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timdalton007


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BlogalongaBond: You Only Live Twice
Bond
timdalton007

Following on the success of Goldfinger and Thunderball, there came a not so little movie called You Only Live Twice. Bigger in both budget and scope then those two films, it also proved to be Sean Connery's last outing for four years as 007 and the so-called end of the "classic" Bond films in the eyes of the general public. Yet this film was not in the same category as the three films (From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball) that preceded it. While the movie movie has an epic feel to it, it lacks believability in terms of its leading man, its story, and its action sequences.

Sean Connery, rather infamously, was so beguiled by the press while making You Only Live Twice that he finally left the role that had made him famous just a few years earlier. That pain and disillusionment is evident in the performance all the way through. Connery seems to sleep-walk through out the entire film, barely acting at all and the result is dull to say the least. This is not the rough and tumble Bond of previous films. This is a bored and dull Bond who seems better off dead as he appeared at the end of the teaser sequence. In short this is perhaps the worst of Connery's performances as 007.

The film's two girls give Connery his best moments in the film. The beautiful Akiko Wakabayashi is the main love interest of the film and her death towards the start of the film's third act is the one good shock moment of the film. The other girl, Kissy who is played by Mie Hama, isn't quite as good as Akiko and we really never get any feeling of character depth in her part. This is a shame since she occupies the entire third act without hardly an interruption.

The film's villain is finally revealed after two films (From Russia With Love and Thunderball) without a face. Donald Pleasence creates a classic villain in the first full on-screen incarnation of the Blofeld character. Yet Pleasence is a dull villain. He spends the majority of the film just handing out orders at random and that is pretty much all he does. He does get one moment of physical force but wastes it. Why this villain is classic is beyond my understanding but he has, unjustly, become classic.

The rest of the cast is a bit of a mixed bag. Tetsuro Tamba is virtually flawless as Tiger, Bond's Japanese backup and he is a true pleasure to watch. Blofeld's two henchpeople Osato and Helga Brandt, played by Teru Shimada and Karin Dor, feature quite a bit in the film and their death scenes are classics for two very different reasons. Charles Gray, a future Blofeld himself, gets a nice moment as a MI6 contact in Japan and it's a shame we don't get to see more of him since he is a lot better here then in his later Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever. Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, and Desmond Llewelyn all give good performances in their roles but this certainly is not their best work.

The action sequences in the film are a really mixed bag. The vast majority of them serve little or no purpose plot wise and seem to be used just to string the film along a little bit further. This is especially true of the Little Neelie battle sequence over the volcano's. While this is a visually stunning sequence, their isn't a lot going on besides Bond pushing a few buttons. This is also true of the massive battle in the volcano lair. The sequence is exciting to watch but one wonders by the end of it how much of it was necessary. The action sequences in the film really serve no purpose in that respect and hurt the film in review.

The story of the film is many things but great is not one of them. How the plot of one of Ian Fleming's best novels became this part sci-fi film, part action epic is beyond understanding. The villains plot just lacks credibility in a way that the previous films did not and that is despite good special effects. The writing itself isn't bad but the story is. Not to mention the fact that the story became dated almost immediately which doesn't help the film four decades later.

The rest of the production elements are the great things about this film. Ken Adam's production design is amazing to say the least. The volcano lair is a truly mesmerizing set to look at even though it does lack believability. Adams design is incredible in every single set and is aided immensely by the Japanese locations. It is in those locations that the breathtaking work of Freddie Young shines brightest. This is a film that is carried by these visual elements alone and it is a shame that neither got Oscars for truly spectacular work. The film's special effects are good even if they are not up to modern standards. They don't hurt the film four decades later but they don't help it either.

Then there is the music of John Barry. Barry created one of his best scores, Bond or otherwise, for this film. His intriguing blend of Oriental themes into the traditional Bond music is a delight to listen to. His use of the "007 theme" during the early part of the Little Nellie sequence is classic as is the space march theme. Add on to this a top notch main title song by Nancy Sinatra and a dazzling credit sequence from Maurice Binder and the result is a classic element in a not-so-classic film.

Overall You Only Live Twice is carried by two things: its visuals and its music. In terms of acting, action, and writing this is about as dull as Bond films come. Yet it is the sheer power of the visuals and music that make this film watchable, proving that these two elements alone can (nearly) save a film. For this film ultimately proves one thing: that twice isn't the only way to live.