The Ties That Bond5 Nov, 2012 By: John Latchem
Tracking the Legacy of Cinema's Greatest Hero
Ian Fleming could scarcely have imagined the longevity and influence of his most famous literary creation, a British superspy named James Bond. From books to films and DVDs, Bond has left an indelible legacy.
“Ian Fleming created this hero,” says Steven Jay Rubin, author of The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia. “But it was the films that that introduced him into the public consciousness.”
The Bond films, with their breathtaking stunts, outrageous one-liners and larger-to-life villains, also would redefine the nature of the action movie.
“The action-film genre was reinvented when Dr. No was released in 1962,” says Lee Pfeiffer, author of The Essential Bond and editor in chief of CinemaRetro.com, a magazine devoted to the spy genre and other classics of the 1960s and 1970s. “It was such a cutting-edge film.”
The legendary cinematic exploits of British Secret Service Agent 007 flowed from the fateful partnership between producers Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. The company they founded to make the films, Eon Productions, remains the creative force behind the Bond epics to this day — 23 films in the official canon, including the latest, Skyfall.
“This is a movie series that spans 50 years,” Rubin says. “That’s three generations of fans. Fathers can go with their sons. Grandfathers can see it with their grandsons.”
Adds Pfeiffer: “Most men can’t tell you where they parked their car, but they can tell you where they saw a Bond movie for the first time. Almost inevitably they were brought by their Dad.”
By the 21st century, advancements in home video have made the series easier than ever to share, especially on DVD and Blu-ray, a technology that seems like it could have come straight from the workshops of Q branch.
With so many ways to experience Bond, the biggest question for newcomers is where to begin.
“The most obvious thing to do is to start from the beginning,” Pfeiffer says.
Bond’s main nemesis in the early films (1962's Dr. No to 1971's Diamonds Are Forever) was an international criminal syndicate called SPECTRE, headed by the mysterious Ernst Stavro Blofeld (who first appeared in the second film, 1963's From Russia With Love). The lone exception was the third film, 1964's Goldfinger, whose eponymous villain was a wealthy businessman obsessed with the gold in Fort Knox.
“It wasn’t until Goldfinger in 1964 that the Bond movies exploded into a pop culture phenomenon,” Pfeiffer says. “The first two movies offered the occasional quip but were more intense and focused on character. With Goldfinger, the tongue-in-cheek aspect became more pronounced. Once Bond ejects that henchman through the roof of the Aston-Martin, they couldn’t go home again.”
And so began a pattern of Bond constantly trying push the line, with Thunderball an even bigger spectacle.
“It’s the Harry Houdini syndrome. You have to keep topping yourself,” Rubin says. “I give the producers credit. These are all quality productions. Even the worst Bond movies have a lot of cool things in them.”
The Sincerest Form of Flattery
As with any successful trend, Bond’s success inevitably spawned a number of imitators.
Fleming himself had a hand in developing one of the early extensions of the newfound popularity in spy fiction. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” debuted on NBC in 1964 and ran for four season. Not to be completely overshadowed by Bond, producers were able to piece together a series of theatrical features based on the show.
“Although cheaply patched together from two-part episodes, these ‘Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ movies were major financial hits,” Pfeiffer says.
Rubin also cites the original “Mission: Impossible” series as owing a lot to the Bond formula.
But Bond’s biggest competition may have been himself. Due to rights issues over the original books, the Eon team wasn’t the only game in town when it came to Bond movies.
Bond’s theatrical debut in Dr. No was in fact not the character’s first on-screen appearance. That honor goes to a 1954 episode of the CBS anthology series "Climax!" This early version starred Barry Nelson as an American James Bond in an adaptation of Casino Royale, Fleming’s first Bond novel that was published a year earlier.
According to Pfeiffer, Fleming hoped to secure a deal to adapt his Bond stories for CBS television. When that didn’t pan out, Fleming sold the film rights to Casino Royale for $6,000. The rights eventually ended up with producer Charles K. Feldman, who realized the best way to profit was not to compete with Eon, but to spoof the established Bond films.
The result was the first big-screen Casino Royale in 1967, which hit theaters several months before You Only Live Twice, the fifth film in the Eon series. The spoof starred David Niven as an older Bond who resented the oversexed agent, presumably Connery’s Bond, who had assumed the name. When Niven takes over British intelligence, he hopes to confuse the enemy by calling every agent James Bond 007. Other 007s in the cast included Peter Sellers and Woody Allen.
At the time, the dual releases caused some confusion among fans, who didn’t understand the spoof was not part of the official series, and YOLT’s box office returns suffered.
Feldman’s production is widely derided by Bond fans, including Rubin, who calls it the worst Bond movie ever made. That didn’t stop Rubin, however, from compiling retrospective interviews for the collector’s edition DVD of the film, which experienced its share of notorious behind-the-scenes chaos.
“The movie sucks, but the story behind it is fascinating,” Rubin says.
Casino Royale was not the first film to lampoon the spy genre. In 1966, 20th Century Fox released Our Man Flint, the first of two comedic spy thrillers starring James Coburn as playboy spy Derek Flint. That same year, Columbia Pictures debuted a series of films based on Donald Hamilton’s book series about American agent Matt Helm. In keeping with the prevailing notion that the only way to compete with Bond was to spoof him, producers cast Dean Martin as the lead character in a series that would span four films.
“The Flint movies were pretty good and are among the best of the spoofs,” Rubin says. “But Dean Martin was a complete bust. The ‘Matt Helm’ series shot itself in the foot by bringing him in.”
Among the most notorious spoofs was 1967’s Operation Kid Brother, an Italian production that starred nearly everyone who had appeared in a Bond movie to that point, with the exception of Sean Connery. The star of this film was Sean’s younger brother Neil, who played a glorified version of himself. (Operation Kid Brother, also known as Operation Double 007, hasn't been officially released on DVD, but it was mocked on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and that episode is on the Vol. XXV DVD).
Another spoof from the era, the Mel Brooks/Buck Henry-created TV series “Get Smart,” proved to be much better received by audiences.
“It was a fun time for secret agents,” Rubin says. “That’s a huge testament to the strength of the ‘Bond’ series.”
Face of Change
Growing tired of the long production schedules of the Bond films, and the ever-growing curiosity of the press, Connery left the role after You Only Live Twice, as the series seemed ready to collapse under its own weight. Each new movie was an attempt to outdo the previous entry, and Connery’s tenure was growing more over-the-top with each film, relying ever more on gadgets and sci-fi elements such as the famed hollowed-out volcano base in YOLT.
Presented with a chance for a fresh start, Broccoli and Saltzman cast Australian model George Lazenby as the new Bond, while veteran Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum wrote On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as close as he could to the Fleming novel, making Bond less reliant on gadgets and more on his wits.
The writers considered using plastic surgery or other plot devices to explain the character’s change, but ultimately decided it was unnecessary.
Instead, they had some fun with the switch. In the opening sequence, Bond saves the life of a girl on a beach. After fighting off thugs, he discovers that instead of remaining to thank him, she has run off.
Lazenby then turns to the camera and quips, “This never happened to the other fellow!”
“That line brought down the house and removed any anxiety among audience members,” Pfeiffer says. “It was a wink and a nod that fans appreciated. As Lazenby was the first actor to succeed Connery, it was never again necessary to explain away the new face.”
The producers also toyed with the idea of continuing a storyline from one film into the next.
“Lazenby’s Bond gets married at the end of that one, and she would have been killed off at the beginning of the next film,” Pfeiffer says.
Instead, Bond’s wife Tracy dies at the end of the story, as in the book.
While the novice Lazenby was sometimes stiff in his acting style, neither was he an abomination, and many critics looked forward to watching him grow into the role. Unfortunately, on the advice of his manager, Lazenby rejected a multi-film deal to remain as Bond, and announced he would not return to the role, a move he would later admit regretting.
“I could strangle George for leaving the part,” Pfeiffer says.
OHMSS is fondly remembered by fans despite the anomaly of Lazenby’s lone appearance, leading many to assume the film would have been so much greater had Connery stayed with it for one more film.
Pfeiffer disagrees, pointing out many of the elements that made OHMSS so good were only conceived as a way to ease the transition of a new actor into the role.
“If Connery had done that movie, it would not have been the classic that it is,” Pfeiffer said. “The question is not what On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would have been with Connery, but what Diamonds Are Forever could have been with Lazenby.”
With Lazenby out, producers searched for a new Bond, and came close to signing Americans John Gavin or Adam West (of "Batman" fame). Ultimately, however, they would turn back to Connery to maintain the franchise during the unexpected transition phase. Diamonds Are Forever begins with Bond clearly seeking revenge, though no mention is made of Tracy, and the film soon becomes a semi-serious romp in Las Vegas.
While Diamonds Are Forever was a successful reprise for Connery, in retrospect the movie’s comedic overtones are viewed by some fans as an early indicator of the campier direction the series would take during Roger Moore’s stint as Bond.
“The slapstick started with Diamonds Are Forever, which has virtue but was the weakest film to that point,” Pfeiffer says.
Arrival of Moore
Connery had been enticed to return for one more film for a salary of more than $1 million, a hefty sum in 1971 (he used it to establish a monetary trust for Scottish artists). But that was it, and when production wrapped, Connery was once again done with Bond, vowing to "never" play him again. For the third consecutive film, a different actor would play James Bond.
Broccoli and Saltzman hoped to dampen audience anxieties by casting an established star, and turned to Roger Moore, who was well known within the genre for his portrayal of Simon Templar in “The Saint” TV series in the 1960s and in the crime drama “The Persuaders!” in 1971.
Moore, however, was not as physically imposing as Connery. Playing to his charisma and flair for light comedy, Moore’s films continued the reliance on sight gags and broad humor inherent in Diamonds Are Forever.
“Roger’s films are wildly eclectic, too many times capitalize on self-deprecating humor,” Pfeiffer says.
His first, 1973’s Live and Let Die, was Bond’s response to the blaxploitation trend of the early 1970s. His second, 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun, is generally considered a complete misfire, despite the presence of esteemed actor Christopher Lee as the villain, Scaramanga.
“Christopher Lee once came up to me and said he didn’t appreciate that I called his film one of the worst of the Bond films,” Pfeiffer says. “I told him I didn’t say it was ONE of the worst. I said it was THE worst.”
Most critics agreed that 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me was a superior outing for Moore, introducing the world to the ominous steel-mouthed henchman known as Jaws (in a nod to the Steven Spielberg film; at one point the character even bites a man-eating shark).
“Arguably, The Spy Who Loved Me revived the series, but Jaws and Bond were too close to being caricatures,” Rubin says. “Jaws was a Darth Vader type of character. But the film introduced Bond to a whole new generation, and it needed that character to do that.”
The end of The Spy Who Loved Me promised Bond’s return in For Your Eyes Only. Whatever producers intended, their plans changed with the success of another 1977 release — a little film called Star Wars. It was time for Bond to blast off with a space adventure of his own.
From a Venice gondola hovercraft to a climactic battle over a space station, most critics agree that 1979’s Moonraker went too far.
“Bond can do almost anything, but he doesn’t belong in space,” Rubin says. “Bond tried to be Star Wars, and did it badly.”
For once, Bond emulated someone else’s formula, and it didn’t work.
“They tried to imitate something else,” Rubin says. “But the opposite had always been true. Usually Bond is the trendsetter.”
Again producers would go back to basics, and went about making For Your Eyes Only with the intent of humanizing Bond. There also was some doubt as to whether Moore would return, inspiring the writers to craft an opening sequence that played to the history of the franchise (a similar device was used in OHMSS when Lazenby takes inventory of props from the earlier films). Not only does Bond visit the grave of his murdered wife, he must deal with a maniacal killer who is clearly modeled after Blofeld.
Moore would return for his fifth appearance as Bond, and would continue on for two more.
Bond vs. Bond
Heading into the 1980s, one of Bond’s biggest competitors would turn out to be Bond himself.
In the late 1950s, a producer named Kevin McClory and a screenwriter named Jack Whittingham collaborated with Fleming on an original screenplay about Bond. When financial backing for the film fell through, Fleming penned the Thunderball novel based on the screenplay. McClory and Whittingham sued over the rights to the story and won their lawsuit, but in the meantime producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman acquired the film rights to the remainder of the Fleming Bond stories (with the exception of Casino Royale).
McClory would team with Broccoli and Saltzman to produce an official version of Thunderball starring Connery. As Rubin recounts in the Bond Movie Encyclopedia, McClory resurfaced in the 1970s with a new Bond project and claimed SPECTRE and other elements that originated in the Thunderball book could not be used by Eon Productions without his permission. Broccoli, in turn, threatened legal action to block any rival Bond film, hoping to avoid a repeat of what happened with the Casino Royale spoof dividing the audience.
With the help of entertainment attorney Jack Schwartzman and the support of Warner Bros., McClory finally got his rival Bond project off the ground in the 1980s, a new adaptation of Thunderball starring Connery as Bond, and dubbed Never Say Never Again — a play on the star’s declaration following Diamonds Are Forever.
The film was released in 1983 not long after the 13th Eon Bond film and Moore’s sixth outing as the Bond, Octopussy, though delays with Never would prevent a head-to-head battle. Audiences responded favorably to both films, and while Never Say Never Again was a financial success, Octopussy earned more at the box office en route to becoming the highest-grossing Bond film in the United States to that point. Interest in the Bond films was certainly renewed.
MGM had acquired the Bond franchise through its purchase of United Artists in 1981, and would acquire the rights to Never Say Never Again in 1997.
Hello, Dr. Jones
A famous story around Hollywood, recounted on the “Indiana Jones” DVDs, is that Steven Spielberg was anxious to direct a Bond movie. George Lucas, in the wake of American Graffiti, had conceived of two film projects. One, a space epic, eventually became Star Wars. The other paid homage to the adventure-film serials of the 1930s and ’40s. When Lucas learned of Spielberg’s action ambitions, he offered his good friend the chance to develop the story about a globetrotting archeologist named Indiana Jones.
For the third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Spielberg conceived of a simple story of Indiana Jones reconnecting with his father. Casting the role of the elder Jones was a simple matter for Spielberg, he explains in DVD interviews. From a creative standpoint, Indiana Jones’ father was James Bond. Therefore, only James Bond could play Indiana Jones’ father. In what is arguably the greatest filmed homage to the Bond franchise, Connery was cast as Henry Jones Sr.
“It was perfect casting and a great nod to the past,” Pfeiffer says. “It’s so disappointing he’s not in [Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull]. It’s a shame he let his last movie be The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.”
End of an Era
Whereas Octopussy is generally considered one of Moore’s better outings, 1985’s A View to A Kill was among his worst.
“By his own admission he went one film too far,” Pfeiffer says.
Moore was 57 when A View to a Kill opened in 1985, though his age was by far one of the least of the film’s many flaws.
“The fire truck chase in San Francisco was out of Keystone Cops,” Rubin says. “Roger was dangerously tipping on the edge of self-parody."
As Rubin points out in the Bond Movie Encyclopedia, the film was a virtual remake of Goldfinger, downgrading the villain to a sadistic microchip mogul who failed to resonate with the audience despite the presence of Oscar winner Christopher Walken in the role.
After seven films in 12 years, Moore’s stint as Bond was at an end.
“A lot of people try to disparage Roger’s films,” Pfeiffer says. “But they were enormously successful in their time. He was the Bond for that generation.”
With the Bond series and its aging star seeming quaint, a harder-edge breed of action hero rose to claim the mantle. Movies such as Beverly Hills Cop, Rambo, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Batman and the “Indiana Jones” films introduced audiences to iconic new heroes just as Dr. No had done a generation before.
“Those ‘Lethal Weapon’ movies really borrowed from Bond in they way they combined comedy and action, with a serious hero who could throw out a deadpan line,” Rubin says.
The competition was fierce, but Bond had already shown a resiliency that the franchise could thrive with a new actor playing the main character. This alone distanced the franchise from other film series that could not survive without the anchor of their established stars.
“Movies such as ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Die Hard’ feature iconic characters modeled around the actors who played them,” Rubin says. “Bond is immune to that. He is perpetually 35. He’s bigger than any one actor.”
Seeking to reinvigorate the franchise in the wake of Moore’s legacy, producers turned to Pierce Brosnan, who seemed a popular choice due to his stint on TV’s “Remington Steele.” Ironically, Brosnan’s Bond prospects inspired NBC to pick up the foundering series. With Brosnan out, producers hired dramatic actor Timothy Dalton to take the franchise in a more-serious direction. Not long after, “Remington Steele” was canceled anyway.
Reflecting the times, Dalton’s stint would be defined by a distinct lack of humor.
“The Bond actors are usually tailored to the prevailing mood of the time,” Pfeiffer says. “By Dalton’s time, the producers were looking for something darker. Dalton would make people realize these were fairly serious thrillers at one time.”
Dalton’s reign would not last long. After 1987’s The Living Daylights and 1989’s Licence to Kill, legal issues over the character’s film rights delayed production of a new film.
A New Beginning
With the 1990s, Bond faced a bigger threat than mere legal trouble. The collapse of the Soviet Union meant the end of the Cold War, which had been a reliable staple of Bond stories since the beginning.
Luckily, Tom Clancy’s techno-thrillers Patriot Games in 1992 and Clear and Present Danger in 1994, and James Cameron’s 1994 Bond tribute True Lies proved there would always be room for a hero in a dangerous world.
“Some people called True Lies the best Bond movie never made,” Pfeiffer says. “It caught the spirit of the early Bonds and takes many of its cues from them, such as Arnold undressing to reveal a white tux under his wet suit (an obvious homage to Goldfinger).”
In the meantime, a TV cartoon series called "James Bond Jr." depicted Bond's nephew as a teenage secret agent teaming with youthful counterparts for many of the film's stalwart characters, often fighting versions of the classic villains from the films. The show ran for 65 episodes from 1991 to 1992. (Though episodes made it to VHS, thus far "James Bond Jr. has not yet been released on DVD.)
By 1993 the lengthy litigation over the Bond rights had been cleared up, and Eon was ready to resume the series, and this time nothing was stopping Pierce Brosnan from signing up.
“Pierce was too youthful in 1986, but the 10 years benefited him greatly,” Pfeiffer says. “He exuded the perfect combination of a man of charm and a man of action.”
Brosnan’s Bond debut came with Goldeneye in 1995.
“At the time, the future of MGM was riding in the balance of how Goldeneye did,” Pfeiffer says. “They hadn’t mined many hits and had to bring Bond back with a bang. But in the 1980s, Bond skewed to an older audience. The people going to see the movies were the ones who grew up with it in the 1960s. You can’t sustain a series like that, They weren’t attracting new fans.”
Amid fears Bond would be seen as outdated as the cold war, the studio launched an aggressive marketing campaign that successfully aligned a new generation with a new Bond.
“They made Bond hip and cool again, for the first time since the 1960s” Pfeiffer says. “Artistically, however, the films suffered. They began to look like video games. Too many car chases and explosions.”
Another issue that arose during Brosnan’s tenure was the dearth of unused Fleming material. With Moonraker, writers had exhausted their bank of titles of Fleming Bond novels, and the next four films borrowed titles from Fleming short stories.
Licence to Kill, while derived from a term long associated with 007, was the first title to deviate from the names of Fleming stories. None of the titles of Brosnan’s films were based on Fleming stories, although two did have a Bond connection. Goldeneye refers to Fleming’s Jamaican estate where he wrote the Bond novels, and the title for 1999’s The World is Not Enough is taken from the Bond family motto as revealed in OHMSS.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and Die Another Day (2002) represent wholly original titles with no connection to Fleming. (The rival production Never Say Never Again also used a non-Fleming title.)
If fans noticed, they didn’t seem to care. All the Brosnan Bonds were tremendously successful, with domestic box office earnings that increased with each subsequent film.
Though Brosnan had succeeded in planting Bond firmly in the 1990s, the franchise also had become somewhat of an institution, inspiring a new wave of parodies in loving tribute.
In 1995, an episode of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” called “Our Man Bashir,” offered a spot-on parody of Bond and other 1960s spy-genre classics.
Not long after, in 1996, Spy Hard premiered, with “Naked Gun” veteran Leslie Nielsen playing Agent WD-40, cementing his status as king of the parody film. Though a mostly forgettable parody of Bond and other film tropes of the 1990s, Spy Hard did feature a spectacular spoof of Bond opening theme songs by, appropriately enough, Weird 'Al' Yankovic.
But it wasn’t until 1997 until audiences were treated to the king of all Bond spoofs, Mike Myers in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. The film led to two sequels: 1999’s Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and 2002’s Austin Powers in Goldmember. The films poked fun at many of the Bond’s stalwart clichés, such as elaborate death traps, villains revealing too much information to the hero, and massive secret hideouts.
“The ‘Austin Powers’ films are great because they respect the original material but really exploit the absurdness of it,” Rubin says. “Bond movies are always ripe for parody, but it always has to be an outrageous parody.”
Brosnan’s Bonds had to contend with their share of serious thrillers as well. The year 2002 would see the debuts of two more films with a strong Bondian influence: The Bourne Identity and XXX.
The Bourne Identity, based on the novel by Robert Ludlum, kicked off a trilogy that included The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), starring Matt Damon as amnesiac hitman Jason Bourne. Ultimatum is currently the highest-grossing spy film of all time at the U.S. box office, with $227 million. The franchise continued without Damon in The Bourne Legacy in 2012.
“There were countless films that emulated Bond,” Pfeiffer says. “I think even the ‘Bourne’ movies owe some of popularity to the groundwork Bond laid out years before. I think there is no question these competing franchises have always helped keep the Bond franchise fresh.”
XXX in particular took delight in targeting Bond. The film marketed its star, Vin Diesel, as “A new breed of secret agent” and premiered three months before the 20th film in the Eon Bond series, Die Another Day.
Brosnan’s fourth outing as Bond was layered with subtle references to the earlier films and grossed $160.9 million in the United States ($432 million worldwide), easily outperforming XXX and its $142.1 million take ($277.4 worldwide).
And when Diesel backed out of the sequel, the series died. XXX: State of the Union, starring Ice Cube (and ironically directed by Lee Tamahori, who helmed Die Another Day), grossed a paltry $26.9 million in 2005.
“The competition has always been strong, but Bond keeps outlasting them all” Pfeiffer says.
But again, it seemed the films were becoming a victim to their own success, and Die Another Day was criticized for being too goofy and over-the-top, a familiar refrain for Bond films.
“I liked aspects of it, but some things went too far,” Rubin says. “The invisible car was too sci-fi.”
Pfeiffer says the film was emblematic of many drawbacks to the Brosnan era.
“There were just too many characters,” Pfeiffer says. “And in the third act, the movies would become a routine shoot-em-up. Bond should never be running around firing machine guns. Bond is about his ingenuity, how clever he is to get out of these things. These gun fights are fun to watch but they aren’t very creative.”
Another criticism against Die Another Day was its use of computer effects in its action scenes. While many thrillers, such as 2007’s hoot ’Em Up, relied on CGI, the hallmark of the Bond films had always been the physicality of live stuntwork.
“You watch these scenes and you are so aware of a guy sitting at a computer,” Pfeiffer says. “CGI should be used very judiciously. To the credit of the Bond producers, they’ve never deviated from the use of stunt men. The results put the Bond films head and shoulders ahead of the rest. It’s still people up there doing those stunts.”
There was also talk from producers about expanding the franchise with a spinoff film starring Halle Berry as the American agent Jinx from Die Another Day. Her performance was roundly rejected by critics and fans, however, and the spinoff film was quickly dropped.
“Halle Barry’s part was underwritten. It didn’t feel like she and Bond were in the same movie,” Pfeiffer says. “Some people were disappointed that they didn’t make a Jinx movie, but those doubts were erased with the box office receipts of Catwoman.”
In the meantime, Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade decided to have their own fun with the franchise, penning Johnny English in 2003. The spoof and its 2011 sequel starred Rowan Atkinson, who posted a bit part as a buffoonish government functionary in Never Say Never Again.
In 1999, MGM acquired the rights to Casino Royale as part of a trade that granted the film rights to Spider-Man to Sony Pictures. After Die Another Day, producers wondered what direction to take Bond in a post-9/11 world. With its newfound consolidation of the film rights to James Bond, Eon moved forward with an official adaptation of Fleming’s original Bond novel.
Because the book was Fleming’s first Bond adventure, producers decided the film should serve an equal purpose.
After the success of Batman Begins in 2005 proving a franchise could restart its storyline without harming its commercial prospects, Bond would take a similar approach. With the prospect of a reboot, producers searched for a younger actor to replace Brosnan, who was now in his 50s and seen as too old for the intended storyline.
The decision, according to Pfeiffer, was a gutsy one considering Brosnan’s popularity in the role and the financial success of his films.
“Die Another Day did make a half-billion dollars,” Pfeiffer says. “It was not a broken commodity. But they took a chance and threw out the formula. It really shows the ability of the franchise to refresh itself. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the films are still being made by the same family.”
Harry Saltzman sold his shares in Eon to Cubby Broccoli in 1975. When Broccoli died in 1996, the reins of Eon passed to his daughter Barbara Broccoli and his stepson Michael G. Wilson.
“They have a lot of pride,” Pfeiffer says. “They realize when the series needs to be reinvented. Other productions such as ‘Batman’ run the franchise into the ground and then a new team comes in to start over.”
Fans weren’t too sure, however, when Daniel Craig was introduced as the sixth actor to play Bond. Fans took to the Internet to voice displeasure with the choice of a blond bond, with Web sites such as CraigNotBond.com popping up to urge producers to take a different direction.
The Eon team, however, stuck with their man. Craig certainly had proven he had the edge and charisma to play Bond, with performances in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), Archangel (2005) and Spielberg’s Munich (2005). His performance in Casino Royale would speak for itself.
“The minute that movie premeired in London, the typically reserved British audience went crazy,” Pfeiffer says. “I said all those anti-Craig websites just went out of business.”
Critics hailed Casino Royale as a return to form for the franchise, harkening back to the early days.
“Casino Royale was the most exciting event in Bond history for my money since the release of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” Rubin says. “Daniel Craig is my favorite Bond since the early days of Sean Connery. He’s an intense actor but has a certain lightness that matches Connery. He can be dark but can do the throwaway humor.”
For comparison, Pfeiffer advises checking out some of the earlier films on disc.
“To get a sense of today’s Bond, look at From Russia With Love. You can probably skip every aspect of the 1970s. Everything in between is so far removed from Daniel Craig’s version,” Pfeiffer says. “We’re not seeing Jaws or Sheriff Pepper in the these movies.”
Adds Rubin: “Craig is tough and no-nonsense as Bond. If Roger Moore were available today to play James Bond, he’d be out of a job.”
Craig’s run continued in 2008 with the theatrical release of the 22nd Eon Bond, Quantum of Solace, which took its title from a Fleming short story.
“It was a very ballsy decision to use that title,” Pfeiffer says. “It shows a real reverence for Ian Fleming. Not many franchises have that kind of respect for the audience.”
Quantum of Solace picked up where Casino Royale left off, with Bond seeking revenge for the death of Vesper Lynd against a man named Dominic Greene, who uses environmentalist activities as a front for a criminal organization called Quantum.
In another break from tradition, the film is the first direct sequel in the Bond franchise.
“This is unique for Bond,” Pfeiffer says. “It’s similar to what happened with The Empire Strikes Back. They didn’t tie everything up at the end of Casino Royale.”
Solace's close connection to Casino Royale, and its generally humorless story and performance by Craig, earned its share of criticism, but the film went on to gross $168.4 million in the U.S., the most of the franchise (however, its $586.1 million worldwide cume is slightly under Casino Royale's $594.2 million).
Questions over MGM's bankruptcy, however, would delay Craig's third outing as Bond. When the franchise would return, it would find the spy genre just where it left it.
Christopher Nolan, fresh off the success of 2008's The Dark Knight, paid tribute to the Bond style in his sci-fi epic Inception, with a lengthy ski chase and an assault on a snowy mountain fortress not unlike the Piz Gloria attack in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
In 2011, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol became the top-grossing spy film in the world with its $694.7 million tally, surpassing Casino Royale. And fans would embrace a pair of French Bond parodies based on old the "OSS 177" books by Jean Bruce. Director Michel Hazanavicius would film 2006's OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and 2009's OSS 117: Lost in Rio in the style of a 1960s Bond film, showcasing Jean Dujardin as womanizing blowhard Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath. Hazanavicius and Dujardin would team again for 2011's The Artist and take home a slew of Oscars.
Eventually, the 23rd Bond film would take form as Skyfall in 2012, which also happens to mark the 50th anniversary of the Bond film series. The celebration kicked off in grand style during the Summer Olympics in London, when Craig as Bond was assigned the task of escorting Queen Elizabeth II to the opening ceremonies in a pre-recorded sketch that ended with Bond and the Queen skydiving from a helicopter into the Olympic Stadium.
The celebration also saw the release of all 22 earlier films restored in high-definition on Blu-ray, some for the first time, in a deluxe boxed set, ingeniously marketed by a re-release of that first film, Dr. No, on the big screen. In addition, Oct. 5 was declared "James Bond Day."
The enduring longevity of the franchise speaks to the fundamental truth of those simple words that appear at the end of all the 007 films: "James Bond Will Return."
“A few years ago we did a 40th anniversary celebration for Thunderball,” Pfeiffer says. “I read a piece I had found in a newspaper column that stated the Bond franchise had run its course. It was from the New York Times in 1965. People have been writing this series off for much of the last half-century and it’s still going strong.”