Thursday, September 09, 2010

Timothy Dalton: He started it first….

In the era when gritty reboot was the order of the day for action/fantasy films, one actor took the most famous franchise in the world back to the pages of the author Ian Fleming…and was never appreciated for that.

If history has been unkind to any actor - well there are thousands but it will not sit well with the content that I am about to type – it will be Timothy Dalton and his performance as Ian Fleming’s secret agent, Agent OO7 James Bond.

A great hero to the fans of the brilliant, exciting, thrillers written by Fleming in the 50s and 60s, Dalton single handedly took the franchise to a new direction in 1987, taking over from geriatric (but affable) Roger Moore* whose Bond films were nothing more than self-parodied excuse for display of outrageous gadgets, stunts and cleavages. Not that we are complaining about the latter, the films descended into the pit of impossibilities ignoring the mood established by Fleming in his wonderful books.

Dalton was dealt with the shit end of the stick due to bad timing. The public was not ready for a gritty Bond reboot. They are ready now, so much so that your friendly neighbourhood pal, Spider-Man is not getting ready for a gritty reboot. Gritty reboot is the order of the day since Batman Begins brought back some respect to the franchise. Sure, Bruce Wayne looked like he had a pair of batwing stuck up his ass all the time, but being mistaken for elements of “grittiness” the performance was accepted.

Then, the Bond franchise did the same and this time, mistaking Fleming’s Bond for Terminator, they got a superb actor in form of Daniel Craig to play cyborg-ish Bond…it was only during the quieter moments when we actually saw Craig channelling Ian Fleming’s creation, as a wonderful actor of his calibre should. Unfortunately, the rest of the time the script treated the character the same way it would treat light sabre in the Star Wars films. Film fans worldwide lapped it up wholesale.

The audience of the 80s, unfortunately, was not really sure what it wants as far as action genre is concerned. It embraced Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, but turned its nose up to Dalton’s second outing, Licence to Kill which had equally, if not more, amount of gratuitous violence, and action sequences. Sure, Dalton took his characters more seriously than the goofy Mel Gibson and monologuous Bruce Willis, but alienated a massive potion of the audience who had been comfortable Roger Moore who played James Bond as if James Bond was playing Roger Moore. They couldn’t recognise what was essentially the man directly from the pages of Ian Fleming’s fantastic thrillers.

Trouble is, the entire world was never ready for a Flemingesque James Bond from day one when the spearheading Dr. No appeared on screen. Despite what most fans would think, agent OO7 as played by the magnificent Sean Connery was only mildly related to the James Bond of the book. Sure, Connery was good looking and a “tough customer” as per the superspy of the book, but Fleming’s creation was dark, never sure of his moral stand as far as his role as assassin is concerned. His womanising tendencies does not involve woman swooning after him after couple of groan inducing puns. He worked his way to know his lady friends, and actually have loved most of them passionately.

The James Bond of the books was a lonely man who appreciated friendships that he can’t have on the account of his job. He takes time to have lunch with his chief-of-staff when he’s around in the office and have good working and personal relationship with the American ally, Felix Leiter.

If you feel these qualities does not represent James Bond at all, then you have not read Fleming. Dalton did. That is why you see these elements in the two films he made. Beginning with The Living Daylights, which had the opening sequence taken directly from the short story of the same written by Fleming, Dalton showed the darker side of the assassin Bond, totally in control of the situation, and adhering to his own moral code of not killing a non-assasin (turned out to be a girl who “can’t tell one end of the rifle from another”). He then meets the bad guys girlfriend, and actually falls in love with her.

Yes, he actually does. His love affair with Kara offers perhaps the most tender and heart warming moments ever in the film franchise’s history (George Lazenby/Bond fans will disagree I am sure). Not only have that, in this and the next film, Bond also displayed a warm friendship with Q, the gadget-master, not dissimilar to the book character who’s close with this chief of staff.

But let me get back to the gritty reboot thing. Am I giving too much credit to the actor for the reboot, considering the producers were pretty powerful and has all the say? No. The actor who was suppose to take over in 1986 was Pierce Brosnan and he was doing a romantic comedy TV series remember? He would have kept the comedic angle on with his boyish good look and sense of humour. Luckily he was unavailable, and Dalton, trained by Royal Shakespearian Company, was anal about sticking to the original literature.

It was a desparate time for the producers and they bowed to demand and the scriptwriters had to tweak the script to his strength (dramatic portrayal, no-nonsense approach) and later, for the second film, the entire script was written with Dalton in mind. Licence To Kill was an opportunity for us to see the actual Fleming Bond in a Flemingesque story telling, where the bad guys are really evil and people bleed, and die horrible death. It was probably the first time we are seeing Bond looking tired, bruised, his shirt and suit torn and dusty at the end of an impressive bloody, fiery action sequence. And most of the audience stayed away, Dalton’s contract expired and he went on doing other interesting material. And in replacement we got an pretty man with lots of hair, stupid one-liners, and shit-loads of bullets in disposal.

For that, I say thank god for Daniel Craig. But let us thank Timothy Dalton first. Sean Connery may be the best Bond, but Dalton is the best Fleming Bond.

*whatever my complaints are about Moore films, I revisit them for one reason alone, Moore.

5 comments:

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Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I actually knew Fleming, slightly. He didn't like Connery (even as a person) though he admitted he did look like the Bond he wrote of. Cary Grant was his ideal, but far too old, likewise 'affable' David Niven. There were a couple of others, but one was gay and refused to even touch the girls, let alone do sex-scenes with them! Moore was 'too pretty', couldn't act but 'modelled' all his roles as himself. He'd also signed for a new series of The Saint. Of them all, Niven had actual wartime combat experience in an Intel-unit and was possibly still doing undercover work for MI6, under the cover of his fame. Moore had combat experience from the Mau Mau conflict in Kenya and was also possibly MI6. He looked pretty, yes, but, like Niven, a trained policeman too he was actually capable of being a real James Bond.

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