Bond with the best.
Bond with the best
Gadgets, stunts, weapons, locales apart, it is the character of
Bond that makes the films live on
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Casino Royale releases this Friday, the 21st “official” James
Bond film (23rd in reality), featuring the new (6th) Bond:
Daniel Craig. The most successful film series ever is in its
44th year now, and has earned more than $3.8 billion so far
purely from box office receipts, video and music income and
so on not included. The films have been watched by more
than 1.5 billion people. For all we know, Bond films will keep
getting made till the world ends, or as long as movies last.
What is it about this character?
Of course, the action has always been extraordinary, the
locales spectacular, the weapons stylishly absurd, and the
women alluring. Computer technology and rising budgets
(from $1 million for Dr No to $142 million for Die Another
Day) has impossibly scaled up the stunts and the destruction.
But none of these factors fully explains the series’
astonishing popularity. The only core reason can be the
character of Bond himself.
I don’t think anyone today reads the 14 Bond books that Ian
Fleming wrote. The writing is pedestrian, the dialogue
stilted, and often, the story doesn’t move fast enough. The
literary Bond (if the word “literary” can be used at all in this
context) is not even an attractive character, and it seems
Fleming had no intention of making him such.
He has no inner life, except for a rare occasion in Goldfinger,
where he mused that “as a secret agent who held the rare
Double-O prefix—the licence to kill in the Secret Service—it
was his duty to be as cool about death as a surgeon. If it
happened, it happened. Regret was unprofessional—worse, it
was a death-watch beetle in the soul.”
The most interesting aspects of the novels to me, in fact, are
the imaginative titles, the villains’ and heroines’ names, and
some really exotic information that Fleming obsessively
hunted out and used. Look at these: Auric Goldfinger,
Francisco Scaramanga, Dr Julius No, Hugo Drax. Or
Honeychile Rider, Mary Goodnight, Kissy Suzuki, Gala Brand.
When Bond is poisoned by Rosa Klebb in From Russia With
Love, the poison is tetrodotoxin, which is obtained from the
sex organs of the Japanese fish fugu.
I am sure many learned treatises have been written on Bond
the man; he must have been scrutinised and dissected by
every sort of academic, from cultural theorist to feminist
historian, anthropologist to semiotician. I am also sure that
all of them would have reached the same conclusion: Bond is
attractive because he is dangerous, amoral about women
(which makes him a role model for men and that impossible
hence infinitely desirable catch for women), he’s task-
focused yet indolent, and he kills. Perhaps someone also read
the frequent release of bullets from Bond’s Walther PPK as
an ejaculation metaphor.
The crucial and defining difference between the literary Bond
and the cinema Bond is sense of humour. Astonishingly, the
literary Bond has none, while the film Bond’s wry
observations are at the very heart of the Bond films .
I have a simpler theory and a larger question. First, the
question. Why do Bond films seem like some eternal
franchise when the books have vanished from the shelves
two decades ago? Let’s face it, Bond gets studied in
academia because of the films, not the books. So here’s my
theory about what makes Bond more attractive than all other
film series heroes, from Sherlock Holmes to Luke Skywalker,
from Tarzan to Jason Bourne.
The film Bond is the same man as the paper Bond, though
obviously better looking. But the key, crucial and defining
difference between the literary Bond and the cinema Bond is
sense of humour. Astonishingly, the literary Bond has none,
while the film Bond’s wry observations are at the very heart
of the Bond films, especially the ones he makes after sending
someone to his Maker.
In Thunderball, he shoots a man with a spear gun, and
deadpans: “I think he got the point.” In The Spy Who Loved
Me, a motorcycle henchman goes off a cliff in a cloud of
feathers. “All those feathers and he still can’t fly,” Bond
shrugs. In Live And Let Die, Bond throws a killer out of the
window, but the man’s prosthetic remains stuck in the
window. “Just being disarming, darling,” Bond tells his girl.
This low-humour bent has been maintained through all the
movies, though in the two movies starring the dour
Shakespearean actor Timothy Dalton, one could fail to notice
the laughs. It’s his deadpan one-liners that make Bond so
cool, so macho, and in a way so absurd that it’s very
comfortable dealing with him.
At his core, he’s just a clown who knows he’s a clown and
doesn’t take himself seriously. He is laughing at himself and
his coolness as much as we are. That’s what, I think, makes
Bond different from all the others. He will never be mythic,
but he will always be loved and enjoyed.
Trouble is, in all the promotional material of Casino Royale,
Daniel Craig looks like he’s never smiled in his life.