‘Skyfall’ – shaken and stirred…

30 10 2012

Q: ‘I’m your new quartermaster’

Bond: ‘You must be joking. You still have spots.’ 

Q: ‘I can do more damage on my laptop in my pyjamas than you can do in a year in the field.’

Bond: ‘Then what do you need me for?’

Q: ‘Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled.’

Bond: ‘Or not pulled. It’s hard to know which in your pyjamas…Q’ 

Q: ‘The Walther PPK/S nine-millimetre short. It’s been coded to your palm-print so only you can fire it. Less of a random killing machine more of a personal statement.’

Bond: ‘A gun and radio. Hardly Christmas is it?’

Q: ‘Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore.’  

(An ageing 007 – Daniel Craig – meets, a 20 something, Q – Ben Whishaw – in the 50th Anniversary Bond movie –  ‘Skyfall’) 

For fifty years there has only ever been one Bond… James Bond’. Sean Connery, the original and best – that was until Daniel Craig’s performance in the latest, 23rd Bond movie, ‘Skyfall.’    

I was there at the beginning – 1962, aged nine, in the front stalls of the Byron Cinema licking my ‘choc-ice’, eyes like saucers. Riveted, from that first opening, signature gun barrel sequence, 007 striding into shot, turning and firing directly into the eye of the camera, blood oozing across the silver screen – cue the ‘James Bond Theme’…

The charms of Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) the first Bond-girl, surfacing from the ocean in that white bikini, complete with sheathed knife accessory, clutching two conch shells (to become one of the most iconic moments in British cinematic history) may have been lost on me at the time. But I was hugely impressed by the way double-0 seven survived the death threat of a giant tarantula (clubbing it into oblivion with the heel of his shoe) and subsequently disposed of the megalomaniac Dr Julius No – the first Bond movie villain – dumping him, articulated metal hands and all, ignominiously into the cooling vat of his nuclear reactor, where he boiled to death.

Bond with his licence to kill and thrill was cool. He would be back and so would I…

And I was, a year later, for Connery’s  second installment, ‘From Russia With Love’, still considered by many to be the most authentic Bond movie of them all and closer in spirit to Ian Fleming’s written word than anything that would follow.

I always remember this as the one with the poisoned spike shoes, as modelled by the butch Russian counter-intelligence agent Rosa Klebb – a new look school uniform accessory adopted by ‘Fossy’ and ‘Wassy’, two 1st form secondary mates, pushing drawing pins through the instep of their regulation black lace-ups.

By the time, Welsh diva, Shirley Bassey got to  warbling her way through the ‘Goldfinger’(1964) theme song, the release of the third Bond movie was considered a big enough deal for me to quit the Byron (where my Mum, an usherette, guided by torchlight and lugged around an ice-cream laden tray during the intermission) for the Nottingham Odeon with its ultra widescreen and stereo sound system.

For years I clung on to the souvenir programme with its promotional photograph of actress Shirley Eaton (the Jill Masterson character) suffering from ‘the Midas touch’, sprayed head to toe with gold paint – an image that made the cover of Life magazine giving an early indication of how James Bond 007 mania was taking off.

Although I was, by this time beginning to sit up and take a bit more notice of the Bond girls, the double-entendre of Honour Blackman’s ‘Pussy Galore’ character passed me by for a number of years.

‘Goldfinger’ will always remain a favourite, the gold standard for the Bond franchise: smiling Korean henchman, Oddjob, frisbeeing his steel-rimmed bowler hat, before being neatly electrocuted, Bond receiving early laser treatment, and the Oscar award-winning Aston Martin DB5 with its fabled gadgetry and weaponry (brought out of cobwebs – to a ripple of applause around the Worcester Vue audience – for its cameo performance in ‘Skyfall’).      

There followed for Connery’s Bond: ‘Thunderball’ (’65) –  based on the first Fleming novel I tried to read (an alluring paperback version with bullet holes shot through the cover), heavy on scuba diving, peckish piranha fish, and menacing barracuda sharks – and ‘You Only Live Twice’ (’67) – nifty Japanese ninjas and a first face to face with Bond’s SPECTRE nemesis Blofeld (Donald Pleasance), bald-headed, scarred, stroking a fluffy white pussy cat.      

When Connery began to lose interest and parted company with the Bond role, I walked away with him. His boots, were impossibly big to fill.

So it proved for ‘Big Fry’, George Lazenby who got first shot at the role, pretty much as a result of toting a giant-sized bar of Fry’s Chocolate Cream in a popular TV advert of the day. Many 007 aficionados judge it unfair to dub him a ‘one (Bond) movie wonder’ claiming his performance ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (’69) warranted at least another outing. He might have done it for Queen and country – but not for me.   

Connery was lured back for a lacklustre final encore in ‘Diamonds Are For Ever’ (’71), a performance largely devoid of sparkle and lacking a cutting  edge. This was a disinterested 007, going through the motions. Shirley Bassey, recalled for her second Bond movie theme song, reinforced the adage, all that glitters is not gold! 

Two years later, Roger Moore made his 007 debut in ‘Live and Let Die’ (’73). The longest-serving Bond to date, he was to make seven outings in total – seven too many in my book! 

Moore, suave and sophisticated as Simon Templar, in the small screen adaptation of the Leslie Charteris ‘Saint’ novels, let his halo well and truly slip – over indulging the trademark arched eyebrow and corny one-liners, demeaning the role by playing it largely for laughs. 

His ageing, slightly overweight Bond (Moore was 58 when he filmed ‘View to A Kill’) an international playboy with bouffant hairstyle and a penchant for bubbly, left me feeling distinctly flat.  

In fairness, ‘The Man with The Golden Gun’ recently acknowledged his shortcomings: ‘I played Bond as a lover. Daniel does it as a killer. He has the best physique of any of us 007s, and he’s the best actor, too. I used to think that Sean Connery was the most obvious choice, but Daniel is better than any of us, and I hope he will reign for many more Bond movies to come.’

I wouldn’t disagree in the slightest.

Timothy Dalton was next in the line of succession, for two movies only  – ‘The Living Daylights’ (’87) and ‘License to Kill (’89). During the Moore era, storylines had become increasingly unbelievable, all froth and no substance, over reliant on gimmicks and special effects. Dalton, a thespian, tried to reinstate a greater degree of realism to Bond. His was an altogether darker, brooding presence – more Hamlet, Prince of MI6. Criticised by some media critics, as devoid of humour – alas, poor Dalton, his mission was short-lived. It’s a pity he didn’t he wasn’t crowned 007 earlier.

After a six-year hiatus Pierce Brosnan was unveiled, the first product placement Bond, with a twinkling Omega watch to match his dazzling smile. Too smooth by half, he might have stepped straight out of the ‘70s Milk Tray advert. He certainly looked the part but was something of a compromise Bond endeavouring to marry the best bits of Connery and Moore. His eagerly awaited first  movie, ‘Goldeneye’ (’95), may have grossed a 007 record $350 million worldwide, but ultimately his star began to wane as he was let down by a series of fantastical screenplays bordering on the ridiculous.

Only the other night I flicked over to Sky’s dedicated 007 channel for a re-run of Brosnan’s final Bond movie, ‘Die Another Day’ (’02), and nearly died laughing, there and then. Mama Mia, it was more Monty Python (or even Harry Potter) than James Bond. Just as well really, with John Cleese playing Q – in the one with the invisible car. Its only saving grace Halle Berry, under cover CIA agent Jinx, emerging cool as a mojito from from Havana Bay, making a splash in her reprise of the Ursula Andress ‘Dr No’ sequence.                             

Enter Daniel Craig in ‘Casino Royale’ (’06), controversially fair-haired, intense steely blue eyes, the first actor to play Bond, born after the film series was underway and following the death of Ian Fleming – author of the novels. Craig’s stated aim was to bring more emotional depth to a character with an under explored dark side. He openly acknowledged Sean Connery as his preferred previous Bond and ‘From Russia with Love’ his favourite 007 film.

First in ‘Casino Royale’, then in ‘Quantum of Solace’(’08) and now in ‘Skyfall’ Craig’s back to basics philosophy has been aided by a welcome return to realism from scriptwriters and film directors. It has resulted in the portrayal of a more complex, fully rounded special agent, sympathetic to Fleming’s original, than we have seen since the very early days.                  

Indeed, I would argue that, liberated by Sam Mendes’ thoughtful direction, in ‘Skyfall’ Daniel Craig has become the first Bond to successfully emerge from the long shadow cast by Connery. It is certainly the best 007 movie since ‘Goldfinger’. I think it might be the best ever!     

I’d hate to be a spoiler, so from here on I’ll tread carefully. 

‘Skyfall’ certainly lived up to the pre-release hype and teasing trailers. All the essential Bond movie ingredients are present, in just the right proportions. From the high-speed, action packed, opening through to the explosive ending, a well-paced, thrilling storyline, full of intrigue, is populated by interesting, three-dimensional characters.  

Location, location, location! From the rooftops, minarets and Grand Bazaar of old Istanbul, via the dramatic night skyline of high-rise Shanghai, a menacing Macau gambling den (littered with Chinese heavies and Komodo dragons) by way of a bustling London underground, to the brooding highlands of Scotland –  ever changing, atmospheric backdrops, complement the dramatic urgency.   

Central to the plot is M, imperiously played by Dame Judi Dench for a seventh time, under threat from a mysterious enemy with a score to settle.   

Javier Bardem has created a memorable Bond villain in Raoul Silva, a peroxide blond eccentric, sexually ambiguous, disturbingly malicious (shades of Heath Ledger’s Joker meets Eddie Izzard) orchestrating a personal vendetta born out of a bitter sense of betrayal. 

Quality supporting roles are provided by: Ralph Fiennes – Gareth Mallory, an enigmatic government agent; Ben Whishaw – new Q, a young, gawky, naïve, computer nerd (see above); Naomie Harris – Eve, Bond’s attractive agent in the field, sidekick and love interest; Bérénice Marlohe – Sévérine, the obligatory femme fatale (‘Only a certain kind of woman wears a backless dress with a Beretta strapped to her thigh’) and Albert Finney – Kincade, faithful old gamekeeper on the ‘Skyfall’ estate.    

The single weak link?  Adele’s ‘Skyfall’ theme song – bland and eminently forgettable!       

But ‘Skyfall’ the movie certainly is not. It lives up to its billing. This is the classic Bond cocktail, with a big kick and a sting in the tail, which left me both shaken and stirred.    

         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 responses

31 10 2012
Gerry Brace

Thesis well worthy of a PhD leading to Dr ….Who?

31 10 2012
Eve.

Great piece Phil. We saw Skyfall yesterday and really enjoyed it. I liked Q but some of the more technically minded were not so impressed. Daniel craig is my favourite Bond. Quiz question for you. Who is married to George Lazenby? No cheating.

31 10 2012
Phil Aldridge

Pam Shriver? But apparently they have now split up (acrimoniously). Had to look it up – so game, set, and match to you! 🙂

31 10 2012
Eve.

I didn’t know they were divorced. One item about the split was called “The Spy Who Shoved Me.”

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