Sunday, August 05, 2007

They All Want to be Bond

Mission Impossible, The Bourne Identity, Ronin, La Femme Nikita. What do they all have in common? Yes, they could all qualify as espionage thrillers, but really, I think they all aspire to be a James Bond movie. When I think of spy thrillers I pretty much put everything into two categories: Bond and everything else. What got me thinking about this was two things, the release of The Bourne Ultimatum and the new TV show Burn Notice. I haven't seen The Bourne Ultimatum yet though it is getting very good reviews, which is great. I loved the first Bourne movie, The Bourne Identity, though the second of the series, The Bourne Supremacy, was less to my liking both for its deviation from the book and its jittery film style. Having read all of Robert Ludlum's Bourne books I know this third installment will have to have major deviations from the book to be consistent with the previous films, but I still have hope that it will be worth watching. Now, maybe I'm wrong in asserting that Ludlum was using James Bond as inspiration when he wrote the Bourne series. But somehow I think Bond must have been a significant influence. Ian Flemming really started something when he wrote Casino Royale. He made it seem incredibly cool to be a spy, no doubt inspiring countless reckless young men to seek out a career of covert government service (with very little success I'm sure). And Ludlum had to have been a fan of Flemming don't you think? To write such a character as Jason Bourne? No, Bourne doesn't start out as a good guy but somehow losing his memory brings out the conscience of the man thus putting him on a road of cat and mouse with our government and foreign bad guys. See? In the end he becomes a very Bondian character with his fighting skills and his ability to ferret out government secrets. Again, maybe I'm wrong, but as much as I like the Bourne movies, I still feel as if I am watching something very much like a Bond film. Burn Notice on the other hand is kind of like a comedic version of James Bond, though it doesn't go nearly as over the top as the Austin Powers franchise. I gotta admit, I really like Burn Notice. I became a fan of Jeffrey Donovan when the series Touching Evil was on and I still like him a lot. And let's be honest, anything that brings Bruce Campbell back to television has got to be a good thing. Burn Notice follows the story of former spy, Michael Weston, who was fired or "burned" as they call it in his particular industry. Weston still wants to be a spy however and using the skills he's gleaned over the years as a covert operative he methodically tries to find out who "burned" him-- and make a living at the same time. Burn Notice is kind of like Bond Lite to me. It's meant to be lighter, more comedic show, which I love. But it has all the things we like to see in a Bond movie. He outsmarts the bad guys and the other government spooks and uses a pretty wide variety of gadgets-- though nothing as high tech as what we're used to seeing in James Bond's Aston Martin. But you see where I'm going with this don't you? James Bond is the man, especially when he's being played by Daniel Craig. But without a weekly series featuring Bond, we only get our fix every couple of years or so. Therefore we look to characters like Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt or even Michael Weston to fill the void. But there is a void isn't there? I mean, there are a lot of good espionage thrillers out there. Tom Clancy created a great character with Jack Ryan and Ronin will always be one of my favorite movies. But when it comes to watching a spy movie, I think Bond will always be my first choice.


Fab said...

Cheers for Bond!
I've always been a Connery fan while my sister preferred Moore to be the better Bond. Heated discussions all around. Today I'm going to watch Casino Royal, and seeing you, Sqt, have been raving about Craig, I guess it will be a fun Bond experience.

Bourne movies are great spy movies. I haven't read the books, though.

Burn Notice has not passed my radar. I guess it's only aired in the US.

Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator said...

I've never seen Burn Notice but it has Bruce Campbell in it so it should be good, right?

Jean-Luc Picard said...

I haven't seen the Bourne films, but it seems the recent Bond film has developed it.

Carl V. said...

Interestingly enough I made some similar comparisons in my review of The Bourne Ultimatum to the latest version of Bond in Casino Royale. I love the gutsy, brutal, visceral intensity of all four films (Casino and the 3 Bourne films). I found this last installment to be amazing. However, it does employ much of the same jittery style (same director as the last one). I also cannot speak to the books and can only say that I think the three films together, as films only, are a masterpiece of the action/spy genre. I have high hopes that they will continue with Daniel Craig to reinvent Bond to be more in line with the books, which is certainly what they did with Casino Royale. I look forward to your assessment of Bourne, one way or the other.

SQT said...


I hope to get to go and see Bourne soon. Babysitting is always the issue.

I expect I'll like it. You're right in that if you take the books out of the equation they're great as stand alone movies. My problem is that they say they are based on the books but really only the first book could even be called much of an influence.

I do like that the Bourne movies are serious as far as the genre goes. I'm glad they don't go for anything too over-the-top. I like it much more that way.

And what is it with the busy camera work? Why are so many filmmakers afraid to just be still for a moment or two?

weenie said...

I picked up Ludlum's Bourne Identity recently as I fancied reading something different by an author I hadn't tried before. Must say that I'm really enjoying it. Have never seen any of the Bourne films - dunno why, never got round to them I guess but I should cos Matt Damon's pretty fit!

Bond - my favourite was Connery, I liked Brosnan but Craig - swoon at those little blue shorts! :-D

Stewart Sternberg said...

What is astonishing about Bond is that the character continues to be relevant. Craig's Bond is a tortured soul, arrogant, detached from his feelings, impulsive, with a cruelty that hints at the suppressed rage and self-loathing.

You're right, there are other espionage novels and then there is Bond.

By the way, Dirk Pitt by Cussler is a marvelous espionage figure. I remember reading "Dragon" by Cussler and thinking, "this is a Bond novel".

Maybe it would be more of a service to seperate thrillers by heroic adventures and those that focus on complexity of character and theme. Fleming on the left, LeCarre on the right. Or, Ludlum on the left and Len Deighton on the right.

One thing, if I may be allowed to babble that spy novels are very much a product of the time in which they are written. Bond is a child of the cold war, whereas Ludlum is a product of the suspicion of government that was the eighties (an era of the Iran Contra scandal and a post Watergate mentality). Today's spy novels reflect the government's control by corporations as it deals with runaway technology and terrorism.

Okay. Sorry. I'm going on and on...but the topic is fascinating and worthy of a longer and more detailed discussion.

SQT said...


I would love it if you would expand on the topic. Mostly I thought of it because of the current movies and tv shows.

I've read almost all of Cussler's Dirk Pitt books and I've always thought he was a take-off of Bond. The new books aren't as good because they're trying to be more politically correct and I think the character ends up losing something when he's being socially edited.

It's also an excellent point to look at Cold War Bond -- and other espionage novels of the time. They had such a feel about them that was so unique. Now everything focuses on terrorism.

Fab said...

"And what is it with the busy camera work? Why are so many filmmakers afraid to just be still for a moment or two?"

Here here for that remark, Sqt! Ok, if it is some of the time, but it's in most series and movies now. I'm getting fricken seasick!

Anyway, yesterday I watched Casino Royale on DVD. Oh my goodness! What a great movie! I just got lost in Craig's beautiful blue eyes, and I don't care if it's a girlie thing to say.

Carl V. said...

What amazed me about the Bond novels, which I started reading right after Casino Royale was released last year, was how serious, and how good, they really are. I had an idea that they were all as tongue-in-cheek as the previous Bond films and I was pleased to discover that this isn't the case at all. I'm on novel 5 right now and hope to get through them all before the end of the year.

Angela/SciFiChick said...

I just love that you posted another pic of Daniel Craig. Can't get enough of that man. lol

And I agree with the comparison to Burn Notice.. that's what I've called it too.. the American James Bond.. with an American sense of humor. I never cared as much for the dry, British humor of the former Bonds.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

long time no visit, sqt. i went through my espionage novel phase in college, when everyone around me was reading vonnegut. my favorite ludlum book is the chancellor manuscript. thanks for the heads up on burn notice, i'll look for it. take care, ms. spare parts.