“STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” (1980) Review

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“STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” (1980) Review

From a certain point of view, I find it hard to believe that the 1980 film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”has become the most critically acclaimed STAR WARS movie by the franchise’s fans. And I find it hard to believe, due to the film’s original box office performance. 

I was also surprised that “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” was released in the first place. Despite the ambiguous nature of villain Darth Vader’s fate in the 1977 film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”, I had assumed that film’s happy ending meant the story of Luke Skywalker and his friends was over. But my assumption proved to be wrong three years later. Many other filmgoers and critics also expressed surprise at the release of a second STAR WARS movie. More importantly, a surprising revelation and an ending with a cliffhanger resulted in a smaller box office for “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” than either “A NEW HOPE” or the 1983 film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI”. Yet, thirty-three years later, the movie is now viewed as the most critically acclaimed – not just among the first three movies, but also among those released between 1999 and 2005.

“THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” begins three years following the events of ” A NEW HOPE”. Despite the Rebel Alliance’s major victory above the planet of Yavin and the destruction of the Galactic Empire’s Death Star, the rebellion continues to rage on. Luke Skywalker, now a wing commander at the Rebels’ base on Hoth, patrols beyond the base’s perimenter with close friend and former smuggler Han Solo. After the latter returns to base, Luke is attacked by a wampa and dragged into the latter’s cave. Meanwhile, Han receives word from Princess Leia, one of the Rebel leaders and a friend of both men, that Luke has not returned. He leaves the base to find Luke, while the latter manages to escape from the wampa’s lair. Luke stumbles into a snowstorm and before losing consciousness, receives a message from the Force spirit of his late mentor, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, to seek out another Jedi named Yoda on Dagobah for further training. Han eventually finds Luke before a Rebel patrol finds them both. 

While Luke recovers from his ordeal, Leia and General Rieekan learn from Han and his Wookie companion Chewbacca have discovered an Imperial probe. They surmise that Imperial forces know the location of their base and might be on their way. The Rebel Alliance forces prepare to evacuate Hoth. But an Imperial presence on the planet served as a bigger problem for the heroes. Unbeknownst to them, Darth Vader seeks out Luke, following his discovery of the young man’s connection to the Force three years ago. Although the three friends will separate for a period of time and experience adventures of their own, Lord Vader’s hunt for Luke will result in great danger and a surprising revelation in the end.

I once came across a post on the TheForce.net – Jedi Council Forums message board that complained of the lack of a main narrative for “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”. A part of me could understand why this person reached such an opinion. Despite the circumstances on Hoth and the finale on the Bespin mining colony, our heroes barely spent any time together. Following the Rebel Alliance’s defeat on Hoth, Luke and R2-D2 traveled to Dagobah, where the former continued his Jedi training under Master Yoda. Meanwhile, Han and Chewbacca helped Leia and C3-P0 evade Darth Vader and Imperial forces on Hoth and in space before seeking refuge on Bespin. I believe this person failed to realize that other than Luke’s Jedi training with Yoda, most of the movie’s narrative centered on Vader’s attempts to capture Luke – the Imperial invasion of Hoth, his pursuit of the Millennium Falcon with Leia and Han aboard, and their subsequent capture on Bespin. Even Luke’s Jedi training was interrupted by visions of his friends in danger and journeyed into the trap set by Vader. And this is why I found it hard to accept this complaint about “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”.

Most fans tend to regard the movie as perfect or near perfect. Despite my feelings for “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”, I cannot agree with this view. I believe that the movie has its flaws. One could find cheesy dialogue in the movie, especially from Darth Vader. He possessed an annoying penchant for constantly using the phrase “It is your destiny” in the movie’s last half hour. Some of Leia and Han’s “romantic dialogue” in the movie’s first half struck me as a bit childish and pedantic. Speaking of those two – how did they end up attracted to each other in the first place? “A NEW HOPE” ended with Han making a brief pass at Leia during the medal ceremony. But she seemed to regard him as a mere annoyance and nothing else. Three years later, both are exchanging longing glances and engaging in verbal foreplay at least ten to fifteen minutes into the story. I would have allowed this to slide if a novel or comic story had explained this sudden shift toward romance between them. But no such publication exists, as far as I know. This little romance seemed to have developed out of the blue.

There were other problems. The movie never explained the reason behind Leia’s presence at the Rebels’ Hoth base. She was, after all, a political leader; not a military one. The base already possessed a more than competent military leader in the form of General Rieekan. Watching Leia give orders to the pilots during the base’s evacuation made me realize that she really had no business interfering in the Rebels’ military command structure. It would have been a lot easier if she had been a military officer or a spy for the Alliance. “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” also failed to explain why Han was being hunted by Jabba the Hutt after three years. I thought the payment he had received for delivering Leia and the Death Star plans to Yavin was enough to settle his debt to the Tattooine gangster. Apparently not. And the movie failed to explain why. Perhaps there is a STAR WARS novel or comic book story that offered an explanation. I hope so. For years, I never understood the symbolism behind Luke’s experiences inside the Dagobah cave during his Jedi training. And I am not sure if I still do. Finally, how long did Luke’s training on Dagobah last? And how long did it take the Millennium Falcon to reach Bespin with a broken hyperdrive? LucasFilm eventually revealed that both incidents took at least three months. If so, why did the movie failed to convey this particular time span?

Thankfully, “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” more than rose above its flaws. For me, it is still one of the best science-fiction adventure films I have ever seen. I am amazed that such a complex tale arose from two simple premises – Darth Vader’s hunt for Luke Skywalker and the continuation of the latter’s Jedi training. From these simple premises, audiences were exposed to a richly detailed and action-filled narrative, thanks to George Lucas’ story, Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay (which was also credited to Leigh Brackett) and Irvin Kershner’s direction. The movie featured many exciting sequences and dramatic moments that simply enthralled me. Among my favorite action sequences were the Millennium Falcon’s escape from Hoth, Yoda’s introduction, Han’s seduction of Leia inside the giant asteroid worm, the Falcon’s escape from the worm. For me, the movie’s best sequence proved to be the last – namely those scenes on the mining colony of Bespin. I would compare this last act in “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” to the Death Star sequence in “A NEW HOPE” or the Mos Espa podrace sequence in “STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”. The Bespin sequence featured a few truly iconic moments. Well . . . if I must be honest, I would say that it featured two iconic moments – Han’s response to Leia’s declaration of love and Darth Vader’s revelation of his true identity.

Naturally, one cannot discuss a STAR WARS movie without mentioning its technical aspects. In my review of “A NEW HOPE”, I had failed to mention Ben Burtt’s outstanding sound effects. I will add that his work in “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” proved to be equally outstanding. I could also say the same for the movie’s sound mixing, which earned Academy Awards for Bill Varney, Steve Maslow, Greg Landaker, and Peter Sutton. Composer John Williams’ additions to his famous STAR WARS score were not only outstanding, but earned him an Academy Award nomination. Those additions included a love theme for the Leia/Han romance and the memorable “Imperial March”, which is also known as “Darth Vader’s Theme” As far as I am concerned, the tune might as well be known as the Sith Order’s theme song. The team of Brian Johnson, Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, and Bruce Nicholson did an outstanding job with the movie’s visual effects – especially for the Battle of Hoth sequence. I can also say the same for Peter Suschitzky’s photography. However, my favorite cinematic moment turned out to be Luke’s initial encounter with Darth Vader on Bespin. Even to this day, I experience a chill whenever I see that moment when they meet face-to-face for the first time. Although John Mollo’s costumes caught Hollywood’s attention after “A NEW HOPE” was first released (he won an Oscar for his effort), his costumes for “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” seemed like a continuation of the same. In fact, I found the costumes somewhat on the conservative side, even if they blended well with the story.

It is interesting that the performances of both Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher garnered most of the attention when “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” first came out. The Leia/Han romance was very popular with fans. Mind you, both gave very good performances. But I believe that Mark Hamill acted circles around them. And not surprising, he won a Saturn Award for his performance as Luke Skywalker in this film. Billy Dee Williams also gave a first-rate performance as the roguish smuggler-turned-colony administrator, whose charming persona hid a desperation to do anything to save the inhabitants of Bespin from Imperial annihilation. James Earl Jones and David Prowse continued their outstanding portrayal of Darth Vader aka Anakin Skywalker, with one serving as the voice and the other, the physical embodiment of the Sith Lord. Julian Glover, who later appeared in “INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE” made a brief appearance as the commander of the Imperial walkers, General Veers. Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker and Peter Mayhew continued their excellent work as C3-P0, R2-D2 and Chewbacca. But I was particularly impressed by Frank Oz’s voice work as the veteran Jedi Master Yoda, and Kenneth Colley as the Imperial Admiral Piett, whose caution and competency led him to rise in the ranks and avoid Vader’s wrath for any incompetence.

Is “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” my favorite STAR WARS movie of all time? Almost. Not quite. For me, it is tied in first place with one other movie from the franchise. But after thirty-three years and in spite of its flaws, I still love it, despite its flaws. And I have give credit to not only the talented cast and crew, but also director Irwin Kershner, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and especially the man behind all of this talent, George Lucas.

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Notes on STAR WARS: “Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back”




STAR WARS: “Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back”

Notes and Observations

The following is a list of minor notes and observations that came to me, during my recent viewing of “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”. I hope that you enjoy them: 

*Exactly who was in command of the Rebel Alliance base on Hoth – Leia or General Rieekan?

*What was Leia doing on Hoth with the Rebel Alliance military personnel? Why wasn’t she with the other political Rebel leaders?

*Ah yes! The ”I’ just as soon kiss a Wookie!” dialogue between Leia and Han. Charming, although slightly . . . childish.

*How . . . or should I say when did Han and Leia reach the point in which they became attracted to one another?

*It was interesting to see how Obi-Wan’s ghost faded with the emergence of Han on a tauntaun.

*”Why, you stuck up,… half-witted… scruffy-looking …nerf-herder!” – Another charming, yet childish exchange between Leia and Han. 

*Jealousy and ambition seem quite obvious within the Imperial command structure, if General Ozzel’s glare at Piett is anything to go by.

*I find it interesting that the exchange between Luke and Han before the commencement of the Battle of Hoth would be the last between them for at least a year.

*Vader’s ability to strangle Ozzel with the Force from such a large distance seemed very impressive for someone whose strength with the Force has been weakened.

*The pilots’ point of view of the Battle of Hoth seemed like another cliché of a World War II dogfight . . . like the Battle of Yavin.

*Luke was made commander of the Rebel pilots because he had destroyed the Death Star . . . with Han’s help? What about Wedge, who was also a competent pilot and more experienced?

*The Imperial AT-AT Walkers remind me of the Oliphaunts from the ”LORD OF THE RINGS” saga.

*Wasn’t Leia taking her duty just a bit too seriously by delaying her departure from Hoth?

*I noticed that Han never seemed to follow the ladies first rule. When he, Leia and Chewie and Threepio had escaped both from Hoth and the exogorth in the asteroid field, he made sure that he boarded the Millennium Falcon first. Not exactly a man of the Old Republic.

*Han really revealed how much of a hot shot pilot he was in this movie.

*”Into the belly of the beast” – This metaphor seemed to fit the Falcon’s entry into exogorth even more than Luke, Han and Leia’s brief adventures inside the Death Star’s trash compactor.

*The audience got a brief glimpse of the price Anakin paid for his past mistakes – namely his scalded head.

*”Feel like what?” – Yoda’s first words in any ”STAR WARS” movie.

*”Great warrior? Hmmm . . . wars do not make one great.” – Ironic words from the very being who led the first attack, during the first battle of the Clone Wars. His words also revealed the true Yoda behind the comic façade. I think Luke may have been too impatient or full of himself to notice.

*”You like me because I’m a scoundrel. There aren’t enough scoundrels in your life.” – One can only assume that Leia’s age – 22 years – and limited experience with men would explain why she bought that bilge pouring from Han’s mouth.

*”He’s just a boy. Obi-Wan can no longer help him.” – Surely these words must have hinted to Palpatine that Vader had been aware of Luke for some time?

*I see that Clive Revill has been replaced by Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor Palpatine in this DVD version of the movie. Which makes sense, considering that McDiarmid is more identified with the role.

*”This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away . . . to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was.” – I believe that Yoda had just described himself and many other Jedi Masters and Knights of the Old Republic, nearly a quarter of a century ago. If he and Obi-Wan could learn to overcome this distraction from the future, why not Luke? Why was Yoda so reluctant to teach Luke? Is it Luke he doubts? Or himself as a teacher?

*”If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.” – I hope that Yoda was trying to say that a person will always be affected by his or her earlier decision to take a dark path or commit dark acts. Because if he was trying to say that a person will always remain evil, after taking the dark path, I must say that I disagree.

*Han used a neat trick to evade the sensors of Captain Needa’s starship, after the Falcon left the asteroid field.

*”Luminous beings are we. Not this crude matter.” – A favorite line of mine.

*It was very clever of Han to attach the Falcon to an Imperial starship before disguising it as garbage to be disposed with the other. Unfortunately for him, Boba Fett had witnessed a similar trick pulled by Obi-Wan near Geonosis, some 25 years ago. Even worse, it is a shame that Han was so busy congratulating himself over his trick that he failed to realize that Fett was tracking him.

*”Through the Force, things you will see. Other places. The future… the past. Old friends long gone.” – I wonder if Yoda was thinking of Mace Windu.

*According to LucasFilm, it took the Falcon three months to reach Bespin without a hyperdrive. If only Lucas and the others had made this clear in the movie.

*The Falcon was practically escorted to one of the landing platforms on Cloud City. I wonder why.

*Great entrance for Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian.

*Was CP-30 really that dense in that he would be so easily distracted from the group by the sound of an R2 unit?

*”Stopped they must be. On this all depends. Only a fully trained Jedi Knight with the Force as his ally will conquer Vader and his Emperor”. – Did that mean Yoda had never intended for Luke to help Anakin find redemption?

*Apparently, the original deal between Vader and Lando did not include Han being turned over to Boba Fett. And later, Vader broke his word and insisted that Leia and Chewie accompany him. Interesting. It is a miracle that the Sith Lord did not renege on the deal even further by destroying Bespin and its population.

*And why did Han and Leia fail to understand the situation that Vader had placed Lando? Were they too blinded by anger?

*I find it interesting that not once did Vader set eyes upon C3-P0, his own creation. Why? Because Chewbacca had the droid strapped to his back.

*How stupid were Leia and Chewbacca? It was obvious that Lando had released them from Vader’s stormtroopers. Yet, all they could do was lose their tempers. Chewbacca immediately began to strangle Lando and Leia encouraged the Wookie. Because their temper tantrums, they prevented Lando from rescuing Han from Boba Fett.

*I must admit that I found the dialogue during the Bespin duel rather irritating. The most important thing about the duel seemed to be Vader’s revelation as Anakin Skywalker . . . after the fighting stopped.

*Vader’s reaction to Luke and Leia’s escape from Bespin was an excellent moment of silent acting on David Prowse’s part. With his use of body language, he managed to express Vader’s regret over losing Luke . . . and the beginning of Anakin Skywalker’s resurgence.

Second Look: “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” (1988)

Second Look: “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” (1988)

Years after Robert Ludlum’s famous literary trilogy about an amnesiac CIA agent was published, Matt Damon starred in the movie versions of those novels between 2002 and 2007. Naturally, they became big box office hits and turned Damon into a full fledged action star. The ironic thing is that the three movies bore scant resemblance to the novels they were based upon. 

Fourteen years before Damon’s first movie was released in the theaters, ABC Television aired a two-part miniseries based upon the first novel – “THE BOURNE IDENTITY”. This miniseries starred Richard Chamberlain as David Webb aka Jason Bourne, the amnesiac CIA agent. And Jacyln Smith portrayed Marie St. Jacques, a Canadian economist who becomes his ally and lover.

As you can see, the first difference between the miniseries and the 2002 movie has been spotted. In the miniseries, Marie was an economist from Canada. In the movie, Franka Potente portrayed Marie as an unemployed German traveler trying to get into the U.S. Another major difference between the miniseries and the movie is that in the former, Chamberlain is a CIA operative who works for a black-ops organization called Treadstone 71. Treadstone’s job is to flush out the notorious assassin named Carlos. They recruit another assassin named Jason Bourne. But the real Bourne proves to be an uncontrollable asset and they kill him. Treadstone replaces the real Bourne with David Webb – Chamberlain’s character – who impersonates the dead assassin. In the movies, Bourne is nothing more than an alias for CIA/Treadstone assassin David Webb (Damon). As anyone can see, the miniseries’s plot – which adhered a lot closer to Ludlum’s novel – is a lot more complicated. Both versions begin with the shooting of one David Webb aka Jason Bourne aboard some boat in the Mediterranean. In this version, Webb/Bourne floats toward a fishing village off the coast of Southern France, where he is turned over to an alcoholic former doctor played by Denholm Elliot. The doctor discovers a chip embedded in his hip that contains a Swiss bank account number. Once Webb/Bourne recovers, he heads for Zurich to access the bank account. And there, his troubles begin. By the second half of the story Bourne/Webb finds himself not only hunted by Carlos and his minions, but by the police and the CIA.

From the first time I saw this miniseries in February 1988, I fell in love with it. It was an exciting and well written thriller about a man trying to come to terms with his past, while struggling to find his identity. Many critics tend to point the length of this version of ”THE BOURNE IDENTITY”. Considering that this version was created as a two-part miniseries and the complexities of the plot, I fail to understand why they have made such a fuss. Yes, ”THE BOURNE IDENTITY” is long in compare to the 2002 movie. It has a running time of three hours and five minutes. But this version’s length gave the producers the chance to air a rather close version of the novel without cutting out too much. And if I must be honest, I was never aware of the miniseries’ length, considering how well paced it was, thanks to director Roger Young and screenwriter Carol Sobieski.

Another criticism directed at the miniseries by certain fans was that the miniseries seemed outdated in compare to the 2002 version. Chamberlain’s version had been filmed fourteen years before Damon’s version. What did they expect? The only aspect of the miniseries’ plot that seemed outdated was the main villain, Carlos. Although the real Carlos was at large when the miniseries aired in February 1988, he was eventually caught six years later. The Alfred Hitchcock thriller, ”NOTORIOUS” was filmed and released in 1946. In fact, there is a moment in which the film reveals the time period in which the film began – April 1946. Yet, hardly anyone complains about this.

As I had stated before, the miniseries is a tight and exciting thriller boasting fine performances from Chamberlain and Smith. The pair – who has been featured in a score of television miniseries and two successful TV series in the past – created a sizzling chemistry on the screen. I am amazed that they had never worked together before . . . or since. Chamberlain’s Bourne is a more openly emotional character than the one portrayed by Matt Damon.

One could say that Chamberlain has a more theatrical style of acting. Although there were moments I found it a bit hard to take, I really enjoyed his theatricality in a scene that featured him and Anthony Quayle, who plays a high-ranking French general married to Carlos’ mistress. Another thing I noticed about Chamberlain’s version of the character is that he seemed more inclined to use aliases and disguises to reach those he need information on – whether he is an employee of a New York furniture moving company, a Texas millionaire or a harried American businessman. Although I have never been that impressed by Jacyln Smith as an actress, I believe that she did some of her best work in this miniseries. As Marie St. Jacques, Smith was able to overcome her usual monotone style to infuse a great deal of passion and emotion into the role of a woman who desperately wants to help her lover, yet is constantly repelled by his profession. The supporting cast seemed to be top-notch. I especially enjoyed Anthony Quayle as the passionate French patriot who discovers the truth about his wife’s connections to Carlos; Denholm Elliot as the drunken ex-doctor who befriends Webb/Bourne at the beginning of the story; Peter Vaughn as Carlos’ Swiss-born right-hand man, and Donald Moffat as Webb/Bourne’s compassionate yet very harried boss/mentor, David Abbott.

Most fans of the Bourne saga seem to be divided on their preference between the two versions. There are some who prefer Damon’s take on Bourne as a super spy/assassin who tries to distance himself from the villainous Treadstone/Blackbriar black-ops operations. And there are those who prefer Chamberlain’s take on the character, which adheres a lot closer to Ludlum’s original novel. Frankly, I am a fan of both the miniseries and the movie. And I hope that one day, I might encounter Jason Bourne fans who harbor the same views as me.

“OCTOPUSSY” (1983) Review

 

Below is a review of the 1983 James Bond film, “OCTOPUSSY”. Directed by John Glen, this 13th Bond film starred Roger Moore as the British agent:

“OCTOPUSSY” (1983) Review

While perusing some of the Bond forums, I have noticed that 1983’s ”OCTOPUSSY” is not highly regarded by many fans. Personally, I have always found this hard to understand or accept, considering that the movie has been one of my favorite entries in the Bond franchise for years. But after watching it recently . . . I still do not understand its low standing amongst the fans.

”OCTOPUSSY”’s pre-title sequence is merely a little teaser about Bond’s attempt to sabotage a missile system in the Banana Republic (aka Cuba). It was light, humorous and filled with plenty of solid action. I particularly enjoyed the fact that what started out as failure on Bond’s part after he found himself captured by enemy soldiers, ended up as a success partially through the actions of the enemy, when they attempt to shoot down the Acrostar Mini-Jet he used for a quick escape. Although entertaining, the pre-title sequence has nothing to do with the main story, which involves a power-hungry Soviet general, a mysterious and beautiful smuggler/circus owner and a duplicitous Afghan prince.

Written by George MacDonald Fraser, Richard Maibaum, and Michael G. Wilson, ”OCTOPUSSY” starts out in East Germany with 009 dressed as a clown and being pursued by a knife-wielding villain. The villain turns out to be a pair of twins (Mischska and Grischska) who want something that 009 has – namely a fake Faberge egg called Property of a Lady. One of the twins manages to fatally wound 009 with a knife. But before he can die, the British agent manages to reach the local British embassy and deliver the egg in dramatic fashion. James Bond is assigned to investigate his colleague’s death. The investigation leads to an auction at Christie’s where the real Property of a Lady egg is being sold . . . and Bond’s first meeting with the villainous Kamal Khan, his henchmen Gobinda and the lovely Madga. Bond’s investigations lead him to India, where he makes his acquaintance with Kamal Khan for the second time. He survives several attempts on his life and incarceration at Khan’s Monsoon Palace and eventually meet the mysterious Octopussy, who turns out to be the daughter of a former rogue agent whom Bond had met years ago. Bond’s encounters with Octopussy and Khan provides him with clues that lead back to East Germany and Soviet General Orlov and Khan’s plot to detonate a nuclear bomb on a U.S. Air Force base in West Germany. Fortunately, Bond (with Octopussy’s help) foils Orlov and Khan’s plans.

Roger Moore returned for the sixth time as British agent James Bond. At age 55 during the film’s production, he struck many Bond fans as too old to be portraying the super spy. Personally, I had no problems with Moore’s age around this time. He still looked handsome and healthy enough to star in the action-packed spy thriller. And he portrayed Bond with a world-weariness and style that seemed to befit his age. Even better, he managed to retain some of that gritty toughness that he utilized so effectively in his previous outing, ”FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” . . . and retained his sense of humor at the same. Speaking of that humor, I usually have nothing against Moore’s humorous style (unlike many fans and critics). But I can think of four occasions when I found it a bit too much:

-Chase sequence in Udaipur with street performers

-Bond focusing short circuit camera on Indian operative’s cleavage

-The Tarzan yell during Bond’s escape from Khan’s Monsoon Palace

-Bond using fake crocodile submarine to sneak into Octopussy’s estate

Despite the extreme silliness listed above, I still found Moore’s performance satisfactory. I enjoyed his sense of humor during his encounters with the West German citizenry, while trying to stop Orlov and Khan’s bomb. And I admired his dramatic skills in scenes featuring the discovery of Vijay’s body and his romantic scene with Octopussy. But I was especially impressed by his acting in the scene that featured Bond’s only encounter with General Orlov.

Maud Adams returned to appear in her second Bond film, this time portraying the leading female character – smuggler/circus owner, Octopussy. I cannot honestly say I would consider Adams to be among the best actresses that appeared in the Bond franchise. The nine years between ”THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN” (in which she portrayed the villain’s doomed mistress) and ”OCTOPUSSY” seemed to have shown no real improvement in her acting skills. But she seemed competent enough to carry the role. And her looks and screen presence certainly helped. The secondary female lead – Kristina Weyborn – portrayed Madga, Octopussy’s right-hand woman and personal liaison to Kamal Khan. Like Adams, Weyborn is a tall Swedish-born beauty with limited acting skills. And like the leading lady, she possessed enough looks and presence to carry her role. Although I do wish that someone had given her more lessons in performing martial arts on screen.

French actor Louis Jordan portrayed Kamal Khan, an exiled Afghan prince who desire for a piece of the Imperial Russian treasure leads him to take part in General Orlov’s plot to bomb a U.S. Air Force base and change the political landscape of Western Europe. Khan serves as the liaison between Orlov and Octopussy, who traveling circus/smuggling operation allows the two men to smuggle a nuclear bomb into West Germany.  Like Yaphet Kotto and Christopher Lee before him, Jordan seems to be a doppleganger of Moore’s James Bond – smooth, suave and very deadly. One scene in particular – Bond and Khan’s game of dice at an Udaipur hotel – reflects the mirror image of the two men in a very effective manner. Not only did Jordan perfectly portray Kamal Khan’s smooth style and sophistication, he did an excellent job of reflecting the Afghan prince’s darker nature – especially his cold-blooded tendency to betray anyone who stood between him and self-preservation. Including Octopussy and his men.

“OCTOPUSSY”‘s cast of minor villains include Steven Berkoff as the bombastic General Orlov, whose desire for completely Communist Europe and a higher position in the Soviet hierarchy sets off the movie’s plot. Although I found his scenes with Moore, Jordan and Adams effective and subtle, Berkhoff unfortunately revealed a tendency toward hammy acting in a scene that feature a meeting between the Soviet premier and several generals – including Gogol. And when I mean hammy, I mean . . . ham served with eggs. Indian actor Kabir Bedi portrayed Khan’s right-hand man, the silent and intimidating Gobinda. One of the Bond sites – “MI-6” Forum – stated the following about the character: “Kamal Khan’s faithful bodyguard, big and tough but none too bright.”. I do not know if I agree with that assessment. On second thought . . . I don’t agree. Gobinda’s flaw may have been that he was too devoted and loyal to Khan – after all, he actually obeyed the Afghan prince’s order that he climb out of a plane in mid-flight and kill Bond. But less than bright? No, I don’t agree. Gobinda struck me as a very observant and intelligent man. And the very handsome Bedi portrayed the henchman with a nice balance of intelligence and menace. In fact, Gobinda happens to be one of my favorite henchmen. Actors David Meyer and Anthony Meyer portray the knife-throwing assassins who killed 009, Mischka and Grischska. They did not say much in the movie, but both did a nice job of projecting competent and menacing killers.

With the death of Bernard Lee in 1980, the character of M did not appear in “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY”. The character returned in the form of actor Robert Brown, who began the first of his four movie run as the head of MI-6 in “OCTOPUSSY”. Brown portrayed M with authority, but very little imagination.  Personally, I think he was simply too young to be portraying an authority figure against Roger Moore, who was six years younger. Not until Timothy Dalton’s tenure will Brown show that along with Lee and Judi Dench, he could also be an interesting M. Lois Maxwell returned as Moneypenny in one of the most amusing Bond-Moneypenny scenes in the franchise. The scene involved a ‘Miss Penelope Smallbone’ and Moore and Maxwell managed to inject a lot of humor and charm into the scene, as befitting two old friends. Desmond Llewellyn had once stated that “LICENSE TO KILL” was his favorite Bond film. Which does not seem surprising, since he had a strong role in it. But he also had a strong role in “OCTOPUSSY” and I could tell that he had enjoyed himself. Especially in the scene that featured his rescue of Madga and some of Octopussy’s other followers. It seemed too bad that Q’s embellished role in this movie seemed just as unecessary as his embellished role in “LICENSE TO KILL”. General Gogol returned in the form of Walter Gotell. And he portrayed the Soviet KGB general with his usual competence. Tennis star, Vijay Amritraj made his screen debut as Indian intelligence agent . . . Vijay. Okay this is not exactly an example of original casting, but what the hell? He did a pretty good job, anyway. And he was rather charming.

“OCTOPUSSY” marked John Glen’s second time in the director chair. And like “FOR YOUR EYES”, he did an admirable job. I have to give the man kudos for once again, bringing a touch of realistic grit in Moore’s portrayal of Bond and in the franchise. Although I do feel that he made a misstep in allowing those silly moments I had earlier mentioned, in the movie. But I do wonder who had included those ridiculous little scenes? Was it Glen? Moore? Or were the screenwriters, Fraser, Maibum and Wilson responsible? If the writers were responsible, it was a misstep on their parts. Otherwise, they created an admirable script. One of the scenes highly criticized by critics was the sight of Bond disguised as a clown to infiltrate the circus where the bomb was located. I never understood this criticsim. Perhaps they disliked the idea of James Bond dressed as a clown. If so, I find their attitude extremely shallow . . . and rather stupid.

Also, I wonder why George MacDonald Fraser was included in this project? Was it because he was a British Army veteran who had served in India? Or that he had incorporated his experiences in India in his Harry Flashman novels? I do not know what to admire more – the screenwriters’ creation of the villains’ objectives and Bond’s efforts to stop the bomb, or Glen’s direction of those scenes. Perhaps both.

I wish I could say that I enjoyed the movie’s theme song, “All Time High”, which was sung by Rita Coolidge. But in the end, it simply bored me. However, I did enjoy John Barry’s lush and exciting score. And I must commend cinematographer, Alan Hume, for the film’s photography. His shots of India and the English countryside (serving as East and West Germany) made “OCTOPUSSY” one of the most colorful entries in the Bond franchise.

Despite the low opinion held by many Bond fans, “OCTOPUSSY” remains one of my favorite Bond films. In fact, I consider it to be Moore’s second best film (despite a few stupid jokes) and the franchise’s sixth best. I give it . . . 8/10.