After a mysterious rocketship seizes manned space missions from Earth’s orbit, suspicions mount and the world superpowers are hurled toward the brink of war. Their only hope rests with James Bond (Agent 007), who races to stop the space-jackings’ true mastermind, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Chief of the evil SPECTRE organization, Blofeld is bent on instigating global warfare from his massive headquarters nestled in an inactive volcano. As the countdown begins, Bond joins forces with the gorgeous Japanese agent Kissy Suzuki, and scores of Ninja warriors, to mount a daring raid on Blofeld’s lair and prevent a calamitous world war. (Synopsis from Hollywood.com)
If Thunderball was a small step toward the absurd, You Only Live Twice was a giant leap. The former was high adventure with a splash of campiness, but the latter went over the top—literally—into outer space.
Newcomer Lewis Gilbert assumed directorial duty for Bond's fifth outing, abandoning the more subtle tongue-in-cheek approach of Terence Young and Guy Hamilton and replacing it with brazen silliness. Bigger in scope than any of the previous pictures, You Only Live Twice is loaded to the brim with improbable gimmicks and gadgets; huge, futuristic sets; gorgeous, beautifully photographed scenery; sophomoric dialogue; plot holes bigger than the Sea of Tranquility; and more than a few embarrassingly bad special effects. Although not special effects per se, among the most egregious cinematic gaffes are the clumsy insertions of two rocket launches: a Titan/Gemini that purports to be a Soviet rocket (palm trees in Siberia?), and an Atlas/Agena rocket (the unmanned docking craft for the Gemini missions) that represents the American spacecraft. Excuse me...but if the two scenes were switched, at least the Agena could reasonably pass as a Soviet capsule.
The screenplay by Roald Dahl (who was, incidentally, a masterful writer of fiction; any kid who has never read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and/or Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator deserves utmost pity) departs more radically from Fleming's novel than any of those previous, and the character of James Bond comes painfully close to mere caricature. Regardless, You Only Live Twice manages to be highly entertaining, at times delivering an exciting, engaging spectacle and some of the series' finest comic lines ("I've stolen Osato's new process for making monosodium glutamate."). For the first time, the face of Ernst Stavro Blofeld is revealed, and Donald Pleasance's portrayal is mostly effective—although his diminutive size flies in the face of Fleming's description of the character and tends to minimize the threatening air he ought to possess; the grotesquely scarred face is scant compensation for the size 32 suit. Still, his delivery is on-target, and his opening off-camera scenes, when we only hear his voice, are quite chilling.
Barry's score is lush and smooth, and the title song (sung by Nancy Sinatra) departs from the previous action/adventure title styles, focusing instead on the romantic. It's a beautiful piece based on silky string progressions, with an appropriately oriental flavor. Most of the following tracks, however, deliver sheer suspense and action, such as "Fight at Kobe Dock/Helga," "A Drop in the Ocean," and "Bond Averts World War Three." The only tracks to reprise the romantic mood of the main theme are "Mountains and Sunsets" and "The Wedding," which expertly capture the tranquility of the Japanese setting. Barry uses an effective hint of reverb on the soft, flowing pieces that highlight the outer space scenes, such as "Capsule in Space" and "James Bond—Astronaut," proving once again his mastery of making music that perfectly augments the visuals.
"Tanaka's World" is a suspenseful cut, with an oriental sound that Barry would draw upon again in The Man With the Golden Gun. However, the track apparently is not included in the film itself.
In the end, the score to You Only Live Twice is one of the movie's saving graces. I shudder to think of the score being in the hands of a composer departing as radically from established tradition as Lewis Gilbert did in the director's seat.
Notes on the Remastered
"Little Nellie" opens to fine effect with a few hints of Barry's "007" theme, then moves into full swing as Bond tangles with the SPECTRE helicopters above the Japanese volcanoes. A heavy Bond theme comes to the forefront in "SPECTRE and Village"; then, with an unexpected but appropriate transition, Barry's distinctive oriental notes take over the track. In "James Bond—Ninja," the tension of the upcoming all-out combat with Blofeld's forces builds slowly and with increasing volume; then, with a brilliant flourish, the "Capsule in Space" theme rises as the SPECTRE spacecraft sets out to threaten the latest American "Jupiter" mission; finally, the staccato notes of "A Drop In the Ocean" leap out to to ring in the climax. And to round things out, "Twice Is the Only Way to Live" swells elegantly as a colorful backdrop to the film's conclusion.
Overall, the sheer effectiveness of the additional tracks bumps up the rating for
the You Only Live Twice soundtrack from three to four stars. Like the
extended scores to On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Diamonds Are
Forever, this album is a necessity to experience some of Barry's most
Bonus Tracks on Remastered Edition
You only live twice,
And love is a stranger