124. James Bond

This episode is all about the history of James Bond. You can also learn how to speak like Sean Connery or Roger Moore :)

Small Donate ButtonRight-click here to download this episode.

NEWS UPDATE: I won the Macmillan Dictionary Award for Best Blog 2012! Thank you very much for voting for me! I’m delighted to have won the award. I will record a podcast soon in order to thank you in person.

Also, you may have experienced some problems downloading the podcast recently. This was due to a technical difficulty by podomatic.com, my podcast host. Thankfully they have now fixed the problem and you should be able to download properly. In fact, since the problem was fixed I had over 5,000 downloads just yesterday!

ANYWAY! This episode is all about James Bond. You can read the blog post transcript below. Also, you can see the video of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon from the trip, below.
50 Years of James Bond

This year the James Bond franchise celebrates its 50 year anniversary with the release of the new Bond movie Skyfall, which is receiving some very positive reviews. Some people are calling it the best Bond movie ever, and it is likely to become the highest earning film of the franchise so far. In this blog post I’m going to give a brief overview of the history of the franchise and then tell you what I thought about Skyfall.

You can find definitions of the words in bold at the bottom of this post.

50 Years of James Bond
First, some background info on the Bond films, released by Eon Productions. The series kicked off in 1962 with Sean Connery as 007 in Dr No. This was followed by four other films with Connery as Bond. These first five films really established all the hallmarks of the James Bond franchise. A cool and handsome Bond, sudden violence, stunning international locations, beautiful women, casual sexism, ironic jokes (usually made by Bond just after killing someone), gadgets, side characters such as M, Q and Miss Moneypenny, insane bad-guys who want to destroy the world and other trademarks such as Bond’s Aston Martin sports car and his Walther PPK handgun. Sean Connery is still widely considered to be the best Bond. It was his combination of good looks, self-confidence and aggression that really defined how we see Bond today.

In 1969 after Connery quit, the role of Bond went to a largely unknown actor called George Lazenby in the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Lazenby didn’t enjoy playing Bond, complaining that the producers hadn’t treated him with enough respect as an actor and that the character was a “brute”. The film is widely regarded as a flop, with Lazenby an unconvincing Bond. Personally I like the film. It’s full of amazing action sequences and has quite an emotional ending, unlike most of the other Bond films. Lazenby’s Bond is more vulnerable and human than Connery’s, which makes him a more realistic and three-dimensional character.

Connery was persuaded to return as Bond for Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. In contrast to the previous film, this one was more humourous in tone. In fact, during the 70s the films became less serious, prone to moments of silliness and generally quite formulaic.

Then in 1973 Roger Moore took over as James Bond, and the silliness continued. Moore’s acting style was more suited to comedy than action and many of Moore’s films contain moments of camp humour which many critics believe lessen the seriousness and dramatic impact of the franchise. Still, Roger Moore is an entertaining James Bond, even if he was less aggressive and dynamic than Connery and Lazenby.

Roger Moore made seven Bond films, and the last one A View to a Kill was considered to be a financial failure. Moore was too old to continue as Bond. The producers decided it was time to find a new actor for the role. Initially the job was offered to Pierce Brosnan, but then withdrawn because of his contractual commitments to a popular TV show called Remington Steele, but Brosnan would return later. It was Timothy Dalton who got the role in the end, playing Bond in two films from 1987 to 1989.

Dalton was a classically-trained actor and decided he would play Bond as a dark, serious character. In a similar way to George Lazenby he interpreted Bond as a more vulnerable character who questions his orders from his boss, M. Critics praised his two performances as bringing more weight to the films, but they also criticised the lack of humour and playfulness which had become an essential part of the franchise.

In 1995, after 6 years without Bond, the film GoldenEye was released with Pierce Brosnan in the lead role. It was a big box-office success and was generally considered to be a modernisation of the series. Pierce Brosnan was praised for his performance as Bond. He seemed to combine aspects of both Sean Connery and Roger Moore. He had the looks, the charisma and the aggressive brutality of Connery but also the suave sophistication and humourous touch of Roger Moore. He also managed to include some of the depth and psychological realism of the Dalton performances. The film also included Judi Dench in the role of M (Bond’s boss). This was considered to be a positive move because it addressed some of the sexism of the previous films in the franchise. In one scene, M refers to Bond as a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur”. Also, Judy Dench is just a great actress and she brought a new level of depth to the character of M. She remains a key character in the more recent Bond films, especially Skyfall.

Brosnan made five Bond films in total. They were all commercial successes but critical reactions were mixed. Goldeneye breathed new life into the Bond franchise, but the subsequent Brosnan Bond films quickly became formulaic and unoriginal, focusing on action rather than character and story.

Then in 2006 we were introduced to a new Bond, played by Daniel Craig. Casino Royale rebooted the Bond franchise, starting the whole storyline again from scratch. We see Bond doing his first assassination mission, earning his licence to kill and struggling with the psychological and physical pressure of being 007. The film was a massive commercial success, and was considered by critics to be a genuinely fresh version of Bond. Daniel Craig was considered the best Bond since Connery, perhaps even better than him. Casting Craig was a bold move. He doesn’t really look like the classic image of Bond. He is blond and doesn’t have the same classically handsome features as Connery, Moore or Brosnan. However, he has intensity, a sense of vulnerability and a very striking physical presence. Casino Royale showed us more than ever that James Bond is a human being. He gets hurt both physically and emotionally. We care about him and feel his pain.

Daniel Craig’s second James Bond film, Quantam of Solace is a bit of a confusing mess. The storyline is very hard to follow. The action sequences are bewildering. There is very little character development and the whole film is littered with product placement. The film damaged a lot of the achievements of Casino Royale, so with the third film, Skyfall, the producers were keen to fix those problems and put the Bond franchise back on track.

The result is that the latest Bond film is a big success. It’s already being described as possibly the best Bond film we’ve ever had, and it’s likely to make more money than any other Bond movie in the past. Most of the boxes are ticked. The film has a complex, serious storyline, yet it is also a lot of fun. There are plenty of exciting action. The bad-guy (played by Javier Bardem) is ridiculous, insane and funny. The story is involving. The character development is detailed and interesting. The film also pays homage to previous Bond films, and even reveals some new details about Bond’s history. It’s not perfect of course. While watching it I couldn’t help thinking “this is completely ridiculous!” but then I realised that it was a James Bond film and it’s supposed to be ridiculous, and then I started to enjoy it a lot more. Certainly, in Skyfall, Bond has become something of a superhero. Although he gets hurt and is clearly getting a bit old for the job, he still manages to do things which are completely impossible in the real world, but that’s all right because this is James Bond!

Daniel Craig is still contracted to appear in two more Bond films, and to be honest after this one I can’t imagine where they will go next with the franchise. Isn’t Daniel Craig getting a bit old to play Bond now? How will they move the franchise forward when Bond has already been deconstructed in these modern films? How can they do anything new? Will they just remake Dr No or Goldfinger? Will the Bond films just go back to being silly and misogynistic? I’m already looking forward to seeing the next film, just in order to find out what they do next.

If you’ve seen Skyfall, leave a comment below to tell us what you thought. Otherwise, why don’t you tell us what you think of James Bond in general? Feel free to share your thoughts below and thanks for reading this (rather long) blog post. Bye for now!


Vocabulary in this episode

  • franchise (n) – a series of films which have become a range of trademarked products including books, merchandise, toys etc. Other examples of a franchise are the Harry Potter films, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings.
  • kicked off (v) – started
  • hallmarks (n) – very typical features of something which allow you to recognise it. E.g. the hallmarks of a James Bond movie are the locations, the bond-girls, the violence, the gadgets etc.
  • gadgets (n) – little items of technology which are useful for specific things. E.g. an iPod, or a pen which shoots arrows.
  • trade marks (n) – similar to ‘hallmarks’ (above), these are symbols or features which represent something, or which allow you to recognise something easily. E.g. the 007 logo we see on James Bond posters is a kind of trade mark for the James Bond franchise.
  • brute (n) – a violent person who behaves like an animal
  • flop (n) – a commercial failure
  • unconvincing (adj) – unrealistic, looks fake
  • vulnerable (adj) – able to be easily physically or emotionally hurt
  • three dimensional (adj) – 3D, with depth, not just flat
  • tone (n) – feeling, atmosphere
  • prone to (v) – likely to suffer from
  • formulaic (adj) – consisting of fixed or repeated ideas
  • camp (adj) – deliberately exaggerated and theatrical
  • contractual commitments (n) – obligations that have to be met because of a contract
  • a classically-trained actor (n) – an actor who trained in a theature using classical techniques
  • interpreted (v) – decided what the intended meaning of something is
  • praise (v) – the opposite of ‘criticise’, to say good things about something
  • lack of (n) – not enough of something
  • suave (adj) – charming, pleasant and attractive, possibly insincere, slightly negative
  • addressed (v) – dealt with
  • misogynist (n) – a man who hates women, or who believes that women are inferior to men
  • mixed (adj) – inconsistent; some good some bad
  • breathed new life into (v phrase) – refreshed, revitalised
  • rebooted (v) – restarted
  • (from) scratch (n) – (from) the beginning, the starting point
  • a bold move (n) – a courageous decision/action
  • striking (adj) – very unusual or easily noticed and therefore attracting a lot of attention
  • mess (n) – something very untidy and disorganised
  • bewildering (adj) – confusing
  • littered (adj) – made untidy because of many things covering it. E.g. “The floor was littered with dirty clothes.” “The movie is littered with product placement.”
  • product placement (n) – a kind of advertising which involves putting products into a movie so the audience will see them.
  • (put something back) on track (phrase) – to return something to the correct way, to make something go back in the right direction again. E.g. “After a few problems, the project is now back on track.”
  • pays homage to (verb phrase) – to make reference to something as a way of showing respect to it. E.g. when a film makes a reference to a previous film.
  • contracted (adj) – obliged by contract
  • deconstructed (v) – to analyse something by taking it apart and looking at the elements that it is made of.