by Kevin Quinn
The superspy celebrated 40 years of saving the world by embarking on his 20th mission Die Another Day but just how has 007 managed to stay so popular at the box office?
Incredibly it is said that over 50% of the world’s population has heard of James Bond. It is estimated that two billion people have watched a Bond movie. Such is the phenomenon that is 007, the number giving him licence to kill. No one could ever have imagined that when Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder emerged from the deep blue ocean, in Dr No in 1962, Halle Berry as Jinx would be trying to recreate that wondrous vision some forty years later in Die Another Day. Now in the 21st century just what is the secret of Bond’s success? Guns, gadgets and girls would be a simple enough answer, but he has had to evolve and adapt in an ever changing world to survive at the box office. As ‘M’ pointed out in The World is not Enough, “The world is no longer black and white.”
Nobody does it better but Bond has had to clean up his act to a certain extent. He hasn’t become a devout Tibetan monk or gone tee-total but he’s become more aware of his public image. Gone are the 60 cigarettes a day and countless vodka martinis, when he first appeared in print in 1953 in Casino Royale. This is a Bond for the new millennium who looks after himself, drinks in moderation and smokes the occasional cigar.
And when it comes to sex, a subject of great interest to 007, he may have slept with 44 women, of whom three quarters have tried to kill him, but his attitude towards women has modified over the years. He has had to become more politically correct, while still retaining an ironic but still “sexist” element. Bond girls take more of an intellectual stance now, rather than being just sex objects, most notably Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies and Halle Berry as Jinx in Die Another Day. Berry described her character as the female equivalent to Bond and saw her as “The next step in the evolution of the Bond woman.” Even Bond’s superior ‘M’, is now a woman, played by Dame Judi Dench, who referred to him as a “Sexist misogynistic dinosaur”, when they met for the first time in Goldeneye.
Bond really is the spy who came in from the cold, as the Berlin Wall crumbled, so too did the threat from behind the Iron Curtain and 007 has had to search for new adversaries. As conflicts develop in the Middle East and a new wave of terrorism emerges it looks as if Bond won’t be short of evil madmen to confront. In Die another Day, North Korea was depicted as the evil threat to western civilization, so much so that even Koreans south of the peninsula took exception to the portrayal of their neighbours in the north and called for a ban on showing the film.
007 has killed over 150 men but villains are an integral part of the Bond saga, each with a fiendish character, often with a striking facial or physical deformity. Diamonds were really forever for Rick Yune as Zao the North Korean renegade commander in Die Another Day, whose face was encrusted with tiny gems, following an explosion at a diamond mine. Yune said “There is always a conflict with great villains.
They are the ones with charisma and appeal, so the audience can empathise with them.
In many ways, the Bond films are all about the villains, what they can do and what challenges they pose to Bond.”
And the villains seem to be getting younger with each film, perhaps in an attempt to appeal to a younger, more modern cinema audience; Sean Bean as 006 (Goldeneye) and Robert Carlyle as Renard (The World Is Not Enough). Die Another Day featured the youngest villain in Bond’s cinematic history, principal baddie Gustav Graves played by Toby Stephens, 33. He said “I’m the youngest guy to play a Bond villain, which is good because that suddenly gives it a different dimension. When a new villain comes into each film, it’s a blank canvas.”
Big explosions and real jaw-dropping stunts are simultaneously part of the unique Bond experience. Die Another Day contained the biggest explosion ever seen in a Bond movie. Not only was it the biggest blast but it also heralded a significant change in the ending to a 007 film, which always has a facility or complex blowing up. This was something director Lee Tamahori wanted to avoid he said “It was the 20th movie, did we really want another ground-based facility blowing up? We got the biggest plane in the world, blew it up and had it falling around them.”
Another cardinal rule was broken as it was the first Bond film ever to feature a computer-generated stunt. The movies are renowned for their spectacular real stunts involving real people. Die Another Day also had the highest number of digital effects shots, more than 650, for a Bond film.
While Die Another Day still contained all the essential ingredients of the 19 previous
films, Tamahori described it as “A reality-based thriller.” Pierce Brosnan in his fourth outing as Bond paid tribute to the director, “He did an incredible job for the film, making it very muscular, very edgy and very sharp. The narrative was much more stiletto and lean, making it a reality-based, character-driven piece. It was a leviathan of a film.” Like the Bonds’ before him Brosnan has brought his own persona to the role. He has the looks, the charm and that wry sense of humour that are essentially Bond but he has added a gritty sense of realism and vulnerability to the character.
Die Another Day began with 007 as you have never seen him before, battered, bruised and tortured in a military prison in North Korea. Brosnan said “You saw Bond as a renegade, a man completely out of his environment, where he almost lost his identity. That’s the big thing, to have a character who is believable; he is a commander, he is a killer. The same emblems were there, the ones that you love. I don’t know if you saw a different Bond.”
No other movie or series of movies come close to the 20 Bond productions.
According to Tamahori “Bond is the last jewel in the crown of the British film industry.” But will he last another 40 years? Like her late father, producer Barbara Cubby Broccoli has adapted Bond to reflect a new era and appeal to a new audience.
There will be new girls, new gadgets and new villains, for without these “Bond” just becomes another action movie.
Ultimately it is 007 himself who holds the key to his longevity and whether he remains the spy who lives forever…….
© Kevin Quinn 2005