Friday, 20 January 2017

Steampunk Bond: Another Bond villain from the pages of Jules Verne

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I'm an avid reader of Jules Verne's novels. The connections between Jules Verne and James Bond may seem remote, but there are things in common. In an earlier post, I suggested that Robur the Conqueror, the villain in Jules Verne's 1904 novel, Master of the World, is a prototype Bond villain, and there's another strangely familiar villain in another of Verne's 'Voyages Extraordinaires', Facing the Flag (1896).
 
Image by Kikiarg (Self-photographed) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
In that novel, a French scientist, Thomas Roch, has developed a devastating weapon. Naturally, France and other powers are keen to learn its secrets, but none is prepared to meet Roch's price. The burden of his genius sends Roch mad, and we find him in an asylum on the coast of North Carolina, watched over by Simon Hart, a French engineer posing as a warden (and tasked by the French government with recording any secrets Roch divulges).

Enter the mysterious Count d'Artigas, who's also keen to get hold of Roch's powerful weapon. With the help of his gang, he kidnaps Roch and Hart, takes them to his boat moored close by, and sails to his secret hideout near Bermuda.

That's when we're reminded of Bond villains. Like Blofeld, particularly of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Count d'Artigas has somewhat obscure origins and is not a real count, but assumes the title for respectability. And, anticipating Blofeld in the film of You Only Live Twice, his base is inside a volcano. Actually, the volcano is an artificially created one, formed from a conical mountain that the count engineered to erupt by means of gunpowder and burning seaweed to scare the inhabitants off the small island on which the mountain is situated, but the effect is the same. (If terrifying a population in order to force them off their island sounds familiar, it's because Dr No had the same idea.)

The count resides in a grotto at the base of the mountain, which comprises a series of passages that surround an underground lagoon. Every self-respecting villain needs a shark, and the count is no exception, as an underwater tunnel that joins the sea allows sharks to swim around the lagoon. It must be admitted that the count misses the opportunity to feed anyone to the sharks, but the opportunity's there at least. Sharks, of course, feature frequently in the Bond films, and I'm reminded in particular of Largo's shark pool in Thunderball and Kananga's cave, complete with a pool and shark, that serves as his lair in Live and Let Die.

Blofeld, Stromberg and Drax have their private armies, and so too does Count d'Artigas. In the novel of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, we read that Blofeld's 'staff' at his institute is multi-national and poached from rival criminal organisations. Count d'Artigas has also assembled a multi-national band of villains and criminals who do his bidding. The count is not without a henchman either – a gigantic Malay with herculean strength, who would comfortably fit in the pantheon of Bond henchman, Jaws, May Day, Mr Kil, and Hinx among them.

And like all Bond villains, Count d'Artigas has access to the most advanced technology. He operates a mini submarine that runs on electricity (and can also ram ships that he wishes to attack) and has installed electricity throughout the grotto; no mean feat in the Victorian world. Incidentally, the count stole the submarine at a public demonstration of the vessel in much the same way that Xenia Onatopp stole the Tiger helicopter in GoldenEye

Jules Verne's novel reminds us that the traits or memes that help define a Bond villain, especially the villains of the films, have older origins. Over the years, the earlier sources, including Facing the Flag and other Verne novels, have largely been forgotten, while the Bond films have become hugely significant in popular culture, to the extent that long-established 'villain memes' are identified more exclusively as 'Bond villain memes'.

5 comments:

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  2. Another great article, Edward! Well done again!

    I'd just add that making people flee the island sounds like Silva in Skyfall too. Engineering a volacano mountain sounds like Zorin's earthquake plan in AVTAK too.

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    1. Thanks! Glad you liked it. Good point about Silva and Zorin. Now that you mention it, there are similarities in those films too.

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  3. I haven't read Verne before, but thanks to you I know where to start! I wonder if he was the first to devise the villain's-private-island idea. Dumas approached it with "The Count of Monte Cristo," though the Count was more of an antihero than villain.

    As a Jules Verne fan, you likely know that "Facing the Flag" was adapted by the Czech director Karel Zeman into the incredible live-action/animation hybrid film "Invention For Destruction" (aka "The Fabulous World of Jules Verne"). The film was once hard to view but can now be ordered from the Karel Zeman Museum--the DVD has English subtitles:
    http://www.muzeumkarlazemana.cz/e-shop/films/karel-zeman-films/dvds/dvd-the-fabulous-world-of-jules-verne2015-11-09-10-23-29_-detail?lang=en

    Pauline Kael gave the film a famous rave: "[the] great movie magician, the Czech Karel Zeman, also turning to Jules Verne for inspiration, made this wonderful giddy science fantasy. (It's based on 'Facing the Flag' and other works.) Like Méliès, Zeman employs almost every conceivable trick, combining live action, animation, puppets, and painted sets that are a triumph of sophisticated primitivism. The variety of tricks and superimpositions seems infinite; as soon as you have one effect figured out another image comes on to baffle you...The film creates the atmosphere of the Jules Verne books which is associated in readers' minds with the steel engravings by Bennet and Riou; it's designed to look like this world-that-never-was come to life, and Zeman retains the antique, make-believe quality by the witty use of faint horizontal lines over some of the images. He sustains the Victorian tone, with its delight in the magic of science, that makes Verne seem so playfully archaic."

    Zeman also adapted Verne's "On the Comet" and "The Stolen Airship," which are also available from the Museum.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. That's a good point about Dumas. And thanks for alerting me to Zeman's film. I'm aware of various adaptations of Verne's novels (in addition to the Hollywood versions of Verne's more popular books), but I haven't seen any of them. Zeman's films are definitely going on my list of films to watch.

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