James Bond turns 50 with release of 'Skyfall'

| Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, 9:03 p.m.

You can't kill James Bond.

Since his dashing debut on the big screen with “Dr. No” in 1962, suave and lethal secret Agent 007 has eluded all attempts to terminate him. He escaped a vasectomy by laser beam in “Goldfinger,” survived sharks in “Thunderball” and eluded the metal teeth of the hulking henchman Jaws in “Moonraker.”

The British superspy also has weathered changing societal attitudes that brought criticism of his womanizing, drinking and gambling. After 50 years, his unorthodox methods and go-it-alone ethos still infuriate his superior — M.

Thursday, 007 returns in “Skyfall,” with Daniel Craig reporting for duty with Her Majesty's Secret Service. As Bond, Craig helped represent queen and country, with a little help from the head of state herself, during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

In “Skyfall,” he matches wits with Javier Bardem, who plays peroxide-blond super-villain Raoul Silva. Judi Dench returns as M. French actress Berenice Marlohe is the Bond-girl eye candy. Academy Award-winner Sam Mendes directs “Skyfall,” which also stars Naomie Harris and Ralph Fiennes.

It will be the 23rd official Bond film in a franchise that has grossed $5 billion worldwide. “Skyfall” also is the first 007 adventure to be shown in IMAX format, in addition to regular screens. The film premieres locally Thursday on IMAX at AMC Loew's Waterfront in Homestead and Cinema 18 at Pittsburgh Mills, Frazer, with midnight previews scheduled later that night at other theaters.

Origin story

A new Epix documentary, “Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007,” details the trio behind the creation of the longest-running movie franchise in history. Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and partner Harry Saltzman bought the film rights to the James Bond novels written by Ian Fleming, an old Etonian, journalist and British naval intelligence officer.

Bond reputedly was based on a particularly daring commando, Royal Navy Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Dalzel-Job, who had worked under Fleming during World War II. When it came time to name his fictional superspy, Fleming turned to his bookshelves, where he spied a book titled “Birds of the West Indies,” written by an American ornithologist named James Bond.

The films are now produced by Broccoli's daughter, Barbara Broccoli, and her half-brother, Michael G. Wilson.

The coolest opening

One of the secret weapons of the Bond movies was the “pre-credit” sequence, where the audience is plunged straight into the story prior to the titles appearing on the screen. It was unusual for the times. Bond fan Richard Goldman remembers the cold open of “Goldfinger” in 1964. “It doesn't open with titles. It opens with something happening,” he says. “When that scene climaxes, then you get the gun barrel and the blood and the music.”

Few things are cooler, or more parodied, than Maurice Binder's iconic opening sequence, where the audience looks down the barrel of a gun. To achieve the effect, the New York-born Binder used a pinhole camera to film through a real gun barrel. Bond's silhouette pivots, the gun muzzle flashes and blood trickles down the screen as the theme song plays.

The original surf-rock theme song has been credited to official composer Monty Norman, but guitarist John Barry claims he came up with that slithering, slightly dissonant guitar riff. The Bond movie theme songs have been hit and miss over the years, from the classy “Nobody Does It Better” by Carly Simon from “The Spy Who Loved Me” to the big, jazzy “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey to the forgettable “For Your Eyes Only” by Sheena Easton. Adele sings the theme song for “Skyfall.”

Corey LeChat, a visual artist who lives in Shaler, recalls the 1985 opening of “A View to a Kill.”

“The audience went crazy when Duran Duran's credit came up on the screen,” he says. “It was a crowning achievement in Duran Duran's career. “

Long-time fan

Gregory Costantino, 50, has been a Bond fan since childhood. The guitarist, who lives in Lawrenceville, plays for the band Verti-Go-Go. He once fronted Z.O.W.I.E., a rock trio who played the James Bond theme song and other spy-movie instrumentals, each dressed as a unique secret-agent persona.

He notes that 007 has changed, grudgingly, to reflect the changing zeitgeist.

“Bond changes, but not a lot,” Costantino says. “What we're looking at now, it's really close to what the character is in the novels. He's kind of a nihilist in a way. He's all about doing the job. He's like this ruthless kid plucked out of school to do the work because he doesn't have anything to lose. It kind of fits with the times right now. I think that's why it does sustain itself. We get the Bond we need at the time.”

For Costantino, it was the television ads for “Goldfinger” that sucked him into Bond's world of exotic locales, fiendishly grandiose villains and beautiful Bond girls. Released in 1964, “Goldfinger” was the first to feature Bond's swift and deadly Aston Martin, whose headlights could deploy machine-gun turrets.

“It was that car. They showed the ejector-seat scene in the trailer,” Costantino says. “You're saying to yourself, ‘That's the baddest thing I've ever seen.' ”

The classic Aston Martin makes a return in “Skyfall.”

Gadgets galore

No Bond movies would be complete without some cool gear. There's the jet-pack in “Thunderball,” the Voice Algorithm Duplicator in “Diamonds Are Forever,” and the electromagnetic watch that deflected bullets in “Live and Let Die.”

Schoolchildren in the '60s no longer asked Santa for a Red Ryder BB gun or a pair of cowboy boots. They wanted the undercover-spy attache case that shot bullets, or the official Spy Kit, or the 007 exploding lighter. In “Skyfall,” Bond's Walther PPK handgun is adapted to fire only when he holds it.

The man with a license to kill has been heavily licensed.

For “Skyfall,” Omega has produced a limited edition of the Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M, a wristwatch worn by Daniel Craig in the film. Recently, Kohl's debuted the first official 007 men's fragrance in the United Kingdom. It quickly sold out, at a rate of one bottle every four minutes, according to the company.

To celebrate Bond's 50th anniversary, Champagne Bollinger launched a limited-edition special presentation box. The box includes a bottle of Bollinger La Grande Année 2002. For all things Bond, check out www.jamesbondlifestyle.com.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York City recently concluded a film retrospective, “50 Years of James Bond.” At an online charity auction Oct. 8 of Bond memorabilia at Christies, a set of props used by Sean Connery in “You Only Live Twice” — four suction cups and a fiberglass shotgun — brought 15,000 Euros, or $19,000.

The Bond girls

They're sexy, dangerous, sexy, brave and often working for the enemy. Did we mention that they were sexy? The quintessential Bond Girl may have been Pussy Galore, played by Honor Blackman in “Goldfinger.” She had that smart-stupid name and attitude to spare. Plus, she was a judo expert in real life.

Of all the Bond girls, Diana Rigg was the one Bond chose to marry in “On Her Majesty's Secret Service.” But there would be no bachelor toast or “Chicken Dance” at this wedding, as Rigg's character, Tracy Draco, was gunned down by a henchman of the evil Ernst Blofeld minutes after they said, “I do.”

“Initially, Bond girls were part of the aesthetic of the series. They had more transient roles,” says Karen Tongson, a professor of English and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California. “Especially in the last 15 to 20 years, there's been a marked shift in their greater involvement in the action of the story line and also the motivation for Bond, especially Daniel Craig's Bond.”

Who qualifies as a Bond girl also has changed over the years, as the blue-eyed, buxom blonde has given way to more diverse leading ladies, including Michelle Yeoh (“Tomorrow Never Dies”) and Halle Berry (“Die Another Day”).

One thing that hasn't changed? Whatever their role, Bond girls still must be inarguably beautiful.

Nearly 50 hours of film

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bond movies, Richard Goldman and his wife, Mary Alice Gorman, former owners of Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, are watching all 22 Bond movies in chronological order. They began with “Dr. No” in July and have worked their way up to “Quantum of Solace.” Goldman grew up in Miami, where some of the scenes from “Goldfinger” were filmed at the landmark Fountaine-bleau Hotel.

“It's very fascinating to watch the evolution of the series as they move on from movie to movie. Of course, as they move from actor to actor,” Goldman says. “The Roger Moore Bond movies are quite a bit different than Sean Connery's. The Roger Moore movies have a little more silliness to them. The Moore movies have more groaner kind of jokes. The Timothy Dalton movies, he always seems very (ticked) off. He's always playing sort of an angry character.”

Goldman's wife didn't have to be coaxed into watching the Bond films.

“We both enjoyed them,” he says. “The Bond movies, unlike many shoot'em-up adventure films, have a much broader appeal to women than many of those movies. There are quite a lot of women I come across who like them, although they would not be running out to see a Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.”

William Loeffler is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wloeffler@tribweb.com or 412-320-7986. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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