20 March 2007

Bond: Overrated and Underrated

The fine website Alternative 007 has an article where reviewers pick two Bond movies and discuss why they believe they are respectively the most overrated/underrated films in the Bond series. I’m all for that. So I here present my two choices for overrated/underrated Bond:

Overrated: GoldenEye

Not only do I think that the 1995 film that introduced Pierce Brosnan to the world is overrated, I rank it as one of the worst 007 movies period. What shocks me is that so many people think it’s a winner! However, I’ve noticed that most of the folks who hold this opinion had scant experience with Bond before GoldenEye, and thus didn’t know much about Bond or hadn’t gotten to see Dalton’s dead-on portrayal of the character, the best version to grace the silver screen. With a six year gap between Bonds, film-goers were just pleased to see the agent back in theaters, and they seemed blissfully unaware how sloppy, dull, and strangely cheap-looking the film actually is.

I recall shopping in a bookstore at the time the film was playing in theaters and heard a patron say to the shop owner, “Have you seen GoldenEye yet? It’s the best Bond since Goldfinger.” I wanted to shout, “Are you insane?” I can only hope this man hadn't seen any Bond film since Goldfinger, since that’s the only excuse I would accept for this statement. Yet today there are still young fans who think it’s a good, nay, great Bond film. Personally, I can barely stand to watch it; even though I could argue that The Man with the Golden Gun is a far worse film, I would still rather watch it than GoldenEye.

Why do I dislike this movie so much? Brosnan is a blank Bond, and the film seems to give him near nothing to do. The camera shies away from him, as if it worries about given him any iconic moment. Brosnan would later prove himself capable, but this ranks as one of the poorest acting jobs in the lead role in the series. There’s little in the way of action, and only the tank chase is worthwhile. The handling of most scenes is artificial, making the movie feel more like an imitation of a 007 movie made by people who seem only vaguely aware of what a Bond film looks like. The conflict between Bond and the new female M must have seemed a natural for the time, but it’s deadweight on screen. Alan Cummings’s comedic relief is aggravating and gets far more screen time than he warrants (and he warrants none). The destruction of the radar station grinds the movie to a standstill early on. Derek Meddings, in his last film as model supervisor, creates plastic and unbelievable-looking effects, contributing to the shallow, under-budgeted sheen of the film. Finally, Eric Serra’s score is a miscalculation of cosmic proportions. Even the decent material in the movie gets wrecked by his synthesizer burps and sleep-inducing non-themes. It makes the score to Ladyhawke sound like Bernard Freakin’ Herrmann. The DVD release of the film should have featured a new score, since 99.9% of viewers—even those who like the film—hate the music, and the producers have indicated displeasure with it as well.

(And I’m again being a stickler here about the title. The movie is officially titled GoldenEye, not Goldeneye. The 'e' in 'eye' is capitalized. Of course, any way you spell it, it should be titled SuckMovie.)

Underrated: Thunderball

Plenty of folks like Thunderball, and with inflation adjusted it is the most financially successful of the Bond movies, and the twentieth most successful film ever. It achieved a worldwide mega-blockbuster status unheard of at the time, and paved the way for the massive action-event movies of the future. But the film has never received the respect it deserves, and that’s because it falls in the unfortunate position of following the “Great Trilogy,” the first three 007 films that remain the most highly regarded in the long-running series: Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and the most beloved Bond of all, Goldfinger. (I’ll go with the crowd on this one; Goldfinger deserves its reputation as the best of all Bonds.) Thunderball gets shorted in comparison to this triumvirate, blamed by some critics as the moment the series turned from character and mood and into outlandish adventure, spectacle, and merchandizing.

No, no, a hundred times, no! It was the next film, You Only Live Twice, that squelched the series into juvenile mindlessness with nothing to do with Ian Fleming. Thunderball wins on the level of exotic romance, elegance, excitement in a thrilling and believable race against nuclear terrorism, a genuine feel for Fleming’s special tropical world… and the best damn Bond girl of all. The Ladies of 007 have never come more scrumptious than Claudine Auger as Domino Derval. Connery gave his most raw and real performance as Bond in Dr. No, but he’s such a sleek, cool cat here—he owns his scenes, and he’s irresistibly smooth and charming, turning dangerous at just the right moment. Listen to the way he responds to Domino’s remark “what sharp little eyes you've got”: “Wait ‘til you get to my teeth.” Only Connery could get away with a quip like that. If an awesome Bond and the greatest Bond girl aren’t enough, there’s also the best femme fatale in Bond-dom: fiery Fiona Volpe. The scene where she launches Bond’s chauvinism in his face is a classic. And her death, accompanied with a pounding score, is a masterwork of tension. Another unforgettable scene: Blofeld electrocuting a failed subordinate at a board meeting. We’ve seen many underlings meet their demise at a demanding boss’ hands, but this is the quintessential one.

Ah, John Barry. The true voice of James Bond. He will never be replaced, and Thunderball is one of his exquisite musical masterpieces. Viewers often gripe about how the underwater sequences slow the picture down, but Barry’s score makes them into deep, rolling ballets. The match of music and imagery is among the best of the 1960s. Barry, Barry, please come back to Bond!