Travels with Commander Bond

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.

And we don't smoke...

And I don’t smoke…

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

  1. Live and Let Die
  2. Goldfinger
  3. Goldeneye
  4. Diamonds are Forever
  5. Skyfall

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

  1. Octopussy
  2. License to Kill
  3. Living Daylights
  4. Casino Royale
  5. Moonraker

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

  1. Pierce Brosnan
  2. Sean Connery
  3. Roger Moore
  4. Daniel Craig
  5. Timothy Dalton
  6. George Lazenby

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

  1. Elektra King – Sophie Marceau in The World is Not Enough
  2. Xenia Onatopp – Famke Janssen in Goldeneye
  3. Countessa Tracy di Vicenzo – Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  4. Solitaire – Jane Seymore in Live and Let Die
  5. 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

  1. Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey
  2. Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney and Wings
  3. Diamonds are Forever – Shirley Bassey
  4. Nobody Does it Better (The Spy who Loved Me) – Carly Simon
  5. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The Laser Beam – Another recurring song, in Goldfinger originally, it gets re-used for those tense moments.
  5. 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

  1. Outside the airplane fight
  2. The gadget enhanced car chase
  3. The boat chase
  4. The ski chase
  5. 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?

23 thoughts on “Travels with Commander Bond

  1. spinks

    Wow, this is impressively thorough ;) I have a soft spot for Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me, because one or the other always seemed to be on TV over xmas when I was a kid.

    I have read the books but it was years ago. I /think/ the one I’d recommend if you can get it is From Russia With Love.


  2. Wayne Basta

    Nice compilation of Bond lists. I’ve debated doing something similar but its been so long since I’ve seen most of them that I couldn’t make a fair judgment. Bond was one of the series of movies that brought my wife and I together.

    I would disagree with you on Casino Royale. I loved it and rank it as one of my top Bond movies. Brosnan and Connery do take the top to spots over Craig but I’m only so-so on Moore. Definitely better than Dalton and I haven’t seen the Lazenby movie in forever so I can’t really say.


  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Wayne – Irony not lost on me is that, according the “making of” documentary, Casino Royale is the Bond movie that is closest to the original Ian Flemming story. But it never gelled for me. As I said, I felt it was trying to do too much. In fact, the next movie, Quantum of Solace, is pretty much devoted to picking up the pieces from Casino Royale.

    I am waiting for somebody to take me to task for a clear omission from my Bond girl list.

    I am also waiting for my wife to read this. I may have to add supplemental lists.


  4. HarbingerZero

    Its not just Casino Royale that points out the lack of book reading Wilhelm – Lazenby played Bond closest to his literary roots, as did the movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – well, up til Casino Royale, which as about as darn close to putting a book on screen as anyone has ever gone I think.

    I was too young for them myself, but a few years ago I went through my dad’s collection and read them all one by one. Good stuff.

    We do agree on several points though – Live and Let Die is easily one of my favorites. Both for its nod to the times and its attempt to hint at some metaphysical elements in the series.

    Also, I’ll go ahead and apologize now, because I’m dying to get over to my blog and starting ranking these, lol…copycat posts ftw.


  5. Coppertopper

    Well although absolutely shocked at listing CAsino Royale in your top 5 least favorite (it’s a top 10 all time favorite movie for me), agree with most all else. But also though Pierce Brosnan should be below Craig in the Bond rankings. I loved Roger Moore but Pierce basicalled imitated Moore, whereas Craig reinvented Bond in a new way that hasn’t been done since Lazenby. Every Bond has treated everything around him as disposable (women, gadgets, enemies) since Lazenby – Craig made everything real again, bringing heart back to the franchise.

    But really enjoyed this post – think I will keep an eye out for a total bond collection.


  6. Gripper

    I have to agree with Spinks – I do love “Live and let die” , but moonraker comes close. I think if you look at the time what these movies did with the technology – really impressive. I did like Skyfall also, was a great movie – saw it on opening day also. Hard to say what is the best one…..I dont know if its possible!


  7. Drebin

    I think I’m a fan of Daniel Craig more for what he’s done for the franchise then anything else. Before him, it was Sean Connery all the way. Bond, IMO, is a thug. Dapper, intelligent, resourceful, but a thug. Connery’s portrayal of Bond is just that. Moore’s was more of a “funny hitman” routine. Dalton and Brosnan, while closer to the ‘thug’ idea than Moore or Lazenby, came across to me more as “lab assistant who moonlights as security guard turned killer”. It felt flat. Craig’s depiction is as a thug, perhaps one who’s had to come to terms with being human, but still a thug. Get attacked? Slam attacker’s head into wall. Forced off the road? Drive attacker’s head into steering wheel. Can’t open a locked door? Wait until attacked, then use attacker’s head to batter door down.

    As for Bond characters, scenes or music, the only thing that reliably comes to mind every time Bond gets discussed among my friends and I is the closing scne in Live and Let Die. Baron Samedi for the win. XD


  8. Stropp

    I’m going to agree with the other commentors here. I quite enjoyed Casino Royale as a reboot of the series, but was looking for more with Quantum, specifically the introduction of my favorite cat loving villain. (I haven’t seen Skyfall yet so no spoilers please!)

    Goldfinger also holds my favorite Bond quote of all time.

    Do you expect me to talk?
    No Mr Bond. I expect you to die.

    Which does bring up a query. Where’s your top 5 Bond villains list?


  9. scotth

    I’m not sure I can compare the Daniel Craig movies with anything that came before. The new bond movies seem so much grittier and at times brutal than the campy stuff I was used to growing up.

    In my mind it is like comparing the Batman television show from the 60’s with the latest Batman trilogy.

    Daniel Craig all the way, I just think he exudes a quiet menace that convinces me he could kill people.


  10. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Stropp – I was working on a few more lists… Bond villains, locations, reckless stunts, henchmen… but couldn’t really pull those together. Fertile ground for others I think.

    As for Ernst Stavro Blofeld… you could make a list ranking the various iterations. I am partial to the Charles Gray version.


  11. Stropp

    Blofeld Iterations: from wikipedia

    Anthony Dawson (only hands and back/hair seen) — From Russia With Love, Thunderball
    Donald Pleasence — You Only Live Twice
    OHMSS – Telly Savalas
    Diamonds Are Forever — Charles Gray
    John Hollis – For Your Eyes Only (Bald villain in wheelchair not identified)

    Max Von Sydow in Never Say… Blecch!

    For me it’s a toss up between Gray and Pleasence. I think the latter, Pleasence has that creepy feel about him, and the voice that makes him a great villain.

    I’d forgotten that Telly Savalas was a Blofeld. It;s been a while, how did he fare?


  12. Carson

    I don’t even want to try to compare old and new Bond movies and decide which are better, they’re too different.

    But of the old Bond movies, my favourite is one which is not mentioned anywhere in this post: “You Only Live Twice”.


  13. Dà Chéng

    The greatest Bond of all time was indeed Pierce Brosnan – worldly, charming, suave, debonair, and an ice-cold, ruthless killer.

    I’m sorry to say that I don’t rate Daniel Craig as a Bond. He is probably the worst, for me. He certainly has the demeanour of a killer, but he lacks the smooth sophistication and urbane wit and charm of Commander Bond. He is totally unable to deliver a funny line. In that he is the antithesis of Roger Moore, whose only ability was that he could deliver a funny line.

    As for Skyfall (Stropp, look away now) the best thing about that film was the death of the worst ‘M’ in Bond history; and the long-awaited return of Miss Moneypenny!


  14. motstandet

    I haven’t seen all the Bond movies, but I think they are the same quality. They are all over-the-top, hokey, gadget-geek action movies. I think they are very entertaining to watch, but you said it yourself, Wilhelm, “template for a Bond movie…” Egomaniacal protagonist versus megalomaniacal villain with laser watches, guns, cars, and women.

    What makes a movie about a poker game with a guy with a scar on his eye any different than one with evil Russians stealing an EMP satellite? Lots of suspension of disbelief is needed for the series.


  15. SynCaine

    Way to many silly things in Skyfall for me, even by Bond standards. Super computer cluster in an open warehouse, with the comps out in the open without cases? Guess they solved the dust/heat problem huh?

    Villain blows up office to send a message, followup attack is done with two guards and pistols, because logic.

    Bond needs to hide, so goes to obvious house without weapons. Villain attacks house with first a wave of thugs (to set off silly traps), then attacks with chopper and mini-gun, because he has access to that,but not a single missile to level the house.

    The whole thing with the guys face, which could have been edited out and nothing would have been lost.

    I could go on.


  16. bhagpuss

    To me James Bond means miserable weather and having nothing better to do than sit indoors watching TV. When I was growing up the blasted things were a staple of bank holiday viewing and if I was unlucky enough to be stuck in front of one it meant it was too wet to go outdoors and I didn’t have a new superman comic left to read.

    As I got further into my teens and twenties Bond had become a joke. No-one in my peer group went to see the movies, talked about them or cared. I date the beginning of the rehabilitation of the franchise into something more than “crap old guys bore on about” directly to the scene in Trainspotting where the cool junkies discuss which Bond is best.

    Since then it’s become uncool not to like Bond. I still don’t. The only one I ever saw at the cinema was OHMSS with Lazenby, everyone’s vote for worst Bond ever. I would have been maybe ten or eleven. It was pretty boring. Give me The Aristocrats or 2001 my pre-adolescent self would have said and despite now being the exact target age he would have imagined these Bond films were meant for, my middle-aged self feels the exact same way!


  17. Rob

    Pierce Brosnan lost me in the first sequence of his first movie. Watch his face as he fires the machine gun in the barrel room at the start of Goldeneye. He looks scared to death. Bond is not afraid of guns.


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