"Octopussy" has to rank right up there with "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" as the cheekiest choice for a mainstream film title. You’ve really got to give them credit for getting away with it. The film itself was the follow-up to "For Your Eyes Only," which is widely regarded as the best of the Roger Moore Bond films. Besides having to live up the success of that previous movie, "Octopussy" also had to compete head-to-head with a James Bond of years past. In the summer of 1983, Sean Connery returned to the role that made him famous in the unofficial remake of 1965’s "Thunderball," "Never Say Never Again." While it bested its competition at the box office, "Octopussy," like most of the Roger Moore Bond movies, has its detractors. I, however, am not one of them and count the 13th installment in the series among my favorites.
The movie starts off with a bang with what has to be one of the greatest opening sequences in the Bond series. After sabotaging an enemy test flight, Bond escapes by jumping behind the controls of an Acrostar mini-jet and avoids a missile by piloting this nifty little plane through the rapidly closing doors of an aircraft hanger. If this doesn’t pull you into the whole James Bond experience then nothing will.
The usual 007 opening title credits are set to the song "All Time High," sung by the velvety-voiced Rita Coolidge. The film itself revolves around the theft of a nuclear warhead by a band of circus performers/terrorists led by the lovely, and deadly, Octopussy (Maud Adams). The whole enterprise is run by rogue Russian General Orlov (Steven Berkoff) who funds his little scheme to bring about World War III through the sale of counterfeit Faberge eggs.
Following the trail of these forged works of art to India, Bond comes face to face with Octopussy in her fortress and must persuade her, in his own inimitable style, to help him stop Orlov. While she begins to have second thoughts, her accomplice, exiled prince Kamal (Louis Jourdan), has no such qualms and is more than happy to cut his own deal with Orlov. The conclusion features a full out assault on the old fortress by Octopussy’s legion of femme fatales who kick, catapult, trapeze, and human pyramid their way over the walls. This is followed by 007 taking a hair-raising ride on the outside of an airplane. Really now, what’s not to like.
Much of the movie was shot on location in India and the production crew was given permission to film in areas that had always been off-limits. Fortunately, the local religious leader was a big Bond fan and was more than happy to grant them special access privileges. The result is some fantastic scenery that just would not have looked the same if filmed on a soundstage.
Full of the stunts and spectacle we’ve come to expect from a James Bond film, "Octopussy" also benefits from strong performances by the ensemble cast who are obviously having a lot of fun filming the movie. Roger Moore brings his usual suave wit to the role and even appears in gorilla and clown suits for good measure. While it’s this light-hearted portrayal of what is supposed to be a cold-hearted killer that gives the anti-Roger Moore faction their ammunition, I find his acting in this particular film to be entertaining without crossing over into campy. Just be forewarned, this is not your father’s James Bond.
"Octopussy" is presented in an anamorphic widescreen version framed at its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. While not as strong an offering as the more recent Bond films, the transfer here is more than acceptable. The colors are very vibrant and saturated throughout and the picture is quite sharp in all but a handful of scenes. Black level is usually good with only a few instances of washed-out grays popping up. The film elements used for the transfer do exhibit a few nicks and scratches but they aren’t terribly distracting. Unfortunately, edge enhancement is used a bit too liberally with the result that some shimmering and artificial-looking contrast between foreground and background images appears. Too bad really as the rest of the video is rather good.
In an unfortunate move, MGM chose not to remix the soundtrack for "Octopussy" into a new 5.1 track as they have for many of the Bond DVDs. What we are left with instead is a rather weak DD 2.0 Surround mix. Surround effects are rare and very muddy sounding when they do appear. Dialogue is usually clear but can be overwhelmed by the overly loud and harsh sound effects. As is to be expected, there is no deep bass to speak of although the soundtrack does have fairly good dynamic range. The score is one of the few audio highlights as it does spread nicely across the front soundstage. This film would have benefited greatly from a remastered soundtrack. As it stands, the audio is only average.
Now on to the extras. As is usual for a James Bond special edition DVD, "Octopussy" is packed with bonus features. First up is a somewhat screen-specific commentary track directed by David Naylor. Unfortunately, the main stars of the film are conspicuous by their absence although the director and many of the technical crew do participate. Focusing almost exclusively on the technical aspects of the production (big surprise given the contributors), the discussion is rather dry -- especially if you’ve listened to previous Bond commentaries. The information can be quite interesting but you just feel that you’ve heard it all before.
Next is the documentary "Inside Octopussy," narrated by Patrick Macnee. This 35-minute feature is far more entertaining than the audio commentary and features a great deal of behind-the-scenes footage, along with highlights from interviews with John Glen and Maud Adams, among others. Since Roger Moore had yet to sign on to reprise his role as James Bond when pre-production was getting underway, James Brolin screen-tested for the role and the video clip shown here of him putting the moves on Maud Adams in nothing but a towel is the highlight (or lowlight) of this documentary.
For the second documentary, we are treated to a 21-minute feature entitled "Designing Bond with Art Director Peter Lamont." Starting as an assistant to Ken Adams on "Goldfinger," Mr. Lamont’s role in the success of the Bond films is not insignificant. From the lavish sets to even the smallest background flourishes, every visual facet of these films bears his stamp. I always find these tributes to the under appreciated technical wizards who make movies possible to be particularly enjoyable.
"Octopussy" also includes two animated storyboard sequences. Focusing on the scenes "The Taxi Chase" and "Bond Saves Octopussy," the storyboards are presented as a slideshow while the film’s soundtrack plays in the background. While not particularly original in their presentation, they are a nice addition to the extras and do provide a detailed look at the planning that goes into these major stunt sequences.
The music video for Rita Coolidge’s title song "All Time High" is also included in non-anamorphic widescreen. The video is very washed-out and the audio is quite flat but that’s to be expected from an early-80s music video. Featuring shots of Ms. Coolidge interspersed with brief scenes from the movie, the video is entertaining in a flashback sort of way.
Rounding out the extras are three teaser trailers and one theatrical trailer -- the latter presented in anamorphic widescreen. While many of the extras on these Bond DVDs are beginning to take on that deja vu feel, I’m still happy that they’re there and they are certainly worth a quick glance. The featurette on Peter Lamont should be of particular interest to anyone who is fascinated by the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making a James Bond movie.
"Octopussy" is an oft-maligned and overlooked offering in the James Bond series. I, however, find it to be refreshingly original in many respects and enjoy it immensely. The sets are particularly exotic and authentic, the acting is quite good, the story takes its time in developing the characters and plot (however shallow they may be), and 007 is finally rolling in the hay with someone a bit closer to his own age.
While the video on this disc is more than acceptable, the decision to forego remastering the audio leaves us with a soundtrack that is average at best. Besides this one major fault, I could find nothing else wrong with MGM’s special edition DVD of "Octopussy." Packed with the usual assortment of interesting extras that provide a wealth of information on the making of the film, this is yet another great DVD to add to your James Bond collection. Just don’t let the pre-teens in the house snicker too loudly at the title.