Monday 21 December 2015

James Bond at Christmas - two Daily Express Bond film adaptations

Who wrote the first novelisation of a James Bond film? Christopher Wood, you say? His well-regarded work, James Bond and the Spy who Loved Me (1977) was certainly the earliest adaptation to appear in book form, but there were earlier novelisations – of sorts. In the run-up to Christmas 1971, readers of the Daily Express were treated to the serialisation by Victor Davis of the film version of Diamonds Are Forever. Three years later, again during the Christmas period, Victor Davis adapted the film of The Man With The Golden Gun (1974).
The banner for the Daily Express adaptation
The adaptation of Diamonds Are Forever was published over seven days from 17th to 24th December 1971. The structure and plot of the adaptation naturally closely followed that of the film. In Part 1 ('Blofeld was dead – but one question still nagged Bond'), Bond is on the search for Blofeld, just as he is in the film. Part 2 ('Two hired thugs and a cool dish called Tiffany'), we are introduced to villains Wint and Kidd and leading lady Tiffany Case, and in Part 3 ('Bond moves fast – and it's death by fire extinguisher'), Bond assumes the identity of diamond smuggler Peter Franks.

Part 4 ('The mob breaks up Bond's cosy date') sees the brief appearance of Plenty O'Toole, while Part 5 ('Two wheel drive – as Bond steers to safety') describes the car chase through Las Vegas. 'Blofeld comes back from the dead' is the title of Part 6, and the final offering on Christmas Eve is 'Bond gets a kiss with several kicks', a part that, as you might guess, features Bambi and Thumper.

Despite the somewhat uneven plotting – the helicopter raid on Blofeld's oil rig is described in two short paragraphs, while Bond's tussle with Bambi and Thumper is dealt with in nine – Victor Davis' adaptation is readable and exciting (no mean feat, given the challenge of condensing the script), and replicates to some extent the literary style of Ian Fleming. The best of Davis' Fleming-esque touches can be found in Part 1. Take this paragraph, for example:

“The urgency of the call would normally have given Bond that familiar charge of excitement, a heightened sense of perception that had always gone with the knowledge that he was about to be handed a new assignment in the field.”

Or this one:

“Bond smiled thinly at remembrance of the arduous and murderous trail that had led him across the world.”

Victor Davis knows his Fleming. Three years later, Bond was back in an adaptation of The Man With the Golden Gun. This time spread over five parts, the story ran from 16th to 20th December 1974.
Bond and Goodnight in the Daily Express
In Part 1 ('Who'd pay a million dollars to kill me?'), Bond receives the bullet on which his code number has been inscribed. Bond goes on the trail of the source of the bullet in Part 2 ('Sudden ambush by a very naked lady'), while Part 3 ('With eyes glazed, she was beautiful – dead beautiful') sees the death of Andrea Anders. Bond flies onto Scaramanga's island in Part 4 ('Champagne on the rocks with a bullet to pop the cork'), and in the final part ('A duel to the death as Scaramanga lays a trap in the fatal funhouse'), Bond goes head to head with Scaramanga.

Again, the sub-Fleming touches are there:

“Miss Moneypenny,far from her usual flirtatious self, ushered him straight through M's steel-plated and soundproofed door into the sanctum that the head of the British Secret Service had dressed overall more like a naval museum.

“James Bond's amused eyes passed lightly over the prints of the wooden ships of England, dashing in under French and Spanish cannon, and the rest of the mementoes, the flotsam of a distinguished seadog's life.”

Both adaptations by Victor Davis are interesting early entries in the sub-genre of continuation Bond – the film novelisation – and are well worth reading.

Sunday 13 December 2015

The James Bond references in Spy (2015)

This year has seen the release of a higher than usual number of spy films, but I have to confess that I have not been keeping up with what has been termed the Year of the Spy, having missed almost every spy film released. (I did, of course, ensure I was in the cinema for Spectre.) The other week, however, I was able to catch up with one of the other entries in the unofficial series. And I'm very glad I did.

Spy is an espionage comedy, but is more than a parody of the spy film genre, offering genuine thrills, plenty of action, and an engaging plot. Essentially, the film answers the question of what would happen if Miss Moneypenny became James Bond. After the apparent death of an agent, the film sees desk-bound analyst, Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy), go into the field as an undercover agent to monitor and report the activities of an arms dealer, Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), who knows the location of a stolen nuclear device. Needless to say, events do not run smoothly, and very quickly Susan Cooper goes beyond her orders as she tries to prevent nuclear disaster.

Director Paul Feig reportedly conceived the film as a humorous Casino Royale (2006), a favourite film of his, and it shows. Spy contains many nods to the James Bond films, in particular the classic films of Sean Connery and the more recent offerings of Daniel Craig.

The film opens with a pre-titles sequence featuring the cool, witty and dinner-suited Bradley Fine (Jude Law) – clearly a James Bond figure – in the course of a mission, with Barry-esque strains playing over the action. This is followed by a perfectly Bondian title sequence, accompanied by the equally Bondian song, 'Who can you trust?' (a title that might apply just as well to any of Daniel Craig's Bond films).

The Bond references keep on coming. We are introduced, for example, to Patrick (Michael McDonald), a Q-like character who supplies Susan Cooper with her equipment. Susan's visit to Patrick's workshop could almost have been lifted straight out of a Bond film. Equipment is hidden inside mundane items, and the scene includes gadgets being demonstrated (and going wrong) in the background. We also catch a glimpse of an Aston Martin (in this case a DB9).

Susan subsequently travels to Rome and visits a casino to keep close to Rayna Boyanov. Susan notices a waiter pour some poison into a cocktail intended for Rayna, and alerts Rayna to the threat in order to make contact with her. The poisoned cocktail naturally recalls the poisoned Vesper martini in Casino Royale. A private gambling room into which Susan stumbles is also reminiscent of Casino Royale.

In the casino, too, we see Jason Statham's rogue CIA agent Rick Ford (is there any other kind of agent these days?) in a white dinner jacket, presumably a nod to Bond's white jacket in Goldfinger (1964). Goldfinger is referenced again shortly afterwards when Susan is facing a suspicious Rayna outside the casino. Rayna's henchmen stand behind Susan, and when they lift their guns as if about to shoot Susan, she sees a reflection of their movements in Rayna's pendent. This brings to mind the pre-titles sequence in Goldfinger, when Bond sees the movement of a would-be killer reflected in the eyes of an exotic dancer. A later scene in which gun shots inside a plane depressurise the cabin must also allude to Goldfinger, specifically the well-known scene in which Goldfinger is sucked out of the plane.

There are doubtless other references, but those are the ones I spotted on first viewing. Throughout the film, however, Spy is an affectionate tribute to the Bond series, and contains the sort of exciting stunts, action and thrills that we'd expect to see in any Bond film. What's more, Spy is hilarious, and (I never thought I'd say this) Jason Statham is a revelation, as he sends up his tough-guy persona. The film is a must-see for any Bond fan.

Thursday 3 December 2015

The evolution of the SPECTRE symbol

The name of SPECTRE isn't the only aspect of the organisation last seen – officially, at least in Diamonds Are Forever to have been resurrected in the latest James Bond film. The organisation's octopus-like symbol made an appearance too.

The motif has seen a number of changes over the years. The first time we see the SPECTRE symbol is at a chess match in From Russia With Love (1963). The symbol is on a paper coaster delivered with a glass of water and a summons for Kronsteen, a chess grandmaster and SPECTRE agent. The symbol, with its four wavy tentacles and ghoulish head, is less an octopus than a jellyfish out for an evening's trick or treating. The device is seen again as an intaglio on a ring worn by Blofeld. 

From Russia With Love
The SPECTRE symbol next makes an appearance in Thunderball (1965), placed in a ring worn by SPECTRE No. 2, Emilio Largo. This time, the device is more octopus-like, presumably symbolising SPECTRE'S reach and omnipresence. The outer tentacles curve round to enclose the others, perhaps as much to fit the circular frame of the ring as for aesthetic reasons. The facial features of the octopus are reduced to alien-like eyes. 

The design is largely retained for You Only Live Twice (1967) and is seen on a ring worn by Blofeld. In Diamonds Are Forever (1971), however, the symbol is rather different. Adorning the front of Blofeld's bath-o-sub, the octopus has gained a thicker body and straighter and broader outer tentacles, giving the impression perhaps of an octopus wearing a cape or shawl. The eyes, though, remain alien-like.

Diamonds Are Forever
With SPECTRE off the screen until the latest film (apart from Never Say Never Again), there have been no developments in the symbol in the intervening period (although Stromberg's Atlantis has a certain resemblance to the octopus device). Almost to make up for it, however, Spectre (2015) contains two designs. Teaser posters for the film cleverly incorporated the octopus symbol within bullet-damaged glass, the tentacles and body being formed by the fissures surrounding the bullet hole. A similar motif was created within the film itself. 

Spectre teaser poster
SPECTRE itself adopts a more corporate-looking octopus logo, which is seen on the outside surface of a ring and on a computer screen. The body of this octopus is relatively thin and wide, while the tentacles are short and curve towards the centre, except the central tentacle, which is longer than the others and is straight and tapers like a dagger. Interestingly, the octopus only has seven tentacles. It's also worth noting that the 'shoulders' of the octopus are raised, and that the head lacks eyes.

Spectre ring 2015
Each incarnation of the SPECTRE/octopus motif is obviously different from the last, yet each could not have existed without those that preceded it. The exception is, of course, the first incarnation, and it is telling that in that case, the motif looks the least like an octopus, as if the designer was influenced mainly, if not solely, by the principal meaning of the word 'spectre'. It is possible that its resemblance to an octopus was coincidental, but was enough to influence the design of the symbol two films later.

There is one other comparison worth making. The Batman symbol has had a long history and has undergone many changes, far more than we have seen on the SPECTRE device. What is curious, though, is that the various designs of the SPECTRE symbol share certain traits with roughly contemporaneous Batman motifs. Thus, the octopus motif of Thunderball and You Only Live Twice has curved, enclosing sides, as does the bat motif used in Batman comics in 1964 and 1965. The thicker body and straight sides of the octopus in Diamonds Are Forever mirrors the thicker body and straighter sides of the bat motif that appeared in the 1966 TV series and in comics in 1970. The spidery lines seen in Spectre's 'bullet-hole' octopus recall the scored appearance of the bat motif used for The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. The official octopus symbol seen on the 2015 ring, meanwhile, has leaner qualities matched by bat motifs used in Batman Begins (2005) and later in comics, and itself has a vague appearance of a flying creature. 

These similarities are no doubt coincidental, am I am not suggesting that the motifs resemble each other in any significant way. However, sharing certain traits, the motifs suggest a common aesthetic, the designers responding to an extent to the same influences or selection pressures within the cultural environment (although the apparent influence of Christopher Nolan's Batman films specifically on the Bond films has been noted elsewhere). 

The SPECTRE symbol has seen a number of changes over the past 50 years, but remains a important and recognisable piece of Bondian iconography in popular culture and a potent symbol for James Bond's most tenacious adversary.

Note: The Batman logos are taken from an infographic published on the World of Superheroes website.