50 years worth of travels in about three weeks time.
As a household, my wife and I are James Bond fans.
I would not say we are excessively so however. We do not own any sort of memorabilia. Any affinity towards martinis tends to center around the cosmopolitan. And while I do own a tuxedo, any resemblance between myself and Bond is a matter of coincidence and poor eyesight.
But we do like the movies. So we ran out to see Skyfall on the opening weekend, daughter in tow. The reviews had been quite favorable.
However, a couple of reviews said that Skyfall was the “best Bond ever,” an opinion which put that skeptical look on my face. The movie was certainly, to my mind, the best of the Daniel Craig outings. But the BEST Bond ever? That was something that needed some thought. And some research.
So we decided to watch all the Bond films. In order. Again.
We’ve done it before.
We may not have memorabilia, but we do have all the movies on DVD. MGM put out a three-part boxed set around 2000 that included all of the Bond movies up to that point, a run that encompassed Dr. No to Tomorrow Never Dies and five of the six Bond actors from the official, EON-produced films. (Never Say Never Again and the 1967 Casino Royale do not enter into this discussion.) We have purchased all of the subsequent films on DVD or Blu-Ray since then.
And so we set out on a three week journey with a plan to watch one of the movies every night. In addition, we also watched supplemental material included with each of the movies. One of the nice things about the set is that MGM produced a “making of” documentary for each of the movies up through License to Kill that covers the trials of making the movie, the stunts, and some of the politics and justifications around what went on.
These documentaries run anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes each, and since rare is the Bond movie that runs under two hours, we were committing ourselves to quite a nightly camp on the couch.
But we made it.
What follows after the cut are some observations and lists based on the experience. If James Bond isn’t your thing, you can safely go elsewhere.
Observations on watching the whole series, with documentaries, again:
First off, the documentaries were really great, and we were disappointed when they tapered off after License to Kill. In addition to insights into making the movies, they put a good deal of context around Bond and his popularity early on.
The Ian Flemming Bond novels were very popular, consistently making the best seller lists. This is completely outside the scope of my personal knowledge. By the time I was old enough to know who Bond was, Ian Flemming was dead and his tales were more a staple of used book stores. I have never actually read a Bond story. I know him solely in the context of the movies.
I might have to put a Flemming novel on my “to do” list for 2013.
The popularity of the books were instrumental in launching the movie series. Dr. No is a pretty good movie, given its limitations in budget and some pretty flat acting by some. I am always pleasantly surprised when I go back and watch it. I always remember it worse than it was. But I do not think it would have amounted to much had there not been a huge public demand for James Bond.
And, of course, Sean Connery, whose presence on screen elevates the movie to its potential. You can stand some cardboard characters if they are on the set with him. He gave life to Bond in a way that is partially responsible for the character’s enduring success.
Then there was how quickly the series set its pattern for success. By the third movie, Goldfinger, the rarely deviated from template for a Bond movie had been set. There is the gun barrel scene with the Monty Norman James Bond theme, the pre-credits action sequence, the opening credits full of semi-obscured naked women, the briefing, the villain, the initial failure, the new effort, Bond getting captured by the villain, the villain inexplicably not killing Bond, and the eventual downfall of the villain through Bond’s resourcefulness. And the women, at least one of whom must die during the movie.
My Top Five Bond Movies
These are at odds with some people’s choices I know. I heard time and again on the documentaries that the cast and crew thought The Spy who Loved Me was the best Roger Moore Bond. And every time they said it, I would say aloud, “Have you frickin’ seen Live and Let Die?”
Part of the reason I like Live and Let Die is that, like many Bond movies, it plays into the mood of the time. The mood just happened to favor Blaxploitation films which were, in a word, “awesome.” Plus, there was an effort by the producers and director to stay as far from Bond cliches as possible. So no Martini, no baccarat, no tuxedo. Plus, Yaphet Kotto may be the Bond villain having the most fun ever.
And, just to tie in one more bit of trivia, Live and Let Die was the last movie we watched before our daughter was born. We sat up watching it after a long day, then went to bed, turning out the lights around midnight. About 10 minutes later my wife’s water broke and we got up again and went to the hospital.
As for the rest, Goldfinger is the quintessential Bond that defines the series. I only dislike the “skin suffocation” bit… so she was alive when you painted her gold… and the whole Pussy Galore loyalty change up, which was simply too quick and too convenient . But my top two were both directed by Guy Hamilton, which says something I am sure. Plus, I understand my mom and dad went and say this movie just before I was born. Something of a family tradition in that.
Goldeneye benefits from coming after the Timothy Dalton movies, both of which figure in the list below this one. It was the revival of the series.
Skyfall… it is very good. It would have been better had the villain’s outrageously expensive and intricately planned scheme hadn’t had such a pedestrian goal. It ranks up with Lex Luthor level in contrived plots with a goal that could have been accomplished in the first scene. The villain and his or, in exactly one case, her plot are integral to any Bond movie.
And Diamonds are Forever… well… Sean Connery was back and it was Vegas baby! And there were Howard Hughes references and that red Mustang Mach 1. What is not to love?
My Five Least Favorite Bond Movies
For years Moonraker was at the bottom of my Bond list. However, I have softened on it this time around. Octopussy is there now because it went the furthest into “too cute by half” territory. License to Kill and Living Daylights were just poor scripts and mediocre productions hampered, in large part I think, by a team that had done too many Bond films up to that point. Casino Royale is on the list because it should have been much better. It is a classic example of trying to cram too much into a movie, to the point that it all stops making a lick of sense. And I still think Moonraker is too cutesy as well, but it has some good moments too.
My Bond Ranking
I debated doing this list, as the gap between places isn’t drastic. I did not hate Lazenby’s performance, and I think Timothy Dalton just played Bond when the franchise was in a crisis. Daniel Craig is okay, but he’s done one good, one bad, and one so-so Bond. Roger Moore did my favorite Bond, but the documentaries mention his abilities as a comedic actor, something the various directors encouraged in him, which turned the series away from its roots into… Octopussy. Sean Connery defined Bond, but Pierce was what I think Bond really should of been, which is why he gets the top spot.
My Five Favorite Bond Girls
- Elektra King – Sophie Marceau in The World is Not Enough
- Xenia Onatopp – Famke Janssen in Goldeneye
- Countessa Tracy di Vicenzo – Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
- Solitaire – Jane Seymore in Live and Let Die
- Naomi – Caroline Munro in The Spy Who Loved Me
Good luck figuring out a pattern in that list. There are a lot of Bond Girl choices. On any given day, I might draw up a completely different list. Well, except for Diana Rigg.
My Top Five Bond Themes
- Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey
- Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney and Wings
- Diamonds are Forever – Shirley Bassey
- Nobody Does it Better (The Spy who Loved Me) – Carly Simon
- Man with the Golden Gun – Lulu
Goldfinger and Diamonds are Forever may be the most enduring work Shirley Bassey will ever do. They are classics, songs that I listen to just to listen to music. In another fifty years, people will watch Goldfinger and go out and buy the theme song.
Man with the Golden Gun is in the same vein as those two, with a big and brassy sound, only with Lulu on vocals… and a bit more innuendo. He has a powerful weapon indeed.
Live and Let Die is a good song. I just like it. Another one on my regular play list.
And then there is Nobody Does it Better, which I told myself wasn’t going to make the list. It is a sappy song. But it is one that people recognize as part of the series. And it isn’t bad. I know all the words. So I had best be honest with myself.
I was tempted to put Duran Duran’s song from View to a Kill on the list because… heh… Duran Duran. Thunderball had potential too, being a decent vehicle for Tom Jones. Pity the song doesn’t make much sense to me. Adele’s Skyfall theme was a little bland. It sounds like it could have been a great one, but somewhere a knob got turned the wrong way and all the brass drained out or something, leaving it kind of tame. Know My Name from Casino Royale was also tempting. If only I liked the movie better. I do love the Lich King parody of the song though.
And one last thing about Bond themes. As the series made its way into the 80s and beyond, the artists doing the themes of course made music videos out of them as well. These are included on many of the DVDs as well. Very few of the videos are better than the opening credits in the Bond movie in which they are featured.
My Top Five “Other” Bond Songs
- Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang – Nearly the theme for Thunderball. Could have been another Shirley Bassey classic. First Shirley got swapped for Dionne Warwick, and then they killed the song at the last minute because they were afraid people would be confused if the theme for the movie didn’t have the movie’s name in it.
- Casino Royale – Herb Albert and the Tiajuana Brass. I said I wasn’t going to include that movie, but this part goes outside canon… and I really like the song.
- 007 Theme – This song is in at least half the movies and I bet you would know it if you heard it, but couldn’t put a name to it. A high energy version of it often gets used in chase scenes.
- The Laser Beam – Another recurring song, in Goldfinger originally, it gets re-used for those tense moments.
- We Have All the Time in the World – The song from the saddest moment in the whole James Bond series.
Top Repeated Bond Action Scenes
- Outside the airplane fight
- The gadget enhanced car chase
- The boat chase
- The ski chase
- The underwater fight
There are usually one or two of these in each Bond movie. About a dozen movies into the series, we started pointing out repeats of different chases. Oh, look, another ski chase! Will this one end up in a bobsled run or not?
All and all though, the series is a lot of goofy fun and I enjoy watching Bond movies.
That said, I will be glad to maybe watch something else in the evenings. 22 Bond movies in a row in our living room is a bit much.
So what is on your James Bond list or lists?