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Friday, 5 October 2012

Countdown to Skyfall - Dr No

It was 50 years ago this very day that a little movie called, Dr No hit the silver screen and the world was introduced to James Bond. Our first glimpse of Bond on the screen was provided by the then virtually unknown actor, Sean Connery.

Sean Connery was excellent in the role, many still maintain that he was the definitive 007, but the screen Bond was not exactly the literary Bond - there were aspects of the literary Bond that the producers were wise to leave out in order to make a more straightforward thriller.

However Dr No was very nearly not the first Bond film.

Saltzman and Broccoli had already commissioned Richard Maibaum to adapt Thunderball as the first film in the deal they had made with United Artists. And the script was actually finished when it was decided Dr No would be the debut Bond pic.

"Those who have read the book will be disappointed," an horrified Ian Fleming said, after seeing the movie. "But those who haven't will find it exciting. Audiences laugh in all the correct places."

Fleming was not initially impressed with Connery but he did over time warm to the actor but maybe his opinion of Dr No was rather harsh - the film did set the template for all that followed, featuring many of the series essential elements - Bond/M scene, jet to an exotic locale, three girls (one bad, two good), Monypenny flirtation, a megalomaniac villain with a secret lair.

Connery as Bond was excellent, despite what the author's opinion was - films and books are two different mediums and a truly faithful adaptation of any book is an impossibility. But in the sense of capturing the essence of the excellent books, Dr No is faultless. The scene where Bond shoots Professor Dent in cold blood sums up the man with a license to kill and variations on this scene have been played out in virtually every Bond movie since. Bond doesn't enjoy the deed but does it in a cold detached way, the way of a professional killer which is just what Bond is. After the man is dead Bond puts a superfluous bullet into the man's back and then calmly removes his silencer. The extra shot was absolutely shocking to a 1960's audience.

If there is a problem with Dr No it is that it feels disjointed - the first half plays out like an hardboiled but exotic detective story while the second section seems more like a sci-fi adventure. But that's a minor quibble against what truly is a classic piece of cinema.

The film though was not that well received by much of the press - "A fascist film uncorrupted by morals," said Richard Whitehall in an article that completely rubbished the film. Another critic was horrified and likened the film as the modern equivalent to feeding the Christians to the lions.

In terms of financial gain the film was a massive success in the UK  and made it's budget back easily. However the producers were a little uneasy about all the negative press and didn't release the movie in America until the following May - they had no need to worry as the film was an even bigger success with US audiences.

It was clear James Bond was going to be around for a very long time.

THE ULTIMATE EDITION DVD - available on both standard disc and blu-ray - it's a great transfer of the movie itself which has been restored to the highest possible standard and presented with a booming 5.1 soundtrack. There is a commentary from Terence Young and assorted members of the cast and crew and a second disc comes packed with special features including the detailed documentary Inside 007 as well as TV spots, the original trailer, a couple of vintage presentations and footage of the premieres of the James Bond series. All of the Ultimate Collection DVD's offer a rounded product that provides much more than just the film.

Watching the film prior to writing this piece (I don't know how many times I've seen it, maybe a dozen or more times) I enjoyed it fully even if I did know everything that was coming. It is perhaps the toughest of all the Bond movies, and is much slower paced than is usual. The latter point is no criticism - it's great to see the characterization being built, particularly in a Bond movie - the series quite often shuns characterization for an explosion or two or three.

Dr No then, in terms of the movie Bond, is where it all started and the entire series still feels its influence. Daniel Craig's first Bond movie, Casino Royale played with the scene of Ursula Andress emerging from the sea, only this time it was Bond we were supposed to ogle - think maybe the producers got a bit confused there. And Halle Berry had an almost identical scene,even down to the bikini, in Die Another Day. Bond's introduction - the name's Bond, James Bond - has been replicated in mostly every film that followed.

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