What a piece of shit.
Chronologically speaking, it’s the first movie in the Bond series I can say that about, although sadly it will not be the last. The big difference between this and the four previous films is that their plotlines were at least set within the realm of the possible, even at times the plausible.
You could believe, for instance, that terrorist organizations wanted to get their hands on nukes — frankly, that seems to be an even more timely fear today. You could believe that enemy agents would try to set traps to embarrass rival nations, or to gain an advantage in the space race. You could believe that economic warfare would involve schemes to try to throw the world’s markets off course (if not necessarily the method by which Goldfinger hoped to do so).
But “You Only Live Twice” is so frankly unbelievable and preposterous in just about every way that any attempt at suspense is undermined because the whole story is pretty much like something out of a comic book. And the film set a bad precedent for the series, because in later years, many audiences would settle for the idea of a Bond movie as nothing more than a big-budget, explosion-filled, dumbed-down entertainment — when the series had once been so much more than that. (And, thankfully, now seems to be heading in that direction again.)
The very idea of a giant spacecraft that is big enough to swallow rockets launched by other countries and then land inside a hollowed-out volcano without being detected by radar or any other means known to modern technology — this alone is nearly enough to sink the movie.
Am I taking it all too seriously? Maybe, but keep in mind that to me, Bond films are spy thrillers first — stories in which a ruthless detective must rely on his wits to accomplish his mission at any cost, even if it means causing himself to suffer. The man should be at the center of the story, not the gadgetry, stuntwork and pretty sets.
It’s no wonder Connery quit the series after this mess. He looks visibly bored throughout the film, with an expression that says, “I can’t believe this crap is the best they can do. Oh well, soon as I’m done parroting my lines, it’s off to the links for some golf.” (You would think, when they were so desperate to get him back four years later, he could have at least insisted on a better story for his return to Bondage, but I’m getting ahead of myself.)
Throughout “You Only Live Twice,” spectacle takes precedence over logic or having the plot make sense. How about the car chase where the Japanese “Secret Service” has a helicopter come in, lift up the pursuing enemy car with a huge magnet, and drop it into the sea? Uh, wouldn’t someone be likely to notice something like that? Not exactly the most covert of operations, is it?
If you’re going to make a big, dumb movie, at least be sure your special effects are up to par, but even in this area the movie is a failure. The rocket looks cheesy from the first moment we see it, and all the outer space effects are laughable. Helga Brandt’s parachute jump is especially unconvincing. Even the character herself is just an inferior retread of Fiona Volpe from “Thunderball.”
And, again, we’re saddled with a weak villain. After being in the shadows for so long, the head honcho of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld — a man whose voice contained untold menace and whose mind concocted brilliantly evil schemes that left his subordinates in terror of failing him — is revealed to be … Donald Pleasance?
Now in fairness, he was a last-minute choice after the original actor became ill. But he just is not convincing in this role. He seems ill at ease, small, weak, lacking the smooth confidence and self-control a master villain would have, and if anything seems like a patsy set up to take the fall while the real mastermind watches from afar. Pleasance gave many fine performances in his career, but this is a clear case of miscasting.
Was there anything I liked about the movie? Well, it does make great use of Japanese locations, the pool of piranhas is a nice touch, and I like the character of Tiger Tanaka, even though if you listen closely, his voice is dubbed by the same guy who dubbed Largo’s lines in “Thunderball.” But these few good points are not nearly enough to redeem the movie.
Rating overall: 5 out of 10.
Behind every great book adaptation is a forgettable first try. — By Ryan Covey