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On re-watching all the 007 films on the big screen, in 4K

September 11, 2017

Today’s guest post is by Craig McDonald, author of the superlative Hector Lassiter series of novels. 

This summer, I’ve been privileged to savor what’s been billed as a revolutionary, world-exclusive Bonding experience.

The very cutting-edge Gateway Film Center located on The Ohio State University campus has been presenting, “For the first time ever, all 26 James Bond films in order of release, restored in crystal clear 4K!”

That’s right: starting back on July 1 with 1962’s Doctor NO, and every fourth day since, a subsequent “classic” Bond film has been screened at a level of visual and audio quality far eclipsing that of the ABC Sunday Night Movie versions I grew up on in the late-1960s and early-1970s, or even the films I saw upon first-release on the big screen starting with (here I date myself as cinema Bond and I came into the world together in 1962) You Only Live Twice, at the tender age of five.

Hell, the quality of this summer’s large-screen 007 versions are light years beyond that of any of the remastered VHS tapes or DVD’s I’ve bought in the many years since.

As a James Bond aficionado and a novelist who not so long ago published his own 007 pastiche (Death in the Face, Betimes Books, October 2015), this summer’s film series has proven impossible to pass up.

Confession here: I didn’t see all 26 films. To get to that count, Gateway incorporated two non-Eon productions, the rogue Connery comeback and Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again —a did-see re-watch, and quite stunning in restoration; a superior film in every retrospective respect to the then-competing Octopussy, which is a lukewarm mostly Goldfinger-remake—and the original Charles Feldman-version of Casino Royale, which after a one-time viewing about thirty years ago, I swore off forever.

(Sometimes we say never again, and we goddamn mean it.)

Scattered visceral impressions:

The early Bond films, particularly Doctor No, are exceptionally stunning in these big-screen, digitally remastered renditions. All should be so lucky to have this experience: Every crease of Bernard Lee’s suit jacket and forehead wrinkles in his icy first scenes as “M” are stunningly sharp in NO, as are the beads of sweat on Connery’s forehead during that tarantula scene.

The cinematography of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the only of the non-Feldman Bond film I’d never seen on the big screen before, is strikingly edgy and beautiful, particularly in its opening, haunted pre-titles scenes set on a beach at sunset, and during the twilight ski chase down from Piz Gloria.

On that note, you also really have to see these films on the big screen in 4K to truly re-appreciate the framing of all of their exotic settings that surely enchanted and remained impossible fantasy destinations for the films’ then mostly middle-income fans across their 20th Century releases.

Last scattered impression: Despite its rogue status, Connery’s swan-song, NSNA, clearly shaped subsequent EON Bonds, from its black Felix Leiter, to Barbara Carrera’s obvious inspiration for Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp and its more grounded chief villain.

But seeing these films writ large and in tight compression this way also reminded me of many unhappy and aggravating earlier experiences and frustrations experienced during long-ago, first-run viewings throughout the 1970s and early-1980s.

For me, the Roger Moore films were nearly unendurable in real time, back-when.

Outside of his debut in Live and Let Die, and Sir Roger’s one, somewhat Conneryesque outing in For Your Eyes Only, I truly loathed nearly all of those films, then and now.

For me, Moore’s Bond also dates the most severely, not just in terms of all the wide lapels, fat ties and flared slacks, but far more for Bond’s exceedingly poor — and frequently contemptuous — treatment of women.

Connery’s swaggering machismo and interactions with females (even that crack about “man talk” and subsequent slap at Dink’s backside in Goldfinger) elicited wry and I assume-to-be ironic knowing laughs this summer, this from a mostly college-age and female-skewed audience. (As it happened, I was nearly the only male in the house for Goldfinger, this 4K-enhanced round.)

Connery could surely play the 1960s-era rake, but one gets the sense even half-a-century and more hence, Sean’s is a killer who at-base appreciates women, even if he isn’t always particularly polite to them, or above coldly using them to further aims on a mission as required.

Indeed, in several instances, Connery’s Bond seems truly engaged by and really affectionate toward his female leads, particularly in his first two outings, as well as in his last.

In my revisited take this round, Moore’s Bond once again never seemed honestly affectionate or even mildly kindly-disposed toward any of his leading ladies, not once.

From Roger Moore’s second outing as Bond, The Man With the Golden Gun

Fleming’s literary Bond often gets bad-rapped (at least in my estimation) for perceived misogyny.

But I’d argue Fleming’s original 007’s interactions with several of his female protagonists firmly contradicts that alleged defect.

In contrast to Moore, Dalton’s and Craig’s Bonds (certainly so in both actors’ first outings) are clearly smitten by — and even actually frequent and charming tools for — their cunning female foils.

I’ll state here that my most consistent companion throughout this summer’s “once-in-a-lifetime” viewing experience has been our now-17-year-old, youngest daughter.

Every generation has its Bond, and her 007 has been Daniel Craig (lucky kid). She appreciates and has real affection for Sean Connery.

Both our daughters came around on George Lazenby upon big-screen viewing of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service this summer.

The youngest also this time came to appreciate Timothy Dalton’s most Flemingesque Bond as a strong and honest foreshadowing of Craig’s current take on 007.

Despite much playing of Nintendo’s Goldeneye on a vintage video console we still have around, neither of our daughters is a Pierce Brosnan fan, not even a little.

And one soundly denounced Moore’s Bond for his manipulation of Solitaire in her summer’s critique of Live and Let Die, and consistently and correctly seized upon that version of Bond’s myriad other abuses of female characters in that film.

Most vintage 007 things hold up quite well, but some now offend.

(Many from the Moore era deeply offend, even eliciting some boos this summer).

Still, I’ll submit it’s impossible for anyone born after even, say, 1975, to grasp how revolutionary and influential the first few Bond films have proven.

Ernest Hemingway claimed all of American literature starts with Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.

I contend all of post 1962-action cinema — from Star Wars to you name it, springs from Doctor No.

Even now, with enhanced visuals and sound, the machine-gun editing speed and exaggerated sound effects of the Robert Shaw/Sean Connery brawl upon the Orient Express in From Russia With Love constitutes a revolutionary and exhilarating assault on the senses.

John Barry’s scores hold up wonderfully, even during the mostly undistinguished run of Moore era-soundtracks.

(And, please, EON, bring back David Arnold for Bond 25; much as I enjoyed Skyfall and Spectre, I’ve found the soundtracks for both films particularly un-engaging, and even more so, having heard them all again back-to-back these past weeks.)

Last night, we revisited Casino Royale: We’ve at last caught up to 21st-Century cinema James Bond.

The youngest McDonald first saw that film at nearly the same age I saw my first Bond film in 1967.

At seventeen, she got to see it better than she remembered it, in all that “crystal clear 4K.”

To watch it again in that pristine form was, for all of us, a renewed revelation and reminder how much we’ve savored Daniel Craig in the role.

And now EONs’ Bond “25” looms.

God willing, the four of us will see it together again sometime in the fall of 2018, and be enchanted anew.

My favorite Bond elements based squarely on this summer’s “enhanced” big-screen versions:

Bond Films:

  • From Russia With Love
  • Casino Royale
  • On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  • The Living Daylights

Best Soundtrack:

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Best Bonds:

  • Daniel Craig
  • Timothy Dalton
  • George Lazenby

And in class all his own:

  • Sean Connery

Youngest McDonald’s picks:

Best Bond films:

  • Casino Royale
  • From Russia With Love
  • Skyfall
  • License to Kill

Best Bonds:

  • Sean Connery
  • Daniel Craig
  • Timothy Dalton

Craig McDonald is the author of the Hector Lassiter series. A graphic novel of his Edgar Award-nominated novel HEAD GAMES will be published by First Second Books on Oct. 24.

Check out my interview with Craig from last year here.

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