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Scott Larson





Building façade in Cannes, France

Happy anniversary, 007

If you haven’t noticed, the James Bond movie franchise is celebrating its 50-year anniversary this year. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a quite so elaborate and relentless (and successful) worldwide marketing/publicity campaign for a product before—at least that didn’t involve a political candidate.

Make no mistake. Bond has always been a product from the very beginning. I can remember, in the weeks after Goldfinger opened to great fanfare (the fanfare being the Shirley Bassey-sung title tune), a bottle of men’s cologne or aftershave (don’t quite remember which) appearing mysteriously in our bathroom with Sean Connery’s piercing eyes staring at me and featuring the 007 logo. As I fast-forward through commercials these days, I notice that such products have made a comeback. We’ve been seeing a somewhat hesitant tuxedo-clad Daniel Craig on adverts hawking everything from Heineken beer to, well, everything.

The actor seems resigned and at peace with his role as suave huckster. I heard him tell BBC radio that it’s just the way big movies like this get made these days and he is willing to do his part. The media seem quite willing to do their part as well. Coverage of the new movie and the anniversary seem to have been everywhere. Even CBS’s 60 Minutes in the US was happy to jump on board.

I’m not actually complaining about all the hype. If nothing else, it was a welcome distraction from the relentless US election coverage. I’ve even done my bit by catching up on most of the 007 movies I had never written about before. (Links to my reviews can be found on this page.) I’ve only got one “official” Bond movie to catch up on—as well as the two rogue ones (the 1967 Casino Royale spoof and the 1983 court-sanctioned Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again), which I saw years ago but have not written about on this web site.

What becomes clear after watching so many Bond movies relatively close together (if it wasn’t clear already) is that they are mostly the same movie over and over. The flicks quickly inspire drinking games where you spot the bad Bond girl, the good Bond girl, the helpful person who’s going to get killed, etc. For a really good drunk during a Roger Moore, have a sip after every lame quip. Take an extra big swig when a woman is introduced whose name is a sexual double (sometimes single) entendre.

As I’ve written before, the formulaic nature of the 007 films is actually comforting. You don’t watch them (except maybe the first time or two) to be surprised or challenged. You watch them to enter a fantasy world that could have been dreamed up by Hugh Hefner or Bill Maher. Presumably, any women who watch these movies do so because of Bond as fantasy lover. But the attraction for men has to be even stronger. We guys want to be Bond—or at least we used to want to be him. Not only does he have a great life—the best of everything everywhere he goes—but he has no insecurities.

He can handle himself in any situation; he has no reason to fear danger. He can have any woman he wants and never has any entanglements afterwards. And, most importantly, he is in total control in any social situation. He always has a ready comeback or joke. Even more importantly, he always knows the right wine, its right temperature, the right dish to order and, of course, the right cocktail. The only thing that seems to give him pause is the occasional close call with a bald guy stroking a cat on his lap. If there is any aspect of his life that is less than perfection with which ordinary guys can identify, it is the fact that he frequently gets annoyed with his boss.

In 2006, the comfortable, predictable nature of the James Bond films seemed to be cast aside with the Casino Royale reboot. Daniel Craig’s 007 didn’t look like the other Bonds—but he was probably closer to the original character in the Ian Fleming novels. And he didn’t toss off witty one-liners. There was something damaged about him. And he got tortured, in excruciating detail. As pretty much everyone observed, Bond had been Bourne-ified. Critics and audiences cheered. Then came the sequel, and everyone whinged. They said Quantum of Solace wasn’t very entertaining and you couldn’t even understand it. Was the reboot going to fizzle just in time for the gala half-century observances?

But as with any good Bond movie, the good guys pulled things out in the end. Craig’s third film Skyfall, helmed by Oscar-winner Sam Mendes, is a hit—still firmly occupying the No. 1 box office spot in the UK as well as now having the same position in the US. Is that the result of relentless hype or is it actually a good movie? If you read my review, you know my opinion. I called Skyfall autocorrect for Craig-era Bond. By that I meant that the film cleverly reinserts standard 007 elements that were missing from the previous two films, although not the joke Bond girl names. Still, Bond is more of the old bon vivant. He even spouts a quip or two, although no groaners of Moore’s vintage.

Supporting players Q and (belatedly) Moneypenny are reintroduced—in surprising, updated fashion. And even M (trying to avoid spoilers here) becomes a more traditional figure in the end. Indeed, the movie harkens back to a kind of British patriotism we haven’t seen in movies for an awful long time. By the end, I was starting to wonder if we’d all be singing “God Save the Queen.”

But the patriotism thing worked for me. It gave Bond a motivation that explains him much better than anything else a screenwriter might come up with. Let Bond embrace his dinosaur-ness. What was not traditional for Bond was the glimpse we got behind the assassin’s mask. Judi Dench’s M is developed as a mother figure for him. We learn about his childhood and how he became the man he is. As far as I can remember, this is the only time we have really gotten a look into Bond’s heart and soul—with the exception of his tragic wedding day in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Most importantly, the movie plays like another origin story. And it makes us want to see the next movie. That is a good sign for Bond, the spy who has improbably survived the end of the Cold War.

For the record, here are…

  • My favorite Bond songs: “Skyfall” (Adele), “You Know My Name” (Casino Royale, Chris Cornell), “A View to a Kill” (Duran Duran), “The Living Daylights” (a-ha)

  • My favorite Bond girl names: Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman, Goldfinger), Honey Rider (Ursula Andress, Dr. No), Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles, Moonraker), Tiffany Case (Jill St. John, Diamonds Are Forever), Plenty O’Toole (Lana Wood, Diamonds Are Forever)

    -S.L., 13 November 2012


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