This is the very best week in any James Bond year. This is the week before the new movie comes out. And I’m excited. I’m forty nine years old and I’m still excited about a new James Bond Movie. It’s silly, isn’t it? It’s childish. Of course it is.
But I have the right, you see. I have the right to be excited about ‘Skyfall’.
James Bond movies are fifty years old this year and I will be fifty years old next year. We’ve been hanging around together all of our lives, Bond and me. And I started young, very young.
I guess my parents must have liked Bond. They were moviegoers so they were probably being wowed by ‘Dr No’ and ‘From Russia with Love’ when I was just a dot and then a baby. ‘Goldfinger’, brand spanking new, must have knocked them utterly senseless while I was toddling around and ‘Thunderball’ and ‘You Only Live Twice’ must have been as eagerly anticipated by them as ‘Skyfall’ is now for me.
The first James Bond movie that I became personally conscious of was ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’. That was 1969 so I was just 6 years old. I collected chewing gum cards of the movie, I remember them so well. In my memory, I was constantly arranging and rearranging them. I also had my beloved Die Cast Aston Martin DB5 with working ejector seat. I was Bond’s biggest little fan before I ever even got to see him. In fact, OHMSS was one of the last Bonds I got to see. It turned up on telly one Good Friday Night many years ago. I found it overblown and disappointing although the book remains my favourite one.
The first new release cinema Bond that I actually got to see was ‘Diamonds are Forever’. There was an advert for milk on telly with Connery as Bond filming the ‘space walk’ scene. It built the excitement nicely. My parents went to the new movie early in the week and came home and proclaimed that I was going to love it. They particularly liked the gangster who said, “I didn’t know there was a pool down there…”. I went to the Saturday matinee with my pals. It was 1971 and I was eight years old. I loved it. Loved it. I went again the next Saturday.
My next Bond wasn’t a Bond at all. It was called ‘The Red Tent’ and it also appeared in our local cinema in 1971. Because Connery was in it, my mates were all convinced it was the new Bond but I looked up the titles of the books in the flyleaf of an old copy of ‘Thunderball’ that we had at home and there was no ‘Red Tent’ in there. So I had my doubts. Still, I went along in hope. Our disappointment was overwhelming.
Then, suddenly - Oh God, I remember it so well - Connery was gone and Roger Moore was in. I bought into the pre-release hype of ‘Live and Let Die’ in a big, big way. Moore had a diary of his on-set experiences and I bought it and soaked it up although I couldn’t for the life of me understand how he could sound so bored with so much of the filming . Also his kidney stone troubles seemed highly un-007-like. The movie was another Saturday matinee excursion. I knew from the stills that the speedboats would jump but I had no idea how much I would love them doing it. I was ten years old, remember. I actually thought that the plot concerned a bad man who wanted to release two tons of herons onto the streets of New York. I had no clue what heroin was. I also thought that James Bond's shaving can was equipped with a flame thrower to kill all snakes rather then just an inflammable product that was resourcefully lit by Bond’s cigar. Skippy Hopper put me straight on that point on the happy walk home from the cinema.
‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ is much-reviled but it still holds a warm place in my heart. In 1974, it marked the first time I was allowed to go to the cinema on my own at night. Yes, I was 11. George Henderson and I went along and I know George stops-by for a read here so hiya mate. I loved this film when it came out. I didn't really recognise it at the time but I loved the music too. Not the ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ theme song so much but rather the lush oriental strings which permeate the score. I didn’t know you could even like movie music back then but that's what I was doing all right. I loved Britt Ekland too. My memory is that she had appeared topless on a horse in my granddad’s copy of the ‘News of the World’ the week before and that had birthed all kinds of anticipatory angst. George and me hung in at the end titles to see what the name of the next Bond movie would be. It was to be called ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ which, frankly, didn’t sound all that good to us. Less of the ‘loving’, Bond, more of the ‘action’.
As I explain elsewhere, I believe that Bond movies are at their very best when they are fresh. The Moore era looks utterly dated and stale now but, mark my words, when Shane Ruane and I went to the Gaiety to see ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ on the very first night it came out, it was absolutely stunning. Clapperboard, on the telly, had said that there was a brilliant ski stunt near the start and, when Bond did a somersault and shot a few baddies, all on skis, I thought that was it. Then… then… well, you all know what happened then. It was utterly eye-popping and unmistakably real. A truly great movie moment… at that time.
‘Moonraker’ came out in the same week as Superman. ‘Moonraker’ was the first Bond that I thought was just crap. I couldn’t believe it. ‘For Your Eyes Only’ recaptured a little of the joy but I was seventeen by then and my tastes were rapidly changing. ‘Octopussy’ , I actually quite liked although I can hardly watch it now, so rife it is with silly in-jokes.
I was in London by the time ‘View To a Kill’ came out and I didn’t care much about it at all. Bond was over-and done for me by then. I went to see it weeks after it came out and hated it with a vengeance.
All this time I was catching up on the old Connery Bonds on the telly. I grew to love them. My absolute favourite remains ‘From Russia With Love’. I think it is timeless, cruel and tough. It will never grow old for me.
Then, finally, Moore stepped down and the word was that Brosnan was a sure thing to take over. But no, it was someone called Dalton and, out of the blue, I was all-excited again. A new Bond was promised, harder, more Fleming-like, more romantic, even. I again bought into the hype of ‘The Living Daylights’ in a way that I hadn’t for years. I went to Leicester Square to see the coming and goings at the premiere and I saw the film myself the night after in the same cinema with a herd of friends who I had bought tickets for. I really, really liked it. I thought Dalton did a great job and I looked forward to more.
‘Licence to Kill’ was dreadful. Dread Full. It was all-over again.
I knew Brosnan very well. His TV Show – Remington Steele – was very popular in Ireland and his slightly camp playing did nothing to convince me that he could carry the role. But then he appeared in ‘The Fourth Protocol’ as the bad guy and, man, he was ‘hard’. Maybe he could carry it off after all…
So I wanted to like Goldeneye, I really did. I expected to like it. I built myself up to like it… and I just couldn’t. Brosnan seemed to have a stone mask duct taped to his face throughout. He just didn’t do it for me.
I thought he grew into the role, in fairness, but I just don’t think he ever got the script he deserved. There’s a wonderful moment in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ where he shows delight in what he is doing (driving a remote controlled BMW) and I thought that was pure magic. Controversially, I also thought that the first half of his last outing ‘Die Another day’ was pretty good but the second half was dire. Brosnan looked great and played it great but the movies weren’t as good as he was, that was it. When he was out, I was actually wishing he could have one more go. There was talk of a Tarantino reboot. That sounded good to me.
But, basically, I was in ‘meh’ mode again and not likely ever to get back out of it. I still loved the old Bonds on the telly and I still liked revisiting the books too but there wasn’t likely to be anything cinematic to ever grab me again.
And then along came Daniel Craig. They brought him up the Thames in a speedboat to introduce him to the world as Bond and he had to wear a life jacket. It was bloody awful. Who was this guy? He was blonde and hard-looking? Not Bond-Like at all. What the hell could he do?
What Craig could do, pure and simple, was be the best Bond ever - bar-none. Casino Royale is something that other Bond movies (with the possible exception of ‘From Russia with Love’) could not be, it is a fine movie in its own right. You don’t have to like James Bond to like it. It’s an amazing film in almost every respect and I have a funny feeling it will not ever date badly. It certainly hasn’t so far.
‘Quantum of Solace’ was a disappointment by comparison. I now think that the final half hour is very good but the rest of it seems joyless and detached and the action scenes a la ‘Bourne' remain incomprehensible to me.
So, yes, I am allowed to be excited about Skyfall and I am. Sam Mendes is a great director and I look forward to seeing what edge he can bring. Purvis and Wade have proved that they can write these things and Thomas Newman can certainly write a score.
I will see it this week and then report back here.
Wish me luck. I deserve it.