Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Exploring the Real James Bond

I love James Bond. Not Sean Connery or Pierce Bronson or Roger Moore or Daniel Craig (actually, I do love Daniel Craig. Yummy!). I love the character of James Bond. The character as Ian Fleming wrote him, not the caricature that Hollywood has turned him into.

For my birthday this year, I requested the complete collection of Sir Ian Fleming's James Bond novels. I had been reading the novels when I could find them at the library, but I wanted to read them all, start to finish. It's been almost 8 months, but I'm on the last one. And through over a thousand pages of Bond, I feel like I've finally got a grasp on the man he was meant to be.

Over the past fifty years, twenty-three movies, and six actors, James Bond has been many things, but accurate sadly to the books was never one of them.

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  1. He's lucky, not invincible. If you were to believe the movies, James Bond is almost a superhero. He swoops in, saves the day and the girl, all the meanwhile avoiding insult and injury. In actuality, he's been stabbed, shot, poisoned, tortured, even stretched on a rack. Most of the time, he messes up the plan and lucks into a solution at the end. The bullet hits the book instead of his heart. The girl pulls him out of the water before he drowns. The barracuda attacks the goon he's fighting. And I prefer my Bond this way. It makes him human.
  2. He's a romantic at heart. He's not the smooth talking ladies man who, like the Fonz, snaps his fingers and all the ladies come running. Yes, he basically does sleep with someone inevitably in every book, but it's not anything like the movies. He knows all these women for 200+ pages of plot before he beds most of them. He has relationships with them afterward as well, the ones that survive anyway. After "Diamonds are Forever", he brings the girl back to England and tries to make it work, but she leaves him for an American marine. And most people criticize the fact that he got married in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", but it made perfect sense. James Bond has always been looking for that perfect woman to settle down with, but at the same time, he doesn't want to put any woman through being married to a spy. He doesn't need a wife, he's got a housekeeper who mothers him and a job that takes up all his time. However, deep down, he wants a simpler life. A normal life. Every time he meets a new woman who tickles his fancy, he convinces himself that this is the one. This one will be different and they can, somehow, have a happy life together. It never does, but he keeps on trying.
  3. He didn't rely on much technology. True fanboys will talk about how there is a Q in the books, but honestly, I couldn't tell you anything about him. I know someone comes along and explains to Bond about his hidden weapons in "From Russia with Love", but there definitely isn't a character created. And there really isn't a need for him because Bond doesn't rely on technology. He has his gun and his wits and that's really all that he's comfortable with. No sonic watch. No machine-gun car. I'll let this one slide some, though, because all the books were written in the 1950's. A time before security cameras and cell phones and everything now that James Bond must work against just to complete his goal. It was much easier just to come up with a fake name, pretend to be a rich tourist scouting real estate, and become besties with the bad guys. But that's part of what I like about the novel version of Bond: he has to use his wits to get himself in and out of these situations.
  4. He didn't like being a spy. At nearly the end of every mission, he had plans to return to England with the girl of the moment, marry her, move to the country to become a chicken farmer, never to be heard from again. He was tired. He'd basically been a spy since WWII (so roughly twenty years when the novels were released) and he knew he wouldn't be able to push his luck much longer. Double 0's have a very short lifespan and he wanted out. He wasn't a superhero bent on saving England from every potential threat. He was almost middle-aged and he wanted to live his life. However, whenever he gets the stability he so craves, he's itching for the excitement of the field again. In a perfect world, he'd be a spy without the possibility of dying. He wants to have his cake and eat it, too.
All that being said, I do enjoy the movies. The first few were very close to the plot of the books. The problem came that the first few movies removed some of the human element of Bond. It made for a much more exciting movie when he wasn't lucky, he was skilled, and was a suave ladies man. That concept snowballed and by the time the 70's rolled around, the technology needed to be updated. Hell, when "Moonraker" was published, no one had been to outer space yet. Bond was just trying to protect a rocket prototype. But twenty years later when the book was turned into a movie, somehow James Bond is now heading to the moon? I'll never really understand that one. As time went on, people latched onto these things and, by the Pierce Bronson era, he was only these things.

Personally, I would love a remake of the series where it's all period. I want to see my Bond as a vet of WWII, trying to navigate the evolving, repairing world. To see him battle the Commie Russians and SPECTRE and to drive through the French countryside for days, trying to tail the villain. If you take out the technology conundrum, I believe the character and the stories would shine more. 

That's not to say I'm not enjoying the revamp of Bond in the last decade. I love that the newest Craig movies have gotten back to more of the roots of Bond. He's flawed. He gets the crap beaten out of him. He wants to love the girl. He doesn't know if he's the good guy or the bad guy at times. He relies on those around him. He's finally human again.

And because I wouldn't leave you high and dry, here's the trailer to the new Bond movie coming out this fall. Luckily, they always seem to be released around Dan's birthday and we celebrate by Bond-ing it up.


I can't believe I almost forgot to mention how awesome he was at the Olympic Opening Ceremony! As much as I love the Olympics and the British (probably my two favorite things), the British ain't no Chinese. The ceremony was kind of a stinker, EXCEPT for the total awesomeness that was Daniel Craig as Bond. 

[Note: I tried to find a video of it, but apparently it's not on YouTube. That's just wrong.]

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