Actor Roger Moore, who played James Bond in seven films, succumbed to cancer in Switzerland at the age of 89. His family made announcement was via Twitter. Besides acting, Moore was a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and an advocate for children’s causes and animal rights. In 1999, he was given title Commander of the British Empire.
More first gained in the television series THE SAINT. He was supposedly an early choice to play James Bond when Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were preparing DR. NO, the first big-screen adaptation of Ian Fleming’s spy novels, but the role went to Sean Connery instead. After seven Bond films (including one with George Lazenby), Moore finally got to play 007 in LIVE AND LET DIE (1973), which was a box office success though not beloved by fans, who thought that Moore lacked Connery’s lethal quality.
Roger Moore was the right Bond at the right time, emphasizing the humor when the series reached a point it could not be taken even half-way seriously. In interviews, he expressed amusement that 007 was supposed to be a “secret” agent, yet every bartender in the world knew he wanted a “vodka martini – shaken, not stirred!” Moore avoided ordering the famous drink onscreen, though other characters would order it for him. Moore added his own touches to the role, such as smoking cigars rather than the Turkish cigarettes mentioned in Fleming’s books. The actor played up the one-liners (which he delivered with aplomb even when they were duds) and provided occasionally comical reaction shots to Bond’s predicaments. At times, the films approached self-parody, which irritated fans looking for something closer to Fleming’s hard-edged original.
In truth, the flaws with Moore’s first two 007 films were more due less to him than to the direction the series was taking, even before he arrived. A look at Connery’s last official Bond, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (made by the team of director and writers who would do the first two Moore Bonds), reveals everything that’s going to go wrong with LIVE AND LET DIE and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN – including the goofier tone, to which Connery was ill-suited. Moore’s films got better with THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977), one of the most enjoyable 007 outings. After the cartoonishy comical follow-up, MOONRAKER (set in outer space to cash in on STAR WARS), Moore got more serious in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981) and OCTOPUSSY (1983).
Though Moore’s tenure as the world’s most famous fictional secret agent ended in 1985 with A VIEW TO A KILL, he continued to work, appearing in television productions and providing voices for such films as CATS AND DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE. His other film appearances include FFOLKES (with David Hedison, who had played CIA agent Felix Lighter in LIVE AND LET DIE); THE WILD GEESE (with Richard Burton); and THE QUEST (with Jean-Claude Van Damme). He was also in an odd doppleganger movie, THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF. Read Variety’s obituary here.
Long-time fans of the James Bond films know that the secret agent enjoys a good vodka martini, shaken not stirred. But what is a vodka martini? Why should it be shaken rather than stirred? And come to think of it, is there even such a thing as a vodka martini? Readers of the Ian Fleming novels may have had a better idea about the answers to these questions,although even there, information is contradictory. Not until the 2006 film version of CASINO ROYALE did the movies get around to giving us a recipe for what Bond drinks.
To begin with, as far as purists are concerned, there is no such thing as a vodka martini; martinis are made with gin, period. Although there are recipes that substitute vodka for gin, the traditional martini-drinker considers the result to be something other than a martini.
The traditional recipe for a “wet” martini is two parts gin and one-half part dry vermouth. The mixture is stirred in ice, then strained into a glass, and garnished with a green pimento olive on a toothpick. This is most likely the drink you would receive if you walked into a bar and simply ordered a “martini” (although bartenders are increasingly likely to ask exactly what you mean when you order the drink, especially shortly after the release of a new James Bond movie).
There are many variations on the martini recipe (such as the “Dirty Martini,” which contains not only an olive but also olive juice). Most relevant to James Bond’s drinking habits is the Dry Martini, which consists of three parts gin to one-half part vermouth, also garnished with an olive. 007’s “vodka martin” appears to be a variation on this, but there is some room for doubt, as we shall see.
In the novel Casino Royale – and later in the film version starring Daniel Craig – Bond gives his preferred recipe, although he does not call it a “vodka martin.” The relevant passage occurs in Chapter 7 – “Rouge et Noir,” when Bond orders drinks for himself and CIA agent Felix Leiter:
“A dry martini,” he said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”
“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”
“Certainly, monsieur.” The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
“Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,” said Leiter.
Bond laughed. “When I’m…er…concentrating,” he explained, “I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.”
As we can see, a Bond’s recipe differs from a Dry Martini in five ways: in addition to three parts gin, it includes one part vodka; it replaces dry vermouth with Kina Lillet; it is shaken instead of stirred; it is served in a champagne goblet; and it substitutes a slice of lemon peel for an olive.
The extra vodka increases the alcohol content and thus the strength of the drink. Kina Lillet is a wine aperitif that lends an ever so slight fruity under-taste – barely discernable beneath the gin and vodka. Shaking the drink with ice chills it to the point where the concoction becomes palatable; at room temperature, it would taste little different from lighter fluid. The lemon peel adds a citrus aroma that helps cover any bitterness in the potent brew. And back at the time of the book’s publication, a champagne goblet was considerably larger than a martin glass; presumably, Bond need more room to fit that extra shot of vodka.
The result is described as a “pale golden drink, slightly aerated by the bruising in the shaker.” Bond sips the concoction and pronounces the result, “Excellent!” – before going on to say that it would be even better with vodka made from grain instead of potatoes. How much difference this would make is open to debate. Although grain-based vodkas are supposed to be smoother, the difference is most notable when the vodka is imbibed straight-up or over ice; for mixed drinks, any brand-name vodka will do – the relatively neutral flavor mixes well with almost anything, making any distinctions between different vodkas fairly negligible.
Now, whether Bond’s drink qualifies as a “vodka martini” is an open question. It is a martini – even by the standards of the purists, because it includes gin – and it does contain vodka, so “vodka martini” sounds correct, if we assume the term indicates a variation on a gin martini, with vodka added. However, Bond does not ask the bartender for a “vodka martini”; he specifically asks for a “dry martini” before giving his recipe. Then he goes on to say he is looking to name the drink.
Bond later chooses the name Vesper Lynd, after the leading lady in the spy drama. However, he never again orders the drink in any of the Fleming novels – which is not too surprising when you consider what ended up happening to Lynd. In QUANTUM OF SOLACE, the film sequel to CASINO ROYALE, we are told that Bond has drowned his sorrow over Vesper by drinking six of the martinis named after her – a feat more superhuman and incredible than surviving a jump from an airplane sans parachute.
Does the absence of the name indicate the absence of the drink? Are all those “vodka martinis, shaken not stirred” that we see in the films supposed to be the Vesper Lynd hiding behind a generic name? The issue is either clouded or resolved in the novel Goldfinger, wherein Bond orders a “Vodka martini, please. With a slice of lemon peel.”
The references to vodka and lemon peel suggest that Bond is ordering his special drink again. As if to underline the connection, Bond is sharing a drink with a character he met in Casino Royale; Bond seems to be ordering the drink as a deliberate call-back to the events in the previous book.
However, even if we assume that Bond has dropped the name “Vesper” because of the painful memories it engenders, he gives no special instructions to the waiter in Goldfinger. Since the scene takes place in a restaurant where Bond is making his first visit, we have to assume that the bartender does not know Bond’s special recipe, so it is unlikely that the agent can be expecting to receive a custom-made drink.
Perhaps this was simply sloppy continuity on the part of Fleming, who may have expected his readers to make the connection to the drink Bond had invented in the earlier novel. Whatever the intent, it seems likely the Bond would be served a simple vodka martini, not a Vesper Lynd.
What, then, is a vodka martini? Simply put, it is a martini that substitutes vodka in place of gin (not a martini that uses vodka in addition to gin). The usual recipe is similar to that of a “wet martini”: two parts vodka and one part dry vermouth; the mixture can be garnished with either an olive or a lemon peel. This is a much less powerful drink than the Vesper Lynd, but Bond may have been moderating his alcohol content based on the fact that he had just completed a double bourbon in the previous chapter.
Personally, I prefer to imagine that Bond continues drinking the Vesper Lynd, rather than the relatively weak vodka martini, simply because the Vesper Lynd is a unique drink – one worthy of the world’s greatest secret agent. (The drink apparently was actually invented by Fleming’s friend Ian Bryce.)
Bond fans wishing to sample their hero’s favorite drink will need to make some adjustments. First, a champagne goblet is no longer necessary; today’s martini glasses will handle the drink perfectly well.
Next, Kina Lillet dropped “Kina” from the name years ago (its use in the dialogue by Daniel Craig is an anachronism, but we’ll give the movie version of CASINO ROYALE credit for staying faithful to the novel in this respect, even if times had changed in the decades separating book publication from film production). There are now two types of Lillet, Rouge and Blanc. For the Vesper Lynd, you want Blanc.*
Also, one should be careful about how liquors may have changed over the years. Gordon’s gin is still on the market, but the version Bond was using back in 1954 (when the novel was published) was probably 100 proof, whereas Gordon’s tends to be 80 proof now. Some would suggest substituting Tanqueray, but this seems a bit of a stretch when Bond’s preferred brand-name gin is still commercially available.
Similar suggestions are made about a choice of vodka – advocating for 100 proof rather than 80 – but since Bond never names a brand it is difficult to state whether this is definitely correct. In the novel version of Casino Royale, Bond suggests that a rice vodka would be “better,” and it is easy enough to imagine that, for Bond, “better” means “stronger.” However, as noted above, the major distinction of grain vodka is that it is smoother – which would have been a bigger consideration in 1954, when alcohols were more likely to be harsh. Today, any brand-name vodka is likely to be smooth enough to work in a mixed drink.
First-time taste-testers are likely to find the Vesper Lynd more than strong enough, even with only 80-proof ingredients. This is a potent concoction – one sip, and you will instantly know why it needs to be shaken over ice: to get the drink cold enough to numb your taste-buds. The lemon peel also helps immensely, but don’t go the extra distance by including lemon juice; the aroma itself is all you need to create a drink that is “large and very strong and very cold and very well-made.”
Try the Vesper Lynd on your friends, and you will likely receive one of two reactions:
The sissy drinkers (i.e., the vast majority) will react like Count Dracula taking a sip of holy water and never touch the stuff again.
The real drinkers will nod in appreciation and ask for the recipe. They may also ask for another, but don’t give it to them unless they have a designated driver.
That’s all there is to it. Now, all you need is a tuxedo, a Walter PPK, and you’re ready to follow in the footsteps of your favorite filmic hero. And if you find yourself wondering why Bond would stop ordering such an excellent drink by name, just recall his words from the end of Casino Royale … (No, I’m not going to tell you; look it up yourself.) FOOTNOTE:
Actually, I have attempted a variation on the Vesper Lynd, using Lillet Rouge. The red tint is not suitable for the usual Vesper Lynd, but I used Vampire Vodka instead of a traditional vodka. The result is an interesting novelty for a Halloween party, but no match for the original.
If box office numbers are to be believed, we’ve been suffering a severe case of Bond withdrawal. SKYFALL, the newest film featuring secret agent 007, had its best opening of any Bond film as the franchise celebrates its 50th anniversary. And critical consensus has so far fallen into line with that of ecstatic audiences, contending that the latest adventure — in which Bond, James Bond (Daniel Craig) battles a computer mastermind (Javier Bardem) determined to take down MI6’s M (Judi Dench) for painfully personal reasons – is among the franchise’s best.
But simple plaudits are not enough for the Spotlight gang, and so Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons delve deep into the details of this high-stakes attempt to revive and redefine the long-running series, debating where the film achieved its goals, where it exceeded expectations, and where it fell short. It’s one of our liveliest conversations, fitting for a film that demonstrates that it’s not too late for an old cold-warrior to undergo a rebirth.
Plus: What’s coming to theaters this Friday.
The new 007 adventure reaches for the sky but falls short. The down-slide, though disappointing, is not enough to prevent SKYFALL from being a good James Bond film. It is, however, enough to flatten the film’s higher aspiration – which is to be something more than just a good Bond film. SKYFALL wants to rework the 007 formula into something resembling a serious drama – a combination of blockbuster action with the gravitas of THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD. The synthesis works for approximately the first half, lifting SKYFALL to a level seldom seen in the franchise, but then the drama begins to dissipate under the demands of the de rigueur action set pieces, dropping SKYFALL back down to familiar, though still enjoyable, levels.
The tone is set immediately. While attempting to retrieve a stolen hard drive (whose contents are the MacGuffin that will drive the plot), Bond disobeys an order from M: he stops to render first aid to a wounded comrade instead of pursing the stolen disc. The sense of life-and-death consequences – of treating a peripheral character like a person and not just an expendable red shirt – lends an air of credibility that holds SKYFALL aloft for quite a while. Yes, we are going to see over-the-top action and incredible heroics, but all of this stuff will be portrayed as if it really matters. Until it doesn’t.
I could pinpoint the exact moment when it starts to go wrong, but I don’t want to spoil the film. Let’s just say that SKYFALL does an excellent job of setting up what seems like a central relationship, and then Bond fails the character miserably. Which would not be so bad – fallibility is part of what makes Daniel Craig’s 007 so compelling. What hurts is that the failure is never allowed to register. Instead, it is drowned out by the triumphant arrival of the cavalry to the rescue, backed by the familiar “James Bond Theme – too late, unfortunately, to help the person who just paid the price for helping Bond.
Similar things have happened in past Bond movies, but in the Sean Connery Days, 007 would have been righteously angry and looking for revenge; M would have demanded he maintain his professional attachment if he wanted to remain on the mission; and Bond would have agreed verbally – while letting his expression show us that he still took matters very seriously, and there would be a reckoning. None of that happens in SKYFALL. Bond’s little slip-up is simply forgotten. And with it goes any chance of the film registering as heavy-hitter it aims to be.
What remains is still quite enjoyable, and there are even a few remaining moments that register with some emotional resonance, but you simply cannot maintain a sense of crucial, high-stakes dramaturgy when an entire subway train is destroyed for the sheer spectacle, without an eyelash ever batted about the loss of life (of which, conveniently, there appears to be none – though no one ever says for sure, because who cares – it’s an entire subway train nearly crashing on top of 007’s head!) At that point, we’re back in movie fantasy land, which is a fun place to be, but not a place where soul-searching about the rightness of one’s actions amounts to much.
The script by Neil Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan makes an attempt to dig deeper into the characters than ever before, but the effort is inconsistent. The strategy of producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson appears to be to get a draft from Purvis and Wade (veterans of the franchise since THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH), presumably with all the traditional elements in place (guns, gadgets, girls), and then they drag in another writer to add some dramatic heft. This worked excellently well in CASINO ROYALE (2006), perhaps because there was an Ian Fleming novel to provide the basic plot outline, but not so much in QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008). In SKYFALL, we get a mixed bag – definitely better than QUANTUM but not up to the level of CASINO.
Part of the problem is that Wade and Purvis seem to have run out of ideas. The screenplay for SKYFALL recycles bits and pieces from the Pierce Brosnan films. As in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, there is an attack on MI6 headquarters, and M is more personally involved in what follows. As in GOLDENEYE, Bond is pitted against a former MI6 agent, with a huge chip on his shoulder for past indiscretions committed by the British state – or at least by its agents.
One idea that is worth recycling is the theme of relevence (which, rather fortuitously, is something I addressed in Sense of Wonder: James Bond at 50, which you can read here). Whereas the Brosnan Bond films merely suggested that world conflict was changing in a way that made the service of a lone assassin preferable to the marching of armies, SKYFALL spells it out specifically, in a third-act scene wherein M (Judi Dench) defends not only her herself but also the organization she heads.
It’s a compelling moment – one of the best in the film – but it is slightly undercut by the fact that the plot is built around a catastrophic failure on the part of MI6 – a fact that is never fully reckoned in the script. Perhaps there is a delicious irony intended: just as Bond often wants to stick with a case, even after his professional detachment has been undercut by personal failure, so does M. The difference is that M should know better.
Perhaps she does, but the film does not quite bring the point home. Near the end, she wonders aloud whether she “f-cked up,” but Bond tells her no. They may just be words of comfort, but the film seems to want us to take them literally, in spite of on-screen evidence to the contrary.
CAST & CHARACTERS
Daniel Craig remains an excellent James Bond – probably the only serious threat to Connery’s reputation as the all-time best. In SKYFALL, Craig looks a bit world-weary and beaten down; the job is getting to 007, and it shows, but he refuses to give up, pressing on as if that is the only thing he knows how to do. More than any previous actor, he continues to capture Bond’s driven nature, the determination lurking beneath the polished facade that allows him to move smoothly through casinos and other exotic locations. And behind those cold blue eyes, you see the occasional hint of compassion, without it ever seeming like a weakness. The little grace note lends a touch of greatness to Craig’s Bond and to the film (until it is swept aside by subway trains and helicopters)
Javiar Bardem, as SKYFALL’s villain is a bit of a near-miss. A former MI6 agent gone rogue, out for revenge against M, Silva is set up as Bond’s doppleganger – a dark mirror image of our hero – but the reflection goes almost unnoticed. (Both Silva and Bond have been, in some sense, betrayed by M, but the connection never amounts to anything.) In an effort at complexity, the character is given several attributes, but they do not add up to a satisfying whole. The script seems uncertain whether to portray Silva as Hannibal Lecter or as Norman Bates; Bardem seems uncertain whether to play the role as Raul Julia or as Christopher Walken. The result is weird enough to be interesting, but the actor is never able to convey Silva’s obsession with M in a convincing enough way to justify his actions as anything other than a plot contrivance (it’s one of those “he doesn’t want to kill her quick; he wants to make her suffer” scenarios).
Judi Dench is excellent as always as the cold-blood M, who must weigh human considerations of loyalty at a lower value than the practical necessity of a successful mission. To a large extent she achieves the miraculous, making the character relatable (if not outright sympathetic) in her concern for doing a good job – even though, for most of the film, that job consists of cleaning up a considerable mess for which her department is responsible. If M were not a major player in the Bond franchise, her character here would be a minor villain in this piece – someone who needed to pay for her mistakes or at least get out of the way and let someone else fix them. Instead, we’re supposed to want to see M see it through, and thanks to Dench, we do.
Berenice Marlohe as Severine is the best Bond girl since…well, Eva Green wasn’t long enough ago to convey just how good Marlohe is, but the camera loves her, and director Sam Mendes lets the lens linger as she sizes up 007, deciding whether or not to trust him when he makes his pitch for her to switch sides. Naomie Harris as Eve cannot quite compete in this regard, but then she is not quite the traditional Bond Girl: she doesn’t sleep with him, for one thing – but then the film follows up on this with a clever little surprise that pays off quite nicely.
Ben Whishaw is a hoot as as the new head of Q Division. At first he seems too young for the role – a sop to the nerd-geeks in the audience – but there is some hint of Desmond Llwelyn in his face, and a little bit of the attitude in his voice, though on a somewhat friendlier level.
Ralph Fiennes is fine as Gareth Mallory, a seeming bureaucrat who in a pinch turns out to be a comrade in arms. Rory Kinear offers solid support as M’s right-hand man, Tanner. And Albert Finney lends a touch of class in a role that seems to have been designed for Sean Connery: his Kincade, a gamekeeper who shows up on the old Bond estate, manages to almost resurrect SKYFALL’s lost credibility; for a moment, we again sense fear in the face of danger, without the comfort of knowing that it will all turn out okay just because the formula demands it.
Though shot in standard format, SKYFALL has been released in IMAX engagements (“enhanced for IMAX” is how the ads read). The big-screen format is perfectly suited for capturing spectacular action and lavish locations; in particular, the Hong Kong sequence – with its neon lights, glass-and-steel skyscrapers, and electronic billboard imagery eerily reflected into the camera lens – is as eye-filling as anything displayed in any previous Bond film. And IMAX, even more than 3-D is the best enhancer of any scene that involves staring downward from a great height.
Nevertheless, for all its visual splendor, SKYFALL never quite equals the vertiginous spectacle of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3, which truly used the IMAX screen to its fullest potential.
In the inevitable interrogation scene between Silva and Bond (with the later tied immobile in a chair), Bardem’s character lets his hand linger over 007, tracing a bullet wound in Bond’s chest. The idea seems to be that Bond can withstand torture (as in CASINO ROYALE), but homoerotic advances may really get under his skin. It’s an interesting moment but also a trifle stereotypical: we’re back to the evil gay villain. Strangely, judging from interviews, the filmmakers seem to think they were doing something new here or at least bringing out something that had been hidden in the closet. Guess they overlooked Charles Gray’s fruity interpretation of Blofeld in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER – not to mention the pair of overtly gay hitmen on the supervillain’s payroll.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
CASINO ROYALE functioned as a sort of “Bond Begins Again” story, reintroducing the character as a younger, inexperienced agent, who grew before our eyes into something resembling the familiar figure we had seen in past films. More or less ignoring the events of QUANTUM OF SOLACE, the new SKYFALL takes Bond’s evolution a step further, ending with a final scene that puts a few more missing pieces of the old puzzle into place.
It is an amusing conceit for a quiet little denouement after the action has ended; however, it raises troubling questions about 007’s future. The suggestion seems to be that, with Bond’s maturation complete, subsequent films can abandon the drama and get back to the old familiar formula. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
GREAT STUFF THAT MAKES THE MOVIE WORTH THE PRICE OF ADMISSION
Enough of what’s wrong with SKYFALL. For all the flaws that bring it back to earth, the film is loaded with great moments that deserve mentioning:
The Opening Sequence: This begins as a conventional chase but ramps up into an incredible set-piece, with Bond manipulating a power shovel on the flatbed of a train racing down the tracks. Absolutely spectacular – a stunning opener that ranks among the best the series has ever seen.
The Theme Song: Sung by Adele, the SKYFALL theme harkens back to the glory days of Shirley Bassey and GOLDFINGER, but it doesn’t sound out of date or even particularly retro. It’s been awhile since a Bond title song managed the trick of sounding both appropriate for the character and appropriate for the times. The song is also backed by a nice opening title sequence.
Komodo Dragons: In the great tradition of dangerous animals kept in open pits, SKYFALL offers us a casino with Komodo Dragons on display. Needless to say, a fight scene winds up with Bond and his adversary falling in, providing an unexpected lunch break for the big lizards. Now if only they had laser beams attached to their heads…
The Sexy Shaving Scene: Eve lends a hand with Bond’s straight razor, creating an incredibly erotic tease that goes deliberately unfulfilled. You’ll have to wait until the end to see why Eve cannot be allowed to sleep with 007.
Severine’s Long, Long, Long Gaze into Bond’s Eyes: It’s a scene we’ve seen before, as Bond convinces one of the bad guy’s girls that he can help her. She wants to believe him, too, but she’s not sure she does. Without doing anything obvious, actress Marlohe lets us see the doubt forming into a decision behind her eyes – a rather fateful decision, as it turns out.
Giant Jelly-Fish: They’re not really giant; they’re just images projected large, looming in the background of the Hong Kong sequence, distracting Bond’s eye from the target. God, they’re beautiful.
The Return of the Aston Martin: beating a phony retreat near the end (actually laying a trap for Silva), Bond switches to a supposedly less ostentatious car – which we in the audience recognize as the old Aston Martin from GOLDFINGER. Bond even fingers the ejector seat button when M’s griping gets a little too annoying.
GADGETS AND GIZMOS
Continuing the trend begun in CASINO ROYALE, SKYFALL downplays the science-fiction element that has been with the series since its inception, mostly in the form of the improbable gadgets Q Branch develops for Bond’s use. Here, Q offers only a radio transmitter and a gun with a handle that recognizes Bond’s grip. “Not exactly Christmas,” Bond quips, to which Q replies that exploding pens are out of style these days.
Perhaps it’s not so much that SKYFALL downplays the fantastical elements; it may be that reality has caught up with 007. The film is filled with computer hacking, tracking devices, and encryption techniques that even a decade or so ago might have seemed incredible – or at least a little bit ahead of the curve. Now, they are almost commonplace.
SKYFALL may not be another CASINO ROYALE, but it ranks higher than almost anything else the franchise has had to offer for over a decade. Even if not all of its ideas and intentions are fully realized, it says something good about the film that we can even talk about it having ideas. Whatever its failings, SKYFALL retains the essential strengths of Craig’s James Bond. I suspect that a second viewing, once disappointment has been set aside, will reveal the simple entertainment value in a fuller light. And as I say, the repeat-viewing appeal of Komodo Dragons is not to be under-estimated. SKYFALL (Sony Pictures, November 9, 2012). Directed by Sam Mendes. Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan, based on the character created by Ian Fleming. Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Ola Rapace, Helen McCrory, Nicholas Woodeson, Bill Buckhurts.
James Bond is 50.1 Wow, who thought the old boy would ever make it this long? After all, the “misogynistic dinosaur” should have been irrelevant after the end of the Cold War, right? Apparently not. In fact, James Bond is probably the longest running franchise in the history of cinema: beginning way back in 1962 with DR. NO and extending to tomorrow’s release of SKYFALL, Agent 007 has weathered numerous changes in pop culture and geo-politics, with no end in sight.
What is the secret to Bond’s longevity? Well, the obvious things I suppose: sex and violence never go out of style. However, there is more to the story. To begin with, the producers have been smart about adapting to the times. Even at the very beginning, in the early 1960s, the films downplayed the anti-communist of Ian Fleming’s novels, in favor of highlighting the secret organization known as Spectre (which – contrary to the book- was responsible for the devious events in the film version of FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE ). A decade later, when relations between East and West began to thaw, 007 could even team up with his Soviet counterpart in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977). Was this move politically motivated? No, the filmmakers just wanted a property that they could export everywhere in the world. Whatever their motivations, the result helped avoid fixing 007 in a context that would trap him in the past.
Recasting has certainly helped. Fans of a particular generation (just before mine) probably still regard Sean Connery as not only the first but also the best James Bond. However, when the spy routine was starting to seem worn out in the early 1970s, and the series moved toward self-parody, Roger Moore was there to put tongue in cheek and play the whole thing for laughs. Many purists have never forgiven Moore for this, but the move toward overt comedy actually preceded his arrival; though he never matched Connery’s lethal poise, Moore could deliver a one-liner as well as anyone, and he truly was what the series needed at that time.
Later, Pierce Brosnan tried to fuse the strengths of his predecessors; along with his natural inclination for light comedy, Brosnan attempted to weigh in with greater dramatic force, but the scripts he worked with were a bit too tied to the old formula, adding perhaps a serious touch or two but always undercutting them with a laugh, whether appropriate or not. Still, there was an interesting idea lurking just beneath the surface: at the end of the 20th century, the films suggested, all-out war was too dangerous a proposition; the only sensible way to fight our battles was through covert means, avoiding the kind of full-blown military confrontations that could lead to WWIII. This made Bond relevant again.
Most recently, we have the Daniel Craig Bond, who is unfairly derided as a Jason Bourne clone. In fact, Craig’s version of 007 harkens back to the conception presented in Ian Fleming’s novel. His Bond is vulnerable and fallible; he can put on a tuxedo and sit down at the casino table, blending in with high society around him; but underneath the polished facade, he is a stone-cold killer, who takes his job very seriously. The occasional quips (when they do come, which is not so often) are like explosive exhalations from a pressure-valve – spat out because they can no longer be contained.2
Finally, the last explanation I will offer for 007’s continued presence on the screen is this: he is the ultimate embodiment of grace under pressure. As a culture, we are perhaps a bit more cynical these days about noble heroes doing the right thing for purely altruistic purposes, but we can always appreciate someone who keeps his cool even under the most dangerous circumstances. There is something pragmatic about James Bond – almost working class (at least in the Connery and Craig incarnations). He’s not exactly one of us (how many of us know the difference between shaken and stirred?), but he is what many of us imagine we would like to be, in our fantasies if not our realities.
In a world in which old-fashioned warfare seems out-of-date and inadequate to the dangers we now face, the 50-year-old James Bond seems perfectly suited to the times. With the hope of global peace and harmony still a distant dream that will not likely be realized in our lifetimes, I suspect 007 will be with us for a long time to come. FOOTNOTES:
Strictly speaking, it is the film franchise that is 50 years old. Bond himself was “born” in 1954, with the publication of Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel, CASINO ROYALE.
I don’t mean to slight the two other Bond actors, George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton, who never quite caught on. I think both of them deserve more credit than they get, but neither was around long enough to make an indelible, lasting impression that would contribute to the character’s longevity.
This article has been corrected to state that CASINO ROYALE, published in 1954, is the first Bond novel – not DR. NO, which was published in 1958.
Sony Pictures releases the 23rd adventure in the long-running James Bond franchise. In SKYFALL, Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.Daniel Craig returns as Ian Fleming’s 007.
Director: Sam Mendes. Writers: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Patrick Marber, based on the character created by Ian Fleming. Cast: Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem, Ben Whishaw, Helen McCrory, Berenice Marlohe, Naomie Harris, Judi Dench, Albert Finney, Ola Rapace.
“Daniel Craig returns as James Bond 007 in SKYFALL, the 23rd installment of the Bond series on screen. Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her.”
Also starring Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes. Hellen McCrory, Naomie Harris, and Albert Finney.
Directed by Sam Mendes, from a screenplay by John Logan, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade.
Produced by Eon Productions for MGM, Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment, due in U.S. theaters and IMAX November 9th, 2012.
This week’s Round Table focuses on “James Bond 23” (a.k.a., the 23rd 007 film, titled SKYFALL, which began production this week) and on HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2, which makes it home video debut on Tuesday, November 8. As always, Cinefantastique Podcasters Lawrence French, Dan Persons, and Steve Biodrowski offer their perspicacious perspective on what’s happening in the worlds of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction film and television, including a look at the potential Oscar nominees for Best Animated Feature Film, and a sad farewell to producer Richard Gordon (FIEND WITHOUT A FACE), who passed away on November 1. Listen in, and have your Sense of Wonder expanded to celestial proportions!