(Printed in OC WEEKLY, October 4, 2006)
I’ve noticed, in the cast and crew interviews for the upcoming James Bond prequel Casino Royale, how everybody concerned seems a little embarrassed by, or at least dismissive of, recent Bond pictures. There’s a lot of talk of starting the whole thing over and making Bond vital and dangerous again. “We know,” they seem to be saying, “we screwed up. We let our plots get too silly and gimmicky and Pierce Brosnan was tired and old, but we’ve fixed all that now. We’re ditching all the confusing, bullshit continuity, the ridiculous gadgets and all of that crap, and we’re rebooting this mother. We’re taking Bond back to where he once belonged!”
It’s a little puzzling where this attitude comes from, given that 2002’s Die Another Day was the highest-grossing Bond picture to date. It doesn’t seem as if the public was fed up with the silly, gimmicky plots, or tired old Brosnan, or the confusing, bullshit continuity, or the ridiculous gadgets. I think Bond’s producers have made the mistake of listening to the critics, who have been hung up on Sean Connery for way too long and keep insisting that James Bond should be more “relevant.” Don’t these guys get that James Bond is pop trash? He’s a superhero stud in a tux, unbeatable by any man, irresistible to any woman, with a boss car and a watch that fires rockets. Basically, we’re talking about Austin Powers played straight.
The Bond franchise, like the smirky sociopath at its center, seems to be just about unkillable. Since its birth in the early ’60s, it has survived endless parodies, including the original, 1967 version of Casino Royale, a peculiar and often incoherent affair featuring a cavalcade of Bonds, including David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen and a seal (please, don’t even ask). Bond has been sent up on The Simpsons, in the Cannonball Run pictures, even on Deep Space Nine—and Jesus, you know you’re an easy target when Star Trek is gunning for your ass. There have been entire TV series featuring Bond-ish chimps, Bond-ish cartoon mice, and even (would you believe?) Mel Brooks’ and Buck Henry’s long-running Get Smart. For a while there, Austin Powers eclipsed Bond’s popularity, but when a new Bond movie came out, the crowds dutifully lined up to see it. Critics be damned: the public just does not get tired of this crap, ever.
The critics famously despised Roger Moore as Bond. They said his acting was wooden, they said he was too old for the part, and all agreed that his movies were by far the silliest of the series (we’ll admit that his Venetian gondola car from Moonraker was the kind of gag that even Mike Myers wouldn’t have stooped to). The public, on the other hand, adored Moore’s Bond, and Moonraker, which many critics still hold up as the worst of the entire franchise, was a massive success in 1979. It was the first movie in the series that I saw, and when I hear critics moaning about how they want their surly ol’ Connery back, I just do not get it at all. Moore is my James Bond, damn it, and he set the smirky standard all other Bonds must be compared to.
1981’s For Your Eyes Only, which enjoys a rare big-screen outing this week, was a bit of a franchise reboot in its own right. After the critical drubbing that Moonraker took, the producers decided to scale things back with a more earthbound, vastly less campy Bond adventure. Personally, I thought it could’ve used a few more gondola cars, and I still remember my childish disappointment that Richard Kiel never showed up as the metal-mouthed goliath Jaws. But seen with adult eyes, this entry has much to recommend it. The opening sequence alone is great fun, featuring the final fate of longtime Bond baddie Ernst Blofeld (although, due to legal issues, he is never named as such). The film is also a fascinating time capsule, from the bracingly ugly fashions to Sheena Easton’s cheesetastic title tune, and it boasts impressive quantities of the violence, sex and sexism that make old school Bond such fun. This is also the movie where you can play spot the tranny—the transsexual model Tula can be glimpsed somewhere amongst the film’s gallery of lovelies—and c’mon, that’s just neat.
Through the film, Moore’s Bond is pursued by an underage cutie with one of the most unfortunate “sexy” names in the entire Bond canon, Bibi Dahl. Dahl is rather emphatically portrayed by Lynn-Holly Johnson, a pro figure skater turned actress, who is perhaps best known today for the 1978 chick flick Ice Castles. Johnson will appear at this screening, so you can ask her what she thinks of all this 007 reboot business. And just think: you’ll always be able to say you spent a lovely Saturday night with a Bond girl.