Dr. Oh No, Not Again!
Thanksgiving of ’05 passed with a minimum of stress and drama in our household, with is the way I like it. The most startling thing that happened was the sudden realization that I hate (I realize that ‘hate’ is a powerful word, and should be used as sparingly as one would use a thermonuclear bomb, but I feel it’s called for here) James Bond. I hate the character (as portrayed in the movies; I’m certainly not passing judgment on the literary version), I hate the movies (although the last few have been more bearable than the earlier ones), and I hate to bloody hell the whole smirking catch phrase craze the movies started.
My realization of just how much I’ve come to hate James Bond occurred while flicking the television remote control and stopping on SpikeTV’s James Bondage Turkey-thon. The Bond film that was playing (in tiny snippets between twenty-minute long commercial breaks) was 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. Nothing seemed really familiar about it, so I don’t know if I’d ever seen it. Of course, most of the James Bond movies are a lot like the Hardy Boys books that I grew up on. The plot remains the same, only the lead characters and the location changes.
The main baddie in The Spy Who Loved Me was played by an embarrassed-looking Curt Jurgens, wearing wardrobe straight out of the Charles Nelson Reilly Collection of 1974. Honestly, who can keep a straight face whilst dealing with a criminal mastermind who wears a flowing paisley ascot? Not I, and Roger Moore had his hands full.
Roger Moore. Yeah, I know. He’s like Kryptonite to a lot of diehard Bond fans who believe the only true Bond was the Connery Bond. I used to be a card-carrying member of that group, but lately I’ve given Moore at least some credit for staying with the character during some of Bond’s worst movies. In other words (because I fear my prior words aren’t conveying what I really mean) when you lay down judgment on Bond movies, you have to consider the source material—the scripts.
One of the first things a new writer needs to add to his bag of tricks is the subtle art of foreshadowing. If at the end of a story one of the characters is going to need a pair of false eyelashes to save his life, earlier in the story we need to have him see him walking out of beauty supply store, stuffing a package into his inside jacket pocket. (Okay, a little clumsy, but still subtle. Most readers, on a subconscious level, will make the connection when the character pulls the eyelashes out of his inside pocket. Just as, again on a subconscious level, most will send up a red flag when a sixty-five year old steamship captain suddenly pulls said eyelashes out of his pocket without the foreshadowing.) The writers of the Bond movies are famous for delivering their foreshadowing with the delicacy of a sledgehammer wrapped in bricks.
For example, M calls Bond into his office to outline his latest assignment. “Quit sniffing around Moneypenny’s arse, Bond. Everyone knows that the sexual tension between the two of you is phonier than the Queen’s glass eye. Now, concerning your mission. Some diabolical madman with a paisley ascot has hijacked the United States’ Mount Rushmore. The military forces are helpless, for some convenient reason, so it’s up to you, Bond. Before you leave, and make another pathetic faux pass at Moneypenny, see Q for a few things you may need in the field.”
“Ah, Bond. Glad you remembered your way down to the Q Branch. I’m a bit behind schedule so let’s get this out of the way as fast as we can. Come along with me. No, don’t eat that, you fool! It only looks like a Filet O’Fish sandwich. It’s secretly a bear trap. And certainly don’t look into those binoculars! They will erase your retinas and churn your brain into Yorkshire pudding! My word, Bond! Stop making love to that seemingly harmless inflatable woman! Sign your name on the list and wait your turn like the rest of us.
Well then, now that the dryly comedic portion of our meeting has come to an end, here are the special armaments 'you may just happen to need' for your mission. First, grab a handful of bullets, and then take this saggy sack of soggy diapers, which is in reality a nuclear-powered hang glider. Next, strap on this string of stinky German sausages, which serves to disguise a six-foot-long diamond rope. And finally, pop this ‘I Heart Fly Fishing’ cap on your noggin. When you activate this hidden switch the hat converts into a uranium-fueled radar array capable of tapping into spy satellites and downloading plans for secret enemy bases.”
Okay, so I’m exaggerating a little bit, but there’s a really big nugget of truth in what I say. Q would always just happen to give Bond the exact equipment he needed on that particular mission. Bond would just happen to need every single item Q provided. And at the end of the mission there were never any items left unused. If Q gave Bond a solar-powered fertilizer spreader, then Bond damn well used a solar-powered fertilizer spreader.
Boy, I hated that when I was a kid. And I hate it even more as an adult. Just once, give Bond a watch with a winch and a fifty-foot cable built into it, and then have him not use it. Ooops, he forgot it back at his flat, so now he has to use his brain and brawn and objects at hand to complete his objective.
My favorite Bond movie to date is 2002’s Die Another Day. I got my money’s worth within the first half hour. For me, a Bond movie needs to start with a bang and then run light and lean to an explosive conclusion. Die Another Day gets a little soggy in the middle and in during the ice palace scenes, but dollar for dollar it’s my favorite Bond flick. In my book, nobody does it better than Pierce Bronsan. (Somewhere in Texas my good friend Tom Morgan’s heart has just skipped a beat, and a bit of stomach acid has backed up into his esophagus. Sorry Tom.)
Connery used to be my go-to Bond favorite, but Bronsan stole the crown from him with 1995’s GoldenEye. Both men are certainly great actors, and they deliver their performances with delicious aplomb, but Pierce Bronsan has simply had better scripts to work from. Dr. No may have been great shakes in 1962, but its only appeal today is nostalgic.
Some of the worst enemies of the early Bond movies has been the advent of home video and greedy cable networks. The movie Goldfinger was a hundred times cooler when it was only shown on television once every three or four years. But these days, when most males of voting age own a copy of the film on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD or PSP, and channels like SpikeTV show it three or four times a year, the poor thing doesn’t stand a chance of holding up. Every glitch and blemish is on display for us to see again and again and again. Time heals some wounds and helps us gloss over the others, but time is no longer a luxury that movies are allowed. Even the naked silhouettes of the girls in the opening credits are getting a little flabby.
And now Bronsan is gone and we’ll have a new Bond to accept. Just give him something exciting and smart to do and watch how fast we’ll take him into our hearts. Keep your clichés and formulas. All we want is to be entertained. At least that’s all I want. And to be best buddies with The Rock.