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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.40:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Surround
  Subtitles
    English, Hebrew, Greek, Polish, Hungarian, Portuguese, English - Hearing Impaired, Turkish, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish
  Extras
  • 3 Teaser trailer
  • 1 Theatrical trailer
  • 1 Audio commentary - John Glen (Director)
  • Animated menus - Slick!
  • 1 Music video - "All Time High" - Rita Coolidge
  • Booklet
  • Digitally remastered
  • 2 Storyboards - Animated excerpts
  • 2 Documentaries - "Inside Octopussy", "Designing Bond: Peter Lamont"

Octopussy

MGM/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 125 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
Contract

While fans of certain other movie series still languish in VHS misery years after the arrival of DVD, the many devotees of James Bond have been treated like royalty by MGM, the comprehensive Special Edition discs of the films (though by no means flawless) giving fans the chance to own pristine widescreen copies of the Bond collection AND to learn something about the genesis of each film thanks to some very high quality bonus material.

1983’s Octopussy came at a time of great turmoil for producer Albert Broccoli and his Bond franchise. After the disastrous Moonraker, second unit director John Glen was hired to direct For Your Eyes Only, a Bond episode that returned to the relative seriousness and minimalism of the earlier films with Sean Connery. But For Your Eyes Only, while well received, didn’t quite offer the kind of cinematic fireworks that were becoming the norm for blockbusters at the time - remember, this was the era of the Star Wars trilogy, of Raiders Of The Lost Ark and its sequel - the era of the birth of modern visual effects as well as a newly rediscovered appreciation for the adventure classics of old. Adding to the tension was the fact that Sean Connery had agreed to return for another Bond film for a rival studio (Never Say Never Again, also released in 1983). With the added competition keeping everyone on their toes, Octopussy was intended to be an action film from start to finish - and director Glen took to the challenge with enthusiasm.

The resulting film is one of the finest of the Bond genre - and arguably the best of the Roger Moore episodes. The plot is as convoluted as they come, involving evil renegade Russians (the cold war was still active at the time), a floating palace filled with beautiful women (or “lovelies”, as Bond calls them - a charming reminder of the days when “PC” meant cutting-edge technology instead of careful-where-you-tread-mister-scriptwriter), jewellery smugglers, atomic bombs, murdered clowns (“yay!” cheer the 99% of viewers that know clowns are pure evil), bad accents, evil Indian assassins, pre-Matrix-chop-socky killer vixens (err, sorry, we meant “lovelies”) in bikinis, killer tigers, deadly elephants, a small plane with Roger in it and a slightly bigger plane with Roger on it. It’s the most convoluted, ridiculous, unbelievable plot you’ll ever see. It’s acted with all the subtlety of a monk breaking wind at dinnertime. And it’s the best fun you’ll have without turning your brain on.

Now before continuing, we must introduce you to two words here that will become very important throughout your viewing of this film. In order of importance, they are:

F’nar! - An expression indicating understanding of double, triple or quadruple entendre. This word should be used often, but is compulsory for the bedroom scene where Bond asks a naked Magda about her groin-located tattoo. “Oh,” she replies, “that’s my little octopussy.” All together now... F’NAR!!!!

Ooo-Errr! - Should be said with upward melodic inflection, preferably with a fake British accent. This one’s used in situations like the one where Bond mans Q’s prototype TV camera and aims it at a buxom assistant’s breasts, which are instantly transmitted to his wristwatch television. “Very handy,” quips Bond. “Ooo-Errr!” says the audience.

The choice of the title Octopussy did, of course, cause great controversy at the time, with worries only being soothed when someone pointed out that Ian Fleming called one of his Bond stories by the same name. No one, of course, seemed to mind a spot of octuple-entendre from Mr Fleming, and the title survived; ironically, though, the title character is not the main protagonist in this story, but rather an enigmatic woman with a very silly name and a very diverse line of business (shipping, hotels... carnivals, circuses... oh, and, err, smuggling).

Moore is surprisingly tolerable in this instalment, putting a bit of actual meat into the PavlovaBond that he’d been busily creating in Moonraker and its ilk. Of the other cast, Maud Adams is efficient and suitably sultry as Octopussy, Kristina Wayborn suitably athletic as the tattooed Magda, Steven Berkoff sensationally over-the-top as Russian General Orlov, and Louis Jourdan ridiculous - but wonderfully ridiculous in a Ricardo Montalban way - as the evil Kamal. The little-reported Bond Kiss O’ Death once again affected the actresses here, with Maud Adams spending years after this film confined to B-grade schlock and Wayborn (real name Britt-Inger Johnsson) heading straight for General Hospital; Moore, meanwhile, would retire his Bond after one more film.

The visuals here are stunning at times - director Glen has a real flair both for action and for widescreen composition, and with people on the team like production designer Peter Lamont (later to work on Aliens and then go on to win an Oscar for his work on Titanic) and effects man John Richardson (also on the Aliens team and, more recently, effects supervisor for Starship Troopers) you know that quality is virtually a given.

All in all, it’s a hugely entertaining ride, one that looks and sounds even better today on DVD than it did in the cinema at the time. And surprisingly, aside from the heavy use of cheesy saxophone in Rita Coolidge’s opening song, very little of this 1983 production has dated heavily - even if the aforementioned karate girls do happen to look suspiciously like the nine muses from Xanadu. The key word here is ACTION, and there’s plenty of it from entertaining start to eye-popping finish.

  Video
Contract

The source material for this transfer is of exceptionally high quality, especially given the fact that the film is now 18 years old. While there’s the occasional blemish visible on screen, this is confined to brief flecks of dust or minor scratches on the negative, and unless you’re watching for them, you won’t notice a single problem. Colours are rich and beautifully transferred to digital tape; it's a film transfer on which someone’s obviously spent a great deal of time and trouble. It's presented at an aspect ratio of 2.45:1, an unusually wide ratio for a Panavision film.

The only visual problems for the DVD viewer arise from the MPEG compression, a seemingly constant problem on MGM discs. While overall the film looks perfectly fine, there are scenes where the encoding bitrate obviously needed to be cranked up a bit; these are almost always scenes with lots of fine detail - long shots, panoramas and so on, where backgrounds start to disintegrate and move in a most distracting way. One scene involving a palace festooned with bud lights becomes a DVD scene festooned with shimmer, aliasing and picture instability, all the hallmarks of an MPEG encoder not being given enough room to store the data (or encoding too fast for the material). But overall, the image here is very satisfying - which only makes one wish that MGM had made use of the spare space on this dual-layered disc, around two gigabytes of it. The generous extras here can’t be used as an excuse for a lack of space for the main feature.

One other minor (and rather trainspotter-like) quibble - the MGM/UA trailer has been removed from the start of this film for the DVD release, replaced with plain white text saying “UNITED ARTISTS PRESENTS”. You may call this reviewer any names you wish, but it would have been much nicer historically to have the original opening logo included, regardless of the fact that MGM/UA as a named company is no more.

  Audio
Contract

There’s one word for this 1983-vintage audio track: STUNNING. Presented in the matrixed Dolby Surround of the film’s release prints, the audio here has obviously been remastered with loving care, and sounds terrific not just for a film of this vintage, but for ANY film, however recent. Dialogue is always crisp and clear, effects are vibrant and very, very directional, and John Barry’s beautiful score (one of the esteemed composer’s finest Bond efforts) is warm, rich and crystalline, sounding every bit as good as it must have done off the master tapes during recording. There’s absolutely nothing to complain about here in terms of audio, and the sound alone will convince most first-time viewers of this film that they’re watching something very contemporary, instead of an historic artefact.

  Extras
Contract

As with most of the “Special Edition” Bond DVDs, the extra material here is of extremely high quality. First on the list are the newly-created documentaries Inside Octopussy and Designing Bond - Peter Lamont. The former is a very informative, warts-and-all look at the production of Octopussy, its 33 minute running time seeming too short for the wealth of information provided. It includes interviews with some of the principals, and even some rare footage - including the screen test of US actor James Brolin for the role of Bond (the producers expected Moore to turn this one down) and the near-fatal accident that befell StuntBond during the train sequence. There are even a few bloopers near the end; how nice it would have been to see even more outtake footage, one can’t help thinking. Of equally high quality is the Designing Bond featurette, this one a modest 21 minutes long and cataloguing the career of long time Bond collaborator Peter Lamont. It is not Octopussy-specific, and indeed may have been more at home on the For Your Eyes Only DVD, as that was Lamont’s first Bond film as Production Designer. Still, a rewarding effort. Both of these mini-documentaries are presented full-frame with near-pristine video quality.

Then there’s the “audio commentary” with director John Glen - and I put the phrase in inverted commas because it’s perfectly apparent from the start that Glen did not record this track while watching the film. It appears to have been assembled from extensive interviews, probably the same sessions used for the various DVD documentaries. And believe it or not, that doesn’t matter - Glen is a keen storyteller, and is obviously relishing the chance to offer anecdotes from his very clear memories of making the film. There’s lots of trivia to be found here, most of it fascinating. The anecdotes have been matched to the on-screen action, though sometimes the stories go on a bit long for the scene in question - and there are fairly lengthy silences at times.

Making up the rest of the extras are four trailers (one final release trailer in good condition, and three teasers in varying shape, the first two near-identical), animated storyboard excerpts and a music video for Rita Coolidge’s theme song All Time High (the only Bond theme that doesn’t mention the movie’s title, trivia fans!). The video clip is the weakest of the extras here, mainly because it uses a very deteriorated master - the video quality is dreadful, and the audio is in mono and plagued with tape hiss. It would have been trivial to dub CD-quality audio atop this - and the song’s readily available on CD. Still, it’s worth the pain just to see Rita’s big, big hair and to contemplate how many bottles of Vaseline were smeared on the lens during the shoot. The song, by the way, sounds very dated production-wise, but does still have that magical John Barry touch. The next two Bond themes after this one - by Duran Duran and A-Ha - would make up for it all by being crackingly good.

A brief but informative trivia booklet is also included in the disc package. Also well worth mentioning are the disc’s animated menus, which are exceptionally nicely done and very, very slick.

  Overall  
Contract

It’s Bond. If you like Bond, you’ll almost certainly love Octopussy. But I suspect that those unfamiliar with the Bond oeuvre will get just as much out of this instalment - there’s a lot of fun to be had here. MGM’s DVD is well, well worth the price of admission, even given the occasional video problems that mar an otherwise spectacular film transfer. Don’t think for a second that the age of this film is going to mean amateur hour in comparison to today’s action movies - the Bond team have always done their action for real, and some of the sequences here, with their back-projection, primitive miniatures and mechanical chicanery, look better than anything that’s coming out of today’s SGI-powered Hollywood. But then, those who know Bond don’t need to be told twice. Nobody does it better.


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      And I quote...
    "The key word here is ACTION, and there’s plenty of it from entertaining start to eye-popping finish... MGM’s DVD is well, well worth the price of admission."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Rom:
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    • MPEG Card:
          Creative Encore DXR2
    • TV:
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    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-AV1020
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Surrounds:
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    • Audio Cables:
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    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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