After a mysterious rocketship seizes manned space missions from Earth’s orbit, suspicions mount and the world superpowers are hurled to the brink of war. Their only hope rests with James Bond, who races to stop the space-jackings’ true mastermind, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Chief of the evil SPECTRE organization, Blofeld is bent on instigating global warfare from his massive headquarters nestled in an inactive volcano. As the countdown begins, Bond joins forces with the luscious Japanese agent Kissy Suzuki and scores of Ninja warriors to mount a daring raid on Blofeld’s lair and prevent a calamitous world war.
When I was a child watching the Bond films on TBS’ marathons with my father, there was no movie that I loved more than You Only Live Twice. Between the volcano lair, Little Nellie and a location that, for a nine year old, seemed like a world away (Japan), this one had it all. Of course back then I had no concept of who Ernst Stavro Blofeld was or how completely absurd the plot was. Now, decades later, I still love the movie but have to first acknowledge how unrealistic it actually is in order to fully appreciate it.
A far cry from Fleming's original novel, You Only Live Twice can best be summed up as a tale of two movies: a science fiction bonanza combined with a spy drama. I won’t even touch on the question of how the volcano lair was built without anyone else noticing, but it has to be mentioned that Blofeld’s entire fiendish plot was impossible with 1967 technology. The Little Nellie sequence, which was a highlight of the movie, also required a bit of suspension of belief as did numerous other action sequences.
That said, what Bond movie does NOT require some suspension of belief? Amidst the impossible parts of the film the viewer is treated to a spy drama with great moments including Bond’s death, his “rebirth” aboard the MI6 submarine, 007’s first meeting with Tiger Tanaka and his return to Osato’s office the next day. Bond has to work hard to learn the possible location of Blofeld’s volcano and his plan of going undercover as a Japanese fisherman is brilliant. For the most part, everything about the plot, except for Blofeld’s actual plan, is classic 007.
Plot development aside, You Only Live Twice also suffers from uneven character development. True, the movie covers Tiger Tanaka and Bond’s budding friendship in great length and takes the time to make the viewer care about Aki. However, other characters such as Dikko Henderson, Kissy Suzuki, Helga Brandt and Hans have very little depth at all. This is completely understandable, as they were not major characters, but when looking at the movie as a whole the lack of development detracts from the overall package.
One area that was not lacking was the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, whose face was finally revealed in the form of Donald Pleasence after three movies shrouded in mystery. Pleasence was the perfect person to play Blofeld and has become one of the most iconic images of the entire series. Despite all the other actors to play the role, it was Pleasence’s portrayal that inspired Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil. In fact, I would say that for Bond fans, “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld” is one of the most memorable lines of all time. He just seemed sinister, evil and a perfect foil for Bond. One can only wonder how different On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever would have been if they had kept the Donald Pleasence version around instead of the Blofeld-light versions that proceeded him.
Overall, You Only Live Twice gets most things right. Sure it’s campy and unbelievable at times. Yes the viewer leaves wishing they knew more about certain key characters. But in the end, the movie’s saving grace is the innocence surrounding it. Sure, by today’s standards the special effects are outdated and the blue screens look terrible. But when one looks at it through 1967 eyes, everything is completely believable, spectacular and “Bond and Beyond!” The volcano lair is still the best villain hideout of the series, Sean Connery is in great form (though he seems a bit tired through a lot of the film) and the action scenes are a blast! So, all things considered, the movie barely eeks out a...
Universal Exports Rating: 005
Review written on November 24, 2008