James Bond Retrospective: Octopussy

Bond films were fighting for what was once complete dominance. Once they were the imitated, then they sought to imitate. For Your Eyes Only (1981) was a return to basics for the Bond franchise. That film was a way to come back down to Earth after Moonraker (1979) brought Bond to new… “heights”. The puns are getting to me, let’s go to the next one on our list:

Octopussy (1983)

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“Beige is a color that commands attention and artistic respect.” -at least two people on that set.

Yikes. What a name.

So a general trend for Bond — and this will continue to be seen after we all die — is to take the previous film’s tone and either double down or walk it back. You get too serious? Lighten it up. Go too far? Bring it down. After For Your Eyes OnlyOctopussy is a film that seeks to be a Goldfinger (1964) style film. It’s riding the line between comedy and a standard action film and in this review we’ll explore how this makes the film ultimately worse where other Bond films succeeded.

The Plot

Remember when people thought pools were proof you were rich and cool? Notice how there’s only like two people in the pool, people just love the idea of it.

009 is murdered in West Germany on his way to the British ambassador and is only able to give a fake Fabergé egg as a clue. MI6 knows the real one is at auction and assume this weird smuggling business involves the Soviets, so they send Bond on the case.

Bond swaps the eggs at auction and tracks the buyer to India. The buyer is named Kamal Khan and is an Afghani exile. Bond puts a tracker in the real egg, seduces Khan’s arm candy named Magda, and is imprisoned within Khan’s fortress.

Bond escapes and locates an associate of Khan who runs an island composed entirely of women. Her name is Octopussy and she has an obsession with octopi. She is a diamond smuggler and while she won’t help Bond she extends him courtesy by sleeping with him and offering refuge while she goes to finish her business with Khan.

Bond figures out everybody is going to a circus in East Germany and discovers gems being stuffed into a box under a cannon. While the Soviets expect the diamonds, Khan and a Soviet general named Orlov plan something else. They want to switch out the diamonds for a nuclear bomb, ready to detonate inside a US military base stationed in West Germany. Everyone will assume US accidentally triggered their own bomb, Europe will enforce strict nuclear policies while the Soviets can push their nukes and borders forward.

Bond stops Orlov and the bomb, also revealing the truth to Octopussy and Magda. Everybody takes revenge on Khan for his betrayal in the climax of the film. Bond and Octopussy enjoy time off together.

A Closer Look

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If you look closely, you’ll see this gorilla is actually a man in a gorilla costume.

The first important thing to note is this film came out the same year as Never Say Never Again (1983), a Bond film not produced by EON nor canon to these films. It starred Sean Connery, and it was way worse than this film.

Second, John Barry had returned to do the score again and I missed him. The theme never sounds better than when he does it, and he utilizes the theme often to remind people that this film is a true Bond film.

The director this time is John Glen, responsible for directing the most Bond films out of any director. After seeing two of his films you can see his strengths and weaknesses clearly: the man makes spectacularly competent Bond throwbacks but doesn’t make anything special. This film feels like a later era Connery film, and that might be a good thing for many folk. Characters feel reminiscent of other characters, Octopussy feels particularly derivative in an inspired way. She’s like if Pussy Galore and Goldfinger merged into a being that liked octopi.

The Soviets also remain the looming threat, but unlike SPECTRE, they’re never truly villainous. The bad guys now are self-centered weirdos and the Soviets are just the people we do not want to win because countries. Orlov is particularly condemned as separate from his country.

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You run an entire island of women and these uniforms are the best you’ve got? At least the hair is fabulous.

What’s Good?

As said previously, the music is welcomed. Even the intro theme and sequence are fun. The sequence returns to the simple use of females in the shadow as lighting effects dance over their figures, which is a very classic Bond sequence.

Glen also does a great job of keeping action sequences fun. There are some great moments and stuntwork, and when they do comedy it actually is best done in these tense moments. The best humor in the film is found when they play everything straight but the situation is ridiculous. There are two chases involving clown disguises, Bond drives a car without tires on rails to catch a train, and Bond’s assistant Vijay drives a cart whilst fencing away assassins with a tennis racket. That’s the fun I want in a Bond film.

That sort of fun extends to the creativity never usually afforded to the Bond series. This is the first time Bond has ever truly used a disguise since yellow face in You Only Live Twice (1967) and the kilt with a posh dubbed voice-over in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). Gorillas, clowns, alligators, and mustachioed commanders are waaaay better disguises for Bond because Bond has never been subtle anyways. I’m surprised there weren’t more “clowning around” or “going bananas” jokes from Bond. It’s also funny how these disguises are used to punctuate the most tense scenes. When is Bond a clown? When he is defusing a nuclear bomb. The funny scenes put him in white shirts. What movie would you rather have?

As a whole, this film’s best strength is the fact that the whole is better than the parts. The problems that plague this film did not prevent me from enjoying the film, they just prevent me from recommending it.

I bet Bond wishes he took the parachute-inside-of-a-shoe gadget from Q branch now. Pens are overrated.

What’s Bad?

The rest of the film’s humor is trash. Terrible one-liners and puns I can overlook, but there are some gags here that ruin the audience experience and Bond’s character.

Example: Bond plays with a camera hooked up to a dozen televisions in Q branch, and uses the camera to zoom in and out on a woman scientist’s cleavage for a bunch of men to stare at. Like a twelve-year-old would, because that is a joke for twelve-year-olds. Older Bond films attempted to portray Bond as a gentleman, and while his ideas of consent and respect were always questionable, this sort of humor is crossing a line.

Other moments in the film dedicated to humor center on Bond feeling foreign in India. This is one of the more problematic depictions of setting and people in a Bond film. The villains lack dimension and resembles ethnic stereotypes too much. The dinner scene has Bond disgusted to eat lamb head, and this cultural insensitivity is not a good look for Bond as a franchise. Visiting the exotic should look like vacations, and if there is something we or Bond aren’t comfortable with there should still be a respect for that culture. It is just like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indy and his crew react to the different cuisines and the western audience is supposed to sympathize with the racism? Bond is supposed to be an international and cultured man. Instead, he’s affirming prejudices.

Octopussy was also lacking, especially considering her complex role and backstory. This is a film with like, four villains, and Octopussy is given the most time being foreshadowed, then as soon as we see her we know from music and lighting she is a good guy. The other villains that pick up the pieces aren’t great either. I’m at least glad she is more age appropriate than most Bond girls. Maud Adams also was Scaramanga’s squeeze in The Man With the Golden Gun (1975). She is sexy and capable in her performances, criticism of Maud’s performance is unfair.

Also, Moore is getting way too old. Somebody take him to the retirement home and give him a bingo card. The best thing to say is that he isn’t phoning it in as much as other Bond actors this late into their career. Moore still has enthusiasm for the role even if he knows he should stop, and that energy still shows on screen.

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The alligator disguise is way better than the rubber duck disguise in Goldfinger, so good for them.

Looking Forward

We are about to close out an era with Roger Moore. We will be reviewing A View to a Kill (1985) as the last Moore Bond film. Moore may have been silly or slightly wooden but credit is due here: his commitment to the character was remarkable. He is iconic as Bond in his own way, and possibly the most important actor to play him. Best? Eh… No.

After that there will be two Dalton films, which I am very excited to revisit, and after we will enter the Brosnan era. Get ready.

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Who knew “Generalissimo” was a good look for Bond?

What I Drank.

Bond drinks way too much champagne in these films. I want a mixed drink, damn it! So I’m going to make an Octopus. It is one shot of 151 rum, one shot of orange juice, one shot of passion fruit, then a dash of bitters and a splash of club soda. It tastes great, and you should’ve started salivating as soon as I said “151” and “orange juice”.


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