By LEE GOLDBERG
James Bond’s greatest adversary isn’t some vicious megalomaniac bent on world domination. It’s time.
Few things age as badly as movie heroes. They are products of an era, and when that time is gone, they become dated, or worse, caricatures of what they once were. The cutting edge never stays sharp, and what was unique becomes ordinary.
Agent 007 is different. To a degree.
James Bond was born during the chilliest days of the Cold War—and has weathered two of the most turbulent decades in American social and political history, countless imitators, three different stars, and the likes of Luke Skywalker, Rambo and Indiana Jones.
For 25 years, the producers of the 007 series have been performing a delicate balancing act, keeping James Bond both new and unchanged at the same time. For the most part, they’ve succeeded. But they have occasionally fallen—by being too trendy too late, as with their embarrassing foray into blacksploitation (Live And Let Die), and by relying too much on formulaic elements (A View To A Kill). So far, those haven’t been fatal mistakes. But the balancing act doesn’t get any easier, only more perilous.
“You can’t disappoint the audience, but you can’t give them what they expect,” explains Michael Wilson, co-writer (with Richard Maibaum) and producer of Licence To Kill.
Wilson concedes that he, and long time 007 producer Albert R. Broccoli (STARLOG #99), are “running scared,” attempting to maintain the formula while also “being slightly ahead of our time.” But how long can James Bond remain a cultural icon, and a money-making machine, and not become an anachronism? Wilson admits they “worry about it all the time.”
For one thing, they must keep a close eye on the international scene. In the post-Cold War thaw of Watergate, feminism, glasnost and AIDS, they must pick their villains— and their stereotypes—carefully.
“We have to be aware of the world situation and what people will accept as a ‘loosely-based on reality’ sort of plot,” Wilson says. The Red Threat just won’t wash today, not with Gorby-mania in the headlines. “I guess people are more hopeful today than ever before and don’t want someone undermining that hope.” Today, the average moviegoer is less afraid of what Mikhail Gorbachev will do, than they are of the powerful drug lords working out of South America. And that, with a touch of Miami Vice for good measure, is where Licence To Kill finds its menace and its perspective going into the ’90s.
This time, Bond’s adversary is Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), a powerful drug lord in a fictional South American country. “Actually, drug lords are very political. There are countries where legitimate institutions of democracy are undermined by the huge wealth and power of drug lords.”
Americans don’t have to look much further than General Noriega for the reality upon which this particular Bond opus, Timothy Dalton’s second as 007, is based.
The changing face of Bond, from Sean Connery to George Lazenby to Roger Moore to Dalton, has actually been a mixed blessing. With each actor comes the opportunity to tell the Bond stories in a different way, freshening the series while keeping it the same until, as with Moore, the freshness becomes stale.
That fact is born out financially as well as artistically. The Living Daylights outperformed the last Roger Moore film, A View To A Kill, both domestically and internationally. Exit polls showed diehard Bond fans were “extremely satisfied” with Dalton, and that women, especially young women, found Dalton more appealing than Moore.
And The Living Daylights scored high marks with critics, who applauded the more serious tone and the realism that Dalton brought to the role, a fact not lost on the producers.
007's New Faces
“Timothy gives us a different direction to go in,” says Wilson. “I think the films with Roger emphasized his talents. For Timothy, a gritty, more reality-based piece is the way to go. Giving him one-liners won’t play to his strong suit. He plays it fairly straight.”
Dalton gives producers the chance to show a darker, more violent side to Bond who, in this film, “is thrown out of the service, and he has lost the objectivity he normally has, and that makes for a rather impassioned, exciting film.”
And violent. Bond is best man at the wedding of his old friend, CIA Agent Felix Leiter (David Hedison, STARLOG #145). Hours later, Leiter is maimed, and his wife murdered, and Bond goes rogue, seeking vengeance. Bloody vengeance. The producers had to trim some of the more gruesome scenes from the final cut in order to maintain the series’ standard “PG” rating, even in a day when most adventure hits are in solid “R” territory.
“This film’s thrust is that Bond loses his professional objectivity because of his vendetta,” Wilson says. “In a sense, it’s the awakening in him of the realization that when he loses his objectivity, he begins to make things worse for himself.”
Photo: "When he loses his objectivity, [Bond] begins to make things worse for himself," notes Wilson.
Photo: "The truck chase is something [director] John Glen has wanted to do for years," says Wilson.
Bond also lost a wife (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) and went looking for vengeance (Diamonds Are Forever), but those events aren’t touched on in this film, which obviously tackles similar themes. “There is a reference, but very indirect, to Bond being married before, and it’s sort of bittersweet,” says Wilson. “We never really saw Bond go for revenge before. It wasn’t a very developed idea in those films.” Although grittiness doesn’t lend itself to the series’ more cartoonish elements, the producers have compensated by emphasizing the stunts, some left over from other movies. “I have stunts I haven’t even unpacked yet,” Wilson jokes. “The truck chase in this film is something [director] John Glen has wanted to do for years.
“We find our stunts where we can. Normally, we think the stunts up in-house or go with a person we’ve worked with before. For instance, the stunt with Bond and the seaplane was done by Sparky Green, the fellow who directed our air unit in the last film. He gave me this stunt and it blended perfectly with the narrative, which was fortuitous, otherwise it would have gone on the back shelf.”
"You can't disappoint the audience, but you can’t give them what they expect," explains Wilson. Moviegoers may be expecting Bond girl Carey Lowell to only be lovely, but she's so much more.
The balancing act that keeps Bond alive depends, to a large degree, on the continuity behind-the-scenes. Albert R. Broccoli has been producing the films from the start, and Richard Maibaum has written (or co-written) almost all of them (see STARLOG YEARBOOK #5, now on sale, for Maibaum’s comments). Wilson has been working, in one capacity or another, on the films since The Spy Who Loved Me. John Glen, now directing his fifth 007 film, served as an editor and shot second unit footage on many of the early Bonds. And so it goes, all the way down to the publicists.
This time, though, the Writers Guild strike drove a wedge between Wilson and Richard Maibaum during the film’s writing. They worked together on the outline, which was turned in just before the strike. Wilson wrote the script alone, while Maibaum walked the picket line, although Maibaum shared script credit. “I said to Dick that we’ve worked a long time together over the years, and I didn’t feel I wanted to go through an arbitration. I told him I would be happy to share credit, and he said wonderful,” Wilson says. “He was put in a difficult spot, and I wasn’t prepared to make it more difficult.” (Wilson maintains he did not violate any WGA rules by working during the strike. The WGA, through a spokesman, had no comment).
The producers have bowed to the old Bond films by eschewing a pop band in favor of a “power ballad,” in the tradition of Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” and Tom Jones’ “Thunderball” themes, by Gladys Knight. “We had gone with Duran Duran, which paid off handsomely, but a-ha was a disappointment. We thought it would be better this time to go with a power ballad, a ballad with guts in it.”
And the producers have also stuck with Desmond Llwelleyn as Q, the only series regular not yet replaced (STARLOG #72). They turned to David Hedison to reprise his Live And Let Die role as Felix Leiter, rather than rehire John Terry, the fresh face they used in The Living Daylights.
Ever since Jack Lord played Leiter in Dr. No, the producers have been looking for someone to replace him—with no luck. “We’ve never found someone who was that solid a performer. This time, we were looking for someone whom we’ve seen as Felix, and whom the audience might have some association with. David Hedison fit the bill.”
Wilson (who discussed his past Bonds in STARLOG #121) won’t say whether Q will be back next time, though “people love him so much, we would like him to stay on.” (Lois Maxwell had to be replaced as Miss Moneypenny because “it would have meant a change in the playing of the character, and we wanted to keep that relationship intact.”) It’s certain Timothy Dalton will play Bond again, but Wilson feels it’s “not appropriate to discuss his contractual situation” beyond that.
Although there are no more Ian Fleming books or stories to plunder, there are several new 007 bestsellers written by John Gardner, though “we haven’t seen anything in those books that are useful for films,” Wilson says. Nevertheless, the books are “encumbered by us. No one can option those books to anyone but us for perpetuity.”
That’s optimism. Diamonds Are Forever, but is James Bond?
The character’s immortality is assured. But the future of the most successful series in film history still rides on a movie ticket—and time.
Photo: Thanks to Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe in yellow pants) and Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi, center), Felix Leiter (David Hedison) finally meets the fate he suffered in the novel Live And Let Die.
Photo: The filmmakers went with a more realistic villain in Davi's Sanchez, but the typical Bond baddie climax remains.
LEE GOLDBERG, veteran STARLOG correspondent, is the Story Editor of TV’s Hunter. He profiled David Hedison in issue #145.
[Source: Starlog #146, September 1989, P64-66. Copyright © 1989 O'Quinn Studios, Inc. All rights reserved. Starlog is a registered trademark of O'Quinn Studios, Inc.]