Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Skyfall, the 23rd Bond film. Photo by MCT.
For 50 years, James Bond has protected the world from all
manner of villains, writes Steven Rea.
"I wish I had had James Bond on my staff," John F. Kennedy is
quoted as saying in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis,
when war with Russia looked imminent.
Dr. No, the first of the 007 movies based on Ian
Fleming's spy books, had just opened - in October 1962 - in
theatres in the United Kingdom. Dr. No - released the
following May in the United States, and starring Sean Connery
as the unflappable lady-killer with a licence to kill,
dispatched to the Caribbean to stop a madman from disrupting
US missile launches - was enough of a success that another
Bond movie, From Russia With Love, followed.
And then Goldfinger. And then another. And another,
with their gun-barrel opening-title sequences, their brassy
John Barry theme music, their Bond villains, Bond girls, Bond
Now, Skyfall, the 23rd 007 enterprise, with Daniel
Craig in his third turn as the British intelligence
operative, is primed to open - marking the 50th anniversary
of the formidable franchise. (The rogue 1967 romp Casino
Royale, with David Niven and Peter Sellers, isn't
considered part of the official 007 oeuvre.)
To date, the Bond movies have earned more than $US5 billion
($NZ6 billion) in worldwide box office.
"Ian Fleming created an amazing character," says Craig, who
has followed in the footsteps - and the tailored suits - of
Connery, George Lazenby (an Australian, and the forgotten
Bond, appearing only in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret
Service), Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan.
"There's this internal conflict in the way Fleming wrote
Bond," Craig says. "You know, he's an assassin. The whole
idea that he kills people is something that Fleming really
fought with ... He fought with that emotionally. That's who
the character is."
The character is more than that, though. Down through the
decades, the different Bonds, and the men who played them,
mirrored what was happening in the culture, in the tenor and
temperament of the day.
"Each actor defined their time, and reflected the times,"
says Barbara Broccoli, who worked on her first Bond film,
The Spy Who Loved Me, when she was 17 and has served
as producer on the past seven.
Her father, Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, who died in 1996,
co-founded the franchise with Harry Saltzman.
"You can look over the history of the last 50 years and you
can see, in terms of trends and technology, things that were
happening in the world reflected in the films."
The early Sean Connery Bond shivered with the chill of the
Cold War. With the Carter and Reagan administrations (Reagan
was a fan of the Bond pictures - he went on TV and read from
a teleprompter to say so), "detente" became the buzzword - a
word that issued suavely from Moore's mouth in 1981's For
Your Eyes Only. The late '80s Dalton James Bond took on a
darker aspect for darker times, turning his attention to drug
lords (Licence to Kill) and arms dealers (The
Living Daylights). But after the terrorist attacks of
September 11, 2001, the almost careless cool embodied by
Brosnan's Bond during the 1990s, and into the new millennium,
had to go.
Enter the grimmer, gutsier MI6 agent introduced by Craig in
2006's Casino Royale. "We were making Die Another
Day and 9/11 happened," Broccoli recalls. "And at the end
of the making of Die Another Day, which was quite
fantastical in its approach, we decided that we had to make a
change in direction. It didn't seem appropriate for Bond to
be at all flippant, or fantastical, in the post-9/11 world
Other things have changed in the Bond films, too. The 1960s
Bonds, especially, smacked of the "sex, snobbery, and sadism"
that a literary critic found shot through Fleming's books.
With every new Bond picture, new Bond girls are paraded out.
But Ursula Andress' beach bunny in 1962's Dr. No gave
way to Denise Richards' nuclear physicist in 1999's The
World Is Not Enough.
And M, Bond's boss, became a Ma'am.
As for Craig - whose steely, solemn Bond goes awol as the
tumult of Skyfall and the villainy of its demented bad
guy, played by Javier Bardem, are unleashed - he is not
exactly sure how his take on 007 speaks to the zeitgeist.
"I'm not a self-conscious sort," the star demurs.
"They employed me, they knew what kind of actor I was, and
when I came to it I wanted Bond to have a kind of emotional
journey. I'm more than aware I wasn't going to start doing
Ibsen, or British kitchen-sink dramas - I wanted to make Bond
movies. But no-one ever said, 'Don't make him human'."
Skyfall, the 23rd Bond film, opens in New Zealand on
Hoyts Dunedin has a midnight screening. Not to be outdone,
Rialto Dunedin has a special screening at 12.07am (0.07).