Friday, March 15, 2013

"50 Years of Bond" Retrospective - #10: The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me was a film of many firsts for the James Bond franchise. It was the first film that was not produced by original co-head of EON, Harry Saltzman. It was also, despite taking the title from one of Fleming’s books, the first Bond film that didn’t use a SINGLE element from his original story. The Roger Moore films had this reputation of being fun, albeit quite absurd and light films. This was the movie that people had been waiting to see of James Bond since Goldfinger, and it is the best Bond film since Goldfinger. Thrilling, romantic, funny, superbly acted, beautifully filmed, and even occasionally intense, this is everything that makes a great film, and The Spy Who Loved Me is a great film.

Bond is pulled out of a mission in Austria to investigate the case of a missing submarine carrying several nuclear missiles. All while doing that, he crosses paths with a fiery KGB agent, fighting off against a ridiculously tall man with steel teeth (What dentist has he been to?), all of which eventually lead them to the hideout of a maniacal mastermind, who would use the warheads to destroy the land, and create a new underwater civilization. And, he actually thought this was a good idea in his head? Clearly he’s never played Bioshock… but, I digress.

For the first time in the Roger Moore era, I think they finally got just that right balance between the absurdity and light hearted humor of the Moore films, but also the intensity and thrills of the Connery films. Yeah, at times it is a little too goofy, but for the most part, those elements are pretty restrained. Like they did with Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I feel like the filmmakers learned their lesson, and started analyzing what worked and didn’t work about the other films, and refining them to glowing order.

As far as talent goes, there’s a lot of it, and a lot of great chemistry. This is the James Bond that I wanted from Roger Moore. He’s funny, but also very charming, serious minded, and in tune with the movie’s tone from start to finish. The Bond girl in this movie is great, sharing just the right amount of chemistry with Moore, playing it like the strong and self assured role that it deserves to be, and actually serving as a genuine match for 007. The villains, yeah, they’re pretty cool too. They’re menacing, they’re memorable, and the actors playing them are a lot of fun to watch.

As far as action and technical elements go, they’re top notch stuff. This is one of the most beautifully filmed of any of the James Bond films, with camera angles and special effects that really fascinate me. That chase in the underwater car is still pretty amazing. This has some of the most memorable gadgets, action scenes, conversations, and special effects in any of the films.

Then of course, we have to get down to the music. Many people are probably more over the moon about the songs when it comes to these movies, but the orchestral score heard here is pretty fantastic. It’s Marvin Hamlisch, so how could it not be? It’s fresh, it’s exciting, and the variations in styles it uses are just wonderful. As for the aforementioned song “Nobody Does It Better”, this one’s really hard to top. This was actually the first opening title song that wasn’t named after the film. The song was written by Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, performed by Carly Simon, and was a smash hit during the film’s original release. It’s so memorable, so catchy, so beautiful, and everything about it is just so perfect that it even tops Goldfinger. That’s right! I said it! I actually dared to say that one of the other songs in the James Bond franchise was better than Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger”. It is that good, people! It is that good!

At this point, everybody seemed to agree that this was the height of Roger Moore’s era as Bond. It’s often considered one of the greatest Bond films ever made, and for many people, it’s even their favorite. While I can’t say I like it as much as Goldfinger, this one is still very, very good. With the new levels this movie had reached, the sky was practically the limit. But, much like Connery’s time, Roger Moore’s time as Bond would eventually crash and burn, but we’ll get to that in the coming days. For many a 007 fan, there’s no denying the outstanding achievement here. Surely, nobody does it better...

****1/2 / *****

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