Reviews

Bond 50

5

Celebrate James Bond's 50th anniversay, with the ultimate Blu-ray boxset

With Skyfall looming ever larger on the horizon, the arrival of this all-Blu collection would already appear perfectly timed.

Coming off the back of Bond’s priceless cameo in the Olympic Opening Ceremony, however, it has the feel of a victory parade, albeit one with no space (alas) for the superb sight of Daniel Craig joining Her Maj in a double reprise of The Spy Who Loved Me’s iconic parachute leap.

Not to worry, though: if it’s super sights you’re after you’ll find as many as you can handle in this 23-disc box set. (The last shiny spinner here boasts two new featurettes, one – ‘The World Of Bond’ – comprising a montage of classic moments and the other – ‘Being Bond’ – focusing on the six men who have played him.)

That’s because, right from Dr. No with its heavenly image of Ursula Andress emerging from the surf, the world’s most enduring franchise has specialised in smacking gobs.

Whether via stunts (GoldenEye’s bungee jump, The Man With The Golden Gun’s car loop), sets (Goldfinger’s Fort Knox, SPECTRE’s hide-out in You Only Live Twice) or exotic locales, it’s always had flamboyant spectacle to spare.

Yet there’s something else on offer, too: a first-class, access-all-areas passport letting you vicariously savour a lifestyle so much livelier than your own (unless you too happen to be an impeccably tailored, globe-hopping super-spy).

Though recent installments in the series have taken Bond to tougher and more lived-in locations in keeping with the Craig era’s down and dirty aesthetic, the abiding appeal of the films has largely resided in just that sort of wistful wish-fulfillment, one that has been generally (if not exclusively) rooted in masculine ideals of fashion, speed and sexual prowess.

When Sean Connery enters his suite in From Russia With Love and finds a naked Daniela Bianchi between his sheets, he is realising a billion male fantasies based on submissive supplication.

Ditto each time he gets behind the wheel of a flash motor, sports a tuxedo or sips a Vodka Martini – and maybe too when he insouciantly kills, shrugging off all moral reservations with one callous quip. (“I think he got the point,” spat at a Thunderball goon he’s skewered with a harpoon, epitomises what in any other genre would be homicidal psychopathy.)

You could argue that the franchise’s more effective moments (Diana Rigg’s sudden, brutal death in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Timothy Dalton’s cold fury at losing a colleague in The Living Daylights) come when what Judi Dench’s M calls 007’s “cavalier attitude towards life” slams headlong into remorseless mortality.

Bond dodges his own demise but he can’t always stop other characters – “sacrificial lambs” – from experiencing theirs.

And while such cullings are really only convenient spurs to motivate further action, they do point to  something crucial in Ian Fleming’s original novels: an undercurrent of bleak and bitter despondency arising from an almost existential despair.

The Roger Moore years, of course, had no truck with such nonsense. The Bond of the ’70s was a playboy dandy, a suave, safari-suited bon viveur able to neuter any threat with a single raised eyebrow.

The villains (Stromberg, Hugo Drax) were preposterous, the henchmen (Tee Hee, Nick Nack, metal-mouth Jaws) cartoonish.

There was so little at stake that For Your Eyes Only could mimic Maggie Thatcher (via comedian Faith Brown) and Rog could quite literally be a clown in Octopussy.

Sure, it was done in fun.

But it left the movies in a creative cul-de-sac, a no man’s land between self-spoofing comedy and spy-fi fantasy. Dalton’s duo (The Living Daylights, Licence To Kill) tried to steady the ship, but it took a six-year hiatus and Pierce Brosnan to correct its course – not so much with a wholesale reinvention (the route Licence To Kill unwisely took) as a canny splicing of Bond’s retro appeal with modern attitudes, millennial anxieties and next-gen tech.

Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough saw Brosnan grow in stature and assurance and the franchise regain its footing.

But then came Die Another Day, a kitsch, camp farrago that left the series out of options again.

Jason Bourne showed the way forward: gritty, credible action in a real-world milieu, where punches leave a bruise and it costs to take a life.

Enter Craig, a burly blond with a pugilist’s mug who showed us the one thing we’d never seen before: Bond the unfinished article, a work in progress, a rough diamond even rougher around the edges.

Casino Royale took a punt by resetting the clock, rebooting the hard drive and showing James in the raw – quite literally in that punishing scene where Mads Mikkelsen subjects his manhood to a pummelling.

And while Quantum Of Solace failed to deliver on that potential, its failings were not so pronounced as to leave the canon in any hole Skyfall can’t prise it out of.

Loyal fans who have dutifully shelled out to buy each successive iteration of Bondian home viewing may gripe at this latest doorstopper, especially if they’ve already raided their piggy banks to purchase the 13 titles previously released on hi-def.

But chances are they’ll purchase this stylish package anyway. With 007, the normal rules don’t apply.

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