Another PG James Bond movie with straight up nudity. Maurice Binder's title sequences always throw these movies' ratings out the window, especially in the advent of high def film. There is so much nudity during "All Time High" that very little is left to the imagination. It also has a wildly offensive title. A movie named Octopussy is rated PG. Oh, it's exactly what you think it means. A clown gets a knife to the back. All sorts of people are killed. India gets that sense of otherness to it. This might be a light R in reality. But guess what? That's not my job. PG.
DIRECTOR: John Glen
Oh my. Do you understand how much I wish this movie actually followed Ian Fleming's title for this story? The original story, which the film is loosely based on, was entitled "The Property of a Lady". That title actually has a lot more in common with the content of the film than Octopussy. Really, it's absolutely bizarre that this movie is called Octopussy considering that it is just named after one of the characters. Goldfinger had the same issues. Thunderball was the name of the operation. But really, just naming a character something loaded with innuendo and then naming the film after it? That's a bold choice.
I wonder if it had anything to do with Never Say Never Again. For those people not in the know, Octopussy came out in 1983, the year I was born. At the same time, another production company found a loophole in the rights for Thunderball, and decided to release their own bootleg James Bond movie the same year starring Sean Connery. I choose not to talk about that travesty. If I have the legs to keep writing about movies forever, I might get around to watching Never Say Never Again. But Octopussy does probably draw a lot more attention than a film entitled The Property of a Lady. (I absolutely adore that as the title of a Bond movie and I actively wish that Never Say Never Again was never made.)
A lot of people don't care for Octopussy. I genuinely look forward to watching Octopussy every time. For a while, it was up there with my favorites. I'm sure that if I ranked all of the Bond movies, I might be able to say that it is still amongst my favorites. We're about to hit a little stretch of really fun Bond films. People comment on the Roger Moore era as the time of goofballery. I can't really fight them. If you put a list of the silliest Bond movie moments, the Roger Moore films probably have a lot of them. But I don't have a problem with goofiness for the most part. The problem that a lot of the Roger Moore era movies had was finding a sense of identity on its own. Live and Let Die, for what it was, started off strong. It identified that the world was changing and that Roger Moore was not Sean Connery. It let Roger Moore be Bond in the way that he saw most fit. But like what would define this entire era, Live and Let Die was a response to blaxspoitation. It wasn't quite its own thing, but the thing it was mimicking was pretty entertaining. The Man with the Golden Gun employed Herve Villechaize as his character of Tattoo for a darker version of Fantasy Island. There was a Bond plot woven into it, but it didn't really say anything all that original. Moonraker was unabashedly trying to be Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey. For Your Eyes Only was an attempt to course-correct from this series of trendy knockoffs without really establishing what it wanted to do. Octopussy, however, is perhaps the most Moore film in the canon without the excuse of chasing or avoiding cultural trends.
Moore is silly, but the movie exists solely for itself. It's an odd commentary on Broccoli and Saltzman that it took ten years to really figure out Moore's Bond. Part of it, I think, comes from the idea of the Cold War understanding what it is. Connery's Bond was always under the thumb of SPECTRE. SPECTRE was always an excuse to talk about the Russians without directly talking about the Russians. It's odd because I remember the actor who played General Gogol in SPECTRE early in the day. The conflict between the West and the U.S.S.R. was always so much more complicated than the Bond movies would allow. SPECTRE allowed for Bond to fight a secret evil. It's only once the Cold War ramped up in the '80s that the Bond movies were really allowed to address the Russians as they were: complex. Bond couldn't just go around invading Russia because the Cold War prevented such things. But the tail end of the Cold War would start showing Russian desperation. Some of the cracks of the unknown enemy came to light and that makes for excellent storytelling. Instead of the Russians trying to grasp at some nuclear secret, it became about a grab for lost power. When the Russians in Bond's world were strong, it became two unstoppable forces. However, Octopussy plays up the idea that there is a hint of reasonability behind the Russians and their decisions. Instead of being KGB driven madmen, it became an argument for and against moving into the modern era. The scene around the map room under the spectre (sorry) of Vladmir Lenin is extremely telling. There's that element of the past and the move towards communism, but most of the room understanding that the U.S.S.R. was part of a global community.
That's why General Orlov makes such a good villain. He's an extremist. He sees the good old days of violence and military superiority and he sees this dove trying to take it away from him. Orlov makes Russia seem somewhat real. There were the "good old days" (no there wasn't, but that's a lesson in history that I don't have time for) and that's what we shoot for. It's a little scary that the same attitude that General Orlov has in Octopussy kind of parallels "Make America Great Again", but that's a whole 'nother can of worms that I'm not getting into. Bond was never really about the complexities of the political theater. It was always about England being the good guys and the Russians being the bad guys. Somehow, Octopussy gets to have its cake and eat it too because we still have the "us v. them" attitude that other Bond movies have, but the movie presents it in a light that's interesting...and on the global scale. Putting the beginning of the movie in Cuba, one of my favorite Bond opening sequences by-the-bye, cements the idea of the fear of communism worldwide. Yeah, it has a pretty conservative view of communism, but that fear was of the communism of 1983 and it makes a ton of sense.
But I also get why people don't really dig Octopussy. While it falls at the higher end of my list of Bond movies, the story doesn't really make a lick of sense. At the end of the day, when everything falls apart in the story, it becomes about money. There's this image that is absolutely haunting at the beginning of the film that acts as a phenomenal inciting incident. The body of 009, dressed in full clown regalia, crashes through a window and drops a Faberge Egg. It's this great puzzle to solve. What is up with that egg? Why is it so important? Ultimately, the egg itself isn't important. It is representative of the soviet financial treasure chest. That's not so interesting. And I hate to say it, because I really like the story, but there is no direct connection between the egg and the nuclear weapon at the end. Part of it is that the bad guys are super sloppy with their intentions. They draw a lot of attention to themselves with the egg. The possession of the egg doesn't actually directly tie to the villains' main goal: the incitement of war with the west. Kamal Khan, who has a really dubious connection to all of the events in the story, fights tooth and nail to get the egg back from Bond. It even goes into a "The Most Dangerous Game" reference for a while. But really, Khan and Orlov could proceed with their mission to blow up the base with a nuclear weapon without the egg. It's just that people would have figured out their plan...which they did anyway. As a Macguffin, the Faberge Egg doesn't work the way it is supposed to.
Ultimately, what makes Octopussy work is the individual elements thrown together. It's not good storytelling. I acknowledge that. One of the problems with The Spy Who Loved Me was that it felt like the world hopping that didn't give it a sense of cohesiveness. The same thing happens with Octopussy. The only difference is that these scenes kind of work for me. There are a bunch of set pieces that absolutely shine in Octopussy that make the movie worth watching to me: the jet sequence in Cuba, the cab in India, "the Most Dangerous Game", the train fight, the bomb defusal, the raid on Kamal's fortress. That's a lot of good time. When the story doesn't work, that kind of becomes okay because the movie really almost acts as an anthology of loosely related Bond adventures. The movie feels like a bunch of pre-credit adventures that have a common storyline. Somehow, there's a way to tie all of these stories together. As of right now, it is a bit fragmented.
Can I tell you one thing that happens in Octopussy that I don't see in Bond for a lot of the other films? The one thing that On Her Majesty's Secret Service gets really right is that it makes us care about death. When Tracy dies, it is absolutely crushing. It makes sense. Bond loses someone he absolutely loves. But Bond loses all kinds of other people in his adventures. "He has a license to kill or be killed." But usually, supporting characters don't evoke any kind of emotions. Not with Vijay. Vijay is this great character who is being built into almost being the Indian James Bond. He's this wonderfully charismatic character who bounces a lot of fun ideas into a Bond movie. Yet, he dies. The movie, wisely, builds this character up as our avatar character and then eliminates him fairly brutally. We care for our own reason, but we also care because Bond cares. I like the idea that James Bond has emotional reactions to things. This later wouldn't work as well with Licence to Kill, but I'll get to that when I get to that movie. When Bond feels actual pain, it really sells the idea that Bond is not a Mary Sue, but a relatable character that is interesting.
I admit that Octopussy is far from a perfect film. I'll even go as far as to say it's far from a perfect Bond movie. But as an experience of what the Roger Moore era should have been, Octopussy is such a fun time that I can't wait to watch it again. I was actually getting burned out by Bond, then this movie showed up. That's saying something.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.