When it comes to Bond films, now thirteen installments strong in the franchise, the first two decades can be described as a franchise of two tones. Connery’s era was more straight forward, serious and had a clear-cut path laid out in front of it. Even Lazenby had a Bond film that dealt with the decisions from previous films. The Moore era, now in his fifth film as the titular fictional MI6 agent, has been sillier and more outrageous with no direction on where the franchise is being take, rather than follow the success of the previous films. Moore’s Bond hasn’t had the pleasure of facing SPECTRE and their fearless megalomaniacal leader Blofeld due to copyright infringement claims so the villains Moore’s Bond has gone tow-to-toe with don’t have the same appeal as a Goldfinger or a Blofeld.
1983 is an odd year for the character James Bond (Roger Moore). Octopussy the official cannon release in the franchise wasn’t the only Bond film to come out that year. Competing against the return of Sean Connery, after a 12-year hiatus from the character in the film put out by Warner Bros Never Say Never Again, based on the novel Thunderball by author Ian Fleming. Octopussy is based on the short story collection Octopussy and The Living Daylights by Fleming with a mostly original screenplay by writer George MacDonald Fraser, Richard Maibaum, & Michael G. Wilson. That’s now two times Connery played Bond in a film based on the novel Thunderball.
Along with the few remaining returning supporting cast in Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), Q (Desmond Llewelyn), & Moore, Maude Adams who first appeared in The Man with the Golden Gun returns in Octopussy as the title character, a Jewel smuggler and businesswoman who lives on her own island where no men live. Though no blame can be solely placed on Adams, both Golden Gun and Octopussy are two Bond films that weren’t executed the way they intended too and are perhaps the worst films to be releases.
Returning to the franchise after a one film absence and was replaced by two characters for the time being is M (Robert Brown) who is taking over the mantle after the passing of Bernard Lee who played the role since the inception of the franchise in Dr. No.
Besides the spectacular pre-credit action set piece that has Bond evading capture after going undercover to then flying a single person aircraft and out maneuvering a missile that blows up a hanger instead, Octopussy is a convoluted mess. Revolving simultaneously around jewelry smuggling, atomic warfare, outlasting a crazed villain hunting Bond for sport, and an all-woman cult, keeping up with each plot point is exhausting way beyond trying to piece together why these storylines made it into the same film. There’s an identity crisis on the villains’ side of the coin, on one hand there’s Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan), a wealthy afghan prince looking to win the prized Fabergé Egg and on the other is General Orlov (Steven Berkoff) who wishes to set off an atomic bomb in the American side of East Berlin.
As for Moore, this is his fifth time as Bond but the character itself has been more of a parody as of late. Where Connery was able to master the goofiness while making it look cool and take it serious, Moore looks like he is playing someone else’s version of Bond (and there are only two previous actors taking up the role). In the Moore Bond films that have had a singular plot line all the way through, he’s been his most comfortable, injecting his own soft-spoken cool in the face of danger personality into the character. The wink and smile are still sorely missed.
Performances in Octopussy are bizarre mainly from Steven Berkoff. The character is a poor man’s Blofeld with a tirade of loud speeches that have the appearance of a cry for attention. “No one listens to me on this council, so I’ll start World War 3 and take none of the blame” is probably his thought process throughout the 131-minute runtime.
The Bond formulaic assembly line doesn’t miss a beat. It’s been a formula since 1962 and has no signs of changing its ways. Why fix something that isn’t broken? Just like muscle memory, a Bond film without him getting his mission from M, flirting/not flirting with Moneypenny, though Moneypenny has her own assistant now with Penelope Smallbone (Michaela Clavell) who gets the joy and pleasure of Bond’s advances, and the gadgets and tech display from Q would make for a disaster among the franchise. It’s been the identity of each film with only the plots changing to keep things fresh, new, and exciting.
There is no denying the entertainment value that a Bond film has. Some like Octopussy have been too reliant on the tongue and cheek humor and the one-liners delivered by Bond while the eyes of the women he hopes to seduce are rolling instead of the substance. Style has been in the foreground for the Moore era, the decade is easily guessed by the design of his suits and the flashy car he drives.
Bond films are all about consistency. John Barry’s score, the title track that plays sung by the latest pop icon with the opening credits, returning director John Glen and cinematographer Alan Hume keep the synergy high with the frequent collaborators.
Octopussy, despite top notch action falls short of the expectation fans have come to expect with a Bond release. Moore looks like he’s losing enthusiasm for playing the role (even Connery took a one film break) and the character of Bond hasn’t made any significant progress in 20 years of entertaining crowds and stopping some of the most maniacal villains from destruction of the world. If not for the consistency in which these films were made and being Albert Broccoli’s baby, this franchise may not have gone on to live another day.
Written By: Richard Maibaum, George MacDonald Fraser & Michael G. Wilson
Directed By: John Glen
Music By: John Barry
Cinematography: Alan Hume
Starring: Roger Moore, Maud Adams, Louis Jourdan, Lois Maxwell, Kabir Bedi, Desmond Llewelyn & Robert Brown
Release Date: June 6, 1983
Running Time: 2 Hours 11 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 42%
My Score: 1 out of 5
Based On: Octopussy and The Living Daylights by Ian Fleming