Dr. No: A Brief Appreciation

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With the James Bond movie franchise celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Dr. No, it behooves us to look back at that first (sort of) film adaptation of Ian Fleming’s super-spy in light of the twenty-odd films that follow.

If the Bond films are anything, they are predictable insofar as they hit certain marks, like a stage actor giving her hundred-and-thirty-fifth Wednesday matinee performance. Viewing a Bond film, one expects to see the opening pre-title shot when Bond turns and fires at the gun muzzle camera, the moment when Bond says, “Bond, James Bond,” the shaken-not-stirred martini, the super-villain’s overly elaborate lair, the love interest with the risqué name, the repartee with Moneypenny, and the end shot of Bond and whatever damsel survived drifting off together in space/at sea/what have you.

Little to the left . . .

In looking at Dr. No, it’s striking how many of these benchmark moments are established from the very first film. The film starts with a decidedly off-centered Bond whirling to shoot the camera, and after you suffer through a title sequence of flashing and blinking circles (reminiscent of a computer panel display), Maurice Binder brings out sixty-eight seconds of his soon-to-be-trademark dancing silhouettes.

Trademark Binder

The pre-title action vignette does not make an appearance in Dr. No, and indeed, the film does not introduce Sean Connery as Bond until roughly seven minutes in.

The introduction remains, however, the finest “Bond, James Bond” moment in the entire series. Never has a cigarette dangled more insouciantly from curiously dispassionate lips. And, of course, no changing of chemin de fer to poker as in Casino Royale.

Bond, James Bond

Most notable about Dr. No, though, in light of the films that follow, is not the combination of humor and seriousness (which frankly surprised me, as I remembered Dr. No as a mostly serious-toned film), but rather the signal lack of gadgets. Bond uses no gadget more exotic than a geiger counter. No suitcase gyrocopters or souped-up Aston Martins for this Bond.

Indeed, the film features very little of what a modern audience might call action—a perfunctory fight in Dr. No’s nuclear reactor lair (the first of many Ken Adam’s lair designs), a car chase, a few punch-ups, some dismal pistol shots at a flamethrowing tank, a murder in cold blood (by Bond), a mob scene when the lair explodes, and an icky spider. There’s no huge climactic action set-piece as one finds in later films. Dr. No simply gets thwacked and falls into the nuclear reactor at the end without so much as a grandiose retort.

Absent the gadgets and elaborate action sequences, though, Dr. No provides the cinematic framework for all the Bonds to follow, a framework that has endured for fifty years.

James Bond Will Return in . . . a New Cover

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The Penguin Blog, the “house” blog of Penguin Books UK, brings news of a cover re-vamp for the hardback Ian Fleming James Bond novels (“Covering Bond“):

The centenary of Fleming’s birth was clearly a good time to revisit the Bonds and cover them in a package that says, yes these are fun, but also makes it implicit that there’s no reason not to take them seriously. Most importantly, they should look like books worth owning.

I’m not entirely sold on the Bond novels as literature, but there’s no denying their importance to modern culture. And indeed, the books’ series design presents a refined style that helps capture the brutally sensualist spirit of the books (which never devolved into the campiness of the 1970’s and -80’s film iterations). These books would look good on any shelf, regardless of the books on either side.

Spines of new Penguin Bonds; image from The Penguin Blog at http://thepenguinblog.typepad.com/the_penguin_blog/2008/05/covering-bond.html

The Penguin Blog has a larger front cover illustrations of each of the novels as well, striking vignettes of femmes fatale in a single color palette. Bond is back, in style.

Plus, who knew Penguin Books had a blog? Another feed for the reader.

(via Daring Fireball)

License to Roll: James Bond Games for Children

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Let's Be James Bond!
I found this four page gem of an advertisement tucked in a recently acquired copy of James Bond 007: Assault! (Victory Games, 1985). The game itself is a modestly complex game reenacting the assault on the volcano fortress from You Only Live Twice, with rules for adapting the game (and the underlying tactical combat system) for use with VG’s James Bond 007 RPG.

These roll-to-move “Action Episode Games” are hardly challenging for anyone who received the flyer in the Assault! game—as the flyer notes, they’re “For Children 8 and Up.” While possibly the games could be used in conjunction with the RPG, the intended demographic seems to be the children of wargamers/RPGers.

The gamer parents I’ve spoken with seem united in the hope that their children to also take up gaming. Hang around gamers of any stripe long enough and you hear the lament about the “greying” of the hobby. This old VG advertisement taps into the desire to grow a new generation of gamers, with games that provide a stepping stone into more complex simulations, taking kids who were skipping around Candyland into the Funhouse Maze from The Man with the Golden Gun, dodging Scaramanga while pursuing the Solex Agitator.

The games do appear to have some heft to them—fifty cards in one, an ammunition record pad in another, and at least a modicum of strategy required. These games had to be fun right out of the box and be simple enough for the stated audience to play—a very different design requirement than the usual VG fare.

Of note, the very happy children in the very 1980’s living room are actually using a playtest version of the You Only Live Twice action episode game map with pieces from the James Bond 007 RPG Gamemaster Pack.

Interior pages and back cover of the flyer after the jump.
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