trust I’m not intro­duc­ing any major spoil­ers or sur­prises in say­ing that this is not the last we’ll see of him in this film.

With the series’ recur­ring bogey­man appar­ently dealt with, Bond is told to return to far more mun­dane mat­ters. He’s sent on the trail of a dia­mond smug­gling oper­a­tion that’s wor­ry­ing the gov­ern­ment, in the main because the gems are not appear­ing on the mar­ket. Someone’s hoard­ing them, and nefar­ios­ity is assumed. Despite Bond think­ing all this is a lit­tle beneath him, a rou­tine jaunt to Ams­ter­dam turns into a mis­sion to Las Vegas, with the seem­ing involve­ment of reclu­sive mil­lion­aire Howard Hughes. Sorry, Willard Whyte, played by coun­try singer Jimmy Dean.

Of course, as I’ve already help­fully ruined in advance, it’s actu­ally Blofeld who’s behind every­thing, kid­nap­ping Whyte and using his busi­ness empire as a front for his evil schem­ing. This time round he’s brought his very own mad pro­fes­sor, cre­at­ing a stu­pen­dously pow­er­ful orbital dia­mond focused laser satel­lite do-hickey. He’s using it to destroy the nuclear capac­i­ties of the major pow­ers, apart, nat­u­rally from the one who gives him the most money.

Blofeld, and by exten­sion SMERSH, have pro­vided a con­tin­ual source of puz­zle­ment to me through­out their endeav­ours. It’s always been about col­lect­ing money from gov­ern­ments, which is under­stand­able to a degree. After all, money is use­ful, so more money would log­i­cally be more use­ful. How­ever, the means by which they choose to extort money, well, don’t seem cost effec­tive. I’m not say­ing that I’m not impressed by their scope or vision, but I’m unsure as to what cost-benefit analy­sis allows for launch­ing a dia­mond encrusted satel­lite into space in order to extort a few mil­lion dollars.

Per­haps SMERSH would have been bet­ter hir­ing an accoun­tant rather than a sci­en­tist. I’m all for spec­u­lat­ing to accu­mu­late, but the return on invest­ment for this project hardly seems worth it. If you’ve got the means to do some­thing like this, per­haps you’ve already got enough money and could instead retire some­where nice, and maybe take up gar­den­ing. Or at the very least, go balls-out power-mad and shoot for world dom­i­na­tion. Just ask­ing for cash seems petty and vul­gar, somehow.

Dia­monds Are For­ever cer­tainly can­not be described with a straight face as being the best Bond film in the fran­chise. I think I could make a decent case, how­ever, for it being the most fun Bond film in the fran­chise. It’s the only film in the series (at least that I recall — the Moore Era tends to mulch together in my mind) that has some level of aware­ness of what the insti­tu­tion has become, and how after Goldfin­ger it’s only ever just been on the sen­si­ble side of a self-parody.

What hap­pens in Vegas stays in Vegas, I’m reli­ably informed. This seems to have been the ratio­nale for the script to go bananas. It’s not as if the plot, inves­ti­ga­tions or char­ac­ters of Dia­monds Are For­ever are any less believ­able than in, say, Thun­der­ball. While Con­nery doesn’t exactly wink at the cam­era in this film, the whole film feels like it is some­how wink­ing con­tin­u­ally. What other rea­son would there be for the inclu­sion of a scene to show us an ele­phant win­ning on the slot machines?

As a film, Dia­mond Are For­ever could so eas­ily have fallen flat on its face. I’m sure there are peo­ple who think that it has, and I’m not alto­gether dis­mis­sive of their opin­ions. Cer­tainly, if you wanted a stone cold spy clas­sic, this is too silly for you, although arguably every­thing since Goldfin­ger was also. If you’ve been tricked by Shirley Bassey’s belt­ing out of another iconic Bond theme song into think­ing that this fits com­fort­ably into the Bond film for­mula (and why wouldn’t you?), Dia­monds Are For­ever is unlikely to meet your expec­ta­tions, at least from the moment after Bond gets to Vegas.

While the ini­tial inves­ti­ga­tions into the ‘mere’ dia­mond smug­gling is, I’d argue, as good as any seri­ous piece of Bond sleuthing in the series, he’s hardly landed State­side before he’s barg­ing past peo­ple in space­suits inex­plic­a­bly mov­ing in slow motion to hijack a moon buggy, escap­ing from a shower of goons on trikes.

There will be peo­ple who do not think that escap­ing from a shower of goons on trikes in a hijacked moon buggy is not a purely awe­some work of sur­re­al­ist genius for the World’s Best Secret Agent to be doing. I under­stand their point, and reject it fully. If you think that a moon buggy is any less ridicu­lous a mode of trans­port than an Aston Mar­tin with ejec­tor seats, rocket launch­ers and buz­z­saws then you’re delud­ing yourself.

Well, okay, it is pretty ridicu­lous. But it’s a lot of fun.

Which applies to damn near the whole film. The uber-camp ‘top assas­sins’, Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint, are extra­or­di­nar­ily ridicu­lous, steal­ing Bond’s gim­mick of one-liner kiss-off lines and ham­mer­ing it into the ground with ruth­less aban­don. They near-immediately go from mildly creepy to wildly silly, and hardly present a cred­i­ble, dra­matic threat.

Which, again, applies to the film as a whole. Until Austin Pow­ers arrived decades later, this was as close to a decent Bond par­ody as existed. Inci­den­tally, the 1966 ver­sion of Casino Royale cer­tainly does not count as a decent Bond par­ody. Even Blofeld is more play­ful, steal­ing most of the film’s best lines, and Jimmy Dean’s like­able Willard Whyte is an over the top pres­ence that comes close to over­shad­ow­ing Connery.

Whether this is Connery’s weak­est per­for­mance as Bond or merely the one in which he is given the least to do is up for debate, but I’d per­haps go with the lat­ter. Despite start­ing to look a shade too old for this sort of thing, Con­nery pro­vides some mem­o­rable moments, from the close quar­ters ele­va­tor fight sequence to his casual pose rid­ing on top of an exter­nal hotel ele­va­tor, even to accus­ing a rat of smelling like a tart’s hand­ker­chief. There’s plenty of moments to like, but I sus­pect because they are part of a film that only barely ‘feels’ like it fits into the Bond fran­chise they’re easy to ignore and focus on the more left-field and, to some, ris­i­ble, ele­ments of the film.

Admit­tedly, were I in the mar­ket for watch­ing a clas­sic Bond film, this is going to be above only Thun­der­ball in the Con­nery era. This is just a lit­tle too out-there for it’s own good, but damned if I don’t find it mas­sively enjoy­able. It’s cer­tainly far more inter­est­ing a watch than the badly-aged Thun­der­ball, and I’d choose it over, I believe, all of Moore’s stint as Bond, which I see in the cor­ner of my eye, ready to pounce. Pre­pare your­self accordingly.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Is this a meal ready to be eaten, or one already fin­ished? Who can say?

I can. It’s fin­ished. Sorry to spoil the intrigue.

There’s a very sim­ple test to see if some­one has gone off the deep end to a men­tal state from which there is no return. Ask them what their favourite Bond film is, and it the reply comes back, “Why, On Her Majesty’s Secret Ser­vice, of course!” they are no longer per­ceiv­ing the same real­ity that the rest of us are, and should be taken away to a safe place with­out sharp edges for their own protection.

Plot­wise, this time around Bond has spent the past three years try­ing and fail­ing to track down Blofeld. In accor­dance with Thun­der­ball’s prece­dent, he picks up the trail by going off-duty. When tak­ing a brief break, he stum­bles across the strong-willed Tracy Di Vicenzo, in which Bond may have met his match. Falling in love with her brings into play her father, mob boss Draco who hap­pens to have a lead on Blofeld’s lawyer. From there it’s a short inves­ti­ga­tion to Blofeld’s new base of oper­a­tion in the Alps where he’s putting the fin­ish­ing touches on another evil plan for our old buddy Bond to stop.

Well, I say our old buddy Bond, but of course the most rad­i­cal and obvi­ous dif­fer­ence between this and all that have gone before it is that Sean Con­nery has left the Bond build­ing, and George Lazenby has picked up the tuxedo and Walther PPK.

Now, there really is an awful lot wrong with OHMSS. Quite a stag­ger­ing amount, hon­estly. I almost don’t know where to start, but I sup­pose the biggest fail­ing, and the most crit­i­cal is the insane cast­ing of Lazenby. I sup­pose I can see the idea behind cast­ing an unknown for the role, some­one that car­ried no bag­gage or audi­ence pre-conceptions into the fran­chise. Seems rea­son­able, but is this really the best that space year 1969 could offer us?

From the first scenes, this guy man­ages to be the exact oppo­site of Connery’s por­trayal. Per­haps that’s inten­tional, but if so it’s bone­headed. Con­nery prowled through his tenure, always seem­ing a moment away from jump­ing on his tar­get, be that vil­lain or woman. This guy flounces. Connery’s phys­i­cal­ity meant it was nor­mally quite believ­able that he could punch people’s faces in. This guy… not so much, flail­ing around with wild hay­mak­ers that dou­ble as wind­mill imper­son­ations. Con­nery devel­oped a laid back charm com­bined with the odd believ­able moments of anger at stress points. This guy’s actu­ally in dan­ger of mak­ing Roger Moore look like a great actor by comparison.

This guy sucks. Really badly. George Lazenby sim­ply isn’t Bond, in any believ­able way. Every other actor has brought some­thing inter­est­ing to the role, which might not have been suc­cess­ful but at least some­thing was attempted. This guy’s only brought his absence of talent.

There doesn’t seem to be much point writ­ing any­thing else. A Bond film with a stiff, unlik­able, uncon­vinc­ing lead actor has already had the legs cut from under it, but in the inter­ests of hit­ting my word quota let’s crash on.

The other risk, of sorts, the movie takes is to stick closely to Fleming’s orig­i­nal novel, after the rad­i­cal depar­tures of the pre­vi­ous few films. This isn’t auto­mat­i­cally a bad thing. Many would wel­come it. How­ever they are stick­ing so closely to the novel that it’s caused baf­fling plot holes that make every­one seem like they have some kind of brain damage.

This is sup­posed to hap­pen, in what would pass for chrono­log­i­cal con­ti­nu­ity for the fran­chise, before the events of You Only Live Twice. How­ever, given that we are never told this dur­ing the film, we can only assume that every­one has suf­fered short term mem­ory loss. Blofeld and Bond meet and have pleas­ant chats with­out recog­nis­ing each other, despite last year’s vol­cano based spot of bother in YOLT.

Oh, and while we’re men­tion­ing it, Blofeld’s being played by a dif­fer­ent actor too, with Terry Savalas’s shiny head replac­ing Don­ald Pleaseance’s shiny head. And of course, he’s play­ing the char­ac­ter in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent way, because con­ti­nu­ity is for chumps. This ver­sion is more than happy to strap on a set of skis to give chase to an escap­ing Bond, despite estab­lish­ing him quite effec­tively over, well, all the prior films in the series as a man behind the cur­tains, pulling strings in the shad­ows rather than a front line warrior.

His plot turns out to revolve around a threat to ster­illse the world’s food sup­ply, unless his demands are met. Why? Doesn’t Blofeld need food, or has he become a more lit­eral SPECTRE? What hap­pens if his bluff is called? Kill the world? Bril­liant! Great plan, you bald twat.

It takes us well over half the film to get even a sniff of Blofeld. While an inves­ti­ga­tion heavy front end didn’t do too badly by Dr. No, here it’s a curi­ous mix of inves­ti­ga­tion and fawn­ing over Diana Rigg’s Tracy, a rela­tion­ship with all the fire­works, drama and inter­est of a damp Thurs­day after­noon in Stafford. The next half”s not much bet­ter either, reduc­ing to an hour of dread­fully back pro­jected ski­ing shots that did not once come close to being interesting.

The defence of OHMSS most often comes in the form of an appeal to dra­matic sen­si­bil­i­ties. I could con­ceiv­ably see that the less fan­tas­tic plot along with the only sem­blance of char­ac­ter devel­op­ment since the first film, and if you’ll excuse the spoiler, (if you can have spoil­ers for a film over forty years old) sud­den death of the first woman Bond has been goodly enough to treat as some­one with more util­ity than a sweat­sock should add up to some­thing that’s sub­stan­tially deeper and more affect­ing than you’ve become used to in the series.

The prob­lem with this sce­nario is that it only occurs in an alter­nate dimen­sion where every sin­gle ele­ment of the film is much, much bet­ter than the one that you can wit­ness using your human eyes and ears. Sure, if the films had been shot in the order they’re sup­posed to be in, it’d have fewer baf­fling, inex­plic­a­ble char­ac­ter inter­ac­tions. If Lazenby had as much more charisma, as much as, say, a small pep­per pot, there might have been some inter­est in his life and emo­tions. If there was any­thing remotely inter­est­ing going on, I’m sure we’d be inter­ested in it.

But this is a fan­tasy ver­sion of the film, cast by uni­corns and shot on rain­bows. The one that you can buy on DVD is a wretched, mis-shapen lump of a film, shuf­fling around drag­ging its haunches across the floor, whin­ing pathet­i­cally, beg­ging for a bul­let to be put into its dam­aged brain. I’d hap­pily oblige it.

So, I don’t rate this film very highly. And I haven’t even men­tioned break­ing the fourth wall! Let’s just say that those cin­e­matic brick­lay­ers spent a very long time build­ing up that wall, and it serves us in good stead to leave it up, because when you start knock­ing walls down, the roof tends to cave in.