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MGM Studios DVD presents
"Yes, give him a cigarette. It won't be the nicotine that kills you, Mr. Bond."
DVD ReviewYou Only Live Twice is perhaps the worst James Bond film, especially in comparison to its direct predecessors, but still, it's not that bad. The premise is quite ridiculous in that Spectre's No. 1, Blofeld (played to great effect by Donald Pleasance), is kidnapping space capsules from the Americans and Russians in order to lure them into blaming each other for the thefts and ultimately starting a world war. The scenes of the Spectre spaceship sneaking up on the orbiting craft and literally swallowing them up, then flying back to earth and landing "somewhere in the South China Sea," stretch our suspension of disbelief just too far.
After faking his own death, "our man in Hong Kong" heads to Japan to investigate the possibility that some third party is creating this crisis. The film benefits greatly from the locales in Japan and the Japanese actors. There's a sequence at a Sumo match that is quintessential Bond color and other great action sequences as per usual in a good Bond film. The great gadget of this film is the gyrocopter, Little Nellie, which he uses to scout the remote areas of Japan for the villain's hidden location. And the martial arts scenes in the Ninja academy are great stuff, pre-dating the martial arts craze of the Seventies.
Sean Connery had announced that this would be his last Bond movie and it is apparent that his thinking was smarter than the producers, who tried to convince him to carry on in the role. He seems strained at times and just getting a little old for the role. The parts where he is disguised as Japanese are too absurd and thankfully do not last too long.
The acting overall is somewhat uneven, especially in the case of stilted portrayals by the Japanese heroines, but not unacceptably so. Karin Dor as No. 11, Spectre assassin Helga Brandt, adds that particularly unique villainous beauty that is such a part of Bond's women.
There were production problems on this film and one of those was the script. An untried writer, Roald Dahl attempted to adapt You Only Live Twice from the novel and the film suffers from what were obvious improvisations during production to punch up the story. This lays the foundation of the Bond movies eventually moving away from the intrigue and espionage of Fleming's novels to the action formula that dominates the series today.
Where the film exonerates itself and earns its place in the Bond canon is in its finale—incredible action scenes that take place at the villain's headquarters inside a volcano on a remote island. Designed by Ken Adam, fresh from working with Stanley Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove, this set is certainly one of the most amazing ever built and lends itself to the movie's fantastic climax: a 15 minute assault of action excitement.
Random Notes: The villain Blofeld, who first shows his face in this film, turns up in the next Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, with Telly Savalas replacing Donald Pleasence. He is without the trademark white cat we last see jumping from his arms near the end of You Only Live Twice. Hopefully, the kitty escaped! Sean Connery did indeed resign as 007 after this film, but returned for Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. This same year, Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell both appeared in an Italian film called Operation Kid Brother in which Daniela Bianchi, who was Tatiana in From Russia With Love, co-starred with Neil Connery, Sean's younger brother! Nancy Sinatra sings the title song, but it is not the most memorable in the series.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: MGM presents You Only Live Twice in its original 2.35:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, with a nice anamorphic transfer. There is some white flecking here and there, but the digital transfer looks pretty good overall considering the uneven quality of the original film. There is solid color, sharp detail and no distracting compression artifacts. The scenes inside the villain's volcanic lair are particularly fine. The final sequence is definitely worth a separate viewing or two.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: You Only Live Twice features a Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic soundtrack. The mastering is somewhat of a mishmash of quality. Turning up the sound causes the music and sound effects, such as tires squealing and engines to overwhelm the dialogue. This can be a problem in scenes where witty lines are exchanged during action sequences. The sound, however, does maintain a "big screen" quality.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Lewis Gilbert and members of the cast and crew
Silhouettes is an excellent documentary focusing on one of the most beloved aspects of Bond films: the opening title sequences. This piece describes the work of Maurice Binder who designed the titles on many of the Bond movies. There are interviews with friends, associates and people who worked on some of these famous sequences including Sheena Easton, Marvin Hamlisch and Roger Moore.
There is a very interesting storyboard comparison of the original conception of the sequence where Bond is accompanying Helga Brandt in a small plane. Using a lipstick bomb and a clamp, she traps Bond in the craft and then parachutes out, leaving him to his own devices.
The trailers include alternate North American and UK versions and also promotion of a You Only Live Twice and Thunderball double feature. It is interesting to see the old "GP" rating.
As one collects a number of these Special Editions with their load of extras, there is an excellent accumulation of Bond-related material that truly adds enjoyment to the series.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsDespite the problems with the story and other negative aspects, You Only Live Twice still stands as a very enjoyable mid-level entry in the Bond series. Although it established a bad habit in the series of relying on exotic scenes and relentless action to carry over story difficulties, in some ways I have to admit that those elements DO carry the film quite well.
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