Like Bond or not, it’s a sublime and unparalleled achievement that the character has almost continuously remained on cinema screens for 50 years. Dr. No premiered on October 5th 1962 and 50 years on (to both celebrate that milestone and to help promote the fast-approaching Skyfall) Stevan Riley’s documentary is interested in ascertaining just how 007 has managed to reach this milestone. And frankly, it’s quite extraordinary.
The doc delves into some of the many obstacles that Bond’s had to overcome throughout the years: Ian Fleming’s battle to get his novels to the screen in the first place; the loss of Connery; the legal battle over the rights to Thunderball; the relevance of a post-Cold War era Bond; legal and financial studio issues…the list goes on. Due to the long and complicated history of the franchise these problems are merely discussed rather than examined in any great depth (and you’d imagine most would provide fascinating subject matter for feature-length documentaries in and of themselves), but that’s not really a problem when they’re so intriguing in nature and are being recounted by a ridiculously great line-up of talking heads.
The main coup is that all the Bonds are back – well, except for Sean Connery, and maybe that’s for the best because for large sections of the film’s run-time he’s presented somewhat as the villain of the piece. George Lazenby talks candidly the reasons he wanted to be Bond (*cough* sex *cough*) and how that ultimately led to him ballsing it all up. Roger Moore brings his trademark humour and a fantastic gag, which I won’t ruin, about his role as a UNIEF ambassador.
Timothy Dalton (or the unfairly maligned Timothy Dalton as he has become latterly known) oozes with passion when discussing the new take he wanted to bring to the character. Pierce Brosnan takes us through the agony of first losing out on the role of Bond and the ecstasy of reclaiming it almost a decade later. Daniel Craig, meanwhile, reminds us why he’s the perfect choice for a 21st Century Bond. There’s also the likes of Judi Dench, Sam Mendes, Ken Adam, Barbara Broccoli, Christopher Lee, Austin Powers and even a former POTUS. It’s the stuff Bondgasms are made of.
This kind of thing could just play on TV, but it’s kept cinematic by a barrage of Bond clips which are often used to tell Bond’s off-screen stories chronologically. We start – after a stunning 6-Bond gun barrel sequence – with Ian Fleming and Bond’s literary beginnings, before the focus shifts onto the relationship of Eon founders Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. For a long time this is the main thrust, and there are some genuinely emotional moments involving the pair. The real marvel though is that even as characters as influential as they were come and go, the narrative remains compelling thanks to the one ever-present: 007. It’s far from comprehensive, but over 98 minutes it’s likely as good as we’re ever likely to get, and for anyone with even a passing interest in James Bond, it’s an essential watch.