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By Laurence Washington
"Die Another Day"
|Bond, James Bond, is dead.
Thats what his competitors Austin Powers and XXX would have moviegoers believe. But its their parodies and others that keep Bond going.
Austin Powers, the ultimate 007 parody, made millions on the premise that James Bond is well past his prime. And XXX, the wise-crackin bad-ass Bond, laughed all the way from the box office to the bank last summer after ripping-off Bonds shtick.
Bond Is Back
Enter the real thing on Nov. 22, "Die Another Day" the 20th James Bond film adventure marking the 40th anniversary of the series.
"XXX may have translated the 007 formula for the MTV generation, but it definitely lost something in the translation," explains James Rumley, editor of Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang! the internet’s premier fan-based James Bond Web site.
Rumley says XXX can certainly be viewed as a new action hero, but not a new James Bond.
"Parts were enjoyable," he adds, "but I don't think the character is going to see his 40th birthday."
Robert Denerstein, Rocky Mountain News film critic and movie aficionado agrees.
"I dont think it has the potential for endurance as the Bond movies," Denerstein says. "Can we look forward to the moment with any enthusiasm when an aging Vin Diesel passes the mantel on?"
Accept No Substitutes
"Die Another Days" director Lee Tamahori theorizes that Sean Connery used to be James Bond. Then he died or moved on, so they gave his name and code number to someone else. Tamahori told Premiere magazine his theory is an interesting way of viewing the Bond genre.
However, Tamahori concedes that Pierce Brosnan, 49, is James Bond to a new generation of moviegoers. Its a role Brosnan relishes and fought hard to obtain 16 years ago when he first became James Bond for 15 minutes after the cancellation of his popular detective show "Remington Steele."
However, NBC knew a cash cow when they saw one. So they revived "Remington Steele" and held Brosnan to the remainder of his contract. The network was willing, however, to shoot the series around Brosnans Bond schedule.
Then-Bond-producer Cubby Broccoli said, "Remington Steele will not be James Bond."
Suddenly Brosnan became, "The Man Who Would Be Bond," until he was offered the role again in "GoldenEye" (95). Brosnan was quickly hailed as the best Bond since the first Bond.
Back To The Basics
"Die Another Day" is Brosnans fourth mission, and (like all the others Bonds) promises to be the biggest Bond to date. The film opens with the North Koreans interrogating 007, then tossing him in the hoosegow for three years.
Of course this sort of thing never happened to other fellows.
Thats because Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli are moving away from the Roger Moore "Looney Tunes" Bonds, and are going back to the classic formula of Bond thrillers "Dr. No" (62), "From Russia With Love"(63) and "Goldfinger" (64).
Audiences and critics loved the earlier Bonds, because they were new movies in terms of action, sexuality, lavish sets and high-energy. Critics referred to them as "Playboy magazine with a gun."
Despite the changes, Wilson and Broccoli still have to adhere to certain Bondian parameters fans expect:
o Vodka martinis shaken, not stirred.
o Salvile Row custom tailored suits.
o Exotic cars outfitted with the latest gadgets and weaponry.
o A droll repartee of sexual double entendres for every occasion.
o Beautiful women the average guy cant possibly hope to have.
"Recycling a formula isnt necessarily a bad thing," Denerstein says. "Theres some satisfaction of going to the movie that actually does meet your expectations. But if it comes off and starts to feel like recycled clichés, rather instead of satisfying movie, then I think you have another situation."
In "Die Another Day," the British Secret Service abandons Bond and revokes his license to kill. After his release from the North Koreans, Bond travels to Cuba where he meets CIA agent Jinx, Oscar-winner Halle Berry, the first black woman to have equal billing with 007.
Halle Berry as Jinx
Getting back to his misogynist roots, Bond quickly beds Jinx, but keeping with modern themes, he discovers Jinx is his female counterpart. So the pair goes after the man who set Bond up in the beginning of the film, billionaire megalomaniac Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) and his sidekick with a jewel-encrusted face, Zao (Rick Yune).
The filmmakers say the film pays homage to previous Bond films with familiar puns, sight gags a nod and wink to previous Bonds as Brosnan puts it. Even the music video starring Madonna (who has a cameo in the film and sings the title song) is racy and makes strong references to previous Bond films.
Although Bond has returned to the fundamentals, critics are not as enthusiastic about Bonds 20th outing as his filmmakers and fans.
"Personally, if I never saw another James Bond film, I wouldnt be heartbroken," Denerstein says. "But on the other hand
is there still and audience for it? There seems to be."
Denerstein underlines the fact that many pop-culture formula movies such as James Bond, "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" fall into the "critic proof" category.
"I think it worth reviewing," he says, "so that theres some kind of on going commentary on what the movie is doing."
Denerstein adds youd have to be pretty naive as a film critic to think that you would have any influence over certain kinds of films and what happens at the box office.
"And personally, I wouldnt want to have any such influence," Denerstein says. "But that doesnt mean its not worth commenting on."
Rumley says if a Bond film were to suddenly achieve widespread critical acclaim, it would attract more people.
"Reviewers should really judge Bond films on how well they execute the classic formula that's been successful for all these years," he says. "People haven't been packing theaters for 40 years for nothing."
Professor of film studies at the University of Colorado at Denver and National Public Radio film critic Howie Movshovitz admits hes bored with the series. But in commercial terms, he says Bond is still viable.
"Maybe there's something (slightly) mythic about it," Movshovitz says. "The invincible spy. And boys (of all ages) seem to like Bond's absurd cool."
Movshovitz adds that commercially he feels Bond has successfully entered the 21st century.
Denerstein says the films vary and some of them are OK, while others, audiences need to take on their own terms.
"They can be fun," Denerstein says. "But theres the question of how do you take the cold war guy and turn him into a kind of hero for the present moment? Theres certainly problems with it, but at the same time, the franchise seems to have life in it."
Rumley says hell definitely miss the series when and if they quit making them. The three-year wait between "The World Is Not Enough" (99) and "Die Another Day" was long enough.
"I'm sure that Bond will be around for many more years," he says.
THE SPYS WHO LOVED ME
The Bond: Film critics and 007-hardliners agree that "great Scot" Sir Sean Connery is James Bond even though Connery never enjoyed playing the role which brought him international fame. Connerys onscreen persona made him and the Bond character larger than life. Current Bond, Pierce Brosnan says, "Sean is the man."
The Whats His Face Bond: Former car salesman and fashion model, Aussy George Lazenbys only sin was having the unfortunate luck of being the first actor to play James Bond after icon Sean Connery vacated his shoulder holster. Feeling pressure from the press, fans and battling an inflated ego, Lazenby pulled the biggest bone-headed stunt in film history, he quit playing James Bond after one picture which is arguably the best one of the series.
The Sainted Bond: Hardliners found televisions The Saint, Roger Moores Bond too lite compared to Connerys edgier 007. Unlike Connery, Moore enjoyed playing James Bond despite harsh criticism from the press and fans about his flippantness. Moores films were the highest grossing and most entertaining of Bond films thus far. He seldom receives credit for reviving the sagging series at the box office during the 70s and 80s.
The Thespian Bond: Although hes undoubtly a better actor out of all the Bonds, including Oscar-winner Sean Connery, hardliners found that Shakespearean trained Timothy Daltons brooding Bond was licensed to bore. But ah, thats the rub. Daltons interpretation was exactly the way Bond creator Ian Flemming originally penned his hero. But it was not to be.
The Remington Bond: Like Roger Moore, televisions Remington Steeles Pierce Brosnan enjoys playing James Bond, having opted to do at least five films three more than he had originally contracted. Bronsan seems to be a comfortable fit according to fans, combining the wit of Roger Moore and the ruthlessness of Sean Connery.
Our raking of the top and bottom five Bond films available on home video:
1. Goldfinger (1964): The essential Bond. Period. "Goldfinger" set the mood, pace and standards for the series.
2. From Russia With Love (1963): Also essential because the plot closely follows Flemings novel. FRWL can stand alone in the spy genre.
3. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): It was the perfect vehicle for Roger Moores brand of Bond lite. TSWLMs action-packed pre-credit sequence still hasnt been topped.
4. For Your Eyes Only (1981): Moores usually jovial Bond gets seriously roughed up thus giving his character more of an edge and realism.
5. On Her Majestys Seceret Service (1969): Should have been ranked number one or two, save for the absence of Sean Connery. This is the one film that would have given Connery a chance to act a grievance he constantly aired during his tenure.
Live and Let Die (1973): Roger Moores debut as James Bond highlights a ridiculous plot about voodoo, drugs and a redneck sheriff. Black characers looked like buffoons. The title song by Paul McCartney and Wings is better than the movie.
The Man With The Golden Gun (1974): A near miss. Ian Flemmings cousin Christopher Lee upstaging Roger Moore is more interesting than the lame plot involving solving the energy crisis.
A View To A Kill (1985): Roger Moore was getting long in the tooth and painful to watch in action sequences. "A View To A Kills" implausible plot about an ex-KGB agent trying to sink Silcon Valley into the ocean. The title song by Duran Duran is better than the movie.
Diamonds Are Forever (1972): Sean Connery seemed old, tried, bored and anxious to collect his paycheck. Diamonds was actually the first "Looney Tune" Bond, foreshadowing the coming of Roger Moore.
Licence To Kill (1989): Timothy Daltons second outing as James Bond is forgettable as its boring plot about drug smuggling seems more from "Law and Order" than from the pages of Ian Flemming.