27 February 2014

More Family Friendly Fantasy and Science Fiction

More Family Friendly Science Fiction and Fantasy Delights
By Kristin Battestella

It’s so tough for family audiences to find intriguing but no less fun and wholesome programming these days, so here’s a sampling of edgy science fiction, magical fantasy, classic adventure, and educational entertainment for one and all.

Absolon – Christopher Lambert (Highlander), Lou Diamond Phillips (La Bamba), and a perfectly nasty Ron Perlman (Hellboy) lead this 2003 science fiction thriller set in a then futuristic but post apocalyptic 2010. The ozone layer is gone, plagues are afoot, economy has collapsed – opening inter titles and book end narrations go for a slow, lofty touch with this back story, but it’s a little pretentious and unnecessary considering the subsequent investigation, video evidence, and witness explanations tell the audience what we need to know. The technology is both on par with today – slim screens, flat keyboards, warrants on jump drives, keyless entry – and stagnant apocalypse leftovers and passé production – mini discs, big PCs, bad holograms, and weird transitional effects. The woeful cop style, wild hair colors, and trying to be future hip fashion, however, stinks; superfluous music, over the top action, ridiculous gunfights, slo-mo and/or hyper speed interfere with fine multi level chases and dangerous, ticking clock deadlines. There’s also an excessive amount of blue décor, paint, and clothing, but yellow and white lighting and red contrast appear as needed while askew, overhead, and angled filming creates a noir mood. This dirty, cheap look highlights the bitter realism of allotted hot water reserves and automated time to take the titular drug announcements. Today our smartphone would beep, sure, and corrupt pharmaceuticals or owned governments controlling the population thru measured or privileged essentials is not a new SF concept. However, these ideas remain intriguing. Do we take the drug, live a calculated existence, and leave the unsaved behind? Or does science move forward in finding a true, free cure for all? Granted, Lambert’s accent is always apparent and he tends to play the same cop characters, yet his sardonic, on the case action works with the simmering suspense editing. The ladies, unfortunately, try too hard to be sassy scientists or hardened detectives – screaming or competent as needed – while Phillips and the secondary cops are too hammy and obvious. The low budget entrappings and a potentially cliché ending hamper the sophisticated statements, but the so bad its good nineties thriller feeling keeps this one watchable. Humor and sarcasm lift the intensity or techno babble and though rated R, intelligent audiences will enjoy the decidedly non-CGI or PG-13 stifled science fiction here.

Dragon’s World: A Fantasy Made Real – Unlike their recent ridiculous dead mermaid conspiracy shows, this 2004 documovie from Animal Planet makes its “never existed” premise quite plain from the start – what would be the science behind dragons? Sweeping music, animated charm, real animal footage, lovely natural photography, and a heartfelt story from dinosaur extinction to medieval battles anchor the touching Ian Holm voiceover and modern archaeology supposition. Defensive postures, maternal calls, fire breathing possibilities, flight dynamics, family tree evolution, even territorial fights and monogamy are theorized with tender, bittersweet respect as we are informed as well as entertained. What evidence of dragons could remain? What scientific proof would be definitive? Sure, the tone is juvenile or dated at times; the acting and scripted narration scenes are slightly pretentious, too. The back and forth bouncing from time and place between the prehistoric dragon recreations and contemporary paleontology rediscovery is also uneven, and I prefer the awe and inevitable blaze of glory of the dragon animation plot more. The audience can loose interest in the meandering, and perhaps a two part linear special would have better developed both paths. Fortunately, the mystery, discovery, and wonder of it all food for thought manner comes across delightfully compared to today’s increasingly preposterous type of Ancient Aliens pseudo history. Of course, thanks to this mix of once reputed educational networks airing such sensational or fantastical content, you must reiterate to kids that this isn’t real. Some scary hunting and death sequences may upset younger viewers, too, but fanciful folks and science minds of all ages can enjoy this intriguing “what if.”

The People that Time Forgot – Amicus, AIP, and director Kevin Connor follow up The Land that Time Forgot with this 1977 Edgar Rice Burroughs sequel starring the perfectly yummy Patrick Wayne (Big Jake) and Sarah Douglas (Superman II). Sure, this one’s slow to start with lots of walking and back-story on the team’s search for lost predecessor Doug McClure. Some of the dinosaur effects are very, very iffy, the plot holes are confusing, the evil cavemen makeup is bad, and there’s some weird, stereotypically cult folk and would be kinky sacrifices, too. Fortunately, Douglas has some goofy Princess Leia buns hair, and ridiculously pretty and well groomed cave babe singer Dana Gillespie speaks in weird speaketh, you know, just to keep the prehistoric education authentic. Despite all these fun flaws, I think I like this one more than the first film thanks to the relatively tame but no less campy humor, witty banter, and bemusing relationships. The post-Edwardian designs, early cameras, ships, and biplanes create a nautical adventure atmosphere and period fantasy pleasures, and sometimes I wish we still had more of that kind of marveling attitude instead of high tech reality. Although today’s audiences can spot the obvious faux arctic scenery, the real landscapes combine with the miniatures and special effects and actually look quite nice for the era, and the crazy, multi level, volcanic finale keeps young and old alike rooting for the delightful finish.

The Scarlet Pimpernel – It’s been awhile since I read Emma Orczy’s rip-roaring adventure, but this spirited 1982 adaptation starring Anthony Andrews (Brideshead Revisited), Jane Seymour (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman), and Ian McKellan (X-Men and Lord of the Rings) wonderfully captures the Vive la France atmosphere with pony tails, frock coats, and frilly collars – and that’s just the men! We can forgive the decidedly British accents thanks to top-notch candlelight, colorful interiors, period locales, and charming music that feels classically old yet whimsical. From shabby peasantry to feathered finery, the ladies’ big hat heights and eighties hair are amusingly fitting and perfectly in keeping with the over the top flirting, roguish charisma, and humor belying the serious guillotine action. Andrews captures the 18th century dual identity Don Diego charade with prissy fashion criticisms, ridiculous inflection, and bad poetry– he can’t possibly be suspected as the titular superhero in disguise. Because he’s such a badass elder statesmen today, it’s surprising to see Sir Ian young and dark haired, too, but we dislike his stuffy suave since he is both a fool at hero Percy’s expense and still a no less devious politician. This witty Robin Hood topsy-turvy satire – we’re rooting for the guy in the hammy disguises who’s helping the aristocrats flee the Revolution, after all – still works despite some pretentious editing or plot confusion. Without subtitles or a break in the DVD, this 2 hours and 22 minutes could be a dry examination of who’s spying on whom, which Marque is which, and who’s in who’s in league. Today’s audiences aren’t used to intrigue done thru conversation, fencing, or carriage chases rather than insane fight choreography, stunts, and beheadings galore, and being familiar with the history or literature does help the viewing. Fortunately, the scale here is both intimate amid the triumvirate and still Republic sweeping. One wants to read up and dive in for the built in suspense, societal ups and downs, and romantic adventure.


Snow White: The Fairest of Them All –Miranda Richardson and Kristin Kreuk lead Clancy Brown (Highlander), Vera Farminga (Up in the Air), Warwick Davis (Willow), Tom Irwin (My So-Called Life), Vincent Schiavelli (Ghost), and Michael J. Anderson (Twin Peaks) in this very bright and vibrant 2001Brothers Grimm adaptation from ABC and Hallmark. Red and white photography, outdoor scenery, storybook carriages, and a playful design accent the whiff of humor and hints of quirky while colorful costumes, medieval interiors, and unique makeup further the fantasy perfection. The parental back story makes for an interesting underlying darkness and bittersweet or even creepy opportunities more in keeping with the Grimm source. Perhaps Richardson has played similar villainess parts in Merlin and Sleepy Hollow, but she’s just so gosh darn good at it! Tyron Leitso (Dinotopia) is a blessedly brief and insignificant prince, but Kreuk (Smallville) is simply too young to be the central character when Richardson’s Elspeth is more interesting.  Although the sentimentality and convenient magic may be tough for the older viewers hoping for more maturity, some deaths and scares here may be too upsetting for youngsters so keep the Disney cartoon classic for them. I’ve enjoyed almost all of producer, co-writer, and director Caroline Thompson’s (Edward Scissorhands, Black Beauty, The Nightmare Before Christmas) penned and/or helmed projects, and I do wish she did more pictures. A few of the special effects and weird scene transitions here are dated or unnecessary and some of the dialogue is confusing without subtitles, but this hour and half is a pleasant little tale compared to some of the recent Snow White misfires.

15 February 2014

Chasing Mavericks

Chasing Mavericks a Topsy Turvy but Touching Little Film
By Kristin Battestella

I confess, I’ve watched the 2012 Jay Moriarity surfing biopic Chasing Mavericks numerous times in numerous parts and only once or twice all the way through. You see, it isn’t that it’s a bad film – quite the contrary as far as young sports dramas go – but I just find the waves, music, and water imagery very relaxing and always fall asleep. I think it’s an Aquarius thing.

Young Jay (Jonny Weston) is saved from drowning along the Santa Cruz shore by his neighbor and local surfer Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler). Jay likes to time the waves and learns to surf with his friend Blond (Devin Crittenden), but after secretly following Frosty and watching him surf the massive Mavericks wave, Jay begs Frosty to train him. With the encouragement of his wife Brenda (Abigail Spencer), Frosty teaches Jay his surfing wisdoms. Jay works hard at school and work, helps his single mother Kristy (Elisabeth Shue), and pursues childhood friend Kim (Leven Rambin) while forming a fatherly bond with Frosty and making ready to tame the waves.

Though not a lot of people have probably heard of Chasing Mavericks, I imagine those who have ask one question: Curtis Hanson worked on this? L.A. Confidential director Curtis Hanson? Due to illness, Michael Apted (Coal Miner’s Daughter) came on to co-direct with Hanson, and the somewhat uneven drama is reflected in the dual direction. Touching familial relationships seem cut short while some of the teeny bopper scenes go on for too long. Is this a teen sports movie with something more or a family drama that happens to have surfing? Chasing Mavericks never seems to make up its mind. Though some characters are underdeveloped or inserted as needed, obvious allegorical possibilities – everyone has a lot going on under the surface but nobody lets their feelings out except when riding the waves – are no less meaningful. The script from Kario Salem (Don King: Only in America) has some very poignant moments as well with fear versus panic realizations and learning how you perform on the water as the measure for when things go wrong in life. The voiceovers do lay it on a little thick, but most sports movies are overly sentimental amid the badassery anyway. Could Chasing Mavericks have been better by focusing even more on dramatic relationships and family angst before teen clichés? Perhaps. The vision may be slightly muddled, but I like that this is a PG presentation that didn’t go for gung ho edgy sex or teen abuses. Death and vice issues are there for sure, but Chasing Mavericks does its best by sticking to its heart rather than giving into sensationalism as so many films often do.

Unevenness quibbles aside; Chasing Mavericks is a good-looking film. The above and below surfing and water photography is wonderfully, well, fluid and colorful while lovely aerial shots and landscape cinematography capture the insurmountable scope of the ocean and nature’s peril. Old technology like radios and typewriters, pen and paper, letters, maps, drawings, and artwork along with the slightly poorer looking homes, locales, old cars and crappy vans, bikes, and skateboards contrast the beautiful beaches, waves, and rocks. Heck, look at those old $20 dollar bills! Granted, these are more obviously parallel visualizations, but the style looks appropriately period instead of just today’s easy retroactive nineties cool impression. The traditionally neon board colors and water gear, however, are a lot more fun to see than this modern teal and orange saturated and digitally tinted palette. The orange coloring is dang ridiculous at times, making both the fake tans and sunburn more apparent, and patchy, poorly lit interiors are too dark compared to the bright and beautiful outdoors. Instrumental training montages, slow motion, and surfing awe orchestration may be too syrupy at times, but that fits the surfer Zen themes, soothing bubbles, and rippling water sounds. Those teen wow surfing or skateboarding pop music interludes, unfortunately, do come off as dated and cliché. We get the El Nino explanations nowadays, too, but seriously, where’s the dang boss at that shameful pizza parlor?!  

On a totally superficial note, uber Gerard Butler fans will like his tight wet suit look. Strangely, however, I think he is wearing his own clothes in some scenes, for it seems like we’ve seen him in the same ugly sweaters and dirty shirts off camera. Thankfully, the lighter, shaggy hair and scruffy style fits the late eighties/early nineties surfer dude part. Butler (300) is still very handsome in certain scenes, and of course, he gets wet a lot, yet the older, shabby persona and accessories like reading glasses make for a refreshingly unglamorous and real portrayal. Unfortunately, the blondish hair color does not suit him, and Butler looks haggard, thin, and drawn or puffy, dilated, and out of it from scene to scene. His accent is not just off, but his voice seems weak, strained as if he can’t deliver his lines without slurring – well, slurring more than his usually charming brogue. Ironically, this washed out design works in specific scenes, and Frosty comes across as genuine, tough lived guy who knows the water thanks to some great quips and wry wisdoms such as “Thou shalt not ding Frosty’s board or damage thy neighbor’s car.” Frosty’s onscreen stance about people not being ready to surf big waves, however, is also ironic, considering Butler himself wasn’t a surfer before the movie and the toll from his on set hold down and other pains or health issues shows in Chasing Mavericks. Nonetheless, Gerry provides one or two excellent near tearful moments and all the heartfelt range needed. He’s producing here, and the film is clearly paternal and personal to him. I give him a tough time I know, but I applaud Butler for not going after some comedy or action hot hot hot in Chasing Mavericks and I wish he did more purely dramatic character roles with this kind of merit. Jonny Weston (John Dies at the End) has some of that weird, curly eighties hair, too, but he fits this touching real life role well. Jay’s young but mature and wise beyond his years thanks to a tough, relatable life, and Weston brings the open attitude and inspirational reaching out to others good vibes. He matches Butler’s fatherly pillars as Jay encourages Frosty in the two-way male bonding. Their story has the built in dramatic twists and turns required and their familial scenes in Chasing Mavericks are the best.
Abigail Spencer (Angela’s Eyes) has her own real life surfing family history but unfortunately, she isn’t given much to do except passive aggressively complain about Frosty’s surfing behind his wife’s back. We see him giving up surfing opportunities and doing his carpentry with Jay like he is supposed to do so her motivations can feel somewhat hollow or too back and forth. If she feels their marriage is on the rocks and that he doesn’t pay attention to their kids, why does she push him to accept his father figure role to Jay? Brenda realizes their family life isn’t perfect but immediately includes the less than fortunate Jay in their home and defends him as if he were her son when Frosty gets too strict. However, their own children’s ages are a bit telling – an older daughter as if she got pregnant and married young and a baby as if Brenda’s trying to save the marriage with another child. Her family’s dislike of Frosty is alluded to as well; she was a rich girl who gave up a lot for him, apparently. All these ups and downs are told rather than shown in developing Brenda as her own character. The film should have run with this tight knit dynamic, for more strengthening scenes with these domestic complexities would have given Chasing Mavericks the polished development it needs. As is, there is only one scene between Brenda and Jay’s girlfriend Kim, and none of the three main adults is ever in a scene all together despite the viewer being told that they have indeed spoken. Maya Raines (About Cherry) also seems oddly miscast or too old to be Frosty and Brenda’s daughter. If she is a baby in the 1987 opening, then she should be seven once we remain in 1994. Strangely, she looks about twelve for most of the film yet gets read to and talks like a much smaller child – almost as if she were indeed seven. 

Understandably, film often requires the typical best friend and ne’er do well antagonist – served here by Devin Crittenden (Greek) and Taylor Handley (Phantom of the Megaplex) – but the teenage tug and pull feels a bit too assy and I dare say unnecessary. These relationships are realistic perhaps, but ultimately Chasing Mavericks isn’t about bad kids with skateboards. We’ve seen that before yet surfing biographies with this kind of crossover mainstream appeal are few and far between. The secondary characters somewhat rightfully don’t matter compared to the waves, but it’s tough to tell who is who in some surfing scenes and credit listings like “Magnificent Two” don’t help identify anyone. Oscar winner Elisabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas), sadly, is erroneously underused as Jay’s mom – I’m not even sure she’s called by name onscreen. Again, more scenes together between her, Weston, their difficulties and reconciliations might have helped Chasing Mavericks hit home. Liberties and dramatic license have already been taken in the telling, so why not play to all your ensemble’s strengths and give the picture the extra zing it needs? Leven Rambin (All My Children) does fine with what she’s given, but she and Weston don’t have much chemistry. Their would-be steadfast relationship is played too young romance – one can’t quite imagine this couple will marry in a few short years. Naturally, this tale has a bittersweet end, but Chasing Mavericks’ live fast, love hard message and tender determination amid today’s culture of me me me excess is delightful. Besides, it took a dozen viewings, but I think I finally saw Scott Eastwood! 
It’s so ironic that Butler’s crappy romantic comedies made millions when superior work such as Chasing Mavericks, Coriolanus, and Machine Gun Preacher failed in theaters. Maybe Butler’s health, off screen celebrity, and biz troubles – the failed Motor City production and its subsequent lawsuits for example – hurt Chasing Mavericks at the box office, and his own surfing accident during filming most likely contributed to his stint in rehab as well. That kind of press doesn’t help a largely wholesome, no cursing sports picture like Chasing Mavericks pad its wallet. It just seems like there isn’t room at the cinema for small, poignant fair, much less a tenderly told niche teen sports movie with such a finite demographic, and Chasing Mavericks was pitifully mis-marketed between its family drama and teen sports excitement split personalities. Instead of going for a confusing identity, Chasing Mavericks should have remained steadfast to its core players and brought home its umph. Granted, I am not a teenager, surfer, father, son, or California girl so I am not anywhere near the target viewer here. Heck, people who fear water or get seasick easily should avoid Chasing Mavericks all together. However, the touching, inspirational message and aquatic Zen here can stir surfing lovers, fans of the cast, and teen sports audiences.

12 February 2014

An American International Pictures Rundown!

American International Pictures Delights!
By Kristin Battestella

We’ve discussed the glory of Hammer Films here at I Think, Therefore I Review as well as the joys of Amicus Productions and American International Pictures.  But when even we couldn’t find all our AIP essays, well, that meant it’s time for a handy list post. Here’s all our AIP treats all in one place!

 (Crazy Vincent Price invites you in...)

10 February 2014

B Mystery and Mayhem Fun

Early Mystery and Mayhem Treats
By Kristin Battestella

The 1930s and 40s provide an abundance of quickie B pictures ranging the crime, thriller, mystery, and horror genres. Though often obvious, unintentionally humorous, not that scary, and flawed due to off the time filmmaking and old age wear and tear, these movies are enjoyable little time capsules nonetheless.  

Crimes at the Dark House – Inspired by The Woman in White, this 1940 hour has loud, snap, crackle, and pop sound accenting the focus on Tod Slaughter’s (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) debauchery and would be fraud. The bludgeonings, theft, and assumed identity happen quickly, but the fortune doesn’t come so easy thanks to the usual stuffy old ladies, scheming lawyers, and blackmailing doctors. Enough carriages, costumes, well-dressed sets, and Victorian flair forgive the anachronistic bobs on some of the damsels, and the instructing the chambermaid in her bedroom duties innuendo is interesting. The ladies here must do as their masters’ wish, and oft Slaughter director George King uses the fast, intense dialogue to keep the illicit relationships, lecherous personality, and plot twists moving. How far is this charade going to go? What’s going to happen next? Perhaps the story is predictable for today’s audiences, but we’re more interested in seeing Slaughter’s Percival succeed in his ruse – more so because his distracters are just as devious. Although there is a rush and quick finish due to the short run time, shadowed, ghostly figures and a scary death or two set off the built-in risk of discovery suspense, and plenty of action throughout makes for an entertaining little piece.

The Drums of Jeopardy – It’s tough to tell who is who amid over the top gesturing actresses, sarcastic dames with guns, and one cranky old lady – not to mention the flat black and white video quality and jumping sound in this 1931hour-plus based upon the novel of the same name. There are difficult to read inter-title styled letters and telegrams, too, but when Warner Orland’s (Charlie Chan) mad and vengeful doctor is bemusingly named ‘Boris Karlov,’ viewers are going to tune in just for the novelty alone. Fun early laboratory designs and effects are also so Art Deco or post-Edwardian that the style almost feels Steampunk when watching today. Goggles, flashing lights, lightning, wind effects, and smoking beakers amid the Victorian suits and décor go a long way when fog and darkness make the primitive train, boat, and fight scenes difficult to see. Early heist and adventure film design also take shape thanks to a Bolshevik Revolution escape, Secret Service intrigue, and the eponymous stolen rubies being used as revenge calling cards. Yes, the required heroic couple and other clichés are goofy now, the inevitable coppers are on the investigation, this isn’t horror by any means, and the entire tale should be better than it is. However, a good looking restored print might do wonders in setting off the revenge, crime, mood as the initial saucy suggestions, budding spooky atmosphere, and suspense in wondering who the crazed doctor is going to get next and how make for an intriguing little mystery.

The Mummy’s Hand – Be he curse protector or resurrection accomplice, George Zucco (Dead Men Walk) is slick as ever in this 67 minute 1940 Universal sort of sequel that’s otherwise lacking in the expected Mummy stars such as Karloff or Lon Chaney, Jr. These different characters create more remake than follow up feelings, and after awhile, these Mummy films do seem somewhat the same anyway. There’s a little too much humor and bumbling rivalries away from the titular action for this installment to be scary, too. Who has the money for the expedition? Who doesn’t want the archaeology to happen? What’s pretty daughter Peggy Moran (King of the Cowboys) doing pointing a gun at folks? Wallace Ford (The Rogue’s Tavern) is also an unnecessarily fast talking swindler sidekick for by the numbers Dick Foran (The Petrified Forest), and the then-modern Cairo pre-war styles and colloquialisms slow the plot down when there’s no time to waste. Fortunately, despite the black and white photography, the opening Egyptian flashback provides the expected regalia and spooky curses. Perhaps this entry is typical or nondescript in itself, but its fun for a classic marathon. When we finally do get to the tomb robbing action and Tom Tyler (The Adventures of Captain Marvel) as the murderously lurking about Kharis, this becomes a pleasant little viewing with a wild finish. 

The Shadow – Audiences today may find talk of $200 as outrageous bribery, well, outrageous, but it’s surprising to see such frank depression era financial blackmail, disgraces, and suicide shockers in these 70 minutes from 1933. The blacked out screens and gunshots won’t scare modern audiences, yet the unseen vigilante and the titular fog, effects, and tricks don’t look that bad. Certainly, the haughty RP voice supposedly coming from the silhouette is bemusing, but the simple shadows against the wall and dark figure camera blocking make the viewer pay attention. Of course, the poor print quality doesn’t make it easy to see all the delightful mansion décor and period fashions nor read the newspaper text and the standard spinning headlines. The editing is dull and plodding, too, and otherwise fine suspense music is seemingly misplaced over the wrong empty scenes. Exposition, Scotland Yard idiocy, and time away from The Shadow can be tedious as well. However, there is a reason to the who is who, stiff upper lip men, and tea timing ladies – anyone learning how to do a cliché Brit caricature can get plenty of ideas here! Despite distracting, annoying people, we want to know who’s behind the veil. How will each of our victims fall and why? Though not new, this is an interesting concept, and I wonder if there are modern films that could be so crafty and not show anything but the killer’s fedora. This one will be tough to get thru for hyper audiences, but seeing it to the end for the killer’s reveal is worth the wait. In fact, this one should be watched at least twice just for the Clue-esque clues. 

Crimes at the Dark House is also available on Hulu, while The Drums of Jeopardy can be found on Internet Archive, and The Shadow is at Pub D Hub.

02 February 2014

Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever a Satirical Action Mixed Bag
By Kristin Battestella

My husband liked this 1971 final official appearance of Sean Connery as 007 for its dry, straightforward heist designs. However, the uneven mix of sardonic camp, flashy settings, and Vegas cash in hasn’t stood the test of time.

MI-6 Agent James Bond (Connery) pursues Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd (Bruce Glover and Putter Smith) as bodies in the illegal diamond trade fall in their wake. With his jewel smuggling contact Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), 007 heads to Las Vegas and joins CIA ally Felix Leiter (Norman Burton) in uncovering a multi-faceted, high-tech, high-rise, and doppelganger-laden heist lead by none other than Bond’s thought dead nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray).

Glorious a Sin City time capsule it may be, Diamonds Are Forever doesn’t quite feel like any of its onscreen Bond predecessors thanks to these Vegas caper designs. The Illicit jewel trade, wealth obsessions, and peripheral political commentaries on the subject are not as good as Goldfinger’s analysis, and one even wonders why franchise writers Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz have 007 involved in such a basic American escapade at all. Change the names and toss in any old cops and would Diamonds Are Forever be any different? Previous Bond Director Guy Hamilton’s approach is Nevada old and arid with no wink thanks to the lack of Bondian hallmarks, and attempts to liven the adventure confuse the scheme. What do the diamonds have to do with the Blofeld intro? We’re at the circus? With elephants? In a Bond movie? Distasteful racist undertones over a decidedly Yiddish showman and his trick of turning a black woman into a gorilla are also too bizarre and unfunny. Though the satirical moon buggy chase sequence looks good, it is an of the time deadpan gag laughable for the wrong reasons. Between the changing of the decade, British world transitions, and attempted American humorous appeal, Diamonds of Forever simply has too much to do in addition to its unenviable position between the franchise’s return to Connery after Lazenby’s serious, book faithful misstep. The events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service are completely ignored here, by the way. Space flight notions, crime angst, Willard Whyte conglomerate switch a roos, an out of the blue oil rig action finale – it’s all over the place yet not enough. Are those diamond, oil, and water statements supposed to be taken seriously? Because Blofeld’s one man submarine being bandied about on a crane is too far toward parody. Are we supposed to be laughing at the villain who put so much terror in his numbered subordinates just a few films ago?

Of course, the rechristened Sean Connery looks old and gray for Diamonds Are Forever, but the reduced amount of personal action here seems fitting for this aged style. Though the congested elevator fight early on is well done, this 007 is on the case more with his wits and stays mostly by the book with no Bond Theme to follow him. The mortuary scenes and that fiery close call are fun, but James doesn’t really have any chemistry with Tiffany Case. Combined with the meandering, unfocused script and lack of nudge nudge wink wink swanky, this puts a major damper on Connery’s room to maneuver. The pair may just be too far apart in age or style, as Tiffany seems too young and unbelievable a catch even for James Bond. We see them in an intimate relationship and yet the caper and lady foil humor attempts make the duo feel more like a chaste friendship compared to Connery’s previous bum slapping and love ‘em and leave ‘em conquests. Thankfully, our first American Bond Gil Jill St. John (Come Blow Your Horn) has some tricked out spy works of her own for all this crime business – complete with that Tiffany’s related name, of course. Her introduction is naughty with fun wigs and flashy style changes. Tiffany’s smart but stupid and goofy design may be dated to some or retro cool to others, granted, but her over the top jewel thief panache fits the character. If some Bond films are memorable for the villain, then Diamonds Are Forever is mostly memorable for St. John.

Unfortunately, Blofeld’s confusing disguises in Diamonds Are Forever and his Eon film history hinders Charles Gray. The short pre-credit sequence gives no explanation to the changes from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service nor You Only Live Twice if you want to discount Lazenby and by default Telly Savalas as Blofeld – not to mention Gray’s previous role as MI-6 ally Henderson in You Only Live Twice. Audiences who haven’t seen any prior Bond films wouldn’t even know who Blofeld is, much less care about Bond’s off and on pursuit of him. If this generic caper didn’t have to have 007, then it also doesn’t really need Blofeld. Gray keeps the humor going with his incognito womanly style, whiff of kinky, and those wrong pussy jokes, but the back and forth plastic surgery decoys and lookalike switches ruin his performance. It’s also odd to see Blofeld in some simplistic American one-man operation with no real support. This is the head of SPECTRE reduced to some evil old diamond smuggler with an oil rig? Perhaps this over the top, 180 degree disservice to the character and the organization is due to those infamous Kevin McClory legal issues, but if there was going to be that much trouble, other clear cut, no expectations options might have improved Diamonds Are Forever. Sadly, Bruce Glover (Walking Tall) and musician Putter Smith as Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are also all over the place too quirky, not scary, not funny, annoying, and dorky. Obviously, they are gay and this aspect shouldn’t be used for comic relief, but there is also little rhyme or reason to their non-standard henchman pattern. They are with Blofeld, but just shadow everyone with their quips and never outright encounter Bond until the finale. The viewer doesn’t see the match up and knocked out thwarts until after the fact so there’s no real fun in the expected 007 cat and mouse games. Likewise, Lola Larson as Bambi and Trina Parks as Thumper make for an awkward shoehorned in excuse for eye candy that comes across as too butch and unnecessary. 

Thankfully, the MI-6 support makes for some loveable Bond bemusement in Diamonds Are Forever. Desmond Llewelyn has a fun phone call as Q and has a gadget man’s good time in some great casino scenes. Bernard Lee, however, looks somewhat ill or feeble as M and remains seated for his cranky quips with Bond. Lois Maxwell’s brief out of office Moneypenny visit is charming, too, and it’s a wonder why she didn’t pop up in disguise more often during her tenure. Norman Burton (Planet of the Apes) appears as the fourth official Felix Leiter and features well in the plot with his American snark – but his portrayal is again a little left field compared to previous CIA incarnations. Ironically, Lana Wood (Peyton Place) as the relatively pointless Plenty O’Toole may perhaps be the best part of Diamonds Are Forever. She’s looks bosom great in fitting, low cut Bond Girl fashion, and the awesome retorts in her scenes are the most Bondian part of the picture: “Named after your father perhaps?” Deleted scenes featuring O’Toole help clarify the character’s placement, and it might have been interesting to have seen Plenty play both sides of the heist – perhaps replacing Bambi and Thumper for a sexy shakedown – rather than just being some throwaway girl – literally!

Garish purple and oranges schemes, bad yellows, clashing lights – the bevy of boobs in the main titles is fun and the diamond themed designs should be glitz and glamour friendly, yet Diamonds Are Forever’s chic feels too dated and tacky for the most part. Even the aquarium waterbed looks sweet but uncomfortable, and while the lack of fantastic gadgets may appeal to that audience looking for more Bond realism, scenes like that out of this world moon simulation negate any seriousness. The Vegas Strip car chase and up on two wheels action is superb, but sadly it seems like someone left the music off the picture – the inexplicably absent James Bond Theme would have given Diamond Are Forever the extra punch it needed by setting off these pursuit scenes. Fortunately, the kitschy feathers, great explosions, Amsterdam cool, Nevada flair, and ring a ding ding do look simply delightful thanks to this blu-ray revitalization. There’s also a quick nipple in the opening strangle that might not have been seen without this glorious high definition! The cassette mini-MacGuffin will be goofy to younger tech savvy audiences, but it’s back and forth fun is one of the few, um, cheeky bright spots in Diamonds Are Forever – a jump drive in a girl’s bikini bottom just wouldn’t be as bemusing.

Longtime 007 viewers will find Diamonds Are Forever watchable, certainly more so now thanks to the blu-ray edition and all its glory. Camp fans can enjoy the tacky, sure. Newer Bond fans and American caper audiences may love the unintentional humor or appreciate the absent cliché Moore designs, Brosnan spy surrealism, or other Bondisms and perceive Diamonds Are Forever as a seventies action vehicle and nothing more. Unfortunately, the forced, dry satire, confusing plot, and falling flat jokes here are a tough pill to swallow for Fleming fans expecting a return to Connery’s wink, smile, martini, and sophistication. Diamonds Are Forever tried to stand out in what was a difficult time for the franchise. Some of it works, but most of it is too mixed for long-lasting, repeat viewing.