Reel Talk

Octopussy and Giving Up on the Plot

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When I was first deciding to do this project and watch all of the Bond movies in order there was one area of the filmography that I was more than a little worried about. Because while I love Bond movies, and find something to love in every single one of them, there is a back-to-back duology of film that really derails the momentum of the series by being two of my least favorite Bond flicks of them all. Which brings us to Octopussy, the movie whose title people are often shocked to find is real. I know that my opinions on For Your Eyes Only are pretty rare among Bond fans, but I kind of feel like my thoughts regarding Octopussy are pretty prevalent. I can’t imagine that Octopussy is anyone’s favorite Bond movie. There are some solid ideas in the movie, like all Bond movies, but it’s maybe the least interesting of the whole bunch to me. Even Bond movies that are technically worse than this one have more going on in them for me to enjoy. Really, the worst crime a movie can commit is being boring. Because even a bad movie can be entertaining in that regard, like several other Bond movies I could mention. But this movie just leaves me utterly cold, and is probably the Bond movie that I have the hardest time remembering, often spending the whole movie thinking “oh yeah, that’s from this one.”

Which is probably a bad thing, because this movie really needed to deliver. The producers of the Bond franchise obviously always want these movies to be successful, but there was a little something extra moving them along on this movie. Competition. Because, in case you were unaware, the summer of 1983 had two different Bond movies released. Yep, 1983 also saw the release of the unofficial Bond film, Never Say Never Again. And don’t worry, I will be discussing it tomorrow. And while this alternative Bond franchise never took off, there was some serious threats. Primarily due to the fact that they managed to convince Sean Connery to reprise his role as James Bond. Which obviously made the producers more than a little worried. Especially because after For Your Eyes Only Roger Moore was ready to retire from the franchise. Bond actors typically end their careers on a real stinker (if you accept that Diamonds Are Forever is bad, which I don’t), and after escaping the stink of Moonraker Moore seemed to be going out on top. True, I don’t care for For Your Eyes Only, but most people do, and it felt like a good place to jump ship. They even started looking at Timothy Dalton to take over the role. But when word came out that Connery was coming to Never Say Never Again the folks at EON knew that they needed to convince Moore to stay on for at least one more. And guess what folks? You can really tell that Roger Moore has all but completely lost interest in this franchise while watching this movie.

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Octopussy opens up the same way the last few have, with James Bond wrapping up a smaller mission we don’t get to see. This time he’s ruining an arms trade in Cuba, and manages to escape by flying a really tiny little jet around. But once that’s over and Roger Moore quips to a gas station attendant we’re tossed into the credit sequence where we’re treated to a Rita Coolridge song that made pains to never say the word Octopussy. And once that’s taken care of we start jumping around the world, setting the pieces in motion.  First off we head over to Soviet Russia and learn that General Gogol, the leader of Russian intelligence we’ve seen the last few movies, is being harassed by a young, hotheaded General named Orlov who is desperate to declare a shooting war with the West. Second we see a man in a clown costume running through the woods outside West Berlin, chased by knife-wielding assassins. The clown manages to get to the office of the ambassador, and dies after crashing through a window, delivering a Fabrege Egg. And this Egg turns out to be a big deal, other than the fact that that clown was 009, because as MI6 deduces, it’s a fake, and the real one is about to go up for auction at Sotheby’s. So M requests that Bond go to the auction to see if he can figure out what’s going on with this Egg, and why 009 was murdered. So Bond goes to the auction with a member of the British government and finds that an exiled Afghan prince named Kamal Khan has arrived to bid on the Egg. So Bond gets him into a bidding war just to piss him off, and ends up switching the real Egg with the fake one, knowing that this will give him leverage over Khan.

Bond then heads to India, basically just on a hunch, and sets out to find Khan. He locates a casino that Khan gambles at with the help of a local contact named Vijay and goes to pester Khan more. He ends up getting into a high-stakes backgammon game with Khan, putting up the Egg as his bet. Bond gets the better of Khan, by using his own loaded dice, further pissing the man off. At this point Bond really has no proof that Khan isn’t on the level, but after the backgammon game Khan sends a group of henchmen lead by his right-hand-man Gobinda to kill Bond and Vijay in a rickshaw chase, proving that he isn’t legit. Which of course means Bond is going to have to respond to that attack by sleeping with Khan’s lady-friend Magda. However, this turned out to be another trick, because in the morning Magda just steals back the real Egg and returns to Khan. And once that’s taken care of Gobinda shows up to knock out Bond and bring him to Khan’s palace. Where we start to learn more about what’s going on. Because it turns out that Khan is in an elaborate smuggling operation with a woman named Octopussy. Basically, Khan is counterfeiting Russian artifacts given to him by General Orlov, and Octopussy is smuggling them around the world. Bond even overhears Khan plan a meeting with Orlov in East Berlin, and knows that he’s going to need to get there. So Bond flees from Khan’s castle, getting involved in an insane big-game chase, and escapes into the jungle.

After which Bond heads straight for a weird island that Octopussy lives on to get more information. And when he arrives he finds that the island is exclusively populated with women who work in Octopussy’s traveling circus. We also learn that Bond knew Octopussy’s father, and that she’s going to be an ally to him. The two sleep together and Bond gets some more information about this meeting between Orlov and Khan in Germany. He then leaves the island and heads out to Germany. Which is when we get filled in on more of the plot. Because it turns out that Khan and Orlov are screwing over Octopussy. They told her they’re using her circus to smuggle jewelry, but in reality they have a nuclear bomb in her equipment, and are going to activate it when the circus is visiting a NATO airforce base, hoping that the explosion will convince NATO to disarm bombs so that the USSR can conquer them easier. Bond ends up getting into a series of train-fights with some of Orlov and Khan’s men, piecing together what’s going on, and arrives at the airforce base as the bomb is getting ready to detonate. So Bond slips into a clown costume, and runs into the circus, disarming the bomb. General Orlov was killed by some Russian soldiers who thought he was defecting, and the bomb is taken care of, but Khan is still out there. And Octopussy is furious that Khan backstabbed her, so with her army of female circus people she heads to Khan’s castle to kill him. And, as the women most have things taken care of, Bond arrives in a Union Jack hot-air balloon to help out. This of course leads to Bond, Gobinda, Khan, and Octopussy ending up in a plane, trying to flee India, and a series of plane-fights. Bond kills Khan and Gobinda, and he and Octopussy jump out of the plane, surviving with only minor wounds. But that still doesn’t stop Bond from having sex with Octopussy in a boat, as is tradition.

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So I’m going to start off trying to stay a little positive. Because while this is a Bond movie I’m not particularly fond of, there’s still things about it that I like. No Bond movie is purely bad in my eyes, there are always things that I enjoy. The film does make some interesting uses of the Indian setting, although at times it did tip into some rather racist stereotypes, but it was an interesting locale that we hadn’t seen before. It’s very odd that they brought Maud Adams back to play another Bond girl, but she’s much more interesting as Octopussy than she was in Man With the Golden Gun. Roger Moore is largely uninterested in this movie, but he does toss out some great quips in this movie, having glimmers of his typical fun performance when he isn’t slathered in clown makeup. But I think the real stars of the shows were the villains. Not really General Orlov, he’s basically a cartoon character who spends most of the movie beet-red and screaming in a rather dubiously Russian accent. No, the people we’re here for are Kamal Khan and Gobinda. Now, Kabir Bedi didn’t have a lot of dialogue as Gobinda, but he had a pretty great physicality to him that I enjoyed quite a bit. He was incredibly intimidating and became one of the better henchmen in the franchise, in my opinion. And despite the the fact that the casting of Louis Jourdan as an Indian man was a tad nonsensical, the man nailed the part. Kamal Khan is dripping in a venomous class that really worked as a nice counter-balance to Orlov’s screaming fury.

Despite some good performances, some decent stunts, and an interesting locale though, this movie still doesn’t hold my interest that much. And I think the main reason for that is that they really didn’t seem to give much thought into the story of this film. They obviously didn’t take much from the short story that the movie got it’s name from, and other than some of the auction plot that came from the “Property of a Lady” short story, this movie didn’t have a lot of Fleming to mine from. And instead of hammering out an engaging spy story, it just kind of feels like they told everyone involved to just make a Bond movie, with no further information. There’s a lot of things about this movie that feels like a Bond movie, but it just feels kind of slapdash. There’s Russians, nuclear weapons, double-crosses, and most of the other halmarks of the franchise, but they just seem to be tossed in out of duty rather than interest. Which is weird, since they knew this movie was going to have to compete with Never Say Never Again, so you’d think that they’d have brought their A game. Instead this movie becomes just a series of moments that are stung together without much semblance of order. It was very difficult to get down the order that things happen, because they really seem arbitrary. We have two different villains who are trying to concoct a plan that changes about four times. Honestly, General Orlov should have been the primary villain, because Kamal Khan essentially serves no purpose other than justifying the Indian setting. I really do get the feeling that this script was written by having people pitch set-pieces and then working backwards to fashion a plot. Which probably has happened several times previously in the franchise, and will certainly happen several times more, but this was the first movie that it became distracting to me. I’ve often heard that you shouldn’t think too hard about the plots of Bond movies, that they’re more about individual moments than a perfectly coherent plot. But I generally disagree with that. I’ve been able to follow and understand basically every Bond movie’s plot up until this point. But watching Octopussy you’re kind of  put in the position of constantly asking yourself “wait, what’s happening?” before a character just looks at the camera and explains it. This movie is absolutely filled to the gills with exposition, but lacks the goofy charm to pull that off. Bond movies often have a tad too much exposition and old British men explaining everything to the viewer, but they’re usually full of life and joy that distracts you. But not this time. This time they just gave up on the plot, and tried to distract us with crocodile submarines, Tarzan yells, and clowns. And for me, it doesn’t work.

Octopussy was written by George MacDonald Fraser, Michael G Wilson, and Richard Maibaum, directed by John Glen, and released by MGM/UA Entertainment Company, 1983.

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