Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Bringing Back That Lovin' Feelin', or Rebooting the Seventies

When I was discussing this follow up blog hop with Caroline, what immediately came to mind was James Bond. Because what franchise has been more sensitive to the ebbs and flows of time and favor? In English: Dude, they’ve been making movies for 55 years, so obviously some of them are going to be better than others.

When Bond is good, he’s very good, and Sean Connery was a tough act for everyone after him to follow. When people think of Bond, his is the image that pops into their heads. And well it should.

I’ve already written about how Jack Lord stole the show in Dr. No, but only just barely. I have no problem publicly admitting that teenage me watched that whole movie wide-eyed (and maybe with my mouth slightly open). Connery’s Bond was smart, clever (unless he was up against Felix Leiter), tough, and, well, incredibly easy on the eyes.


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Just hanging out
I lusted after the 1962 version of Connery in 1990. There, I said it. But he wasn’t the only thing that made Dr. No a really good movie. The plot was discernible (people, if you’ve seen Bond movies since then, you know what I’m talking about), the opening sequence (both the music and the action) was contemporary and even bordered on suspenseful, and Jamaica, while being both fun and cosmopolitan, made sense as a location for all kinds of nefarious activity in the ex-pat community.

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The Bond Girl by which all others are measured
And...Ursula Andress did not suck as the Good Bond Girl. Yes, yes, yes, her character's name is Honey Ryder (get it???), she’s only half-dressed for the majority of the movie, and she’s one of Bond’s more naive companions. (And, as an aside, I’m probably not the only one who spent a couple of years comparing my body to hers.) But she could also take care of herself, beyond being willing to draw a knife on Bond when she met him. When she told him how she slowly killed her rapist with a poisonous spider, even he was taken aback.


Dr. No was an almost perfect Bond movie, so of course everything that followed suffered a little bit by comparison. And sadly, it must be said that the late Roger Moore changed Bond, and not for the better. His movies made Bond seem a hell of a lot more cerebral than he had been before, but not in the good way. And the camp factor was off the charts; I’m talking Adam West’s Batman campiness, you know? Having seen Moore in The Saint, I continue to scratch my head about the choices the writers and producers made: he had a proven ability to be suave, smart, and scrappy/street fighter tough. He could have been a really great Bond, but instead he’s the one we associate with the cringiness of the franchise.

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So much potential
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One of the worst Bonds ever made, on so many different levels
My enthusiasm for the two Bonds who followed was hampered as much by low expectations as it was by the times they were made in. Timothy Dalton is another actor who has done a really good job in many other things (if you haven’t already seen him in Hot Fuzz, stop reading this and go watch it right now), but the tone of his Bond was off; it was almost as if he was pushed a little bit to the background of the movies. And while I loved Pierce Brosnan on Remington Steele (when is someone going to revive that?), they also played him a little too campy and sarcastic. The fierce and deadly factor Connery brought to the screen was gone.

We are not screwing around anymore
And then it wasn’t. I have to admit, I didn’t have high hopes when I heard that Daniel Craig was cast as the next Bond, but maybe that’s why I’ve been so happy with him. Let’s agree that while  they got rid of a lot of the camp they might have done it at the expense of the character’s humor; now let’s say that in the times we live in maybe we don’t have the luxury of laughing at messy world relations. Bond and the rest of MI6 are taking their jobs very seriously now, and Craig’s version of the character is deadly, haunted, and ready to pounce at any moment.

She almost can't be called a Bond Girl
This is the first time we’ve gotten a close look at the psyche of Bond, and it’s about as pretty as you’d expect for an assassin. And while this Bond sleeps around about as much as the others, his romantic entanglements are likelier to get under his skin. His affair with the doomed Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) was intense (and convincing) enough that we can understand why it took three more films to exorcise her.

This is also the first time I’ve been enthusiastic about his whole team. M (first Judi Dench, then Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whitshaw), and even Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) are badass on their own, and they put Bond in his place a little more forcefully than their predecessors. Good. And even Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) is bringing more force and complexity to the role than we’ve seen since, well, Jack Lord’s version.

The films haven’t been perfect: there’s something a little too serious and dark about some of the last few, to the point where it feels like they’re trying to be “better” than a Bond film with all of the psychosis. Just be Bond, that’s all we want.

Bond’s an example of something that started strong out of the gate and then lost focus before it got it back. On the other hand, Battlestar Galactica is something that started out in the Seventies with silly written all over it and then found its footing decades later to be the great show we always believed it could be.

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One big happy family...
The premise for both the Seventies and Aughts version is the same: a small group of pantheistic human beings have just barely escaped annihilation (dare we say, genocide?) at the hands of the Cylons, a race of robots or cyborgs that humans built but quickly lost control of, assisted by the treacherous Gaius Baltar. The best promise for what’s left of the human race is the mythical planet Earth, and Captain Adama is in charge of finding it while he evades Cylon attempts to finish their job.

The Seventies version made it one season, and it was foolish very quickly. There was a lot of emphasis on cute robots and pets, cameos (e.g., Fred Astaire!), and clunky standalone plots that were reminiscent of the third season of Star Trek: The Original Series. It was an example of something that showed a lot of promise and got a lot of buzz, but by the time it was canceled many viewers were already done.

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but they might kill each other before the Cylons can
By contrast, the rebooted BSG was uncomfortable to watch from the first episode on, when newly installed President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) chose to abandon several ships so the rest of the fleet could escape. In this reboot, Gaius Baltar (James Callis) had no idea that he was dealing with the Cylons—in part because his contact was a gorgeous woman, Six (Tricia Helfer). Finding out that the Cylons now looked like humans added an element of suspense throughout the series, especially as we tried to figure out the identities of the last five “models”. Trying to figure out what the Cylons really wanted (“the plan”) was also a big hook, never mind that one of the executive producers recently admitted that they didn’t really have a master plan. The truth was that they wanted many things, and chief among them was to be able to create new models: i.e., have children.

You don’t run a compelling series strictly on the back of protagonist and antagonist. The humans were frequently at cross-purposes with each other, whether it was murky family dynamics (Captain Bill Adama was an absentee father to Commander Lee “Apollo” Adama), personal demons (the only person more screwed up than Colonel Saul Tigh was Lieutenant Kara “Starbuck” (!) Thrace), and messy relationships (Callie loves Galen, who loves Sharon, who’s really a Cylon, and one of her copies, Athena, loves Helo; Kara and Lee have been fighting feelings for each other since she was his late brother’s fiancee; Gaius is so obsessed with Six that she comes to him in prophetic visions; Tigh’s wife Ellen frequently carouses with other men, in part because he’s always been more devoted to his job—and Bill—than he is to their marriage; etc.). And then there was the dizzying politics and philosophy: President Roslin and Captain Adama’s (Edward James Olmos) frequent clashes over the best course for their people; Roslin’s decision to fix an election to stop Baltar and then her subsequent confession; terrorist-turned-vice president-turned-terrorist Tom Zarek (the late Richard Hatch, who played Apollo in the original version); the question of whether terrorism was justified when a colony was overrun by Cylons; and whether torture is justified when it’s a matter of life and death (watch the award-nominated episode "Pegasus" before you answer). And that’s just some of it.

It was a show that asked uncomfortable, timely questions, and that’s why so many of us couldn’t stop watching (Portlandia captured perfectly what happened to me and my husband one weekend). There were a lot of complaints about the ending, and maybe it was wrapped in too neat a bow, but it was still something I loved so much that I’ve forgotten how much the original disappointed me.

Thank you for reading! Please let me know in the comments what you think of old and new Bond and BSG in the comments, and then head on over to Jami for the last edition of the Bring Back That Lovin’ Feelin’ blog hop.