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Why do we still love James Bond?

University of Leicester Bond expert comments on the hype surrounding forthcoming film Spectre

Professor Chapman said: “So here we are again: another new James Bond movie is about to hit our cinema screens and the publicity machinery is in overdrive. There’s always a lot of interest in a new Bond film, of course, but it seems to be particularly hyped-up for Spectre, which is the twenty-fourth in the continuous film series based on Ian Fleming’s British superspy and produced by Eon Productions for MGM/Sony.

“So why all the interest? On one level it shows, once again, just how central to our culture and society James Bond has become. In the 1950s Bond was just the hero of a series of snobbery-with-violence adventure thrillers by an Old Etonian with a taste for expensive consumer goods and a somewhat outré line in female names – Tiffany Case, Honeychile Rider, Kissy Suzuki, Mary Goodnight, and, of course, Pussy Galore. It was through the enormous success of the films that Bond became a global phenomenon and the lynchpin of the most successful franchise in cinema history. And today Bond is part of ‘Brand Britain’ – a major economic and cultural export.

“Bond’s legacy is certainly part of the films’ continuing appeal. Whatever we may think of them as films, there’s no question that the Bond series represents a remarkable production achievement. When we consider that cinema is 120 years old (the first public exhibition of motion pictures was in 1895) and Bond has been around for 53 of them (the first Bond movie was Dr No in 1962), then the Bond films have spanned nearly half the entire history of cinema.

“Moreover the Bond films are a distinctively British achievement. Yes, they’re backed by a Hollywood studio. But most of the films have been made in Britain, with predominantly British crews and prominent British cast members. For Spectre, Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw as Q and Rory Kinnear as the Chief of Staff Tanner all return, alongside Andrew (‘Moriarty’) Scott as a new character called Denbigh who might (or might not) turn out to be a villain. And of course Bond himself is a Very British Hero, even when impersonated by an Australian (George Lazenby) or an Irishman (Pierce Brosnan).

“Spectre will be Daniel Craig’s fourth mission as Agent 007, following Casino Royale (2006),Quantum of Solace (2008) and Skyfall (2012). Craig’s portrayal of Bond has been a big hit with both Bond fans and the general public. We’ve seen a tougher, harder-edged Bond than in the past, but also a Bond who is more introspective and perhaps more psychologically realistic than the common-or-garden action movie hero. Skyfall touched upon aspects of Bond’s childhood, and judging by the trailer, there’s more of this in Spectre.

“In fact there’s a lot riding on this film – more so than usual. For one thing it follows Skyfall, the most successful Bond film at the box office with worldwide grosses of over $1,100 million. The enormous success of Skyfall might have been due to a fairly unique combination of circumstances – it marked the fiftieth anniversary of the James Bond films, and it also coincided with the patriotic mood in Britain following the success of the London Olympics in the summer.

“And for another thing Spectre is a bigger and more expensive production than Skyfall. If we believe some of the reports from the ‘Sonyleaks’ hacking, the cost could be up to $350 million. It will need to take at least twice that amount at the box office – i.e. more than either Casino Royale(2006) or Quantum of Solace (2008) - just to break even. The film industry will be keeping a sharp eye on the opening box-office figures. No wonder the publicity effort is at such a high fever pitch of interest."

James Chapman is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Leicester and the author of Licence To Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films (I. B. Tauris)

 

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