Monday, October 27, 2014

Top 10: Dumbest James Bond Moments

James Bond is one of my biggest fandoms. I'm saying that here in case you couldn't infer it from the year-long mini-series I did on this very blog, reviewing all its movies. But part of being a good, sane fan is admitting any sins the subject of your adoration may have committed. And James Bond is certainly no saint in that regard. (Except for Roger Moore, who played on a TV show called The Saint.) Yet at the same time, I don't think these movies ever get so bad to the point they become unberarable to watch. On the contrary, their occasional bouts of stupidity only serve to make them more fun to watch. To a point, anyway. That's why I'm going to count down the top ten dumbest moments of the James Bond movies, and see if and when we cross that line. I've selected and listed these entries based on the following criteria: 1) How embarrassing is it to watch the scene? 2) Does the scene work in context? And 3) Is there anything good about the scene to balance it out? So break out your favourite Q-gadgets and order your shaken-not-stirred martinis, because Here. We. Go.

10) "Lie Back and Think of England"
from For Your Eyes Only (1981)

In this scene, James Bond has finished his mission and is now about to shack up with the leading lady. But who should phone in and interrupt them but the Prime Minister of his own country? And not just any Prime Minister, but Margaret Thatcher (played here by an impersonator)? I take it the election of Mrs. Thatcher, the first female PM in Britain's history, must have been a big deal, and good on the real Thatcher for making it that far. But did EON Productions really have to rub it in our faces? I wouldn't mind so much, except she gets answered by a parrot while Bond and friend make a break for it! As you could imagine, this is embarrassing for everybody involved. And that includes YOU.

9) "James of the Jungle"
from Octopussy (1983)

In this scene, James Bond has escaped from the villain's palace in India and is being chased through a nearby jungle. The resulting action sequence is... uneven, to say the least. Sure, there are clever moments to be found, such as when Bond hides underneath a henchman's elephant and unfastens his saddle. But as for me, I'll remember this scene instead for two parts -- one, he encounters a tiger, and before it can pounce upon him, he sternly calls to it, "Sit!", and it does. And two, he swings on a series of vines, with a stock Tarzan yell playing in the background. Because... funny?

8) "Surfin' USSR"
from A View to a Kill (1985)

The cold-open of A View to a Kill takes place in, appropriately enough, a cold place: Siberia. In this scene, James Bond shows up here to investigate the body of a fallen 00 agent, retrieving a microchip from his person. Then some Soviet patrols shows up, and he proceeds to high-tail it out of there. At one point, he knocks a guy off a snowmobile, pulls off its hood, and uses it as a makeshift snowboard. Oh, and I forgot to mention -- Roger Moore had turned 57 at some point during production of this movie, the oldest a James Bond actor's ever been to date, and he did not age well in my opinion, so the mere sight of him snowboarding at his age should be enough to warrant a rank on this list. But as if that alone were not enough, we also have the choice of music to deal with. As snowboarding culture had not yet fully formed by 1985, the music director went with a surfing song -- a cover of "California Girls" by the Beach Boys! Guys, when I think of the Beach Boys, I do not associate them with icy, snowbound Siberia! Or a 57-year-old snowboarder.

7) "Spoiler Alert: Bambi Lives"
from Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

In this scene, James Bond is searching the home of a one Willard Whyte. Suddenly, he comes across two lounging ladies named Bambi and Thumper. They tell him where Mr. Whyte may be found, but before letting 007 go, they rough him up a bit, in what is perhaps one of the series' worst-choreographed fight scenes. Bambi and Thumper tend to take turns throwing hits or getting in position, including some impressive gymnastic moves. I ain't complaining about that in concept, especially since one of them's in a bikini, but more often then not their moves serve no practical purpose in terms of fighting! It's like they just want to show off!

6) "Flipping the Bird... Literally"
from Moonraker (1979)

In this scene, James Bond has just disposed of some assassins who tried to get him along the canals of Venice. So, naturally, he did so from a gondola -- a motorboat gondola, of course. Now, that chase scene is perfectly fine; there's a knife thrower hidden in a casket, so of course Bond keeps him in there -- permanently. But the problem comes afterwards. With no more threats to take care of, he flips a switch to turn his gondola into a hovercraft, and drives onto the pier. This peculiar sight is met with all manner of astonished reaction shots from the locals, including -- get this -- a bird which does a double-take. As in, the editor repeated and reversed a bit of footage to make it seem as though the bird had the brain capacity to recognise a peculiar sight when it saw one, and react accordingly. Throw in a sprightly Strauss composition on the soundtrack, and you've got one surreal scene.

5) "Blow My Whistle, Baby"
from The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

In this scene, James Bond (with, unfortunately, Sheriff J.W. Pepper) is in the middle of a car chase across Bangkok, when he notices his target on the opposite side of a river. With the nearest bridge miles behind him, he improvises: he finds a set of ramps and does a perfect corkscrew-jump between them. Sounds like an awesome moment, doesn't it? Well, it is, except for one thing: this stunt is accompanied by a slide-whistle sound effect. I've read numerous accounts claiming this moments as one of the series' worst, and it's hard for me to disagree with those opinions. But no matter how stupid that sound effect was, it's still just one piece of a scene with some other, better components, which is why this entry isn't higher on my list. Besides, how cool can you make a stunt like that when it's preceded by the one-liner, "Ever heard of Evel Kneivel?" Because... the Seventies?

4) "Surfin' CGI"
from Die Another Day (2002)

In this scene, James Bond is in a rocket-sled, being chased across the Icelandic ice fields by a satellite laser beam. The chase leads over a cliff, with Bond saving himself by deploying the craft's anchor. Rather than use the laser to fry him directly, of course, our villain instead cuts off a chunk of the icy cliff, with intent to drop him into the ocean. But with a bout of improbable MacGyvering, Bond fashions a makeshift surfboard and parachute, and rides away on the ensuing wave. And then... he para-surfs along the ensuing wave. This sounds outlandishly extreme enough, but this scene was accomplished by such stilted, flawed CG animation that whatever sense of danger we get from other such stunts in the Bond series just cannot be matched here. And another thing, if the wave caused by the ice chunk travelled away from the cliff, how could Bond have turned around to lift himself up over the cliff?

3) "Your Head Asplode"

from Live and Let Die (1973)

In this scene, James Bond and Solitaire are in the clutches of our villain, Dr. Kananga. He has the couple tied up over a shark tank, and cuts 007's arm with a knife to draw blood. Never mind that he could've killed them more directly with that knife of his. So Bond frees himself and Solitare using a buzz-saw in his wristwatch -- a function that was never so much as foreshadowed -- and proceeds to fight Kananga. The fight ends with Bond forcing a compressed-air bullet into Kananga's mouth. As the gas expands inside his body, he lifts out of the water and blows up like a balloon. Literally. As in, the special effect for this scene involved a Kananga-shaped balloon. Now, I normally wouldn't mind any opportunity to avert excessive blood and gore, but the way they chose to go about it is so unreal, it could never be taken seriously in a million years! Couldn't they have chosen some other way for him to die, something that could be feasibly re-created and still keep a PG rating? I mean, they've got a perfectly good shark tank to use, and corporal inflation was the best they could come up with?

2) "I Know Kung Fu... Not"

from The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

In this scene, James Bond has been knocked out and captured, and wakes up in a Thai martial-arts school. He spars with a couple of opponents and then makes a break for it, wherein he catches up with his ally, Lieutenant Hip and his nieces. Who promptly go to town on the pursuing gang of bads, Street Fighter style. In fact, Hip and co. have things so well-in-hand that Bond is left with nothing to do throughout this brawl. His only contribution is pushing down some guy who was already disabled. And then Hip and co. drive off in his car... without Bond! What's the matter dude, I thought you were on his side! This missed ride leads to Bond leading a tepid motorboat chase, punctuated only by its own awful moments: a downright terrible one-liner ("What you might call a Mexican screw-off, gentlemen!" Seriously, dude, no one says that.), Bond taking advantage of a beggar child, and of course, Sherrif J.W. Pepper.

1) "Goodnight, Sweet Princess"
from The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

Yeah, I've used this movie three times in this list. I regret nothing. In this scene, James Bond is dueling with Scaramanga on the latter's private island, while Bond-girl Mary Goodnight is being watched over by a maintenance man. Proving her capability, she knocks him out -- only for his body to fall into a liquid-nitrogen vat, setting off a slow-burning chain reaction which will eventually destroy the island. But that's not the worst of it. Right afterwards, she accompanies Bond as he tries to remove some solar-energy unit from a laser chamber, when she leans back on a console and her bum pushes the switch to turn on the solar collector -- with Bond inside it. And she has no idea how to turn it off -- ya think she could've felt the switch pushing against her skin and tried flipping the same one back!? Madam Goodnight was nothing if not a liability in 007's mission. Lucky we viewers also had Maud Adams's character to keep us company.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the Wildcard slot. This entry takes the Wildcard slot for not actually having been featured in the final cut of its movie, existing as a deleted scene which has since resurfaced on DVD. But oh boy, what a scene to get through...

Wildcard) "I Can Show You the World"
from The Living Daylights (1987)

In this scene, Bond is being chased across the rooftops of Tangier by the local police. At one point, he picks up a platform covered in a rug, places it on top of a set of electrical wires, and slides down them. In other words, a makeshift magic carpet. As if that weren't goofy enough, a pack of middle-aged men smoking a water pipe see him and say, "I told you this stuff was good". Gah, why not just bring back the wine-drinking guy from the Roger Moore films? At least he didn't have any lines! I suppose my exasperation comes both from the silliness of this scene and from the seriousness of the rest of the film. Believe me, if I had included this entry in the countdown proper, it would have been number one with a bullet. I'm one of the few people willing to stand up for Timothy Dalton's Bond career, and now I suppose that has something to do with the editor's decision to leave this bit on the cutting-room floor.

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