Op-Ed Contributor November 12, 2005
Licensed to Rebrand
By DEBORAH LIPP
EVERY up brings a down. Every big brings a small. And as fans of James Bond say, every "Moonraker" brings a "For Your Eyes Only." Which is to say, Bond movies have a tendency to get bigger, more explosive, more outrageous, until someone on the inside says, "Hey, this isn't 007!" and the next movie is tougher, leaner.
After 1967's "You Only Live Twice," featuring a hollowed out volcano and the kidnapping of spacecraft, came 1969's "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," a taut espionage drama with a tragic ending. After the space station shoot-out of "Moonraker" (1979), the producers gave us the low-tech, vengeance-driven "For Your Eyes Only" (1981).
In 2002, we saw "Die Another Day," a film with an ice palace and an invisible car. Naturally, Bond producers are feeling the need to dial it down. To that end, they hired Daniel Craig, a lesser-known actor they hope will show the world an edgier 007.
In one sense, that's nothing new. The Bond movies have long shown a new attitude whenever there is a new star. Yet the decision to rebrand Bond has never been made lightly. When Sean Connery quit, Eon Productions pleaded with him to stay. But Mr. Connery was adamant, and in 1969 the first "new Bond," George Lazenby emerged. Mr. Lazenby, a very physical actor (he broke a stunt man's nose during his screen test), was given a very physical film, full of brawny, hyperactive fights.
Did the Bond filmmakers then decide a new star was the right way to reshape the franchise? Not on your life. They hired Sean Connery back for one more film at a hefty price (for 1971). But when Roger Moore took over, the tone of the series had to change. Mr. Connery was rough, feral and physical. Mr. Moore was tongue-in-cheek, gentlemanly and a bit of a lightweight.
The Bond creators responded to their new star's sense of humor, and the films acquired clown suits, slide whistles and animals doing double-takes. While some fans felt the comedy went too far, a generation grew up viewing 007 as a funny guy, and the producers clung to their successful star for dear life; so much so that Mr. Moore was still punching bad guys and romancing blondes at age 58.
Even Timothy Dalton, the most controversial choice for Bond before Mr. Craig, was not hired as part of a revamp when he came on board in the late 1980's. He was first offered the role in 1969 (he felt he was too young), and had been on the producers' short list ever since. The remaking came after filming started and Mr. Dalton brought a new attitude to the role; his performance was laconic and flecked with anger. So as "The Living Daylights" (1987) was in production, jokes were cut, and at least one genteel conversation over dinner was reconceptualized into terse words at gunpoint.
Until now, the Bond family has been loyal to its stars. The shocking thing about Daniel Craig is not that he is fair-haired (like Roger Moore), working class (like Sean Connery), or angry (like Timothy Dalton). The really shocking thing is that a new Bond actor was sought when the current star - Pierce Brosnan - was still a huge success. For the first time in Bond history, a popular star has been fired, and fans are reeling.
Daniel Craig was hired to be a smaller, more realistic James Bond. Could a grittier sort of Bond film have been made with Mr. Brosnan? Of course! The first half of "Die Another Day" (2002) was hard as nails. Could he have played a different kind of spy? Watch "The Tailor of Panama" and your doubts will be erased. Unlike some of his predecessors, who clung to the role too long, Pierce Brosnan has been forced out while still on top. But while we'll miss him, that could be good for Mr. Brosnan, and good for James Bond.
Deborah Lipp is the author of the forthcoming "Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."