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Linkmeister

The early books (Casino Royale, Dr. No and From Russia With Love) were ok. Even the two Connery movies of those books (not the David Niven Casino Royale) were halfway good. After that the movie franchise may have been a gold mine, but the preposterousness of the things got to bothering me. I don't think I've seen one in full beyond Goldfinger.

Laertes

I always hated the silly one-liners, the comic-book gadgets, the over-the-top-villains, and the formulaic...everything.

I saw Ronin and thought "Now why can't Bond pictures be like THAT?"

After another moment's reflection I realized that Bond pictures can't be like that because Bond pictures Just Aren't Like That. The formulas, the one-liners, those are features, not bugs.

That is, I just don't like Bond pictures. Dalton's were my favorites, and people who liked all the others generally rate him last.

So here's hoping that this new Bond is the sort that I'd like. Could James Bond finally be growing up?

Exiled in New Jersey

Even if this first Daniel Craig film is decent, the problem comes in the follow-up. Connery's Dr. No and From Russia were fairly standard, well done films, but already the gimmicks were coming, and not just for James but for the villians......the lethal derby in Goldfinger being maybe the first, and soon producers got into trying to top the last in scenes of fantastic action and outlandish plots. People would not keep coming back to see Leamas shot at the wall, or Len Deighton's Harry Palmer in a world of just plain mean people. Back then moviegoers preferred James Coburn's ridiculous Flint to a real plot. How many Funerals in Berlin can one attend? So producers dumb movies down....what was it Moynihan said, 'defining deficiency down'.... Meanwhile I take out my set of Tinker Tailor and pop it into the VCR.

Mr. Shakes

I'm excited about the new Bond movie, and for the same reason: it promises a return to the hard edges of Connery's original portrayal (pre-Goldfinger). Of course, we were told the same thing before Goldeneye arrived, and although that was probably one of the better Bond movies, the Brosnan era turned out to be almost as absurd as Moore's (though like the Moore era, it had some great moments). However, I still hold out hope that the producers' choice of someone as unconventional as Daniel Craig signals a real change in their attitude toward the franchise. Also - as Shakes Sis pointed out to me the other night - over the past few years Matt Damon's Jason Bourne series has shown that a gritty approach to the spy-thriller can pay off at the box office, and so they have a solid pecuniary motivation to take a fresh approach.

The books were for the most part short, brutal and gadget free. Casino Royale was perhaps one of the most brutal. It will be interesting to see how they handle the scene where Bond is tortured into unconciousness (**spoiler alert**) by having his genitals repeatedly battered with a cane. I will be impressed if they even include it.

I will be even more impressed if they handle Bond's relationship with the main female character the same way that Fleming did. It's nasty, doesn't end well and really illustrates just how cold blooded Bond can be. And not in the cartoonish fashion that the movies have typically dealt with this aspect of Bond's character.

Anyway, we'll see how it goes. Hopefully come Monday we'll be excitedly discussing Bond's return to form.

charlie

The Bond Books (with the exception of You Only Live Twice) are pretty easy and they read well. I think the magic of a Bond movie, at least the early ones, was the careful balance of luxury and puritan. A martini can be a luxurious drink, when you compare it to what came before: Manhattens and Old-Fashioned. There's an element of puritanism in the books -- I'm thinking of his two weeks of getting ready to swim the channel in Dr. No -- which we don't see in the movies but is hinted in by Sean Connery's slim physique.

Casio Royale was a dark book.

In my mind (haven't seen it) the best movie is casting Eva Green as the Bond Girl: sexy, young, innocent, dangerous, all in one.

The great accomplishment of Bond films is they don't show any real skin, yet (at their best) are still sexy. The only thing I've seen recently that was as good are the scenes between Clooney and J-Lo in "Out of Sight".

Mike Schilling

Ursula Andress. Jill St. John. Halle Berry. All beautiful women, but On Her Majesty's Secret Service starred Diana Rigg. Enough said.

Kit Stolz

Obviously James Bond is a fantasy figure, better suited for young men than for the middle-aged, and not really intended for women at all, but they took root in me when I was twelve, and I will always love them for their dashing style and sexiness. And I will defend them for their sheer imagination; their amusing characters, their sly dialogue, their scary villains.

Now that I'm grown, I love the irony of Greene and the caustic brilliance of Le Carre, but I still admire the daring plotting of many of the Bonds, especially that brilliant twist at the end of "Goldfinger." The overwhelming success of James Bond may not be deserved, in comparison to many many other books, but really, if you were a young man who had never heard of James Bond, and came across some of Ian Fleming's books while waiting alone for a flight in some dreary airport, wouldn't you be grateful too?

nothstine

I remember reading an interview with John LeCarre, maybe 15 years ago, in which he claimed that Bond would be the sort of character the Soviets would have turned in a heartbeat: with his well-documented love of gambling, women, expensive suits, and fine wines, Bond could have been flipped in no time, said LeCarre. I seem to recall him using the phrase "the ultimate sensualist," although I'm not sure now if he was referring to the Bond of the films or of the novels.

I liked Dalton's Bond, too, though I think he got some of the weaker story lines, which certainly couldn't have helped his longevity. My favorite films are still "Dr. No," "From Russia with Love," and "Goldfinger," which I regard in much the same way as the first three [released] "Star Wars" movies--even though the flaws were starting to show by the the third one, they hang together pretty well, and make the ones that would come later look overblown and silly.

"Die Another Day" had two distinctions: The first, as Lance says, is the extremely dark and unBond-like opening and the [largely unrealized] possibilities it had for the character. The second distinction is that, with its release, Duran Duran could no longer be accused of having done the worst Bond theme song in history.

bn

Winston

Interesting discussion. Thanks for a great post.

Remarakably, I do recall reading years ago that Ian Fleming himself once expressed no small shock at the commercial success of his books and particularly at the notion that Bond was at all an attractive character others should emulate. (I say this despite my own romantic teenage preoccupation with the cars, the beautiful suggestively-named women, the gadgets and excitement.) Fleming said his intent in the first few books was to show what sort of shallow, narcissistic, cruel, emotionally crippled, self-centered mediocrity was needed for conducting Cold War statecraft, and to what uses such a person would be put by an utterly amoral state. You can certainly see this in Fleming’s first book, “Casino Royale.” After that, of course, the formula quickly became pretty preposterous.

Jaquandor

"For Your Eyes Only"? Worst? Huh-whuh?? That's by far the best, and least-cartoonish, of Roger Moore's Bond flicks. And "Octopussy" isn't that cartoonish either, at least not by comparison to "Moonraker" and "A View to a Kill" (which has its moments, actually).

SAP

I agree with Jaquandor. For Your Eyes Only wasn't nearly as bad as the all-time worst, The Man with the Golden Gun. Not even Christopher Lee was enough to save that dog of a film.

jillbryant

As a huge Le Carre fan, I have a different take on this:
"There can never be a le Carre version of Bond, since le Carre's whole premise is that spies are lesser mortals and have to operate ruthlessly to compensate."
but I always like hearing what's going on in Lance's brain so maybe you can elaborate at some future time...

I started reading the Bond books when I was maybe 10-ish coming off of the Sherlock Holmes series. I'd say real pulp fiction if that helps.

I was also fascinated with the sexual aspect of Bond because I was curious about men - I was the youngest of three girls and my older sister told me just enough to confuse me. I'll never forget this line I read over and over trying to understand what it meant: "He held the memory of a perfect right breast in his hand." (I wonder if that's word for word - I don't even know what book it's in. It was something where, with Bond's lightning quick reaction time he's able to pull this girl out of the way of an oncoming car.) What was a breast memory? How did he hold it? And what makes a perfect right breast anyway...
Not too long after that, just overhearing things, I was also trying to understand why guys wanted a piece of @ss and how they would get it...I was a literalist.

Martin Wisse

I hated the gratitious torture at the beginning of Die Another Die, because you know that after a while Bond will get back to being Bond. They needed him in a bad place at the beginning of the film in order to built him up again from there but it could've been done without showing the real torture (IIRC it came out in the middle of the first revelations about Guantanamo Bay)

Apart from that, expecting Bond to be done in a Le Carre stylee is a bit silly don't you think? Bond is a superhero, the ultimate secret agent in an universe in which that isn't some mousy looking ordinary man working at a desk in Fort Meade somewhere, it won't work to put him in any sort of "realistic" situation.

All the Bonds are over the top, that's the point. The problem with Roger Moore was that he was too over the top himself to stand out against the silliness in his plots. Sean Connery, no matter what silliness he found himself in was always deadly serious himself, but Moore started playing the clown unless reigned in.

Gentlewoman

Can anybody tell me what universe they take place in?

From what I remember of the one or two Bond books that I read (I didn't care for them, sorry), they took place in Luxury Brand Universe.

IMO, Ian Fleming invented product placement. In books, at least.

Rasselas

Fleming was writing when the Land of the Teabags was still seeing sugar rations and coin-operated gas fires, and the English have a long history of venturing to other countries in search of pleasure (cf. Paul Fussell's "Abroad"), so the plenty and more of everything that Bond enjoys, in thrilling places far and wide, make a kind of sense. I always thought that the products placed in the books were kind of interesting, because I hadn't heard of most of that stuff.

Now, the movies themselves are a kind of emotional luxury --brilliant sunlight, magnificent women, roaring cars, black ties, cold drinks and assured victories.

Dave G.

Just wanted to say I saw the movie, and it gets back to the early form that Connery had. There's enough of a smirk there, and they embrace the ridiculousness of the casino-stuff rather than run away from it. Plus, that scene one of the other commenters mentioned above is indeed included, but I won't go further than that.

eric

Saw the movie, wow! You really can't compare it to the other Bond movies, even the ealry Connery ones, simply put this is a real movie and not a cartoon.

I think other actresses are gonna be really intimidated taking on the "bond babe" role in the next couple movies, no way they can top Eva Green in this one.

Middle Browser

I saw "Casino Royale" at the benefit premiere in Baltimore last Wednesday night and was very pleased. I thought Pierce did better than I expected, but the scripts were crap. Like Lance, I had high hopes for the last outing but was disappointed after about 30 minutes. In the end, Pierce was a blend Connery and Moore, but stuck with Moore stlyed scripts. I was a big fan of Dalton's "The Living Daylights", not so much of the follow-up.

"Casino Royale" is everything the (more informed) critics have said. It's too long and could have been fantastic if the script hadn't tried too hard. I would have posted the B&W pre-credit sequence on the web and left it out of the movie. Or perhaps used it, somehow, for the credits themselves. The opening chase would have made a much better pre-credit sequence.

And as impressive as the last big scene is, it was not necessary and they could have done something closer to the book re: Vesper's resolution. That said, I did like the very end.

I had a good feeling about Craig ever since he was unveiled last Fall. He does not disappoint. Clearly the best actor to ever play Bond.

What I really liked about this movie is you get the distinct sense that Bond can think. Everything is not simply handed to him or decided (in his favor) in a split second. I like the idea of a Bond that has to think about what to do. I also loved Eva Green's Vesper. I've posted elsewhere that she's the best Bond woman since Eunice Grayson, the Sylvia Trench character from the beginning of the first two films. (I would have loved to see that relationship continue.) The verbal byplay between Vesper and Bond is terrific. So, too, the scenes between Bond and M. Any chance either actress would get a nomination? Of course not, it's an action film. But really, they are that good.

In terms of where it ranks in the pantheon, I'd say (reluctantly) that it is just behind Connery's best ("From Russia With Love", "Dr. No" and "Goldfinger -- in that order) and on a par with "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and "For Your Eyes Only". With a bit of editing, though, it truly could have been the best ever. That's saying something. I hope Broccoli et al don't get complacent. While they've corrected a lot of the series problems, the fact that they overloaded this one tells me that they're still prone to some basic mistakes. Here's hoping they get another good script for Bond 22.

MB

Strangefate

The books are, in my opinion, better written then you'd expect and not nearly as franticly paced as the films. However, the quality varies wildly, and only Casino Royale and Moonraker (maybe From Russia...) stand up to any kind of critical reading.

The literary Bond tends to be more realistic, at least when Fleming was trying. Bond is not a happy-go-lucky playboy like Moore or Brosnan portray him. He's sort of a lonely, tormented, thrill seeker. It's implied in the early novels that as a double-O agent he's expected to die relatively soon and he doesn't much care. Whenever he rejoins civilian life he self-destructs into vice. There's very little he values and he is sometimes haunted by the ugliness of his work. He's definitely a darker character in the books, especially when you mix in the racism and misogyny that were frequently a part of Fleming's writing.

Unfortunately, there are also novels like Dr. No, Goldfinger, and Diamonds are Forever which rank among the silliest books I've ever read. (The first two being among the better films but completely ludicrous in Fleming's hands). In these cartoon-ish novels, you get pretty much the film Bond in written form. Sometimes even worse. In Dr. No, for example, he fights his way through an electrified death maze and even kills a giant octopus with a dagger. Just awful dreck.

Still, I'd say the better books take place in a world about as real as Hammett's Maltese Falcon. In other words, not very, yet not egregiously ridiculous either. The books' implausibility could be masked quite well with style when Fleming was at his best (which, sadly, he rarely was).

As an aside, some of the most enjoyable parts of the novels are in the description. Fleming often lavished a lot of detail on little things, from the settings to the numerous meals Bond eats. Some chapters read more like a travelogue then an adventure story.

Doug K

I tried to read the novels once, but was defeated by what Teresa Nielsen-Hayden memorably termed 'prose that hurts'. It's the worst prose I've even encountered in print, and I don't exclude the romance novels I borrowed from the girl teletypists in my army days.. truly dreadful. The usual movie approach to a book is to make a cartoon out of it, in Fleming's case this is a significant improvement.

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