Is Bond Dead?

With classes set to start on Monday I am not in the mood for heavy fare. So how about some entertainment blogging!

Like all sensible people I am a big fan of the James Bond movies. That none of them, let’s face it, are actually all that good, does not affect my inability to change the channel when I notice that one is on. I used to feel strongly that Roger Moore was the best Bond, but that is partly because, given my age, he was the first Bond I encountered. Lately I have moved on to a more ecumenical approach that recognized the strengths and weaknesses of all the Bonds (including Timothy Dalton, who I think is a bit underrated.) Forced to choose, I would have to say the best Bond was David Niven from the original Casino Royale. The best Bond villain? Woody Allen as Dr. Noah, of course.

When I was in graduate school I decided it was time to read Ian Fleming’s novels. With the help of the local public library I plowed through them pretty quickly. They were all very short, very dumb and very readable. It was amusing to see how each film had a smaller and smaller connection to the original novel. For example, whereas the film of The Spy Who Loved Me involved a megalomaniacal millionaire bent on destroying the world and restarting life under the sea (whatever) , the novel was a Die Hard type story in which Bond, who is actually a secondary character in the story, stumbles on to a hostage situation at a small diner.

All of which is to say: I am a fan. I will keep going to see the films for as long as they keep making them. Which, sadly, may not be very long, according to a recent cover story on Entertainment Weekly. The full article does not seem to be available online, but this squibb will give you the basic idea. The last six Bond films (the Brosnan and Craig eras) have all been very successful, but MGM is rapidly going bankrupt. Currently there is no Bond film in production, and with Daniel Craig having largely moved on it will be several years at least before a new one could hit the screen. Would anyone even remember Bond by then?

Now here comes Isaac Chotiner from The New Republic to pile on with this review of a new book analyzing the Bond films. The book sounds like essential reading. For example:

McKay’s description of From Russia with Love‘s great Orient Express fight scene is very nicely rendered: “And then the fight itself. It’s the implacable violet of the compartment night-light that somehow sticks in the mind, the only point of stability in a breathtaking blur of fists, punches, swings, kicks, all choreographed in this claustrophobically small space.”

I remember that scene! As I also recall, up to that scene the film was a faithful adaptation of the book. Then the film throws in a scene where Bond takes out a helicopter with a rifle, and blows up a fleet of enemy boats by exploding a few fuel containers. Good stuff.

Here’s Chotiner’s closing:

Finally, Bond battled South American drug smugglers in the ’80s, media consolidators in the ’90s, and environmental criminals in the next decade, thus enabling the series to capture the zeitgeist in ways that a strictly anti-Soviet secret agent never could. But many of the plots still have resonance because these stateless villains are often seeking possession of weapons of mass destruction; this is a fear that has been exacerbated–rather than ameliorated–by the Soviet collapse. Even if this history shows the canniness of the filmmakers’ commercial instincts, the movies themselves–especially of late–live in an unchanging male fantasyland and are completely without artistic merit. A true Bond fan must ruefully concede as much. My greatest fear used to be that the series would end, but now that thought is oddly appealing.

Oddly indeed! Personally I don’t think any of the films have much in the way of artistic merit (except for the music, of course) and I don’t care. I hope the series never ends.

Comments

  1. #1 feralboy12
    August 26, 2010

    What about scientific merit?
    Megavillains hollow out mountains for gigantic spaceports and no one notices…space stations large enough to be naked eye objects are invisible because radar can’t detect them…space stations have single switches that shut off gravity…
    Eyeroll or facepalm? Always a tough choice.

  2. #2 EastwoodDC
    August 26, 2010

    Casino Royale (1966) is an absolute comedy gem, though it hasn’t aged too well. Now that you have reminded me I’ll have to watch it again. :-)

  3. #3 Art
    August 26, 2010

    Hollywood never gives up on any lucrative series.

    It may delay, or go into hiatus, but then, somewhere around 2035 Bond will reemerge to fight a super-villain who will be trying to ally himself with the Zerg and take over the earth, or something. It will be shot in 3-D, naturally, and the large breasted women with protruding nipples will be virtually nude, or completely covered in birquas – it could go either way.

  4. #4 stogoe
    August 26, 2010

    MGM is apparently close to a deal regarding its debt, so I expect news by mid-September. I am, of course, concerned about Bond, but mostly I’m impatient for Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, which is also being held up by MGM’s funding woes.

    I do take umbrage at this, though:

    the movies themselves–especially of late–live in an unchanging male fantasyland and are completely without artistic merit.

    “especially of late”?! Really? I know that some people aren’t Daniel Craig fans, but to try and impugn his Bond flicks by pretending that they’re any more ridiculous than Thunderball or Moonraker or any of the rest is just irresponsible and geezerish. And ‘completely without artistic merit’ is just whinging without substance.

  5. #5 Dave M
    August 26, 2010

    Dalton is my least favorite Bond, but that may be because those films are the most formulaic and boring (so, not his fault really). Connery is my favorite, but I’m not as dogmatic about that as some people — and again, it’s probably because those were the best films. I don’t mind Craig (only saw his first). I still think Jeremy Northam (one of my favorite actors) would have been perfect, but he’s probably too old now.

    Favorite Bond girl: Diana Rigg in OHMSS (swoon).

  6. #6 amorphous
    August 26, 2010

    I feel all this analysis completely misses the point: Bond movies are, for the most part, comedies not thrillers. The important thing is not whether the movies are realistic but whether or not you have a good time. Just like comedies. I liked Sean Connery best as Bond because he seemed to get this: “I’m a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and this is what people want to watch me do? Ok, but I’m only going to take it a little bit seriously.”

  7. #7 Madjack
    August 26, 2010

    Interestingly, although there’s trouble at mill regards the next Bond film, there’s a video game due out shortly using Craig and Dench as virtual actors, so maybe Bond has simply ‘jumped the rails’ into a new medium.

    http://www.bloodstonegame.com

    (Although I’m sure there will be a new Bond film at some stage)

  8. #8 Badger3k
    August 27, 2010

    Don’t forget the Ninjas! Bond rules – I have all the movies on dvd but still find it hard to turn them off when one comes on the tv. I started with Connery, and remember staying up after our bedtime as the Bond movie went past 10pm (our time). Good times. I do think Craig goes back more towards the Connery style, and I liked the reboot. Can’t wait for the next one.

  9. #9 Birger Johansson
    August 27, 2010

    I love the way Bond has learned to manipulate probability to his advantage! When he fires one or two rounds -at a substantial distance- they hit the fuel tank of the villainĀ“s vehicle.
    When the villains open up with their sub-machine guns, they might nick Bond, but never score a serious hit.
    My explanation is that Bond has managed to “hack” reality like the protagonist in “The Matrix”; a feat neither his colleagues nor his opponents have managed.
    Being independently wealthy, he rarely uses this ability to gamble for money, but it might play a role in his ability to find the best-looking girls, and make them overlook the age difference.

  10. #10 JimR
    August 27, 2010

    I’m a Connery fan. Playboy would publish something like the first 1-2 chapters of a new book and we would wait eagerly for the book to come out. First movie was “From Russia with Love”, then “Goldfinger”. It was well into the late 1970s before “Dr. No” ever came on television. There were no VCRs or DVDs to catch up on older films.

    I agree with David M. on Diana Rigg as best female lead. My favorite minor character was “M” and favorite toy was the decked out car. The opening scene was always great. I liked Timothy Dalton a lot more than Roger Moore.

    I won’t spend the money to buy the DVDs, but will quite often switch over to watch sections that I particularly liked. I always love watching Oddjob’s hat.

  11. #11 symball
    August 27, 2010

    I would like to add my hopes for a new movie, but first JimR (#10)

    favorite toy was the decked out car

    Which one? this is a category with more competition than best bond!

    My personal favourite has to be the submarine car from spy who loved me- mainly because i had the toy version as a kid- how about everyone else?

  12. #12 spurge
    August 27, 2010

    I had a toy Lotus Esprit too. That was also the first Bond movie I saw in the theaters so it made quite an impression on me.

  13. #13 Gen. Eric Villain
    August 27, 2010

    Is Bond Dead?

    Of course he is! I lacerated him with some witty one-liners, then left him to die in my cleverly constructed, inescapable death trap.

    What do you mean, “stuck around to see him die”? Of course not, that would have been totally against tradition. And really, what’s the worst that could ha..aargh!

  14. #14 KeithB
    August 27, 2010

    Has anybody else read “The Jennifer Morgue” by Charlie Stross? It is a great Bond parody (a parody of a parody?)with a tricked out Smart Car as the Bond vehicle and a supervillian raising a Lovecraftian horror.

  15. #15 Charlie B.
    August 27, 2010

    Most Bond is very cheesy (up until the Daniel Craig gritty reboots, which were very gritty cheese…), but _Goldfinger_ is still one of the best action movies ever – up there with _Predator_, _Die Hard_ or _The Matrix_. The Fort Knox heist sequence is still utterly brilliant. IMO, of course. :)

  16. #16 James Sweet
    August 27, 2010

    “Do you expect me to pay my debts?”

    “No, MGM, I expect you to die!”

    Sorry.

  17. #17 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 27, 2010

    Charlie B —

    You’re right about the Fort Knox scene in Goldfinger. That was one of many places where the movie improved over the book. In the book Goldfinger’s plan is to steal the gold with a fleet of trucks. Not too practical, though Jeremy Irons nearly got away with a similar plot in Die Hard 3. In the movie he plan is to set off a dirty bomb, thereby irradiating all the gold in the vault.

    The original Die Hard is the best action movie ever made, bar none. Predator and The Matrix were also good, but I would probably have to place Raiders of the Lost Ark above them both.

  18. #18 JimR
    August 27, 2010

    @11 symball
    I liked all the cars and agree the submarine car was great. I was at Lake Mead one day when someone drove a car into the lake and kept on boating. It really threw me at the time, but it is easy to spot the cars by the prop on the rear.

    @14 KeithB
    You convinced me. I just ordered the book. Are any of the other Laundry books good?

  19. #19 John Farrell
    August 27, 2010

    Woody Allen? David Niven?? Don’t get me wrong, I love both in their proper milieu…but sheesh.

    That said, like you, I’ve always enjoyed Roger Moore because he was really the first Bond I saw. I think Spy Who Loved Me was his best, although I love Man With the Golden Gun because of Christopher Lee.

  20. #20 heddle
    August 28, 2010

    Opinions:

    Roger Moore? He sucked! Bond is supposed to cold and cruel, not a clown. Moore’s Bond was too comical.

    The best Bond movie from a artistic sense was From Russia With Love.

    The best Bond is the current one, Daniel Craig. His two movies have been very good. I especially liked the first one when he was learning to be Bond. Bartender: “Shaken or stirred?” Bond: “Do I look like I give a damn?”

    Favorite villian: Robert Davi in Licence to Kill

    Favorite Bond girl: Carrie Lowe in Licence to Kill

    Best play on a Bond line came from (milk it baby) a recent graduate of our physics department.

  21. #21 Greg Esres
    August 29, 2010

    Action stars and action movies are a dime-a-dozen and Bond evolved into just another one. What made them different during the Moore years was the humor, Moore’s sang froid during any situation and the fact that he always had some clever technological device to extricate himself from dire trouble. They can go too far…the submersible car was somewhat believable, but the invisible car was not.

    Many movie franchise were watered-down by making them all fundamentally the same, just swapping out character names in otherwise indistinguishable movies: Bond, The Saint, Mission Impossible, Bourne, etc.

    I don’t understand why movie producers want to change a franchise…if you want to make a different type of movie, then just make up your own characters and do it; don’t ruin the legacy of those that came before you.

  22. #22 Koray
    August 29, 2010

    Producers are scared hitless of creating a brand new hero because that would be too artistic and suicidal from a business point of view. Therefore they’re going to milk every successful one until it’s a prequel to Bond’s Australian cousin’s biggest blockbuster.

    Bond was from an era where people could bring themselves to imagine with the writer that major governments or corporations or criminal organizations could actually be so competent that they employed almost superhuman specimens who fought great battles at exotic locations.

    We’re now in the internet era where we know that large organizations pull it off thanks not to competence but only to their deep pockets and not even often, and the greatest battles are fought by the poor and the naive, and since we can see Afghanistan every hour on TV/Internet there are no exotic locations left.

  23. #23 SLC
    August 29, 2010

    Casino Royale with Woody Allen, who IMHO, is about as funny as AIDS? That has to rival Heavens’ Gate as the worst movie of all time.

  24. #24 J. J. Ramsey
    August 29, 2010

    “Is Bond Dead?”

    Well, for now, but he’s a Time Lord, so he’ll regenerate.

    Hey, why are you looking at me that way? How else do you explain how he looks different every few years?

    :)

  25. #25 OgreMkV
    August 29, 2010

    Daniel Craig is probably the best Bond yet… however, both of the movies were way past merely terrible. The best movies were Moore’s, but he was only so-so as Bond.

  26. #26 Jud
    August 30, 2010

    You kids are all way too young to be answering this question. I saw the Connery Bond movies in theaters when they came out, and he’s the only actor ever to play the part with sufficient cool to bring it off straight. No one after could succeed playing straight, so they were forced into self-referential semi-parody.

    The tongue-in-cheek was often done well, as with the play on the iconic Connery “shaken, not stirred” that heddle refers to, but this just reinforces the fact that there is only one Bond sufficiently iconic to parody.

  27. #27 KeithB
    August 30, 2010

    In case anyone wants to know what the fuss is about, here is a detailed recap of the original Casino Royale:

    http://agonybooth.com/ casino3j

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    August 31, 2010

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  29. #29 eric
    September 2, 2010

    Bond was from an era where people could bring themselves to imagine with the writer that major governments or corporations or criminal organizations could actually be so competent that they employed almost superhuman specimens who fought great battles at exotic locations.

    And from an era when you couldn’t just look up the secret lair on Google Earth. It is pretty amazing just how many of those villain plots are rendered obsolete by new tech. Sort of like how every new horror movie has to come up with a reason why the stalkee’s cell phone doesn’t work/gets left behind/the police don’t respond – instant tracking and communication renders a whole host of horror/suspense plots obsolete.

  30. #30 SLC
    September 2, 2010

    Re Heddle @ #20

    Favorite Bond girl: Carrie Lowe in Licence to Kill

    Prof. Heddle is putting me on. The best Bond girl was Jill StJohn and her 160 IQ.

  31. #31 GravityIsJustATheory
    September 3, 2010

    I used to love the Roger Moore Bond films as a child, but these days, I can barely watch them. Moore is just so excrutiatingly smarmy, and personally, I think he’s the worst Bond.

    I’m also not to keen on Brosnan – he seems too much like a generic action-movie hero, just charging in an machinegunning everything in sight. Also, as with the Moore films, I thought the Brosnan ones became too reliant on OTT gadgets. At least he’s not as nausiatingly smarmy as Moore.

    A car that can drive through a hail of bullets only taking minor damage (Goldfinger) = cool.

    A car that is completely invulnerable to mini-gun fire and rockets is just silly, and more importantly, eliminates any real tension. (Being able to turn invisible is just the icing on the cake).

    I’m not sure who the best Bond is, but I think the “unpopular” Bonds (Lasenby and Dalton) are much better than they’re given credit for.

  32. #32 helen
    September 3, 2010

    Roger Moore played The Saint in TV series before Bond in films, and his Bond never got over it. He’s just too silky and smarmy. Moreover, Roger Moore was quite plainly too old to be Bond.
    The films are worth a study in social change and changes in what is given out as up-to-date gadgetry. Is Felix Leiter still present? Remember how his phenotype changed over the films? M morphed into a female. Miss Moneypenny still missy?

  33. #33 nurettin
    September 3, 2010

    Roger Moore played The Saint in TV series before Bond in films, and his Bond never got over it. He’s just too silky and smarmy. Moreover, Roger Moore was quite plainly too old to be Bond.

  34. #34 Tommykey
    September 3, 2010

    There was also a lot of recycling too. Moore’s The Spy Who Loved Me was basically You Only Live Twice with submarines instead of spacecraft. The same character actor who played the American spacecraft commander in YOLT played the American sub commander in TSWLM. And Connery’s Never Say Never Again was just a remake of Thunderball.

    When I was a kid, Moonraker was my favorite, but then when I got older, I couldn’t help but wonder why the villains henchmen always resorted to convoluted methods of trying to kill Bond, and when they failed, he would just be taken prisoner. And the interplay between Bond and Jaws reminded me of The Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote.

    As for my favorite Bond women, at least in the looks department, Claudine Auger from Thunderball, Akiko Wakabayashi in You Only Live Twice, and Talisa Soto from Licence To Kill.

  35. #35 Heather
    September 6, 2010

    I saw most of it and i choose Dalton for the first portrayal of Bond in film to closely capture Bond’s dark psychology and Craig for capturing the bad guy working for the good side again and his ruggedness.

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