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Monday, August 01, 2011

THE BOND EFFECT

"Of course, we must begin with Sean Connery"

Big Hollywood has been running a weekly feature in which Lawrence Meyers has been reviewing each film. The series started out with careful examinations of technical achievement, music, set design, storytelling, plotting, direction, and acting. However, when it came to the Roger Moore bond movies, a strange transformation took place: all the sudden Meyers started to focus instead on how fun it was and how amazing the stunts were.

In other words, it turned from a look at Bond movies as movies to Bond movies as Bond movies, with girls and action and gadgets and so on. Instead of a review of the art and craft of movie making, it became just a fan's appreciation of these films.

And as I have talked to people, read reviews and comments, and seen how people react to Bond movies, there seems to be a distinct pattern: the first Bond movie you saw is the template for how you see other Bond movies. If you saw Moonraker first, you think its one of the best. If you saw Goldeneye first, that one is your top Bond movie, and so on. People seem to rate James Bond less on the objective value of any given movie than on their first exposure to the films, particularly when young.

Most people revere the Connery Bond if for no other reason than he's the first and set the template. In many ways, Connery films had more of a feel of James Bond's world from the books than any other, primarily because they were set in the right time frame. The 60's with smoking and martinis and Aston Martins zipping through the alps, a feel of men being on top that only Mad Men seems to capture lately.

But if you ask people who does the best Bond, or what the best film was, they seem to gravitate toward the one they first saw when young. Meyers thinks Roger Moore was just terrific, but his choices and perspective is a bit odd: he didn't care for For Your Eyes Only, but loved The Man With The Golden Gun. Objectively, FYEO was a superior film in terms of story telling and film making, but TMTWGG is clearly Meyers' emotional favorite. Its cheesy, it set the standard for later Moore Bond movies, with awful acting, silly and insulting events, lousy fight scenes, and awkward, uncomfortable lines that the superb Moore had to deliver the best he could.

When Moore was asked why his performance was so cheesy, he responded that the films made no sense and were so goofy he just went with it. He said the instant he realized that Bond -- a secret agent -- was so famous everyone in the world seemed to know how he liked his martini, he realized it was just a farce.

And almost all of the Moore films are along these lines. The sight gags are obvious, and even really terrific stunts like the spiral jump in The Man With The Golden Gun have a slide whistle to make sure you can't really enjoy them and treat it like a Scooby Doo cartoon. The Moore Bond was a farce, but they still were exciting and enjoyable enough that anyone watching them for the first time could enjoy them and remember them fondly.

Here's the rankings for his movies so far:

4 Stars
Goldfinger
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
The Man With The Golden Gun

3 Stars
Dr. No
From Russia With Love

2 Stars
Thunderball
Diamonds Are Forever
The Spy Who Loved Me

1 Star
You Only Live Twice
Live and Let Die
Moonraker

What's curious is that if you read the reviews, they don't really seem to indicate what he gives them in terms of stars. Myers' review of The Spy Who Loved Me had almost nothing negative to say and glowing love of various scenes, even the awful Sumo garden scene. Jaws was fun as a kid but when you grow up he's just a cartoon, he doesn't fit the setting at all. And if you've read the book you wonder where on earth that movie went, because its a great story.

I can't believe anyone would rank some of these in this manner. From Russia With Love is the best Bond movie, by far. It is just a wonderful spy film delivered with Bond style and is not only well-acted but well-directed. The problem is, it lacks the gadgets, girls, and gags that Meyers perfers, which is how The Man With The Golden Gun ends up with 4 stars despite being awful.

Meyer's review of the film is filled with love of circus imagery and psychological examinations of the characters, which is great... for the Fleming book, but not the film which has scene after scene of just groaners and weak stunts. He absolutely loved On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but the film was deeply flawed by the sped-up fight scenes and Lazenby's posing for the camera constantly. It wasn't a bad film, it just isn't 4 star territory.

The series of reviews have been more interesting to me for the peek into this man's psychology and view of the world than the films themselves. The sudden, jarring transition from film student to fan boy with the Moore Films was shocking to read, but not very many commenters seemed to notice. However, even Meyers' love of the Moore Bond can't help Moonraker, which was just godawful. What a terrible, terrible movie that one was.

I don't have any sort of statistics or careful study to back up my thesis, but it really does seem to me that your first exposure to Bond really decides how you view them. For the record, the first James Bond movie I saw in a theater was Goldeneye, and the first one I saw at all (in its entirety rather than short bits on TV) was Diamonds Are Forever - and I didn't much care for it.

5 Comments:

Blogger T.K. Tortch said...

I'm pretty sure the first one I saw in a theater was "Moonraker"; as a teen and with a date. I thought it was great. Lasers and space Marines!!

But I had already seen most the bond films on TV at one point or another. I knew the films got more hokey as time went on (yeah that slide whistle in TMWTGG really grates), even though I enjoyed them; and I always thought of the Connery movies as the real deal.

Something about the style of those movies seemed impossibly alien but desperately attractive to me, seen from the perspective of a teen in the early 80's, with much of the adult world still mired in shreds of absurd late 1970's graphics, clothing, decor, cars (ugh), etc. The adults in those movies, even taking part of those ridiculous plots, actually seemed -- adult. Like adulthood wasn't wasted on them.

It will be interesting to see what the reviewer thought of the new Casino Royale. I admit, I thought it was great. The first 20 minutes may be the most effective and exciting Bond movie kickoff of them all.

9:07 AM, August 01, 2011  
Anonymous Eric said...

I see they are saving the sole 5 start review for Octopussy.

10:02 AM, August 01, 2011  
Blogger Rich Rostrom said...

Bizarre note: the only Bond movie (AFAIK, I don't think I've seen them all) which had the most plausible plot idea was Octopussy. Which was, otherwise, almost completely cartoon farce.

5:41 PM, August 13, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well about Casino Royale, for me i hate precisely the first 20 minutes. It is something that came from superhero territory not a Bond movie. The rest of the movie was good and in some parts quite good.

5:43 AM, August 19, 2011  
Anonymous Lawrence Meyers said...

Lawrence Meyers here.

First, thanks for bringing my series of articles to the attention of your readers.

Allow me to explain a couple of things that you pointed out in your post. You are quite correct that there was a shift in the tone of the pieces between the Connery and Moore eras. The fact is the former had a lot more to them as far as filmmaking craft goes. The sad truth is that the only way to talk about the Moore films are as Bond films, rather than just as films themselves.

I don't think Roger Moore was terrific. He did a good job with his interpretation of Bond, based on the material he was given.

Also, I"m not sure why you say that I didn't care for "For Your Eyes Only". I haven't even posted my review of that film yet. You will discover, however, that I think it's the best film of the Moore era.

Again, thanks for bringing the series to your viewers attention!

Larry

4:59 AM, August 30, 2011  

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