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Stirred, not shaken


AS 007 turns 40 I worry for him: James Bond saves the world but who will save him (and us) from the clutches of boredom? The recent Bond movies crawl like mechanical monsters (noisily, coldly, efficiently droning along) and look a little out of place before other razor-sharp, inventive 1990s' thrillers.

The Bond series itself has turned into self-parody — Austin Powers without the jokes. I think we sit through the new Bond movies out of sheer loyalty. If the series doesn't get a makeover soon, we should revoke 007's licence to entertain.

"Nobody does it better", went one of the Bond title songs. "Nobody does it half as good as you. Baby, baby, you're the best." Not anymore. What Bond can do, other thrillers like "The Matrix" can do better.

The Sean Connery Bonds were not competing with other thrillers — they had an identity of their own: classy, debonair, stylish, you could tell one Connery movie from the other. There was always a fisticuff, a chase, a villain and a vamp that you remembered. From Roger Moore to Timothy Dalton to Pierce Brosnan, the Bond movies have become one big blur.

But even the Roger Moore movies were an event, something you anticipated with excitement because they were about sheer spectacular thrills. There wasn't another thriller in sight that was that spectacular in the thrill department.

The Dalton movies followed suit. That's when producer Cubby Broccoli and gang should have paused. And re-invented the Brosnan Bonds for the 1990s. Instead they just continued the tradition begun by the Roger Moore series. But by now Hollywood was making more spectacular thrillers than Bond could dream up. From"The Fugitive" to "Speed" to "The Matrix" to "XXX".

Why can't the Brosnan Bonds try a little harder when it comes to thrills? Why is every stunt, car chase and gadget so spectacular but also so predictable? The Bond movies rest too complacently on their reputation. Other thrillers don't — or can't afford too.

"Ronin" came up with the greatest car chase in a movie since "The French Connection" by setting it on the lethal curves of a narrow French coast. And "The Matrix" devised new ways of staging shoot-outs and martial arts.

The early Connery Bonds always had a fisticuff (between Robert Shaw and Bond in a small train compartment) or a villain (Oddjob from Goldfinger) or a dangerous, tight situation (the spider crawling up Bond in Dr.No) you couldn't forget.

All the things we loved best about the Bond movies — girls, gadgets, stunts, double entendres, puns, bons mots and world domination — don't seem to work anymore. Just about the only thing that seems to work today in a Bond movie is the opening credit sequence and the (unfailingly) exciting Bond music theme.

You're probably saying: "Don't be silly. You can't change the formula — if you do, then it won't be a Bond movie anymore." Of course the formula is inviolable but can't the Bond team come up with inventive variations on the formula? The Bond movies just get more lavish and expensive but the stunts are the same with all of it ending in a tiresome climax in some underwater setting with hundreds of extras in uniform looking busy twirling knobs and dials on gigantic blinking machines, as they prepare to blow up the world. Not to forget the drone of "T-minus five minutes to countdown."

What could make a Bond movie exciting today would be if it were to be scripted and directed by, say, the Wachowski brothers who made "The Matrix".

Or if it were to be directed by Ang Lee. Not a far-fetched notion when you learn that at one time or the other Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, John Woo and Quentin Tarantino have all wanted to take a shot at Bond!

Here's Tarantino on his Bond movie: "It would have taken place in the 1960s and have a narrator like the Ian Fleming books. Maybe get Daniel Day Lewis for Bond. Give it a more literary kind of feeling." (Now, isn't that a marvellous idea? I hope he gets to do it).

Other changes to the Bond movies that have been suggested over the years: Sharon Stone as a kind of female Jane Bond; an African- American Bond with Wesley Snipes and even a gay Bond with Rupert Everret.

Or, how about improving the villains? Get Jack Nicholson to play a Joker-like villain or what about Sean Connery as Bond's arch-nemesis?

With uncanny prescience, James Bond's own boss, M, pronounced him a relic as far back as "Goldeneye": "You are a sexist, misogynist dinosaur, Mr. Bond," says Judi Dench.

The people behind "Die Another Day" promise that this 40th anniversary outing is going to be different — a throwback to the classic Bonds with nods to "Goldfinger" (Bond once again faces a laser killing machine) and "Dr. No" (Halle Berry will rise out of the ocean, bikini-clad a la Ursula Andress).

Well, we shall see. But going by the recent Bond movies, it looks like James Bond — even on his 40th birthday — will be stirred, not shaken.

PRADEEP SEBASTIAN

(pradeepsebastian@hotmail.com)
Visuals by Netra Shyam

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