The bond grows deeper
When you constantly live on the edge of danger, as James Bond does, you keep the audience glued to the screen as well. As the ultimate cinematic fantasy figure, he does not fail, does not age, and does not ever run out of ideas. A look at the mystique of the lovable spy
‘THE name’s Bond, James Bond’ is one of the most famous lines ever spoken on the screen. But does The Man with the Golden Gun really need an introduction? No fictional character in cinema enjoys greater instant recall the world over than the flamboyant MI6 secret agent who answers to that name.
Age hasn’t withered the British spy’s mass appeal one bit: 50 years after he first appeared on the big screen, Bond continues to bond big time with his fans spread across the world. Licensed to kill, primed to thrill, the suave spy that Ian Fleming created for 12 novels and two collections of short stories has a fan following to kill for.
Bond’s popularity cuts across all boundaries of age, gender and nationality. The longest-running and second highest-grossing franchise ever in the history of the movies, the Bond films have consistently ruled the global boxoffice for all of five decades since the release of Dr. No in 1962.
In the inaugural film of the series, Secret Agent 007 was sent to Jamaica to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the death of a fellow British spy. There, he came up against ruthless assassins, a sexy femme fatale and even a poisonous tarantula. James Bond’s principal foe in Dr. No, the eponymous Chinese scientist was bent upon world domination.
Fleshed out with panache by Scottish actor Sean Connery, the MI6 spy had to summon all the wiles at his disposal to outwit the villain and save the world from falling into evil hands. He, of course, received help from CIA agent Felix Leiter and the curvaceous, bikini-clad Honey Rider, played by Ursula Andress.
While changes have occurred in terms of emphasis in the Bond films to keep up with the changing times, the template has broadly remained pretty much the same. The elaborate stunts, the flashy high-tech gadgets, the saucy gals and the exotic locales have been the primary draws in the Bond thrillers, especially since Goldfinger (1964), and filmgoers have lapped them up without ever losing patience with the formula. Dr. No was a low-budget production, but it turned out to be a huge hit. Not only did Connery’s interpretation of the Bond persona, a blend of roguish charm and disarming sophistication, become the gold standard for all other actors to follow, Andress’ Bond girl act also set the parametres for those that came after her to assume the role of the globe-trotting British spy’s love interest.
Raising the bar
Within the next nine years, as many as six more James Bond films were rolled out by Eon Productions, with each movie receiving a higher funding than the previous one and setting a new benchmark in terms of commercial success.
Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day
The one exception was the sixth spy film in the series, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Released in 1969, it was little-known Aussie actor George Lazenby’s only outing as Bond and the film fell way short of the boxoffice performance of what was then expected to be the last movie featuring Connery as Bond, You Only Live Twice (1967).
Probably in response to the lukewarm response to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Connery returned as James Bond in 1971 in the racy Diamonds Are Forever, one of the most successful movies of the franchise, before finally bowing out.
In 1983, Connery, then 52, had one more shot at Bond in Never Say Never Again, an unofficial remake of Thunderball (1965). The title was a play on the veteran actor’s assertion in the early 1970s that he would never play James Bond again.
The actors who have played Bond on screen, Lazenby included, have passed into folklore. What really is the secret of Bond’s phenomenal success and longevity? The answer is pretty obvious: the spy who came in from the cold of Ian Fleming’s imagination around the middle of the last century is remarkably flexible. He possesses the innate ability to change with the times and even as he metamorphoses, he essentially remains the same.
It is this fascinating dichotomy that has enabled James Bond to keep pace with changing fads even as he has remained true to the essence of the man he was always meant to be as a larger-than-life screen character: Predatory, promiscuous and blessed with an instinct for survival that few movie heroes can match.
The Bond of Fleming’s books was a rather different kettle of fish: He’s a gritty, fallible and humourless workaholic wedded to his mission. On the screen, he assumes the persona of an icon: Colourful, libidinous and quick on the draw.
But more than the contours of the character that lies at the centre of the Bond universe, it’s the nature of the films woven around him that have ensured the continuing box office success. Undemanding but hugely thrilling, packed with glamour and gadgetry and riding on storylines that are inventive, while adding up to little more than a mere pretext to hang all the stunning visual exhibitionism on. It’s a formula that continues to work as the franchise enters its sixth decade.
Eon Productions has signed Daniel Craig for two more James Bond movies. By the time the English actor is done with the series, he would have played the character as many as five times. From Dr. No to Skyfall, the 23rd Bond movie and the third with Craig in the lead, the franchise has rarely failed to deliver the goods commercially. Yet, since 2002’s Die Another Day, starring Irish actor Pierce Brosnan, only three Bond movies have been made.
The legend lives on
With an energetic reboot, Casino Royale (2006), starring Craig as Bond for the first time, the franchise was back in business. The success of the film enthused Eon to attempt the first-ever genuine sequel to a Bond film with Quantum of Solace (2008), which was a big box office success. Yes, Skyfall has had some serious funding trouble, with MGM’s balance sheets running into rough weather. A shooting schedule in India had to be shelved.
As a result, Octopussy (1983), one of seven Bond movies starring Roger Moore, remains the only one in the series to be filmed in India. Parts of it were shot in Rajasthan, with Vijay Amritraj playing a cameo. In the case of Skyfall, complications pertaining to securing permission to shoot on a running train on the Konkan Railway reportedly forced the crew to look elsewhere. The latest Bond movie was eventually filmed in Shanghai, Istanbul and the Scottish Highlands.
As the ultimate cinematic fantasy figure, nearly 40 years on, Bond shows no signs of driving away from our midst.
Who’s the Best?
Each of the six actors that have played James Bond has brought his personality to bear upon the character, offering a variation on the physical and stylistic traits of the spy. Yet, old-timers tend to cast their vote for Sean Connery, the man set the benchmark against which all the other actors have been assessed. He exuded natural charisma and wit and relied on his rugged good looks and masculine swagger to give Bond the hard edge.
Daniel Craig in Casino Royale
George Lazenby has been derided as the weakest screen Bond. After On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he never got a second chance like Connery did with Diamonds Are Forever. The Australian model-turned-actor might have been assessed differently.
Roger Moore was cut out for the 1970s. Dapper, wicked and funny, he brought great flair to the equation. Although he may have done one too many — in his seventh Bond movie, A View to a Kill (1985), he looked a bit jaded — he continues to be the favourite James Bond for many.
Shakespearean actor Timothy Dalton was perhaps the least suited to the Bond persona. Yet he made an impressive debut with The Living Daylights (1987). He ran out of steam in his second outing, Licence to Kill (1989), primarily because the franchise itself began to face stiff competition from other action flicks of the period (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon). It wasn’t until six years later that Bond returned to the screen. Pierce Brosnan, tall and handsome, was immediately hailed as the perfect successor to Connery and Moore. He played Bond four times and came the closest to conjuring up a metro-sexual secret agent who worked on his looks as much as he cared about the perfectly-tailored suits he wore. Craig, whose third Bond movie, Skyfall, is slated for release on October 26, has stamped his authority on the role, thanks to the raw physicality and the air of intelligence that he brings to the table. Craig has it in him to eclipse both Connery and Moore. The jury is, however, still out.