50 years ago, on October 5, 1962, in the movie Dr.No James Bond sitting on a Poker table eyed the beautiful Sylvia Trench and to her query of his name, responded dramatically with a cigarette in his mouth: “Bond… James Bond”. That was the beginning of one of the most intriguing characters the World has ever seen spawning 25 movies from Dr.No to Skyfall, TV series, Comic Books, Albums, Novels, Stories… A set of fiction novels created by a ex-military Britishman during the Cold War has today grown into a cult and has become part of popular culture, capturing the imagination of the World in more ways than one. Ian Fleming wouldn’t have imagined even in his wildest dreams that his fictional MI6 agent would be kicking ass and saving the World a whopping 59 years later, after his first novel came out (Casino Royale, 1953). James Bond, one of the most widely recognized proper nouns in the World today, has survived the Cold War, several “hot” wars, going strong even today in the interconnected World of the Internet and Smartphones, when it would look like espionage and smooth talking spies who try to dig out secrets hanging around Poker tables talking queens’s English through stiff upper lips solidly belong to the past. Despite short-sighted critics arguing that Bond must be “retired”, with his adaptation skills and license to thrill, 007 continues to enamor us.
Me and James Bond
I was just 10 years old when I saw my first Bond Film, Goldfinger on a “phoren” VHS tape in those dry-as-a-Martini Socialist days with no cable TV or Internet, when non-kitschy Western movies were rarely released in India. I was so overwhelmed by Sean Connery’s towering presence, the evil Goldfinger and the beautiful Pussy Galore (those days the meaning was still “Cat”), all the suspense and general badassery that came with James Bond. I rewound and watched Goldfinger over and over again until the local Cassette-shop guy informed me that he had laid hands on another Bond-tape, which was “The Living Daylights” with Bond played by Timothy Dalton, which is when I realized Connery was not actually Bond in real life. But I loved the adventures of Dalton’s dark and gritty Bond, which must be that I like Dalton’s Bond while most people don’t. Then came “Diamonds Are Forever” and was again floored by Connery, who stood out like a lighthouse among the swirl of an otherwise confusing movie. I wasn’t a critic yet, so I enjoyed all the three movies. And then came GoldenEye, which took the World by storm. The number of fans quadrupled, and I still remember kids scratching in “oo7”, “James Bond” and “GoldenEye” into the wooden desktops in our classrooms. By 2000, I had watched all Bond movies released till then multiple times and was part of the cult, a practicing “Bondian”. Even Today, I watch most Bond movies even today with the same fascination I had 12 years ago. I still get goosebumps when I hear the timeless Bond theme song playing, arguably the most *epic* background score ever.
Bond. James Bond.
James Bond is not just a movie series or a character today, but a part of popular culture, something referred to in everyday lives of people. James Bond is not like Superman or Wolverine whose exploits can be attributed to their superpowers, but a real unmasked man of flesh and blood but lives a life that most of us dream of, at least subconsciously. Bond is the embodiment of the male fantasy. He has no commitments, drinks enormous quantities of alcohol, has sex with numerous beautiful women, drives fast and glamorous cars, has a license to kill, lives the highest of the high life, travels to exotic locations of the world, Works on an unlimited expense account and does not or has to give a damn about anything while saving the World in the process. Beneath all the shiny and calculated glossy civilized veneer of today’s human society within every male still lie those primitive instincts of male aggression and domination, to be the Alpha Male, a result of all the millions of years of evolution. Bond lays this out in the open, overlaying it with the cultural best of today. When he dresses up in his immaculately cut tuxedo, stands ramrod straight and orders his Martini while sweet talking a curvaceous woman and later drives away in his $1 million car to bed her, those primitive instincts are full on display.
Every Bond, save Lazenby maybe, have put forth and played the part of Bond with elan. Despite all of his masculine ego, Bond usually treats his women with grace and lady-like, never losing that British style of charm and sophistication, something you would expect from a gentleman in a top hat and tail coats and not from a 21st century super spy. Every aspect of the Bond character has made impact on lives, starting from his simple but the most resounding introduction, his nail-on-the-head puns, wits and his no-compromise with his dressing and fitness (one thing I was never able to follow Bond), his encyclopedic knowledge of everything about everything, his mastery over languages and over any vehicle on the road, on rails, in the air, on water or even underwater, from moon buggies to supercars to mini subs to military tanks, his shooting abilities, and of course, his general charm and sophistication. His very presence and piercing eyes send across messages that he is not to be messed with, a message of power and conviction while maintaining an air of mysteriousness. One of the biggest differences the Bond character has with others is that there is almost nothing known about his life before and/or outside MI6 (atleast in the movies), an added advantage that saves us from judging him or his actions.
50 Years of James Bond Movies
James Bond is the longest-running movie franchise in history with 24 films, the next being the Friday the 13th series with only half the number of films. And credit for that has to go to the Brocolli family, who despite all odds keep the franchise running. Most famous movie series run out of steam because the central characters get overshadowed by other factors like the plot, other characters, the need to put one over the previous installment of the series and so on. But for 50 years, the James Bond franchise has been alive and kicking despite external problems like financial difficulties but never with the character. The characterization of Bond was so strong, cast in iron, that everything else were just screenplay compulsions. Whenever the essence of Bond got diluted by complicated plots, overbearing villains and CGI, we had duds like The Man With The Golden Gun, A View To Kill, License to Kill and Die Another Day, which all are my personal grouses as well. 007 has influenced and in a way shaped how the world looks at clandestine operations and movies, with 007 influencing movies from XXX to Van Helsing. And fittingly, the 23rd (official) movie in the series, Skyfall with Daniel Craig as Bond (who was not even born when Dr.No was released) will release on 26th October 2012 in the UK and 2nd November in India.
I count James Bond as one of those influential heroes from childhood, no matter who portrayed him. It is the character who got to me, be it the smooth and suave Connery, the graceful Lazenby, the smart and very British Moore, the dark and Dalton, the sophisticated and charming Brosnan or the abrasive and no-nonsense Craig. But since I grew up watching Connery, he would not be the first Bond for me, but the…. Bond. James Bond.