Forty Years of 007
Just about everyone knows that the James Bond franchise turns 40 this
year. But stop and think about how remarkable a run this is. When Dr.
No, the first Bond film, played in America it was competing
against films such as Hud and Cleopatra.
Die Another Day, the 20th "official" Bond film,
will play opposite Harry Potter and The Two Towers.
No other franchise has shown the durability or sustained popularity
of 007. The Star Wars franchise is 25 years old, and that
included a 16-year break. The Alien franchise has been
around since 1979, but has only produced four films. The only one that
even comes close is the Star Trek franchise, with ten
films (if you include the upcoming Star Trek: Nemesis)
in 23 years. But even that's a far cry from Bond. A new Bond film has
opened an average of once every two years since 1962, and the longest
break was only six years. The last three Bond films have averaged nearly
$120 million in U.S. box office alone and much more overseas.
The Bond franchise has endured and prospered through five different
leading men and many different directors. Why? Many have written of
the fantasy/identification element - Men want to be Bond, women want
to be with him. True enough, but what else is there? Why is a 40-year-old
film character (even older if you go back to the Ian Fleming novels)
still popular? Is it because Bond and the films have changed to meet
Yes, Bond has shifted, but only on the surface. He's still basically
the same - a man who can fight anyone, speak any language and get any
woman. He's an expert at every form of technology and science. He's
a superb driver, escape artist, marksman, pilot, and is even a good
cook. Ironically, the only area in which he consistently fails is being
a spy. The villains always catch him. Even when he goes by an assumed
identity his friends and foes quickly find out who he is. But who cares?
- this is fantasy. True, Bond has adapted slightly over the years. The
first time we see Bond in Dr. No there's a cigarette hanging
out of his mouth. In Tomorrow Never Dies he admonishes
a bad guy that smoking is "a filthy habit." In Goldfinger,
Bond dismisses his female companion with a pat on the behind telling
her it's "man talk." That wouldn't fly today. Bond has grown
slightly less chauvinistic, but he still sees women as conquests. In
GoldenEye, a psychiatrist tries to analyze him and he
seduces her. He still thrives on danger. He still satisfies his own
desires while remaining loyal to the Queen and the free world. He still
has the wit and style that separate him from most other action heroes.
What about the Bond women? Certainly they've changed more than Bond
has. Honey Rider (Ursula Andress) in Dr. No did little
more than stay at Bond's side and look stunning in a bikini. Many of
the others from the early years were also just beautiful damsels in
distress. Slowly the women's roles improved in response to the changing
times. Chinese agent Wai-Lin (Michelle Yeoh) in Tomorrow Never
Dies, was Bond's equal in every way. Reportedly, so is Jinx,
an American agent played by Halle Berry in Die Another Day.
But even today, the women co-stars are mostly there for sex appeal.
If they can contribute more, that's an added bonus. It's not a requirement.
Does anyone think that Denise Richards got her role in The World
is Not Enough based on her acting skills?
Perhaps the most change can be found in the films themselves. Many
of the first Bond films played upon Cold War themes. The enemy was S.P.E.C.T.R.E.,
which had the main goal of triggering a US-Soviet war. In the 1970s
the tone became lighter, and the villains were more often megalomaniacal
billionaires who wanted to rule the world. The tie to any form of reality
grew more tenuous. In the late 80s and 90s, the series tried to be somewhat
topical with villains that included a drug lord and a Rupert Murdoch-like
media tycoon. The recent films have featured bigger and more spectacular
action scenes, and the editing is faster. But even here, isn't the basic
formula the same as the paradigm set in Goldfinger? Opening
teaser, title sequence, flirtation with Moneypenny, assignment from
M, gadgets from Q, initial engagement of villain, Bond meets and beds
first woman (who usually dies), more action scenes, Bond discovers initial
part of villain's plan, he meets up with second woman, invades villain's
lair, gets captured by villain, villain explains entire plan, Bond escapes,
defeats henchman, defeats main villain, destroys lair, hides away with
second woman as superiors try in vain to contact him, end credits. Not
all of the Bond films follow the formula completely, but it's usually
Surely movie audiences have changed since 1962. Why then do people
flock to films with parameters set before many of them were born? It
might be the same reason people still watch "Saturday Night Live."
Both are still entertaining, but they have also become institutions.
There were certain points when the Bond franchise's future was in doubt,
but it made it and because it has survived so long, it's become timeless.
You can see an old Bond film on DVD or see the new one in theaters.
The core elements are still there and we can anticipate how they will
be tweaked ever so slightly in the new film. You expect a Bond film
every 2-3 years. When Pierce Brosnan leaves we expect that someone new
will replace him. Bond films still contain the fantasy, action and sex
appeal that are prefect escapist entertainment. We keep coming back
not for the way these films have changed, but for the ways they haven't.
With that, here's a look back at the best and worst of some of the
signature 007 staples over the past 40 years:
Best Bond - Sean Connery
Easy call. He established the character and the franchise. Connery embodied
sophistication and charm, but also had a fierceness many of the other
Bonds lacked. You knew from his body language that he could handle himself
in a fight. Connery's Bond could attract women though sheer presence.
Worst Bond - Timothy Dalton
Another easy call. The Bond producers clearly wanted to make Bond more
"serious" and move the series away from the perceived playfulness
of the Roger Moore films . But they went way too far. Dalton tried to
play Bond like it was Shakespeare. He delivered the one-liners as if
they turned his stomach. He barely showed interest in his leading ladies.
Dalton forgot that Bond has to enjoy being Bond. No one wants a dark
and brooding 007.
Best Bond Girl - Major Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach)
The Spy Who Loved Me
No Bond girl is sexier than Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) in Dr.
No. None is more capable than Wai-Lin (Michelle Yeoh) in Tomorrow
Never Dies. I'm going with Major Amasova in The Spy Who
Loved Me because she best combines beauty and brains. Bach's
smoldering good looks register immediately. But what makes The
Spy Who Loved Me memorable is how Major Amasova and Bond could
match wits as well as charm. Major Amasova is also as dedicated to the
Soviet Union as Bond was to England. She has her own life, her own career,
and did not live or die for Bond. Bach helped create what was arguably
the first "modern" Bond woman.
Worst Bond Girl - Agent Goodnight (Britt Ekland) in
The Man with the Golden Gun
Granted, most of the Bond women didn't go to any Mensa meetings. But
even by this low standard, Agent Goodnight is a complete numbskull.
She does one stupid thing after another, culminating with her accidentally
locking herself in the trunk of the bad guy's car. Maybe we could put
up with this if she weren't so annoying. Surely 007 can do better.
Best Villain - Blofeld (Donald Pleasance) in You Only
True, it's hard to see him now without thinking of Dr. Evil. But he
is a perfect match of material and manner. Remember, Blofeld was heard
but not completely seen in Thunderball. Blofeld's face
-- bald, with a huge scar running down the left side, epitomizes everything
we expect in a Bond villain. He's intelligent, ruthless, and wicked.
When Pleasance speaks, his words drip with refined malice. We completely
believe it when he feeds his assistant to the piranhas. One of the few
Bond villains that is truly frightening.
Worst Villain - Blofeld (Charles Gray) in Diamonds
Even though he is ostensibly playing the same part as Pleasance, Gray
could not have been more different. Gray plays Blofeld without any style,
grace or real fiendishness. He might as well have been playing an antagonistic
Best Henchman - Oddjob (Harold Sakata) in Goldfinger
Oddjob was simply the perfect henchman. Physically imposing and scary,
but with style. Never grew cartoonish (like Jaws did). And don't forget
the flying hat.
Worst Henchman - Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize)
in The Man with the Golden Gun
Any henchman that Bond can eliminate by locking in a suitcase is not
much of a threat. It's not that he's short. So was Rosa Klebb in From
Russia with Love. But she was dangerous, If you didn't respect
her she would stab you with her boot. Villechaize could not convey any
sense of menace. Besides, the whole film I'm waiting for him to shout
"De plane Bond, de plane!"
Best Bond Helper (non-recurring character) - Kerim
Bey (Pedro Armendáriz) in From Russia with Love
Many of Bond's colleagues make little impact before their eventual death.
Bey is different. The film gives you glimpses into Bey's own life outside
of Bond. Bey and Bond develop a true friendship as they work together.
Armendáriz carries the role off with zest and flair (despite
suffering from cancer during filming). When Bey dies you feel a real
sense of loss. A whole film could have been made about him.
Worst Bond Helper - Chuck Lee (David Yip) in A View
to a Kill
This really could have been any of the nameless doomed people who try
to help Bond. (Would you like to have that job? It's equivalent to wearing
one of a fatal red shirt on the original "Star Trek" series.)
I'm picking Lee because the film does absolutely nothing with him. He
introduces himself to Bond, gives him some information and is murdered.
Best Gadget - Ejector Seat in Goldfinger
Q supplied 007 with much more advanced equipment, but nothing beats
the elegant simplicity of the Aston Martin ejector seat. How many times
have you wished you had one in your car?
Worst Gadget - Exploding Pen in GoldenEye
We know all too well that a bomb can be configured to fit in just about
anything. So an exploding pen or an exploding key chain (from The
Living Daylights) just feels uninspired and banal.
Best Opening Teaser - Goldfinger
Close call over Tomorrow Never Dies, which is the most
exciting. Goldfinger is my choice because of its wit and
small touches. Bond steps out of a wetsuit in a tuxedo - perfectly pressed
no less. He sees the attacker from the reflection in a woman's eye.
Having no gun, he tosses an electric fan into the bathtub, frying his
assailant. And of course the one-liner: "Shocking, simply shocking."
Other notables - The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy.
Worst Opening Teaser - For Your Eyes Only
Dropping a wheelchair-bound man from a helicopter feels cruel, even
if it is supposed to be Blofeld.
Best Theme Song - Live and Let Die (written by Paul
and Linda McCartney, performed by Wings)
Agonizingly tough call over Goldfinger. Both songs convey
real danger. The melody in "Live and Let Die" is as exciting
as and Bond action sequence. Only Bond theme later covered by Guns N'
Worst Theme Song - The Man with the Golden Gun (written
by John Barry, performed by Lulu)
"He'll shoot anyone . . . with his gun." As opposed to what,
his Polaroid? The song's inane lyrics are matched only by it's dull,
Best Line - Fatima Blush: "I made you all wet."
Bond: "Yes, but my martini is still dry." from Never Say Never
Yes, I know Never Say Never Again is not an "official"
Bond film. But I don't care. This line perfectly captures Bond. Cool
with the ladies, witty and unflappable.
Worst Line - Bond: "I thought Christmas only comes
once a year." from The World is Not Enough
A cheesy, groan-inducing line even by Bond standards. Even if you haven't
seen the film, you probably know the context. If you don't, I'm not
going to be the one to tell you. Bond should have more class than this
juvenile line, which was better suited for the next American Pie
Best Action Sequence - Helicopter/Motorcycle Chase
in Tomorrow Never Dies
Much to choose from, both from the series and from this film, which
has several outstanding action scenes. The helicopter/motorcycle chase
is the most exciting and inventive. We have Bond and Wai-Lin handcuffed
to each other on a motorcycle racing through a Vietnamese village with
a chopper in close pursuit. The two agents have to work closely, as
Wai-Lin can't look forward and Bond can't move back. Our heroes move
through the streets, through the buildings and top it all off with leaping
the cycle from one building to another. These days many of the action
scenes seem repetitive (how many Bond skiing scenes have we seen?) But
this one feels new and inspired.
Worst Action Sequence - Tractor-Trailer Chase in License
Who came up with this one? It's not that tractor-trailers are inherently
unexciting (anyone who thinks so should watch Duel). But
this one has these behemoths lumbering around a mountain. The whole
sequence moves as slowly as the vehicles. When it ends, there's no satisfaction
in the villain's demise. We're just glad it's over.
Best Bond Film - Goldfinger
Yes, this is the one everyone picks, but sometimes the consensus is
right. Goldfinger excels in all the areas we
look for in a Bond film. Clever opening sequence, memorable theme song,
devious villain, witty lines ("Do you expect me to talk?"
"No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die"), cool henchman, great
gadgets, and luscious women (including the infamous Pussy Galore). Goldfinger
also features striking visual imagery -- the dead woman completely painted
gold. Goldfinger made 007 a cultural icon, and it's still
the standard against which all other Bond films are measured.
Worst Bond Film - Diamonds are Forever
Diamonds are Forever is so uniformly awful in so many
ways. Sean Connery looks bored as he goes through the motions (not surprising
since he did not want to come back to the series and did so only after
receiving a king's ransom). As noted earlier, Charles Gray's version
of Blofeld is the dullest villain in the Bond series. Jill St. John
brings nothing to the table as Tiffany Case. The henchmen, Mr. Wint
and Mr. Kidd, grow tiresome and their fey portrayal (by Bruce Glover
and Putter Smith) smacks of homophobia. And what in the world is Jimmy
Dean doing in a Bond film? I keep expecting him to sell sausage. Worst
of all, the film has no style as it shows Las Vegas at it's absolute
tackiest. A complete waste all around.
November 22, 2002
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