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Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Film Buff: Defending Dalton

With the indefinite suspension of the Bond franchise by EON due to the continuing financial woes of parent studio MGM, it seems increasingly likely that The Quantum of Solace will be Daniel Craig's last outing as the iconic Agent 007.
I thought this would be an appropriate time to revisit the earlier and much-maligned incarnation of James Bond in the late eighties as portrayed by Timothy Dalton.
I think Dalton gets a bum rap for his take on the British superspy, and I have my suspicions as to why.
First, Dalton was not the first choice, and most of us knew it. Whispers about Pierce Brosnan as a potential new Bond began almost immediately upon his appearance on American television as the mysterious Remington Steele. After Roger Moore's last turn as Bond in A View to A Kill (1985), Brosnan was a slam-dunk to strap on the Walther PPK, but NBC decided not to release him from his Remington Steele contract in case they wanted to make any TV movies based on the already canceled series. This was a disappointing turn of events for almost everyone involved, especially fans of the franchise who were anxious to see Brosnan step into the role. Dalton had the thankless job of assuming a part that many felt was unfairly kept from someone else.
Adding to fan's displeasure was the fact that Timothy Dalton is eleven to thirteen years older than Brosnan. (Strangely, there is some disagreement on the internet about the year of Dalton's birth.) Roger Moore was approaching sixty when he made A View to a Kill, and many Bond aficionados (myself included) were anxious to see a younger actor breathe new life into the role. While Dalton was certainly younger than Roger Moore, he was not as young as Brosnan. He was also older than both Connery and Lazenby had been when they had first played the dapper secret agent. (Dalton was still younger than Roger Moore had been in his 007 debut, Live and Let Die in 1973.)
For the casual Bond fan or average movie-goer, Dalton had another unfortunate cross to bear. The franchise under Roger Moore had developed a reputation for being a bit cornball and, at times, even ridiculous. Moore's light-hearted approach to the part had taken a lot of the edge off of the character, and anti-heroes like Dirty Harry, Mad Max, and Rambo were drawing at the box office. While Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Sylvester Stallone, and Arnold Schwarzenegger were flexing as they were blowing things up on screen, James Bond had become a bit of a joke with Roger Moore chasing after bad guys and romancing women almost all of whom in both categories were half his age.
Timothy Dalton's edgier, darker James Bond wasn't really what anyone was expecting, and, for a lot of fans, he was not who they had been hoping to see.
It was a case of bad timing. The public probably needed more of a break from the Roger Moore era of Bond, and a lot of the public's frustration with NBC's lawyers over the whole Brosnan thing was unfairly vented at the Welsh actor who got the role over the Irish actor who many thought should have gotten it.
In both of his outings as Bond, The Living Daylights (1987) and License To Kill (1989), Dalton is smooth, smart, rugged, charming, handsome, and everything that Bond should be. Gone is the smirkiness of the late seventies and eighties, replaced with a gritty (but suave) modern action hero.
The films warrant a second look and I believe that Dalton's unfortunate but common designation as "the worst Bond" is completely undeserved.
As for the future of Bond, while I am sorry that we probably will not get to see Daniel Craig return to the role (he was better than I thought he would be), I think that the best thing for the franchise would be the re-boot (the complete one) that we were all promised after Pierce Brosnan was unceremoniously fired after Die Another Day (2002).
I think that after about five years - enough time for EON to find another home for the franchise - we should be given a prequel that leads us into the story of James Bond becoming 007. I think, too, that the series could benefit from remaining in the period in which it was originally written. Imagine Mad Men meets action franchise.
Of course, that's just one idea.


Prof. Jenn said...

But that's what Casino Royale is--a story about how Bond got his 007 license. That is the "prequel."

Brady Darnell said...

Right, but EON screwed up with their "prequel" by carrying Dame Judi over from the previous films and hiring an actor who was older than Connery was when he first played Bond. I suggest either re-making _Casino Royale_ (with some additional establishing pre-history) or doing an original retcon with an actor of appropriate age.