Bond a hero for the ages

Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Skyfall, the 23rd Bond film. Photo by MCT.
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 gadgets.

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'."

 


See it

Skyfall, the 23rd Bond film, opens in New Zealand on November 22.

Hoyts Dunedin has a midnight screening. Not to be outdone, Rialto Dunedin has a special screening at 12.07am (0.07).