Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Spy (Franchise) That Thrilled Me

I was first introduced to 007 back in my youth and sort of backwards.  I had discovered and was hooked on the American TV version of James Bond first - The Man from UNCLE - and a friend said that I should give the inspiration for the TV show a look and see if I liked it as well.  I went out to do just that and found a local movie theater that was playing the first three Bond films as a triple feature. I had no idea what was about to hit me.  After the mini-marathon, I came out with one unshakeable truth for me:  UNCLE I liked but James Bond was The Man.

As I explained to my oldest son once when he asked me why I got excited about a new Bond picture, this was a new thing when it started out.  Spies in the movies before this were disreputable characters, kind of sleazy and no one you'd want to hang with for any amount of time.  Espionage was portrayed as dirty but necessary work done by dirty, untrustworthy people. 

James Bond changed all that.  British previews of Bond movies described him as a "gentleman spy" but he was more than that.  He was cool.  He got to do cool things with even cooler stuff.  When he took a woman to his bed, you knew it was for sex and it was pretty straight forward for its time about it too.  When a bad guy needed killing, he had a license to do it.

What I also explained to my Star Wars fan son was that these movies were our "ooh, aah" flicks just like Star Wars was for him.  The stories, the villians and the sets were all bigger than life and full of things we'd never seen before like a yacht that could load a nuclear missile from underneath it and an inactive volcano hollowed out to become a launching site for spaceships. The Bond women were drop dead gorgeous. Even the secret gadgets the movie writer created for the films weren't enough -- if there was something even cooler that actually existed (like one-man jet packs and helicopters, guns that fired small rockets instead of bullets, even the first water Jet Ski) it was in a Bond movie as well.

When the Bond bug hit me, I went down hard.  I set about to read everything I could about him, including successfully completing my goal of reading every single 007 book Ian Fleming had written.  When there wasn't a new movie, there was plenty of Bond-like TV shows around at the time to fill the gap like The Man from UNCLE, Mission: Impossible, I-Spy, The Avengers to even comic takes on the genre like Get Smart! 

A little sidebar about those Fleming books:  Even if you've seen every James Bond movie made you can still go back and read the original books.  The two things are completely different animals:  the stories are different, the plots are fact, most of the time the only thing the movies and books share are the titles of them and the names of the characters.
I even have a personal best to brag on when it comes to Bond -- I have seen EVERY James Bond movie in a movie theater. OK, yes I am that old.

James Bond changed over the years from being spy stories that introduced you to exotic storylines, villians and locales to evolve into more action-oriented flicks.  He's had different faces as well as the actors who played him came and went.  Now Bond has been rebooted almost entirely: gone are most of the gadgets and the familiar catch phrases, no more one liners as he disposes of the baddies, he's less suave and more in-your-face brutal and cold as a bath of ice cubes.  He's also more no-nonsense and you can pretty much drop the word "superspy" when describing him.  He makes mistakes, couldn't care less if his drink is shaken or stirred, gets into more trouble with his British Secret Service employer and when he hits or gets hit by something now his clothes shred, he gets dirty, he bleeds and he can be hurt.

One thing that hasn't changed is that it's all still guaranteed to be quite a thrill ride.

I can barely wait for the next one.....

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