Saturday, October 1, 2016

Bond Watch: For Your Eyes Only (1981)

somewhere, a visual design graduate student is madly scribbling about this poster in their thesis

If memory serves, For Your Eyes Only (1981) was the first Bond movie I ever watched.  I seem to recall my Dad watching it on television a couple years after it came out, probably around 1983, and I felt like I was watching exciting action meant for adults.  After all, Star Wars did not feature guys on motorcycles with nails in the wheels or exciting ski chases.

I've seen the movie two or three times since then, and my general impression was "this is one of the better Bond films".  I recall my delight at the tiny-yellow car in the car chase during my middle-school viewing of the movie and as scenes came up during this viewing, I was quite pleased to see the scenes pop up, because I'd forgotten them over time, washed away in a haze of Bond-ness.

But I really like this Bond film.  For Your Eyes Only feels like a sane reaction to the excesses of Moonraker, maybe even feeling some influence from the Bond of the novels (of which I've only read two and am nowhere near an expert).  The task Bond is sent on feels grounded very much in a possible reality - to figure out what happened to a sunken British boat that was carrying their secret encoder/ decoder for nuclear weapons comms.  It's not "where's our spaceship?"  And the flow between scenes isn't haphazard, there's a logical progression to the unfolding of the mystery.

The action set-pieces and stunts are pretty great.  The aforementioned car and ski chases are spectacular, there's an underwater battle that more or less set off all my alarm bells thanks recurring nightmares I had as a kid of being trapped underwater with a menacing presence (usually a shark, but a dude in a deep-dive suit works, too).  And the finale climbing up to and then fighting upon the very real Greek monasteries at the top of a rocky precipice was mind-boggling.

I did myself the disservice of reading how they filmed the underwater sequence (I couldn't figure it out, and, well, keep the magic alive!  Don't learn!  Magnets, how do they work?).  but I loved that bit.

After Bond basically kept stumbling into sex with women in Moonraker,  this film dials it way, way back, and he doesn't actually have any sexy time until the ordeal is over.  I mean, the young woman is maybe 1/3rd of Moore's age, and selling the idea she wants to much but give him a friendly church-hug may be an Oscar worthy stunt on the part of actress Carole Bouquet.

And, the films also gives Bond a separate attractive young woman he realizes just reeks of crazy and he flat our turns her down.  I know this would be read somewhere as "Bond is afraid of sexually aggressive women".  I'm going to argue - evidence points to the contrary, and a worldly gent like Mr. Bond knows better than to get involved with bonkers.  That's a rule that supersedes all your film theory.

(edit:  Jamie has reminded me he makes tender, caring love to a near age-appropriate woman at about the 2/3rd mark of the movie.)   

This is also the movie with the super-odd cold open that was an oddball conversation between the varying parties fighting over the rights to Bond at the time (this is also the movie that has, like, four production companies listed at the beginning, most notably MGM and UA).  I don't pretend to understand the in's and out's of the fight, but I'm sure Google could tell me.  I also know it led to the 1983 Connery-starring Never Say Never Again film that fits oddly within the history of the franchise (and isn't in my DVD set, I don't think).

All in all, my fondness for For Your Eyes Only complicates the picture of how I like my Bond films.  Clearly I dig something as big and crazy as The Spy Who Loved Me, but there's something to a more grounded Bond that doesn't feel like he's working on the margins of science fiction that makes the character work really well and makes him stand out among action-adventure heroes (probably why I like the Daniel Craig movies so well).

I'll also fess up to really liking the soft-rock theme song by Ms. Sheena Easton.  It's probably in my top 6 or 7 Bond themes.  Which I suppose I should rank at the end of all this (spoiler: it's hard to beat Adele's "Skyfall").


JAL said...

I always come back to this as one of my fave Bond films, and certainly my fave Moore Bond film.

This one actually feels like it has stakes.

The League said...

Agreed. It's hard to feel the stakes in "Moonraker", and even "The Spy Who Loved Me" scales up so much so fast, it's mostly just large set pieces. Here we get a problem it feels like Bond can solve without employing the naval might of 3 nations.

picky said...

I haven't watched these Bond films in YEARS. I loved them growing up, but then, of course, once I started reading the books, I couldn't believe how I'd been duped. Until the most recent iteration, the films are so different. While they have their own issues, the books are far from the silly, over-the-top crazy of Moonraker. For a while, some blog friends and I were reading the books and then doing a watch of the films, and we had so much fun.

I need to watch this based on your comments. It's been too long.

Jake Shore said...

This was my favorite as a kid and still my favorite Roger Moore film. It's weird, I grew up with Roger Moore and didn't actually watch a Connery Bond film until I was well into high school. My first reaction was "this is all wrong!" Over time I came to appreciate Connery's films and realize how bad some of Moore's were. I much prefer the back to basics Bond that director John Glen salvaged after the years of Lewis Gilbert who brought us the most over the top Bond films (You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker).

The film also has two great Bond set pieces. The 'dragged over coral' scene and the rock climb to the monastery. My one criticism is probably the pre-title sequence which decides to eliminate Blofeld once and for all, as sort of an afterthought or "let's get this out of the way." Just no connection to the rest of the film whatsoever.

And yes, the song is great.