Friday, October 5, 2012

My Life With James Bond

This has always been one of my favorite posters.

Happy James Bond day everyone. Fifty years ago today, Dr. No was released bringing the world face to face with 007 brought to life from Ian Fleming's novels. My experience with Bond and his movies is quite extensive. I've literally grown up with them. This being the case, I thought that I might celebrate today by sharing my own experiences with the super spy.

If you would believe it, there was a time in my life where I wasn't very interested in movies. Shocking, I know. As it happens, I didn't really care for them. I preferred to read and to play some video games. Sure, I watched Jurassic Park and Star Wars about a billion times, but I did not care enough to go out and consume every movie I could. I just didn't have the desire. Reading and video games just took up a lot of my free time (and happily still do) and I never got around to watching the movies in my parents' meager collection. When I was about seven or eight, I remember that around Christmas time my dad had a rare weekend off from work and spent quite a bit of it watching the TV. Because I'm a good son I wanted to do something with him so I went downstairs even though it was rather late and watched whatever he had on with him. It was a Bond marathon, and the movie was License to Kill. I sat down and watched it start to finish. Then I watched the next one, and the next one, and even though I was tired I watched a third one. Dad had fallen asleep in his armchair and I had stayed up later than I had ever done before, and so the damage had been done.

I loved Bond from the moment I laid eyes upon him. He was so cool with his gadgets and his cars and his cleverness (I didn't grow to appreciate his girls until puberty reared its awkward hormonal head, but that came in time). That was the first time I had stayed up watching movies until my eyes hurt and were bloodshot. What hooked me in the beginning of my experience with License to Kill was Bond reeling in a helicopter right in the introduction. I had never seen anything like that before, and I spent the opening credits wondering how they did that. A quick conversation with my Dad during the commercials and he got me up to speed on the basics of Bond: "He's a spy with cool gadgets and great villains that has to save the world." Cool. Leave it to Dad to boil down one of the most iconic and incredible film heroes to a fifteen word sentence.

Throughout the movie, I was struck by how new and incredible everything was. License to Kill is one of the more violent Bond movies, and its grittiness was something I had never experienced before. From a man being fed to sharks, to the guy that explodes, to the villain's horrible death, my eyes were opened wide at the spectacle. What was also new was how Bond honest to god suffered through this film. The violence wasn't only inflicted on the bad guys, the hero got mangled up as well. I had never seen that before. I was used to movies where the heroes never really struggle and the bad guys lose pretty easy. It was new and fresh and interesting and my ass was glued in the seat.

Soon enough after that, Goldeneye64 came out and of course my brother and I dumped most of our childhoods into it. That only spurned me to watch more Bond movies. Every now and then I could find them on TV and my parents had two or three at the house, but I couldn't get enough. Every week when we would go to the rental store I would pick up a Bond movie and maybe another one that looked cool. I used to only pick out video games before then or movies I had already seen, but now my world was opened. Every weekend I would experience something new. And at the end of it all, I would watch them again and again and again.

What kept me coming back, even though some of the movies weren't that great and I was too young to really get what it was all about? At the heart of the issue, the Bond movies I grew up watching were the epitome of adventure movies. In that regard, they rank right up alongside Indiana Jones. Every movie was an adventure I was invited to share. Every threat to the world was another mission for Bond, with me right alongside him. You hear people say the phrase "Women want him and men want to be him." I never wanted to be Bond. I knew I couldn't pull off anything that he did. I just wanted to be with him when he did it. The one liners, the charisma, the gizmos and cars and everything, I was just so happy that I could experience it with Bond. And I could do that as many times as I hit 'Rewind' and start the movie over.

I have seen every Bond movie more than five times apiece. Some I have seen only about a half dozen times, movies like For Your Eyes Only for example. Some, I can't even count the number of times I've watched them, like Live and Let Die or Goldfinger. What kept me watching these movies over and over again when any sane person would have quit? Escapism. Bond represents escapism at its finest. I'm not saying that I grew up in a troubled home and I needed to get away or anything like that, but I had to get away from how ordinary everything was. Bond let me see situations that I couldn't even hope to ever be involved in, and even if I was given the opportunity to live his life I wasn't sure I would have wanted to take it (violence is bad, Bond was always in danger, and girls are icky). But watching him go through it all was fine by me and it had me think of something that wasn't my structured, scheduled life.

A great part about Bond is that he is universal. You can bring him up in conversation with total strangers, and soon enough you'll be talking about who was the best Bond, which gadgets were your favorite, and who could make a pretty good Bond. This is probably how I started using movies to get over a little social anxiety and start to actually talk with people. Turns out, lots of people watch movies and it gets pretty easy to talk to them about things everyone's already comfortable with. Bond let me do that.

I began this article as a celebration of everything that is Bond, and since I've been quite fond of them in the past I think now is the perfect time for a couple of lists. I also bet everyone on the internet will be posting these today, so I might as well try my hand at it too. First up, here is how I rank the Bond movies.

  1. Goldfinger 1964, Sean Connery
  2. Casino Royale 2006, Daniel Craig
  3. Goldeneye 1995, Pierce Brosnan
  4. License to Kill 1989, Timothy Dalton
  5. From Russia With Love 1963, Sean Connery
  6. The Man With The Golden Gun 1974, Roger Moore
  7. The Spy Who Loved Me 1977, Roger Moore
  8. You Only Live Twice 1967, Sean Connery
  9. Thunderball 1965, Sean Connery
  10. The World is Not Enough 1999, Pierce Brosnan
  11. The Living Daylights 1985, Timothy Dalton
  12.  Live and Let Die 1973, Roger Moore
  13. Tomorrow Never Dies 1997, Pierce Brosnan
  14. Quantum of Solace 2008, Daniel Craig
  15. Dr. No 1962, Sean Connery
  16. On Her Majesty's Secret Service 1969, George Lazenby
  17. Diamonds Are Forever 1971, Sean Connery
  18. Moonraker 1979, Roger Moore
  19. A View to a Kill 1985, Roger Moore
  20. Octopussy 1983, Roger Moore
  21. For Your Eyes Only 1981, Roger Moore
  22. Die Another Day 2002, Pierce Brosnan

The list I see most often is about everyone's favorite Bond. Everyone has an opinion on this issue, so it is a great conversation piece. Here is my Bond Rankings.

  • Sean Connery - "Best Overall"
  • Timothy Dalton - "Best Character"
    • What I mean by this is that he had the fullest grasp of what it meant to actually play Bond. He knew his character and made Bond feel like a real person.
  • Daniel Craig - "Ass-Beating Bond"
  • Pierce Brosnan - "Suave Bond"
  • George Lazenby - "Bad Wrap Bond"
  • Roger Moore - "Best Bad Guys Bond"

I have a feeling that this list isn't going to make too many people happy. Lazenby ahead of Moore? Well, Lazenby gets a bad wrap because he wasn't Sean Connery. He replaced him, and worked hard to make his own Bond unique and styled to him. Remember, Lazenby was only the second actor to have ever played Bond (if you don't count Peter Sellers in Casino Royale, and I don't). He had every right to try new things for his Bond. I honestly feel that more people would enjoy him when taken on his own merit, but nobody ever does that. Never forget that Lazenby had one of the best Bond openings ever, with this fight on the beach, capped off by "I bet this never happens to the other guy." Most people are distracted by some bad directing choices made by a rookie director and they drop the blame for the whole movie (which isn't as bad as people say) right in Lazenby's lap and he doesn't deserve that. Moore gets the bottom spot because his Bond had the blandest personality. His movies were only good because he had most of the best villains: Chirstopher Lee as Scaramanga, Baron Samadi, Jaws, and blonde Christopher Walken.

Now, where do Bonds go in the future? I'm very happy with Daniel Craig as Bond, but when he's replaced who do I want in the role? Well, the answer is simple to me. The Bond I most want to see is Idris Elba.

Yes, I know he's black.
I know there would be an uproar by people who claim that they're "not racist but..." but hear me out. Elba is one of the best actors Britain has to offer(spoiers for The Wire). He's suave, he kicks ass, and since I believe that "Bond" is a code name and not a man it fits perfectly that Bond could be black.

Skyfall is coming out here in a few weeks, and I think it's obvious that I'll be there opening night with a bag of popcorn and some Buncha-Crunch. As we move closer, I think often back on that night watching Bond movies with my Dad and how that started my whole movie life. Thank you James Bond for helping make me who I am. I'm all set for the next fifty years of 007, and may he last fifty lifetimes.

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