James Bond movies are not necessarily known for their cinematic greatness, but they usually are a fun time. That is most definitely the case here, with You Only Live Twice. If you judge it on the basis of James Bond movies, then it’s pretty solid. If you judge it on the basis of being a movie in general, then not so much. Nevertheless, I had a great time watching it.
First I want to take a look at the credits. As far as James Bond opening titles go they were pretty standard, but I noticed a few names I really did not expect to be associated with James Bond. First, the screenplay is by Roald Dahl. Yes, that Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl. That really surprised me, which almost goes without saying. Wikipedia tells me that he didn’t stick too closely to the original novel. Another curious name in the credits was under cinematography: Freddie Young. This is the guy that worked with Powell and Pressburger on a few of their earlier films and shot a few with David Lean, including Lawrence of Arabia. There’s not much point to me saying these things except I was really surprised to see these names associated with James Bond.
Even though this is the first time I’ve seen the film all the way through, I have always affectionately referred to it as “that movie where the spaceship eats the other spaceship!” This is how the film opens, and it’s pretty nifty. The villain of the film, Ernst Savro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence), leader of SPECTRE, has an evil plan to kidnap both US and Soviet spaceships in the hopes of setting the two superpowers off against each other. After recovering from his “death,” M (Bernard Lee) sends James Bond (Sean Connery) to Japan to investigate.
If you like your cheesy Bond action sequences, then you’ve got to see this movie. We have the giant spaceship eating multiple smaller spaceships, evil henchmen getting fed to piranhas, a car getting carried off with a giant magnet attached to a helicopter and dropped into the ocean to its doom, a mid-air fight with a tiny helicopter, and of course, being set in Japan, ninjas. If that doesn’t make you want to see this movie, I don’t know what will.
Up until this point I’ve been going really soft on this movie, mostly because I had a fun time watching it. There’s definitely an element of “its so bad its good” at play here. I can’t honestly say this is a good movie, it’s just a fairly standard ’60s action picture that happens to be incredibly cheesy. It’s good on that level. It’s kind of hopeless to follow the plot because it’s just a bunch of action strung together, and we have the classic James Bond problem of sexism and racism. They throw in a bunch of random Japanese stuff just to make the film seem more exotic, and it drags the film down considerably. But giant magnets and ninjas, guys!
So there’s definitely a large element of James Bond fangirling here, in that I appreciate James Bond movies because they’re James Bond movies, not necessarily because they’re good. If you are like me, You Only Live Twice is a pretty safe bet. If you want to see some really high level film making and a story that involves you in other ways besides making you laugh at it, you’re probably better off looking elsewhere.
“You only live twice, Mr. Bond.”
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