Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fleming didn't have an internet connection

I have been criticised for painting an emotional character like Craig in murky colours. It is also true that I have been praised for putting in an honest thought about why I think Craig and Mark Forster screwed up big time by creating this 'working class Bond character'. So I guess it is time to put down a few more logical thoughts around this.

To start with the argument - in the entire Bond franchisee, why do you think James Bond has always been so devoted to Her Majesty's Secret Service? Is it because he is a true patriot? Or does the job also give him chances of being in good company, ask for the finest drinks every time he visits a five star (seven, eight... you can just count the stars here), drive the best of cars and receive the best of medical aids (along with pretty looking doctors) for all the bullet and knife wounds that he suffers. In truth - James Bond as an employee has perks that are enviable by the CEOs of any mid sized Information Technology company out there. Even though the risks are high and require skills of every kind (from flying a plane to the best ‘kisser’ award) nobody really asks him for a justification for breaking down a brand-new Bentley in the middle of Africa or pumping in a bullet or two without rhyme or reason. The bottomline is – Bond is given a responsible role with the perks associated, the government spends on him because he has the ability to deliver.

Now put yourself in the role of an employer and think of Bond (now read ‘Craig’) as the VP of your company. How would you feel if your VP - someone who enjoys the finest of wines and charges it to the company credit card, gets the best suite in the biggest hotel with a bill that ends up at your finance department and romances the hottest looking woman in the Consulate by flashing out a card that gives the name of your company – decides to travel half the world to find the ex-boyfriend of his dead girlfriend and ends up shooting down half of your sales volumes. Not a very rosy picture, right! I mean, you would think twice before keeping this guy on the job whatever portfolio he may have to prove that he had been good once. I mean think of the Lehmann CEO, the papers are speaking of the mistakes that he made and which eventually wrapped up his company. Wasn’t he somewhat like the working class Bond in someway? Or think of Enron makers – who decided to put environmental concerns aside and went ahead with the profit motive only to meet with disastrous results. Weren’t they ignoring the obvious? The basic point being that your actions need to be justifiable in terms of costs and results. Otherwise, it’s nothing but a mistake.

Now think of Bond and his actions. When Ian Fleming came up with his hot-shot super spy, he had his feet firmly in the ground. Thus Bond suffered hurt, was vulnerable to female affection and at times traveled by train. Fleming knew what he was writing about. In ‘From Russia with Love’ (the novel) Bond loses his girlfriend and even gets killed in the end by S.M.E.R.S.H agents. Every Bond novel follows a set pattern:

Bond gets a mission
Bond befriends a girl who he falls in love with
Bond is caught between his affection and his mission
Bond ends up winning the mission and losing the girl

Set around this pattern was the story of a man who was caught between his duty and his love. Thus the characteristic Bond dichotomy was the tussle between the head and the heart.

When the Bond movie franchisee came into being and the Broccolis took up the task of presenting the coolest spy, the characteristics of Bond, as Fleming had created him, had to go through a sea change. Bond became a cold killing machine who got his revenge at the end and ended up benefiting his employer. Thus the emotional Bond became replaced by a chauvinistic Bond who believed in perfection and getting his job done. His continued pretensions before Moneypenny, his refusal to get involved in emotions and his tendency to stick to just the bed and not the wedding party – gave Bond movies a distinctive flavour of its own. The difference between the novels and their cinematic renditions pronounce the difference - for example the short story ‘Octopussy’ begins and ends with a conversation, but the movie has Bond traveling half the world and getting involved with the mysterious ‘Octopussy’ who stays in Delhi with her devout female followers. Similarly, ‘Moon Raker’ the novel is just about a missile that Bond has to find. Compare it to the movie and you have Bond traveling to a space station and then making love in a space capsule followed by more fights in space. Throughout Bond films you have villains with interesting idiosyncracies and female leads with funny names (Pussy Galore, Octopussy). The novels do not have the same flavour – and Ian Fleming as one of the prime screenwriters of the Bond franchisee had endorsed that. The difference was intentional. Bond had to be larger than life on screen – and all the actors starting from Sean Connery to Pierce Brosnan fit that role. The only ‘humane’ Bond that had come into being prior to Craig was George Lazenby in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ – a film where Bond gets married and his wife is promptly bumped off by the villains. Needless to say, the movie didn’t work.

When ‘Casino Royale’ was released with Craig, it seemed that the movie was a conscious attempt to stick as close to the novel as possible. Bond no longer had interesting gadgets to back him up and is so desperately in love with Vesper that he decides to resign from his job. Considering the minimal violence that was used in the film (in spite of the breath-taking chase) and the realistic way of presentation – Craig passed off as the character that Fleming had originally conceived of. But ‘Quantum of Solace’ as ‘Casino Royale Part-II’ is not viable. Because Bonds ends up with mistakes, kills endlessly and yet survives the pink slip. Why? ‘Quantum of Solace’ is a conscious attempt to be somewhere in between the Bond as Fleming created him and Bond as the movies had portrayed him for years. But the attempt isn’t convincing enough. Because considering the damages that Bond finally brings to the fore – you don’t feel that it’s viable to keep him in this particular post and arm him with licenses to kill and fall in love. Bond retains his 007 responsibilities but remains the inductee that he started out as in his last movie. You can’t match the two figures.

Also, look at the year in which we are getting a working class Bond! When Fleming wrote Casino Royale he didn’t have access to the internet, Bond couldn’t use a cellphone or drive a car which had all the gadgets built into it. The movies were futuristic – they made promises of what were to come and since Bond proved himself to be an able patriot he had access to the latest research materials through Q a little earlier. Getting a Bond that is ages old is regressive – ‘Bond with the Best’ (as the Reid and Taylor advertisement goes) is no longer true. Instead we are stuck with a guy who tries age old tricks to break into a house when easier methods are available. Are we watching The History channel? Also, this guy doesn’t believe in using second grade facilities. In ‘Quantum of Solace’ Agent Fields takes him to a shady hotel as it can be good hideout, but what does Bond do? He immediately drives out and lands up in the closest five star suite – ‘cause shady hotels do not fit the brand positioning. On the other hand, Bond is going after the most topical environmental cause ever – the fight over water resources. The basic point is – the Bond creators need to make up their mind as to where does this curious character fit in. Because, very soon it will no longer be recognisable.

I won’t be surprised if in the next Bond movie, we find M searching a Monster database for the next best C.V with some interesting recommendations.

Picture source: http://www.indiana.edu/~liblilly/fleming/manuscripts.html

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