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For Your Eyes Only

Fox // PG // October 21, 2008
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted October 31, 2008 | E-mail the Author
Many fans regard For Your Eyes Only (1981), the twelfth film in the official James Bond series, as star Roger Moore's finest outing. It was, as the now clichéd saying goes, the film that brought 007 back "down to earth" - after the high-tech, high-concept hijinks of Moonraker (1979), the big-scale semi-remake of You Only Live Twice with Star Wars type special effects, with more blatant product placement than perhaps any movie in history, and lame attempts at humor that had purists groaning in the aisles.

Moonraker was also expensive, so pricey in fact that the producers turned to French co-financing for its $34 million production. Though Moonraker made oodles of money, it was less successful than other Bonds relative to their cost and such ventures are always enormously risky. For Your Eyes Only then was as much an attempt to scale back production costs as anything else.

The resultant film is, overall, the best of the Moore Bonds, but it also has its share of problems: on the plus side is a more serious approach, but there was some resistance to that from Moore himself, and it shows. For Your Eyes Only comes the closet to the spirit of the original Ian Fleming novels since On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1969, but it kicks off with the worst pre-title sequence in the franchise's history, an embarrassing disappointment.

Century City, We Have a Problem

Technical Issues: The high-def debut of classic 007 has proved a frustrating experience for many consumers. While there's been much elation about the enormously impressive Lowry-enhanced transfers, especially Dr. No and From Russia with Love*, many are having trouble getting these and the other titles to even play on their machines at all. Statistics aren't available, but perhaps upwards of 50% of consumers have been impacted on at least some level.

For many but apparently not all, the problems can be fixed by doing a firmware update on one's Blu-ray player. Unfortunately, Fox has not exactly been helpful or, publicly at least, on top of this problem; to date they've made no official statement and are steering angry customers toward hardware manufacturers. The discs themselves come with an insert that reads, in part, "Although this Blu-ray disc has been manufactured to the highest quality standards, it is possible that it was manufactured after your Blu-ray disc player." This is a major disconnect with reality. Who out there doesn't buy / rent movies manufactured after their players? Is Fox unfamiliar with the term "New Release," or that they account for 90% of their sales? Gimme a break.

Anyway, to continue, the insert notes that, should you run into problems, "Your player may require an update. If an update is available, simply follow your manufacturer's guide...or contact the manufacturer's information center." In other words, legally we wash our hands of you. Even if there's no update. Even if we screw up. Go Fish. This is what is called disingenuous legalese.

Alas, even more than the other Bond titles, Fox's "highest quality standards" weren't high enough on For Your Eyes Only. Reportedly the disc is encoded with a corrupt Java file; for this reason, and because so many consumers are running into trouble getting this title to play at all - and the fact that Fox has yet to announce a recall - I can't recommend it, at least not until the problems are properly addressed.

That this kind of thing should happen on this scale with such prominent catalog titles is inexcusable, and exemplifies the finger-pointing between software and hardware manufacturers, a failure to assume rightful responsibility, that runs the risk in this economy of grinding the format's growth to a halt - and which is making collateral damage out of early adopters to the format. I discuss the issue further in an editorial courtesy DVD Savant located here.

For Your Eyes Only played fine in my Panasonic DMR-BR100, though between loading and all the FBI warnings and disclaimers it did take about four minutes to actually get to the movie. Getting back to the movie for the moment, and watching it for the first time since the reinvention of the series with current Bond Daniel Craig, I was struck by how For Your Eyes Only plays as a constant push-pull between the jokey, featherweight Bonds of Roger Moore, and an earnest attempt to revisit a more serious approach closer to the spirit of the Ian Fleming novels. One also notices the parallels between this and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Both have action set pieces involving skiing and bobsledding in similarly picturesque locations (Cortina d'Ampezzo in For Your Eyes Only) and both were directed by veteran editors making their directorial debuts. Like OHMSS, For Your Eyes Only originally was to have introduced a new actor as James Bond, and of course the film opens with a pre-title sequence that references elements of the 1969 film: the murder of Bond's wife and the neck injury of her assassin.

The appearance of Blofeld seems to have been as much about Bond producers Danjaq/EON Productions thumbing their noses at indie producer Kevin McClory, who for years owned the remake rights to Thunderball and had co-created the Blofeld character. Unnamed but plainly Blofeld here (gray Nehru jacket, bald head, white pussycat), the scene is played for laughs; when Bond gets the upper-hand, Blofeld's offer to buy 007 a delicatessen must surely rank as a the worst line in the series' history.

Fortunately, from the titles onward the film gets down to business and, except for a few painful one-liners from Moore (but way down from the usual number), an unfunny, very dated scene with "Q" (Desmond Llewellyn) and a 3-D imagery computer (with magnetic tape drive!), and a ludicrous coda satirizing Margaret Thatcher, For Your Eyes Only otherwise is bona fide Bond. The story lifts the premise from Fleming's same-named short story: Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet) seeks vengeance for the brutal murder of her parents - who in the film but not the story were working with the British Secret Service to salvage ATAC, a missile guidance system, from a spy ship destroyed under mysterious circumstances. Simultaneously, James Bond (Roger Moore) is ordered to retrieve the ATAC before the Soviets can get their hands on it

Despite some obvious concessions to the lighter Moore Bond-style, the screenplay by series regulars Richard Maibaum and Executive Producer Michael G. Wilson for For Your Eyes Only is quite good, adhering to format generally but tossing in numerous welcome surprises. Gadgets are kept to a minimum, and the general direction is established in a novel chase sequence closer in spirit to The Italian Job than The Spy Who Loved Me. After Bond's Lotus is destroyed early on, he and Melina must escape the bad guys in her dinky little Citroën 2CV.

Another facet to the film that really works well is that instead of the usual megalomaniacal villain, in For Your Eyes Only it's not clear who the villain even is. Early scenes suggest that it's going to be Milos Columbo (Chaim Topol, of Fiddler on the Roof fame), a Greek smuggler, but later he accuses his accuser, Aris Kristatos (Julian Glover), a wealthy Greek businessman/informant currently sponsoring Olympic hopeful Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson), a figure skater.

This aspect of the film is novel by series' standards and works very well, even if the casting pretty clearly tips off the viewer which way it'll go. Both are fine actors, with Topol coming off especially well. Bouquet is above-average among the Bond girls, her smoldering beauty and steely-eyed intensity a good match for the material. Especially good is Walter Gotell as M's Soviet counterpart, the lusty and amused General Gogol, one of the best characters to emerge from the Moore years.

Some dislike Lynn-Holly Johnson's squeaky-clean skater who has designs on Bond, though I like these scenes because at long last they acknowledge Moore's age (he was 53 but looks ten years older). Her gee-whiz wholesomeness - complete with a voice like Elmo the Muppet - and unabashed desire to get Bond in the sack prompts some amusing dialogue: "You get your clothes on," Bond insists, "and I'll buy you an ice cream."

This was the first James Bond film made after the death of series regular Bernard Lee, the original "M." Rather than cast a new actor, James Villiers (as Chief of Staff Bill Tanner), and Geoffrey Keen (as the Minister of Defence) each takes a turn sitting behind M's desk. (If Bette Davis saw the film she would have been surprised to see both Villiers and Jill Bennett in the film; she co-starred with them in The Nanny.) Cassandra Harris, the late wife of future Bond Pierce Brosnan, plays Columbo's mistress.

As for Roger Moore, he's one of those personalities who seem to regard acting as a lark, a means to earn a lot of money, travel, and the opportunity to work with people he enjoys - rather than be overly concerned about his own performance and growth as an actor. Once he became an international star playing Simon Templar on the British television series The Saint, most of his subsequent roles were little more than minor variations of that same persona. In both his next series, The Persuaders! (with Tony Curtis), and as James Bond, you can very nearly see that halo floating above Moore's head. (He has, rarely, stretched a bit: Moore was a delight in the 1980 thriller North Sea Hijack / ffolkes, playing an atypical role.)

In his debut, editor-director John Glen does a fine job throughout, his experience as a cutter serving him well, especially in a Hitchcockian bit of suspense where Bond dangles precariously from a mountaintop monastery. Conversely, Bill Conti's score is very, very early-'80s and dates the film badly, especially compared to John Barry's largely timeless Bond scores.

Video & Audio

For Your Eyes Only was photographed in Panavision with original theatrical prints by Technicolor, and released in Dolby Stereo. Lowry is credited with the film's restoration, though viewers shouldn't expect dramatic improvements on the scale of Dr. No and From Russia with Love. The 1080p transfer definitely is a step up from the 16:9 SD DVD, but not markedly better than other high-def transfers of movies from its era. The benefits of high-definition are most apparent here in terms of scenery: the Italian Alps, the Greek locations, and especially the extensive underwater photography, where what was slightly murky in SD DVD here is crystal sharp and the color vibrant. (On the down side, studio footage is obviously so; painted backdrops and exteriors faked on the soundstage are easy to spot.)

Both the DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio and original Dolby Surround mixes have aggressive directionality with the sound effects while, regrettably, centering almost all the dialogue. But technically it's a dramatic leap up from the early monophonic Bonds with Sean Connery. A 5.1 Dolby Surround French track, a mono Spanish track, and subtitles in English and Spanish are included.

A big turn off is the "smart menu technology," which is quite inferior to those created back in 1999 for the DVD release.** The big problem is that they are hopelessly confusing, divided as it is with such cryptic headings as "Ministry of Propaganda," "Mission Dossier," and "Declassified: MI6 Vault." Even if you know what you're looking for, this menu isn't going to help you find it.

Extra Features

The supplements all appear to be carry-overs that originated either in the 1999 "Special Edition" or 2006 "Ultimate Edition" DVDs. However, some of these extras have been remastered in part or whole in high-definition:

Audio Commentary with Director John Glen and Members of the Cast (from the 1999 release)
Audio Commentary with Co-screenwriter Michael G. Wilson and Members of the Crew (from the 1999 release)
Audio Commentary with Sir Roger Moore (from the 2007 release)
Deleted Scenes and Expanded Angles (from the 2007 release, in high-definition)
"Bond in Greece" featurette (from the 2007 release)
"Bond in Cortina" featurette (from the 2007 release)
"Neptune's Journey" featurette (from the 2007 release)
"Inside For Your Eyes Only featurette (from the 1999 release in high-definition)
Animated Storyboard Sequences (from the 1999 release)
Image Database (from the 1999 release)
Sheena Easton Music Video (from the 1999 release)
Theatrical Trailers (in high-definition), TV, and Radio Spots (from the 1999 release)

The only other extra is a coupon (via an Internet code) for the latest Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, due out in a few weeks.

Parting Thoughts

Naturally, die-hard Bond fans will likely want all of the films on Blu-ray, even - gulp! - A View to a Kill, but while the big leap visually to high-def, pushed to new heights by the Lowry process, may bring a large number of first-time consumers to the format, the problems early adopters are discussing all over the Internet are as likely to dissuade others.

I was able to play the feature and the extras, but then again I had recently updated my firmware because another Fox title, The Omen Collection wouldn't play without it. It basically comes down to rolling the dice; this will either play on your player or it won't. The extras are all repeats, leaving the high-def image and sound as the only real selling point. And while it does look great in high-def, what does that matter if it doesn't play on your machine, all because you were foolish enough to buy a Blu-ray disc manufactured after your player was made, or that it can't compensate for a fundamental Java encoding error? Until all this is fixed to the satisfaction of the Blu-ray buying public at large, regrettably, I can only suggest that you Skip It.

James Bond will Return in Octopussy

* I've seen both films probably 20 times over the years, in every home video format (including RCA SelectaVision!) and in 35mm on big movie screens, the latter at least five times apiece. The Blu-ray editions are by far the best these films have ever looked.

** It may also be at the root of the player incompatibility issues. Maybe not so much "Smart menu technology" as "Ow! That smarts!"

  Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's latest book, The Toho Studios Story, is on sale now.

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