Over the Christmas holidays I inadvertently watched three James Bond movies. I say it like it’s surprising this happened because I didn’t intentionally sit down to watch any of them. Yet watching 3 films ‘by accident’ (admittedly not totally accidental as I enjoyed them and did watch them in their entirety) seems pretty crazy. That’s the total output of Back To The Future as a point of comparison.
A literature professor at my old University once described the phenomena of James Bond and I think he really got it right. He said the books were like smooth drinks that in the days before TV got big (Ian Fleming’s final Bond novel was published in 1966) were the perfect form of entertainment for a lazy Sunday. You could never have enough and there was always time for one more. In this respect, Ian Fleming was a master in entertainment. Like him or hate, his writing was slick, sharp and won fans. Simultaneously, as cinematography became ever more ambitious and popular it was inevitable movie adaptations of Fleming’s work would follow.
Half a century on it is remarkable where the James Bond franchise has ended up. I sincerely doubt that even Ian Fleming had imagined, even in his wildest dreams that a character named after an American bird-watcher would end-up having 24 films that have so far grossed nearly $6bn at the box office. MI6 itself only has an annual budget of around $2.3bn as a point of comparison!
With so many to choose from, the big question is which one’s the best? 24 movies is one hell of a movie-marathon (exactly treble doing a Harry Potter marathon, though why anyone would do that is beyond me!) and selecting just one is a pretty big ask.
But as I was ‘inadvertently’ watching From Russia With Love I got the feeling this was really Bond at its best. Perhaps it was simply the warm, slightly nostalgic colour-grade of a 1963 film that feels so true to the book, perhaps it was the sinister portrayal of SPECTRE (a proper dicdasterdly organisation from the Soviet Union) which stays true to James Bond’s roots in the height of the Cold War.
One thing it most definitely was in my opinion was Sean Connery’s portrayal of Bond. It’s amazing to think this man was once an Edinburgh-based milkman, yet he really seems to revel in the role of James Bond. His portrayal is smooth, suave and sophisticated in equal measures and I suppose it does help that his slick hair and rock-like jaw won him no shortage of female admirers the world over.
What I also liked about this film (beyond it staying relatively closely to the novel) was that fight and action scenes didn’t feel overtly over the top. Sure, there was plenty of scenes which required a non-cynical audience to get away with, but I think it poses an interesting question. Do Bond movies have to be spectacular, action-packed chases in almost every scene or can their be a bit more depth to the plot? Though Skyfall was very much in this vein there was certainly more consideration to the script than some previous films, particularly those where Pierce Brosnan played Bond. It will be interesting to see where Spectre, the next Bond-movie due for release this year goes. The right balance of plot and action might just make it as good as From Russia With Love…