On 50 Years of James Bond

This past weekend Laura and I went to see this new James Bond movie, Skyfall. My overall impression was simply to say that it was amazingly Bondlike. To define this adjective, it had all those aspects one expects in a Bond movie:

* Gripping nail-biting action
* A God-like protagonist who can do no wrong and any wrong he might appear to be doing is just a ruse
* An iconic villain with some memorable personal trait
* Astonishingly good art direction, memorable visuals and epic, grand music
* A predictable and linear plot with about as much subtlety as a hammer to the forehead

On all these accounts Skyfall delivers marvelously. I’m no grand fan of this genre and can count the number of Bond films I’ve sat through in their entirety on one hand but this felt like a Bond film. Except for the modernity of the plot and the up to date effects, this was a film from the golden age of Bond.

All this compare and contrast, however, made me realize that I didn’t really understand with great clarity exactly what I was comparing this film to. It seemed clear to me that I was judging Skyfall based on the a rather generic view of the movies, not having sat through the previous 22. It felt like a Bond film but my perception of the question of “what is Bond?” was born more out of stereotype and generality than any direct experience. It is of just such realizations that obsessions are born so with dispatch I set forth to load up my Netflix queue with all the Bond movies in order. I will not insult the reader’s intelligence by saying that I will absolutely manage to follow through and watch every single film in their order of production but I will go so far as to say that I will watch the films until such time as I should become bored with the endeavor.

The first Bond movie, in 1962, was “Dr. No”. Watching this with fresh eyes, never having seen it before yesterday, I have to say that it doesn’t really seem very Bondlike at all. The Bond in “Dr. No” is clearly human. He’s fallible, prone to terrible error but still amazingly lucky. Having read at least a bit of the original Fleming I’d say that “Dr. No’s” Bond is reasonably true to Fleming’s version of him. He wins out in the end but one tends to attribute it more to luck than skill. Later Bond films are… well, how to put it. After “Dr. No”, Bond films are a genre all unto themselves. “Dr. No” is a 1960s movie that just happens to be about James Bond. The mold is not yet set. The model has not been established.

That said, the movie does have smatterings of what is to come. The opening title sequence, though rather weak by later standards, does have the artsy feel of a Bond flick. The opening sequence with the “Three Blind Mice” song and quick action crescendo works marvelously. Some amount of this is a reflection of what 60’s movies tended to be but Bond films carried much of this forward through the decades.

I look forward with some anticipation to the next 22 films.

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One response to “On 50 Years of James Bond

  1. I grew up with the books and had read most of them once the first movie came out. Out of all the films, I still like the second film “From Russia With Love” the best. There are a few gimmicks but it was maybe the most real life of all the films. And for me, it was really exciting story telling. Not to say the recent films aren’t good (and everyone who has seen ‘Skyfall’ has recommended it highly), but for me “From Russia With Love” was the one that set the standard. Having said this, I still am looking forward to seeing the latest one.

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