Monday, August 5, 2019

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977, Lewis Gilbert)

What are the classic James Bond films?  Ask most fans and you would probably hear Goldfinger for Sean Connery, The Spy Who Loved Me for Roger Moore and Goldeneye for Pierce Brosnan.  But are these the best James Bond films?  Obviously questions like these are subjective, but is there a reason that fans gravitate towards these three films?  By Goldfinger, the third film in the series, a template was laid that has continued to this day:

1. Pre-title sequence
2. Title sequence with theme song
3. Appearances with M, Q and Moneypenny
4. Villain with henchman
5. Female companion and ill-fated ally/sacrificial lamb
6. Exotic locations
7. Villain lair

Now, not all Bond films have every one of these tropes.  The latest Daniel Craig films have dropped some of these elements, but the basic formula is still intact.  Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me and Goldeneye however are three of the prime examples of "quintessential Bond".  Growing up, I would most likely have counted these three films in my top 10, but as I have grown older, I find that it is the idiosyncrasies in the series that interest me more.

The Spy Who Loved Me begins with one of the most loved pre-title sequences of the series, which finds James Bond (Roger Moore) skiing in Austria.  Gone is John Barry's bombastic score, only to be replaced by Marvin Hamlisch's timely disco theme, "Bond '77".  Though very dated now, it still complements the exciting chase scene and crowd pleasing ski jump.  Carly Simon's classic theme, Nobody Does it Better, kicks in over Maurice Binder's main titles before our adventure begins.  Bond is sent to Egypt to recover a microfilm containing the plans for a deadly submarine tracking system.  While there, he meets up with Russian agent Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach), who was sent by the KGB for the same purpose.  After being pursued by henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel), the agents trace the microfilm back to millionaire Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) and are forced to pool their resources to save the world.

This film is probably the most cookie-cutter 007 film.  It has all of the things Bond fans expect from the series as well as a fan favorite stunt (ski jump) and theme song.  The previous film, The Man with the Golden Gun, was seen as a let down at the box office (compared to the other films) and so the budget was doubled for The Spy Who Loved Me.  This proved to work, as the film was a smash and doubled the box office returns as well.  There are some things I love about this film, but overall it just doesn't grip me.  It feels like the producers were just checking off boxes on the "Bond formula" instead of making something fresh and new.  Karl Stromberg is a villain we have seen countless times before and the whole story is basically just a retread of You Only Live Twice.  The locations left me wanting more, particularly the Egypt scenes which drag on forever.  I did like Jaws, the Lotus Esprit and several of the films stunts, but after marveling over the weird and wonderful world of The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me just left me bored.