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You Only Live Twice  rating

Review: written 2007

Welcome to Japan, Mr Bond...

Ah, it is a tough call, trying to rate a movie as fun as this. Holding such an iconic status as it does, how do you keep your bias in check and look at the movie without those nostalgic rose coloured specs?

As witness for the defence, I would like to call Ken Adams - creator of the 1 million dollar volcano set. This is the action sequence at the end of the movie which set a standard for Bond movies for a very long time... so much so that it is recreated in different guises in `The Spy who loved me', and `Moonraker'. It is certainly the most spectacular set and largest scale action sequence in a Bond movie until this one.

Next witness - Sean Connery - yes, he seems a little more weary in the role than he did in Thunderball, but while not at his peak, he is still fit and charming enough to be the definitive James Bond (at least when not wearing insanely unconvincing Japanese prosthetics).

John Barry - who produces another great and imaginative score here, one of the last to sound truly original.

And then I call Little Nellie - the signature gadget for the film, a weapon loaded gyrocopter, is a great success, not just for the aerial action sequence, but also for getting `Q' out of the office and into the field for a change!

But then comes the witnesses for the prosecution... If I call Blofeld to the stand, then you will find what at first appears to be brilliant casting, turns out to be too little too late in the movie. Donald Pleasance as just the right creepiness for the role, but never truly brings the character to life, and demasking Blofeld only seems to tarnish some of the mythos that had been built up around him.

The same holds true if I call Bond's ladies to the stand. Helga Brandt may have a healthy chest, but is a pale pale imitation of the evil Fiona Volpe from Thunderball. And the Japanese ladies have a novelty value, but never appear to truly have an impact on Bond.

Then there is the screenplay. Roald Dahl is a genius, but somewhere between the story, the screenplay of the story and the screen, some magic has seemingly evaporated. When I watched this with an audience, a third of them were sleeping through the middle sagging part of the movie.

Part of the joy, and also part of the problem is that some of the international flair has been left out of this movie to concentrate on one location - Japan. The location is therefore well explored in both culture and geography, but a certain variety and roving nature to Bond's exploits is missing.

I call the effects to the stand... Bond always worked best when the stories were timeless. By using a space age plot, the plot device, effects, and concept are all immediately dated. Bear in mind this movie was conceived long before man walked on the moon.

And then I'd like to call Little Nellie. Yes, the same Little Nellie called by the defence. Is it used craftily integrated into the plot? No, we see a scene where he is attacked predictably by helicopters, and goes through the gadgets one by one until they are all used and he goes home. It's just not as clever as say, the tear gas in the case from `From Russia with Love'.

Critically, there is the myth of Bond himself. Where in previous Bond movies he was a spy who through tradecraft and hard work (and occasionally seducing beautiful women) would find his way to the evil masterminds lair, here it is as if the character stumbles from one situation to the next, rather than driving events. This was to hold true for Bond for many years to come, with the exception of `On Her Majesty's Secret Service'.

The verdict? A hung jury... It is a movie that perhaps tries too hard to go bigger and better in many respects. And so we have a movie with two hats - It introduces some fun ideas, such as M and Moneypenny having a mobile office in a submarine - the first of many mobile offices for M, and seeing Bond in naval uniform for the first time. But it also fails to achieve the characterisation that had gone before and relies on the goodwill from previous movies a little too hard. Thus, we all love You Only Live Twice, but have to be honest, it is harmless fun, but not a classic. Majority verdict in favour of the defence.

All in all, I can only recommend this as a worthwhile watch, while acknowledging it is just not as finely crafted as its predecessors.

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