Tuesday, January 02, 2007

# Posted 2:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CASINO ROYALE: THE BEST BOND EVER? It's hard to come back after a long vacation. I just don't have the will power yet to write a long post about the nature of international legitimacy. So let's focus instead on a friendly issue that can take us on a vacation from partisan politics.

It's been six weeks now since the debut of Casino Royale, the 21st film starring James Bond. I have seen more than half of those films, but my recollection of most is vague at best. I watched them over decades, with no intention of evaluating their cinematic merits.

Conventional wisdom holds that Sean Connery is the best Bond ever and that his early films are the best of the genre. To test that proposition, my girlfriend and I watched three of those films over the past week: Dr. No (1962), You Only Live Twice (1967), and From Russia With Love (1963).

The principal virtue of Dr. No is that it gave birth to a legend. It had no cinematic vision to draw on, only a set of novels. Yet the James Bond of Dr. No is instantly and fully recognizable as the James Bond that has inspired four decades of popular fascination. As my girlfriend pointed out, it's amazing how Sean Connery plays the role with such comfort and non-chalance even though he had no precedent to build on.

Dr. No also deserves considerable praise for its elegant simplicity. It is an espionage film, not a special-effects extravaganza. There are no gadgets for Bond to rely on. Instead, 007 trades on his intellect and expertise.

On the other side of the ledger, Dr. No has the unfortunate distinction of introducing one of the worst traditions of the Bond films, the secret lair of the super-villain. Tell me, why do evil geniuses build underground palaces and employ small armies of uniformed henchmen (who can't stop a single spy)?

How does an up-and-coming evil genius find enough scientists to design and operate his futuristic machines? Does he put a want ad in Scientific American? Does he visit MIT or CalTech and tell their students that Hollywood exaggerates the risks of working for a reclusive madman who wants to take over the world?

With the benefit of forty years of hindsight, it is easy to recognize the secret lair of Dr. No as a low-budget sound-stage contrivance. Did it look more convincing to the average movie-goer in 1962? I have no idea. Regardless, it is probably more important to point out how few movies are still being watched more than four decades after their initial debut. And this longevity is no accident. Dr. No gave birth to a Hollywood legend...but I still think Casino Royale was better.

To be continued...
(8) opinions -- Add your opinion

I still prefer Connery as James Bond, but I think Casino Royale was excellent as was Daniel Craig and I particularly liked the fact that it was essentially low-tech.
Hmm the most amusing Sean Connery Bond film would have to be 'The Spy Who Loved Me', which apparently decided to take the title literally and have every single woman who appeared in the film have sex with Bond at least once. It was like a running joke or something.
Erm, actually it wasn't 'The Spy who Loved me, since that wasn't a Sean Connery one. Erm, but it was amusing. Oh bugger.

- Factory
So how did someone from Oxford learn about the secret evil-genius recruiting visits to Pasadena, CA? Who wouldn't work for great pay and cool uniforms!
How did Dr. No (or any other super-villian) recruit so many scientists for nefarious means?

Putting aside the tobacco company model (profitability and moral relativism), a possible answer is provided in the final Sean Connery Bond film, "Diamonds Are Forever." ("Never Say Never Again" doesn't count . . . it never happened). In that film, under the pretext that he'll blackmail the superpowers into abandoning their nuclear arsenals and bring about world peace, Blofeld deceives a scientist into building a satellite made of diamonds capable of destroying cities through the refraction of sunlight (or something like that).

Of course, Blofeld (and SPECTRE) are just in it for the profit and/or sense of mischevious adventure that comes with pursuing global domination. (The scientist doesn't realize this until the climactic "blow-up-the-bad-guy's-lair/Save-the-planet/End-up-afloat-with-a-girl-in-a-bikini" sequence).

Is it really such a stretch to imagine some pro-green scientist somewhere being susceptible to a similar deception? (After all, the Unabomber considered himself an eco-terrorist).
One scientist? Sure. Ten scientists? Maybe. Enough to design and populate all of those secret lairs? Hmmmm....
How does an up-and-coming evil genius find enough scientists to design and operate his futuristic machines?

Ask Hank Scorpio!
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