In case you didn’t realise, or have been living in a cave, this year is the 50th anniversary of the James Bond franchise. There is a new film out on the 26th of October in the form of the Sam Mendes-directed Skyfall, while Sky have heroically taken it upon themselves to launch a whole channel dedicated to replaying all the old classics. Due to the latter, I have been re-immersing myself in the joy of the old films over the last week or so. I watched Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me and Goldfinger in one glorious afternoon, then a few days later I even finally got round to watching the Quantum of Solace.
While struggling to comprehend what was going on in the most recent entry in the series, I was able to look at it with the critical eye of a man who has seen far too much of Roger Moore and Sean Connery for his own good lately. I’m afraid to say that, although the new films (and I appreciate that Casino Royale was miles better than QOS) are good and adhere closely to the Ian Fleming novels, they just don’t seem like proper Bond to me.
Aside from the fact that they have struck all kind of loathsome sponsorship deals with the likes of Vaio and the odious Richard Branson, the new Bonds just seem so po-faced, so serious. It’s not supposed to be that way, Bond should be implausible escapism, all jetpacks, one-liners and quizzically raised eyebrows.
Anyhow, to add a little gimmick to my views, here are 007 reasons why when it comes to Bond films, the old ones are the best:
1. The Baddies
Any good hero needs a nemesis and iconic “bad guys” have always been a key to the success of the Bond franchise. You can practically categorise the films by their villains. Oddjob and his lethal bowler hat in Goldfinger, Scaramanga and his three nipples in The Man With The Golden Gun, the cackling Baron Samedi and claw-handed Mr Big in Live and Let Die… JAWS! Jaws was absolutely terrifying! He could kill a shark with his teeth and rip open a van like a can of Coke!
The baddies in the modern films are so tediously generic. There is nothing at all memorable about them, they all appear to just be horrible businessmen trying to get rich. And for many of us, if we want to see that, we just go to work.
No, the producers have got this all wrong. What we want from our villains is insanity. We want pools of sharks and piranhas. We want lethal items of clothing and seats that tip back into pools of lava. We want fun. And for god’s sake, what’s wrong with stealing nukes and threatening the world? It’s a bulletproof plan. Also, it enables your volcano-based evil organisation to employ people like this chap (below), whose only job in The Spy Who Loved Me is to say “Two minutes… And counting” into an enormously oversized microphone. Splendid.
2. The Chauvinism
There is an amazing moment in Goldfinger where Bond and his latest dolly-bird ‘Dink’ are standing by the pool when his recurring CIA ally Felix Leiter turns up. The dialogue goes as follows:
Bond: “Dink, say hello to Felix… Felix, say hello to Dink… Dink, say goodbye to Felix.”
Bond: “Man chat”
Then he slaps her firmly on the arse and shoves her away. Wonderful, simply wonderful. I don’t care if he falls in love with Vesper Lynd in the book, THAT is what Bond is meant to be like with the ladies.
3. The Bond Girls
And while on the subject of the fairer sex, there’s been a bit of a move to empower the women in Bond films lately. Vesper Lynd, Camille Montes, Miranda Frost, Elektra King… They are all strong, capable women. Not for them the old “sleep with Bond, then end up screaming and holding a gun as he grapples with a bad guy” formula. No, they’re all cold, calculating and in control. This is entirely wrong. Additionally, none of them have the decency to have a ridiculous innuendo-inducing name. Mary Goodnight, Pussy Galore, Honey Ryder, May Day… That’s more like it. I could see what they tried to do with Christmas Jones, but the character was fatally flawed by the fact that she was played by Denise Richards, who is to acting what the Daily Mail is to journalism.
4. The Cars
Now I don’t know a lot about cars, but I do know what is cool. In the Quantum of Solace, there is a car chase between a moped and a Ford Ka… A FORD KA!!! Jesus Christ, if I tried to make the worst chase scene possible, it would probably have a Ford Ka in it. Against a three-toed sloth.
Also, when was the last time the car had any rockets on it, or an ejector seat, or turned into a submarine, or performed a ludicrous 360 degree barrel role over a bridge? I don’t care how nice the Aston was in Casino Royale, it was boring. Which brings me to…
5. The Gadgets
When you first watched Bond films as a nipper, what were the most memorable bits? The gadgets, obviously. Everyone wanted a pen which exploded, or a magnetic watch for undoing girls’ dresses, and so on. The trips to Q’s laboratory, complete with scientists arbitrarily blowing things up with rocket-launching briefcases in the background, was the highlight of every film. It was like Santa’s grotto, but with more dynamite.
Couple that with the joy of Bond inevitably using each and every gizmo he was given during the course of his mission and it was a winning formula. It’s just like the A-Team, there’s always a moment in every film where you’re thinking: “Oh no! How’s he going to escape??? Oh hang on a minute, he’s going to use the camera which expands into an inflatable hammock the size of a lorry. AMAZING!” and he duly did. The scene with Little Nellie from You Only Live Twice is, for example, utterly unmissable.
I appreciate that the sad passing of the legendary Desmond Llewelyn left an irreplaceable gap in Q branch (or at least one that John Cleese was woefully short of filling), but there’s no reason that there shouldn’t be any imagination-capturing toys in the films any more. Frankly, I’d give Heston Blumenthal a crack at the role. He’s got the right ideas.
6. The One-liners
There is a scene in the Quantum of Solace where Bond meets Miss Fields, a shabby role from Gemma Arthurton, and totally fails to make any form of sexual innuendo. It didn’t have to be, as my flatmate said, “I’d like to plough you”, but for god’s sake make an effort to get a cheap pun in!
Part of the problem appears to be Daniel Craig. Fine Bond as he is in terms of toughness, he lacks the ability or mannerisms to add the necessary hint of comedy to the role. You get the impression that if he smiled or laughed, let alone raised a Mooresque eyebrow, his face would crack into pieces and explode. He should watch this little video and take notes:
7. The Drinking & Smoking
James Bond arrived on the scene smoking a cigarette, which is correct, given that in the books he smoked an astonishing 70 cigarettes a day (unlike his creator Ian Fleming, who managed a truly outstanding 80 a day), while he is a connoisseur of fine wines. I’m afraid I just can’t see the modern-day producers asking Daniel Craig to lecture henchmen on whether “Chateau Mouton Rothschild is a Claret”, before opening his cigarette case and lighting up.
I don’t know if a knowledge of fine wines is considered too niche for the tastes of the American public, or too elitist for most Brits, but you sense that Craig is only still drinking vodka martinis so he can deliver the immortal line. Bond is supposed to appreciate the finer things in life, and if (as is rumoured) he orders a beer in Skyfall, it could be the final nail in his coffin.
What Bond should do is order an absurdly good bottle of wine, light up a ciggie and slap the waitress on the arse before bedding her. For that is how he was made. And that is why we love him.
So, is Skyfall going to be the last in the series? Well there’s an old showbiz saying that “It ain’t over ‘till the fat lady sings”. Given Adele has provided the theme tune to the film, is it possible that this is the end of the line for 007? Don’t bet on it. But sadly for me the real spirit of Bond died a long time ago. It was a simple dream based on ludicrous boyish escapism, but one that political correctness and modern times has slain.
Skyfall will probably be a great film, but I will always yearn for the old days, with their laughable special effects, dated plotlines and risible acting. For that to me is Bond. James Bond.
by Harry Harland