In light of the inability of the Academy Awards to provide a proper celebration for the 50th anniversary of James Bond in film, I have decided to compensate, in writing, for the Academy’s gross failure.
The Bond franchise has been forced to adapt to modern times on multiple occasions, such as the rise of computers (For Your Eyes Only), cell phones (Tomorrow Never Dies), sophisticated safe-crackers (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), MRI and other high tech medical technology (Die Another Day), better sidearms (Tomorrow Never Dies, Skyfall), increased use of computers and supercomputers (Casino Royale (2006) onward), and finally the use of cell phones for live, long distance communication (Skyfall). I’m not even getting into the cars he’s driven over the decades.
However, the Bond franchise has not only adapted to modern times, they have also adapted to match their target demographic; when Moonraker was seen as being over the top, the franchise responded with For Your Eyes Only, which was a down to Earth, Cold War thriller, that used simple gadgets and Bond’s wits more than exaggerated cars and things that go boom. When the Cold War ended, the franchise intentionally set Goldeneye in a post-Cold War environment to address the changing world culture, as well as why Bond was still necessary in the New World Order; they also showed foresight by bringing in the first female M. After forty years of continuity, the franchise rebooted, clearing a path for new plot lines and stories that could go in a different direction, free of the continuity that would have otherwise bound it; it also allowed them to explore Bond’s roots, both as an agent, and as a person.
Sean Connery (“the original Bond”) was a brilliant selection for the role of James Bond, especially in context of when Dr. No was made. Connery fit the role perfectly, as a 1960’s man operating in, to modern eyes, a different world; although many of the scenes and actions Connery’s Bond took are politically incorrect to modern eyes, one must realize that they probably didn’t raise too many eyebrows at the time, and Connery handled that type of role perfectly. Of course, Connery didn’t like the media attention that hounded him; he gave one interview to promote Thunderball (to Playboy magazine), left the role after You Only Live Twice, and only returned to do Diamonds Are Forever to kick-start his recently established charity.
Many people question the casting of George Lazenby (“the one-off Bond”); it’s easy when you consider he only did one film. However, Lazenby played the smart intelligently; he chose not to imitate Sean Connery, which was a smart move (and laid down the groundwork for future actor’s transitions); he played Bond as less of a superman, who also had a heavy dose of luck, something that Connery’s Bond had done, rather playing Bond as human; finally, he openly addressed the difference between his Bond and Connery’s Bond in the opening of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, with the memorable line “this never happened to the other fella.” Lazenby was a good Bond, although it takes a few moments to put it in perspective.
Roger Moore (“the light-hearted Bond”) was not just a good fit for James Bond, but also the promotional machine that was needed to promote each Bond film. He thrived on talk shows, his sense of humor winning people over. His seven Bond films not only displayed Bond’s sense of humor (sometimes to a fault), but eventually even Moore’s Bond gained a cold-blooded edge that made his tenure, overall, quite successful. The biggest challenge he faced, though, was heading a franchise in general disarray; he was the third actor to play Bond in as many films, and in spite of the spirited failure of his second outing, The Man With the Golden Gun, he brought the franchise back with successful outings for the remainder of his tenure.
Timothy Dalton (“the serious Bond”), like his predecessors, didn’t imitate those who had come before; his interpretation of the character of James Bond, the closest any actor has come to the original Fleming character, was met with mixed reviews, and continues to be a topic of heated discussion. Dalton, however, did something that was, quite frankly, long overdue for the franchise: he brought the films he did, two in total, back to being thrillers, something the regime in charge at the time had begun with Roger Moore in his last three films. Dalton was the Bond you believe used his license to kill, and often; the trade off is that sometimes he seemed a little stiff, but considering the world James Bond inhabits, a hero who is totally charismatic wouldn’t work all the time either.
Pierce Brosnon (“the classic Bond”) saved the franchise in 1995 with Goldeneye. Originally tapped in the 80’s, an arrangement which fell through, Brosnon was able to make Bond relevant in a post-Cold War environment. The subtle jabbing between him and Jack Wade, his CIA contact, about him being a “stiff-ass Brit, with your code names and your passwords,” reminds the audience that the world has changed, even if the overall threats are not that different. Brosnon relished his one-liners, was more than capable when he needed to show affection and emotion, and played nearly all his relationships, be they antagonistic, romantic, or professional, very well.
Finally, Daniel Craig (“the young Bond”) plays the role with a seriousness and spunk that hadn’t been seen since the early Connery films. His job, to not only show Bond as a young man, but subtly explore his deeper personal history, was not easy; he wasn’t just replacing a popular Brosnon, but could have spelled doom for the franchise’s attempt to reboot. Fortunately, Craig’s Bond is more human, although he is still a superman when he needs to be, working the thin line very well. Craig’s Bond engages in vicious fist fights, gets angry, and seems to enjoy antagonizing people, even his colleagues.
The behind the scenes heroes are a long list: Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, long time producer who retired just prior to Goldeneye; Harry Saltzman, who originated several key Bond elements that made the films successful; Broccoli’s stepson, Michael G. Wilson, who along with Broccoli’s daughter, Barbara, have taken over the franchise since 1995. Together, they continue to forge a legacy unlike any other in the history of film. Saltzman left the franchise due to financial issues, as well as growing personal issues with Cubby; however, the two of them reconciled years later before Saltzman passed away. Cubby Broccoli passed away in 1996.
One unsung hero of the Bond films is Terence Young; when Sean Connery began playing James Bond, more than one person described him as doing “a Terence Young impression”; he lived hard, worked hard, and enjoyed life, sharing his spoils with everyone around him. He directed Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Thunderball.
Guy Hamilton, in my opinion, has a mixed legacy: he directed what is viewed by many as the best Bond film, Goldfinger, along with Live and Let Die, which for its faults, is an awesome ride. However, his two other films, Diamonds Are Forever, and The Man With the Golden Gun, both fall flat, and Golden Gun nearly wrecked the franchise. His legacy, then, is one of both greatness and failure, but his great moment helped to define the franchise, which outweighs his failures.
John Glen directed five Bond films (For Your Eyes Only, Octupussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, Licence to Kill) and helped bring the franchise back to its roots; he like, Timothy Dalton and many other, left the franchise when it was stuck in limbo during the litigation that upheld MGM in the early 1990’s, which may have been for the best; it opened the door for new minds, a new mindset, and for his legacy to take its place amongst the great Bond films.
Richard Maibaum has written, or co-written, more scripts than any other Bond screenwriter. His most notable contribution was the pre-credits sequence in Goldfinger, designed to give the audience a mini-adventure before the main one began. His best script, though, was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which reinforced that Bond was human, and established where his cold shoulder towards others came from. Maibaum passed away in 1992.
Ken Adam designed larger than life sets that set the tone for many of Bond’s great adventures, including Dr. No, where he spent a ninth of the film’s total budget, $100,000, on the villain’s main set. Five years later, on You Only Live Twice, he would spend ten times that amount creating the epic volcano set, and for Moonraker, his epic sets would take up all the stage space in the city of Paris. His sets were epic; the torch of production designer was eventually passed to Peter Lamont, who had worked for Adams since Goldfinger.
Between For Your Eyes Only and Casino Royale, Peter Lamont only missed one Bond film (Tomorrow Never Dies, since he was busy doing an Oscar-winning job on James Cameron’s Titanic). Lamont was able to match the tone of the film he was working on, be it epic, small, or anywhere in between. Lamont would be a vital asset to the franchise until his retirement in 2007.
I suppose a special shout-out to Martin Campbell is in order; Campbell brought Bond back, not once but twice. Goldeneye re-established Bond in the New World Order; Casino Royale (2006) resulted in a successful reboot. Without him, the franchise could be way worse off today.
The Bond films are made up of the filmmakers, the fans, and the will to keep working on it. There are many imitators (The Bourne Series, Mission: Impossible), and many of them are great, but all pay homage, in one form or another, towards Bond, the original, still going strong.