Oh, to have a time machine, and travel back to 1962 to see the premiere of the first Bond film, Dr. No, starring a relatively unknown Scottish ex-truck driver, Sean Connery. I’ve seen Dr. No on the big screen, about 10 years ago at a repertory theatre, but I doubt that it captured the magic. But there again, with my jaded 90s filmgoer eyes, it would be impossible to know the excitement of audiences as they realized they were seeing a new type of hero in a new type of screen adventure.
Bond has now been on the screen for 37 years, the character has become a cultural icon, and the films have long become formula.But what a glorious formula it is, and what incarnations the character has gone through (and survived) a rogue, clown, killer, superman (not to mention Scottish, Australian, English, Welsh, and Irish).I’m a Bond fan. I’ve seen every movie at least 3 times, and read all the books. My first movie theatre experience with a Bond film was unfortunate, 1979’s Roger Moore opus Moonraker, surely the worst of the series. But I survived that, and went on to look forward to the release of each new Bond picture. With the release of The World is Not Enough, which looks to be the best Bond film in a long time, I want to share my reflections, thoughts, and opinions on the Bond film series.Fleming: Father of BondBefore I begin writing about the movies, I want to pay my respects to Ian Fleming, the English writer who created agent 007, and wrote 14 books based on the character, starting in 1953. The first Bond novel was Casino Royale, which Fleming wrote on the eve of his marriage at age 42. The Bond novels are characterized by Fleming’s attention to detail and ingenuity with plot and character. Bond himself, while not exactly a great literary character, is nevertheless fleshed-out, human, and a far cry from most of the later film portrayals. The Bond novels remain great reads to this day. The best of the Bond films are those that closely follow at least the spirit of the books.Fleming always thought that his Bond novels would make good films, and this was proved when producers Harry Salzman and Albert “”Cubby”” Broccoli teamed up to film the first Bond big screen adventure, Dr. No. The casting of Bond was a difficult one. At one time or another, Carey Grant and James Mason were considered for the part. Fleming himself thought David Niven would be right for Bond. (I’m glad Fleming wasn’t the casting director.) Instead, they chose a little-known actor, Sean Connery, who ended up delivering the definitive screen 007.Connery’s the ManNo doubt about it. No matter how good they are, any subsequent Bond actor falls in the shadow of Sean Connery. He defined the screen character, and played him perfectly. He had the looks, the style, the moves, and the voice. And though not letter-perfect to the character from the novels, Ian Fleming liked him in the part. So much in fact, that Fleming even gave the literary Bond a Scottish background. The best Bond films are the first three – Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger. All of these films feature a greater emphasis on plot and character, too often lost in later movies. My favourite moment from these three is the fight scene in From Russia With Love. If you’re familiar with this film, you know the scene I’m talking about.The setting is the Orient Express. The villain, Red Grant (superbly played with convincing menace by Robert Shaw) has got the drop on Bond. 007 is on his knees in front of Grant, who is holding a gun on him. Through ingenious means that I won’t reveal here for those who haven’t seen the picture, Bond gets the upper hand, and a fight ensues. Though the fight takes place in a small compartment, with very little room to maneuver, the choreography is so well done that the scene is riveting. It still remains one of the best fight scenes ever filmed. In a much later Bond film, Goldeneye, director Martin Campbell intentionally pays homage to this scene with a close-quarters fight between Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and Alec Trevalyan (Sean Bean). But the original is best. The scene encapsulates everything that made the first Bond films work so well. Memorably-played characters, plot ingenuity, well-filmed and exciting violence, convincing danger, and a glib remark to provide some release from the suspense. Screenwriter Richard Maibaum and directors Terence Young and Guy Hamilton deserve much of the credit for the early Bond style. (Though Hamilton deserves a raspberry for his later Bond films, some of the weakest ever.)By the third film, Goldfinger, the Bond Formula became well-established. It includes the following: pre-credits scene that is a mini-movie in itself, visit to M that sets up the mission, visit to Q branch where Bond receives his latest equipment, beautiful woman that has to be wooed, big villain surrounded by “”little villains”” or henchmen, Bond ally who is murdered by a henchman (or woman), Big Villainous Plot that Bond uncovers, and climactic battle where the villain is defeated (after the body count racks up significantly). Other elements include the one-liners that Bond delivers (usually after or during action scenes), and of course the gadgets themselves that Q (Desmond Llewellyn) provides.When the fourth Bond film, Thunderball, was released, Bond mania was at its height. With that film, the series began to rely on its sets and gadgets more than its characters and plot. You Only Live Twice was even more gadget-laden, and completely ditched the Fleming novel for the first (but sadly not the last) time. Connery quit the part after this film, and the producers desperately hunted for someone to assume the Bond mantle and continue on with the series. They chose an Australian model, and thankfully went back to Ian Fleming for inspiration.Lazenby: Honestly, Mr. BondPity George Lazenby: chosen to follow the most-loved actor of his time in the most successful film series ever. And he had no acting experience, beyond television commercials. Though relatively unsuccessful at the time, Lazenby’s only appearance as 007, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is now considered by many Bond fans to be one of the best in the series. And it’s a terrific film, with a convincing and involving plot, refreshing lack of gadgets, and spectacular action. It’s ski chase sequence is still one of the best ever filmed. The big twist in the plot is, of course, that Bond falls in love and gets married. Diana Rigg plays his bride, Tracy. She is excellent in the role, playing a Bond woman who is tough and independent.Lazenby is quite good as Bond, though his inexperience shows. He lacks the self-assured presence of Connery. In a way, though, this fits the film perfectly, and allows a more honest, human Bond that jives better with the story. Though initially derided by critics, Lazenby’s only Bond film stands as one of the most memorable and powerful of the whole series.OHMSS did not, however, fare as well at the box-office. So the producers lured Connery back for one more turn as 007 in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. This film, while entertaining and well-acted by Connery, marks the beginning of a sad emphasis on comedy and outlandish plots. It also began a downward slide in quality, that continued in earnest with the casting of Roger Moore as Bond.Moore: The Comedy YearsEven in Moore’s first Bond film, Live and Let Die, the problems are obvious. The filmmakers continue the lighthearted comedic style they began in Diamonds Are Forever, and this time they have an actor more than willing to take that style and run with it. The result is what is widely known amongst Bond fans as the James Bond Comedies. They are characterized by outlandish plots, silly villains, cardboard characters, ridiculous slapstick humour, unbelievable gadgets that 007 relies upon to get out of sticky situations, and a Bond that is more concerned with spouting bad puns and not wrinkling his suit than dispatching villains.The ultimate bad Bond movie is Moonraker. To sum up how bad this film is, one need go no further than considering the chase scene in Venice. Bond is in a gondola, pursued by evil villains, and calmly opens a panel to reveal electronic controls that turn the gondola first into a speedboat, and then into a hovercraft. We are then “”treated”” to a scene where Bond drives the gondola/hovercraft through a crowded square, and shots of pigeons doing double-takes and drunks staring at their liquor bottles and throwing them away. Funny, I was 13 when I saw Moonraker, and couldn’t believe how juvenile the film was. Gone is the interesting Bond character created by Ian Fleming. Instead we have a cardboard superman, invulnerable in any situation, tossing off bad jokes and raising his eyebrows. Sigh. But perhaps I’m a bit too hard on the Roger Moore era. Sure, it produced the worst films of the series, but Moore did have some effective moments. The Spy Who Loved Me was very good, with effective set pieces, a memorable villain (“”Jaws,”” the steel-toothed giant), and some sporadic good acting from Moore. For Your Eyes Only was a return to the Fleming style, and features Moore’s most effective performance as Bond. When he coolly dispatches a villain by kicking his car, precariously perched on the edge of a cliff, onto jagged rocks below, you actually sense his anger and desire for revenge. Great stuff, and true to the Fleming character.The last two films of the Moore era, Octopussy and A View to a Kill, were passable. There were scattered good moments vying for attention with scenes like Bond swinging on vines through a jungle, a Tarzan yell on the soundtrack. All in all, though, I was glad to see the end of the comedy years. And for a fan of the books, longing for a return to the true spirit of 007, the next Bond incarnation was a dream come true.Dalton: Back to BasicsInitially, Pierce Brosnan was the actor chosen to next portray James Bond. At the last minute, however, his contract to the tv series Remington Steele prevented him from playing 007. So the producers of the Bond films decided to go with Welsh actor Timothy Dalton, who was one of the actors originally considered when Connery first left the role. Dalton made a great 007. He brought the character back to earth, paved the way for the incredibly successful Brosnan films, and made an acting contribution to the Bond films surpassed only by Sean Connery. It’s odd that most people don’t seem to like him as Bond. I think that you have to have read the Fleming books to really appreciate Dalton’s performance. Back in 1987, with the release of the first Dalton Bond The Living Daylights, I breathed a sigh of relief that the years of the James Bond Comedies were over. Here was an all-too-human James Bond, who was also a ruthless killer when required. Bond was back with a vengeance.There’s one scene in The Living Daylights that comes close to summing up all of Dalton’s strengths as Bond. It’s set in a fairground in Vienna. Bond has met one of his allies, Saunders, in a cafÃ© that features an electronic sliding door at the entrance. Saunders gives Bond some valuable information, and Bond thanks him, clearly showing his respect. As Saunders walks out of the cafÃ©, one of the villains activates an electronic device that slams the sliding door into Saunders, killing him. Bond runs over, kneels in front of Saunders’ body, and spots a balloon with the words “”Smiert Spionon”” (“”death to spies””) written on it, indicating that the death was not an accident. The look on Dalton’s face as he realizes this is pricelessâ€