I recently saw “Quantum of Solace,” the 22nd or the 24th entry (depending on whether you count 1984’s “Never Say Never Again” and the 1967 comedic version of “Casino Royale”) in filmdom’s longest-running series. I know; I’m late. But it did prompt a thought that I figured I would share.
First the background: “Quantum” wasn’t bad-but it wasn’t good. Like so many other James Bond movies in the past few decades it was little more than a travelogue, splicing together chases and shoot-outs in exotic locales with minimal connective tissue. Daniel Craig is a good, glowering Bond. You can really tell that the movie producers/writers/directors/etc. are struggling to breathe life into this creaky franchise by hiring him and by dropping the jokiness of previous outings (especially those by Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan), the increasingly inane appearances by “Q” the gadget man, the innuendo-filled quips with Bond’s secretary, Miss Moneypenney, the endless parade of Bond girls, the trademark soundtrack, and other features that had been de rigueur.
Yet for all that they haven’t produced a good movie, not even by the standards of the action genre. During the movie I kept trying to figure out why Bond was in a certain place and how the people he was interacting with fitted into the plot. Usually it was a losing effort. So here, for what it is worth, is my suggestion: Take Bond back in time to his original milieu-the 1950s and early 1960s. Rather than concoct ever more farfetched plots, simply go back to the original source material-the Ian Fleming novels. You might think they have all been filmed already but you would be only partially right. While their titles were indeed taken for the movies, only elements of their plots were used. For instance, the original “Moonraker” was about the attempt by a villain named Sir Hugo Drax to build Britain a missile-defense system; it had almost nothing in common with the 1979 sci-fi movie of the same name. So there is still plenty of unmined material in the original books.
Alternatively the producers could inject Bond into actual events of the 1950s/60s. Imagine, for instance, the British secret agent racing to save the world during the Cuban Missile Crisis or to smuggle a top Russian defector out of the Soviet Union or to overthrow Iran’s government. In that case they could still be faithful to the original character while employing entirely new material that doesn’t seem as contrived as recent scripts have been.
If the filmmakers go back to the original source material, they will discover a character that is perfect for Daniel Craig to play. The original Bond, after all, was a sometimes dark hero who did not crack wise endlessly, who did not jet off from location to location, and who did not bed an endless parade of beauties.
The beauty of this idea, I think, is that it would restore a sense of fun and verisimilitude that is missing in the franchise. The TV series “Mad Men” and the new movie “Revolutionary Road” show that ‘50s nostalgia is peaking now. Bond would be the perfect vehicle to take advantage of the moment. He seems out of place in our modern world but he would be perfectly at home back in the days of martinis, cigarettes, and pretty flight stewardesses.
Of course I have scant hope of being listened to. Given that “Quantam of Solace” has already taken in more than half a billion dollars in worldwide box office the producers have every incentive to keep doing what they’re doing. Unless, that is, they care about making good movies, not simply making money.