The Cinephile: 50 Years of Bond, James Bond


I had been ea­gerly an­tic­i­pat­ing es­cap­ing Hanover next term to study in Paris when a ju­bi­lant friend emailed me to gloat that she had signed up for Film 41: “Bond and Be­yond,” taught by film and media stud­ies pro­fes­sor Amy Lawrence this spring. Why, cruel Fates? All of a sud­den the City of Lights didn’t seem so bril­liant.

Let me ex­plain. This is a par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant year for the Bond fran­chise. First of all, 2012 marks the fifti­eth an­niver­sary of the James Bond film fran­chise, the sec­ond-high­est gross­ing ever, which began with the 1962 re­lease of “Dr. No” (1962). For Bond geeks like my brother, who reads CommanderBond.​net daily (I kid you not) and re­li­giously watches Spike’s Bond marathon on Thanks­giv­ing day, this is ba­si­cally an op­por­tu­nity to load up on goods like the 50th an­niver­sary Blu-ray col­lec­tion or, for the more fi­nan­cially en­dowed, the 007 Omega watch.

More per­ti­nent to those who do not care about a cel­e­bra­tion that is es­sen­tially an ex­cuse to pan­der new mer­chan­dise, 2012 will see the re­lease of Bond 24, mys­te­ri­ously named “Sky­fall” (2012), on Oct. 26. For those of you who watched 2008’s de­plorable “Quan­tum of So­lace,” don’t let that ex­pe­ri­ence keep you from the the­aters this time around. While MGM pro­duced “Quan­tum of So­lace” (2008) dur­ing the full force of the 2007-2008 Writer’s Guild strike, prompt­ing both di­rec­tor Marc Forster and star Daniel Craig to rewrite scenes, Sky­fall will boast writ­ing dream team John Logan, who was Os­car-nom­i­nated for Hugo this year, Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, both vet­eran writ­ers of Bond.

Even bet­ter, Os­car-win­ning film­maker Sam Mendes (“Amer­i­can Beauty” (2001), “Road to Perdi­tion” (2002), “Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Road” (2008)) di­rects. Given Mendes’ al­ways fas­ci­nat­ing cam­er­a­work and pen­chant for se­ri­ous pro­jects, this Bond film likely will be more than a ve­hi­cle for car chases, beau­ti­ful women and quick quips.

The act­ing prospects are also bet­ter than ever be­fore. The re­leased plot sum­mary shows Judi Dench’s M with an ex­panded role: “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.” Javier Bar­dem, who proved his vil­lain chops with his chill­ing per­for­mance as Anton Chig­urh in “No Coun­try for Old Men” (2007), will play the an­tag­o­nist. Ralph Fi­ennes even has an undis­closed role — most fan web­sites claim he will be a gov­ern­ment agent. And in the first film still re­leased (see above), Daniel Craig sports stub­ble. On the al­ways cool and col­lected Bond, this is a mo­men­tous de­tail: The only other time Bond wore fa­cial hair, in “Die An­other Day” (2002), he was de­tained, en­dur­ing pro­longed tor­ture, in a North Ko­rean prison.

How­ever, Craig’s scruffy look in this gor­geous, moody still is not in­con­gru­ous with the way his por­trayal of Bond has re­shaped the fran­chise. In­tro­duced in 2006’s bru­tal and rev­o­lu­tion­ary “Casino Royale,” Craig’s Bond em­bod­ied the same post-9/11 venge­ful and deeply flawed hero that pro­pelled so many films that decade. Think Jason Bourne, the Bat­man of Christo­pher Nolan’s re­boot and Lis­beth Sa­lan­der of “The Girl With the Dragon Tat­too” (2011). All seek re­venge for a fun­da­men­tal trauma that lends them su­per­hu­man ca­pa­bil­i­ties. By sug­gest­ing Bond’s ori­gins as an or­phan, por­tray­ing the ter­ri­ble cost of his killings and de­vel­op­ing a love story with a woman who is much more than her beauty, “Casino Royale” ir­rev­o­ca­bly changed Bond and demon­strated the stay­ing power of the fran­chise. De­spite all its flaws, “Quan­tum of So­lace” per­pet­u­ated this new type with Bond re­veng­ing the heart­break he suf­fered in the pre­vi­ous film. “Sky­fall,” prob­ing the “per­sonal cost” of new ob­sta­cles, promises to do even bet­ter by twenty-first cen­tury Bond.

Sure, the ap­peal of the Bond films has some­thing to do with the beau­ti­ful lo­cales, the Aston Mar­tins, the women (“Oc­tu­pussy” (1983), any­one?) and the metic­u­lously chore­o­graphed fights, but the longevity of the fran­chise lends it un­be­liev­able sig­nif­i­cance. Watch­ing all the Bond films from 1962’s to today’s, we can see how one man has changed to re­flect the time he in­hab­its — and its col­lec­tive hopes and fears.

Es­sen­tial Bond view­ing:

“Goldfin­ger” (1964): The clas­sic Sean Con­nery Bond.

“Thun­der­ball” (1965): The un­der­wa­ter bat­tles are al­ways great on a dreary win­ter day.

“On Her Majesty’s Se­cret Ser­vice” (1969): Con­tains the ski­ing scene that in­spired the third dream level in In­cep­tion (OHMSS is Christo­pher Nolan’s fa­vorite) as well as one of the most the­mat­i­cally res­o­nant sto­ry­lines of all Bonds.

“Gold­en­Eye” (1995): Pierce Bros­nan’s first and best Bond, though “The World is Not Enough” (1999) is also quite good.

“The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977): I’m not a Roger Moore fan, but this is com­monly rec­og­nized as the peak of his time as Bond. Also see the groovy “Moon­raker” (1979) for a good laugh.

“Casino Royale” (2006): Per­haps you’ve been liv­ing in a cave and haven’t al­ready seen it.

For more, take Bond and Be­yond.