Over the last several months, members of the CBn Forum have been reviewing all the James Bond films in the “Countdown Threads“. If you wish to join in on the forum discussion all you have to do is register. Now here are some select reviews, varying in opinions, of You Only Live Twice…
‘You Only Live Twice’ -by DLibrasnow
Yes, it’s the one with the hollowed out volcano and what a fun ride it is too. It should come as no surprise to anyone that for me (who ranked the earily similar plot-wise The Spy Who Loved Me at #2 and is a fan of Roger Moore’s portrayal) that You Only Live Twice is high on my list of favorite Connery movies.
It’s fun and zany and like a Godzilla movie on steroids Bond is plunged into a kinetic, energized Japan. A country that is reeling from an identity crisis following a humiliating defeat in WWII for the traditional nation and the onslaught of 1960s pop culture of which the Bond phenomenon was a major part.
Connery for his part looks bored and tired with the role and so the film makers understandably have loaded this movie with special effects, martial arts fighting, gimmicks and yes, a hollowed out volcano. All in the hopes that Connery will get lost in the mix and his lack of enthusiasm for the part less evident as the viewers senses are assaulted by a vibrant concoction composed of all the spectacle and wonder that screenwriter Dahl and director Lewis Gilbert could conceive.
The mission seems ripped from the headlines to use an old cliché. The time is the late 1960s and with the US and USSR locked in a race for the dominance of space, the two nations are both having capsules hijacked by some unknown power. Of course in the hyperactive paranoia of the Cold War – each blames the other. But Britain, in its infinite wisdom, stands by their claim that their tracking placed the object (that seized an American rocket) land somewhere in the sea of Japan.
The movie begins with one of my all-time favorite pre-credits sequences. Bond is in bed with an attractive Chinese girl. In what appears to be a double-cross however she pushes a button that sends the bed into the wall before letting a couple of assassins in who pepper the bed with bullet holes. Having the hero “killed off” at the beginning of the movie is a gimmick that has been copied often (and in fact first echos the opening of From Russia With Love. But Gilbert crafts it expertly.
A solid entry in the Bond series – too light for some, but certainly a lot of fun throughout.
‘You Only Live Twice’ -by freemo
Fourth place in my “all-Connery Top Six” goes to You Only Live Twice. I know story wise it’s completely different to the book, and alot of people don’t like that, but I think the film to a degree has the spirit of the book about it. Like the book the film is set in Japan, and gives a real good look at the place, and like the book the film has this stench of death that hangs around (yeah, I know people die in all the Bond films, but with Twice it always seems to be just when you’ve gotten comfortable, them WHAM!, Henderson gets a knife in the back, or Aki is posioned. Hell, even Bond dies at the start of this one).
Naturally “Little Nellie”, Tanaka’s Ninja Army, and Blofeld’s volcano headquarters are what You Only Live Twice is best remembered for, but I like just as much the first half of the film: Bond going around town following leads, Bond getting a traditional Japanese bath, etc.
Also has my favorite score, and runs neck and neck with Live And Let Die for my favorite title song.
‘You Only Live Twice’ -by Genrewriter
A good, entertaining effort but it really tries too hard to top Thunderball and like Moonraker, just doesn’t hit the marks it needs to hit to top the preceeding film. Connery seems to be phoning it in and while the set design is incredible as usual, the action of the volcano opening and closing gets to be a bit tedious after a while, especially during the final forty minutes or so. The finale itself is basically little mjore than a huge shootout followed by a adequate brawl with Blofeld’s henchman and a nice race against the clock.
As for positive points, I’ve always loved Donald Pleasence as Blofeld. While he’s not a physical match for the Fleming character, he does make a strong impression and if you recall a passage in Goldfinger about all the troubles in the world being caused by short men, the casting is quite clever. The Bond girls are decent enough though a little more insight into Kissy would have been good as much of what we hear could almost qualify as Informed Attributes; we don’t really see her in action enough for her to be believable as an agent. The performance is alright but the character is woefully underwritten.
‘You Only Live Twice’ -by Janus Assassin
After some of the earlier great Connery films, You Only Live Twice feels like a let down to me. Maybe it was the setting…maybe it was Connery. I think it was the fact that they totally abandoned Fleming’s book and made the story around a spacecraft capturing other spacecrafts and World War III about to start. Space settings looked very cheesy and bad back in the 1960’s.
‘You Only Live Twice’ -by Moonraker
One of Bond’s most outlandish outings. The plot is unbelievable, and is no where near as good as the novel or close to the story lines. There are good characters but not very good characterisation. The setting and the score are lush and beautiful and Ken Adam’s sets are amazing, but the plot is so far out that I don’t care for the last half.
‘You Only Live Twice’ -by Qwerty
Quite a tough film for me to always classify due to the slightly tiring appearance of Connery, a wide variety of villains and girls and, yet some of the most breathtaking changes made in the film.
First off, the locations. Japan is portrayed quite well in the film, with the cinematography really captivating the viewer. When Bond looks up in the sky to see the dark, orange lit colors, for the three seconds it’s on the screen it works. The fight at Kobe docks certainly does not need explaining for the sheer difference in the way the camera scales further back in the sky.
The villains and girls are an odd bunch, and because this is much like the deal in DAF, it makes them quite hard for me clasify. Blofeld, Osato, Hans, Helga Brandt, Kissy and Aki all do fine in the film, but there could have been several improvements that would make them move from fine villains to excellent ones. Helga Brandt suffered (I think) from not enough screen appearance and chance to develop her character, and I think the idea to catapult off Fiona Volpe’s role was the main reason for her character’s creation.
The music by John Barry is widely regarded as the most, yes that word again, atmospheric of the series, with lush orchestrations underlining the tense action cues. Maurice Binder is at it again with, (I feel) not his most extraordinary work, but excellent none-the-less. Nancy Sinatra’s song is also supreme.
‘You Only Live Twice’ -by Turn
This is the film where the series really got steered off course into the big-budget fantasy land. Some may argue Thunderball was, but this is really the film where Bond became SuperBond and the gadgets took over. Thunderball at least had an interesting story wrapped around the underwater stuff and stunts whereas You Only Live Twice takes the opposite approach and shoehorns other the story around the numerous locations and vehicles.
Part of the problem is letting Roald Dahl, virtually a screenwriting novice, do the script. Richard Maibaum would have lent some continuity at least. I’d like to see the original script, but it’s more like he came up with the big chase ideas first then built the story and it really hurts the whole thing. A great novel was largely wasted here.
We are supposed to suspend disbelief when watching a Bond film, but here it really goes over the edge — Bond stumbles onto a safe and just happens to have a mini safecracker in his pocket; a helicopter appears from nowhere to magnetize a car and dumps it into the bay; a point is made that there is a cave with poisonous gas at one point, then later on people escape through it with no problem; Bond has handy suction cups just perfect for navigating hollow volcanoes he may stumble across. And the fact somebody could hollow out a volcano without anybody noticing. It’s all just too much.
Other problems — none of the girls are particularly memorable. We are already getting Odd Job, Red Grant and Fiona Volpe clones. The dubbing is atrocious. The Little Nelly sequence is overblown with little suspense as Bond pushes nearly every button in the order Q explained them.
Then there’s the sleepwalking Connery. A lot of people claim his worst performance is in Diamonds Are Forever, but I disagree. His performance there is laid back and he seems to have some fun. In You Only Live Twice, his boredom and the problems surrounding the film and his personal life are evident. He gets little chance to display the old charm as he’s mostly busy racing from vehicle to vehicle and location to location. That would be enough to make Ironman Triathlon competitors winded.
I really want to like You Only Live Twice and there are several things to like — John Barry’s score; the scenery; the cinematography; Ken Adam’s sets. You Only Live Twice has an atmosphere unlike most of the other films in the series, making Japan almost alien in nature, so we are often as bewildered as Bond is by the customs and culture. The film really is a feast for the senses. There’s also a nice sense of urgency that the world’s fate is at stake here, something its clones, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker and Tomorrow Never Dies, lack.
Combine those positives with a better story and less emphasis on hardware and spectacle and You Only Live Twice would have been something really special rather than a case of larger-than-life aspects taking over.