In Debt To Fleming: A New James Bond Film

I’m starting to get the impression that I’ll never get to write a James Bond film. It’s not that I don’t fantasise about it often enough, and that’s the key to any true success, is it not? In my mind I am having constant dinner meetings with Dana Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson – they summon me by the name Sir Miles Messervy no less – where they ask me to take the mantle of the film’s scripts.

I am not a professional screenwriter, although I have trained to write scripts. I am not a professional writer of any kind, even though I publish many thousands of words a year, by dint of my own infinite vanity. Therefore it seems perfectly rational to me that such esteemed film makers should – out of the blue no less – ask me to come up with some fresh ideas for their ever successful film franchise.

Even though I grew up on the James Bond films, it is the books that I am most wedded to as a grown up. I’ve read them all. Well, I’ve read all of Ian Fleming’s, almost all of Raymond Benson’s, one of John Gardner’s, and several of the other continuation novels. I particularly enjoyed Jeffrey Deaver’s take – on the modern Bond no less – so I would want to take the franchise forward in modern dress.

Ian Fleming’s stories never stood still. They could never be pinned down by an Umberto Eco formula. They experimented. The films don’t do that. They found a formula in the 1960’s and they stuck with it because they felt that to do otherwise would be to earn less money: Exotic locations; a few sexy, if forgettable, women; a frothing at the mouth lunatic with barely comprehensible plans for vague evil.

Compare the fairly generic tale of “The Spy Who Loved Me” on screen with the effortlessly original narrative of Fleming’s book:

  • Bond, a thinly-drawn girl, a megalomaniac with a super tanker and a nonsensical plan to take humanity under the sea: Bond acts recklessly throughout, saving the day;
  • A complex woman, drawn with depth and compassion, gets tangled up in the machinations of a hotel owner and an insurance scam: Bond swoops in and saves the day, much to the rejoicing of everyone.

Why then do the films stick to such a hackneyed and predictable plot in every single film they put out? Yes, Casino Royale broke much of the mould, at least on a superficial level, but that was only so that the return to the familiar tropes could feel earned, rather than simply a product of the name.

Today’s film market enjoys a shock. Don’t hype it; don’t publicise every element of its production – there is a media train following every step of a James Bond production, leaking all sorts of details; this is unnecessary. In the 1980s Prince Charles and Princess Diana were broadcast worldwide while they visited the set of The Living Daylights: we don’t expect or need this in today’s film market.

Just release the film with no warning, and set the world alight: Create a cultural phenomenon for the 21st century. Think Cloverfield, albeit not the Paradox. Today we get excited by surprises, and any attempts at a long run in of marketing and merchandising, replete with product placements and tie-ins is be met with audience fatigue at best and a pronounced backlash at worst. No one needs that.

If you want it to go straight to Netflix, so be it. Some may see it as devaluing a brand as valuable as Coca Cola, but the shock of a brand new James Bond film available to watch instantly, as many times as you like, will have Netflix subscriptions going through the roof. That said, it would limit potential revenues from the film, unless they took a cut of incoming subscription revenues. Just a thought.

Sometimes a star shines so bright that it burns through time and leaves an irrevocable imprint. I will not say that Bond has done that, except as a shade, an aspect. Who do you think of when I mention James Bond, the screen character? I have an old Danish film poster above my writing desk, and its image is iconic. One man; one face; one name: Sean Connery. Connery will always be James Bond.

Don’t be confined to the current Bond. All are canon. Look to the success of old man Logan and cast the original as a Bond at the end of his life of espionage. Bond can rip the spinal column from your back and strangle you with it before you’re even aware that it is missing. Who says that those skills diminish in one’s seventies? With age comes greater experience of how to kill and how to avenge.

Audiences are savvy; savvy audiences can be allowed the space to think for themselves. Just because Bond is allowed the space to reflect on his lifetime of misdeeds on Her Majesty’s Secret Service, before he passes on the torch, doesn’t mean that they will expect the death of the franchise. Bond, as with the Doctor, will always return. It’s as integral to the British story as Sir Francis Drake and tea.

Look, I know I will never see this avant-garde one-off vision of Bond writ large on the big screen any time soon, and nor should I. I’m an armchair commentator with none of the film or business acumen of the rightful heirs to the James Bond franchise. In short, I know nothing. But it’s good to dream, to try things out and see how they would feel. Personally, I would like to see everything shaken up once in a while, just to watch where they land. Call me an agent of chaos. Or was that just the Joker?

Bond, when he was originally written, was a document, an image of the days in which he lived. The film version was seen through a different filter, and took on a different set of values, but still very much wedded to its era. As the era has changed, the character has more or less kept pace, albeit as a male, pale, image of the society it depicts. Some people choose to view Bond in this light still, as an anachronism. While that doesn’t quite ring true, I can still see why the view persists for so many.

The truth is that he never was, not at first. Perhaps in death, Commander James Bond could finally be reborn without the associated baggage of the 20th century, and join the rest of us, in the future.