James Bond formula still potent at 23rd film in 50 years

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1D

James Bond of the 1960s, with his pithy sexist comments and battles against cartoonish Cold War villains, now looks like a relic.

A virile relic, with a nice sense of humor and fine fashion sense, but a relic nonetheless.

Yet what is essentially the same character celebrates 50 years on screen this year. The 2012 Bond isn't quite the smirking pleasure-seeker of the 1960s, but he still protects the crown against slithery villains, favors women who pair evening gowns with Berettas and generates endless buzz because there is a film coming out about him.

"Skyfall," which opens Thursday, is the third Bond film starring Daniel Craig. It's also the 23rd Bond film altogether, and therefore the 23rd Bond film around which there has been great anticipation.

Half a century in, and every appearance by 007 is still treated as a big event. Wait four years between films – as "Skyfall" producers have this time – and thoughts of Spider-Man fade into memory.

Released 10 days ago in international markets, "Skyfall" already has surpassed $280 million in box office revenues before its U.S. release date.

The Bond franchise has withstood the rise of feminism, the end of the Cold War, "Jaws," "Star Wars," Timothy Dalton, the indie film revolution and the current juggernaut of screen comic book heroes who prefer spandex body suits to tuxedos.

It has weathered these developments by changing with the times. Just not too much.

The Bond of "Skyfall" is "a classic hero, but in a current world," the film's producer Barbara Broccoli said by phone from London. The daughter of original Bond producer Cubby Broccoli, she has produced the past several Bond films with her half-brother, Michael Wilson.

"We constantly find ways to challenge him," Barbara Broccoli said, referring to Bond. "We will ask ourselves, 'What is the world afraid of right now?' "

The answer this time was cyber- terrorism, M.O. of Silva, the delicious blond baddie played by Javier Bardem in "Skyfall."

The currency attached to Bond villainry helps push James Bassil, editor-in-chief of the men's lifestyle website AskMen.com, to see every Bond film at a movie theater. Bassil said he is drawn by the comfort of the familiar, and excited each time by what twists might be applied to the familiar.

"You know there will be outrageous car scenes, one or two Bond girls and some super villain who has a motive that reflects what is going on in the world," Bassil said. "Most franchises that formulaic would not fly for 50 years, but for whatever reasons with Bond, we have formed an addiction to this recurring formula."

The addiction comes with its own triggers.

"There is something classic about the look and the music," said Molly Goodson, editor of PopSugar, an entertainment and celebrity website aimed at women ages 18 to 40. The blast of brass followed by the rhythmic boom-di-di-di-boom-boom of the classic Bond theme are revived in "Skyfall."

"The moment you hear it, you know you are in for something sexy," Goodson said. "Car chases and sexy women and an adrenaline rush."

Bassil, 35, favors Roger Moore as Bond and Goodson, 30, likes Pierce Brosnan. Those are the Bonds each grew up with. Bassil recalled sitting on the floor at home as a kid, surrounded by family members, watching older Bond films.

"I can't think of any other character that your father and grandfather also love," he said.

"People look at the Bond films as a family friend," Broccoli said. "Or they might have gone on their first date to a Bond film."

Any gap among Bond fans historically has been tied to gender rather than age. A recent AskMen.com poll asked readers to rank the most influential men of 2012. Bond, a fictional character, came in at No. 1, with Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt and former President Bill Clinton rounding out the swagger-heavy top 3. (President Obama ranked No. 11 and Mitt Romney No. 24.)

The choice of Bond probably was related to the hubbub over the Bond movies' 50th anniversary and release of a new Blu-ray set, Bassil said.

Also, dudes love Bond.

"One of the appeals of the Bond character is he is so proficient in everything," Bassil said. "He is charming and super suave, but also brutal" when he needs to dispense with a bad guy. "I get a ridiculous pleasure out of watching him."

Bassil said he thinks women become fans of the franchise less out of admiration than association.

"I imagine that women look at the way men admire James Bond and kind of snicker," Bassil said with a laugh. "But I think women get a kick out of watching the movies. My wife, and lots of my female friends, grew up watching James Bond movies with their fathers and mothers."

Broccoli pointed out that female characters also have evolved over the years.

"Skyfall," for instance, centers on Bond's relationship to M (Judi Dench), his powerful boss at British spy agency MI6.

"I don't consider it sexist," Goodson said of the Bond franchise. "There is something cool about being that Bond girl. Not all the girls are weak women. There are female villains. … You don't feel like you are stuck in some antiquated 'Mad Men' era."

The Bond franchise also has experienced an uptick in female appreciation since the buff and brooding Craig took over the lead role in 2006's "Casino Royale," Broccoli said.

Goodson said the thoughts of many women turn to Craig emerging from the surf in "his very small bathing suit" in "Casino Royale." She said women also think of Craig – less conventionally handsome than predecessor Pierce Brosnan or original Bond Sean Connery – as their discovery.

"He has a unique sexiness," she said. "He is a little mysterious."

Craig's acting has deepened the audience's understanding of Bond, Broccoli said.

"He is a much more realistic Bond – and very conflicted," she said. "Daniel is able to portray very well all the complicated emotions, even though he doesn't speak a lot."

Craig has spoken extensively to reporters in advance of the "Skyfall" opening.

Bassil said he read an interview with Craig in which the actor said he did not want to be like Bond. Craig pointed out that Bond has no home, and all of his girlfriends get killed.

Such characterizations dim the most-admired-man idea a bit.

Bond "kind of fulfills this masculine ideal, but I am not sure that many guys would want to swap places with him for an extended period of time," Bassil said. "You might want to be him for a week."

Or the 2 1/2 hours it takes to watch him on screen every few years.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Carla Meyer



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