Sunday, February 7, 2016

“Come in, Mr Bond, we’ve been expecting you. Have you met Mr Fleming? No, clearly not.”

One of the reason that the James Bond movie series has lasted as long as it has is the very solid foundations on which it was built: Ian Fleming’s novels and short stories. Along with some excellent film-making, the plots and atmosphere of the books – that were a phenomenal success in their own right – are what established James Bond at the pinnacle of the action-hero secret-agent genre.

Warning: this post contains spoilers for “Spectre”.

The early Bond films were, in the main, true to the books, so Sean Connery has the distinction of having the longest run of actual adaptations to his name. Roger Moore had a couple, but most of his films just used titles from the books or short stories. Timothy Dalton had to make do with the pre-credits sequence of “The Living Daylights”: the intro to the film is taken from one of Fleming’s short stories, the rest of the film is made-up. All of Piers Brosnan’s outings are from teams of screen-writers.

The relaunch of the films with “Casino Royale” was so successful partly because it was the first time for decades that Ian Fleming’s pen was involved. Whilst the film is significantly extended and rewritten from the book, much remains. Bond’s callous pronouncement on Vesper that “the bitch is dead” is jarring in the film, but then that’s the closing line of the book.

The two films since “Casino Royale” have struggled to reach the same heights, because they are entirely distant from Fleming’s writings.

Unfortunately, “Spectre” commits the cardinal sin of throwing out the original source entirely. The film reintroduces the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Bond’s nemesis who runs through several of the novels. But in the new film, it turns out that, in fact, Blofeld is Bond’s foster brother and turned to evil out of resentment.

Now give me a break: Ian Fleming never intended that Bond and Blofeld are related. These characters occupy Fleming’s fictional world, and it’s his rules. This sort of messing around is like having Voldemort pronounce “No, Harry: I am your father”. Nicely dramatic, but J K Rowling would have a fit.

The message to script-writers is this: respect your sources. The best thing that could happen to the Bond films would be to go back to what Ian Fleming wrote in those stories that have yet to make it to the big screen. Let’s have “Moonraker” done properly, please!

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