Today is Global James Bond Day, established to commemorate the opening date of the very first Bond film, Dr. No, on October 5, 1962. In celebration, we’ll be discussing the things we love about the long-standing franchise. From Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, the films (and the books that spawned them) have had a tremendous impact on pop culture around the world. So without further ado, let’s dig into 007!
Virginia: The James Bond films are one of my favorite movie series, and one of the earliest ones I got into. I was introduced to Bond by my dad when I was about seven years old; I saw a trailer for Die Another Day and said it looked stupid. The next day my dad bought some of the old Bond movies and we watched them, and I’ve at least enjoyed all of them ever since. I never read any of the books and short stories until Christmas a couple of years ago, when he gave me some of them. Do you remember what first got you into the books and/or movies, Alex?
Alex: My father introduced me to the films as well (I think this may be a father’s most important duty; keep your kids off drugs and teach them about James Bond). I was always aware of Bond, but I never really saw any of the movies until I bought my dad a VHS copy of Moonraker — his favorite — for Father’s Day one year. I watched it with him but didn’t retain much. Then Dad took my brother and me to see Goldeneye in theaters when I was 12. Two years later, I bought him a set of all the Connery films and watched them one by one, and that was when I really fell in love with the series. When I was 17, my uncle lent me his collection of the Ian Fleming novels, which he said are on “permanent loan.” I loved those too, and still have them all; I’ve filled in a couple of the gaps over time.
V: I think it’s so cool when something is passed between generations in a family. It just goes to show what a timelessness and general appeal the series has achieved. When I was a kid, Roger Moore was my favorite James Bond and Live and Let Die was far and away my favorite of the movies. As I’ve gotten older I’ve grown to favor Timothy Dalton and his films, but I love all of them, and I think each actor brought something new to the role. I still have a soft spot for Moore, though, and was devastated when they announced that he had died. Do you have a favorite actor and movie?
A: I have a top five for the movies, but I can’t bring myself to rank them. Chronologically, they are From Russia With Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and The Living Daylights. My favorite Bond is Sean Connery, but I’m not sure quite when I came to that realization. For a while I just kind of liked everybody, and which Bond I wanted to see would depend on my mood. I also have an affinity for Pierce Brosnan, because he was James Bond when I was getting into James Bond; Connery is my favorite Bond, but Brosnan is my Bond, if that makes sense. I love Roger Moore as well, partly because he was my father’s favorite, but I also like his portrayal very much; though the comedy is broad at times, I think there are more subtleties to the performance than he’s given credit for having.
V: After Dalton, I would say Moore and Connery are tied as my second favorite. I think it’s strange how people complain about the comedy in Moore’s films so much when that really started with Connery movies like Goldfinger and especially Diamonds are Forever. It did become more pronounced, in that it was that way in most of Moore’s films, but I think that has more to do with pop culture trends at the time and less to do with Moore as an actor. I like the more comedic aspects, though they do go overboard at times. And those movies have more serious moments, too. I think a lot of people tend to exaggerate one way or another. I also don’t think the movies should be completely serious; I can’t remember a single funny moment from Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace, and I think that’s something that was missed. While Skyfall was still a pretty dark movie, bringing back Moneypenny and Q made it feel so much more like the movies I grew up with.
A: I agree. I missed those elements from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. The staples help give the series its personality and identity. Humor has always been a part of James Bond, to varying degrees; as far back as Dr. No, there were very funny moments. Even the novels, which are often cited as being humor-free, make me laugh out loud in parts. That’s why Craig’s portrayal is so jarring for me; it goes from a fun, fantastical series to Captain Mopey and his numerous psychoses. There is one moment in Casino Royale that makes me laugh, though: when he’s at the airport in Miami, desperately insisting that M be put on the phone, then when she finally picks up the line, he notices something and says, “Call you back” while hanging up.
V: That’s a good one, and I also like it in SPECTRE when he interrogates the mouse in the hotel room. A lot of people I know actually complained about that movie when it came out, and I was just baffled. SPECTRE was the first Bond movie I saw in cinemas, and it was a huge experience for me. I had chills during the pre-credits sequence. I loved Madeleine and Blofeld, and it’s definitely my favorite of the Craig movies. It felt like it was actually made with fans in mind, unlike the earlier Craig movies that felt like they were trying to change the series. To be honest, while I have nothing against Craig as an actor, I look forward to his stepping down, and I’m curious to see where they take the series from there.
A: Me too. He’s easily my least favorite, and he looks like he’d rather be anywhere else. I loved SPECTRE as well; it was the first of his series that felt like a traditional James Bond movie. They still got into the psychological underpinnings of the character, but they talked about his importance to the world and his place as a figure in world culture (which Skyfall did as well). It worries me that a lot of people didn’t like it, because I don’t want them to go back to modern Bond in the next one.
V: I agree, that would be backtracking and I’d be really annoyed. I don’t understand why he’s coming back at all; SPECTRE ended on such a good note, and there’s nowhere to take his story from here. Is his girlfriend going to die again? So we really need that type of storyline a third time? Again, I have nothing against him as an actor, but his portrayal of Bond is a killjoy at times, and I liked the notion of just giving him SPECTRE as a happy ending and moving on. On an unrelated note, do you have a favorite Bond movie theme song?
A: It might be “Nobody Does it Better” by Carly Simon from The Spy Who Loved Me. It’s got just the right mix of romance and suggestiveness. I also love “For Your Eyes Only” by Sheena Easton and “Diamonds Are Forever” by Bond music queen Shirley Bassey; that one has a sexy, dangerous feel, like all of her Bond songs. How about you?
V: Easton has an amazing voice, and “For Your Eyes Only” really demonstrates her range and power. I love how that song builds throughout. My favorite is probably either “From Russia With Love” or “The Living Daylights.” The former is another song that builds from the beginning into this huge explosion of sound, and Matt Munro has a great voice too. “The Living Daylights” has such a cool sound I just love how 80s it is. I also really like “A View to a Kill” and “Moonraker.” I think “Another Way to Die” and “Die Another Day” are definite candidates for the worst theme song.
A: I don’t like either of those, and I can’t stand “The Writing’s on the Wall” from SPECTRE. That movie needed a great villain song in the vein of “Goldfinger,” but they went with this grating, shrieky angst-fest that doesn’t fit a Bond film. How that won an Oscar is beyond me. “Moonraker” and “A View to a Kill” are great, though, and I like the air of tension in “The Living Daylights;” it feels very much like it belongs in a spy movie.
V: The good Bond themes greatly outweigh the bad or disappointing ones, which makes them that much worse by comparison. Although they don’t seem to do this anymore, I also like it when they have instrumental themes like Dr. No, From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
A: So do I, and all three of those are excellent. All, or at least most of the songs are sampled in the scores throughout each movie (and, sometimes, beyond; in For Your Eyes Only, the code to the room in Q-Branch with the identograph machine plays the tune to “Nobody Does It Better,” something I just noticed the other day), and those three function perfectly in the action scenes — the first one in particular, of course, as it’s the legendary James Bond theme.
V: I love how there are different variations of the Bond theme. The one that plays when James and Felix jump out of the plane in Licence to Kill, for example, sounds very different from the version that debuted in Dr. No. I also love the musical scores, though they were much better when John Barry was around; I hate the techno sound of the music in the Brosnan movies, and the music in the Craig films strikes me as generic compared to some of the older films. Do you have a favorite Bond girl? My favorite is Tracy from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but I’m also partial to Honey from Dr. No, Domino from Thunderball, Octopussy, Kara from The Living Daylights and Natalya from Goldeneye.
A: I like the 90s Bond theme, and the one in the Craig films as well (now that they actually play it). David Arnold is probably my second favorite of the Bond composers, after John Barry. I’m not big on the one from the 70s and 80s, that softer version used throughout most of the Moore films. It’s fine, but I prefer the theme to have a little more edge, like the others. For Bond Girls, I would also put three of yours at the top of my list: Domino, Tracy and Octopussy. To them, I would add Anya Amisova from The Spy Who Loved Me and Melina Havelock from For Your Eyes Only. They’re all good characters first, and most of them are the sort of strong, deadly woman you could see attracting Bond beyond their physical attributes. Domino is different; she’s forced into Bond’s world and has to grow up quickly to survive. They’re all very complex and feel like real people (and, contrary to the frequent criticisms of Bond Girls, they’re far from alone).
V: I really like Melina, too. Bond Girls are similar to female Disney characters in that no matter how they’re portrayed or how awesome they are, people complain that it’s sexist or “sends kids the wrong message.” Both also offer a wide array of physical appearances and character traits, creating a huge pool of character types to enjoy. That kind of variety is what keeps a franchise thriving for 50+ years in the first place. And they started out awesome from the beginning; Honey was capable of defending herself and, unlike characters we’ve seen in some other movies and series, she has a dimensional personality and never comes off as annoying. A lot of modern female leads feel like man-hating superwomen, and in fact, a couple of Bond girls have as well, like Holly Goodhead and Wai Lin. But I appreciate that they’ve mostly avoided it.
A: Wai Lin has to be the zenith of the Bond Girl line. But that’s exactly right; the older girls, the ones who are constantly having to be apologized for through Wai Lin types, are actually stronger characters. Honey is a perfect example; she’s isn’t given magic kung-fu superpowers, so she has to use whatever means are at her disposal to avenge herself. It makes her more cunning, more resourceful, more driven and a survivor. It’s much better writing.
V: I’m honestly baffled and confused at times by what people seem to want out of female characters in fiction. I want them to be likable but flawed, powerful but with limits. Wai Lin is a perfect example of an overpowered character with no likable character traits. When she ditches Bond after the shower scene, I just find it so unlikable. Paris should have been the main girl in that movie, and Wai Lin could have been a villain of some type. Or, more simply, they could have made her a likable character. Regardless, like with the theme songs, I think there are so many good female characters in the series that the bad ones stick out that much more.
A: Teri Hatcher should be the main girl in every movie, but that’s neither here nor there. I’ve got one for you (and hopefully we’ll go much more in-depth with this around the time the next Bond movie finally comes out); who’s your favorite Bond villain?
V: Ooh, that is a good one. It’s hard not to say Blofeld since he’s been in so many movies and we have several different interpretations of the character. In the interest of fairness, I like Drax from Moonraker a lot, Scaramanga from The Man With the Golden Gun, Zorin from A View to a Kill, Giorgi and Whitaker from The Living Daylights, and Sanchez from License to Kill. Although I have mixed feelings on some of Brosnan’s movies, the villains are something they always got right; Alec Trevelyan in Goldeneye presented an interesting opportunity to pit Bond against a former friend and ally, Elliot Carver is one of the only good things in Tomorrow Never Dies, both Renard and Elektra are amazing in The World is Not Enough, and Graves and Miranda are at least fun in Die Another Day. At risk of mentioning way too many villains, Le Chiffre is also amazing, and I love all of the henchmen throughout the series. What do you think?
A: Blofeld is definitely my favorite. He’s the perfect representation of the head of the snake, the evil from which all other evil stems. As much as I hate the song from SPECTRE, I love the titles, with the tentacles of the octopus wrapping around everything in Bond’s world before they’re shown to be coming from Blofeld. Every time I see his hands petting the white Persian cat I smile. After Blofeld, I’d take a couple of others of yours and say Alec Trevelyan and Hugo Drax. In terms of henchmen, I love Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, Red Grant from From Russia With Love, and Necros from The Living Daylights.
V: Blofeld’s cat may be his one redeeming trait as a person. I agree that I like the visuals from SPECTRE’s title sequence, though I wish they’d bring back some of the imagery of girls in the themes. It’s just one more thing they’ve changed for modernity. Jaws is an all-time classic villain, and I love that he’s featured in two movies instead of just one. Red Grant and Necros are great because they’re so intimidating, and the nonverbal creepiness of the latter is cool too.
A: The action scenes wouldn’t be the same without them. Speaking of which, what are your favorite pre-title sequences?
V: For Your Eyes Only, SPECTRE, The Living Daylights and From Russia With Love come to mind. A great pre-title needs to show Bond doing something awesome, hyping the audience up for another adventure, and these do exactly that. The pre-title sequence in The Living Daylights, for example, plays out like a mini-Bond movie; you’ve got action, intrigue, romance; all the ingredients are there in less than 10 minutes. Brilliant. And they still manage to set up the main story.
A: The one in From Russia With Love is masterful in setting up much of the movie to follow. I think my favorites are The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy (“You’re a Toro too!”) and Tomorrow Never Dies. The Spy Who Loved Me establishes Bond and Anya as opposite numbers in their respective services, creates the conditions that bring about their conflict later in the film (and lead to one of Moore’s finest acting moments), and features one of the greatest stunts in movie history. Octopussy and Tomorrow Never Dies don’t so much do that; they’re just huge, fun action sequences that show Bond improvising to accomplish what should’ve been a simple mission (which the one in SPECTRE does as well).
V: What I like about the one in The Spy Who Loved Me is that they create this fantastic misdirect. At first, you think agent XXX is Anya’s lover, so the first time you see it, it comes as a surprise that not only is she one of Russia’s best agents, but now she’s also personally involved due to his death. That was really well thought out. What do you think of 007’s iconic vehicles? At risk of being unoriginal, I’ll have to choose the Aston Martin DB5 first used in Goldfinger. I’m not a car person, but that’s a cool car; it looks great, it’s got the gadgets, and it just screams “style.”
A: Much like with Blofeld, it’s hard not to go with the Aston Martin DB5. I think all the Aston Martins they use in the series are really cool, and I love that they started using them again in some of the more recent movies. But I think I love the Lotus Esprit almost as much; it’s got a neat design, and the submarine capabilities are awesome. I want vengeance every time I see it blow up in For Your Eyes Only. And the BMW he controls with his cell phone in Tomorrow Never Dies is loads of fun; I love watching the bad guys try and fail to break in.
V: Gadgets and transformation abilities are a definite plus for any car. In closing, I just want to reiterate that I’ve loved the Bond series since childhood and I think the good far outweighs the bad. I look forward to seeing what they do with the new movie. Did you have any last thoughts?
A: Mine echo yours. I love James Bond more than almost any other fictional property, and I can watch even my least favorites anytime and not have it feel like a chore. Nowadays hope tends to mix with worry for me when a new film is upon the horizon, but I’ll be there opening night for whatever the next one will be.
If you liked this, check out our discussions of the Bond Girls from each of the film eras: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. From all of us here at Geeks + Gamers, Happy James Bond Day!