Thursday, November 20, 2008

James Bond

Several months ago, I decided that I wanted to read the original Ian Fleming "James Bond" novels so I searched eBay and found a set for sale. I read them in publication order with the exception of the short stories which I read in the their respective collections. I prefer to go into a book without having already seen the movie version, but with James Bond it is unavoidable. So I began with Casino Royale and enjoyed it. I found that it really opened my eyes to the Fleming character of James Bond. Of course, he developed over the course of the novels, but in the beginning, Bond was very cold and calculating and found little time for women while in the midst of a mission. In fact, the Casino Royale James bond is quite contrary to the suave, cool Bond portrayed by Sean Connery.

I continued reading the books and comparing them to the movies. In order to maintain the continuity of the movies I chose to watch them in release date order as well, but that caused me to have to wait until I had finished reading most of the books to really get fully into the film franchise. I finished the books a few months ago now, but I am still not through the movies yet. I have stalled out in the Roger Moore era. The reason for this? I realized, rather quickly, how bad a lot of the Bond movies are. That includes the Sean Connery films as well. Of course the Roger Moore films took the franchise into the level of absurdity.

It really got me to think about my affection for Bond films and it dawned on me that my love of the movies as I grew up was more about the idea of James Bond and never really about the movies themselves. The novels are mostly fantastic and the continuity between them is perfect. The filmmakers immediately reordered the storyline by choosing to start with Dr. No when the rights to Casino Royale were unavailable. On top of that, so much dramatic license was taken that the stories inevitably suffered. There are a few exceptions of course.

"Dr. No" was a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel, but I felt that it progressed to slowly to be a "great" movie. "Goldfinger" was probably the best Sean Connery era Bond film for both faithfulness to the source material and performance of Connery. But Connery was not the best Bond. For a while, I have been of the opinion that "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" is the best Bond film. I also thought that George Lazenby was the best James Bond even though he was only around for one outing as the spy. The movie is very true to the book except for one rather bothersome continuity error resulting from the production of this novel after the film version of "You Only Live Twice," which actually should have been the other way around to preserve Fleming's overarching story.

I have not re-watched the Timothy Dalton movies yet, but I remember being unimpressed when I first saw them. Of course, my opinion may change this time around because I do remember Dalton playing James Bond more cold than cool. That's more in line with Fleming's Bond than anyone either Connery or Moore. Pierce Brosnan was a better Bond on paper as long as that paper didn't have a wretched script written on it. I don't know if it was all the scriptwriters' fault, but "GoldenEye" was probably the best of the Brosnan films and I don't remember it being all that great anyway. I'll never forget how laughably bad "Die Another Day" was. It was so bad that I had no desire to ever see another Bond movie.

The rebooting of the franchise with "Casino Royale" did a great service for the brand. I felt that I had been so badly burned by the previous film, I avoided Daniel Craig's debut in the theaters. I wish I hadn't, because when I finally saw it, I was blown away, both with the storytelling and with the new Bond. Craig has officially taken the top spot from Lazenby for me. He was wonderful in the role and I can say that the film still holds up after having read the novel.

We saw "Quantum of Solace" this weekend and although I didn't like it as much as "Casino Royale," it was better than the most of the other Bond movies out there. It doesn't have the slightest thing to do with the Ian Fleming short story of the same name, but this is not the first time that a Bond film simply uses the title of a book or story and nothing else. I like that is a direct sequel to "Casino Royale" and that it is not overly gimmicky. As soon as it gets too gimmicky, you'll know that they are out of ideas. I like how it leaves some questions unanswered for the next chapter in the story. And I love Daniel Craig as James Bond. I hear a lot of people still griping that he's no Sean Connery, but I challenge those people to go re-watch any of those old Bond movies and tell me why they are so superior to the last two films. The future seems to be bright for Bond. Happy 100th birthday Ian Fleming!

No comments: