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Published on October 22nd, 2015 | by Rob

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For Your Eyes Only: Moore Plays It Straight

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The Story

A British spy vessel runs afoul of a stray mine somewhere out in the Ionian Sea. The ship goes down with all hands on deck, along with the top secret ATAC device it happens to be hosting. This is rather unfortunate, as the ATAC can be used to remotely launch nuclear missiles from British submarines.

Bond is promptly dispatched to track down the ATAC before it can fall into the wrong hands, but the KGB is already on the trail. Complicating matters, the only man who can pinpoint the location of the missing device – marine archaeologist, Sir Timothy Havelock – has just been machine gunned to death by a Cuban assassin.

Bond chases down the murderer in the hopes of turning up a lead to the missing ATAC, becoming romantically entangled with Havelock’s revenge-minded daughter (Carole Bouquet) in the process. Which turns out to be quite useful, as she’s pretty handy with a crossbow.

Bond discovers that the hit was organised by Greek underworld figure and opium smugger, Aris Kristatos, who is hired by the KGB to recover the ATAC device on their behalf. Bond must find the ATAC before Kristatos gets his hands on it and delivers it up to his Russian paymasters.

For Your Eyes Only represents a refreshing change of pace from the typical “Bond saves the world from the machinations of an evil genius” type scenario. The story plays out more along the lines of a straight, Cold War espionage thriller, harking back to the more grounded tone of From Russia With Love, which also featured Bond competing against the Russians to recover a technological device.

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Title Sequence & Bond Theme

Anybody remember Sheena Easton? Well, she was pretty big for a brief period in the eighties. If you do remember her, would you contemplate listening to one of her albums in this day and age? Your answer to that question should tell you a lot about how badly the For Your Eyes Only theme song has aged. As far as disposable synth based eighties balladry goes, I suppose Easton’s warbling isn’t that bad. But it’s not like the bar has been set very high. It’s kind of telling that the song sounds more dated than any of the sixties Bond themes, and they were all made a good 10 – 20 years previous to this.

Amusingly, the traditional Bond theme is given a disco remix here, even though disco’s heyday was already over by a good four years at this point. I suppose it’s appropriate though, since Bond wears flared suit pants in the pre credits sequence. Flared suit pants. Jesus! I thought Bond was supposed to be an icon of men’s style? Roger Moore looks like a maths teacher trying to show that he’s down with the kids and missing the mark by half a decade. All that’s missing are the leather elbow patches on his jacket.

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The Villain and Their Plan

Unfortunately, Aris Kristatos is one of the more eminently forgettable villains in the Bond franchise. This isn’t necessarily the fault of Julian Glover, who has the right kind of look for the part and is a credible enough actor. It’s just that he’s not really given much to do. Kristatos exists merely because Bond requires an adversary to overcome; we never get much of a sense of what sort of person he is or where his motivations lie.

The only (mildly) interesting thing going on here is that the movie abruptly changes tracks and switches villain midway through. Originally, we’re led to believe that Milos Columbo (Chaim Topol) a former smuggling partner of Kristatos is the chief villain, whereas Kristatos is an intelligence informant and ally of Bond. But it turns out that Kristatos is merely trying to set Columbo up for assassination and is working for the Russians all along.

Columbo subsequently slips neatly into the role of “loyal ethnic sidekick who helps Bond to storm the enemy fortress” – another trope that turned up again and again in the Bond franchise. That Columbo doesn’t turn out to be the villain is sort of a relief. Topol looks and talks like he belongs in an Asterix cartoon, which makes it difficult to convey a palpable sense of menace.

No elaborate plots to hypnotise beautiful women into poisoning the world’s food supplies or blackmailing the world with gigantic space lasers here; Kristatos is just an ordinary crime boss who does side jobs for the KGB in return for hard currency.

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The Locations

Now that’s what I call some nice location shooting! The action takes place entirely in Europe this time out, and fantastic use is made out of some of Greece and Italy’s most beautiful locales. We really get a sense of romantic adventure as Moore traipses through the franchise’s favourite scenic archetypes. Every Bond movie by this point was essentially a pastiche of every previous Bond movie, so we get a sequence in the snow and on skis (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me) an underwater action sequence (Thunderball) and a showdown at a mountain lair (You Only Live Twice).

John Glen makes his Bond directorial debut here, and say what you will about Glen (his Bonds being a mixed bag to say the least) he did manage to bring a certain elegance of style back to the cinematography and location shooting.

The Gadgets

Gadget free Bond! The movie deliberately sets out its stall early on, when Bond’s gadget-laden Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me is blown to smithereens, forcing him to make a getaway in a humble Citroen 2CV.

The Roger Moore era is typically seen as the apotheosis of fantastical gadgets in the Bond franchise, but there was a deliberate effort to keep things relatively believable in For Your Eyes Only. Of course the central McGuffin, the ATAC device, is quite a spectacular sort of gadget in itself (being capable of commandeering nuclear subs via remote control) but we don’t actually get to see it do anything during the course of the movie. There’s not much else here that you wouldn’t expect to see in real life.

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Most Inappropriate / Politically Incorrect Moment

There was nothing appropriate about early eighties Bond, not when so much screen time is devoted to a middle-aged Roger Moore cavorting with women young enough to be his grand-daughters, a supercilious smirk permanently etched on his face. This was a trend that here reaches its nadir in the unfortunate character of Bibi.

Ah Bibi; what purpose do you serve in this movie, really? Which unfortunate writer conjured you up out of his (surely coke-addled) imagination? And how little of a shit did Eon Productions give at this point to approve a final script with you in it? One wonders if production meetings were actually held in which male menopause afflicted movie execs chortled with delight at Bibi’s inclusion.

Bibi, in case you’ve never seen the movie, is a teenage girl and budding professional ice skater who develops a crush on Bond. Bear in mind that Roger Moore was 54 at this point and looked every single minute of it. I don’t know how old Bibi is supposed to be, but I’m guessing no more than 16 (Lynn Holly Johnson was actually in her early twenties at the time, but you wouldn’t know it from her portrayal). Yes, at an age when most girls would still be starry-eyed over the latest boy band pop idol, Bibi instead conceives a lust for leather faced, wrinkly necked Roger Moore, which is kind of like developing a crush on your grandfather’s golfing buddy.

OK, so she has a crush on an older guy. Big deal you say. He IS James Bond after all, even if he has developed into a seedy old git. Yeah, but do teen crushes usually involve the girl breaking into the object of her affection’s hotel room, stripping down, taking a shower and then waiting not-so-demurely in his bed?

I suppose you could say it’s to Bond’s credit that he doesn’t take Bibi up on her offer here. It’s not like he’s hurting for options anyway (the barely older yet-at-least-past-legal-age Melina Havelock is waiting in the wings, y’see). But really, we shouldn’t be overly generous. Are we supposed to be grateful merely because the production team refrained from crossing all boundaries of good taste? Why have Bibi in the movie at all? For comedy value? Bond’s quips here are some of the clumsiest in the entire canon:

Bond: “Don’t grow up any more.”

Bibi: “Why?”

Bond: “The opposite sex would never survive it!”

Perhaps it would be easier to forgive Bibi’s inclusion if she didn’t have so much screen time, which makes it rather difficult to disregard her completely, even though she serves absolutely no purpose to the plot. There’s really something rather troubling about her characterisation. She doesn’t feel remotely plausible. It’s a teenage girl as imagined by a sleazy, middle-aged lecher : naive, compliant, yet sexually aggressive. That the story requires her to throw herself lasciviously at a man a good three times her senior is downright creepy.

Bond receives a phone call from the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. She does not know that she has a conversation with Melina's parrot. "Give us a kiss".

Weirdest Moment

Margaret Thatcher makes an appearance. No, really. Well, obviously it’s an actor portraying Thatcher, but it’s a pretty good facsimile. More convincing than Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady at any rate. Hubby Denis Thatcher is in there too. In case you’re wondering what purpose Thatcher serves, she has a telephone conversation with a parrot, which she mistakes for James Bond. She even gets all hot and bothered when the parrot requests her to “give us a kiss”. Really, any further explanation would be redundant.

Best One-Liner

[Bond enters a confession booth]

James Bond: Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.

Q: [removing fake beard] That’s putting it mildly, 007!

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How Good Is It Really?

For Your Eyes Only is positioned in a strange place on the timeline of the Bond franchise. The series had just entered its third decade, and was increasingly looking like a shabby relic of a bygone era. The last entry in the series, Moonraker, had done impressive box office, but had also received criticism for its outrageous silliness. Bond had largely devolved into a parody of itself, with an aging Roger Moore smirking his way through ever more fantastical scenarios.

There was the sense that the Bond movies were really just going through the motions, endlessly recycling the same basic stories and themes, ticking off boxes on the requisite checklist (fast cars, stunts, gadgets, gags and glamorous babes) as they went. Nobody attended a Bond movie with the expectation of seeing anything new or revelatory, or even that they’d remember the first thing about it five minutes after the credits rolled. Every couple of years, a new Bond would roll off the production line, perform reliably at the box office, and then promptly disappear. The format still drew in the punters, but there was something soulless and tacky about it all. A cynical wrapping of “seen-it-all-before” clung to Bond throughout the eighties.

Coming as it did immediately after the peak of Moore era campiness in Moonraker, but before the franchise hit its absolute nadir with Octopussy and A View To a Kill, For Your Eyes Only is frequently overlooked, a rarely talked about entry from an era many Bond fans would prefer to forget. But this is perhaps a little unfair. For Your Eyes Only is in fact perfectly acceptable mid-tier Bond. It’s formulaic hackwork to be sure, as many Bond flicks are, but it’s enjoyable hackwork nonetheless. It was also one of Eon Productions’ periodic attempts to get back to basics and reformulate Bond as something more closely approaching his roots in the Fleming novels, and for that reason alone, it ought to be of interest to the Bond connoisseur.

Despite Moonraker’s strong take at the box office, the production team correctly surmised that some degree of change would now be required. If Moonraker’s direction had been maintained indefinitely, then there never would’ve been a need for Austin Powers. To be sure, there’s no radical revisionism in For Your Eyes Only to compare with Casino Royale, a quarter of a century later. There’s no broadening of the emotional palette of the character as there was in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, or an attempt to bring Bond into line with the more violent breed of action hero that was emerging in the eighties, as there would be in License to Kill, several years down the track. But For Your Eyes Only is nonetheless the straightest Bond of the Roger Moore era, and a welcome change of pace from the high camp foolishness that otherwise tended to mar his tenure.

One thing For Your Eyes Only could never be accused of is going easy on the action. In fact, this is one of the most action packed Bonds of them all, with the fights and stunt sequences coming thick and fast throughout the running time. In many respects, the storylines had ceased to be of much importance to the Bond movies. There’s no pretence that they exist for any other reason than to string the action set pieces together. You do find yourself wondering at times why such and such a secondary villain is trying to kill Bond at that moment, or quite what all the fighting is about. Clarity of motivation was not generally a strong point of the series. The problem here is that without any real sense of purpose, the action becomes rather meaningless. There’s no emotional involvement and the viewer struggles to care. But at least For Your Eyes Only maintains a breathless pace, and is therefore rarely dull to watch.

There are some excellent moments for Bond fans to savour. In one sequence, Bond has one of Kristatos’ henchman at his mercy, trapped in a car teetering on the edge of a cliff. Bond simply boots the side of the car, sending the unfortunate heavy plummeting to his doom, crushed betwixt steel and rock. It’s the most ruthless we’ve ever seen Moore’s Bond on screen. The Bond persona always played better as a stone killer than a smirking lothario. We should’ve gotten more of this sort of thing from Moore.

The underwater sequence is another winner, and easily trumps the dull, slugging-through-water stillness of a similar sequence in Thunderball. The appearance of a deep sea diving suit clad Russian agent, complete with bulky headpiece and steel claws, is suitably tense and eerie, now reminiscent of the Big Daddy boss fights in the video game Bioshock. And while we’ve seen Bond storm enemy bases without number in previous episodes, we’ve never seen an end sequence quite like this one. The abandoned monastery atop a sheer, inaccessible plateau is a spectacular setting, and Bond’s scaling of the cliff face a real white knuckle ride: one of the few times any Bond movie manages to sustain a genuine, Hitchcockian level of tension.

There’s even an intriguing attempt to reconnect Bond with his previous history and establish some actual continuity in the series. In the pre-credit introductory sequence, Bond is seen to lay flowers on the grave of his murdered wife from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, before finally getting his just revenge on Blofeld (who remains unnamed in the movie due to licensing issues).

For Your Eyes Only does a lot right then, much more so than any of the other Moore outings, save for perhaps The Spy Who Loved Me. Unfortunately, however, the response of audiences and critics was fairly tepid at the time; the box office take was reasonable but down from Moonraker, and after nearly 20 years and 12 movies, the public seemed to be tiring of Bond. It was frequently the case that the more straight-edged and believable Bonds dropped off at the box office (witness also the relatively lacklustre performances of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and License to Kill). Hardcore fans like their Bond served up raw, but the public of the day still had a taste for over-cooked fantasy. It wasn’t until the Daniel Craig era that the harder-edged Bonds really started to take off in the public imagination.

If For Your Eyes Only has been overlooked, it’s certainly not due to unworthiness. Latter period Roger Moore is frequently nigh on unwatchable in this day and age, but For Your Eyes Only is the one movie worth salvaging from an otherwise terrible bunch.

Rob

Rob

Movie and music obsessive, world traveller and frustrated writer. Rob can speak over 36 languages when drunk and is completely incapable of growing a beard.
Rob
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