196-200: Dr.No, From Russia, Goldfinger, Thunderball, Live Twice

James Bond has never been my so-called thing, but I remember really liking some of these movies as a kid. So with the release of Skyfall, which I did not very much like, I decided to watch all the James Bond movies in chronological order, because also there still are some blank spots in the world’s most favorite secret agent. By now I have watched the first five installments. Here’s in a nutshell what I thought about them.

196: Dr. No

dr-noI had never really finished watching Dr. No. I just didn’t find it all that interesting. And that sentiment didn’t exactly change when I watched it this time. I found it all to be incredibly silly with James Bond being more misogynist than I remembered from earlier viewings. The whole concept of Dr. No sitting on this “cursed” island waiting to exact his punishment on the American space program, all the while being protected by an armored tank disguised as a fire spewing dragon was a little bit too much for me. I have never read any of the Fleming books and I expect them to be just as silly.

197: From Russia with Love

from-russia-with-loveThis is where the real spy series takes off in my opinion. As a direct sequel to Dr. No it handles with the aftermath of everything that transpired in that far off island in the Caribbean. This time the Russians are brought into the mix with some honest to God spying going on. Plus we get trained assassins, great fights and nice gadgets. And we see Bond’s womanizing ways being used against him for the first time. I found From Russia with Love to be a much more mature movie than Dr. No with less silliness and more spy fun.

198: Goldfinger

goldfingerWith Goldfinger the series departs the SPECTRE storyline for a while (because Thunderball was still mired in legal troubles) to pursue Auric Goldfinger and his outlandish henchman Oddjob. Bond has to prevent Goldfinger from robbing Fort Knox in a strange but exhilarating raid on the highly defended facility in Kentucky. There is a lot about Goldfinger that is just as implausible as anything seen in Dr. No, but it bothered me a lot less here. For example, why would Goldfinger keep his most annoying adversary so close while planning the largest robbery in history? Well, probably to be able to utter the iconic line “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!” I had not seen Goldfinger before (except for some of the iconic imagery) and I must say I enjoyed it quite a bit.

199: Thunderball

thunderballWith the success of the first installments it is clear that with Thunderball the production got a little bit out of hand. It starts with Bond’s use of a jetpack to escape a castle to drive off in his trusted Aston Martin. Than a surgically altered pilot hijacks a British airplane with two nuclear bombs on board, crashes it into the ocean where divers remove the bombs and camouflage the airplane. After a run-in with the beautiful Domino Bond is captured and he escapes again. He finds the downed airplane and he discovers a plan to destroys Miami Beach. A huge underwater battle ensues, Bond kills the bad guy and escapes with the girl. Sounds pretty conventional for a Bond movie, right? Yes, if only it didn’t take to looooooooong to get where it is going. I believe the director Terence Young had something to prove after not having directed Goldfinger. The result is a movie that is surely about thirty minutes too long. Also Sean Connery is noticeably getting tired of playing this popular character, which is understandable because he had been churning one of these movie out every year at this point. I found Thunderball anything but a pleasure to watch.

200: You Only Live Twice

you-only-live-twiceWhen I was about ten years old I remember going to a friend’s birthday party where they had rented You Only Live Twice for us to watch. I was hooked from the first frame to the last frame. Rewatching this fifth installment I can certainly see why my ten-year-old self would fall in love with this movie. Space battles, vicious ninja, a volcano lair, a faked death, huge rockets and Little Nellie. What’s not to love? Well, as an adult I didn’t exactly take to You Only Live Twice as I once did. The production is still lavish and inviting, but the story is so full of holes and (even by Bond’s standards) stupidity that it sucked the fun out of it for me. Add to that the ridiculous transformation Bond goes through to become “Japanese” and I was done with You Only Live Twice. I’m sure my kid will live it eventually.


141-143: Indiana Jones Trilogy

Recently I had the good fortune to watch the Indiana Jones Trilogy on the big screen. AMC was hosting a nationwide event in honor of the blu-ray release of the Indiana Jones movies. This was an opportunity I could not pass up. I have seen each of these movies numerous times on vhs and dvd, but I had never seen Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom on the big screen. The Last Crusade I did, however, see in the theater when it came out, but only once. Now, with updated visual and sound quality I must admit that these movies have stood the test of time perfectly.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

I absolutely adore Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is one of those movies that I can pop into my player and just having running in the background while seeing the images in my head. I am just about as familiar with the visuals of the Indiana Jones movies as I am with the visuals of Star Wars. Spielberg made a movie that is unrelenting in its pace and a constant rollercoaster of fun. Raiders was based on the serial films that were the norm around the second world war. Films that George Lucas and Spielberg obviously hold very dear. Logic wasn’t always paramount in these films as long as the action and suspense were good all other bets were off. The same goes for Raiders. There are numerous moments that I can point at that would drag this movie down into a quagmire of nitpicking, but that is not what this movie is about. Raiders just wants you to have a good time at the movies and if you get something deeper from it than that is nice for you, but certainly not the intention. Raiders is made with such competence and confidence that any detractors just don’t matter much anymore. This is a timeless classic.

Temple of Doom

I have always liked Temple of Doom more than most people. My first introduction with the movie was actually in a video store when I saw the iconic poster of Indiana Jones standing in that backlit doorway with the machete in his hand. I was immediately intrigued. By that time I had not seen Raiders of the Lost Ark yet. Temple of Doom was my introduction into the world of Indiana Jones and I loved every minute of it. The fun opening sequence, the disturbing dinner scene, the bug-filled corridor, the horrifying sacrificial ceremony (trying to find an uncensored copy back then was pretty hard), and ultimately the spectacular mining cart race to top things off. This movie was filled to the brim with breathtaking sequences that I couldn’t get enough of. I wore out my pirated VHS copy several times (this was before there was a retail version).

With this screening of Temple of Doom I started to read up on the history of this installment and I was amazed at how much sense that made. Temple of Doom is much more dark than its two counterparts because both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were going through some difficult patches in their lives when it came to their women. They used Temple of Doom to vent some of their frustrations. This explains the unrelenting misogynistic tone of the movie. In contrast to Marion Ravenwood in Raiders, who was a strong female character, Kate Capshaw’s Willie Scott is nothing but a dumb whining mess who is useful for nothing more than humiliation and well… human sacrifice. Her constant screaming and whining also makes Willie the most annoying character.

What struck me as remarkable was the state of the visual effects in Temple of Doom and then mainly the compositing of the matte paintings that were used to enhance real environments. Before this screening I had only seen Temple of Doom on the small screen and on that format this isn’t as noticeable (I checked my dvd copy, but the quality wasn’t good enough to prove my point). Now, with a pristine copy blown up on a huge screen, the mistakes were clear to see. Just about every matte painting shot shifted and showed clearly the line between real and painting. It was jarring to witness. It shows the haste with which Temple of Doom was made at Industrial Light and Magic. They were up to their necks in other projects and I believe Temple of Doom suffered for it. But I must say that Temple of Doom was a lot of fun to watch on the big screen.

The Last Crusade

The Last Crusade is certainly the most heartfelt of the trilogy. The inclusion of Sean Connery as Henry Jones was a stroke of genius. He has the same swashbuckling charm as Indiana and he can handle himself, in his own manner, in tough situations. Combine that with the return of the über-evil Nazis, the actual Holy Grail, fantastic chase sequences and you have a brilliant combination of action, adventure and drama. The only thing that didn’t hold up so well for me was the comedy. This is often a bit on the nose and cheap. I understand that this is part of the genre, but it just didn’t strike me as funny as I used to experience it. The comedy seemed to be must better handled in Raiders than in The Last Crusade. It felt like Spielberg and Lucas weren’t as sure about what they had here as they did with Raiders, so they added more comedy of a lower common denominator.

With that said, the rest of The Last Crusade is fantastic. The relationship between Indiana and his dad is great and feels like a real father-son relationship. They bicker constantly, but in the end they come through for each other in a very heartwarming way. Elsa, played by Allison Doody, may not be the most dynamic of the three Indiana-ladies, but at least she is a step up from that whiny brat Willie. The villains are great as well. On the one hand there is Julian Glover as Donovan, the conniving self-centered rich man, who wants nothing more than eternal life. He is fantastic and deliciously evil. The other bad guy is everything one wants in an evil Nazi in the form of General Vogel, played by Michael Byrne, complete with whip.

But, as in Temple of Doom, I must add that I found the visual effects to not hold up at all on the big screen. The dogfight sequence looked terrible, as did several other composited shots throughout the movie. The best sequences were still the practical ones, like the train chase and the tank battle. Great stuff. When looking at the state of visual effects in these last two Indiana Jones movies, I must say that I am surprised that the Star Wars have held up so well over the years. That is something we have to thanks George Lucas for, because in addition to tinkering with the visual effects, he also went back to fix a lot of errors in the visual effects department. If only they would have done this with the Indy movies. But, hey, who knows with these guys.

Ultimately, it is really hard to pick a favorite among these three masterful action adventures. Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s sheer kinetic force, Temple of Doom‘s unrelenting darkness and The Last Crusade‘s character development make these movies each their own, while simultaneously very much belonging to the same universe. If I had to choose I would go with Raiders, but I’ll watch any of the other two any time of the day. All in all I had a great time watching these movies on the big screen and experiencing it with so many other enthusiastic fans of the trilogy.

For those of you wondering where Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is in all this, I did not stay for that sorry excuse for an Indiana Jones movie. I was not going let the great experience of watching the trilogy be soiled by that flick. I was however surprised to see how many people did stay to watch that fourth movie. I’ve seen it once and it was bad, really bad. For me there are only three Indiana Jones movies and nothing is going to change that, maybe the next installment can convince me, but until then there is only the trilogy.

> IMDb – Raiders of the Lost Ark
> IMDb – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
> IMDb – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade