BOND: Revisiting OCTOPUSSY - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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You've seen one Octopussy, you've seen them all, says Matthew Kresal.

With the triumph of For Your Eyes Only, James Bond entered the 1980s successfully, with a line potentially drawn under Roger Moore's tenure in the role. That success, however, was soon threatened. Thunderball producer (and rights holder) Kevin McClory had not only gotten his rival Bond film project, Never Say Never Again, off the ground, but convinced Sean Connery to return as Bond as well. With Moore slipping his holster and tuxedo back on, 1983's Octopussy was proclaimed "James Bond's all time high," on its posters.

Was it, though?

Having proven in For Your Eyes Only that he was more than capable of handling a more serious Bond, one might have expected Roger Moore's performance in Octopussy to have followed the same course. Yet, the Bond of this film is more of a continuation of the one seen in Moonraker: tossing about one-liners left, right and center while being questionable with it comes to realism in the action department. The latter isn't Moore's fault but due to some pieces of clear as day doubling, which can still take audiences out of the moment when you see the stuntman's face during the finale aerial sequence, for example. It's also here that his age began to show, highlighted both in close-ups, the almost laughable coupling of a fifty-something Moore with a much younger Kristina Wayborn as Magda at one point, and the simple fact that Bond and M are nearly the same age. Where the performance comes off best is in the more serious moments, and in his scenes with Maud Adams Octopussy. It seems a shame after For Your Eyes Only, but Octopussy could have been a decent final outing in the role for Moore if fate had allowed it.

Working out somewhat better is Octopussy herself, played by Maud Adams. Harkening back to Dr. No two decades earlier, she is a title character who doesn't arrive in the film until a good deal of the way into it. Having been one of the better things about The Man With The Golden Gun, Adams proves to be much the same here. She shares some excellent chemistry with Moore, and the sense of both beauty and maturity she brings to the role makes her a believable romantic interest for this 007. It also allows Adams to give some depth to an admittedly two-dimensional character on the page, one who is ultimately reduced to a damsel in distress for Bond to save. All told, even with the frustrating arc of the character, she might well be the best one in the entire film.

Rounding out the main cast are its villains: Louis Jourdan as Prince Kamal Khan and Steven Berkoff as Soviet General Orlov. Khan is the one who gets the majority of the screentime, while Orlov is the one who is really behind the plot, though neither of whom is exactly the best Bond villain by any means. Jourdan tries hard to pull off the elegant but sinister villain but with no success as he ventures into parody. Berkoff, on the other hand, goes for over the top in every one of his scenes. As a result, Orlov becomes a cartoon villain, needing only a mustache to complete the cliche (or a bottle of Vodka, given he's a mad Russian). The most menacing of the villains is the henchman, Gobinda, played by Kabir Bedi, who is little more than an Indian take on the Oddjob character (though as least Gobinda speaks). If a Bond film is only as good as its villains, then Octopussy is a troublesome film.

The problems with the cast are the least of its troubles, though. For tonally, Octopussy is all over the place. Plot-wise, with its tale of late Cold War intrigue and a would-be nuclear accident, it is in keeping with For Your Eyes Only. It also draws on a pair of Ian Fleming’s short stories, something else keeping it in line with its immediate predecessor. Indeed, for much of Octopussy's length, the film plays things tense and straight, as does John Barry's score, but don't let that fool you. Because, beneath the thriller plot, there's the strain of campy humor that ran throughout the Moore films. From visuals gags and cringe-worthy moments such as Tarzan yells and Bond telling a tiger to sit, moments of tension get undermined by an over-reliance on humor. By the time Bond ends up first in a gorilla suit and then as a clown, it's clear that like Diamonds Are Forever a dozen years before, Octopussy is a Bond film that tries to be a hybrid of the franchise's two extremes. Ultimately, it succeeds at being neither. Indeed, in terms of basic plot points, Fredrick Forsyth's The Fourth Protocol, both as a novel and its flawed 1987 film adaptation, does a far better job.

I suspect that Octopussy is a love it or hate it kind of Bond film. If you’re a fan of the Roger Moore era, you’ll find plenty to love about it. If you're not, it's likely going to rub you the wrong way or have you wondering why those making it couldn't have picked one direction or the other to go in. In the end, perhaps the best thing one can say about Octopussy is it's a good rainy day Bond outing.

Alternatively, one can say it isn't the best Bond film released in 1983...

Previous "Revisiting..." articles
Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice,
On Her Majesty's Secret Service,
Diamonds Are Forever,
Live And Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only

Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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