The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, January 2, 2000

Everlasting Bond
By Abhilaksh Likhi

FRENCH director Francois Truffaut once said that the history of world cinema has followed two lines of descent, one deriving from Lumiere Brothers and basically realistic and the other from magician George Mielies and involving the creation of fantasy. Over the decades audiences all over the world have identified more with a film style that imaginatively constructs "fantastic worlds" and narrates screen stories of impossible experiences that often defy logic and at times rationality too.

In the above context, the Hollywood film industry entered a new age in June 1975 with the release of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Two years later, George Lucas’s Star Wars quintessentially confirmed that a single film could earn its studios hundred of millions of dollars in profits and convert a poor year into a triumph. The focus thus now began to shift to high cost and potentially lucrative fantasy spectacles that could attract audiences of all ages.

  And so did the James Bond saga. The British secret service agent 007 was the creation of novelist Ian Fleming who wrote 12 novels and two collections of short stories between 1952 and 1964 detailing the exploits of his fictional hero. Interestingly, the Bond film continues to enthrall audiences of all ages even today. Golden Eye, the film that witnessed the return of James Bond in the 1990’s, became a top-grosser the world over. Even its Hindi dubbed version managed to cut gross Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park in India. And with the world wide release of The World is not Enough, the Bond genre has emerged unscathed and even more popular at the dawn of the new millennium, collectively grossing an estimated $ 1. The year 1962 saw the release of the first Bond film called Dr No. Change in socio-political developments and ideologies notwithstanding, the charisma of the fictional secret agent has strangely survived all upheavals.While the earlier Bond played by Sean Connery and George Lazenby may have been more reserved and less prone to unbridled jingoism, the latter Bond played by Rooger Moore. Timothy Dalton and now Pierce Brosnan is a lighter, more friendly and sporting character with just the right amount of sophisticated attitude and an accessible sense of humour. A style that has appealed to audiences beyond recognition.

Bond’s preference for vodka and martini may not have changed. But the unbeatable blend of conspicuous consumption, brand name, sex and violence has not been aggressively supplemented with his penchant for technical gadgetry. With the release of The World is not Enough Desmond Llewelyn completed his 17th film as the famous ‘Q’ who supplies James Bond with the most sophisticated machines. And with the latest Bond film, the BWM car completes a hat-trick. This time Brosnan drives a car with silver metallic paint, black leather interior trim including an artfully concealed rocket firing station in the car’s side vents. In fact, sleek cars with lethal weapons are a passion that has driven the 007 agent as much as the attractive and ambitious women whose characters are intrinsically woven into the Bond film screenplay.

Thematically, perhaps, the Bond films have followed a tired formula to the hilt — a crazed megalomaniac ready to use nuclear arms in his bid for world domination pitied against an invincible hero who polices the world by ultimately destroying the villains, citedal of power. Yet the timeless allure of this super-cop is largely due to the distinctive treatment meted to the Bond film narrative by directors like John Glen. Terence Young and now Michael Apred. Films like Dr No , From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunder Ball and Diamonds Are For Ever portray a visual style that delineates character motivation more than brawn and decor. While films like The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only. Live and Let Live and Living Day Lights unfold the gloss of beautifully cinematographed locales and landscapes where the action takes place. Yet there has not been a Bond film that did’nt feature gorgeous women, larger than life plots, futuristic set design, high calibre firepower, key chase scenes and a dramatic musical score.

The 90s feel of liberalisation, globalisation and information technology is evident in films like Golden Eye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The world is Not Enough. Worth mentioning is the filmmakers painstaking treatment to unleash the montage effect of computer-aided machines and their devastating ways. But in this contemporary save the world lietmotif. James Bond definetly seems to rise above the imperial mindset to engage attention to lesser evils than just communism.

But the Bond magic wouldn’t have clicked so immersely over the decades without Oscar-winning British composer John Barry’s rock and jazz creation. The immortal James Bond theme music, conceived by Barry, still enlivens those breathtaking and thrilling action sequences that form the back-bone of any Bond film. Over the years it has not only helped to propel the character of James Bond into one of the ten most famous film heros ever, but it also set the tone for much of cinema’s soundtrack music to follow. Barry’s innovative use of the electric guitar, through his brass and percussion orchestrations established a style that musically defined the emergence of Bond mania in the 1960s.

Although the fantasy spectacle has been an aspect of many national cinemas including India, it has not always crystallised as a distinct genre. Spanning more than four decades of existence the Bond film has indeed combined together the diverse traits which together make up its ‘signature’ — the title track introducing 007, the theme music accompanying action sequences and Bond’s indulgence with latest gadgetry and women and a narrative that engrossingly moves back and forth transcending geographical boundaries.

The popularity and identifiability of the Bond film world over has been due to the thematic,visual and structural unity of its various directors, corpus, despite, of course, the imprint of their individual film style. Critics may label such a genre as crass fare that just entertains and thrills. But the Bond film indeed rises above the mundane to selectivity use fantastic element’s in realist narratives not only for dramatic effect but also for political commentary in the aftermath of the Cold War.