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[whitespace] 007 Magazine Fond of Bond

New DVDs of 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' and 'The World Is Not Enough' prove that 007 can fall in love and save the world, too

By Richard von Busack



DIGEST MOST OF THE reviews of M:I-2, and you'll see the same complaint. All the scenes of Tom Cruise's flirtation with the marvelous Thandie Newton during the beginning of the film are a romance that gets mislaid somewhere amid the helicopters and the explosions.

The change in tone is as clear as if the director had flicked a switch: it occurs during the scene of Cruise and Newton in their separate cars on a mountain road. Director John Woo has his lovers collide into a sideways game of chicken. The meet-cute by collision probably comes from Goldfinger (1964), in which Bond deliberately crashes the car of Tilly (Tania Mallet). It's a scene Connery could get away with, barely; Cruise doesn't have a prayer.

The automobile-borne courtship gets recycled slightly in the 1969 James Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, just released on DVD and selling briskly for a movie more than 30 years old.

George Lazenby, the actor who had the unenviable job of following Sean Connery as Bond, also chases a woman down a highway. But 007 loses her. She drives away before she can be caught, and Lazenby's Bond mutters, "This never happened to the other fella."

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (OHMSS for short) is about things that never happened to the other fella, including falling in love. The sixth James Bond film was as much a romance as a spy film. Bond heads from Portugal to the Alps to overcome a biological terror plot engineered by the Napoleon of gangsters, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas, who, like Lazenby, is much better than you've heard).

This chase is balanced equally by Bond's courtship with Tracy, played by Diana Rigg. Tracy is a suicidal, self-loathing woman--"a bird with a wing down" is the way 007 creator Ian Fleming put it--who later recovers herself and becomes Bond's wife.

I saw OHMSS on New Year's Day 1970 at the Academy Theater in Pasadena, Calif., and it was the first movie that really electrified me, that kept me going back from then until now. I was haunted by everything from the great tale's change of locales, its sophistication mood, its mystery, the stunning action sequence in which Bond escapes hand over hand on the cable of a cable car--not to mention the ultramarine blue of the day-for-night photography and John Barry's tremendous score.

Years later, I learned part of what had moved me in OHMSS was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock. I'd never seen the tactic before: the use of a dramatic underpinning that lets us know that the villain and the hero are linked. Here also I discovered some truer stuff than I yet knew, about the weight and danger of romantic love.

OHMSS has its silly side: Lazenby's Bond spends a portion of the film disguised in kilt and spectacles. Yet it's a film impossible for me to write about unmoved and objectively. What some people feel about The Wizard of Oz or Star Wars or Gone With the Wind, that's what I feel about On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

The new DVD version, letterboxed, brings out the beauty of this film's unparalleled Alpine landscapes and the beauty of Rigg's Tracy. OHMSS is the most adult of the Bond series. Until now, that is.

RELEASED 30 YEARS AFTER OHMSS, 1999's The World Is Not Enough has links to the earlier film, including a woman's apparently suicidal gambling problem and a variation on an avalanche scene. The World Is Not Enough--The Special Edition (MGM/DVD) offers the usual digital extras: an additional narration track by director Michael Apted, coming attractions, French and Spanish subtitles.

Best of all, the DVD allows easy fastforwarding through the scenes of the gorgeous but egregious Denise Richards playing a bimbo named Dr. Christmas Jones. Oh, mercy, is she bad. One sample line: "The world's greatest terrorist wandering around with six kilos of weapons-grade plutonium ... it can't be good."

Thanks to Richards, The World Is Not Enough (TWINE, to use the acronym) disappointed some of its audience by being too stupid. Thanks to Sophie Marceau, TWINE disappointed others by being too smart. Director Michael Apted (Coal Miner's Daughter) did his best to make this Bond, believe it or not, a woman's picture.

Marceau plays Elektra King, a shadowy Central Asian oil heiress menaced by rivals and terrorists. She's still trying to overcome the aftereffects of a kidnapping ordeal years before. Bond and his boss, M (Judi Dench), share complicity in King's suffering. The film's backstory has it that M didn't advise paying Elektra's ransom, even though she was a family friend of M's--this was a cold spy-business decision she made because of the government's policy of not negotiating with terrorists.

What's also fresh here is Apted's skillful use of the Hitchcock Fork: Bond's Vertigo-like emotional traction between his maternal employer M and this dangerous but alluring Elektra.

On the DVD's audio track, Apted describes his intention "to wrongfoot Bond and the audience." During the pre-title sequence, Bond gets a dislocated collarbone from a vertiginous fall. The injury is only half-healed throughout the story.

Pierce Brosnan's Bond is not only wounded, then, but at a disadvantage, trying to cope with Elektra as both a lover and object of surveillance. In TWINE, Brosnan's Bond is close to breaking down from these tensions as a jealous lover.

When Bond confronts Elektra, he's just as angry and wrongfooted as James Stewart's character in Vertigo. On the DVD audio track Apted mentions discussions between himself and the film's producers, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, over Apted's having revealed too much of 007's personality during the love scenes. Surveying one tender, conflicted bedroom scene, Apted points out that the usual light puns and quips are missing: "This isn't just double-entendre, this is the real thing."

That "real thing" quality is what's missing from M:I-2, and yes, there is a place for it even in spy films. My friend and Bond scholar Mike Monahan says there's a difference between the action and the adventure film. Action films are Stallone, Willis and so on, accompanied by their "eye-popping" explosions, "kinetic" gunfights and "roller-coaster ride" chases.

The new DVD issues of OHMSS and The World Is Not Enough, as well as parts of M:I-2--these are three adventures in which the quest changes the questors. Here are three examples of what can be done with a spy film now that the Cold War has ended.

Do you want to keep an audience really fascinated and not just narcotize them with gunfire? Make the spy film a romance, in which the everyday risks of romantic love are magnified to cosmic peril.

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From the June 1-7, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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