Tom Jolliffe on the time of year that for some fans means Bond…
It’s that time of year. We’re well into that final ten or so weeks of the year. For many fans, but particularly British gents, there’s a franchise that is deeply ingrained in our movie-watching lives from around mid October until the year end. It just means Bond. Under better circumstances this month would have brought with it, the triumphant and long overdue release of Daniel Craig’s final outing as 007. As it is, the film has been delayed, cinema chains have shut up shop (temporarily I hope) and we all wait with baited breath for a better 2021, and a slew of impending releases that will (hopefully) finally see the light.
In recent decades, a new Bond tends to pitch camp at the cinemas around October/November. The anticipation rises slowly throughout the year when a Bond outing is on the cards. That winter period is dominated by perhaps horror films at Halloween, waiting for a Christmas release, so JB hitting a late October/November spot tends to be the biggy in the middle. My first big screen experience with Bond, though by this time I was well acquainted on TV with 007, was GoldenEye. As a young teen, the older films were looking kind of quaint in comparison to a stream of films that were beginning to appear at the time in the action genre. Bond needed upgrading. I never lost my appreciation for Sean Connery, Roger Moore et al, and particularly enjoyed the gadgets and glamour, and the outrageous stunts, but the franchise stopped picking up younger audiences to an extent. A fresh faced Pierce Brosnan reignited the franchise in a way Timothy Dalton never quite could (to no fault of his own, as in many ways his portrayal was a forbearer for much of what Craig subsequently brought to his portrayal). The somewhat lengthy gap between T Dalt’s departure and Brosnan’s arrival also helped build some anticipation, whilst director Martin Campbell was fresher and a little more inspired than John Glen (who had overseen a string of films that started with Moore’s last outings, and included Dalton’s twosome). Everything needed a fresh approach.
Brosnan’s impact lessoned with each film. The less said about his final outing, the better. I’m able to enjoy just about every Bond film (and I’ve got time for every Bond). The two I’ve had the most difficulty to contend with have been Die Another Day and Spectre. Even some of the other worst in the franchise had a certain charm. Moonraker is a daft, and misguided attempt at making JB appeal to the same demographics as Star Wars. It’s just gonzo enough to be entertaining though, and Moore, even when he was too long in the tooth to play the part, still had enough rakish charm to carry things through.
Craig’s arrival with Casino Royale, similarly, really enlivened a franchise I’d began losing interest in as a big screen outing. It completely eradicated the bitter taste of D.A.D. Initially contentious, the casting managed to bring a unique approach to Bond, and Martin Campbell, returning to once again breath life into the franchise, opted for a gritty take on the character. Craig’s offerings have been mixed though. Spectre felt similarly fresh, providing a decent spin on the material, whilst adhering to a few more old traits, but Quantum of Solace was flawed and stylistically too focused on aping Jason Bourne (much of the action in Quantum was incomprehensible). Spectre was a mess. A collage of scenes barely tied together, and too reliant on closing off plot points from Casino (as Quantum also was) rather than being its own film. Additionally, Craig had covered every caveat he probably can with his take, and seemed uninspired. A disappointing Christoph Waltz (it’s so rare we say that) also didn’t work in anything like the way fans would have hoped (particularly compared to the brilliance of Mads Mikkelsen or Javier Bardem).
So cinematically, my Bond affair has had piques and troughs. Moving on from Oct/November though, comes a cornerstone period in Bond season for us Brits. The next major time (not that we can’t enjoy JB all year round of course) is Christmas. For as long as I can remember, the run up to Christmas has bought with it the regular appearance of Bond on the TV listings. Sometimes, deep into December it feels like I can’t turn on the TV in the late afternoon, and not stumble upon a Bond film somewhere. As we clock up more films with passing years, those chronological repeats spread over more hours/days too. I occasionally put on a film and see that it’s already into Moore’s canon, and it’s somewhat disappointing. Not because I don’t enjoy Roger’s work (he hasn’t done a film I don’t enjoy watching, albeit he’s made some that are below par), but because I’ve missed the beginning. For me, I need to be ready at Dr No.
I’m also particularly gutted if I miss From Russia With Love. For one, I think it’s the best Bond film, but it’s also one of the best spy films going. The espionage side of it plays out so well, without a major predilection for gadgets. It’s also got one of the few actors who ever matched Connery in scenes together for pure presence, and that was Robert Shaw. He’s the ultimate henchman. I was able to catch it on the big screen on a rerelease too, and it holds up very well. The train fight sequence is also fantastic. The build up is purposeful and beautifully played out once Shaw stalks Bond to the train. Once his hand is revealed, the fight is brutal and visceral.
What of Christmas Day itself? You’ve eaten too much. You’ve done all the other stuff and you want to flick the telly on. Forget her Maj’s speech, there’s surely bound to be a Bond film on. It’s inevitable and if one thing historically ends up playing, it tends to be Bond (other stalwarts which come close are Home Alone or The Snowman, the latter seems to have been homed on Christmas Eve in recent years though). Whether it’s watching Connery at the apex of his prime years, the best of a good bunch, or enjoying the more comical eye brow raising of Moore, or appreciating George Lazenby (who in retrospect is better in the role than he got credit for back in the day), Bond is now a tradition. How wide that impact has spread outside of Britain, who knows (let me know on our social channels @flickeringmyth) but this period passing Halloween, all the way to the year’s end, just wouldn’t be the same without Bond, whether it’s a new adventure, or a revisit to one of his prior jaunts.
SEE ALSO: Is it time to retire to James Bond?
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020/21, including The Witches Of Amityville (starring Emmy winner, Kira Reed Lorsch), War of The Worlds: The Attack and the star studded action films, Renegades (Lee Majors, Billy Murray) and Crackdown. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.