Saturday, March 19, 2005

Bond Begins?

Generally speaking, I'm a big fan of 007, James Bond. I recently completed my collection of all 14 of Ian Fleming's 007 books, as published by Penguin, with the lurid cover artwork of Richey Fahey. (Apparently the Fahey covers are no longer in print; the Penguin Flemings are now published as part of their Modern Classics collection.)

As for the Bond movies, I tend to like the early ones, with Sean Connery and Roger Moore. (Whenever I read Fleming, I tend to hear Roger Moore's voice whenever Bond speaks. Must be a generational thing.)

So I look at the news about the latest Bond movie, Casino Royale, with mixed feelings.

Robert Wade also said that the new script, as it currently stands, will indeed be concerned with Bond’s formative years, exploring how 007 came to be, in Wade’s words, “hermetically sealed, emotionally”. Commenting on the torture scene, Wade said: “If it is done the right way, there are going to be a lot of crossed legs in the cinema.”

He also added: “At the moment it is a very faithful adaptation, updated. The book is the story of the incident that actually forges James Bond as a secret agent. There is a James Bond that everyone knows, but it would be nice just once to show how he got there.”

Well ... that's the good news. I found Die Another Day a little over-the-top in terms of the action sequences.

However, in a possible response to the rumours about a ‘Bond Begins’ approach that have hit the media in recent weeks, the two screen-writers also revealed that the ‘Casino’ adaptation departs from the novel, in that it will still have a setting in the present day – despite being a kind of prequel. Wade said: “That is our attempt at a sleight of hand. We can’t make it as a period piece.”

Well ... that's the bad news.

Reflecting on both the possibilities and the limitations of the Fleming novel, Wade further commented that the book “doesn’t have the global vista and it doesn’t have the level of action with which the cinematic Bonds have become synonymous with. We’ve opened it up but tried to keep the action fairly contained, and of realistic proportions. And everything that we’ve done that expands on the book is providing a modern context for what happens.”

Neal Purvis added: “We don’t want to hark back to the old Bond films, because everyone goes on about that. We want to do something new, faithful to the original sense.”

Okay ... here's why I think they're making a mistake.

First, there are always going to be action movies. The Bond movies have had plenty of action, but if you want to wow the critics, you're going to need to go into a new direction, and making the next Bond movie an action film is NOT a new direction.

For a Bond film, a new direction means a new attitude toward the filmmaking. That means you need drama. The movies with Timothy Dalton were a step in the right direction, and the current writers seem like they plan to follow it, but you never know what pressures producers will bring.

Second, as it stands, the movie may become another Sum of All Fears -- i.e. it fails because it ignore previous films in the franchise. People remember the series going all the way back to the 1960s with Sean Connery; there's no way moviegoers are going to forget that.

The thing is, Bond has always been a product of his time: the Cold War era of the 1950s to the 1980s. The era before political correctness, before AIDS and safe sex, before cigarettes and jet-setting and martinis became unfashionable. There is no shame in admitting that Bond's era is past; a historical film can celebrate and acknowledge it.

Not to mention that doing it as historic might bring Pierce Brosnan back ...