Sunday, February 22, 2009

Nobody does it Better - The James Bond Legacy

As most of you know, I'm a fan of the James Bond series. I enjoy the movies, I've read several of Ian Flemmings novels, listen to the movie scores and I've posted a few blogs about the books and the films. What makes this series so appealing to me? Well there's the classic mix of danger, girls, exotic locations and fun. Who can say no to that? But there is something else that has fascinated me ever since I really got into James Bond (oh I'd say back in the early 90's), and that is the legacy behind it.

The James Bond films have been in existence since 1962. Think about that for a moment. You've got currently 22 films with the same character, the same basic formula and a huge fan base for nearly fifty years. And that's just the movies. The books have been around longer. James Bond is a type of touchstone for Western culture (and it's crossed into several other cultures in other ways as well). His theme is one of the most easily recognized pieces of music ever. His name is recognized by just about everyone on the planet. And these aren't huge life changing movies with deep meaning. At the least they are basic comic book films and at the best they are well made thrillers. But they entertain and that is their biggest advantage.

There's a book out there called "The James Bond Legacy". Sadly it's out of print, but if you ever get a chance (and you are interested in movies and the idea of a James Bond legacy) pick it up. Authors __ and __ go into detail outlining the creation of James Bond from book to screen and then the development of this character into something more - an icon of entertainment. It covers all the films from "Dr. No" (1962) to "Die Another Day" (2002). It was printed before Daniel Craig took over the role, but it covers the first 40 years of James Bond in film and offers it's view on his enduring popularity.

What is amazing to me as you read the book (and look at it's gorgeous full color pictures) is that James Bond was really a product of the 60's. Hell, you can tell that by just watching any of the old Sean Connery films. They are a lot of fun, but they definitely capture the spirit of the time. Where the series really becomes fascinating is how it starts to adapt to survive the 70's (Roger Moore had a lot to do with this), evolve to stay relevant in the 80's (a new director brings Bond back to earth and Timothy Dalton opens the door for a more realistic portrayal of the spy), and when the 90's roll around you see how "Goldeneye" straddled a line to take James Bond into the new decade and keep a bit of the old and inject the new and wrap it all up in one movie. It's a fascinating read and the writers keep the pace moving showing how the changing world demanded changes in James Bond.

It even allowed me to appreciate some of the films that I never could get into like "Diamonds are Forever" and "Live and Let Die". Sure those aren't my favorites (and will probably never will be) but at least I understand what the creators were hoping for and why audiences loved those movies at the time (for the longest time "Diamonds are Forever" was the top grossing Bond film - even over "Goldfinger"!)

So for anyone who gets a thrill when the James Bond theme kicks in, I recommend checking out this book.

What do you think of James Bond? Do you have a favorite James Bond film (why do you enjoy it)? Do you prefer your Bond film more over the top or more edgy? Do you have a favorite actor in the leading role?


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with you, Roman, both the movies and the books are great (although in different ways). I read somewhere that Bond is one of the top three icons in popular culture, along with Sherlock Holmes and Dracula, and I think that's probably right.

Roman J. Martel said...

Yeah, the impact of James Bond is really something else. Especially when you consider his humble origins. When you read "Casino Royale", its entertaining, a bit dated, but all in all a good read. Then you realize that that book spawned the juggernaut of James Bond. Its something else.

Dracula and Holmes - I believe it. Everyone does seem to know those two. And didn't Holmes meet Dracula in one of those 60's spoof films?