24 Weeks of Bond: Diamonds Are Forever

Art by Dick Bobnick

I’m a big fan of James Bond, have been since I was a kid. Having recently repurchased the complete Criterion collection of all 24 films, I thought I would do a rewatch of them all and break them down a bit, one blog post at a time.

A couple caveats: I have only read a couple of Fleming’s original novels, and so I won’t be doing any direct comparisons of the films to their literary counterparts. I’ll also only be covering the Eon films, so that means no spoofs, spin-offs, and no Never Say Never Again.

Having said that, let’s get into it!

THE MOVIE: Diamonds Are Forever, released in 1971 and directed by Guy Hamilton, who also directed Goldfinger (previous) as well as two future Bond films. Written by Richard Maibaum and Tom Kankiewicz. This is one of the few Bond novels I actually read, and so I can point out a few fundamental differences: namely, that Blofeld got kind of shoehorned into the film as the Big Bad mastermind (this is the film that follows Blofeld ordering the hit that murders Bond’s wife, after all), and that it is a LOT more action packed.

The plot centers around James Bond being tasked with infiltrating a smuggling ring, only to find that it has greater ties to his old nemesis, and a much more dangerous plot to the world, including developing laser weapons.

THE BOND: Sean Connery! Connery famously retired from the role after You Only Live Twice, but George Lazenby’s agent convinced him to do a one-and-done with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, confident that the Bond franchise was on its way out in terms of relevance. Connery’s return was 4 years after his last portrayal of Bond. He was 32 years old in his first portrayal (Dr. No), 37 in You Only Live Twice, and 41 in Diamonds Are Forever. His hair is noticeably thinner (as it always been), he’s a bit paunchier, and he’s slower both in his line delivery and his movements. It ALMOST looks like he doesn’t want to be there, but he needed the money and the studio offered a lot of it, and there is a certain charm in seeing him return to the role he made relevant. This would be his final turn as James Bond with Eon studios. He portrayed James Bond six times with Eon and one time with another production company (Never Say Never Again, a remake of Thunderball, in 1983 when he was 53 years old), and for many he IS James Bond.

THE GIRLS: There are two main Bond girls in Diamonds Are Forever, although special shoutout to Trina Parks as henchwoman Thumper, for beating the living hell out of James Bond.

But more important to the plot are Lana Wood’s Plenty O’Toole, a gambling woman with an eye for rich men (and one of the cheekier ridiculously named women in the franchise), and Jill St. John’s Tiffany Case, a diamond smuggler who gets in over her head with the deadly organization at the plot’s center.

Tiffany is a fantastic character, a highlight of the film. She is funny and set in her ways until she realizes her ways will absolutely get her killed. She was isn’t as deadly as Goldfinger’s Pussy Galore, or as dramatic as OHMSS’ Tracy di Vicenzo. She’s a survivor, who knows how to make ends meet and get by and who occasionally finds herself in dire straits.

THE VILLAINS: Eschewing the Spang brother villains of the novel, the film puts Ernst Stavro Blofeld forward as the main villain, the third real film to do so. He is, after all, head of SPECTRE, the great criminal organization and the man responsible for Bond’s greatest losses. He is played here by Charles Gray, who is a stupendous actor but unfortunately follows a much more dynamic and threatening performance in the same role by Telly Savalas.

Blofeld’s main henchmen this time around are holdovers from the book: Bruce Glover and Putter Smith as Mister Wint and Mister Kidd, a pair of sadistic killers implied to be in a relationship with each other. Maybe I just like hitmen characters, but they were a fascinating part of the film as they went about their business clinically, efficiently, and enjoying themselves.

There is also Joseph Furst, who plays the SPECTRE-funded laser refraction scientist Doctor Metz.

Credit also to Jimmy Dean’s Willard Whyte, a rich, socialite sort who gets manipulated and used by SPECTRE. He’s not the most willing villain, but he’s used for nefarious purposes. Bruce Cabot plays his villainous casino manager Bert Saxby, in what would be Cabot’s final film performance.

THE LOCATIONS: Part of the reason Guy Hamilton was brought in to direct was because the studio wanted a Brit who could capture the British way of their British characters, but also someone who was familiar enough with America/Americans to capture the scene in authentic way. As the film centers around a diamond-smuggling conspiracy, the bulk of the film was shot in the locations the diamonds were to have originated from and gone to: the Netherlands, and Las Vegas.

There is a ton of cinematography set in the Dutch countryside and the Vegas strip, a lot of scenes in nice establishments. It’s not the most glamorous Bond film, but it does a good job conveying the idea of precious stones coming from a more humble source to be funneled to a glamorous den of crime and lavishness.

There were also extensive shots in England, of course, as well as some filming in Chicago, California, and France as needed.

THE CARS: With so much of the film set in America, there are a lot of Chevrolets and Cadillacs, Dodges and Fords featured in the film, including a 1968 Cadillac Funeral Coach Superior Sovereign Laundaulet for a particularly gruesome smuggling sequence. The 1968 Aston Martin DBS makes a brief appearance. The 1970 and 1971 Ford Customs are featured prominently throughout in a number of different types of appearance. There is also a beautiful red 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1. There is a particularly thrilling chase on some Honda ATC 90s, a moon buggy made just for the film, and more. You can find a full list here.

THE GADGETS: After the grounded reality of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever returns to the realm of gadget-heavy spy fiction. Blofeld utilizes both extensive and futuristic plastic surgery to create doubles for himself (triples? More?), as well as healing mud baths and a futuristic personalized escape submarine.

Bond uses a mousetrap/finger trap device in the inside of his coat as a lure for people trying to disarm him. He also has a grappling hook (he used a similar one in Goldfinger), a voice changing device, and an aqua zorbing sphere to survive and travel underwater.

Q also devised an electromagnetic RPM controller device, ostensibly to cheat at the slot machines, whereas Tiffany Case has her own method of getting rich via a transportable fingerprint machine.

THE MUSIC: John Barry returned for his sixth time scoring a James Bond film. The Bond theme was done in electric guitar as a sort of celebration for the (brief, one-time) return if Sean Connery in the role.

Shirley Bassey ALSO returned to perform the title track, having done so once already for Goldfinger. This time she performed Diamonds Are Forever, the lyrics written by Don Black. In addition to being a beautifully crafted and performed piece on its own, it is probably also, maybe even more famously known as being sampled for Kanye West’s track “Diamonds From Sierra Leone.”

THE SUPPORT: Desmond Llewelyn returns as the gadget-crazy quartermaster Q, and Bernard Lee as Bond’s handler and the head of MI6, M.

Lois Maxwell returns as Moneypenny, briefly. She had been holding out for a pay increase and was originally not going to be included in the film, but as it was Connery’s return to the role, her inclusion was decidedly important. Her single scene was written in late in the production, and her lines included qnd shot separate from Connery’s own. Her last onscreen interaction with Connery was actually in You Only Live Twice.

Norman Burton puts in a solid performance as Felix Leiter, making him the fourth actor in four appearances as the character. He isn’t as charming as Jack Lord, nor as bureaucratic as Cec Linder. At this point, I think Rik Van Nutter did the best job.

Leonard Barr plays Shady Tree, a comedian/smuggler. His role is a bit more expansive in the novel, but he literally saves Bond’s life in the film, so his importance can’t be understated.

The same can be said for Joe Robinson’s brief turn as Peter Franks, a smuggler whose identity is integral to Bond’s mission.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Diamonds Are Forever is critically divided, and I think that’s probably deserved. The plot goes from grounded to ridiculous, the villain of the past films is shoehorned in to give Sean Connery some closure. Connery doesn’t act like he really wants to be there, though he still exudes charm when he wants to. The gadgets are fun, but coming off a solid, gadget-free story in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, it feels almost campy.

Charles Gray is a good actor whose Blofeld doesn’t measure up to the weirdness of Donald Pleasance’s or the menace of Telly Savalas’. But the music is killer, the Bond Girls are memorable and properly fleshed out, the action sequences are fun, and Wint and Kidd are fascinating villains.

You Only Live Twice was a fine send-off for Connery. He didn’t need to return for this film, but he did, and it was a middling result with some high moments.

OTHER BOND BREAKDOWNS:

Dr. No

From Russia With Love

Goldfinger

Thunderball

You Only Live Twice

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

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24 Weeks of Bond: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Art by James(?) Talbot

I’m a big fan of James Bond, have been since I was a kid. Having recently repurchased the complete Criterion collection of all 24 films, I thought I would do a rewatch of them all and break them down a bit, one blog post at a time.

A couple caveats: I have only read a couple of Fleming’s original novels, and so I won’t be doing any direct comparisons of the films to their literary counterparts. I’ll also only be covering the Eon films, so that means no spoofs, spin-offs, and no Never Say Never Again.

Having said that, let’s get into it!

THE MOVIE: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, released in 1969 and directed by Peter R. Hunt who had previously served as a film editor and second unit director on the previous five films. His keen eye for camera cuts and stunning visuals helped earn him the directing job for the first Bond film after Sean Connery announced his retirement from the role. With a screenplay written by Richard Maibaum, OHSS endeavored to take a more realistic, less gadget-heavy approach. It also more adheres to the novel source material more closely than the previous adaptations.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of the criminal organization SPECTRE, holds the world captive by threatening to introduce weaponized chemicals to destroy or render impotent major countries’ food supplies. Meanwhile, James Bond meets a beautiful but distressed young woman. In the course of saving her life, he finds himself with leads pointing toward SPECTRE.

This was the longest Bond film until Casino Royale was released thirteen films and 37 years later.

THE BOND: George Lazenby, in his first and only appearance as Agent 007, following Sean Connery’s five turns in the role. Connery announced his intent to retire during the filming of You Only Live Twice, and the studio planned to keep the franchise rolling by casting Roger Moore in an adaptation of a different Fleming novel. However, filming rights fell through with the location they needed and Moore signed on for another season of The Saint. With Moore occupied, they turned to Australian actor Lazenby.

So impressed by Lazenby’s physicality in addition to his look and film presence, the studio offered him a 7 picture deal. Lazenby, dissuaded by his agent, chose to turn the deal down and only do the single film.

Lazenby’s Bond is perfectly serviceable. He plays the agent as determined, stubborn, and cold, all qualities of Bond the way Fleming created him. There is quite a loss of charm from Connery’s portrayal, but it’s made up more in Lazenby’s dangerous aura.

Lazenby is the youngest actor to have played Bond. His “shooting down the barrel” sequence is also the only one where Bond drops to a knee, and the only one where Bond becomes obscured by the falling blood.

THE GIRLS: Blofeld, in an attempt to infiltrate the world’s markets so he can deploy his chemical weapons to their maximum effect, uses hypnotic suggestion to get 12 women, his “Angels of Death”, to do his bidding.

Two of these women have slightly more than nothing to do on screen. Ruby Bartlett (Angela Scoular) and Nancy (Catherine Von Schell) are seduced in rapid order by an undercover Bond who uses the moments of intimacy to try and reveal information about Blofeld’s plan.

Much more important to the plot is Teresa Di Vicenzo (played with tremendous charisma by Diana Rigg, who, at that time, had become well known as the secret agent Emma Peel in Britain’s The Avengers television show; she would go on to play another unforgettable role in Game of Thrones’ Queen of Thorns, Olenna Tyrell). Bond first sees Teresa when she tries to drown herself in the sea. He rescues her, then rescues her again moments later from men trying to kill her, and it isn’t long before he finds out there is much more to her than first appears.

As the daughter of the leader of an European crime syndicate, she is headstrong, deadly, and adventurous, even in the face of danger. She makes a good match for Bond, so much that he may even consider settling down.

THE VILLAINS: Ernst Stavro Blofeld is the major villain, and a tremendously active one, feeling like a culmination of his growing presence to this point. In Dr. No, you only heard of his criminal organization (SPECTRE). In From Russia With Love, you see him dealing with a pair of SPECTRE agents with competing schemes to kill Bond. After a break from him in Goldfinger, you see him addressing a whole room of subordinates in Thunderball. In You Only Live Live Twice, we finally see his face (played by Donald Pleasance at the time), and though he did attempt to kill Bond, most of his screentime was spent in a chair commanding others to do his dirty work.

In OHMSS Blofeld–played by Telly Savalas coming off a fantastic job in The Dirty Dozen– is a proactive, frontline participant in trying to kill Bond. Everything from his imposing physical presence to his dark, casual clothing serves to create a fearsome persona as opposed to the cautious, delegating, hands-free version the previous films seemed to portray. Here, he is fearless, aggressive, ruthless, and unshakeable. Salvalas does a terrific job in portraying a nemesis for Bond who feels like his equal at least in every way.

In smaller roles are Yuri Borienko as Blofeld’s bodyguard Grunther (Lazenby accidentally broke his nose during the audition, which helped Lazenby land the role as Bond), and Ilse Steppat as Blofeld’s henchwoman Irma Bunt. Steppat would unfortunately pass away just days after the film’s release.

Lastly, Gabriele Ferzetti plays Teresa di Vicenzo’s father Marc-Ange Draco, the head of the criminal organization Union Corse. He is undoubtedly a criminal with ulterior motives, but he also has a weird fixation on hooking up Bond with his daughter.

THE LOCATIONS: Portugal bookends the film, with a beautiful and thrilling beach scene at the beginning and a tragic scene in the mountains at the end. The meat of the film takes place in Switzerland, centered around Blofeld’s snowy alpine base. They make the most of the wintry environment with both lingering and sweeping views of Switzerland’s snowy majesty. They also get creative with their action sequences, using terrifying avalanches, prolonged ski chases (a little too long, if we’re being honest), and a genuinely thrilling bobsleigh chase, which sounds ridiculous, but includes a gunfight, crashes, and leaping to and from the sleighs.

THE CARS: There are a number of beautiful cars in this film, including a few different Rolls-Royces. There is a 1954 black Phantom IV, a 1962 Silver Cloud III Standard Steel Saloon, and a 1968 Silver Shadow Drophead Coupe. There’s a blink-and-you’ll miss it 1962 Jaguar Mk X and a 1964 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu Convertible.

Mercedes-Benz has a couple cars in important scenes and chases, and then Bond, of course, has an Aston Martin. This time it’s a 1968 DBS Vantage 5234/R.

You can find a full list of the cars shown in the film here.

THE GADGETS: As I said above, it was the intent for this film to rely less on gadgets than any of the previous films. To that end, the most outrageous piece of equipment might be the radioactive lint that is suggested as a form of tracking device. Other than that there is art only an improvised device Bond makes to open a locked door, and the vanity cases Blofeld hands out to his Angels of Death so he can continue his hypnotic suggestions as he carries out his bioterrorist plot.

THE MUSIC: The soundtrack shows a mixture of old and new from composer John Barry. It is the last of the films to use his classic James Bond theme introduced in Dr. No, for example, and the first that sees an extensive use of synth music and electric guitars, creating a more aggressive sound that has led many to agree is among the best scores in the entire Bond franchise.

Finding it difficult to work the title into the lyrics of a song, Barry instead devised a powerful instrumental for the title sequence, much like the title sequences of the first two films, and then created a separate theme song for the film titled, “We Have All the Time In the World.” The lyrics were written by Hal David (“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me”), and sung by Louie Armstrong. It was one of the final recordings Armstrong did before his death.

THE SUPPORT: Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell return as M and Miss Moneypenny respectfully, with the former serving as more of a foil this time around, explicitly refusing to allow Bond to pursue Blofeld, frustrating the agent so much that he even threatens to resign. Desmond Llewelyn makes an appearance as Q as well, though only briefly as his gadgets are kept far away from the film.

Really, Ferzetti’s criminal Draco is the largest support, with the only other solid addition being Bernard Horsfall’s Shaun Campbell, an ill-fated colleague who tries to assist Bond on his Swiss operation.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Because George Lazenby only had one appearance as James Bond, and because it was sandwiched between Connery’s attempted last performance after making the character “his” and Connery’s ACTUAL last performance, OHMSS tends to get overlooked. It’s ironic, because everything about it–its nonreliance on gadgets, its close adherence to the source material, Lazenby’s cold and resourceful 007–makes this the MOST Bond-like film in the entire catalogue. Strong turns from Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas give a chemistry and a credibility both to the “Bond girl” and villain categories, with characters more than a match for Bond. Rigg and Savalas’ acting prowess also helps carry Lazenby’s relative inexperience.

The ski chase is overlong but still exciting, and a shockingly depressing ending provides an unexpected gut punch for those expecting the hero to always eke out a win. This film is exquisitely balanced, and the many fantastic qualities are echoed in several films (Inception, for example), including other Bond films (Spectre in particular pays homage).

Though Lazenby’s Bond might only be a stone in the lake that is the franchise, it was well-sunk.

OTHER BOND BREAKDOWNS:

Dr. No

From Russia With Love

Goldfinger

Thunderball

You Only Live Twice

Diamonds Are Forever

24 Weeks of Bond: You Only Live Twice

Art by Paul Mann

I’m a big fan of James Bond, have been since I was a kid. Having recently repurchased the complete Criterion collection of all 24 films, I thought I would do a rewatch of them all and break them down a bit, one blog post at a time.

A couple caveats: I have only read a couple of Fleming’s original novels, and so I won’t be doing any direct comparisons of the films to their literary counterparts. I’ll also only be covering the Eon films, so that means no spoofs, spin-offs, and no Never Say Never Again.

Having said that, let’s get into it!

THE MOVIE: You Only Live Twice, released in 1967. It was directed by Lewis Gilbert (Sink the Bismarck!, Alfie), who initially declined but accepted after being reminded how big of a blockbuster the 007 series was.

Most surprising to me was the fact that the screenplay was written by Roald Dahl, a close friend of Fleming’s who nonetheless said it was Fleming’s worst book, and was more a “travelogue” than a movie-worthy source of material. Though he created a lot of original material for the film, he still kept an extended Japanese wedding sequence and focused quite a bit on Japanese culture, keeping in line with Fleming’s work.

The movie itself sees an American spaceship hijacked by another craft, unknown but suspected by the Americans to belong to the Soviet Union. The British believe the Japanese may be involved, and they send Bond undercover to meet with government connections in Japan to try to uncover what’s going on.

While there is plenty of positive aspects to the film (gone are the artificially sped-up action sequences of Thunderball; Japan is an incredible setting; the plot is mostly exciting; the final action sequence is flat-out incredible), I just can’t help but think how poorly the sequences of Bond getting skin pigmentation and eye surgery to go undercover as a Japanese man have aged.

THE BOND: Sean Connery returns for his fifth outing as James Bond, and he looks great, although he was bored with playing the role and had a terrible relationship with the producers of the film. It was announced during filming that this would be his final turn playing Bond, although future years would see him return for one more film with Eon (Diamonds Are Forever, which I will cover), as well as a single film with another production company (Never Say Never, a remake of Thunderball, which I will not cover).

In terms of the film, there are some notable absences of Bondisms. He doesn’t wear a tuxedo, nor does he drive a car, and the martini he accepts from his host is (mistakenly on the character’s part, but intentional for the film) stirred and not shaken. He does, however, wear his Navy uniform, and he does also welcome some warm sake.

THE GIRLS: The first of You Only Live Twice’s Bond Girls that we’re introduced to is Ling, played by Tsai Chin. She doesn’t get much screen time, but she is central to an opening sequence that seemingly sees Bond killed. This isn’t the first time the films have done this to us, but it remains startling.

More prominently featured are Aki (Akiko Wakibayashi), a Japanese operative that Bond first meets during a sumo match, and Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama), an ninja operative who “marries” Bond to maintain his Japanese cover. Kissy Suzuki’s name is not uttered in the film.

It should be noted, too, that this is the second Bond film to end with him canoodling in a life raft, proving he really does live twice.

And then, of course, there is femme fatale Helga Brandt/Spectre No.11, played by Karin Dor. She crosses Bond’s path a number of times and attempts to kill him. Her role in SPECTRE, however, hinges entirely on her ability not to fail.

THE VILLAINS: In addition to Helga Brandt, SPECTRE is all over the place in this film.

Mr. Osato (Teru Shimada), a Japanese industrialist, works with SPECTRE to retrieve and cover up the stolen space shuttles and urge the U.S. and Russia closer to all-out war. In a neat piece of trivia, his henchman who fights Bond in his office, is played by Peter Maivia, grandfather of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Burt Kwouk and Michael Chow play SPECTRE henchmen (#3 and #4 respectively), while Ronald Rich plays Hans, Blofeld’s imposing bodyguard.

But it’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld/SPECTRE No.1 who really steals the show. After spending three films visually obscured save for the occasional back of his head, and the hand stroking his white cat, we finally see Blofeld’s scarred face. He is played by Donald Pleasance, who never blinks when on screen, and his ruthlessness is on full display. His massive volcano lab, filled with secret entrances, deadly piranhas, trapdoors, armored rooms, rail tunnels, and scores of armed men cost nearly as much to build a set for as it did to make the entirety of Dr. No, Bond’s first film adventure.

Pleasance’s appearance here would later serve as Mile Myer’s visual template for Dr. Evil in his Austin Powers spoofs.

THE LOCATIONS: This is the first Bond film not to show MI6 headquarters. Instead, the film really only shows two locations: Hong Kong, China, in the beginning; and then primarily Japan for the rest of the film (Kagoshima, for the most part, although some scenes were shot in Tokyo).

While part of the fun in Bond movies is seeing all the exotic locales the secret agent is traveling to, keeping the majority of the film set in Japan allows it to have a unique flavor (Bond would say it’s like Peking Duck). The entire movie is steeped in culture, from the food to the drinks, the bathhouses and the samurai/ninja mentality and training, the nature and the customs, and even the sports. However ill-advised Bond’s method for going undercover is, the rest of the movie does exude a true love for Japan.

THE CARS: As I stated above, Bond doesn’t actually drive any cars this go-around, let alone his now-signature Aston Martin. As to be expected in a film set primarily in Japan, there are a lot of Japanese makes and models featured here: Toyotas, Subarus, Nissans, etc. You can find a full list here.

But that doesn’t mean Bond doesn’t get some exciting machinery! Instead of the streets, he takes to the SKY for a thrilling helicopter chase that was reportedly difficult to film. Bond flies the Wallis WA-116 Agile Series 1 gyroplane, nicknamed Little Nellie. Q outfitted it with offensive and defensive capabilities, of course: machine guns, flamethrowers, aerial mines, rockets, and a pair of heat-seeking missiles!

THE GADGETS: Aside from Little Nellie, most of the gadgets are relatively mundane here. There’s a flip-up trap bed (not so different from normal folding beds), a purse with a microphone in it, a camera controlled by a typewriter, and an x-ray screen built into a desk. Tiger Tanaka has a chute trap that leads to a sofa in his office.

Bond gets a couple things to work with: a cigarette with rocket ammunition built to fire from the tip, and a transportable safe-cracking device.

Most of the rest is built into Blofeld’s volcano lair: hidden compartments and collapsible bridges, armored blinds and a retractable roof to hide from the forces of justice.

Also there are a ton of samurai and ninja weapons. I wouldn’t exactly call those gadgets.

THE MUSIC: This is the fourth Bond film to be scored by John Barry, and he did so while trying to incorporate Eastern music styles, finding them elegant. For the theme, he composed “You Only Live Twice” with lyricist Leslie Bricusse. It was offered to Frank Sinatra, who passed, and then his daughter, Nancy, making her the first non-British vocalist for the 007 series. She was reportedly so nervous it took her upwards of 25 takes to perform, with the final version being pieced together from the best takes.

THE SUPPORT: Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell both return as MI6 head M and his secretary Moneypenny, respectively. This would mark the last time Lois and Sean Connery shared a scene together, as their encounter in Diamonds Are Forever was filmed separately. Also, with no MI6 headquarters in this film, they make do with a portable office set up aboard an aircraft carrier, a hilarious and appreciated design.

Desmond Llewelyn returns as the incorrigible gadget master, Q, while Charles Gray plays British contact Dikko Henderson in a small but pleasant role.

Most important to the film is Tetsurō Tamba’s Tiger Tanaka. What Felix Leiter is to the USA, Tiger is to Japan. His jovial nature and reliability in a pinch make him invaluable to Bond’s mission in Japan, and Tiger is instantly memorable for both his sense of humor and his combat prowess.

FINAL THOUGHTS: You Only Live Twice is one of the more memorable ones for me: the sumo match, the ninja warriors, Little Nellie are all stand-outs. Some folks might not like the parts near the middle that run a bit slow, but as I’ve grown older, I find I focus more on what those longer sequences add to the film it’s in. As much as I enjoy the action in Bond films, they were never really supposed to be the kinds of movie that, say, the Mission Impossible series has turned into. These films are about style and espionage, charm and culture as much as anything else.

That said, there were were action sequences that really stood out to me here. The first, obviously, is the final battle in the volcano base. Ninjas rappelling from the ceiling, police officers and terrorists shooting it out, grenades blowing up left and right, shuriken flying, Bond nearly dying repeatedly, and even getting trounced, and the explosive finale. It’s astonishing in its scale.

The other scene that comes to mind is a foot chase across a long rooftop, where Bond is being pursued by several gangsters. As he flees from superior numbers and pauses to hand out a beating or two and then flees again and then fends off the enemy the camera pans out further and further. I thought it was a really cinematic moment, and I was transfixed.

Anyway, this movie is important to the Bond mythos because of SPECTRE’s overt presence and because it’s the first time we see Blofeld really, and the first time he takes a direct hand in the conflict at hand. The slower parts in Japan mixed with the insane final battle in a massive lair almost make it seem like two different types of films jammed together, but it works more than it doesn’t.

OTHER BOND BREAKDOWNS:

Dr. No

From Russia With Love

Goldfinger

Thunderball

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Diamonds Are Forever

24 Weeks of Bond: Goldfinger

Art by Dick Bobnick

I’m a big fan of James Bond, have been since I was a kid. Having recently repurchased the complete Criterion collection of all 24 films, I thought I would do a rewatch of them all and break them down a bit, one blog post at a time.

A couple caveats: I have only read a couple of Fleming’s original novels, and so I won’t be doing any direct comparisons of the films to their literary counterparts. I’ll also only be covering the Eon films, so that means no spoofs, spin-offs, and no Never Say Never Again.

Having said that, let’s get into it!

THE MOVIE: Goldfinger! I love this movie. Terence Young, who directed the first two 007 movies, moved on to something else, so he was replaced by Guy Hamilton, who actually knew Bond’s creator Ian Fleming from intelligence work in the war.

Goldfinger, released in 1964, sees Bond put on an investigation of gold magnate and suspected smuggler Auric Goldfinger. Bond, unable to help himself, immediately gets more heavily involved and discovers that there is much more to Goldfinger than expected. Namely, that he seeks to infiltrate Fort Knox and destabilize the world’s economy.

This film is considered the first blockbuster Bond film, was adapted to target American audiences specifically, and also introduced a lot of Bond staples, including elaborate gadgets and the Aston Martin as his “official” car of choice.

It would go on to win an Academy Award for Best Effects/Sound Effects.

THE BOND: Sean Connery returns as Bond. This particular venture sees him at his most flirtatious, it feels, and at his corniest, with some baddie-death-related one-liners. It should also be noted, though, that Bond gets thoroughly trounced almost entirely throughout this film, showcasing a vulnerability that was lost at times in the preceding films.

THE GIRLS: Shirley Eaton doesn’t get a lot of screentime as Jill Masterson, and yet is one of the most iconic Bond roles in the entire legacy. Playing Goldfinger’s employee, she went from helping him cheat at cards to cheating herself…with Bond. That would be the factor leading to her untimely demise, but it’s HOW she dies–covered entirely in gold paint and left to suffocate that creates a simultaneously horrifying and fascinating visual impossible to forget.

Tania Mallett has an equally short role as Jill Masterson’s vengeance-seeking sister, Tilly Masterson. Though her luck with Goldfinger goes no better, she does have a memorable time not giving Bond any attention despite his best efforts.

Most famously, perhaps, is Honor Blackman’s performance as Pussy Galore, an expert pilot and the leader of an all-female flying squad called her Flying Circus. Blackman had previously starred as Cathy Gale on the British spy show, The Avengers, and was chosen for her charisma and her judo talents, both of which she utilizes to great effect in this film.

THE VILLAINS: Goldfinger features two of Bond’s most iconic bad guys. Auric Goldfinger, played by German actor Gert Fröbe, has become rich dealing in and smuggling precious stones and minerals. He is greedy, manipulative, destructive, and he will do anything to win, including cheating at every opportunity. He has one of the single greatest exchanges in the Bond series, when he has 007 strapped to a table, a cutting-edge laser slowly working its way toward bisecting him:

Bond: You expect me to talk?

Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.

Goldfinger’s henchman is Oddjob, a monosyllabic Korean killer played by Olympic silver medalist weightlifter Harold Sakata. Oddjob’s weapon of choice is a bowler hat with a metal brim capable of breaking necks as he flings it like a circlet. Even without it, he’s a formidable foe and spends most of the film absolutely dominating Bond and beating him mercilessly. Sakata was burned badly while filming his death scene, committing to the moment even after the cameras stopped rolling.

Character actor Martin Benson plays Mister Solo, a mobster who disagrees with Goldfinger’s audacious plan; and Burt Kwouk (Cato, in the excellent Pink Panther films) plays the Chinese scientist who supplies Auric with the bomb he needs.

THE LOCATIONS: The film opens with a brief action sequence largely unrelated to the rest of the film and sees Bond disrupting a drug operation. It’s supposed to be set somewhere exotic (Serbia?), but was shot in England. Likewise the scenes set inside Fort Knox, as filming crews weren’t allowed inside the United States’ most famous depository.

The film also takes Bond to Miami, Florida (where he first encounters Auric Goldfinger), London to get properly outfitted for his assignment, the Alps and resorts of Switzerland, and ultimately to Kentucky and Fort Knox itself. While the Switzerland sequences seemed the most exotic this go-around, the sunny poolside in Florida and the impressiveness of Fort Knox gave the United States a glowing look.

THE CARS: You can find a comprehensive list of the cars in the film here, but the two most notable are Goldfinger’s beautiful (and gold) Rolls Royce Phantom III Sedance de Ville, and James Bond’s tricked-out Aston Martin DB 5. Bond mentions that his beloved Bentley is nowhere to be found, and he is instead given a modified Aston Martin loaded with gadgets. The Aston Martin would go on to be heavily tied into promotional materials and would itself become a staple of the Bond franchise.

THE GADGETS: Goldfinger really turned up the gadget ratio, from the seemingly mundane (an underwater breathing apparatus designed to look like a seagull) to the Aston Martin. The car was fitted with revolving license plates, a GPS tracking device, bulletproof windows, an oil slick and a smoke screen to be released from the rear, machine guns that came from the front, tire slashers that extended from the wheels (Bond inexplicably and irresponsibly uses these to try and pick up a woman), and a passenger ejector seat!

Bond also utilizes a grappling gun, a tracking device that fits in the heel of his shoe, and a larger magnetic tracking device he stashes in Goldfinger’s car.

Oddjob has hit steel-rimmed hat weapon, while Goldfinger has his industrial lab, a private plane with spy holes looking into the different chambers, and even an atomic bomb.

Though Goldfinger doesn’t have a lair like, say, Doctor No, he does have a ranch house that he’s tricked out. In addition to dungeon-like prison cells in the basement, his rumpus room is designed to completely transform. The window panels fold down, a massive map drops from the ceiling, and the floor even slides apart to reveal a massive model of his Fort Knox target.

And while that’s impressive, he also proves that it’s deadly when he uses his controls to seal the room and release a deadly nerve gas.

THE MUSIC: John Barry returns to Bond once again to score this film, including the theme song, “Goldfinger”, with lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. While the films have had a stylized credit sequence since the beginning, with Dr. No’s technicolor and feminine introduction, and though From Russia With Love had a bit of the theme song sprinkled in, Goldfinger really kicks off the tradition of having an elaborate credit sequence with the theme song performed over it (in this case, by Shirley Bassey). The soundtrack album would go on to top the Billboard 200, while the Goldfinger single would reach 8th in the Billboard Hot 1000.

I love that song.

THE SUPPORT: Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell return as M and Moneypenny respectively, of course, and serve well their usual roles of giving Bond his orders and flirting with him.

New in the role of CIA agent Felix Leiter is Cec Linder. Jack Lord, who played Leiter in Dr. No, had worried some executives for looking “too cool” and potentially taking attention away from Bond. Lindner, by comparison, is older and stuffier, looking more like a bureaucrat than a slick spy peer.

Desmond Llewelyn returns as the Quartermaster, but instead of being called Major Boothroyd, this films seems a transition into referring to him as Q for short. His inventiveness and surly nature is always a delight.

FINAL THOUGHTS: There is a lot to love about this film. The villain is single-minded and dismissive of Bond, and for large parts of the film, he should be. Bond’s arrogance and recklessness sees him overcome at almost every turn, even rendering him inactive for large parts of the middle and the end, a prisoner biding his time and hoping his peers will put clues enough to rescue him in the nick of time. In that sense, it’s unusual to see Bond do so little, even with the advantage of his new gadgets.

The Aston Martin’s many functions are exciting to see, as something like that was still relatively new to cinema, as was the industrial laser death weapon Goldfinger uses, which didn’t really exist at the time. The music is superb, and the many gold motifs throughout the film give a visual theme to match the title and villain.

Pussy Galore is a compelling anti-hero, a Catwoman-esque character, though I wish we had seen more of her Flying Circus. And Oddjob is perfect all around. All in all, one of my favorites.

OTHER BOND BREAKDOWNS:

Dr. No

From Russia With Love

Thunderball

You Only Live Twice

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Diamonds Are Forever

24 Weeks of Bond: From Russia With Love

Art by Dick Bobnick

I’m a big fan of James Bond, have been since I was a kid. Having recently repurchased the complete Criterion collection of all 24 films, I thought I would do a rewatch of them all and break them down a bit, one blog post at a time.

A couple caveats: I have only read a couple of Fleming’s original novels, and so I won’t be doing any direct comparisons of the films to their literary counterparts. I’ll also only be covering the Eon films, so that means no spoofs, spin-offs, and no Never Say Never Again.

Having said that, let’s get into it!

The Movie: From Russia With Love, directed by Terence Young (who also did Dr. No), adapted by Richard Maibaum, Berkley Mather, and Johanna Harwood, and with cinematography by Ted Moore (A Man For All Seasons, 1981’s Clash of the Titans, several Bond movies), the film was released in 1963. While reviews were initially mixed, retrospectives have proven this to be critically enjoyed and one of the more beloved films of the franchise.

The story centers around James Bond being sent to secure the defection of SMERSH (Bond’s fictional Soviet counterintelligence group) agent Tatiana Romanova and to secure a cryptographic device.

Romanova believes she is a double-agent for the Soviet Union, but does not realize that her handler belongs to the terrorist organization SPECTRE. Likewise, Bond does not realize that SPECTRE is seeking revenge for the death of their agent in the previous film, the titular Dr. No.

The Bond: Sean Connery revises his role as 007 and brings with his second adventure a newer sense of confidence. This film sees Bond move with surety, mingling with locals in foreign countries, engaging in spontaneous gunfights, even transitioning from his manipulations of Romanova to outright anger when he feels she’s betrayed him. This is a secret agent comfortable in his own skin and in working in enemy territory. It is also reportedly the performance that finally won Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, over on Sean Connery.

The Girls: Eunice Grayson briefly reprises her role from Dr. No as Sylvia Trench, intended to be a recurring love interest but ultimately left by the wayside. Instead, Bond spends most of the film with double-agent Tatiana Romanova, played by stunning Italian actress Daniela Bianchi. Due to her thick accent, she was dubbed over by Barbara Jefford. Tatiana, ostensibly a Russian spy, is neither particularly dangerous nor exactly a damsel in distress. Instead, she plays more a genuine love interest for the better part of the film, also assisting in the procuring of the cryptographic device. At the age of only 21, she is also the youngest “leading” Bond girl.

The Villains: This film has a few bad guys, playing up the mention of Spectre from the first film by giving us a look behind the scenes. This is the first appearance of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, played physically here by Anthony Dawson (who played the late Professor Dent in Dr. No). You don’t see Blofeld’s face here, but you see his hands, stroking his white cat, a move that would spawn imitation after imitation from Inspector Gadget’s villainous Dr. Claw to Michael Meyers’ buffoonish Dr. Evil. We also hear Blofeld’s voice (Eric Pohlmann), one that lets us know he is in command and that he does not tolerate failure.

We also see two of his commanders. There is Chief Planner Kronsteen, a master chess player portrayed by actor Vladek Sheybal. Vladek did not originally want to be in a Bond film, fearing that a spy/action film might hurt his career, but Sean Connery, a friend, convinced him to take the role. More interesting about Vladek Sheybal is that he lived through the occupation of Warsaw and actively fought in the Polish resistance, twice escaping concentration camps, and only deciding after the war to pursue a career in acting.

Lotte Lenya was a Tony-award winning (The Threepenny Opera) and Academy-Award nominated (The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone) actress who here plays Rosa Klebb, SMERSH commander-turned-SPECTRE operative.

And finally, the hitman Donald “Red” Grant, a highly trained spy and killer spent to tail and eventually eradicate Bond in order to retrieve the Lektor cryptographic device while also eliminating the threat from England that Bond poses. He’s played by Academy-Award nominated (A Man For All Seasons) actor Robert Shaw, who you may know better as the shark hunter Quint in Jaws.

The Locations: While there are a few scenes shot in England involving MI6’s involvement and Bond’s vacation, and a couple scenes (notably part of the boat chase scene near the end) are shot in Scotland to get the scenes they wanted, the bulk of the film takes place in Turkey and was shot on location in and around Istanbul.

While not necessarily as vibrant as the Jamaican scenery of Dr. No, Turkey is exotic in it’s own right, and we get to experience the culture through gypsy parties, markets, old and crumbling architecture, and sweeping hills and background scenery as Bond and Tatiana try to escape to Bulgaria.

By filming in Turkey and having Spectre as the guiding force behind the conflict, it was also a way to capitalize on the tensions of the Cold War without making the Russians the outright villains.

There is also a brief, beautiful moment set in Venice, Italy toward the end of the film.

The Cars: While there are several cars used in the film (you can find an entire list here), including a 1958 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith, this film is notable for, to my recollection, being the only Bond film where he drives a Bentley (his preferred car in the novels; a 1935 Drophead Coupe here) instead of the Aston Martins he would become famous for. Additionally, while not a car, a massive chunk of the back end of the film is set aboard a gorgeous train.

The Gadgets: From Russia With Love still stays pretty grounded with the gadgets, although they did notably have a pager-like device to contact agents in the field before the pager was actually developed.

Bond is given an attaché case that remains one of my favorite multi-purpose tools in the 007 series. Through its many secret compartments and latches, it contains two tubes of spare ammunition, a collapsible Armalite AR-7 rifle, a hidden knife, an exploding tear gas cartridge, and 50 gold sovereigns attached to the interior straps.

Bond also uses a tape recorder disguised as a camera, and a small bug detector to find that his room has been compromised.

SPECTRE has a remarkable mask-making technology that they’ve used to create Bond-lookalike masks for the sake of Red Grant practicing the kill (this predates Mission Impossible by decades and yet they never use it again, I don’t believe). Red Grant makes his kills with his own gadget: a wristwatch with a garrote wire.

Rosa Klebb has her own gadget of sorts, a shoe with a poisoned blade hidden in the toe, an assassination weapon based in reality.

And, of course, the Lektor decoding machine is the McGuffin that the whole plot centers around, as Russia, England, and Spectre all try to gain and keep possession of it.

The Music: This is actually the first Bond film to feature a theme song beside the James Bond theme. “From Russia With Love” was composed by “Oliver!” composer Lionel Bart and sung by Matt Monro during the film and over the end credits. John Barry took the reigns for the rest of the film’s soundtrack composition with music pieces matching many of the major moments throughout the film.

The Support: Bernard Lee returns as M., Bond’s superior. He’ll be a common name in this section. Likewise Lois Maxwell as M’s secretary and Bond’s target of doomed affection, Moneypenny. Desmond Llewelyn, meanwhile, makes his first appearance as Boothroyd/Q., replacing Peter Bothroyd as Bond’s quartermaster. Llewelyn would return to the role over the course of sever Bond actor transitions.

Bond’ major ally in From Russia With Love is the Turkish-born head of MI6’s Turkish intelligence branch Kerim Bey. He is a charismatic man with 15 children and a gypsy lifestyle and is brought to life here by the late Pedro Armendáriz. In a sad twist, Armendáriz took this role while he was terminally ill with cancer so that his family would be left financially secure. When his illness grew too severe, he shot and killed himself in the hospital. He was one of the most well-known Latin American stars in the 40s and 50s and, years later, his son Pedro Jr. would star in a Bond film of his own.

Final Thoughts: While I remembered the opening murder scene, Rosa Klebb, and much of the train sequence,I found that I had forgotten much of what made this film great. Connery really feels like he fits in the Bond role here where it felt a little stuffy in Dr. No. Bianci and Armendáriz are pure charisma as Romanova and Bey respectively, and Robert Shaw’s Red Grant cuts an intimidating figure, opening with an act of shocking violence before hovering around like a looming threat of death.

The film takes its time, enjoying its setting and earning its relationships, while brief moments of frantic action punch through periodically: a gunfight here, an explosion there, a sudden murder. And while the film ends with not just one, but two exciting action sequences (a helicopter chase AND a boat chase), it’s the extended, brutal close quarters fight on the train that really sticks in your mind. This movie has some romanticism flavored of its time, and plenty of thrills. This was a pleasant surprise to come back to, and I can see why so many people place it among their favorites.

Other Bond Breakdowns:

Dr. No

Goldfinger

Thunderball

You Only Live Twice

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Diamonds Are Forever

24 Weeks of Bond: Dr. No

I’m a big fan of James Bond, have been since I was a kid. Having recently repurchased the complete Criterion collection of all 24 films, I thought I would do a rewatch of them all and break them down a bit, one blog post at a time.

A couple caveats: I have only read a couple of Fleming’s original novels, and so I won’t be doing any direct comparisons of the films to their literary counterparts. I’ll also only be covering the Eon films, so that means no spoofs, spin-offs, and no Never Say Never Again.

With that said, let’s get into it!

The Movie: Dr. No. Released in 1962, this movie sees Agent 007 James Bond traveling to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a fellow British agent. Upon arrival, he finds that he is not the only government agent with a keen interest in the goings-on in the area, and before long he becomes tangled up with the mysterious Dr. No and his privately-owned island, Crab Key. The film was directed by Terence Young, and was made for just over a million dollars.

The Bond: Sean Connery, who is notoriously very Scottish, leading to Ian Fleming’s initial disapproval of the casting. Connery donned a dark hairpiece and affected a passable English accent for the role. In Dr. No, he is both charming and effectively dangerous. “That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six.” There are a lot of nice little touches throughout the film that show Bond’s spy expertise: a hair across the closet doors to see if they’ve been opened, choosing an unopened bottle of liquor upon returning to his room instead of the opened bottle in case it was poisoned, his investigative work at the home of the missing Strangways.

The Girls: “Bond girls” are as much a staple of the franchise as anything else, ranging from love interests to femme fatales to damsels in distress. There are three women of note in Dr. No that could be suitably considered Bond girls. Eunice Gayson as Sylvia Trench is the first woman we meet, and its through her love of gambling that we also first meet James Bond, as he cleans her out playing baccarat against her. Zena Marshall plays Miss Taro, an eavesdropping secretary with ulterior motives that Bond seduces all the same. But, of course, the star woman of the film and the first recognized “Bond Girl” is Swiss actress Ursula Andress as the shell-collecting blonde bombshell Honey Ryder. At the time of her casting, she spoke almost no English, and so all of her lines (spoken and sung) were dubbed over by Nikki Van der Zyl.

It’s worth noting as well that all three women survived the film, although Strangways’ briefly seen secretary did not.

The Villain: Dr. Julius No, who is Chinese, as played by Joseph Wiseman, who is not Chinese. But! Wiseman does lend a fantastic amount of gravity to No. No is megalomaniacal but is muted about it, reveling in his actual scientific genius and what he perceives to be his superior sophistication. He also has metal hands. This not only makes him immediately memorable, but his ability to crush items (and people) with his prosthetic strength grants him some physical deadliness in addition to his brilliant mind.

The film also includes the “Three Blind Mice”, a trio of Jamaican killers, a corrupt scientist, and the criminal organization SPECTRE gets namedropped, a hint of grander villainy to come.

The Locations: Aside from a brief appearance in England (a casino, MI6 headquarters), the film takes place almost entirely in Jamaica. We see resorts and beaches, jungles and marshes. This was actually the first feature film to be filmed on location in Jamaica, and it was still a British territory at the time, right up until just about when the film released in theaters.

Dr. No’s mountain lair on Crab Key is also a notable location as it’s absolutely ridiculous. Part mine, part nuclear rocket station, and subaquatic, it is utilitarian in look and function with the exception of No’s own apartments and dining arrangements, which look downright luxurious by comparison. It truly set a standard for supervillain bases.

The Cars: There were several different cars in the film, including a Chevrolet Bel Air, an El Camino, an Impala, a Cadillac Eldorado, a Cadillac Fleetwood 60 Special, and plenty more, including a custom-made marsh buggy contraption rigged to look like an armored dragon.

Most notable is Bond’s car. Instead of the Bentley’s book-Bond is fond of and the Aston Martin’s movie-Bond would become known for, Connery’s Bond drives a 1961 Alpine Sunbeam Series II in Dr. No.

The Gadgets: Dr No has his mechanical hands, of course, replacements for the ones he lost working with nuclear power, but Bond is relatively light with gadgets of his own for his first outing. He really only gets a Walther PPK to replace his favored Beretta. There are also Geiger counters, hidden communication devices, and cyanide cigarettes in the film, as well as the multi-tide of high-tech features in No’s lair.

The Music: Dr No is relatively light on music, although we get to hear the first occurrence of the iconic James Bond theme, written by Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry. Also heard are a Calypso version of “Three Blind Mice”, “Jump Up” by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, and “Under the Mango Tree”, which is the first and only song to be sung by James Bond in the films.

The Support: And finally, we come to the remaining players in the film. Bernard Lee plays M, Bond’s no-nonsense handler who gives Bond his assignment and makes sure he leaves with a more reliable weapon “The CIA swears by”. Lois Maxwell plays the ever reliable Miss Moneypenny, and her chemistry with Connelly’s Bond is delightful. Peter Burton makes a one-and-done appearance as Major Boothroyd (effectively Q’s role). Jack Lord plays Felix Leiter, Bond’s CIA equivalent who will eventually become a close friend and ally. And John Kitzmiller plays Quarrel, an islander who works with both the CIA and Bond to uncover the dark secrets of Crab Key.

Final Thoughts: I had remembered Dr. No feeling overlong (it’s actually among the shortest three), and wasn’t looking forward to kicking off this project with what I expected to be a dull affair. I was pleased to find that it’s a much more charming film than I remembered. I did find that I wished Joseph Wiseman had more screen time as Dr. No, but all in all it was a strong first outing, and Connery really carried the charisma and danger of Bond. Jamaica is beautiful, No’s lair is stunning in its scale, and Bond managed to switch from stealthy spy to man of action effectively. All in all, a good movie, and I’m excited to be doing this.

Other Bond Breakdowns:

From Russia With Love

Goldfinger

Thunderball

You Only Live Twice

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Diamonds Are Forever

Ex Machina

Every now and then I’ll post about a film or a book or something else that catches my attention enough I want to write about it. I did it with Fury, sort of, back when I wrote about my love of ensemble pieces, and now I’m doing the same for Ex Machina, the Alex Garland-directed science fiction film starring Alicia Vikander, Domnhall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac, who is fast becoming one of my favorite actors.

At first glance, it looks like a tightly constructed, lightly cast sci-fi flick that grows into a horror film fraught with suspense. In fact, on the surface, that’s likely exactly what it is. The concept, however, approaches some much more complex ideas, things that are more appropriate now with the growth of artificial intelligence and the movement of non-traditional sexualities.

To take a step back, look at the movie Her with Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson’s voice+ about an introvert with a broken heart and inability to handle a traditional romance. He starts a – at first – platonic relationship with a companion A.I. named Samantha. Over the course of the film, Samantha grows as she absorbs knowledge into an intellectual. The information she gleans through her conversations with Theodore (Phoenix) allow her to talk with him like a friend.

Because it begins as a conversation between a man and a program, he confesses things to her that he is unable to get out with other people. He tells her his fears, his aspirations, his irritations, and she responds to them as a friend does. As a person. As Samantha grows, so does her personality. She develops a mentality with opinions and emotions of her own, and though (for the most part) physicality is completely out of the occasion, a romantic relationship develops between them.

It strikes a very curious question in terms of what defines a human. Is it the physical body, or is it a more emotional connection, one that comes from comprehension, critical thinking, and empathy, and if it is this latter thing and artificial empathy is developed, does that mean that an A.I.’s consciousness is on par with one that develops biologically?

There has been a lot of discussion lately among esteemed scientists about the potential dangers and life-changing implications that come from the growth and development of artificial intelligence. It’s something that has been explored in movies like The Terminator (eradication of the human race), A.I., Short Circuit, and more recently Transcendence, and Chappie.

Still, Ex Machina stands out in the same kind of way that Her did. The primary focus seems to be on a small cast of characters (Isaac’s Nathan, Gleeson’s Caleb, and Vikander’s Ava) much like the bulk of Her was Theodore and Samantha.

This allows for a tighter focus, a more personal story, one that explores relationships, the strength and equal fragility of them. It (hopefully) doesn’t lose itself in a sprawling plot of explosive set pieces. It explores what can be considered human sentience.

This interview with the director is an excellent read, and it’s encouraging in that he seems to have an understanding of what science fiction, good science fiction should be doing: asking difficult questions. Hard questions. Questions about things we don’t understand, and that includes what makes us, us. It’s a familiar question (if we lose a leg, or an eye, or our heart and get a cybernetic replacement, at what point do we stop being human? If it’s our personality, or mind that makes us human, and something similar can be replicated perfectly, does that not make them human also?).

Garland is going a step further in bringing sexuality into it. And man, I’m fascinated by sex. As I’ve stated before, I tend to have a pretty liberal view on sex and sexuality, so any time something is explored in pop culture in a way that is new and intriguing, it immediately piques my interest. My knee-jerk reaction is to say that I’d never have sex with a robot. But then you take a look at films like Blade Runner with its replicants, the Terminator series, or even the Pretenders from the Transformers series, and it’s hard to say. If they look, sound, act, think, and feel (physically and emotionally) like a human, would you even know if no one told you? Or would a real relationship develop, in the same way that meet communication brought Theodore and Samantha together?

Ex Machina may not explore those themes as deeply as I’d like or would benefit it. It may wind up being a sexual body-horror film in the same way the Species series was, and I can’t say that won’t be entertaining in its own right. But the interview with Alex Garland seems to imply that it’s something he’s at least thought a lot about, and I hope it carries through.

Ex Machina is rated R and hits theaters in the United States this Friday (April 10th, 2015).