I recently picked up all the remastered Ultimate Edition DVDs of the James Bond films from an Ebay auction. I’m not exactly careful with these types of things. I bid on a whim, and then promptly forgot about the thing. Five days later, my inbox displayed an email telling me that I won. Oh sweet. I was now out around $130. On the bright side, I got all 22 Bond films, and I consider myself a pretty big fan of the series. Over the last couple of weeks I have been watching the movies, and I thought I’d share my thoughts with both of you who read my blog.
If I had to rank the Sean Connery films in order from best to last they’d go something like this (I’m also throwing in Lazenby’s film as it falls between two Connery movies):
- From Russia with Love
- Dr. No
- You Only Live Twice
- Diamonds are Forever
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
- Never Say Never Again (an unofficial film)
If you’re interested in why I ordered them the way I did (and how could you not be?), read on.
From Russia with Love – Everything about this Bond movie is awesome. This movie introduced gadgets to the world of Bond, and the ones featured could all easily exist in real life. The action sequences are a lot of fun to watch, and are incredibly varied (shootouts, a fight on a train, a helicopter attack, boat chase, etc.). The plot is solid, and perhaps the most plausible of any of the Bond films. Of all the movies, it’s the only one where Cold War tensions really seem to be present. Also, it plays out like an espionage movie, and not a shiny action-packed extravaganza. The villain is good, too, and matches Bond in the physical presence department. The pacing, acting, directing, and, well, everything, is done to perfection. Overall, this is a great movie, and certainly Connery’s best.
Goldfinger – This is the most classic Bond film of them all, and really set the bar high for all subsequent films. It also stands as the mold for all other spy movies and television shows of the 60s and 70s. Really, this movie has everything: a girl with an innuendo name (Pussy Galore), the crazy henchman (Odd Job), cool gadgets including Bond’s famous Aston Martin, a great brassy theme song, a diabolical scheme (irradiate Fort Knox), and an obsessive arch villain (Auric Goldfinger). It’s vintage Bond at his best, and is the standard that all Bond films should weigh themselves against. The only reason I rate it slightly (and I mean very slightly) below From Russia with Love, is that this movie slows down quite a bit in the second half, whereas the other film maintains a steady level of intensity throughout. Still, it’s a quality Bond outing.
Dr. No – Bond’s first film holds up surprisingly well compared to his later endeavours. It has an appropriate sense of mystery, and shows Bond as more of a detective trying to figure out what’s going on rather than moving from Point A to Point B like in other movies in the series. It, too, has an exotic locale, beautiful girls, and an interesting villain. Everything leading up to the point where Bond reaches Dr. No’s island is executed perfectly. Afterwards, things start to slip. The island scenes meander, and seem to add little to the film. Once Bond is captured (which is a requirement for every film, I think), he meets Dr. No. After all this build up you would expect something epic. Unfortunately, there isn’t much running time left, and everything from here on out seems like an afterthought. Regardless, this is a fun Bond movie even if somewhat flawed.
You Only Live Twice – This is one of those Bond movies that is either loved or reviled by the fans. Personally, I liked it quite a bit. It features Bond’s first trip to Asia, with the majority of the movie taking place in Japan. It has a classic theme song, and beautiful imagery. Believe it or not, many of Bond’s most famous tropes (as well as things other movies, for example the Austin Powers series, make fun of) originated in this movie. Blofeld’s appearance, the secret volcano lair (very cool), the huge battle at the end, holding the world ransom, Little Nelly, the ninja training sequence, and the music all make this a very worthy Bond adventure. Things do veer into the realm of ridiculousness when Bond undergoes plastic surgery to look Japanese, and comes out looking exactly the same. Nevertheless, little hiccups aside, this really is a classic Bond movie.
Thunderball – I have a feeling many Bond fans would be upset that I have placed the beloved Thunderball so far down on my list. Sorry, but this movie is not that great. But it’s not that bad, either. The problem with Thunderball is that it overstays its welcome. It was released at the height of Bond-mania, and you can tell they wanted to do everything bigger and better than ever. The problem is that it leads to an over-indulgence of such excess that you just get worn out, and keep on checking your watch, wondering when it’s going to end. The spine-stretching scene was ridiculous at best. The scenes leading up to SPECTRE’s theft of the nuclear weapons were way too long, showing us every detail, when it really could have been done in two or three quick scenes. We don’t care how the bad guys got the nukes, we just care about how Bond is going to stop them. Similarly, the huge underwater battle was a great idea, but it just goes on and on and on and on and, well, you get the idea. Cut in half, it would have been a taut, anxiety-laden, yet stunningly cool sequence. However, at its bloated length, it becomes almost unbearably painful to watch. The movie was executed well, though, and Connery does a good job. I just wish the editor had been a bit more liberal with his cuts. This Bond movie is all about the spectacle. Even though it’s definitely not one of my favorites, I still think it’s one that is worth checking out, as long as you keep a finger on the fast forward button.
Diamonds are Forever – This is sort of a ho-hum Bond outing, and Connery really seems to be phoning in his role here. It’s the film he did after coming out of retirement (the first time), and he still looks pretty bored. Sadly, there’s not much really worth mentioning about this movie. It features 1971 Las Vegas, which is really stark compared to today, and is certainly interesting, at least an an oddity. The girl in this movie is annoying, the actor who plays Blofeld is terrible, the multitude of Willard Whyte-Howard Hughes allusions are unnecessary, and the action sequences are few and far between. Like any Bond movie, there are cool parts, like Blofeld’s plot with the satellite laser, the oil-rig fortress, and the Mustang car chase. However, the majority of this movie just seems to drag. If you want to skip one, go ahead and make it Diamonds are Forever.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – I would argue that this is one of the worst Bond movies of all time. Partly because George Lazenby is a horrible Bond, and partly because it just plain sucks. Lazenby can’t act. He isn’t suave, his one-liners are all duds, his “action” sequences are a joke, and he looks wooden throughout the majority of the film. Worse still, he’s an Australian putting on a fake English accent, and it makes a lot of his lines unintelligible. I will grant that his performance in the final scene was actually good, but that doesn’t make up for the other 2+ hours of bad acting that came before it. Diana Rigg was awesome as the girl, but they didn’t really give her character all that much to do. For Mrs. Peel of the Avengers, she could have been kicking ass instead. At least she’d be more believable doing it than Lazenby. The other problem with this movie is that it is BORING. All of the “action” is backloaded so that the first 2/3 of the movie is set-up, with the exciting bits in the final 1/3. In a regular movie that would be fine, but in a Bond movie you have a certain expectation of action to be found throughout. Finally, once the “action” starts, it’s really humdrum. The ski sequences, while original, are long and dull, the car chase was uninteresting, and the final battle was weak. Even Blofeld’s scheme was given no attention at all, only mentioned in an off-hand manner just so we knew he was up to something evil. Also of note, the soundtrack doesn’t really seem to match what is taking place onscreen (i.e. loud crescendos occur when nothing particularly exciting is happening). It’s almost as if they threw in the music haphazardly. People have said that if this was a Connery film, it would be one of the highest rated of the series. I disagree. While Connery’s style and physical presence would have certainly made the movie more watchable, it still would have been a snoozer. Overall, I can’t recommend this movie at all. If you’ve never seen a Bond film, don’t start here.
Never Say Never Again – This was Connery’s final role as Bond, after coming out of retirement for a second time. It is actually an unofficial film, and a remake of Thunderball. While there are solid elements, it really isn’t all that great. The scenes in the clinic, and the theft of the nuclear weapons actually were a big improvement over the ones seen in Thunderball. They were shorter, got to the point quickly, and were more exciting. The rest of the movie, unfortunately, is a huge mess. Plus, the lack of Bond music and the opening gunbarrel sequence really hinder the film. It just doesn’t feel like a James Bond movie. Other issues I had were the Bond girl, the video game sequence, and the underwater battle. Kim Basinger is terrible in this movie, and is far more annoying than alluring, which is what you don’t want in a Bond girl. The video game sequence was absolutely retarded, and no replacement for the Baccarat scene in Thunderball. Finally, the underwater battle was completely underwhelming. While the original went way overboard, this one was the complete opposite of that. It didn’t have enough excitement; it was really a lackluster finale. Floating around on the internet there is hope, however. An intrepid fan has taken Never Say Never Again, and inserted all the Bond standards, like the music and gunbarrel sequence. After watching it, the film is indeed enjoyable. It’s still a pretty weak entry into the series, but overall is much more tolerable. If you can find this version, I would recommend checking it out.
Well, it’s time to move on to the Roger Moore era. I’ll write up another batch of reviews once I get through those.
- From Russia with Love – Awesome
- Goldfinger – Awesome
- Dr. No – Good
- You Only Live Twice – Good
- Thunderball – Average
- Diamonds are Forever – Bad
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Shitty
- Never Say Never Again – Shitty