Tuesday, November 18, 2008

You're Either a Goldfinger Guy Or a From Russia With Love Guy

Oh, one other thing, a James Bond-related thought (which I probably should have posted last Friday, but what the heck): one thing I've noticed about my attitude to James Bond movies is that while I acknowledge that most of the best Bond movies are more or less in the From Russia With Love vein -- fewer gadgets, a more serious tone, more emphasis on characterization -- my favorite kind of Bond movie is the Goldfinger type of wild fantasy adventure, even though there are fewer good movies of this type.

While I acknowledge the superiority of From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Casino Royale and maybe even For Your Eyes Only to most of the "wacky" Bond movies, I don't return to them all that often as a group. Okay, that's not fair to FRWL; I do return to that one, because it's one of the two best of the Connerys (and like Goldfinger, it's a superb adaptation of the Fleming novel, though there were fewer changes that had to be made because the source material is stronger).

But with OHMSS, all the stuff that's supposed to make it better as a movie just makes it less entertaining to me as a Bond movie: no Ken Adam sets, few gadgets, lots of character moments and wistful speeches and romantic walking montages. I would much rather see You Only Live Twice, which has a terrible script but never stops trying to show us wonderful things, than On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which pretends that this ridiculous story is supposed to be taken seriously (and thereby falls into one of the traps Fleming himself kept falling into) and takes longer than almost any other Bond film even though it has fewer spectacular sequences to justify its length.

It's true that the big, wacky, silly Bonds are more likely to be bad, whether bad in a fun way (Diamonds Are Forever) or just bad in a bad way (A View To a Kill). The semi-serious ones are more likely to work as movies. But that's the thing: the semi-serious Bond movies are comparatively easy to make. They're not that different from non-Bond spy movies. It's the cartoony Bond movies that are the hardest to pull off, because the sets have to be truly eye-popping, the set pieces truly spectacular and the women truly memorable, and the director has to do all this while preserving the feel of a Bond movie rather than a campy Bond imitation. Goldfinger pulled this off, The Spy Who Loved Me pulled it off, and few others really have succeeded at this all the way through, because it's so difficult.

But while I appreciate what they've done with the reboot, I would like to see the Bond team try a similarly well-thought-out approach to a Goldfinger type of adventure. That's the kind of James Bond movie I'm waiting for.


Anonymous said...

On OHMSS: "...even though it has fewer spectacular sequences to justify its length..."

I don't really agree with this about OHMSS, which has wall-to-wall action and stunning ski sequences and location photography. I actually find YOLT really boring, with many sequences that should be spectacular (notably the helicopter fight) amateurishly staged and uninteresting. OHMSS is better made and hence more interesting.

For what it's worth, the best Bond films IMO are Dr No, Goldfinger, OHMSS, and Casino Royale, with FRWL and Quantum of Solace also very good (although the last is a first impression only at this point). So I guess on balance, from that list, I'm a FRWL guy despite preferring Goldfinger to FRWL itself.

Anonymous said...

Eck - for what it was worth, that last post was from me. Didn't realise OpenID would sign me in as "cinephobia."

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure Goldfinger is all that wacky, when viewed against the complete set of Bond films. Sillier than some, but probably less silly than average. Any film that slows down long enough for an extended golf sequence can't really be placed in the same category as Spy Who Loved Me.

Anyway, put me down as a From Russia With Love guy. That's just a good film--you don't have to enjoy Bond to enjoy it.

And maybe it's just me getting old, but the only parts of the "big set" films (like YOLT) that I watch now are the quiet parts. You can keep the ninja army, rocket guns, throngs of bad guys in jump suits, and stuff blowin' up good. I'll take parts like where Bond sneaks into the office. Actually, I think my favorite action is Bond poking around the docks, and you get that great aerial shot of Bond fist-fighting his way across the roof, as the instrumental version of the theme song plays. Hell, that's almost art.

Anonymous said...

I have always found Thunderball to be the most entertaining of the Connery movies, the script isn't as tight as previous entries but the budget was finally large enough to fully support the wild ideas put into it. Lots of fun.

Will said...

I don't see the dichotomy. I like both Goldfinger and From Russia With Love.
Bond, in my opinion, needs both the relatively serious suspense/spy thriller, and the gonzo over-the-top, turned-up-to-11 spectacle. They simply need to find the balance between them, I think it's probably 2 thrillers to every spectacular.

jimhenshaw said...

I'm definitely in the "From Russia With Love" and "Thunderball" camp.

I'd been hearing that the Bond franchise has now covered all the original Fleming material (including short stories) and you got me wondering if the future of the updated take on Bond might be to remake some of the over-the-top gadget movies like "Moonraker", "Octopussy" or "View To A Kill" that took them so far from the original books to satisfy the movie marketing needs of the time.

Anonymous said...

They haven't done "The Hildebrand Rarity" yet (baddie dies when somebody -- not Bond -- drops a pufferfish down his throat while sleeping).

I'm a GOLDFINGER kinda guy, with YOLT and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE as my two other favorite Connery Bonds. The only M007re I like is FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, and for the reasons you cite.

The first half of OHMSS is so sedate that when the film first aired on ABC-TV many years ago as a two-night feature, they re-edited it to put more action in the first night and making the earlier scenes a flashback!

Dalton was perfect for the role of Bond but never had a strong enough film during his brief tenure. Brosnan's last turn in DIE ANOTHER DAY is the best non-Connery Bond movie.

Ricardo Cantoral said...

Actually both films frequently compete for number one in my list. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE has the best plot for James Bond film ever, it's Maibaum's masterpeice of storytelling. How they incorporated SPECTRE into Fleming's story was sheer brillance.

GOLDFINGER has the best cast of characters in a Bond film ever. Honor Blackman, Gert Frobe, and Harold Sakata are beaten by no one in the history of Bond villian casts. The film's first half of the film just struck a terrific balance between a spy thriller and fantasy. The secound half is good too but there is a slowdown and film meanders in quailty until the film reaches Fort Knox.

Overall, it's hard to say. FRWL has the better plot but I love the characters in GF even more.

"They haven't done "The Hildebrand Rarity" yet (baddie dies when somebody -- not Bond -- drops a pufferfish down his throat while sleeping)."

Yes that is one I would like to see adapted in the vein of THE LIVING DAYLGHTS but with a far better written plot. I don't know if they should use the title itself though, it's a very hard sell.

"and maybe even For Your Eyes Only"

Oh no, that movie stinks on ice. It was sooooo boring. I don't know why fans love that one so much. There not a single interesting character in the entire film and the stunts are incredibly boring. In general, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY had a nice plot but it's executed in such a bland way, you can never it through it.

But with OHMSS, all the stuff that's supposed to make it better as a movie just makes it less entertaining to me as a Bond movie: no Ken Adam sets, few gadgets, lots of character moments and wistful speeches and romantic walking montages"

I agree. This is a film that recieved high status among Bond fans and though it's good, it's not great at all. There is alot wrong with it and it's about as campy and humorous as YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Also as you said, nothing justify it's length. Alot of the character interaction just drags and drags, very little of the dialogue is that good and on the level of the previous film. The fights are good but some of the major stunts last too long like Bond's for escape Piz Gloria. The characterizations are also far less interesting then the novel counterpart. Characters like Marc Ange Draco and Blofeld came across as pretty generic but not badly written. Diana Rigg did a great job with a underdeveloped role and Lazenby was just too young and inexperienced.