Our review of James Bond Ultimate Edition (Volume 4), published January 1st, 2007, is also available.
James Bond's all time high.
Though getting a little creaky in the role, Roger Moore takes the Bond franchise for an entertaining ride in Octopussy to exotic Indian locations with some of the most sensuous women in the series, perhaps to distract us from an overdone plot and his increasing tendency to excessive humor. Sadly, MGM makes some annoying mistakes in an otherwise decently handled disc.
Facts of the Case
In the pre-credits teaser, 007 attempts some sabotage and escapes from Cuba in hair-raising fashion aboard a mini-jet. After the usual credits, a great mystery is unveiled when Bond's colleague 009, in full clown regalia, turns up dead at the feet of the British ambassador in Berlin, dropping a world-class forgery of a Fabergè egg in the process. Naturally Bond is tasked with investigating this murder, and he soon learns that a shady art dealer, Kamal Khan, has an unusual interest in purchasing the real egg, which has mysteriously appeared for anonymous auction at Sotheby's in London.
His interest piqued, Bond tracks Kamal to a palatial estate in India. As a bonus much to his liking, Bond finds that Kamal is a business associate of a lady known only as Octopussy, who runs a diversified business empire staffed entirely by women, but whose primary objective is jewelry smuggling. Once Kamal becomes aware of Bond's interest in him, he arranges for his seductive capture at the hands of the stunning Madga. Naturally, Bond escapes thanks to some of Q's gadgetry and his own daring.
Bond ends up a guest of Octopussy on her private "no men allowed" island. Naturally, Bond is in paradise! For her own very personal reasons, she declines to turn Bond over to Kamal's tender mercies, and instead allows him his freedom. Having nosed about during his stay with Octopussy, Bond suspects that Kamal and his Soviet patron, General Orlov, have something particularly nasty in store for the West, and finds his worst suspicions confirmed: a nuclear bomb will be smuggled into a NATO base in West Germany during an Octopussy Circus show and detonated.
The race is on, and the tension comes as thick and furious as the impressive action sequences, aboard Octopussy's train, on the roadways, and at the circus performance itself. When Bond averts nuclear disaster by a slender second, Octopussy finds that she was used as a dupe by Kamal. The final battle features a horde of gorgeous, skilled women, Q's first foray into active field support, and a mid-air battle between Kamal's intimidating henchman, Gobinda, and Bond. In the aftermath, Bond enjoys a well deserved rest, or perhaps a well deserved lack of rest with the alluring Octopussy…
Two elements of Octopussy stand out as this film's undeniable contribution to the Bond franchise: the locations and the women (oh, the women!).
As some of the cast and crew note in the documentary, Octopussy is nearly a tourist travelogue imploring the audience to come and sample the exotic beauty of India. Though an Indian location shoot had been originally considered for Live and Let Die, the Bond films did not come to India until a suitably amazing city was found (Udaipur) and the local leader (Maharana Bagwat Singh) allowed full cooperation and access to architecturally stunning palaces. (Of course, I do not doubt that production designer extraordinaire Ken Adams could have recreated suitable structures with enough time and cash!).
Then you must, you simply must, consider the beauty of the women as a match for the exotic locales. Maud Adams looks far more glamorous and relaxed (and active) then she was allowed during her previous Bond incarnation as the ill-fated Andrea Anders in Man With The Golden Gun. However, I always felt that Kristina Wayborn steals the show as Magda. Tall and athletic, with a devious spark in her eye and an attitude to match, her Magda uses Bond for her own trophy-gathering ends at least as much as he uses her in turn. Octopussy's army of gorgeous women is also quite a worthy addition to the film, and a credit to those responsible for casting!
The anamorphic video is good, but the need for restoration of the film elements is still plain. The presence of dirt and other assorted blips is not as evident as in some other Bond films, but what remains is still frequent enough to be mildly annoying to a devoted fan. Otherwise, the results are fine. Average color saturation, good sharpness, as well as accurate blacks and flesh tones contribute to a commendable but not quite top flight picture. Digital enhancement artifacts pop in here or there with a bit of shimmering line, but they are kept well in check.
The Dolby Surround mix is adequate but disappointing. Nobody is ever going to confuse a good 5.1 mix with a good Dolby Surround track, but I still expected a lot more from the side channels. There were moments where a sound effects pan from front to rear would have been appropriate (such as a plane flying into and "through" the screen) but did not occur. The rear channels are called upon for filling in some ambient sound, but not in a notable manner. Bass is modestly supported by the subwoofer, but again not in a fashion that commands attention. The front (main) speakers are better used, but the soundstage is clearly center-anchored (as well as being forward), with the mains also missing a few opportunities for appropriate right-center-left movement.
The extra content starts off with the usual excellent thirty-five minute "Inside Octopussy" documentary, rich with tidbits and context. Next is the 21-minute "Designing Bond—Peter Lamont," which covers the artistic genius of the man who began working on Bond films ever since Goldfinger and who has become the marvelous production designer of every Bond film since For Your Eyes Only. Unlike many of the other commentaries in the series, this one for Octopussy is a solo effort by director John Glen, whose Bondian director credits include For Your Eyes Only, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, and License to Kill. Having been involved in the production of James Bond films ever since his initiation as second-unit director in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Mr. Glen has quite a lot to say about all aspects of the construction and production of Octopussy. However, there are many instances where he runs out of things to say, leaving rather extended and noticeable gaps.
Filling out the extras are the Octopussy trailers (theatrical and three teaser, matted and of limited quality), two animated storyboard sequences ("The Taxi Chase" and "Bond Rescues Octopussy"), and a soft, grainy widescreen video of "All Time High" by Rita Coolidge. The usual nice multi-page booklet, with trivia and production notes, is included as well.
One additional facet of Octopussy is a personal favorite. Not only do we get the usual scene where Q shows off his gadgets and equips 007, but during the final action sequence we are treated to Q entering the fray and hinting at extracurricular activities with Magda and a group of Octopussy's ladies. Go, Q, go!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As the next-to-last installment of Roger Moore, Octopussy is a Bond film that stands somewhere in the middle of the pack. Though Moore would not hit rock bottom until A View to a Kill, he begins in Octopussy to showcase his least helpful feature of the series. A degree of wry, punny humor is a recognizes staple of the Bond franchise, but it does need to be appropriate and restrained, lest it descend into the ridiculous. Such restraint was absent here, evidently. Yelling "sit" to a Bengal tiger (which does so), a Tarzan yell as Bond swings through the jungle, and other lesser sins still get my eyes rolling. He is not as aged and creaky as in his next outing, but Moore's need for Oil of Olay is apparent. Thankfully, his leading ladies are substantive women, so the apparent age disparity does not venture into cringe-inducing territory.
As far as some of the other Bondian elements, the villains are lacking some of the grandeur and flavor of the best. Louis Jourdan (Khan) does have the manners, style, and poise to be a cultured counterpart to Bond, but the script never quite fleshes out his motivations (aside from pedestrian greed) or allows him the opportunity to exercise his potential and become fearsome and deliciously evil. Kabir Bedi (Gobinda) does flex his physical intimidation, but comes off a poor second by comparison to such paragons of evil as Oddjob or Jaws. General Orlov (Steven Berkoff) clearly has great fun chewing scenery as the insane, over the top villain, but a dash of restraint and humanity would have helped to make him less of a caricature, and hence a better bad guy.
Before moving on to the disc itself, I must touch upon the plot. Certainly, the good old standby of a nuclear disaster is a nice solid plot hook, and the numerous creative action sequences (particularly the train-based sequences) literally keep matters moving along at a nice energy level. However, if you slow down and try and think about the plot (dangerous in a Bond film, sometimes!), you may feel you have too much sizzle and not enough steak. Melding the "Insane Russian General Who Wants World War III" and the "Jewel Smuggling Indian Villain" plots is not very successful. These two sub-plots seem too independent of each other, and the effect is to have the film waver between the two and hence blunt some of the dramatic headway of Octopussy.
In technical matters, MGM has missed an opportunity to make Octopussy truly the "ultimate special edition" that it claims to be. First of all, a title card ("Kremlin Art Repository") and a foreign language translation ("Get off my bed!") are missing from the film. Apparently MGM is correcting the omission in subsequent pressings by having the player generate the correct words, but this is still an annoying flaw that should have been caught by competent quality control.
Second, and far more significant, is that Octopussy remains a Dolby Surround movie. At one time, MGM announced a laserdisc of Octopussy with a 5.1 mix, so clearly they had thought about the desirability of giving the fans a sonic upgrade. Furthermore, some commentators have noted that the six track audio from 70MM prints could easily have been transposed into a 5.1 track. Granted this might have cost some money and even delayed release, but this is an Ultimate special edition. Right??
Though not Roger Moore or the franchise's best installment (try For Your Eyes Only as Moore's prime), Octopussy still delivers energy, action, and a feast for the eyes. Strongly recommended for rental, though a purchase ($26.98 retail) may appeal mostly to devoted fans of 007 and/or Roger Moore.
For its action scenes and Magda alone, Octopussy is acquitted. MGM is guilty of flawed quality control and criminal indifference to the needs of my ears.
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