Video games: Goldeneye for the N64

•September 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Video Games: Goldeneye for the N64

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Disclaimer: I watch and discuss movies as a hobby, not video games. This will directly affect the review below.

I never owned a Nintendo 64 as a teenager. I was very fortunate however to have 2 close friends who did. Both friends owned copies of Goldeneye and plenty of N64 gamepads for all the guests and I’ll explain why in a minute.

The game is loosely based on the film of the same name and invites players to sort of step into the shoes of James Bond by obliterating down 5 billion men with pistols, machine guns, grenades, mines, rocket launchers and a tank. Suffice to say that the single player mode is pretty addictive for a while, even by today’s Halo 3 Xbox 360 standards. Shooting somebody in the hand and seeing them nurse the wound afterwards was infinitely satisfying back in 1997 and still is today. The ‘story’ of the game follows the film’s plot in the sense that you can play out all the action sequences with even more gunfire then there was in the film and some more gunfights during sequences that didn’t even have action in the movie. That may sound like it could get a tad repetitive after a while, and that’s true to a certain degree.

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That’s why the multiplayer mode was created.

Oh, the hours, days and weeks of my early teenage years that were spent with friends on those multiplayer matches. Playing by 2 was fine and dandy. Playing by 3 could get intense, but when there were 4 of us in the room…well that was gangbusters. The insults would get tossed around like there was no tomorrow, mostly in a joking manner, although there were moments when ‘cheating’ (a term we would use as loosely as an untied shoe) was called out. We mostly enjoyed the all-out death-matches even though we did play the team based games every once in a while. I think it was the tension involved in knowing that you were alone against really inglourious basterds who were all ready to kill you regardless of whether you had the time to properly equip yourself with armour and firepower. I was a jerk in the game as were my friends. If you happened to run through a room yelling that you just needed a pistol cartridge because you were all out, nobody displayed any compassion, not even myself. You were completely screwed. But it was all in good fun of course.

There was tremendous variety in the multiplayer gameplay thanks in part to the different maps (the various virtual locations you could kill yourselves in) and the many options of available weaponry. You could have a deathmatch that offered lasers, heavy duty machine guns, rocket launchers (double wielding no less!), the Golden Gun, an automatic colt pistol, whatever the heck makes blood splatter. But the type of weaponry used coupled with the layout of each individual map made for some darn interesting bloodbaths. There was this one map that pitted players against each other in what looked like an underground facility or basement. Some rooms were lit but filled with columns while other areas were dark hallways. We’d often play with mines in this map. You wouldn’t know if the mines were attached to the opposite side of the columns when you entered the lit rooms or if one of your slimy friends had deposited mines on the walls of the dark hallways. Remote controlled mines or motion detection mines could be used, the latter which proved to be deadly many times, even for the player who set the mine!

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Another of our favourites maps was from the first level of the game when Bond infiltrates a Soviet compound from inside the men’s room. In that level, once a player exits the bathroom and walks down the staircase just in front, there is a nice corridor with boxes for cover and sliding doors on one side. Holy god did we ever waist bullets and grenades trying to kill each other down that corridor. Even those sliding doors were useful for taking refuge in the laboratories…until your friends opened the doors and tossed a couple grenades inside.

And then there was ‘hell’. There was this one map that looked very drab. It was nothing but a series of green rooms with walkways on the second floor that overlooked the main level. This second story could be accessed via some staircases that were located in some of the rooms but not all. Essentially, anyone quick enough to acquire proper ammo and run up the staircase to the second floor could gun down any sorry saps still running around for armour on the ground level, especially when they entered a different room and couldn’t tell if anyone was waiting above them. The worst section was this stupid and oddly arranged room where, on the main level, there were these small rooms which held many useful items such as guns and armour. Nice! No, not so nice because there was a second story balcony available for anyone with a good shot or just a huge gun to take them out. Worse still, these little rooms were uselessly shielded by glass windows. After a second bullet to shatter the glass plates, you were a sitting duck. Obviously, I’m not actually writing this with genuine anger. We always had a good laugh in that map, but suffice to say that when facing a seasoned Goldeneye player, it was a very unforgiving multiplayer level.

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Not being a ‘big gamer’ as they say, I’m not one to analyze a video game very much in depth. I like to keep things simple: is the playability entertaining enough for me, does it look good and do I feel like I’m in the world of the games story. The playability is easy enough, offering novice players a decent learning curve that shouldn’t challenge them for that long before they get the hang of things. After a few deaths, strafing for cover and shooting people in the head becomes easy as making macaroni and cheese. The variety of weapons is the real standout however. Each sounds different and unique and carries varying degrees of firepower. Mowing down rows of soldiers working for that dastardly traitor 006 with two Kalashnikovs blasting away never felt more satisfying. It’s slightly disappointing that the movie’s story feels a bit hacked up but with such gloriously violent and intense gameplay, I’m perfectly willing to forgive that shortcoming. It would have been nice if the game had allowed fans to perform some classic Bond feats, like snooping around more, using crazy gadgets to retrieve information or escape tight spots. There is a tiny bit of that, but for the most part, Goldeneye is a shoot’em up first person action game.

Graphically, people including myself were impressed with the game when it was released in 1997. Today, the characters look like three-dimensional photoshopped blockheads. In fact, every object in the game has a very polygon based look unfortunately. If accustomed to today’s PS3 and Xbox 360 graphics or the lush visuals provided by video card enhanced computers, Goldeneye looks rather crummy. For those who played it back in the day however, nostalgia will most certainly win the day. After all, the game looked great 12 years ago when we all played it like a bunch of crack addicts. Some may even find it charming when discovering Sean Bean’s face awkwardly plastered on a robot’s head. The good old days of early 64 bit graphics wil never be forgotten. Goldeneye on the N64, we salute you.

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Abbreviations

•September 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

In a small attempt to make my life a little bit simpler, I’d like make use of some popular abbreviations for each of of the Bond adventures. These abbreviations can be found on many fan forums, so I can assure you I’m not making this stuff up. I won’t always be using them, but it will prevent me from typing You Only Live Twice a billion times in an article.

Dr. No:  DN

From Russia With Love:  FRWL

Goldfinger: GF

Thunderball: TB

You Only Live Twice: YOLT

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: OHMSS

Diamonds are Forever: DAF

Live and Let Die: LALD

The Man With the Golden Gun: TMWTGG

The Spy Who Loved Me: TSWLM

Moonraker: MR

For Your Eyes Only: FYEO

Octopussy: OP

A View to a Kill: AVTAK

The Living Daylights: TLD

Licence to Kill: LTK

Goldeneye: GE

Tomorrow Never Dies: TND

The World is Not Enough: TWINE

Die Another Day: DAD

Casino Royale: CR

Quantum of Solace: QOS

Dr. No: A sexed up style

•September 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The character of James Bond was born into the literary world at a very particular time in Great Britain’s 20th century history. The first novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1953 when the country was experiencing its post-war slump. While its close ally the United States emerged stronger than before, both politically and economically, the opposite was true of Great Britain. Its ego was in tatters somewhat following the war. Not only did they receive a beating during the war, but there influence on the international stage was diminished to a certain degree. Say what you will about the potential benefits that can be reaped by newly independent states when their former colonial masters lose grip, the latter group still tends to get bummed out a bit. Ian Fleming gave British readers a hero they could call their own. The international success of the books were of course welcomed (interestingly, the American success hinged very much on President John F. Kennedy revealing that From Russia With Love was one of his favourite books), but the fact that he was an English hero meant a lot to many readers.

When a deal was struck between producers Cubby Broccoli, Harry Saltzman and the production company United Artists, it was agreed that many of the qualities from the books that made 007 who he was should be translated to the screen. Bond sleeps with a different leading female character in every novel, something the filmmakers certainly did not want to omit, but since there was no absolute guarantee their first film, Dr. No, would become a hit, it was important to make it abundantly clear that James Bond was a sex magnet right from the start. Some people are prudish about these matters while others a more liberal, but there is little doubt that the Bond of the novels, his nature and his sexual prowess, tapped into the fantasies of many male and female fans. Cruel good looks, incredible athletic abilities, never nervous in front of woman, etc. In fact, he often goes after the woman and the latter reciprocate on almost every occasion. Why? Cruel good looks, built up physique, confident…you can see how this little game is played. It’s a fantasy. Not everyone’s fantasy of course, but the fantasy of enough to support the old adage that ‘sex sells.’ Bond, especially in the early 1960s, was a great vehicle to give audiences what they wanted in a thriller: exotic locations, violence and sex. Bond’s British background coupled with his sexual confidence and promiscuity also flew in the face of the stereotypical view of the stuck up, prudish Englishman. Being British wasn’t just cool, it was pretty darn sexy.

The filmmakers increased the sex content in the film Dr. No when compared to Dr. No the book. This was accomplished in the most obvious way: more women for 007 to fool and tease around with. Not only does Bond get intimate with more women than in the book, he does so with more women than in most of the other films. And this is the first one!

Sylvia Trench

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Mrs. Trench is a bit of a mystery. She isn’t provided with much screen time so we never really know who she is exactly, so we can only assume certain aspects. The viewer meets her during Bond’s introductory scene at the casino in London. First of all, she’s very elegantly dressed and gambling money away by playing against Bond. Clearly, she likes living large and can afford to do so. She’s very confident about herself judging by her feminine swagger, and given how she jumps at the opportunity to spend the night with Bond, she’s single. Either that or she has one heck of an open relationship. She even enters his flat before 007 himself returns home in the hopes of surprising him, which she does very successfully. Wearing apparently nothing except his pyjama shirt, she’s one sexed up little kitten. Even though she has only 5 or 6 minutes of screen time, her presence is very telling of the sexual tension that 007 and his women exude. The first woman in the movie, and consequently the first Bond girl of the franchise, is lip smacking for Bond despite him having completely wasted her at the Chemin de Fer table. A clear message has been sent to the audience: women want Bond. Characters in the same vein as Sylvia would return throughout the series, women who find Bond irresistible and immediately go after him. They don’t present much of a challenge for Bond, and are therefore often the least interesting Bong girls, but they remind the viewer (as if they needed a reminder) that he can pretty much any woman he desires.

Ms. Taro

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Ms. Taro is another variety of Bond girl. She’s the kind who may actually be attracted to Bond physically, but who will not give in without a fight, mostly because she and 007 are worked for opposite sides. She acts as Professor Dent’s office secretary, although in actuality she is, like the professor, an enemy agent working for the nefarious Dr. No sent to trip up Bond in his assignment. From very early on Bond is suspicious of her presence, and when they meet up for a ‘date’ at her place, the viewer knows something is up. They’re basically enemy spies playing each other, or trying to out play each other, and while their game won’t end well for one of them, there’s always time for a quick shag before the knives come out. There’s a perverse nature about this behaviour. As one of the spies in this situation, your ultimate goal is to either stall or perhaps liquidate your opposite number, and yet you’re willing to offer them some temptation and some pleasure before stabbing them in the back. Send to them heaven before you send them to hell.

Honey Ryder

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Honey is the Bond girl of the film, therefore, it seems fairly obvious that 007 will win her over in the end. There have been Bond girls of all stripes, from computer scientists, nuclear physicists, thieves to spies. Some were steadfast in their independence, while others were more susceptible to Bond’s charm or relied more on his help. Honey is one of the few who possessed all those qualities. When she is unsure of Bond’s intentions, she displays a stern defensive posture. As has already been discussed in a previous article (Dr. No: style), she retells her murder of a landlord who had abused her some time ago. Upon discovering that 007 is in fact one of the ‘good guys’, she warms up to him, even looks for comfort with him once both are snared in Dr. No’s secret lair. She’s a great hybrid of the intrepid and resilient with a touch of vulnerability. Who doesn’t want a smart, free thinking woman who also wants the comfort of her partner? Despite her adventurous past and current vagabond lifestyle, there is evidently a softer side to her, which makes her appealing to any man with half a brain. 007 has more than half a brain though, make no mistake about it.

Ms. Moneypenny

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A character who only makes fleeting appearances in the Fleming novels, Ms. Moneypenny is a regular supporting character in the films, starting with Dr. No. Before anyone gets their boxers or panties in a knot, Ms. Moneypenny does not succumb to Bond’s charms, not entirely at least (how could she anyways? That would be a violation of government property). I’m not implying that that under different circumstances she would necessarily give in, although I do have my theory about that, but virtually all of their scenes together throughout the series are swimming with sexual tension and innuendos. Bond can’t resist flirting with Ms. Moneypenny. She’s intelligent, loyal and attractive in a classy kind of way and, most of all, he can’t have her. He takes great pleasure teasing around with her. Whether he expects or even wants to start something serious is another matter altogether, but Bond does use the barrier office rules to engage in ridiculously flirtatious banter, touching and even kissing. He’s safe behind that barrier despite bending it all the time. I don’t even think Bond and Ms. Moneypenny are afraid of the possibilities at this point in their ‘relationship.’ They know nothing will happen, not until one of them leaves the Service, but are adult enough to admit that they like each other’s…company let’s just say. Of all the women Bond shows interest towards in the series, his relationship with Moneypenny is the most satisfying and the most frustrating. The satisfaction comes from the fact that we see them together in almost every film, with very few exceptions. This is unlike with any of the other woman 007 succeeds in seducing, all of whom are gone as quickly as they came. But Moneypenny is always there, sitting outside M’s office, always teasing Bond is very suggestive ways. The frustration stems from the fact that their relationship never a point beyond teasing and pickup lines. What if?…What if?… That possibility left to the imagination of the viewer.

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Dr. No makes it obvious that sex is at the forefront of the Bond films. The protagonist sleeps with three very different women (a rich socialite who chases after him, a spy with whom he engages a game of deception and seduction, and the principal Bond girl du jour) and teases his boss’ secretary. If the latter gave in, that would make it four women in a single film. This is in 1962, not 2009… Producer Harry Saltzman has been quoted for saying that, as he watched Sean Connery walk across the street after his interview, the Scottish actor moved like a ‘big jungle cat.’ There’s something very telling about that comment in regards to the effect James Bond has on the other characters in his world and the audiences who cheer him on or fantasize about him. His sex appeal crosses tastes and styles, unlike many other cinematic heroes who have been lauded for their own kind of sex appeal. Indiana Jones can be called sexy, but that’s a completely different kind of sex appeal. He’s a bit dirty, a bit rough around the edges, a bit scruffy, etc. It’s a kind of sexiness. Bond, however, can display the rough and gritty ‘manly man’ qualities of an Indiana Jones or John McClain, but can become the classiest and most sophisticated man in the room only five minutes later. His British class (and snotty cockiness, let’s be honest) mixed with a wild side, a side that can thoroughly kick someone’s ass or a game of seduction with a beautiful woman. There’s nothing prude about this limy.

Male fans find 007 cool, while female fans find him yummy, but all this is just affection towards a piece of fiction. With the sheer quantity of woman the spy beds, without protection no less, he’s a pig who takes women just as easily as he leaves them. Vesper would deduce in Casino Royale (2006) that Bond views women as ‘disposable pleasures as opposed to meaningful pursuits. Whether or not she is spot on in that assessment of Bond’s attitude towards women is an intriguing question, but one that I’ll discuss another time. Suffice to say that Bond’s exploits are the fictional, cinematic representation of the erotic fantasies of many people. Any man, or woman for that matter, who in the real world tries to do what Bond does is flirting with danger. The emotional baggage often attached to sex, the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases associated with sexual promiscuity on such a scale, are both issues not to be taken lightly. In a strange way, that’s why the character of Bond works so well and why he has earned a legion of tremendously loyal fans. He doesn’t have to worry about any of those issues because they are essentially non-factors (for the most part) in his world. He exists where many of us would like to, if only maybe for a day or two. Acts of debauchery and considerable promiscuity go unpunished due to a complete lack of consequences. It’s a world that can only exist in our uninhibited imaginations where sexual pleasure is the special ‘du jour’, every jour. What that says about ourselves as people would make for a fascinating discussion. Are we eternally unsatisfied with what we have? Must we always have more, and more, and more? Why does temptation in the shape of another being arise when are involved in a relationship with someone we care for and already feel attracted to? Does sex really control us to such a high degree? I’m not at all equipped to answer those questions adequately, but suffice to say that when it comes to movie going audiences, sex sells and will for a long time to come.

Dr. No: a style unique to itself

•September 7, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Dr. No: Style (continued)

Our analysis has already elaborated on those ingredients that would be become hallmarks of the franchise, but there are a number of moments and qualities about Dr. No that make it stand apart from most of the other 007 cinematic adventures. Some are fairly obvious, while others may go unnoticed by an untrained eye.

First and foremost is the lack of gadgets. Until recently, when a new Bond film arrives, many fans eagerly await the comic value and creativity of the Q scene. What will that brilliant quartermaster provide Bond on this mission? What strange and needlessly elaborate gadgetry will be on display in the background in the sequence? What back and forth, tongue and cheek banter shall 007 and Q engage in this time around? The Q scenes of the Bond films are fan favourites, which is why the producers and writers kept cramming them in for so many years. But for Dr. No, there was no precedent that established the character of Q, and the Fleming novels never paid too much attention to him. Suffice to say that the notion of a Bond/Q comical rivalry was but a twinkle in the eyes of the producers.

With the intention to stay as true as possible to the spirit of the novel (a valiant idea that would not last terribly long in the years to come), the quartermaster scene in Dr. No is remarkably simple and effective. In one of the very, very few Bond films not to feature Desmond Llewelyn, the quartermaster at MI6, although referred to Major Boothroyd in the credits, is portrayed rather coldly by Peter Burton. He’s professional, if somewhat stiff. Still, he does use his brief appearance in M’s office to throw a verbal jab at the reckless 007, calling his Beretta handgun nice and light…’for a lady’s handbag.’ Oompf! At M’s orders, Major Boothroyd awards Bond his new weapon, the Walther PPK, offering superior firepower to the smaller Beretta. In a nutshell, the Walther is Bond’s gadget for the Dr. No assignment. The quartermaster walks out of M’s office and the briefing resumes. The scene is over and done with in a matter of moments and honestly doesn’t stand out, unless of course you’re a Bond nut such as myself who analyzes these things with a fine toothed comb.

Some newcomers to the film may also notice the definite lack of a rousing, spy-themed score. Monty Norman is officially credited as having invented the ‘James Bond Theme’ we are all familiar with, and it does play out in all its glory during the title sequence, but for the most part, Norman’s score is Jamaican flavoured rock or island beats. As music, it sounds great. In fact, it’s a score I listen to myself every now and then just for the pleasure of hearing those catchy little cues, but solid Bond music it is not. Even what many refer to as the movie’s main song, ‘Underneath the Mango Tree’, has very little of a Bond quality to it.

Again, like the rest of the score, it’s cute and catchy, but this isn’t the 007 material we’re all accustomed to. In fact, there was a brief moment when the producers toyed with the idea of making ‘Underneath the Mango Tree’ the official Bond song, but director Terence Young warned them that they wouldn’t always make films in which Bond went to places with mango trees, so the idea was quickly dropped. Rather silly, I know. John Barry would be hired for the task of creating music in the next film, From Russia With Love, and the difference in, in terms of sweep, style and pace, is like comparing night and day. Needless to say, Barry would continue to score the Bond films for many years.

Bond, as I briefly mentioned in the previous post, is a bit rough around the edges in at certain times. There are simply a few small ticks and behaviours that we wouldn’t associate with Bond in later adventures. One of the more subtle characteristics is his relationship with Quarrel, the Jamaican local who assists Bond and Leiter in their investigation. When both Bond and Quarrel have set foot on Dr. No’s island, 007 barks, in a rather derogative tone, for Quarrel to fetch his shoes. Hmm, white British man telling a somewhat dopey Black Jamaican man to do his bidding? Not good. In another scene that has Bond, Leiter and Quarrel discussing at a table at a night club, a photographer working for Dr. No attempts to take 007’s picture (for the second time in the film). Bond immediately orders Quarrel to capture and bring the girl to their table. A slight superiority complex from our Caucasian hero? Perhaps.

In one of the film’s most controversial scenes, Professor Dent, who is in fact in league with the nefarious Dr. No, arrives at Mrs. Taro’s place (another enemy agent which Bond has had arrested earlier that evening), expecting to quietly murder Bond with his silenced pistol. Bond, always one step ahead of his enemies, has been expecting the dear Professor Dent and catches him after the latter has already unloaded his six bullet Smith and Wesson on 007’s decoy. The spy has Dent where he wants him, although the professor doesn’t know it. While Bond isn’t looking, the professor quickly retrieves his pistol and tries to fire at Bond. Clearly unfamiliar with the weapon, Dent was unaware that he had already unloaded the Wesson when he shot at the decoy. Bond coolly tells him so and then kills him. Although Professor Dent was an enemy, at the time of the kill he was completely defenceless against Bond. He clearly wasn’t much of a fighter either, so for all intents and purposes, he no longer posed any threat. Bond thought otherwise and coldly murders him. It’s far and away one of the darkest moments in the franchise’s history, displaying a cruel side of Bond that we would see again, but only so rarely.

Virtually all of the Bond films have thrilling opening sequences that either provide a hint as to what direction the story will go, or simply show off Bond completely laying enemies to waste, sometimes with a jaw-dropping stunt. Not so with Dr. No, which cuts immediately to the title sequence once the gun barrel scene is complete. More unique still is how the title sequence itself is not accompanied by any original song per say. ‘The James Bond theme’ plays in the background while multicoloured circles and squares dance across the scene, revealing the cast and crew. The ‘Bond theme’ eventually fades away to a Jamaican dance number, which then fades away into a catchy cover of ‘Three Blind Mice’, introducing the three enemy agents who are on their way to murder Strangways at the Queens Club.

Dr. No: Style with imagery

•September 7, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Dr. No (1962, Terence Young). STYLE

•September 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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On a hot day in Jamaica, agent Strangways, head of section J for London, is shot down by three seemingly harmless elderly men masquerading as blind beggars. After offering them some coins out of charity, Strangways is gunned from behind by the ‘three blind mice’ just before he can enter his vehicle. This same gang infiltrates the agent’s base of operations later on, brutally murders his assistant and steals a very specific file, that containing all known information on Dr. No…

London’s communications room quickly notices that Strangways is ‘off the air’ When word of this disturbance reaches the people concerned at MI6, they send of their 00 agents (double-oh) to investigate. James Bond 007, licence to kill, is shipped to Jamaica to unravel the mystery behind Strangways’ vanishing act, but he’ll discover far more than anticipated on this mission.

Tone

Contrary to many of the 007 films that followed, Dr. No is a slow burn that prefers to turn up the sense of mystery and suspense little by little. It has intense and thrilling action sequences, but they are offered in short bursts. For the greater part of the first 2/3, the film functions far more like a mystery adventure than any straight-up action thriller. Seeing as how it was only the first entry in the franchise with no assurance at the time of its release that there would be a sequel, it’s safe to presume that the producers, American Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Canadian Harry Saltzman, had not found the precise formula that would prove to be a success time and time again later on. Many of the ingredients are in fact present, but overall there is a slightly different feel about this one, and much of it has to do with the pacing. That isn’t meant in any pejorative sense, quite the contrary in fact. It’s one of the few ‘different’ Bond adventures.

If the high-octane action comes in smaller doses, then what exactly does Bond do in the film? Well, as the agent sent to Jamaica to uncover the truth behind Strangways’ disappearance, he mostly plays the role of a detective, complete with some interviews and snooping around to discover what clues may help guide him. Friends of Strangways from the local Queens Club to close colleagues, Bond tries to get as much information as possible out of them, or at least whatever he thinks might prove to be useful. 007 doesn’t even throw as many quips as usual in this adventure, further lending a more serious tone to the movie.

Bond clearly has some good instincts, and it isn’t long before he is hot on the trail of those who eliminated Strangways. Facts and suspicions point to a recluse scientist named Dr. Julius No who has set up a heavily protected bauxite operation on a small private island off the coast of Jamaica. Just prior to the disappearance of Strangways, it had been made known that strange radio frequencies originating from the region were interfering with the U.S. shuttle launches in Cap Canaveral. In the world of 007, facts fall into place rather quickly most of the time, and before you know it Bond has a good hunch to work with. Strangways must have caught on that that this mysterious Dr. No was behind the radio interferences but was murdered for becoming too curious (Strangways was an avid diver and swimmer and has made some unwelcomed passes near Dr. No’s island). Bond, with the aid of CIA operative Felix Leiter and the former’s local contact Quarrel, must infiltrate Dr. No’s island where the answers to this bizarre mystery surely lie. It’s frightfully well guarded location, so much so that locals don’t dare set foot on it, some of which even believe it to be kept by a dragon! Bond doesn’t heed such warnings however, and along with Quarrel, arrives on the private island throughout the night.

It’s only once Bond and Quarrel reach Dr. No’s island that the plot and tension shift into top gear. With the portion of the film set on the private island, Dr. No attempts to show off the best of both worlds 007 worlds. Up until that point, Bond has mostly been snooping around, gathering intel. It was a more realistic story with some glamour and sex appeal thrown in for good measure. The audience knows Strangways was murdered, they’ve seen it happen in the opening scene of the film. When Bond is sent to Jamaica to found out ‘what happened’, we know he is walking into trouble but the character doesn’t. The final third of the movie offers a more fantasy laden atmosphere to the story, what with 007 and original Bond girl Honey Ryder being held captive in Dr. No’s underground hotel/science lab compound.  The effect is a bit jarring when watching the film for the first time. It can feel like two different movies rolled into one, the first being a detective thriller, the second being a sci-fi action adventure. When you’ve seen the film as many times as I have however, both styles merge into one cohesive film easily enough. But I think it’s understandable if an uninitiated viewer finds the turn of events a bit odd. The biggest bang is reserved for the climax naturally. Once Bond tampers with Dr. No’s project by offsetting the intensity of the radioactive energy which powers the complex radio frequency devices, the entire compound falls apart. Employees are running scared for their lives in a moment of sheer panic. Even the surface level section of the headquarters erupts in a massive explosion. This would be but the first of many villain lairs to blow up like victims of the apocalypse. Yet another hallmark of the franchise was set.

Discovering Characters

Not everything Bond and Quarrel encounter on the island is hostile though. It is there, after all, that our intrepid protagonist meets Honey Ryder, one of the most famous Bond girls of all, if not the most famous, period. There are several excellent reasons why the character, played by Swiss model and actress Ursula Andres, struck such a chord with audiences, the most obvious being that she was an absolute bombshell of a woman who much of her screen time perfecting the art of looking sexy. But she owned many other qualities that made her an intriguing character. The viewer quickly learns that she is far from a push over princess. Upon being surprised by Bonds appearance, she immediately retrieves her blade, ready to let any blood spurt if need be. She even taunts Bond, who is clearly a formidable physical presence. Later on she explains how she murdered an abusive man by unleashing a poisonous tarantula on her victim. Arguably her most interesting traits are her knowledge and intelligence, which were solely acquired through experience and personal effort. An orphan most of her life, Honey has fought for her spot in the world (however tiny it may be), travelling a lot and educating herself by reading an encyclopaedia. Granted, that may sound a bit strange, but Andres sells the character very well and I believe Honey Rider as a three dimensional and unique person. She possesses the looks, the smarts and the abilities to be a formidable and unforgettable Bond girl. This balance of essential qualities would be captured by so few leading female characters in the adventures to come sadly. She is this hybrid of a wild adventurer with remarkable intelligence and wits.

The movie was directed by Englishman Terence Young (born in China for those who enjoy trivia), who had a great sense of story telling and character. This is most evident in the way he introduces several of the principal characters. His attention to detail and the idiosyncrasies of the players involved is excellent. Let’s consider of these introductions. Bond isn’t seen until perhaps 10 minutes into the movie. Before then, we have seen hot sweaty Jamaica and a stuffy radio communications room. Suddenly we are transported to a classy London casino. Bond, dressed in a tuxedo and sitting at a Chemin de Fer table, is only seen from behind. The shots cut from shots of his hands on the table when he plays his cards to the reactions of his opponent for the evening, the radiant Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson). She is losing, and soundly at that. Bond’s hands calmly and confident deal cards and play his own hands. Sylvia shakes her head in dismay. Eventually she admits to having met her match.

-007 (still unrevealed): I admire your courage, Mrs…?

-Sylvia Trench: Trench. Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mr…?

-007 (now seen from the front, lighting a cigarette): Bond. James Bond.

Seminal. That’s what you call a ‘money shot.’ Actually, that’s what I call a money shot, but this is my blog, so deal with it. Confident, sophisticated, a winner, all these describe Bond and they are all shown within a 2 minute scene.

Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) is provided his own unique introduction. Although Bond is told during his briefing that he will be working with the CIA agent, neither 007 nor the viewer knows what he looks like. From the moment Bond lands in Jamaica, we can see a rather well dressed Caucasian with sunglasses lurking in the background. Enemy agent sent to destroy Bond or a very secretive protector? Later on when our hero has been led into a tight space by Quarrel and another local (who at that time have not been revealed to be allies), he tried to make a clean getaway, but is caught from behind by the man with the shades. That’s it! The man was sent to eliminate 007! Nope…the man finally reveals himself to be non other than CIA operative Felix Leiter. Quarrel and his friend are the American’s contacts in Jamaica. From that point onward, 007 and Leiter become great partners in this adventure and many more afterwards.

Arguably the best crafted introduction is reserved for the title character, Dr. No. Like so much about the film, there is a careful build up to the character’s reveal. In the opening minutes, he is but a name typed in the cover of file. Later, that name is spoken when Bond, Leiter and Quarrel discuss the prospect of inviting themselves to his private island. Eventually the viewer hears is voice through a speaker system in a hollow room with a booming echo. The audience is teased yet again when the character’s shadow cuts through a shaft of light emanating from a narrowly opened doorway. Eventually the big reveal happens and by then he has earned his status as a terrifying and intimidating villain. Joseph Wiseman, the actor portraying the villain, gives a marvellously cold and calculated performance. Many of the adversaries our hero would battle in later adventures showed some flare or bravado, but not Dr. Julius No. His rage and determination are evident only through his piercing gaze and his diabolical accomplishments.

Buiding Bond

Director Young was often described as  having a bit of a James Bond persona. Charming, witty and an admirer of fine living, he helped pave the way for the Bond style that would ooze from the following films. Sean Connery, although a fine, fine actor, lacked a bit of polish,  a bit of that sophisticated touch that movie goers associate with the cinematic 007. The character found in the novels is indeed very intelligent and efficient, but isn’t quite as suave. It was deemed important to spruce Bond up a bit for the film. Connery is perhaps a bit rough around the edges in certain specific moments, but there’s no denying the fact that overall he’s pretty slick. Terence Young’s directing on the set and coaching off the set (such as finding the right clothing) went a long way to creating the James Bond we all know and love. Connery may have played the part of 007 in front of the cameras, but there was another 007, Terence Young, guiding the show from behind them. The walk, the swagger, the tone of voice, the clothing, etc, almost all of this was the result of the collaborative effort by Young and Connery.

Dr. No is rarely mentioned in peoples top Bond films lists. This is understandable seeing how, when compared to some of the later entries, it feels as though the Bond formula hasn’t been quite perfected yet. It does get a lot of praise and respect, but when crunch time arrives and people name their true favourites, it often gets lost in the shuffle of the other great episodes. Even though the style would be perfected later on, Dr. No showed tremendous promise.

First poll!

•July 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment