Friday, 16 May 2014

COMPETING FILM SHOWDOWN - Octopussy vs Never Say Never Again

Looking at film and television. Sometimes two very similar films come out close together, let's see which one is better...
Bond films.  Rival Bond Films.

In June 1983, EON and United Artists/MGM (the usual makers of Bond films) release that year's "official" Bond film staring Roger Moore:  Octopussy.  Come December, a second "Unofficial" Bond film Never Say Never Again was released featuring Sean Connery's return to the role of James Bond after over a decade.

In 1961 plans were made for a series of Bond films, but rather than adapting one of Bond creator Ian Fleming's existing novels, Fleming got together with Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham to work on an original screenplay called Latitude 78 West.  The play fell through and an adaptation of Fleming's Dr No became the first Bond film instead.  Meanwhile Fleming used the ideas from Latitude 78 West (including SPECTRE and Blofeld) and wrote the novel Thunderball.  Litigation occurred and Thunderball is now credited to the three men, EON stopped using Blofeld (and killed off an unnamed Blofeld-like character in the opening scenes of You Only Live Twice) and McClory won the rights to remake Thunderball, which he attempted to do a number of times, succeeding only once with Never Say Never Again.

It seems Roger Moore was ready to leave the franchise but EON, fearing losing the advantage of being an ongoing series of films by putting a new Bond up against the competing film upped his pay for Octopussy (he ended up returning for A View to a Kill as well).  Barbara Carrera apparently turned down a role in Octpussy for Never Say Never Again because she wanted to work with Sean Connery
The success of the EON films were built on a number of trademarks not in the novels, the gun barrel opening, iconic theme music, the style of the opening credits, the relationships between some of the characters.  These things the makers of Never Say Never Again had to be careful not to copy for fear of litigation.  Never Say Never Again also limited to being based on the original unused Latitude 78 West screenplay (as a 1970s attempt had).

Round 1
"Never Again." ~ Bond
Never?" ~ Domino, Never Say Never Again.
From a Bond short story, named after one of the film's villains.  Usually mocked as a vagina joke (a joke which even Bond raises an eyebrow at at one point).  The name of another short story from the same collection "Property of a Lady" appears a number of times.

Never Say Never Again
Supposedly based on a something Connery's wife said to him (in reference to saying he'd never play Bond again.)  Has the poetry of some of the better Bond titles.


Round 2
"Really, 007.  Look, l haven't time for these adolescent antics." ~ Q, Octopussy.

In the cold open, Bond destroys a secret weapon in Cuba for reasons seemingly unrelated to the rest of the plot.  He then annoys the villains until they decide to seduce, capture, or kill him and overhears enough information to get him to the next plot point.  Several plot holes, like the villains stealing Russian treasures and replacing them with fakes only to very publicly sell them at Sotherby's and why the villain would send a woman to seduce Bond and steal back a FabergĂ© egg only to kidnap him seconds later.  It's truly just excuses for actions scenes and sex scene  The villain's true plan is pretty good idea, the detonation of a nuclear bomb on a US base in Europe, which would (in theory) lead to the disarmament of Europe.  The plot ends up with a villain destroying a real FabergĂ© egg thinking it is the fake, but the film makes nothing of that fact suggesting the writers lots track. The long chase at the end is at least justified more than many films as Bond does try to ring for help but is stopped at every turn.
The film isn't based on any of Fleming stories, but Octopussy's origin is based on the story of the same name and the Sotherby's sections is loosely based on parts of "Property of a Lady."

Never Say Never Again
The cold open isn't as impressive, but then it isn't as silly either and it actually ties into the film.  Much like the "real" Bond films, Bond spends a lot of time annoying villains until they capture him and tell him their plans and is an excuse to link a bunch of sex, fight and chase scenes.  The progression from scene to scene seems less random and haphazard than that in Octopussy, but not much.  The villain's plan to hide and detonate a nuke in Washington and undersea oil fields is simpler and not as intriguing as the Octopussy premise.
The film is a remake of Thunderball, which it was legally obliged to be.


Round 3
"Now that you're on this, I hope we're going to have some gratuitous sex and violence." ~ Q, Never Say Never Again.

Standard 80s Bond action, which is pretty standard early 80s action.  Nothing too remarkable, except Bond and Gobinda outside of the plane which feels unbelievable.  Many of the action scenes have silliness deliberately added which makes them less enjoyable.

Never Say Never Again
Mostly standard action for a lesser 80s action film.  Nothing remarkable, all feel a little staged.


Round 4
"Not perfected yet." ~ James Bond, Never Say Never Again.

The practical stunts are fine, but some of the blue screen/back projection is horrendous.

Never Say Never Again
Once again the practical stunts are mostly fine, missile flights are pretty poor.


Round 5
"That's the difference between a 00 and a corpse." ~ M, Never Say Never Again.

Since 1983, both Sean Connery and Kim Basinger have won an academy award, while Klaus Maria Brandauer has been nominated once and Max Von Sydow twice, so clearly the acting in Never Say Never Again must be better...

  • Roger Moore's Bond was the same tired bad pun making Bond from the rest of his films.  Moore, as stated above was already thinking of leaving the series and in his 50s was already looking too old for the role, comments on Moneypenny's age only highlighted. -
  • Lois Maxwell's Moneypenny banter was great as usual, while her possible replacement Penelope Smallbone is bland and fawning. +
  • Desmond Llewelyn's Q is at his reserved but grouchy best. +
  • Robert Brown's M is restrained but sure. +
  • Maud Adam's Octopussy is there, you can at least say that about her.
  • Louis Jourdan's Khan is popular but weak and uninspiring.
  • Steven Berkoff's Orlov always seems to be about to cross the line into parody but never does. +
  • Vijay Amritraj's Vijay is a competent sidekick, shamefully wasted. +
  • Kabir Bedi's Gobinda is the usual touch silent henchman, but with nothing outstanding about him.
  • Walter Gotell's Gogol is as always a powerhouse performance and once again a reasonable Soviet voice. +

Never Say Never Again
  • Sean Connery's Bond was as suave as ever.  His age was a factor in the film, with his health being mentioned even though he was two years younger than Moore.  However, this was a plot point from Thunderball so too much can't be read into it. +
  • Pam Salem's Moneypenny is bland and fawning. -
  • Alec McCowen's Q or "Algy" swings between grouchy and fawning. 
  • Edward Fox's M is deliberately undermined by the script. -
  • Kim Bassenger's Domino is a nothing character. -
  • Barbara Carrera as Fatima Blush chews the scenery. -
  • Klaus Maria Brandauer's Largo makes me appreciate Louis Jourdan's Khan more. -
  • Max von Sydow's Blofeld is criminally underused. +
  • Rowan Atkinson's Small-Fawcett is as forced and unfunny as his name. -
  • Bernie Casey's Felix Leiter is great, but like most Leiters underused. +

Round 6
"I just remembered: it's against service policy for agents to give out endorsements." ~ James Bond, Never Say Never Again.
Bond uses a watch with a built in tracker and a pen that melts metal.  He also uses a mini-jet and a mini-sub that looks like a crocodile.  The Q-scene also has quite a bit of product placement.  
Khan uses loaded dice.

Never Say Never Again
Bond uses a watch with a built in laser and a pen that blows things up.  Bond uses an over the top motorbike, with a rocket for one action scene and he and Leiter use missile-jetpack devices
Largo has a deadly computer game of his own devising.


Round 7
"Bond.  James Bond." ~ James Bond, (Both films)

How do they compare, not just as a film but as a Bond film?

This is a real killer for Never Say Never Again, although they had the rights to make a Bond film, they, as noted above, didn't have the rights to the things that made the EON films popular.  It is this more than anything else that hurts Never Say Never Again with most viewers.  Never Say Never Again was, however, able to use Blofeld when the EON films hadn't been able for quite some time.


Round 8
"As the stakes increase, so does the level of pain" ~ Largo, Never Say Never Again.

  • Many cringeworthy jokes, including Bond saying "fill 'er up" at a gas station about his mini-jet, making Tarzan noises as he swings from tree to tree, a sidekick who uses tennis rackets to fight off attackers during a car chase and a crocodile submarine.
  • Casual racism, but not horrifying.
  • Sexism, but it's Bond you have to expect that.
  • Bechdel test - Miss Moneypenny & Penelope Smallbone talk very briefly only about Bond.  Octopussy gives orders to Gwendoline and Midge, but they don't answer her and most are about Bond anyway.  FAIL.

Never Say Never Again
  • Animal Cruelty - there's a stunt with a horse that is sometimes edited out.
  • Sexism, but it's Bond you have to expect that.
  • Bechdel test - Domino talks to an unnamed masseuse, but mainly about Bond.  FAIL.


Round 9
"This is absolute madness.  We know where it will end."

Sometimes there's a moral reason for preferring a film.  As far as these two films go, though, there is good and bad on both sides.
  • Fleming initial mistake of claiming other's ideas as his own.
  • McClory's protracted litigation against Fleming that may have lead to his death.
  • Warner Brothers using the film as an attempts to usurp the success of MGM's franchise.
  • Constant legal posturing from both sides.
I wouldn't want to pick one side as better or worse here, so:


Round 10
"Keep you in curry for a few weeks, won't it?" ~ James Bond, Octopussy.

With Sean Connery's James Bond still a fond memory for the movie public and Roger Moore his sixth Bond film in 10 years, the smart money was on Never Say Never Again being the big winner, and the opening weekends showed that there was some accuracy suggestion that the audience wanted to see Connery in the role again.

US Opening Weekend (Box Office Mojo):

However, reaction to the film itself gave the film bad word of mouth and Octopussy ended up the Box Office winner overall.

US Box Office (Box Office Mojo):
  • Octopussy:  $67,893,619
  • Never Say Never Again:  $55,432,841
Worldwide Box Office (IMDb):
Not only did Octopussy make a lot more money according to estimates it cost a lot less to make.  Even so, Warner Brothers can't have been too upset with the money they made back from their investment.

Budget (IMDb):
  • Octopussy:  $27,500,000 (681.8% made)
  • Never Say Never Again:  $36,000,000 (444.4% made)


Round 11 
"I make you no secret that I hold your methods in much less regard than did my illustrious predecessor did." ~ M, Never Say Never Again.

IMDb user rating:
Rotten Tomatoes - Tomatometer
Rotten Tomatoes - Audience (Want to See It)
  • Never Say Never Again:  72%.
  • Octopussy:  71%

Round 12
"Yes, you're right.  I was going to put you in my memoirs as number one." ~ James Bond, Never Say Never Again.

Culture Overdose - A Cinematic Slap Fight:  Octopussy.
Mass Moviecide - Episode 130Octopussy.


Round 13
"Luck?  Then I shall uses player's privilege and use your lucky dice."

Do the poll for which 1983 Bond Film you prefer.

WINNER: To Be Determined.

OCTOPUSSY: 5.5 (4 wins, 3 ties)
NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN: 6.5 (5 wins, 3 ties)

Surprisingly, the much loathed Never Say Never Again comes out slightly ahead.  The popular opinion seems to be that Octopussy is the superior film, so I'm expecting an Octopussy to tie due to the poll results, but who knows? Although both have times when they are boring or annoying, Never Say Never Again spends more time being boring and Octopussy more time being annoying.  Although, as I say, the popular opinion is that Never Say Never Again is the worse of the two films (I've even seen one person call it the worst film ever, but that's going way too far) I think that Never Say Never Again more dull than bad.  Octopussy, while probably a better film has many more "so-bad-it's-good" moments.  So, if I had to watch just one I don't think I could choose.  However, if I was watching it with a group of people into throwing popcorn and retorts at the screen then Octopussy would be the better bet.  And maybe Never Say Never Again the following week.

Also remember to vote in the new Competing Films Showdown poll...

~ DUG.

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