Wednesday, October 31, 2012

50 years of James Bond movies

Skyfall is breaking box office records in Finland and elsewhere. After 50 years, the producers are still having a huge commercial success with James Bond movies. In film industry terms such a long-term success is extraordinary.

Interestingly, Skyfall is about old-fashioned secret agent methods getting obsolete in a world where cyber espionage is more efficient. In the first part of the movie James Bond is already declared missing in action and given a funeral service. He has been shot by a fellow agent on the orders of M. There is a resurrection, and then a dark double appears, a former colleague turned super-villain called Silva. With Bond they had been the top agents, and also Silva had been left by M to die. While Bond represents the old school, Silva is a grand master of the new school of cyber-terrorism.

Kalle Kinnunen has paid attention to the similarity between Skyfall and The Dark Knight, for instance in the characterization of the villain (The Joker / Silva). In both Skyfall and The Dark Knight Returns the antihero (Batman / Bond) is fatally wounded and has to save the day with significantly diminished strength.

This kind of approach is novel in the history of the Bond movies, although You Only Live Twice had similar dimensions. But such an approach was part of Ian Fleming's concept from the very beginning.

Casino Royale (1953), the first James Bond novel, has a deranged mood which the movie adaptations have not even tried to reach. The first Bond villain, Le Chiffre, had gotten his name because he had lost his identity during WWII; all that remained was the number tattooed on his arm. Bond poses as a rich Jamaican playboy gambler to break Le Chiffre and the chain of financing to French Communists, but Le Chiffre almost breaks Bond with sadistic torture.

“The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning” belongs to the great opening lines in the history of literature, but in the 2006 film adaptation of Casino Royale there was no smoking at all.

The 2006 film adaptation of Casino Royale which introduced Daniel Craig as James Bond was appreciated by many, and it was a huge commercial success, but for me that Bond revival movie was largely an imitation of the inventive Bourne movies. For me, sex was missing, and also the visual quality was weaker due to the restrictions and limitations of the digital process. Even worse was Quantum of Solace, where the relentless blitz montage weakened the impact. Skyfall is clearly the best of Daniel Craig's Bond movies.

Because Skyfall dares to face the mortality of its antihero it may succeed in giving a new lease of life to him.

The James Bond movies make no sense as suspense thrillers, but when they work, they are impressive spectacles. Skyfall works, and as a spectacle it is catchy. There is an assured touch and a sense of confidence in how the crazy story is told. And there is substance in the cultural references, as analyzed by Henry K. Miller on the BFI website.

Interesting debate on Jim Emerson's site, 14 Nov 2012

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