Monday, April 13, 2009

Bond review #3: Live and Let Die

This was the first pre-Brosnan Bond film I ever saw. It's still one of my favorites just because it's probably one of the funniest of the series, and also one of the weirdest. It's also the first time Roger Moore played James Bond.

I realize that many people dislike Roger Moore, or more accurately dislike the films he was in and his interpretation of Bond. For a while though, he was my favorite, as I'm sure he is to most 12 year olds. Why? He's got cool gadgets, lots of sexual puns, and he never loses his cool. Now that I'm older, I find Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton to be more to my liking.

1973 was the height of the blaxploitation craze. Some also thought it was the end to the James Bond era as Sean Connery had now just quit the role for a second time and said he'd never play Bond again. (Never say never, Mr. Connery!) The studio had already tried once to fill Connery's shoes, and the results were a great movie, but a very poor Bond. When it comes to Live and Let Die and Roger Moore, what we get is an okay Bond film and an okay Bond. Yet it's not a forgettable one. After all, what other Bond movie has all of the bad guys being black? It was a daring decision at the time, and quite a few people today consider the movie to be racist. It may be a bit, but it's nowhere near the racist sludge that the original book was. Besides, all of the black actors who worked on the film has fond memories.

The plot of the movie has to do with Bond investigating the deaths of three MI6 field agents in various places. He finds out the places have one thing in common... Each has a Fillet of Soul restaurant. He gets trapped by Mr. Big and rescued by the CIA. Bond uses a tarot card girl (Jane Seymour) owned by Mr. Big's friend Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto) as leverage. Then there's a bunch of chases and heroin and voodoo rituals.... It's all very convoluted really.

The best parts of the movie to me are the incredible speedboat chase through the Louisiana bayous, the character of the cracker cop Sheriff J. W. Pepper (Clifton James, who played Carr in Cool Hand Luke), and the escape from an island in the middle of a pond full of alligators. Also of note is the character of Quarrel Jr. I'm guessing, since this boatman character pops up in the same area as Dr. No, and shares the same last name as the boatman in Dr. No, that it's supposed to be his son.

When it comes to how good the movie is, it's really rather average when it comes to the Bond films. Sure, it's different in that Q doesn't appear, it's a new actor playing the leading role, the first rock song opening, and all the villains were black, but other than that, it's not much different in feel than the last film, Diamonds Are Forever was. I'm not sure all of the supernatural stuff they put into the movie was a good idea, but it was in the source material after all. (I should know, as I've read Live and Let Die, Golfinger, and Man With The Golden Gun.)

Locations: 6/10 Bond travels a lot in this one, but all the locations are in the same general area of the world really. We start out in England of course, but we only see the inside of Bond's house. Then we have three other locations... The fictional Caribbean country of San Monique which, let's face it, is really just the Dominican Repulic or Haiti... There's Harlem, and then Louisiana. It's very America based, as Diamonds Are Forever was. These may not be the most picturesque places Bond visits, but they give the film a gritty quality which fits it's blaxploitation roots.

Villain: 4/10 Yes, Yaphet Kotto is a great actor, and he's a charming villain. However, he's not attempting to take over the world or blackmail governments... He's a big drug kingpin. I'm not really sure that we needed the best double O agent to bring him down. Also his death is the worst in the Bond series. James makes him swallow an air pellet and he blows up like a balloon, flies to the ceiling (complete with balloon noises), and pops on the roof. It's REALLY stupid. The henchmen are a bit better. They all have their little quirks. There's Whisper who.... whispers. Then there's TeeHee who has a claw for a hand and laughs. Lastly there's Baron Samedi, who doesn't die and has the last laugh in the movie... literally.

Bond Girl: 4/10 Jane Seymour as Solitaire, while pretty to look at, is simply a mediocre Bond girl. She's soft-spoken and was sort of like the captive princess who just needed saving. She does hit people with her handbag though.

Direction/Design: 5/10 The series, after using the 2.35:1 aspect ratio since Thunderball, went to using 1.85:1 for this one. It means the film loses its epic scope a bit, but that fits in with this movie. It IS smaller scale than all the films since Dr. No. Ultimately, the direction and design are fine, but that's all. No bells and whistles here.

Theme: 10/10 This is the main reason the movie is known to people. The Paul McCartney and Wings theme song. It's the first rock song to be used as a Bond theme, and it's one of the best. The song would later become even more popular after Guns 'N Roses redid it in the early 90s. The song fits the mood of the film very well and is well deserving of it's classic rock status.

Overall: 5/10 It's not forgettable, but it's certainly nowhere near the best or worst in the series. It's got a lot of humor and is different from the early Connery films. However, it's very similar in style to the film that preceded it. Roger Moore was a more suave James Bond than Connery, but audiences at the time didn't mind. Worth watching at least once.

The blu-ray for this Bond title is a dramatic improvement over the pretty murky and drab VHS that I owned. The movie uses mainly browns and dark greens, so there isn't much to see, but the blu-ray still made it look beautiful. It was again put through the Lowry restoration process. The extras are plentiful. There are 3 commentary tracks, including one by Sir Roger Moore himself. Also included are a fantastic in-depth making of, trailers, a travelogue, Moore doing a spoof of Bond in 1963, and some small featurettes on various subjects.

James Bond will return soon in... The World Is Not Enough

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