Saturday, July 31, 2004

Bond, James... Ah, To Hell With It

I'm sure you've all heard, and become kind of sick of hearing about, the rumor that Pierce Brosnan might not be playing James Bond any more. Whenever a change in Bonds is made, the real question is, will this be a chance for the series to go in a new direction?

The Brosnan movies revived the Bond franchise -- even though few would argue that any of them were all that good -- partly because Brosnan was a good choice, but partly because the producers overhauled the style of the films, making them faster, louder, with more rapid cutting and crazy camera movements; more like a typical American action movie. The Bond movies of the '70s and '80s all had a more sedate camera style, no matter who was the director, and depended less on action and more on production design (that's why the most financially successful films, like Spy Who Loved Me, tended to be the ones designed by Ken Adam, the British cinema's grand master of elaborate set design). By the '80s, when the budgets were no longer big enough to allow for sufficiently lavish design, the films looked cheap and clunky, like the action movies that the Cannon Group was making in its British studio. The Bruckheimerization of the franchise was necessary in order to save it. The question is, what's next?

Most likely the series will go to trying to ape the Jason Bourne movies, though it shouldn't (not that there's anything wrong with the Bourne movies, but Bond is supposed to be about a guy working within the system, loyal to the government, whereas American spy movies tend to be about one man who bucks the system). Others, like Quentin Tarantino, have suggested being more faithful to Ian Fleming, proposing that Fleming's first Bond novel, Casino Royale, should be filmed "straight." While there's no question that the series would have been better off sticking to Fleming's stories -- it's no coincidence that the '60s movies, which are mostly actually based on the books, hold up better than the '70s and '80s movies, which have mostly original stories created for the screen -- the movie audience would not accept a Bond movie that's too close to Fleming, because the style of the movies is so different. For one thing, the movies are funny, whereas Fleming had no sense of humor; he created the most ridiculous plots and wrote about them as if he believed they could actually happen. The writers of the movies couldn't ignore the ridiculousness, so they added jokes to signal to the audience that they weren't expected to take it seriously. (Fleming, when he met the head writer of the Bond movies, Richard Maibaum, said only: "Your movies are much funnier than my books." Being Fleming, he apparently didn't realize that that was what they were going for.) I'd be all for going back and remaking Diamonds or Forever or Moonraker with the stories Fleming wrote, but it probably wouldn't be successful, box-office-wise.

Maybe the most effective thing would be to take a cue from the nostalgia/parody movies -- Austin Powers, Anchorman -- and do a Bond movie as a full-scale '60s nostalgia piece. Set it during the '60s, make the Red Chinese the villains (it can't be the Russians because in the movies Bond was never fighting the Russians; it was always either SPECTRE, the Chinese, or both), build huge, elaborate sets in the style of Ken Adam (or just get Ken Adam), use bright, splashy colors, have all the women's voices dubbed by the same actress, and so on. It wouldn't be a parody, like Austin Powers,; it would just be a tribute, the way Far From Heaven is a tribute to Douglas Sirk or Down With Love is a tribute to Satan, er, I mean Ross Hunter. In other words, stop trying to pretend that Bond is a contemporary character and just bring it back to its roots as a product of the '60s Swinging London cinema. Won't happen, but it would be fun.

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