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The James Bond franchise

On October 5th 1962, a then unknown Sean Connery played the lead role in the UK premier of Dr.No, the first cinematic adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel, which not only changed the face of action movies forever, but gave birth to the greatest franchise in film history, that lives on to this day.

“Bond. James Bond.”

Sean Connery became the popular face of Bond films, synonymous with the smooth-talking, sophisticated, sexually magnetic killer. On the back of Dr.No, Connery starred in five further Bond films including: From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever, after which he parted ways, leaving an air of inevitable decline surrounding the series.

However, the original triumph of Dr.No and the resultant evolution of the James Bond film phenomenon owes almost entirely to producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, who, after obtaining rights to Bond in the late ‘50’s, dedicated several decades to the development of the now world renowned 007 empire, showcasing a uniquely unwavering faith in their creation.

As post-Connery Bond has flourished and subsequent actors in David Niven, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig have taken over the role, each adding their personal touch, it has become very apparent that what Broccoli and Saltzman created as the core of the franchise was not a film star, but rather a perfect character.

The core aspects of Bond’s personality have remained constant. The familiar nonchalance of capturing the desire of a beautiful female, whilst simultaneously saving the world from impending doom is what creates the ‘guys want to be him, girls want to be with him’ aura time after time. Style of delivery and physical appearance however have differed from one actor to the next and it is this flexibility, often so hard to find in Hollywood, that has been the key to the survival of Broccoli and Saltzman’s Bond.

True, not all Bond films have been critical and financial successes, but the demand for the character and therefore the longevity of James Bond has provided pop culture with one of it’s most significant archives.

The ability of the films to always move with and reflect the times has maintained relevance to society of each era. In fact, when reviewing the last five decades of Bond films, the social commentary, especially in view of the villains cast in each script, in relation to world affairs of that time, becomes outstandingly obvious.

Dr.No (1962) and From Russia With Love (1963) were draped heavily in the political conflicts of the post World War II, early ‘60’s, but in contrast, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – George Lazenby’s solitary performance as Bond- released in the hippy movement era, adopted a definite psychedelic feel. Two years after Star Wars had captured the imagination of cinemagoers of all ages, Moonraker (1979) saw Roger Moore’s Bond involved in his own sci-fi thriller. Cold War politics were at the heart of Timothy Dalton’s The Living Daylights (1987) and in more recent times, the highly publicised advancement of technology fuelled the action-packed, gadget frenzies in the ‘90’s productions of Pierce Brosnan Bond films such as Goldeneye (1995).

Indeed, Goldeneye signaled the ultimate end of an era as it was to be Broccoli’s last release before his death. His last co-produced film with Saltzman had come several years previous in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974).

But, these gentlemen had a vision. They knew one day their time would be up, but in reflection of their gritty, determined, devotion to the James Bond legacy, they ensured, through Broccoli’s daughter Barbara Broccoli and her half brother Michael G.Wilson, that the Bond race and Fleming’s creation would continue to flourish.

Recent production has moved towards a more realist approach, removing itself from the overly fantastical drama of, for example, Die Another Day (2002), which sees Bond battle an evil North Korean, who is attempting to destroy the world with a space cannon from his ice castle.

In fact, the recent success of Skyfall (2012) was largely credited to the film’s insistence of returning to roots James Bond, emphasising simplicity over technological overkill and overly ambitious plots. Bond attempts to investigate an attack on MI6, carried out by a former employee intent on killing M as revenge for her betrayal of him. The plot was believable, easy to identify with and the location of the film, based in the London Underground and the Scottish highlands, the birthplace of Bond, provided a real genuine backdrop. The lack of Hollywood-esque explosions and the insistence that Bond use only his trustworthy Walther PPK/S pistol to achieve his task added a real classic Bond element.

In essence, it was a creation that was respectful of tradition yet current, opulent rather than outlandish, dramatic in action but realistic and complex in character but with humorous undertones throughout. Permeated by nostalgia this was an exceptional celebration of a beloved cultural icon.

The premier at the Royal Albert Hall in London, released in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the franchise, was attended by Charles, Prince of Wales and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. So well received was the latest Bond masterpiece that it became the highest-grossing and first Bond film to gross over $1 billion worldwide, the highest-grossing film in the UK, the highest-grossing film worldwide for Sony Pictures and MGM, the second highest-grossing film of 2012 and the seventh-highest-grossing film of all time. It went on to claim two Oscars, two BAFTA’s and one SAGA award.

With the two previous releases, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace receiving mixed reviews, some had suggested James Bond was doomed to die out, but in true Bond fashion, just when it appeared to be down and out the James Bond empire has risen again.

As the longest-running, most successful film series in the film industry, it has run over half a century and it’s greatest strength, like any business, has been the ability to adapt to the changing needs of the consumer. This was highlighted by Skyfall, which streamlined Bond, presenting a depth of character previously unseen, pulling viewers a step closer to the hero of action cinema and truly ensuring the continuation of the premier film franchise. A franchise which may have been shaken, but has certainly not been stirred.

Dominic Wallace