The Spy Who Loved Me (Ultimate Edition) Review
Opening in Austria, Bond (Roger Moore) is resting in the bed of his latest conquest when word comes through a secure channel that agents of the KGB are closing in on his position. Opening the door to leave, Bond wishes her good day and departs, skiing downhill as the KGB agents open fire. As the British agent and the Soviets battle one another on the slopes, Bond kills one as he escapes downhill on skis, speeding ever faster as he leaves the mountains behind and jumps from a cliff face into the valley below. As Bond falls through the air, there's a long silence before Bond's parachute unfurls...with the Union Flag unfurling, the Bond Theme sounds over the soundtrack and the secret agent floats down, safe from the Soviets and on his way back to London.
Back home, Bond reports to M (Bernard Lee), learning that the designs for a top-secret submarine are being sold to the highest bidder. Asked to meet with the buyer and, however he finds necessary, to convince him to hand over the plans to the British government, Bond travels to Egypt where he meets with Russian agent Major Anya Amasova, or agent XXX (Barbara Bach). Finding they both have an interest in the plans, the British and Russian governments, ask that 007 and agent XXX form an uneasy alliance, each one having some idea of what ought to be their next steps.
Bond and Amasova agree on one thing, however, that shipping magnate Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) is behind the selling of the plans as well as the theft of the British and Russian submarines. Travelling to Sardinia, the island nearest to Stromberg's undersea base, Bond and Amasova pose as a married couple but as the shipping magnate rises to the surface to greet them, he sends them Jaws (Richard Kiel) and Naomi (Caroline Munro) to make them feel welcome. As a third submarine is stolen, an American one this time, and Stromberg turns its nuclear missiles against Moscow and New York, Bond and Amasova's time is short. But when they come to realise the real identity of one another - Amasova's lover being the KGB agent killed by Bond in the Austrian mountains - Bond learns from Amasova that the moment their mission is complete, she will shoot him dead...
The Bond film before this one, 1974's The Man with the Golden Gun had been something of a disappointment for Broccoli and Saltzman. However, rather than being defeated by this disappointment, Broccoli proposed that United Artists double the budget of their next film, from the $7m of The Man with the Golden Gun to $14m and that the film would return the series to its core elements - humour, spectacle and fantasy. Broccoli, who working as the film's sole producer after Harry Saltzman's leaving, intended The Spy Who Loved Me to be, like Bond himself, larger than life. Building the well-known 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios with Eon Productions funds, not those of United Artists, and making it big enough to house three nuclear submarines, Broccoli's intention was to have a film that no audience could ignore. Bond, in an era of Jaws and Star Wars, was set to join the league of films then enjoying enormous success at the box office. Bond would indeed be back.
Onscreen, The Spy Who Loved Me never disappoints, finding an almost perfect sequence of locations and, as was typical of the series, extravagantly designed sets. The snow-covered mountains of Canada lead to the Egypt and the film's setting on a boat on the Nile and in the desert of the Valley of the Kings. Leaving Africa, Bond and XXX go on to the dry roads of Sardinia, which is, in turn, contrasted by the Atlantic ocean, where Stromberg's spidery Atlantis awaits. The locations ensure that the film moves along at an impressive pace, with the three years of scripting between The Man with the Golden Gun and this ensuring that no moment is wasted. Even the mystical hokum that surrounds the Sphinx feels at home in The Spy Who Loved Me, where, perhaps in a later Moore, it would have been played for laughs, possibly accompanied by the sight of a man doing an Egyptian dance in the foreground.
A perfect example of this is in the film's opening, a mix of of-the-moment disco and the classic pre-credits stunt, this time a freefall from Mount Asgard in Canada's Baffin Island performed by skier and mountain climber Rick Sylvester. Inspired by a cover shoot for Playboy magazine, the actual photograph of Sylvester had been faked but the skier insisted that it could be done. Weighing up the risks - an untried stunt meant that Sylvester could be falling to his death as the cameras rolled - the stunt went ahead and, to this day, the pre-credits sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me, with its mix of good humour, tension and breathless stuntwork, remains the best of the series.
Then again, once into the actual story, The Spy Who Loved Me presents an entirely new look at Bond, one in which it's uncommonly believable for Roger Moore to be a state-sponsored killer. The manner in which he swats his tie away from a man holding on to it for dear life has more in common with the thread of sadism that runs through the early Connery films than the later Moores. Even the plotting is richly rewarding with Bond and XXX never quite coming to terms with one another, him a suave British agent and she a beautiful but very abrupt Russian spy. As different as you might imagine, their's is also a romance that is rather underplayed for a Bond film, with 007's eyes tending to wander while XXX remains in mourning for her dead lover, killed by a bullet from Bond's gun. This pairing, which would be revisited in Tomorrow Never Dies with Bond (then Pierce Brosnan) allying himself to Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), is one of the film's most inspired moments, with the sweet setting of the sunrise on the Nile offering an interlude between the action.
Elsewhere, there's much fun to be had with the casting. It seems like a fait accompli that Lamb's Navy Rum star and seventies pin-up Caroline Munro would eventually be cast as a Bond girl and so it proves, albeit on the side of the villains than alongside Bond. Although, given the look that she shoots Bond as she fires at his Lotus Espirit, Munro is having a lot more fun than she might have done had she been cast as Agent XXX but her presence in the film is disappointingly short-lived. Few women, I suspect, can fill a bikini and pilot a helicopter as impressively as Munro and although she is something of a Bond fantasy figure, Broccoli's masterstroke with The Spy Who Loved Me was understanding that sometimes it's fine to take a film to excess, particularly when portraying a character such as Bond. It's entirely fitting, then, that the most memorable character - Munro excepted and, even then, there's something of a teenage hangover about her - is Richard Kiel's Jaws, a metal-mouthed killer who silently pursues Bond throughout the film and who would return, due to his popularity, in Moonraker. There was, if memory serves me well, much doing of a Jaws in the playgrounds of the late-seventies, wherein children would attempt to strangle and to bite the necks of their classmates. Of such things are legends made!
Moonraker and further adventures with Jaws would be, of course, in Bond's future, with the two-year gap between The Spy Who Loved Me and that film being the threshold, which, once stepped over, left the series often looking ridiculous. As we will see in my next review, the freshness of the occasional moments of good humour in The Spy Who Loved Me turned quickly into the pantomime of Moonraker. One can only marvel at how The Spy Who Loved Me left the Moore era with a grandeur that, against the efforts of the filmmakers, lasted until its end.
The picture quality is something of a mixed bag, much as it is on many of these Ultimate Editions. Looking at the screen shots below and it's obvious that the Ultimate Edition does look much better, being clearer, brighter and with much more detail in the shadows. Compare, for example, the number plate on the Lotus Espirit in the third screenshot and how much easier it is to read in the Ultimate Edition. Unfortunately, with that comes a raggedness about the image that suggests it's been overprocessed, which is now all too obviously a digital image. Granted this Ultimate Edition is the better of the two but it's not without its faults.
MGM Special Edition (Above) / Sony Ultimate Edition (Below)
MGM Special Edition (Above) / Sony Ultimate Edition (Below)
MGM Special Edition (Above) / Sony Ultimate Edition (Below)
The two audio tracks are, like those created for the Bond films of a similar vintage to The Spy Who Loved Me, decent but not outstanding, tending towards keeping most of the action in the centre speaker and using the left and right front and surrounds for the occasional effect. Otherwise, the dialogue is clear, the audio and ambient effects are, as one might expect of a Bond film, excellent and the whole package, but particularly the wonderful theme song, sounds very good.
As with the rest of these Ultimate Editions, this one brings over the commentary from the MGM Special Edition, which features Lewis Gilbert, Ken Adam, Christopher Wood and Michael G Wilson and is, rarely for a Bond commentary, sees them recorded as a group rather than being introduced by John Cork or David Naylor. It's really not a bad commentary but it does tend towards being a rather gentle track, occasionally lapsing into silence but which Wilson does a good job of rousing into life once again. Speaking of which, it's not often that one celebrates a gap in a commentary but this particular one is a classic, with the four men falling into silence at the sight of Caroline Munro emerging from Stromberg's boat dressed only in a bikini. Gathering themselves, and realising how their predicament must sound, there's some embarrassed laughter before the track recommences. A lovely moment of honesty and one that I can wholly understand.
Roger Moore's commentary is, of course, new and features the actor relaxing in his chair, possibly with a martini, enjoying the film and recalling what he can about the production. He does tend towards sounding like a good-natured grandfather at times, who simply enjoys talking over a film that he rather likes, but he has moments of humour and a clear love of not only this film but the entire series. Moore also has some fond memories of his time as 007 that he recalls throughout and his track is something of an easygoing pleasure.
On to the second disc and the new material on this Ultimate Edition, which includes rather a lot of very short features that don't add up to a great deal. 007 in Egypt (6m12s) is a very short look at the location shoot in Africa and is narrated by Michael G. Wilson, while the remaining four features are even shorter. With Ken Adam's Production Films (5m41s) being a glimpse at the 8mm footage shot by the set designer whilst on location and Roger Moore: My Word Is My Bond (4m31s) being a series of interviews with Roger Moore, this new material ends with a Storyboard Sequence (Escape From Atlantis, 2m14s) as well as archive footage of the 007 Stage Dedication (1m07s) from 1977.
The extras from the original DVD that have been brought over onto this release, include the original making-of, Inside The Spy Who Loved Me (40m40s) and Ken Adam: Designing Bond (21m42s), both of which prove that the best material on these Ultimate Editions is that which was produced for the Special Editions. Both of these features are excellent, with one being a typically comprehensive look at the making of the film and the other being an equally detailed look into the workings of Ken Adam, a constant presence in the Bond films from Dr No and who surpassed even his own very high standards with each new film.
Finally, as well as the Interactive Guide Into the World of The Spy Who Loved Me, which is new, there are the Original Trailers (3x, 7m26s), TV Spots (6x, 4m01s), Photo Gallery and Radio Communications (12x, 7m24s) that were present on the Special Edition.
Last updated: 20/05/2018 20:31:57