Plot: What’s it about?
When a manned American spacecraft disappears, the immediate suspect is Russia and with the past between the two countries, no one could blame the United States for that assumption. But British intelligence believes the craft landed in the waters off of Japan, which means the Russians weren’t involved in the least. But with so much built up aggression between the countries, unless there is substantial proof of innocence, there’s going to be a serious problem. In an effort to find out just what happened, the British government dispatches an agent to the scene and who better to send, that Agent 007, James Bond (Sean Connery). This mission would be difficult enough as it was, but now Bond has a serious time crisis to deal with, as a Russian craft has just been taken also. Russia thinks this is a retaliation and unless Bond can sort out this mess, World War III lies around the corner. Soon, he discovers that an international crime syndicate is behind the scheme, led by his nemesis, Blofeld (Donald Pleasance). With only a few days to complete the mission, can even Agent 007 come through this time?
In the entire Bond series, we’re asked to suspend disbelief on action sequences and such, but in this movie, we’re asked to overlook a lot more than simple stunts. We watch as James Bond trains to become a lethal ninja and we even get to see him take in a terrific sumo match, as well as various other imaginative and unusual scenes. This is not a bad thing in the least though in my mind, as it gives this film some personality and a rather unpredictable edge the others simply don’t have. Sure, I know Bond can ski and shoot bad guys, but what about martial arts and stuff like that? I’ve never seen the guy throw a very impressive karate chop, that’s for sure. The reason for this offbeat Bond adventure is the writing, in which screenwriter Roald Dahl (of Willy Wonka fame) takes the character into some uncharted waters and forces him to use new skills, or at least ones we weren’t sure he had before. I like this one a lot for the fun involved, but I know it is held in rather low regard on the whole by fans of the series. So while I recommend this one to be sure, I suggest a rental to test the waters before you plunk down the cash.
This film was supposed to be Sean Connery’s last appearance in the James Bond series, but after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the producers paid out the nose to win him back once more. I can see why Connery didn’t want this to be his swan song, as his skills are placed on the back burner, while the action and adventures elements increase many times over. But still, this is a Connery driven Bond movie and he does a terrific performance, though he isn’t given as much chance to shine as usual. Other Connery fueled Bond movies include Diamonds Are Forever, Thunderball, Goldfinger, Dr. No, and >From Russia With Love. Whether you choose to include Never Say Never Again in that list, now that’s up to you. Of course we need a good villain to clash with Bond and as Blofeld, Donald Pleasance (Halloween, Escape From New York) is awesome. Yes, the character is very much a cartoonish figure and such, but I think Pleasance plays the part to perfection in the end. The cast here also includes Bernard Lee (Moonraker, The Spy Who Loved Me), Akiko Wakabayashi (King Kong vs. Godzilla), Mie Hama (Fangs Of The Underworld), Karin Dor (The Mask Of Fu Manchu), Lois Maxwell (Live And Let Die, Goldfinger), and Desmond Llewelyn (The World Is Not Enough, Thunderball).
Video: How does it look?
You Only Live Twice is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This film looks very good when you consider how old it is, but some minor issues still emerge at times. The print usually looks clean, but a few trouble spots surface and this is to be expected from a film made in 1967. I found minimal grain also, though some slight color distortion is evident in a few instances. On the whole though, these are small issues and the transfer turns out quite well. Aside from a few spots, colors seem bold and clean, with no bleeds and flesh tones also look natural. The contrast seems in order too, no shadow depth problems or detail loss can be seen. A few small issues keep this from being great, but the transfer still comes across as above average.
Audio: How does it sound?
This disc uses the original mono track and while I am pleased the original was included, I would have loved a full surround sound remix on this one. But I will not complain much in the end, as this tracks as good as you could expect, which all I can ask for in a case like this. The sound effects come across well and though they don’t have dynamic range, they do sound clean and distinct at all times. This film has a wonderful musical score (by John Barry), which sounds very good in this mix and shows no traces of distortion at all. I also found few flaws with the dialogue, which has a crisp nature and displays no volume issues. This disc also houses a Spanish language track, English captions, and Spanish & French subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Like the other discs in the Bond series, this one comes stocked with terrific bonus materials. This disc houses both U.K. and North American versions of the film’s theatrical trailer, as well as a trailer and television spot for a double bill along with Thunderball. Next is an audio commentary track, which features director Lewis Gilbert and various other members of the cast & crew. This is a non screen specific track and as such, sometimes seems less interesting than it should. There is no energy to this track and that makes it hard to listen to, even if you’re starved for Bond knowledge. Still, I am glad a commentary of some kind was included, even if it is pretty dull at times. You can also watch Inside You Only Live Twice, which runs about half an hour and includes various interviews and behind the scenes shots. This is a nice piece, but I wish it were as informative and in depth as some previous Bond documentaries. Another featurette is also found here, Silhouettes: The James Bond Titles and as you can imagine, this one deals with the various title sequences. I liked this one a lot and am pleased to find such range within these secondary featurettes. Rounding out this disc is a series of seven television spots for the film, as well as a cool animated storyboard sequence, which covers the plane crash scene.