James Bond will return - promises the closing credits of many a 007 movie. Now the future of the action franchise seems a little less assured, passing through another period of change with Daniel Craig unlikely to reprise the role as MI6's favourite secret agent.
Bond met a new challenge with Spectre, coming under fire from critics as a competent if unremarkable and formulaic romp. In the midst of murmurings over whom the new Bond should be, I suggest 10 things which should be considered for a future Bond.
1. Sign Steven Spielberg whilst he’s still interested. Since the late Seventies, Spielberg has been flirting with the idea of directing a Bond movie. Steeped stylistically in the suspenseful methods of Hitchcock (who in turn was involved in the beginnings of movie Bond; compare North By Northwest to From Russia With Love), Spielberg would undoubtedly bring prestige and visual flair to a franchise which desperately needs to stand out among other action films.
2. Force a hard reboot and place Bond back where he belongs; in the uncanny valley of the past. Bond worked best in the mid-century, top-flight world which Ian Fleming described so vividly in his novels. Arguably the early Sean Connery era benefited most with a Sixties à la mode, flaunting Fleming’s post-WWII world of cigarettes, spirits, jazz and jet-set travel. Rooted within the paranoia of the Cold War, Bond was an effective instrument in espionage, before the complexities of mobile phones, digital cameras and the Internet reduced him to little more than a muscled assassin with bad-old-fashioned manners.
Relocating Bond in a technologically basic, yet more stylish and sophisticated era, may furnish the next 007 with a potency and relevance which has been denied to him in present day missions. Dropping him into the past also allows the wincing political incorrectness of Bond to finally be addressed head on like never before…
3. Investigate the complexities of an anti-heroic Bond and subvert the zeitgeist. In the words of L.P. Hartley: 'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.' Old Mr. Bond has always had questionable morals, particularly in his dealings with the ladies, which could be argued is a symptom of his era’s masculine dominance. Later films have attempted to diminish his immoralities, or lightly excuse them as boorish and harmlessly out of step. However, it seems wholly inappropriate that any of Bond’s archaic attitudes should exist at all in a contemporary setting, least of all should they be excused so freely by those around him.
As early as the Seventies, Roger Moore’s portrayal attempted to smooth out the character’s heavy-handed nature with a softer, less bullish Bond whose treatment of the opposite sex was more in-step with the thinking and sexual politics of the period. By the late Eighties, Timothy Dalton’s darker embodiment was essentially refined into a monogamous gentleman, frowning on promiscuous sex. Bond has clearly evolved with sexual politics, reflecting concerns and criticisms of the period, but how much of Ian Fleming’s original beast survives after such moralistic refinement? The answer is particularly linked to placing Bond back in his home turf of the Fifties. We should allow Bond’s negative aspects to be historically acknowledged and criticised in context; no longer fettered, awkwardly excused or lazily laughed off. Bond should be a gritty anti-hero of sorts, not unlike Mad Men’s deeply troubled Don Draper, allowing his actions to be explored and analysed in a postmodern critique which enriches, educates and entertains. Put Bond back where he belongs: in the era where he was created.
4. Don't stunt cast 007. The first two James Bond movie stars debuted as unknowns; Sean Connery was infamously criticised for having a background as a driver, whilst George Lazenby’s acting experience extended little more beyond modelling for advertisements. It would seem that in the Sixties, the James Bond brand alone was the key selling point. Roger Moore was the first huge name cast as 007, following global success as The Saint and quickly saving the franchise after a critically disastrous Diamonds Are Forever. Moore brought his genial personality to Bond, scoring over a decade’s success and ever since, big name actors have been exclusively offered the role.
Today, if Bond is to return and remain enigmatic, mysterious and somewhat impenetrable, a daring gallantry in casting needs to be shown. Brave producers should award the role to an upcoming unknown; one who can bring a fresh face of unpredictability to 007. Studios need to avoid the tedium of typecasting, which is so evident today in an increasingly hackneyed string of Hollywood blockbuster roll calls.
5. Bring back Roger Moore. Well, not quite. Star Trek and Star Wars rejuvenated itself successfully by integrating a few familiar faces into a new company of performers. Perhaps James Bond would do well to revel in its heritage a little more. Whilst nobody is waiting to see Sean Connery reprise 007, there is not a single audience who wouldn’t be delighted to spot him or Sir Roger in a cameo as a senior board member of MI6. Timothy Dalton would also make for a superb villain.
James Bond is a loved tradition. Whilst originality and freshness is key to the franchise's future, the occasional acknowledgement of its rich history not only provides an added nostalgia kick, but rewards those figures who made James Bond the celebrated institution it is today.
6. Develop Bond girls with charisma and complexity. An abundance of leading ladies have passed through Bond’s arms over the years, peaking early with the memorably independent Honey Ryder, iconically blazed by Ursula Andress. By the late Sixties Bond had met his match with the complex, headstrong Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg) and in the Eighties had fought off a brawny, eccentric Mayday in the shape of Grace Jones. But there has been an abundance of lightweight young beauties along the way, offering little more than vapid titillation on screen.
At the age of 50, Monica Bellucci was tipped as the oldest Bond girl, promising a little more gravitas than audiences had come to expect from a Bond adventure. Ultimately Bellucci was in little more than a supporting role, with far less screen time than her character deserved. If the franchise is to stay relevant and engaging to an audience of both sexes, Bond needs to engage with more women who equal and outrank his own intelligence and charisma.
7. Shoot on 35mm film, or better, Super Panavision 70. James Bond movies have always delivered outstanding locations and defined colour photography on film, taking audiences to extravagant and diverse lands. Who could forget The Spy Who Loved Me’s ski jump sequence, or the flight of Little Nellie in You Only Live Twice? Thunderball boasted the most underwater widescreen footage ever committed to film, at huge expense to the studio. The process never came cheap, using the latest colour film emulsions in the harshest locations, whilst many British movies were still shooting on sound stages in black and white.
Bond movies have set themselves apart by shooting in difficult, extraordinary environments, often as the backdrop to death-defying stunts. Shooting on Eastman Kodak film affords a rich, luscious patina to location photography, with an unprecedented quality and saturation which digital capture still can’t quite emulate. Bond movies deserve to be shot on celluloid and audiences deserve to enjoy the high-end clarity it delivers.
8. Leave the CGI to Pixar. Just do it for real. For a time Bond jumped on the CGI bandwagon and threatened to derail its reputation entirely in Die Another Day, serving up laughably-bad animation. Nobody wanted to see Pierce Brosnan windsurfing a tsunami, nor cruising around in an invisible sports car. Thankfully the Craig era has mostly addressed the audience’s need for verisimilitude and grit in picture making, offering once again the stunts and in-camera effects which brought a brutal realism to early Bond pictures. However, in a market with increasingly complex set pieces and outrageous, superhero stunts, the producers at EON are bound to be feeling the pressure to up the level of action to comic strip proportions. The rule is simple: If it can’t be done for real, don’t do it at all.
9. Dare to deviate from the established formula. Some of the most interesting Bond movies have dared to stray from the textbook structure. Whilst Moonraker may not be considered a definitive flick by all, it was one of the highest box-office draws of its time, tapping into the science fiction genre with big budget effects. Asking Bond to pilot a Space Shuttle may seem out of this world, but in the late Seventies it was a gamble which took flight. Mass audiences knew they'd be experiencing a Bond movie like no other. Equally, the critically-acclaimed On Her Majesty's Secret Service vastly exceeded its usual running time of two hours, culminating with the death of a key character whilst drawing a surprisingly emotional response from Bond himself. Unexpected departures allowed the films to stand out among other 007 romps in a refreshing and engaging way. Bond should not limit itself to perceived conventions of formula.
10. Retain the iconography and soundscape of Bond. Formula aside, some things are sacred and make a Bond movie what it is. The gun barrel, so ingeniously designed by Maurice Binder for Dr. No in 1962, has been notably absent from a few films. In some of the lesser Bond movies, the most rewarding aspect is relishing the iconography and design of the gun barrel. It prepares the audience for a genuine James Bond experience and is as much a seal of authenticity as the MGM lion’s roar. Equally, John Barry’s arrangement of the theme music and his subsequent scores fully established the Bond sound. One of the finest musicians to recapture the essence and scale of the Bond sound is David Arnold, as evidenced in his scores for Tomorrow Never Dies and Casino Royale. Of all the musicians who have scored for Bond, Arnold is one of the few to have been recommended by John Barry himself. High praise indeed, and worthy of a return.
After fifty years, Bond has proven it can evolve and redefine its own genre, providing it has the conviction and courage to push the boundaries of its own formula. Adopting big changes involves high risk, but in order survive into the next decade perhaps James Bond needs to revisit the era of its creator, with a brave new image which retains just a few of the iconic elements which make the franchise wholly unique within cinema.
James Bond will return. However, recent reports confirm his next mission has been delayed until 2018.
Originally published for Entertainment Focus. Follow @ENT_Focus for all the latest James Bond news, reviews and more.
Theatre Manager, Writer, Film Photographer & Printer, Reviewer, Reader. Secular biped mammal with own views. © Samuel Payne 2016