Daniel Craig as Bond
Skyfall is the twenty-third official Bond movie and critics are already saying it’s the best for forty years… big words. We missed out on being invited to any swanky premieres so we can’t give you our esteemed opinion yet, however, what we can do is delve into Ian Flemings’ fantastic world and give a rundown of the films that have preceded it.
The films have an interesting relationship to the books on which they’re based. While some, such as From Russia With Love or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service are fairly faithful adaptations, other, such as Moonraker or The Spy Who Loved Me borrow little more than novel’s title. Some do less than that, by the end of Roger Moore’s tenure, the only novel left that hadn’t had the Hollywood treatment was Casino Royale, so later films, such as A View to A Kill, The Living Daylights and Quantum of Solace only took their titles from some of Fleming’s short stories. Some did less than that, none of Pierce Brosnan’s movies take their titles from any of Fleming’s stories. Goldeneye is named after the author’s house, while The World Is Not Enough was the family motto Fleming gave to the Bonds.
Allegedly based on a number of secret agents that Fleming worked with in his naval career, the Bond of the books is a less refined character than the screen version, lacking the expensive tastes of humour of his screen counterpart. Fleming’s stories, especially the earlier ones, also attempt to be more realistic than the often cartoonish film series. It’s hard to know what the author would have made of the film series as Ian Fleming died during production of the third movie, Goldfinger. However, it’s probably a fair assumption to say he’d be amazed the series he created was still going strong fifty years later.
Sean Connery in Goldfinger
The first film, 1962’s Doctor No, introduced the world to Ian Fleming’s suave secret agent, and had Sean Connery playing the lead. The film was a huge hit, and Connery reprised the role in four subsequent movies, including probably the series’ best films, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, before leaving. He was replaced by George Lazenby, who took over the mantle for 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Lazenby only lasted one movie before producers persuaded Connery to return one last time, in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. Following Connery’s final departure (excluding his return in an unofficial Thunderball remake – Never Say Never Again) he was replaced by Roger Moore, who debuted in 1973’s Live and Let Die. Moore is, to date, the longest serving Bond, with seven Bond movies under his, no doubt hi-tech, belt.
Few would argue that Moore should have gone sooner; his last two films, Octopussy and A View to a Kill are among the weakest in the series, and he was 57 by the time he quit. He was replaced by Timothy Dalton. Dalton made two movies, The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill before legal problems led to the series being put onto a six year hiatus.
When Bond returned in 1995’s Goldeneye, he was played by Pierce Brosnan. The Irish actor had originally been approached to take over from Roger Moore, but at the time was starring in TV show Remington Steele, and the producers of the show weren’t prepared to release him from his contract. Brosnan played Bond four times, his tenure concluding with 2002’s fortieth anniversary film, Die Another Day. Following Brosnan’s departure, Daniel Craig became the sixth actor to take on the mantle of James Bond, starting with the original Ian Fleming book, Casino Royale, followed by Quantum of Solace, and now, Skyfall.
Timothy Dalton in Licence to Kill
One of the keys to the series’ success - its simplicity. Bond movies never try to be more than what they are, male wish-fulfilment. They offer an idealised version of the life of a spy, glamorous locations, beautiful women, megalomaniac villains and, at the heart of it, all, a handsome, affluent, wisecracking, indestructible secret agent. The films do not, nor have they ever claimed to, represent anything other than a highly glamorised portrayal of the world of espionage. Whilst the series is set in a fantasy universe, the films do pay a token interest in the real world: the sixties Bond villains were concerned with nuclear weapons and the space race, eighties Bond was involved in the cold war, nineties with the collapse of the Soviet Union and oil magnates, while modern Bond fights terrorism and corrupt politicians and businessmen.
Another key aspect of Bond’s success is its tried and tested formula and an established list of ingredients; guns, girls, villains, exotic locations, etc... Audiences know what to expect from a Bond movie, and the series cleverly provides a familiar but different mix of these in each film. Adherence to a formula is not necessarily a bad thing, and the series keeps itself fresh by constantly reinventing itself within its established formula by playing up or down various elements. Where the Daniel Craig films are played straight, those of Moore and Brosnan (and to a less obvious extent, Connery) are very much tongue-in-cheek. Likewise, certain elements are under or over stated to reflect the tastes at the time of filming: Dalton’s AIDs era Bond is notably less promiscuous than his sixties and seventies counterparts, and modern films downplay some of the more overtly sexist themes of the earlier films.
The ultimate Bond girl?
Naturally, a series as long lived as Bond has seen many highs and lows. While there have been undisputed classics (From Russia With Love, The Spy Who Loved Me, Goldeneye, Casino Royale) and a few misfires (Octopussy, A View to a Kill, Die Another Day), there are also those, in particular On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Licence to Kill, which, although not well regarded at the time, have come to be re-assessed and are now highly regarded in their own right. In the case of the former, it was probably a combination of Lazenby’s performance (it’s fair to say he wasn’t an adequate replacement for his predecessor, Sean Connery) and the uncharacteristic, downbeat ending, for the latter, the hard edge of the movie was probably too big a leap for audiences accustomed to the high-jinks of the Roger Moore-era.
When the series rebooted in 2005 with Daniel Craig, the films showed us Bond at the beginning of his career and gave us what is an inspired move. Goldeneye aside, the Pierce Brosnan movies were not well received, with Die Another Day in particular coming in for strong criticism from fans. Out went the jokes, gadgets and John Cleese, in came a back to basics, harder edged Bond. Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale was dusted off and finally filmed (it had been adapted once before, as an un-official spoof in the sixties). The film is, for the most part, one of the more faithful adaptations of Flemings work onscreen, certainly Craig’s hard-edged Bond is closer to Fleming’s vision than any previous portrayal. The film was a huge success and led to a genuine first in the series, a direct sequel. Quantum of Solace begins almost immediately after its predecessor and continues Bond’s search for the mysterious Quantum organization behind that film’s events. Unfortunately it is nowhere near the film Casino Royale was. The script was rushed due to an impending strike by the screenwriter’s union, and the film unwisely attempted to copy the style of the Bourne series with frantically edited action scenes that didn’t suit it.
Jaws in Moonraker
Fortunately, none of these problems look set to be an issue for Skyfall. The film was delayed for months whilst studio MGM suffered financial problems but it gave producers time to hone the script. Behind the camera is Oscar winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) and no expense has been spared in front of the camera either. Besides Craig, Judi Dench plays M for the seventh time, alongside another Oscar Winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) and Ralph Fiennes. The female roles are taken by two relative unknowns, French actress Bérénice Marlohe and Brit Naomie Harris, whilst the theme tune is provided by Brit and Grammy awarding songstress Adele. The ‘Quantum’ story arc of the last two films has been ditched in favour of a standalone story which promises to delve into M’s past, as well as feature a number of stunning set-pieces shot around the world, including, appropriately for the fiftieth anniversary, a large part shot in the UK.
So what does the future hold for Bond? Daniel Craig’s recently signed on for two more movies, which would make him one of the longest serving actors to play the role, and with Skyfall one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year, despite being fifty years old, the series seems to show no signs of growing old gracefully.
Skyfall is released on Friday 26 October
Skyfall official website