The past is another country - they do things differently there. I was reminded of this the other day whilst watching Octopussy
for about the 300th time. It wasn't just the fact that the film was made at a time when the old Soviet Union was considered to be a super-sophisticated world power, waiting to deploy its massive and efficient armed forces against NATO, which dated it, but also the fact that Roger Moore spent an inordinate amount of time toward the film's climax searching for a public phone on which to contact London. "Why don't you just use your bloody mobile!" I found myself screaming. But, of course, this was 1983, and only the world's four wealthiest men had mobile phones. The depiction of the Kremlin's main operation room was mildly hilarious, with its rotating seating and giant electronic maps. The reality would probably have been a dank basement dripping with water, with the entire Politburo huddled around a one-bar electric fire. If they were lucky they might have a paper map. Mildewed at the edges. On first sight, the portrayal of the British Secret Intelligence Service seems equally bizarre - a technologically advanced organisation with apparently vast funding and super-efficient operatives. However, on closer examination, Octopussy
is actually giving us a radically revisionist view of the Service.
They certainly seem pretty short staffed - Smithers, who is first seen driving a London cab sent by Bond to follow Khan, later turns up again as one of Q's assistants. Come to think of it, perhaps he wasn't
on duty when he was driving that cab. Maybe he was moonlighting and being in the right place to follow Khan was purely coincidental - he was taking a fare to the airport, anyway. Not only that, but Q himself takes a turn standing watch for 007 in India. For God's sake - how thin on the ground do you have to be before you start using your chief technical expert - who must be one Hell of a security risk with all the knowledge he has - in the field? Surely you'd keep him locked up in your London HQ? Actually, while we're on the subject of Q - just why does he seem to turn up, complete with a fully equipped lab, wherever Bond is operating? Surely that can't be cost-effective? Not only that, but there are
other '00' agents - does he do the same for them? Perhaps that's why he's always so irritable, ("For goodness sake, 007, stop arseing about and pay attention - I've got to fly out to Macao after this to sort out an exploding vibrator for 008.")
But it's not just Q who seems to be forced to carry out menial tasks - M himself appears in Berlin to brief Bond. Jesus Christ! Who in their right mind would send the head of the Secret Service to do a job a clerk could (and should) do? Those public spending cuts imposed by the Thatcher government were clearly biting hard. The penny-pinching is most obvious at the film's climax. Does the British government send the SAS or SBS to raid the villain's lair? No, they instead use a band of female circus performers. Does Bond arrive in a helicopter? No, he appears in a hot air balloon, piloted by the septuagenarian Q. Not just any hot air balloon, but one emblazoned with a huge Union Jack. Covert operations, eh? But like I said before, this was 1983 and things were different then - the world could still be saved by a middle-aged bloke with a public school accent who even wears a jacket and tie when he's in the jungle. (Actually, by this time in the series, Roger Moore was looking dangerously like a dirty old man as he raised his eyebrows and directed single-entendres at attractive young women).
How times have changed. Nowadays Bond wouldn't be saving the world, he'd most likely be trying to find one of those laptops the MoD keeps losing on trains. Maybe that will be the pre-title sequence of the next film: Bond is carrying out surveillance on a Starbucks, when he spies a suspicious looking character trying to sell a laptop to another customer, a furious chase through the coffee shop ensues, culminating in him beating the shit out of the thief before retrieving the computer. Of course, back in Roger Moore's day, he'd have tried to foil the theft of the laptop in the first place, landing on top of the hapless MoD official's train home, in a hot air balloon, probably piloted by Q. But then again, we didn't have laptops back then, did we? Haven't we come a long way? From hot air balloons and circus performers to Daniel Craig punching a laptop thief in the face. That's progress.
Labels: Movie Pitches, Musings From the Mind of Doc Sleaze