By the time of the fifth James Bond film, producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli decided to shake things up a bit creatively. Star Sean Connery was probably getting a little antsy inhabiting the suits and drinking the martinis and feared getting pigeonholed (sorry Sean) and announced he was stepping away from the role. However, he still had one more in him, and with You Only Live Twice there was a definite change in style. It may have been based on Ian Fleming’s novel, but it was adapted for the screen by Roald Dahl, of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame. Lewis Gilbert began the first of his three Bond adventures as director of the Bond films, and in a surprise, Freddie Young took the cinematographer reins, quite a change of pace for the collaborator of such David Lean classics as Lawrence of Arabia.
Moreover, I think You Only Live Twice is probably one o the first Bond films I can recall seeing, growing up back in the day. It’s probably because the pre-opening sequence where the spacewalking astronaut gets swallowed by the satellite always stuck with me, who knew? However, the bigger surprise should probably be that there was a pretty good story along with that stunt. In this installment of the film (out of order from the original intent of the producers, who wanted to shoot On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), James goes to Japan to continue to thwart the attempts of SPECTRE and Blofeld (Donald Pleasance, Halloween). And because James is in Japan and is as obvious as any tall Englishman can be in Japan, there are some subtle things to make him blend more with the people and the culture.
In terms of more specific storyline material, a mysterious entity is capturing US and Russian satellite ships, manned and unmanned. Both countries think each other is responsible for the actions and threaten war, and on a tip, James goes to Japan to try and prevent SPECTRE’s plan for the countries to destroy one another. With Young’s cinematography and Ken Adam’s production design have come some of the most memorable moments in the franchise. You’ve got the volcano lair, the girls with the skimpy bikinis, not only has Austin Powers borrowed from this, but the Simpsons episode with Hank Scorpio owes a lot to the volcano set. More of the scenery gets a chance to show off, and the story remains excellent, keeping Connery’s humor to a minimum and providing some cool action scenes for the viewer, regardless of which Bond is their favorite.
2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen that looks really good, considering the age of the film. Colors remain somewhat vivid, overall images are clear and present a little more detail on close-ups than I was expecting. I was pleasantly surprised and am grateful to Lowry Digital for their restoration work.
As usual, a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is the option to choose with their DTS option. And the DTS option is quite good, with the music being a more active part of the film and staying pretty consistent. The explosions and some of the action sequences seem to produce some LFE activity too, so hearing a subwoofer for a 40 year old film was heartening.
The commentary from the last edition of the film has been retained for this one. John Cork of the Ian Fleming Foundation serves as a moderator for the usual multi-participant commentary, which includes Gilbert, and various members of the cast and crew, including Nancy Sinatra, who sung the song in the film. Cork chips in some information about the film and its context in the franchise, along with some trivia on the film itself, and it’s the usual track you’d hear on the other films.
Starting off on Disc Two, we have the “Declassified: MI6 Vault“, home to the new shiznit. Production Designer Ken Adam shows off 15 minutes of location footage in preparation for the film, narrated by the man himself over some accompanying musical score. Some of the crew go out with him and they are identified by subtitles, and there is also some on-set film too and a look at the volcano set that was constructed, which in and of itself was pretty herculean.
From there, “Whicker’s World” is an interview piece with Alan Whicker, who was the ’60s British version of Barbara Streisland or Robin Leach. Introduced by current Bond producer Michael Wilson, the piece has some narration but also includes 5 minutes of on set rehearsing and setting up scenes, and it’s an interesting peek into the production.
“Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond” is a little bit strange. It starts off as some sort of “Mystery Science Theater” piece, but then goes into a retrospective of the Bond women to date, with clips of each film to illustrate. Lois Maxwell’s appearance as Moneypenny for this feature is even more bizarre. It gets weirder though, as Maxwell takes a trip to the Q lab where Desmond Llewellyn introduces highlights of the actions scenes and gadgets used from the first five films. While this retrospective is cute, it runs much too long at 50 minutes, and could be considered a little self-indulgent.
“007 Mission Control” is the usual interactive guide that can be skipped, and the “Mission Dossier” brings up the old extras, starting off with “Inside You Only Live Twice“. The half hour long piece touches upon everything you want to know about the production, starting with the genesis of Fleming’s book and going from there. The casting is covered in a bit of detail, and the preproduction sounded like it was more challenging than expected. The cast discuss some of the near falls they encountered during the production, and the living cast members recall their time on the film. Connery’s departure announcement is discussed, and the crew discuss how some of the more memorable scenes were pulled together, and how the casting of Donald Pleasance was a last-minute decision.
“Silhouettes: The James Bond Titles” features recollections by various Bond individuals on those neat looking opening title sequences created by Maurice Binder. It also serves as a biographical piece on Binder and the films he was involved with, along with recollections of specific sequences by those involved (or appeared) in them. There are some interesting details about Binder’s role as a middle ground after the Saltzman-Broccoli production dissolution, and a lot of other people recall him outside of his role in the franchise, and it winds up being a decent 20 minute look at an unheralded Bond icon. There is an animated storyboard sequence for the plane crash scene that flushes more details out of it and lasts a couple of minutes. The “Ministry of Propaganda” section houses three trailers, a TV spot and 7 radio spots, and the “Image Database” hosts the usual stills galleries.
I’d honestly say that You Only Live Twice is the best and most complete Bond film out there. It’s got its share of suspenseful moments, nice action scenes, gadgets, a grand finale with SPECTRE (that remains to be continued?) and a villain that we can finally put a face to. You Only Live Twice is part of the standalone Bond double dips that are coming out in May of 2007, so pick up this single disc (the extras are blandish anyway), and in Volume 4 of the Bond Ultimate Collections in R1 may help sway you to buy that set, as Dr. No is in that too.