MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Does Bond Matter?

My buddy Steve loves every single James Bond film. Every time I see him, he always wants to talk about Bond and to appease the guy, I always pretend to be interested. He has every single moment of every Bond film memorized and I think he is representative of a lot of Bond fans out there; they see the Bond series as the ultimate in wish-fulfillment. After all, here’s a guy who has casual sex, bets a ton of money, drinks a lot and gets to kill people with super cool gadgets; basically, it’s every single male fetish thrown into one single character who gets to live out the fantasy.

I have never been someone who really thought much of the Bond series. The older Sean Connery andRoger Moore Bond films are ridiculously dated, while the Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan ones are kitschy and cheesy. The later Bond films especially represent a certain yearning for a culture of promiscuity and excess without principles that doesn’t really exist anymore. 007 is really the best way to refer to the character because he is really no more than a number or a statistic; it’s impossible to call him a real character because throughout the forty years he’s been around, there hasn’t been a single recognizable change in the man. He is still the same libidinous, hard-drinking super-agent that he always ways; the only things that have changed are his cars and his gadgets.

It’s actually hard for me to recognize what people really get from the films other than pure visceral pleasures, especially when all of the recent Bond films have become increasingly similar to television advertisements; everything from Bond’s car to his watch to his choice of soft drink has become less of a prop than an opportunity for shameless promotion. So after you get through the ten minutes of advertisements at the beginning of the film, the real promos start the second you see Bond drinking a Heineken.

The Bond film I like the most is one that my buddy Steve isn’t so fond of: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’s the only Bond film in which 007 actually cares for someone and seems affected by that caring and it’s the only one in which Bond seems to actually get hurt when he falls instead of just popping back up. George Lazenby is arguably the stiffest of all the Bonds, but I actually thought that stiffness was more appropriate for a character who is part of British intelligence than a freewheeling child of the 60’s which doesn’t really feel right anymore.

So with all that said, I have to say that I thought Casino Royale was easily the best James Bond film by a long shot. But that comes with a perplexing wrinkle: it’s not really a Bond flick, it’s a Bourne flick.

When Matt Damon first starred as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity, we finally saw a secret agent for our post-Cold War world. This was a guy who felt more realistic as an expertly trained government assassin, someone who shied away from people and attention rather than flaunting himself like Bond would have. The way the Bourne films were shot was interesting as well, with darker hues creeping into the pictures rather than the brightly lit romps that the Bond films always were. More than anything, the Bourne films had a certain verisimilitude, feeling more raw and plausible, and when those films became successful it became clear that plausibility was something that audience wanted. Next to a film like Die Another Day, the Bourne franchise felt like the grown-up version of the Bond kiddie flicks.

But it wasn’t just Bourne that was nipping at 007’s heels — Jack Bauer of television’s 24 was right behind him as well. Bauer wasn’t afraid to torture a suspect to get information out of him, and he usually had a personal connection to whatever threat was facing Los Angeles at that moment. The fact that he was with an outfit called the Counter-Terrorism Unit made him perfectly representative of the society we live in post-9/11, where the biggest threat is not a man who lives in a hollowed-out volcano and wants to use lasers to wipe out the world, but somebody who lives among us and wants to set off a dirty bomb.

So it was no wonder that the Bond producers felt the need to reposition their franchise for a different generation and prevent the franchise from getting even staler. Clearly, it was time for Bond to get a new identity — and I stress the word new because what Bond now looks like is more Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer than old Bond in a new suit.

Don’t get me wrong, I really dug the hell out of Casino Royale and it is a far better film that all of the other Bonds, but it doesn’t have its own unique point of view. Sure the main character still says “Bond, James Bond” and drinks his martini shaken, not stirred and wears a tuxedo, but now he has become a master at hand-to-hand combat — with really swift kicks and punches similar to martial arts– and he is a somber, stoic agent rather than the exuberant, fun-loving guy he always used to be. I think this is a positive change, but not one that jibes with the rest of the series and feels more like a facsimile of a Jason Bourne film than something truly original.

The casting of Daniel Craig was really the best move that the producers made because they finally cast somebody who is a real actor for the first time since Connery, rather than guys who simply fit the physical bill. Craig brings something to the part that no previous Bond has: eyes that convey genuine emotion and a certain lilt in his voice that seems real. He is the one part of the newly revamped franchise that doesn’t seem derivative of Bourne/Bauer; he has made Bond a real person and that, I think, is what made all the difference the last time around. Car chases to me are usually interchangeable – a few exceptions come to mind of course – but a solid performance in a truly thankless role is incredibly difficult.

The truth is that on the page, without the gravitas that Craig brings to the part, this was the same old Bond wrapped up in packaging made by Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass with the bonus of a love story. The only unfortunate part of that aspect of the plot line is that while we definitely believe Craig’s Bond felt something for Eva Green’s Vesper Lind, we’re not quite sure why. In the Bourne series, however, we definitely know why Bourne feels a connection toFranka Potente’s Marie character; because she stays by his side even though he is a fugitive. It’s not hard to see why Vesper Lind’s character would be beside a guy who has everything together. Clearly they want the new Bond to be haunted by lost love the way Bourne is, but it doesn’t feel organic, it feels imitative.

So Quantum of Solace is opening this weekend and I’ll be checking it out on opening night, hoping that Marc Forster is able to inject the Bond series with an original aura, but the early word is that it’s shying away even more from what made Bond Bond to begin with. So maybe he won’t say, “Bond, James Bond” anymore, but I hope they don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and get rid of the martinis and tuxedos too. The Bond series might not have been my favorite before the revamp, but it still needs to be itself. The realistic villains and a Bond that evolves is a good thing, but it should also be fun and it shouldn’t forget the fans like Steve who will see – and memorize – anything with 007.

– Noah Forrest
November 11, 2008

Noah Forrest is a 25 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon