Octopussy (Ultimate Edition) Review

Octopussy. Snigger. That sounds a bit rude, doesn’t it? Mind you, there's nothing wrong with a bit of innocent innuendo now and again. Here’s a pointed tip: if you ever find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to play a game of Charades, include Octopussy as one of the subjects for the opposing team. It always causes great merriment and goes down a treat, as long as the team member doing the mime can rise to the occasion and perform adequately. If they succeed in making all the right moves satisfaction is guaranteed, and will ensure the evening comes to a suitably explosive climax - if they’re really good, and have enough energy, they might even be able to muster up a repeat performance. Be warned though: occasionally the whole thing can be a great big flop and it won’t be so much a case of the cat who got the cream as the role you’ll never get to take again. And it's win win either way, as even if events do begin to sag it’s entirely possible that innocent game of Charades will be the most fun you’ll ever have with this otherwise flaccid film.

Following on from the example set by For Your Eyes Only returning director John Glen promised that Octopussy would continue in the more serious vein of that previous film. There was extra reason for the makers to approach the film in such a way for Bond had a new, and wholly unexpected adversary on the scene: himself. Kevin McClory had finally got round to putting his own, unofficial Bond film into production and had achieved a potentially hugely damaging coup to the Moore film in persuading Sean Connery to come back to the role he had last played twelve years earlier in Diamonds Are Forever. The new film, Never Say Never Again began shooting at roughly the same time as Octopussy and the two films were due to be released only a few months apart, a box office punch-up straight out of that perennial pub discussion: Connery and Moore, who's the better 007? As a result, producers Cubby Broccoli and Michael G Wilson were determined that they would present their official version in the best possible light, managing to persuade Moore to come back after the actor yet again prevaricated. If he had turned down the film Broccoli had a contingency plan in the form of James Brolin (see this DVD’s extras) but eventually old Roge was persuaded to pick up his Walther PPK again and it was game on.

For extra kudos, noted novelist George MacDonald Fraser was called in to provide a screenplay. Fraser is the author of the brilliant Flashman series of novels in which the eponymous hero, through a mixture of cowardice, selfishness and pure blind luck manages to shag and survive his way through virtually every major historical incident of the second half of the Nineteenth Century (if you’ve never read any of them, do yourself a favour: stop reading this review, head over to Amazon and order the first in the series, then do yourself another favour and come back and finish reading this review while you wait for it to arrive). The books are lighthearted romps with plenty of action and sex (and had themselves been put on the big screen in Royal Flash, starring Malcolm McDowell, in 1975) and it’s easy to see why he was asked to try his hand at a Bond, even though he himself hadn't written a script before. Unfortunately, it transpired that his expertise at prose didn’t translate very well to screenplay writing and subsequently Richard Maibaum and Wilson himself went over and essentially rewrote Fraser’s first draft top to toe (as Fraser’s only subsequent screen credit was on Red Sonja this was probably just as wise).

As with FYEO they used material from two Fleming short stories as the basis for the story, namely Octopussy itself and Property of a Lady, although not to nearly the same degree. The involved plot is far too confusing to explain in a few lines but basically sees a maverick Soviet General named Orlov (Stephen Berkoff) trying to engineer a new war by detonating a nuclear bomb in West Berlin and making it look like an American accident. To do so, he’s employed the services of Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) and Octopussy (Maud Adams), the latter being led to believe she is smuggling stolen Russian artefacts into Germany rather than a bomb. The bomb is being brought in on Octopussy’s circus train and there’s a lot of toing and froing in India, where she resides in a luxurious palace, beforehand.

As said, it’s all very involved, and not in a particularly good way. Orlov’s plans are revealed early on, but quite how they tie in with much of what we’re seeing is not clear, resulting in somewhat of a frustrating experience. The politics on display are potentially fascinating with Wilson’s desire to include a more realistic depiction of the Cold War coming to the fore for the first time. Whereas in FYEO the battle between East and West to gain control of the ATAC was little more than a mcguffin, here the delicate balance between the two sides is meant to be in the foreground of the villain’s plans. Orlov believes that there is no threat of nuclear reprisals for his scheme, decrying that “the West is decadent and divided. It has no stomach to risk our nuclear reprisals.” The scene in which he puts forward his idea before being rebuffed by the Soviet command (led by the by-now veteran Bond character General Gogol, played for the fifth consecutive time by Walter Gotell) is the best in the film, promising a far more interesting film to come than the one we get, a scene in which the Soviets are presented in a far more three-dimensional and interesting than hitherto shown - at one point the line is growled “World socialism will be achieved peacefully.” That the early promise shown here is not fulfilled is the big letdown of the movie.

Instead we get a fairly standardised runaround set largely in India which, compared to what we know Orlov is planning, seems markedly unimportant. There’s almost a lack of confidence about the thing, so much so that despite the fact there’s a serious story aching to be told - and a villain who potentially could prove to be the most interesting for quite some time - the film too often reverts to playing safe. The presence of far more overt humour than in FYEO seems to indicate that the makers are worried their movie is not being entertaining enough but has the effect of undermining the film as a whole. This is particularly notable during the set pieces, nearly all of which have at least one piece of distracting slapstick in them, a fact to be regretted as without those gags the action would be quite effective. Examples of this include the moment during the big game hunt (which has Bond as the target) in which Bond, encountering a wild tiger, tells it to sit… and it does, the silly battle with the tennis racket (included solely because the character involved is played by a tennis pro) and, especially bad, the reaction of a camel to the goings-on during a chase scene. Although it isn’t quite as bad as that seen in Moonraker the difference in the amount of humour between this film and the one immediately preceding it is striking, and it’s not one that works to its favour at all.

The annoying thing is that when the film does play it straight there’s much to enjoy. An early scene set at Sotheby’s is very good and nicely tense (again setting up a Bond/villain dynamic that never quite pays off) and there’s an exotic feel to the Indian sequences which make good use of the location, even if the narrative doesn’t. The one major set piece in which there isn’t any nonsense - the final fight on the plane - is easily the most effective of the movie, and there’s even something quite appealing about setting the major climax of a Bond film in a circus tent. John Glen, directing the second of his five Bonds, gives the film a better pacing than the at times lethargic FYEO but never quite gets it right tonally. He seems uncertain; is this film fundamentally serious or fundamentally light hearted? As a result the humour sits very uneasily with the more serious passages, arguably the major problem with the production as a whole. There are real moments of drama here, such as 009’s demise, but when such moments come hot on the heels of 007 pulling into a petrol station in his little plane and asking for a fill-up one is left with a real sense of disorientation.

And a sense of going over old ground too. There are several aspects pilfered directly from previous Bonds, most notably Goldfinger. It’s not just in name that Octopussy is similar to that earlier film’s Pussy Galore; they both lead a coterie of women in a form of circus who are ostensibly helping the lead villains in their game, and both end the film fighting for their life with Bond on board an aeroplane. Khan’s super strong henchman Gobinda (Kabir Bedi) is Oddjob in a turban - although he doesn’t use said turban as a weapon, he does demonstrate his strength to Bond by crushing a small, apparently solid object in front of him, in this case a pair of dice. Much of the film feels familiar, whether it be another train sequence or Bond appearing out of the water disguised as an animal.

Performances, too, vary. In his penultimate appearance as Bond, Moore is really looking his age and, unlike FYEO, nothing is made of it, aside from a Moneypenny scene which has a nice idea but falls a little flat. At times he comes across as quite inept, such as the sequence when he’s attempting to hitch a lift; one feels that Connery would have made sure a car stopped rather than resign himself to a long walk. As with all his previous films, though, there are signs that had he put a mind to it he could have been a far more serious Bond, here when he discovers who Octopussy’s father is and also in his initial meeting with Khan. As for those around him, I’m hampered by the fact I don’t find Maud Adams remotely attractive (unlike Moore who always cites her as his favourite leading lady) and, as already mentioned, don’t find her character that original, but she has a presence about her that makes her more interesting than her character perhaps merits. Jourdan as Kamal is a little too quiet to be truly effective, although watch out for the way he says “Octopussy”, giving the last two syllables a sibilant relish that suggests so much more than the rest of his characterisation combined. Berkoff is better as the wild-eyed general but for my money the best actor on screen is also the least experienced, namely Vijay Amritraj, the professional tennis player alluded to above who belies his inexperience by bringing an enthusiastic naturalism to his role as Bond’s liaison in India. True, the fact that everything surrounding him is so artificial means his persona doesn’t quite gel with anyone else, but he’s still enjoyable to watch and I am always sorry his main purpose in the film is to be the Bond Friend What Gets Killed Half Way Through.

This is not a good entry into the Bond series but it’s not quite as bad as critics will lead you to believe. Probably the weakest of Glen’s five, its main problem is simply that it’s too schizophrenic, neither serious enough to… well, take seriously, nor funny enough to take in a more light hearted vein. It often feels like two entirely disparate scripts - one from the Sixties, one from the Seventies - have been fused together in an unholy kind of hybrid, Broccoli and Wilson so concerned at the threat from NSNA that they wanted to combine the best of what both Connery and Moore brought to the role, resulting in a film that would have been so so much better if they’d agreed firmly on one style or another. As it is, it’s almost running scared and is impossible to really truly enjoy. On a par with NSNA, it's a lesser effort in the Moore period, not as good as the Bonds on either side of it, but not quite as bad as Moonraker or The Man with the Golden Gun. That said, in the battle at the box office it made more money than NSNA (though it didn't have as good an opening weekend) but saw a drop in receipts from FYEO, marking the second Bond in a row that made less than its predecessor, suggesting that Moore’s time was running out. He had one more film in him before credibility in his playing Bond, already stretched to breaking point, snapped completely, and this marks a rapid deterioration in his believability, not helped by the nonsense he's surrounded with. This was the thirteenth official Bond - unfortunately, it proved rather unlucky.

Still, Octopussy eh? Snigger.

The Disks
The film is presented uncut in the original 2.35:1 ratio. However, all captions are now missing.

The main menus are the same as in all previous UEs, with a stylised background into which slots clips from the film. Very atmospheric, and very Bondian. All the extras bar the Commentary are to be found on Disk Two.

For a look at more of the menus, click here. The film and all extras, bar two exceptions specified, are subtitled.

Not bad although in lighter scenes the palate seems to have a pallor that drains the picture of some its colour. There's also some quite noticeable edge enhancements in places which isn't pleasing, and background detail is a little indistinct. These flaws aside, it's very watchable.

Very good actually, with particularly a particularly ambient atmosphere. Whether it be in Octopussy's palace, the circus, the jungle or the centre of town this is a track that immerses one in the scene which, together with a clear speaking track and nicely levelled music, makes this one of the better Bonds to listen to.

As with all the reviews for these Ultimate Editions, the Extras are delineated into Old and New, depending on whether they have appeared on a previous DVD release of the movie.

New Extras

Commentary with Roger Moore
With all these Roger Moore tracks, I find listening to them far more enjoyable if I'm busy doing something else at the same time. This isn't a criticism, rather that Moore rambles somewhat and while he's amusing and pleasant company to spend a couple of hours with, there are times your attention will wander if you just sit in front of the thing and listen to him. Good fun, mind, and a highlight of all the Moore disks.

Declassified: MI6 Vault

James Bond in India (28:13) Gosh, look at this, an honest-to-God substantial new extra on these UEs. Quite a shock really. This is a half hour documentary made about the location shooting in India released at the time. A bit slow, but full of good stuff, this gives a real ground-level feel of what the filming was like, and has many highlights, many including Moore’s playing up to the camera. Made by what could only be described in a “Stiff ass Brit” way, it’s also not without its eccentricities, most notably the hilariously po-faced narrator, who faithfully relates all of Moore’s jokes without a trace of humour. “In this scene, Roger said he hoped his flies wouldn’t get stuck in the spider’s web,” he tells us solemnly at one point, before going on to say, without a trace of irony, “An actor really earns his pay when he has to perform under a three-ton elephant.” Twenty years later he sounds as though he can’t be for real, but he is, although the cameraman seems rather less restrained; watch out for one sequence which seems devoted entirely to close ups of girl’s bikini bottoms. Great fun.

James Brolin Screentests Poor James Brolin. He came this close to being Bond but lost out (although given he’d have had to star in this particular Bond maybe had a lucky escape). Across three little items here his brief association with Bond is recorded. In James Brolin Intro (4:14) he relates his side of the experience, especially remembering how much Broccoli did for him. The three screentests are fascinating. The first, James Brolin and Maud Adams Screentest (2:50) sees the actor and Adams re-enacts a scene from From Russia With Love in which Adams plays the part of Tatiana. Put bluntly, Brolin is ghastly in it and one wonders what Broccoli could have been thinking when he selected him as favourite to take over from Moore. The second, James Brolin Intro: Vijay (1:39), is greatly amusing, in which he attempts to film a scene from Octopussy with Amritraj and a misbehaving snake. While Amritraj manfully struggles to keep the restless reptile in his basket and Brolin tries not to laugh, we also get to see that Brolin’s main approach to the role of Bond would be to stare off into the distance at all times and only very occasionally acknowledge other performers. The third and final test, Stuntmen (1:33), sees Brolin engaging in some fisticuffs, in which he acquits himself quite well. Altogether an excellent addition to the DVD, and good for Brolin coming back to contribute - the only quibble is that the menus spread these tests out all over the section instead of in order next to each other.

Ken Burns on Set Movies (6:40) Ken Burns was a sixteen year old at the time Octopussy was being shot and managed to blag his way onto the Peterborough location shoot, on which he shot Super 8 footage of the filmmakers at work. This is presented here together with Burns’s audio commentary. The footage isn’t very illuminating and Burns’s comments are strictly personal but it’s still a nice little extra.

Location Scouting with Peter Lamont (4:31) Lamont’s commentary over his preproduction scouting footage of Berlin is far more interesting than the video itself, in which he reminisces about what it was like to be in Berlin at a time the division between East and West was still keenly felt.

Shooting Stunts Glen talks over footage of three stunt sequences being shot, Crashing Jeeps (3:46), The Airplane Crash (3:25) and Testing the Limits - The Aerial Team (4:30) and how they were put together. Okay.

007 Mission Control
Yawn. Apologies to those who have read a lot of these reviews, but this is a silly section on all the UEs and, as they’re identical, I’m just cut’n’pasting my comments across each time. Almost a complete waste of disk space, this feature consists of series of clips from the film, organised into various categories, namely 007, Women, Allies, Villains, Mission Combat Manual, Q Branch and Exotic Locations. Most of these main categories lead to a submenu, in which individual character clips can be selected - for example, the Allies category lists M, Miss Moneypenny, Q and Vijay. Each character has multiple clips, but no collection lasts more than a few minutes. The majority of this is utterly superfluous - does anyone really need to see all of Vijay’s finest moments collected together in one easy-to-watch package? Or all the fight scenes for that matter? The two useful contributions to be found within this portion of the extras are the chance to watch the opening sequence without any credits overlaid on them, and the Exotic Locations section, which is a four and a half minute featurette of clips accompanied by a commentary from Maud Adams in which she disperses interesting trivia about the places we are seeing - shame it’s not subtitled. These two exceptions aside, this smacks of padding the disks out.

Image Gallery
Generously sized image gallery broken up into the following categories: Introduction, Roger Moore, Maud Adams, Louis Jourdan, Kristina Wayborn, Vijay Armitraj, Steven Berkoff Kabir Bedi David and Anthony Meyer, Lois Maxwell & Desmond Llewelyn, Acrostar, Octopussy’s Circus, The Most Dangerous Games, Q’s Tricks, Russian War Room, India, The Train, At the Circus, Final Battle, The Producer and Marketing. The pictures are in a slide-show format and most categories have a goodly collection of pictures, although there aren’t nearly as many real behind-the-scenes pictures other galleries on the UEs have had.

Old Extras

Audio Commentary
A change in pace from previous cut'n'paste Bond commentaries, this sees Glen taking a solo turn at the mike, and very good he is too. Fluent and with plenty to say about the production, this is very entertaining as Glen gives a matter-of-fact appraisal of his film.

Mission Dossier

Inside Octopussy: An Original Documentary (33:05) Typically excellent Macnee-narrated documentary, with contributions from nearly all the main cast and crew - only screenwriter Fraser doesn’t appear which is a shame. Overall, though, a Making of far more entertaining than the film itself.

Designing Bond - Peter Lamont (20:57) Tribute to production designer extraordinaire Lamont who has worked on Bond ever since Goldfinger. Lamont looks back at each film he worked on and its various challenges while his many colleagues, including Broccoli, Wilson and a mischievous Ken Adam, hail his immense contribution to the success of the films down the years. Very good.

All Time High Music Video (3:01) Bog standard video in which clips from the film are interspersed with singer Rita Coolidge leaning against a wall, hands in pockets, while a wind machine blows her hair. Not subtitled.

Storyboard Sequences (3:32) Mildly enjoyable featurettes in which storyboards are shown, accompanied by the soundtrack from the final version of the same scenes in the film. Some storyboards from the first sequence, The Taxi Chase (3:32) are missing and are replaced by the actual footage but the second, Bond Rescues Octopussy (3:20), is complete.

Ministry of Propaganda
“This is Bond at its best, a spiral of spectacle and thrills!” Four theatrical trailers feature here, all of which succeed in the not unimpressive task of making the film look even worse than it actually is, something one would have thought almost impossible. Not only that, they’re badly dubbed as well, making them actually the antithesis of propaganda. Well done chaps.

“Sounds a load of bull to me.” For once the Ultimate Edition lives up to its billing, with several new additions to the SE’s roster that might make it worth upgrading. That said, it would mean you were double-dipping for Octopussy, hardly something you’d want to boast about, but there is more attraction this time than for many other of the UEs.

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