When I was at university, I wasn’t afraid of voicing occasionally unpopular opinions, mainly because I’d rarely thought them through first. These opinions ranged from “I can do that death slide if I get top this pint up with whisky” (which caused me to have some form of hallucinatory episode before running four miles away) and “red wine is shit because it all tastes the same” (during a discussion on why my landlord and his good friend had joined the university wine society). Said landlord, who took me in on a month’s trial and kept me on after I nearly burned his house down three weeks in with a cooking oil fire, and who was consequently one of the finest and most upstanding men I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, was also of the view that Timothy Dalton was the best James Bond. So I wasn’t the only one had unpopular opinions. Oh wait, I thought it was Roger Moore.
You may have already read my Movie Memories blog on The Spy Who Loved Me, and in particular the childhood highlight that occurred about an hour and ten minutes in. But The Spy Who Loved Me was for me the quintessential Bond film when I was a child, and watching it again in the context of the other nine Bonds to come before it, I was relieved to see that it still stands up pretty well. No Bond since Goldfinger has had such a ready supply of iconic moments, from the Union Jack parachuting ski jump to the giant man with metal gnashers, and with some of Ken Adam’s best work on the series (of his five Oscar nominations, this was his only one for a Bond film), TSWLM doesn’t skimp on spectacle but also does much to further the archetypes of the series. Nonetheless, there are still a few fresh concepts that the tenth Bond outing manages to add to the already burgeoning formula.
1. Why are all of the spy organisations in love with TLA (Three Letter Acronyms)?
Let’s face it, the Bond series has never been big on realism, especially when it comes to the naming convention of international organisations. (Giant volcano lairs are absolutely real and not made up in any way, and I will take issue with anyone who says otherwise.) For all your made-up fancy pants worldwide evil institutions like your SPECTREs and SMERSHs, in the real world most popular acronyms, such as MFI or KFC, have a specific number of letters which helps them roll off the tongue, and don’t sound like Inspector Clouseau asking for packet mashed potato. The Spy Who Loved Me marks the first significant intervention in the series of the iconic Russian spy organisation, the KGB, and the first appearance in the series of Walter Gotell’s General Gogol, a role so iconic he then popped up in everything from The Scarecrow And Mrs King to MacGyver as dodgily accented foreigners.
This also leads to lots of ludicrous terms such as “Anglo-Soviet relations”, from a time when Britain’s crumbling empire was still desperate to hang on to its own inflated sense of self-importance. But the ramifications of this move continue to register throughout the series – could the sexist, misogynist dinosaur that is Pierce Brosnan have been a relic of the Cold War without these earlier films? I think not.
Wait, what do you mean SMERSH is real?
2. Can you hear me pumping on your stereo?
The Spy Who Loved Me also marked another significant change, one which has reverberated throughout the rest of the series and ultimately changed the fate of many who came to follow. Many moments are seen as pivotal, but few can genuinely claim to change destiny, but this is one such change. Yes, The Spy Who Loved Me was the first Bond film to be in Dolby Stereo.
(In other news, Harry Saltzman sold his share in the production company following the death of his wife and to help pay off debts, so The Spy Who Loved Me was the first film produced solely by Cubby Broccoli, and to this day the destiny, and all of the key decisions about the Bond films up to and including Bond 23, remain in the hands of the Broccoli family. But I know which change had the most impact on the series. I mean, hearing different things in different ears – in Dolby! Come on!)
3. Now there’s a novel idea!
Remember that bit in Raiders Of The Lost Ark when Dr Jones seduces one of his students? Or Luke Skywalker’s crazy drag-racing buddies Deak and Windy? How about the bit in Back To The Future, Part 2 when Old Biff fades out of existence? If you do, then you’re probably a connoisseur of the movie novelisation, the wonderful phenomena which allows you to (a) spoil the entire plot of a film before you’ve actually seen it, (b) find out lots of extra character details that thankfully save most movies from lasting five hours, and (c) get an alternative ending well before they invented DVDs or wind-up radios. Since The Spy Who Loved Me the actual book wasn’t actually about James Bond very much, the movie understandably deviates from this template and so there was a conveniently book-shaped gap in the market for another book with more stuff about James Bond in it.
So if you’ve only seen the film, you’ll have missed out on lots more interesting and factually inaccurate detail about the surely-it’s-made-up-with-a-name-like-that counter-intelligence agency SMERSH, and Jaws getting stuck on the magnet at the end, rather than swimming off into the sunset. And if that’s the case, then frankly, you haven’t lived. (I haven’t had the fortune of reading it, but given that I even used to buy novelisations of Knight Rider TV episodes, you can be damn sure I’ll be tracking it down now I know it exists.)
Next time: WIGS! IN! SPAAAACE! It’s Moonraker.