Bonding with Bond

Opinion: Columns

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By John Hubbuch

Hubbuch. John Hubbuch. Licensed to view DVDs by Netflix, my mission was to watch all 24 James Bond movies in 24 days.

Mission accomplished. This is my report:

My interest in James Bond actually pre-dates the first movie Dr. No, which came out in 1962. As a young lad I was much taken by the 1960 election of the charismatic young John Kennedy. In my hero worship, I read all about the young king of Camelot, and learned that Ian Fleming and the Bond series of spy novels were favorites of JFK. Although I was only 12, I somehow got hold of the novels. They were great. Bond was a cold-blooded killer. Oh. And there were the sex scenes, which were positively erotic for a seventh-grader from Our Lady Of Perpetual Help. ("Bless me father for I have lusted after Honey Ryder [Ursula Andress].")

Like many things, the Bond movies were better the first time I saw them — as opposed to watching all 50 years' worth of the franchise in 24 days. The best ones are the ones closest to the spirit of the novels — dark, cynical and tinged with nihlism. The first three, Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964), are the best, along with the last three: the Daniel Craig trilogy of Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008) and Skyfall (2012). Bond is a bad man.

The Roadrunner cartoon series is the basic template for the Bond franchise. Bond is the Roadrunner. The various villains are the Coyote. Bond is chased by the villains who almost capture him, but Bond, like the Roadrunner, outsmarts his nemeses and barely gets away. Like the Roadrunner, Bond uses tricky gadgets to help elude the bad guys.

Fully 25 percent of every Bond movie involves chase scenes. There are chases with cars, planes, snowmobiles, skis, underwater mobiles, tanks — pretty much every locomotive device ever invented with the exception of the Conestoga wagon. And the chases go on long enough to go to the bathroom and get a snack.

These movies are extremely formulaic. Open with Bond pivoting and firing at the screen. Flash to scenes wherein Bond concludes an old case. Then he visits his boss M, preceded by flirtation with Miss Moneypenny. Bond receives his assignment, which typically involves thwarting an evil genius (often physically deformed), who is bent on destroying the world. Bond gets awesome spy gadgetry from Q, nerdy scientist. Bond orders vodka martini shaken, not stirred. Bond captured. Bond escapes. Bond seduces evil genius' girl using incredibly cheesy lines that would produce groans even on Rush Street. Girl killed, pissing off Bond. Chase scenes. More chase scenes. Bond captured. Bond escapes. Bond thwarts world destruction as timer goes down to zero. Bond winds up in bed, boat or plane seducing another girl while M eavesdrops in horror. Credits. Theme song.

Speaking of theme songs: They are not very good except for "Goldfinger" and 'Live and Let Die." OK, "Nobody Does It Better" (The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977) is pretty good. The rest are pretty awful. Doubt me? Name one. Better yet. Sing one.

The debate over the best Bond misses the point. If you are reasonably tall, look good in a tuxedo and speak British, I don't see a lot of difference among the Bonds. George Lazenby (On Her Majesty's Secret Service, 1969) and Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights, 1987; License To Kill, 1989) are not much different from the usual favorites, Sean Connery and Daniel Craig. Same for the Bond girls. They are fungible except, of course, for the aforementioned Ursula Andress.

As the franchise evolved, it became more dependent on exotic locations, special effects and cornball humor. The producers discovered a winning formula and stuck with it long after its past-due date. Sinking a building on a Venice canal passed as creativity. Yet Skyfall just passed a billion dollars worldwide. So there will be lots of Bond movies in our cinema future.

All in all, it was probably a bad idea to re-watch all these Bond movies. Maybe you can't go home to the movies. Most things are better the first time around. Enough.

My next assignment: read all of the novels of Charles Dickens. This assignment will take considerably longer than 24 days.

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