Monday, February 18, 2008


Octopussy posterAlmost every Bond movie (Dr No being a significant exception) starts with a pre-credit sequence in which 007 is seen in a brief episode of high-octane derring-do. Though often only tangentially connected to the films that follow, these brief teasers are often very memorable in themselves: The Spy Who Loved Me opens with a famous stunt in which the British agent skis off a cliff only for the canopy of a Union Jack parachute to open over him, while the recent version of Casino Royale features a lengthy parkour-style chase with Sebastien Foucan.

For Octopussy, the thirteenth film in the official franchise, the pre-credit sequence takes place somewhere in Latin America. It's not entirely clear where, in part because here this episode is even more starkly removed from the rest of the action then usual: in what follows, a merry romp that takes Bond from London to India and Germany (both East and West), no mention is ever made of an earlier trip to the Americas.

Perhaps we're in Cuba: that would seem to be the reference intended by the numerous bearded army types in olive-green uniforms. Or it might be Argentina: that's what's suggested by the horsey atmosphere of the show-jumping event at which Bond makes his appearance. But as always with Bond, and especially in this movie, it doesn't really pay to ask too many questions. Why after all is the show-jumping taking place right next to what's apparently a military airfield in which some kind of top-secret weapon is being installed into the nosecones of fighter planes? Who knows or really cares: the stunt's the thing.

And so the Commander's horsebox is soon shown to contain a dummy equine that in turn conceals a miniature jetplane with folded wings. Bond takes to the sky and engages in a cat and mouse chase (he being the mouse) with an incoming heat-seeking missile that he cunningly manages to divert so that it blows up the aircraft hangar that seems to have been his intended target in the first place. Only then does he realize that he'd forgotten to fill up with gas that morning, so he lands on a roadway and rolls up to a gas station, asking the bemused attendant to "Fill her up, please."

Octopussy still
The pre-credit sequence is both diversion and invitation, teasing delay and full-throttle initiation into the world of Bond, James Bond. It's a Bond movie without even the pretence of a plot: winging it (quite literally) on formula alone, from sultry maiden to nifty gadget, exotic locale and tongue-in-cheek humor. It's a sketch for a movie that might have been, a reminder that what follows is but one chapter in the fast life and times of Britain's number one special agent.

And Latin America, in this movie at least, is also a mid-point: it's where authoritarian regime meets tropical colour, where East meets West, and we meet Bond. It's neither as staid as London, as grim as East Germany, or as over the top as Delhi. It's peripheral and excessive, but in this film in which excess is everything (subplot upon subplot, two villains, two Fabergé eggs, even two Bond girls) it's also the axis around which everything turns. For we'll return to an airforce base at the film's climax, but this time Bond's task will be to defuse a bomb, to prevent a (nuclear) explosion rather than to set one off. So the Cuban/Argentine scene at the start is equally a foretaste and comic double of the (supposedly) serious threat that lies at the heart of the movie's ragged plot. It's a seven-minute obverse of the film as a whole.

YouTube Link: the pre-credit sequence.

Labels: ,