Tuesday, 4 November 2008


Special thanks to François JUSTAMAND

« It's a new world, with new enemies, and new threats. But you can still depend on one man... » Well, at least his producers can: Quantum of Solace, the new 007 flick - which opened on October 31 - breaks records for its first weekend in Europe: 1,3 million tickets in France (on 3 days) and £ 15 384 217 for its United Kingdom release, as UK is by nature the test market for the franchise. The movie opens on November 14 in the US.

With a $261 million price tag for a 105-minute movie, maybe the costliest film ever made minute by minute (http://www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/new-bond-wannasee-double-casino-royale-questions-about-quantum-of-solace-cost/), failure was not an option for Sony, MGM and Eon Productions, the forces behind Quantum. The explanations to the first weekend lucky numbers are multiple: pertinent release opening date plan, no real concurrence, the commercial success of Casino Royale - the previous entry, and the prestige of one of the most solid myths of pop culture: James Bond.

But which one exactly? The character created by Ian Fleming for his novels? Sean Connery in Dr No (1962) and From Russia with love (1963)? Or the epitome of big screen escapist extravaganza established in Goldfinger (1964): the suave womanizing superspy fighting megalomaniac villains, with the little help of gadgetry, licensed to kill sportscars fully equiped, and girls right out of Hugh Hefner's dreams. All with this typical Brit ingenuity and wit, shaken not stirred.

Books rarely remain intact when adapted as movies. Honestly and with all the respect due to the work of Ian Fleming, the only proper way to be faithful to his novels today would be miniseries set in the time of the books with the quality standards of a Poirot with David Suchet. Without the alchemy that made Sean Connery the immortal star of the dyptic Dr No/From Russia with love (long before the producers decided that Quantum of Solace would be a sequel) Fleming's creation would only have been transposed for comic books (http://tattard2.blogspot.com/2008/05/james-bond-is-back-in-action-again.html) and a forgotten anthology episode from the Prehistory of Television.

Goldfinger made modern commercial cinema and imposed the canons of a genre in its own respect for generations going every couple of years to see A JAMES BOND, « Hallmark of today's greatest entertainment »: elegance, action, adventure, exotic locations, classy cars, gadgets, gigantic villain's lair designed by Ken Adam, quips, fabulous title songs, the talent of John Barry and THAT theme. The world's famous film theme: The James Bond theme.

And this Bond lived on during forty years with flamboyance, many ups, some downs, sometimes trying awkwardly to emulate BO phenoms of their times, like Shaft for Live and Let Die (1973), the Shaw Brothers pictures for The Man with Golden Gun (1975), or even Star Wars - prototype of "franchises" as we know them today, for Moonraker in 1979. But always with one if not more moments to build its eternal glory and always true to the soul of Bond on film: escapism galore. In these days Bond meant an explosion of cinematic sensations sold by publicity geniuses devising the greatest taglines, and ordering magnificent painted posters. We knew the name, we knew the number.

Then came Die Another Day (2002) and its excesses and misses under the weight of audience demographics and against the reflection of a deforming mirror called Austin Powers. At the time your humble French servant, a longtime Bond devotee, thought it was about time to help the Bond franchise not to become a perpetual laughing stock for Mad Magazine. And he theorized pompously for his unfortunate friends about the so-called lack of credibility of 007 in the 21st century - insisting on the fact that his favorite screen spies were Harry Palmer and George Smiley (which is still the case, by the way...)

James Bond peaked his popularity as one « the Three Bs », the Holy Trinity of the Swinging sixties: Beatles, Bond and Batman. In the dark ages of a post-September 11 world, the Batman underwent a "reboot", and a 4 year gap between Die Another Day and Casino Royale (2006) saw the emergence of no-nonsense nor wit brutal fiction super agents: 24/7 tormented saviour Jack Bauer and the revamped Jason Bourne with Matt Damon. Mission: Impossible III, one of the best action thriller ever, did the rest and achieved to convince producers of James Bond that a reboot was the only way to make 007 one of the Bs of the high octane action genre, with Bourne and Bauer (Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt being the fourth musketeer).

« It's a new world, with new enemies, and new threats. But you can still depend on one man... » The trouble with Casino Royale is that this man is gone AWOL with what made the character a modern myth of popular culture. And we had to wait 4 long years of the usual rumors and speculations (worsen in the internet era), buy the idea of substantial changes, and accept Daniel Craig as the new James Bond (why not? He was excellent in Layer Cake) with the best feelings and intentions... for a rather despairing result (1). Box Office plebiscited the choices of Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, helmers of the series launched by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman in 1962, but to this date pros and cons of the « James Bourne » reformat are still discussing if the movie is pure Bond or not (2).

Retrospectively, Die Another Day has been the trigger if not the scapegoat of this reboot. DAD is not better or worse than another installment of the franchise. It tried to live up to the title of « Hallmark of today's greatest entertainment » inherited from the golden years of 007 in a world (a thought for the late Don LaFontaine here...) where there's one blockbuster from the Hollywoodland factory once a week, and where the Germans of action concept produce more spectacular action packed sequences in an episode of Alarm für Cobra 11 than the movie industry in 144 minutes of Casino Royale. Hollywood knows that, rent one of the recent movies of the great Bruce Willis.

Die Another Day is the « Old School Bond » Ultimatum. With Quantum of Solace the Bond Supremacy stays undisputed from a Box Office point of view but there's practically nothing left today of the Bond Identity: a logo on posters, the James Bond theme on trailers. Why not after all? Really. Everything changes, perhaps now there's a Bond for each generation: a sexist, misogynist dinosaur, relic of the Cold War or a blunt instrument. Your humble over-the-hill servant will not see Quantum of Solace, a botched regeneration in Doctor Who is enough disappointment for this year. No hard feelings, Mr Bond...

« The coffin - it has your initials: J.B.
- At the moment, rather him than me. »
(Thunderball, 1965)

(1) We'll develop on Casino Royale in a later article.

(2) More generally, Furious D on the « Bond, James Bond » issue: http://dknowsall.blogspot.com/2008/11/cinemaniacal-bond-james-bond.html (see also http://dknowsall.blogspot.com/2008/02/cinemaniacal-1-shaken-not-stirred.html).

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