The Evolution of the James Bond Films

A position paper as presented by student Mitchel Feffer. [When you have to go…”Take Mr. Bond to school!”–editors]

The Evolution of the James Bond Films
The James Bond films have evolved to mirror the times they were released in, while simultaneously retaining the famous traditional elements of the franchise…

Although all of the James Bond films have fundamentals such as exciting plots, beautiful women, original and interesting villains, exotic places, amazing gadgets and cars and notable gestures, each film has modified these specific essentials to correspond with the time-period that each specific film was released in. In essence, The James Bond films have followed the motto of Tomorrow Never Dies villain, Elliott Carver, who said, “Give the people what they want” (Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997). The James Bond films change when they need to but keep the traditional elements audiences want and expect.

In all of the James Bond films, there is a constant struggle between good and evil. James Bond successfully foils the plans of evil villains to save the world countless times in order to keep the world safe. Oddly enough, in almost all of the James Bond films, the movies close with a specific scene in the water (Rubin 448). However, the plots of each of the James Bond films have adapted to reflect the specific political and technological changes throughout the world. In addition, the James Bond films have also incorporated different trends occurring in Hollywood into their films in order to make the James Bond films seem more current.

When the James Bond films began to debut, starting with Dr. No in 1962, the Cold War was an important topic to many people in Europe and America. Therefore, many early James Bond films dealt with the conflict between the Soviet Union and the West, in which Western Europe and the United States were referred to as the West. Therefore, From Russia with Love, the second installment of the James Bond films series, which debuted in 1963, dealt with the mistrust that each side, the Soviet Union and the West, had for each other. Specially, an independent crime agency named SPECTRE, Special Executor for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, tried to steal priceless Soviet technology and blame the theft on the British, thereby causing another World War (From Russia With Love, 1963).

A similar incident occurred in You Only Live Twice, where Japan payed SPECTRE a large amount of money to hijack American spaceships and blame it on the Soviets, in order to incite a war, thereby leaving the two countries powerless and making Japan the new superpower of the World (You Only Live Twice, 1967).

The James Bond films also incorporated specific Cold War events into the movies, not just the tension that was exhibited by both sides. For example, in Thunderball, released in 1965, American cities were threatened by nuclear weapons, similar to the real events during the Cuban Missile Crisis (Thunderball, 1965). The James Bond films also respected the period of Détente in the 1970’s by having James Bond work with a Soviet secret agent in The Spy Who Loved Me (The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977). When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990’s, many critics believed that it would be the end of the James Bond films. However, contrary to M’s, James Bond’s superior, beliefs that “[James Bond] is a relic of the Cold War” James Bond returned to the silver screen in 1995 in Goldeneye (Goldeneye 1995).

Specifically, an advertisement for Goldeneye, read, “It’s a New World. With New Enemies and New Threats. But you can still rely on one man. 007” (Black 159). In Goldeneye, James Bond works with a Russian computer programmer to stop a stolen space weapon being fired on London (Goldeneye 1995). In addition, Russian Defense Minister, Dimitri Mishkin, is presented as good and honest person, thus illustrating the new perceptions of the Russians by Europeans and Americans. The cooperation of James Bond and Natalya Simonova, the Russian computer programmer, proved that the Cold War was over and that both sides were willing to work together for a common good.

There were also other political aspects incorporated into the movies that were independent of the Cold War. For example, in 1966 a harmless chemical weapon was released into the New York City subway system; the results concluded that the chemical weapon moved extremely quickly through the City of New York, and the city was not prepared for a chemical weapon attack (Chapman 138). In the next James Bond film, the villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, planned to released chemical weapons throughout the world if his ransom demands were not met (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969).

During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, the producers, Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, hired an almost exclusive all-black cast to star in Live and Let Die, which debuted in 1973 (Live and Let Die, 1973). In addition, the James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun touched upon the oil crisis occurring in the United States when the villain, Scaramanga, tried to steal a solar cell capable of producing enough energy to support the world, and then sell the energy produced by the solar cell at exorbitant prices (The Man with the Golden Gun, 1974). In The Living Daylights, which was released in 1987, James Bond helped the people of Afghanistan repel the Soviets from invading their homeland, the same time that the Soviets were actually leaving Afghanistan (The Living Daylights, 1987). Licence to Kill, which came out in 1989 dealt with the increasing problem of illegal drugs and supremacy of the Drug Lords (Licence to Kill, 1989). Lastly, after Princess Diana died in a car crash while trying to flee the paparazzi, Tomorrow Never Dies was released illustrating the dangers of the media and how far the media will go to obtain a story.

Besides political adaptations of the James Bond films, the James Bond films incorporated new technological advances into the films. Goldfinger, which came out in 1964 displayed the powerfulness of the laser, which was invented two years beforehand (Benson, 177). Moonraker, which came out in 1979, presented the development of the Space Shuttle, which launched soon after the movie was released. In Goldeneye, the Goldeneye space weapon was modeled after the Hubble Space Telescope, which launched in 1990 (Rubin 479).

The James Bond movies also modeled current trends in Hollywood. During The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, James Bond fights a henchman named Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977). The fact that the biggest movie of the era, Jaws, had the same name was no coincidence. In addition, Moonraker featured the space shuttle in an attempt to cash in on the success of Star Wars (Moonraker, 1979). Octopussy mirrors an Indiana Jones movie, where James Bond travels around the world to recover stolen jewels and diffuse a bomb (Octopussy, 1983). Lastly, the recent James Bond films such as Licence to Kill and Tomorrow Never Dies have taken on the same style of Lethal Weapon and various Stallone, Arnold and Bruce Willis movies, which are all “two hour shooting movies” (Benson, 156).

One of the most essential elements of the James Bond film series is the Bond girls. Although all of the Bond girls are beautiful and aid James Bond in completing his mission with names that may have sexual references, the social status of the Bond girls has changed over time. The Bond girls started with an inferior social status; however, over time the Bond girls have been elevated to an equal if not a superior position to Bond. For example, many of the Bond girls during the sixties had an inferior social status. The first Bond girl, who appeared in Dr. No, was Honey Ryder who was an uneducated shell collector (Dr. No, 1962). Other Bond girls during the sixties were: Jill Masterson, a personal Assistant, Tatiana Romanova, a pawn in a double cross scheme orchestrated by SPECTRE, Domino Derval, a Mistress, and Helga Brandt, a personal assistant (Benson, 156).

During the seventies, the Bond girls changed from an inferior to an equal status as the years increased resulting in greater opportunities. For instance, in the beginning of the seventies prominent Bond girls were: Tiffany Case, a pawn in scheme for World Domination, Solitaire, a fortuneteller, and Andrea Anders, a mistress to Scaramanga (Benson, 156). However, as the decade continued, the Bond girls exhibited a higher intelligence level and a greater amount of training compared to the Bond girls that preceded them. For example, Bond works with Anya Amasova, a top Russian secret agent in The Spy Who Loved Me, and Dr. Holly Goodhead, a CIA Agent in Moonraker (Benson, 156). Since then, most of the Bond girls James Bond has worked with have been equal to him. Significant examples are: Natalya Simonova, a Russian computer programmer, Xenia Onatopp, a former Soviet fighter pilot, and Dr. Christmas Jones, a Nuclear Fusionist (Pfeiffer 171-181). Another noteworthy fact is that Judi Dench takes over as M, James Bond’s superior in Goldeneye, proving women can do any task that a man can do (Pfeiffer 171).

In addition, the character of James Bond has transformed. When the first movie premiered in 1962, James Bond’s first scene is composed of he playing baccarat in a private club, Les Ambassadeurs, and later he discusses the merits of Dom Perignon with his enemy, Dr. No (Dr. No, 1962). It can therefore be concluded that James Bond started as a supporter of upper-class values. For example, during Goldfinger (1964), Bond is attacked from behind when he was walking to the refrigerator to chill his bottle of Dom Perignon (Goldfinger, 1964). In addition, it can sensed that Bond does not make the missions personal, he does what he has to do to fulfill his order, but not for any patriotic reasons. However, as the times changed, so did the character of Bond. Soon after the first couple of movies were released where Bond symbolizes upper-class values, Bond quickly changes to be a major cultural icon representative of “Swinging London.” During On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was released in 1969, Bond stays at an isolated clinic in the Swiss Alps where he has many “one night stands” with many of the patients (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969). In addition, the opening scene in You Only Live Twice (1967), begins with Bond in bed with a woman (You Only Live Twice, 1967). However, the introduction of the 1990’s, changes Bond from a “swinging” and carefree Bond to a more realistic Bond.

Although James Bond still continues to have sex, his relationships are portrayed as more meaningful and long lasting (Goldeneye, 1995). Also, during Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Bond finally denounces smoking and calls it a “filthy habit” (Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997). Therefore, Bond is a man of the people. It is also clear that James Bond cares more about his work and loyalty to his allies during this time period. In Licence to Kill (1989), James Bond disobeys all orders, in order to seek revenge and bring Franz Sanchez, a drug lord, to justice after almost killing his American counterpart and long time friend Felix Leiter (Licence to Kill, 1989). In Goldeneye (1995), James Bond is forced to kill his former friend and partner, Alec Trevelyan, 006, after Trevelyan betrays him, the secret service and his country (Goldeneye, 1995). In fact, M orders Bond “not to make it personal [the murder of 006]” even though they both know that he will. In addition, when Bond is about to kill Trevelyan, Trevelyan asks Bond if he is killing for England, however, Bond replies, “No, for me” (Goldeneye, 1995). Additionally, Trevelyan’s quote, “I did think of asking you [Bond] to join my little scheme, but somehow I knew, 007’s loyalty was always to the mission, never to his friend” accurately portrays Bond’s loyalty to his mission and his country (Goldeneye, 1995).

The villains of the James Bond movies have changed as well as James Bond. In the early James Bond films, the villains were not a match for James Bond. The villains were usually wealthy individuals in charge of large corporations, who used their power and high positions to do illegal activities, usually to make money. A prime example is Hugo Drax, the villain in Moonraker (1979), who used his seven-foot tall henchman, Jaws, to fight Bond (Moonraker, 1979). However, once Jaws stopped obeying Drax, James bond was unstopped from destroying Drax and his diabolical mission. Another example is Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a villain in multiple films. Blofeld appeared in several films because he would never directly face Bond. Instead, he would run away and live to fight another day (Benson 156). The villains themselves were not physically fit or intellectually superior, but had a circle of men for protection, the only resistance from Bond completing his mission. However, as time went on, the number of action movies competing with the James Bond films increased (Rubin 237). Therefore, it was imperative to make the villains stronger physically and mentally in order to create a realistic challenge for James Bond. For instance, Alec Trevelyan, the villain in Goldeneye (1995), proved to be a worthy opponent for James Bond since he was a former “00” agent (Goldeneye 1995). Renard, the villain in The World is Not Enough had a bullet in his head, making him free of all pain, thus “pushing harder than any normal man” (The World is not Enough, 1999).

Music has been an integral part of the success of the James Bond films series. The films are famous for having popular contemporary record their the title songs. Specifically, Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones sung title sang in the sixties, while Paul McCartney performed in the early seventies, Duran Duran and a ha played in the eighties, and U2, Sheryl Crow and Garbage were in the nineties (Benson, 156). In addition, Madonna is scheduled to be singing the title song for the next James Bond film, Die Another Day, opening in November of 2002 (Official MGM Site, www.jamesbond.com).

Although the James Bond theme is blended in all of the James Bond music, the theme has updated itself to reflect the current trends in the music industry. Particularly, after staying basically intact in the sixties, the James Bond theme incorporated a faster tempo to be more reflective of the Disco era during the seventies (Pfeiffer 121). When the James Bond films entered the 1980’s and 1990’s the theme was reconstructed several times with a myriad of synthesizer instruments and noises (Pfeiffer 188).

Although no James Bond film would be complete without gadgets, the role and importance of the gadgets used by James Bond has significantly changed throughout the years. During the first few films, the gadgets played an insignificant part that did not affect the fate of James Bond or the outcome of his mission. However, beginning with You Only Live Twice and the introduction of Little Nellie, a portable helicopter, the role of the gadgets in the films increased forever (You Only Live Twice, 1967). Even though the importance of the gadgets increased, many of the gadgets still lacked practically and realism. For instance, in Diamonds are Forever, Bond uses a moon-buggy to escape from his enemies (Diamonds are Forever, 1971). In Octopussy, Bond again escapes from his enemies, however this time using an Astro-Star jet plane conveniently hidden in the back of a trailer (Octopussy, 1983). However, beginning with Goldeneye, “A Bond for the 90’s”, the role of gadgets changed dramatically (Black 162). In order for the James Bond films to differentiate themselves from mindless action movies of the time, the gadgets in the James Bond became much more realistic. For example, in Goldeneye, Bond uses his belt to act as a zip line to avoid capture (Goldeneye, 1995). Following, in Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond uses his cellular phone to break into a secure room, containing highly sensitive material (Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997). Although these gadgets may not be as exciting as a moon buggy or mini jet plane, the gadgets convey a greater sense of realism to the character of James Bond and the James Bond films.

Another interesting aspect of the James Bond film franchise is how the marketing and merchandise of the films has changed in order to allow James Bond to compete with other very popular action super heroes. Since the James Bond films were new and unique when they were first released, the early James Bond films were classified as a “James Bond” or “007” flick. For instance, the trailer for Thunderball, the fourth installment in the James Bond films series contained the words “James Bond”, “Sean Connery” and “007” over fifteen times in the first minute (Thunderball, 1965). However, as times progressed the James Bond films were marketed for their plot and action sequences. In contrast, the trailer of Tomorrow Never Dies, which debuted in 1997, emphasized the conflict between England and China (Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997). In addition, beginning with the release of Goldeneye in1995, the James Bond films became a medium where large corporations were able to advertise their products at a very high price.

For instance Tomorrow Never Dies was nicknamed “License to sell”, a parody of James Bond’s license to kill (Pfeiffer 188). In that film alone, promotional tie-ins included BMW, Ericsson phones, Bollinger champagne, Omega watches, Brioni clothing, Avis rental cars, Golden Wonder potato crisps and other manufacturers (Pfeiffer 189).
As a concession, there are some people who claim that James Bond has not evolved at all. Instead, these people claim that James Bond is still basically a secret agent from England, who drinks and has sex, while saving the world from disaster. Sadly, these people fail to recognize the complexities of the stories and the characters in each specific story. Therefore, their simple argument is unjustified after an examination of all the works.

The James Bond films have been one of the most successful film franchises in history. However, this success was due to the perfect balance between traditional elements and the ability for the films to adapt and reflect the current time period. If either factor had been neglected totally or in varying amounts, the James Bond film franchise may not be what it is today!

**Bibliography

  • Benson, Raymond The James Bond Bedside Companion New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1984
  • Black, Jeremy The Politics of James Bond London: Praeger Publishers, 2001
  • Chapman, James Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of The James Bond Films New York: Columbia University Press, 2000
  • Diamonds Are Forever. Dir. Guy Hamilton. Perf. Sean Connery, Jill St John, and Charles Gray. United Artists, 1971
  • Die Another Day. 25 March 2002 <http://www.bond20.com>
  • Dr. No. Dir. Terence Young. Perf. Sean Connery, Ursula Andress and Joseph Wiseman. United Artists, 1962.
  • For Your Eyes Only. Dir. John Glen. Perf. Roger Moore, Carole Bouquet and Julian Glover. United Artists, 1981.
  • From Russia with Love. Dir. Terence Young. Perf. Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi and Robert Shaw. United Artists, 1963.
  • Goldeneye. Dir. Martin Campbell. Perf. Pierce Bronsan, Izabella Scorupco and Sean Bean. MGM/United Artists, 1995.
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  • Ian Fleming Foundation. 25 March 2002 <http://www.ianfleming.org>
  • Licence to Kill. Dir. John Glen. Perf. Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, and Robert Davi. United Artists, 1989.
  • Live and Let Die, Dir. Guy Hamilton, Perf. Roger Moore, Jane Seymour and Yaphet Kotto. United Artists, 1973.
  • Living Daylights, The. Dir. John Glen. Perf. Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo and Jeroen Krabbe. United Artists, 1987.
  • Man with the Golden Gun, The. Dir. Guy Hamilton. Perf. Roger More, Britt Ekland and Christopher Lee. United Artists, 1974
  • Moonraker. Dir. Lewis Gilbert. Perf. Roger Moore, Lois Chiles and Michael Lonsdale. United Artists, 1977.
  • Pfeiffer, Lee The Essential Bond New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999
  • Octopussy. Dir. John Glen. Perf. Roger Moore, Maud Adams, and Louis Jordan. United Artists, 1983.
  • Official James Bond site. MGM/United Artists <http://www.jamesbond.com>
  • On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Dir. Peter Hunt. Perf. George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, and Telly Savalas. United Artists, 1969.
  • Rubin, Steven J. The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia Chicago: Contemporary Books,1995
  • Spy Who Loved Me, The. Dir. Lewis Gilbert. Perf. Roger Moore, Barbara Bach and Curt Jurgens. United Artists, 1977.
  • Thunderball, Dir. Terence Young, Perf. Sean Connery, Claudine Auger and Adolfo Celi. United Artists, 1965.
  • Tomorrow Never Dies. Dir. Roger Spottiswoode. Perf. Pierce Bronsan, Michelle Yeoh and Jonathan Pryce. MGM/United Artists, 1997.
  • View to a Kill, A. Dir. John Glen. Perf. Roger Moore, Tanya Roberts and Christopher Walken. United Artists, 1985.
  • World is not Enough, The. Dir. Michael Apted. Perf. Pierce Bronsan, Denise Richards, Robert Carlyle. MGM/United Artists, 1999.
  • You Only Live Twice, Dir. Lewis Gilbert. Perf. Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayshi, and Donald Pleasence. United Artists, 1967.

Questions? Comments? Contact budding author Mitchel Feffer.

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