Classic Film Review: You Only Live Twice (1967)

You Only Live Twice, 1967

Directed by: Lewis Gilbert

James Bond: Sean Connery

Also Starring: Donald Pleasence


You only live twice, James, but you deserve to die about seven times.

Playing off the real life tension post-Cold War between America and Russia, and the race to master space travel (with America landing on the moon only two years after this film), You Only Live twice is about spaceships being abducted by a mystery unknown organisation, with America blaming Russia and vice-versa. James Bond (Sean Connery) is sent to Japan to try and discover who is behind this, only to come up against Blofeld (Donald Pleasence), the head of SPECTRE.

I personally love realism in the films I watch; that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy horrors or fantasy, but as long as the world I’m watching is presented in a realistic way I’ll enjoy it, and that’s where a major problem I have with action films lies. James Bond, moments after running out of a building, is about 3 meters away from armed henchmen, who all shoot yet miss James, who ducks to jump into a car. Later in the film he’s in a helicopter (there isn’t a Bond car in this film, it’s a helicopter) and there are four other helicopters all firing from a machine gun at him. He has no windshield, no protection, not anything, yet not one of these bullets hits and instead he kills them all with his bullets. He’s also lying in bed at one scene with a string from above measured so a dose of poison can drip down it into his mouth, but at the last minute he moves and the girl he’s with moves into his place and dies. Add that to the multiple times where he’s facing a large number of henchmen and a couple of other scenarios and it takes the realism factor away: Bond should be dead. I don’t mind them surviving, at times, by the skin of their nose, or coming out worse-for-wear, but Bond just brushes off these moments where he should be dead and carries on.

That being said, though, the film was an improvement on Thunderball, but Bond’s adventures are certainly getting wilder, moving from underwater battles to preventing a nuclear war breaking out over space travel; what must James Bond do (aside from women) on his weekends off? The film looks really good at times, even for its age; yeah there’s some terribly obvious green screen moments but it is from the 1960’s so that’s understandable, and the volcano explosion towards the end looks 50% brilliant and 50% woefully bad, but the fight scenes are well choreographed and the locations are beautiful. There are a couple of moments where it seems to slow down to like 90% of normal speed for no reason, though, which came across as strange, as well as some unusual zooms. And one thing I thought was strange was after a friendly helicopter picks up a car (using a giant magnet) and flies it away, Bond and his friend can see on a car-TV what’s going on with the helicopter and the car from a camera some distance away from the helicopter. Who’s filming this? It’s presented in the same style as the film (which is weird as other CCTV-style shots look legitimate as CCTV footage, rather than film footage added to that screen), and the camera follows the helicopter to the ocean where it drops the car, but there’s never a mention of an accompanying vehicle and it’s not close enough to be part of the friendly helicopter.

You Only Live Twice also tried to take away one of the most iconic things about Bond: his drink preference. When questioned if he wants his drink ‘stirred, not shaken’, Bond agrees that he likes it that way, and later refuses a vodka martini. What is this about? It’s not explained and seems as if the two years since the last film has caused them to forget his drink, or that Lewis Gilbert or Roald Dahl (yes, Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay) didn’t do their homework beforehand.

A fine film, if a little slow and sometimes confusing at parts. Bond seems to get from one place to another by design rather than by connections, and sometimes he goes after one particular person/company/location without a thorough reasoning given to us. But, You Only Live Twice, despite some horrible luck given to James Bond, some dodgy camera work and occasional moments of pretty poor acting, is still a satisfactory adventure with James Bond, with humorous gags and nice weaponry.


Plot: * *

Acting: * * *

Writing: * *

Presentation: * * *

Overall Rating: * * ½


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