|BACK TO SAM / PART 1|
THE RETURN OF MR. KISS KISS BANG BANG
The biggest opportunity to reboot the series came in 1995 when the Bond franchise had lain dormant for six years, leaving many to wonder if it would ever return at all. Martin Campbell's 'Goldeneye' was almost a silent reboot so to speak, as Pierce Brosnan stepped into the tuxedo for the first time. He was accompanied by a new M (Judi Dench) and Moneypenny (Samantha Bond) as well. There were nods to the history of the series, but I never really felt that the James Bond of the nineties was the same guy who cradled his dead wife in his arms at the end of the sixties. There was a disconnect somewhere, and although Brosnan's outings were largely enjoyable, there was an element missing. I would tend to like his films for moments in which they reminded me of the glorious yesteryears, but not necessarily for their own brilliance.
So while the notion of a reboot seems a shame at the beginning, it doesn't have to be executed that much differently than had already been done before. (Certainly, 'Casino Royale' isn't shy on dropping references to Moneypenny and Bond's 1964 Aston Martin DB5 from 'Goldfinger') The strangest glitch in the concept came from the decision to keep Judi Dench in the cast as M. This created what Neil from the British telly series 'The Young Ones' would call a "Negative Reality Inversion" - or so I think. Now fans were wondering how the M that was hired after the bulk of Bernard Lee and Robert Brown's turns at the role could possibly be there before the events of the first film, 'Dr. No'. This confusion stemmed from 'Casino Royale' being erroneously perceived as a ‘prequel' as opposed to an out and out fresh start. The best way to think of it was to consider that Judi Dench just happened to be hired to portray the same character in two different series. Regardless, it's easy to see how going through so much trouble to strip the series of identifiable regulars only to carry over an actress from the previous four films could spur a little headscratching.
The decision to leave out fan favorites Q and Miss Moneypenny was bold, but nevertheless welcome. I never felt that their omission from 'Casino Royale' meant that they were being excised from the series completely, and I would certainly enjoy seeing them in future installments – but their absence, combined with the fact that the producers were returning to the Fleming material left my mind reeling with other possibilities. So much from the James Bond novels never made it to the cinematic template, and could never be introduced once that template had been firmly secured into place. But now there was a possibility that we could see Bond's flat, perhaps meet his maid, and just possibly be introduced to the office he works in at “Universal Exports” and his secretary Loelia Ponsonby. I won't be offended if the producers stick to the filmic traditions, but it at least made me wonder just how far they were planning on taking this new roots-oriented tack!
I have to admit that I was also wondering how exactly Martin Campbell and company were going to pull off 'Casino Royale', much less the feel of the original novel. For one, Campbell's directorial work on 'Goldeneye' was okay - but as it was one of my least favorite in the series, his hiring didn't exactly fill me with confidence. Then there's the harder-edged, yet more human Bond from the novel - the one who calls women bitches but doesn't even kill the villain in the end. In fact, it's the villain puts him in a seatless chair and bashes his genitals in with a carpet beater!
I followed the press releases relentlessly, and when Daniel Craig was announced as the new James Bond, I was happy. I quickly downloaded the first official publicity photo and saved it as my desktop wallpaper. A few years earlier I wouldn't have been able to think of Craig as the next 007, but his casting made me reconsider that they were genuine in their desire to recapture the danger of James Bond. While the British press was self-inducing hysteria over his blonde hair and blue eyes, I was watching the initial press release with hawk's eyes, waiting for just one tidbit to spill about the next film. One savvy member of the press actually asked Campbell how they were going to address the aforementioned genital torture scene, and he responded that they would probably have to cut away to a shot of a villa while Bond's screams played over the soundtrack. (Imagine my surprise when the film unveiled with a fully nude Craig undergoing some dangerous 'ball play' with none of the planned cutaways! Not that I'm a fan of genital torture or anything. Just for the record.)
So soon enough my faith grew as I learned more and more about the production. There have been a few times in my career as a film enthusiast that I subconsciously knew everything about a movie before actually seeing it. It's a gut feeling that goes beyond whatever glimpses are allowed in the trailers. If anything, the trailers are just a short visual confirmation of what I already know – that "This film is going to be amazing!" 'Fight Club' is one such example, and that film is arguably my favorite movie of the entire nineteen-nineties. I'd add 'The Fellowship of the Ring' to the pile, but that's kind of a no brainer. I just knew that 'Casino Royale' was going to be one of the best Bond experiences of my lifetime. On a side note, the night before seeing the film at a preview for the first time, a friend of mine was slightly befuddled as to why I was ‘geeking' out over it so much. He asked me why I thought it was going to be so good, and I couldn't fully answer because I simply felt it in my bones. Failure was not an option.
I was not disappointed. I was expecting Craig and Eva Green to be good, but the biggest surprise for me was just how great Martin Campbell's direction was on this film. You can't really believe that it's the same guy who helmed 'Goldeneye'. The second biggest surprise was just how fulfilling David Arnold's score was. He had been doing a passable job as a sub-Barry stand-in, but he really came into his own this time around. Chris Cornell's titles song 'You Know My Name' seems to leave most folks underwhelmed, but I went absolutely nuts over it. It's still running through my head as I type, numerous weeks later. I was also slightly worried about what Paul Haggis would do with his script revisions, as I think his writing on 'Crash' is just two notches below atrocious. Luckily, the dialogue in 'Casino Royale' was top notch, and was worthy of Daniel Craig's acting chops.
So I loved it. Big deal. There have been plenty of other Bond films I've loved that the rest of the world ended up loathing. With 'Casino Royale' set on the fast track to becoming the highest grossing Bond film of all time (except for inflation-adjusted Thunderball grosses of course), it seems that the rest of civilization just might be on my side for once! What changed? You could argue that it was the lack of gadgets, gimmicks and slapstick humour, but 'From Russia With Love' and 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' had done that already to great effect. You could say it was the emphasis on good storytelling and a human element. Again, there's none more human than Bond in 'OHMSS', and though that film's generally considered one of the best among the Bondian elite, everytime a film similar in tone appears (i.e. some of Dalton's work), plenty of the same reasons given for Casino being 'superlative' are given as to why those episodes supposedly stink out loud. There's also an argument for the fact that post-9/11 audiences have been realigned to accept sober, gritty spy stories from the likes of the Bourne series. Yet 'The Bourne Identity' had already hit theaters when 'Die Another Day' came out in 2002, and the latter film was a bona fide blockbuster.
As with many things, there seems to be no concrete answer. Somehow, the rest of the world's opinion finally jibed with that of the nutty fanboys (in other words, me). And thank heavens for that! After seeing 'Casino Royale' four times over the past few weeks, I can happily say that I no longer regret missing out on seeing the great Connery films on the big screen in the sixties. I have my own wonderful cinematic Bond experiences to hold on to now. Here's hoping the aberration becomes the institution. There's plenty of unused material to be mined from the original Fleming source novels. I've already heard that the twenty-second film in the franchise will continue the thread of 'Casino Royale' in unveiling a very SPECTRE-like organization that could possibly serve as a multi-installment threat. Bravo, I say!There are still a few naysayers out there. But, luckily folks such as those at danielcraignotbond.com were stuck posting negative reviews from relative nobodys. Even some of the vicious British journos had to eat their own words once they saw Craig in action. At last peek, Rottentomatoes.com had a freshness rating of over ninety percent. [It just won the honor of being that site's best reviewed film of the year - ed.] The stars seem to be in alignment for the Bond series, and I never really imagined that it would ever be this good again. Here's hoping we have all the time in the world with this wonderful new spin on an old, dear friend!