The Essential Bond Reviewed


The Essential Bond was written and compiled by Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall and first published in 1998. This is another in the line of big glossy picture packed authorized celebrations of the series and contains the usual guide to the films, gadgets, villains, locations, Bond girls etc with a few subjective observations thrown in here and there by the authors. There are four additional chapters after the lengthy section on the films about the literary adventures of the character, the Bond production team, Bond in popular culture and the unofficial or 'other' Bonds - like Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery. 'It's all here,' goes the blurb on the back. 'The missions, the gadgets, the vehicles, the legendary villains, the exotic locales and the even more exotic Bond women. You can meet the directors, writers, stuntmen and technicians who have contributed to the success of the series and have stories of their own to tell.'

While much of the stuff here will not be terribly new to Bond anoraks and there are only so many times you can read someone say that The Man with the Golden Gun was a bit of a weak entry or whatever in these Bond themed guides, this is certainly an attractive and colourful book that contains over 250 rare production photographs, cinema posters and product adverstisments from the archives of Eon Productions. This is really the main appeal of the book for Bond fans and completists and there are many stills and some pieces of promotional art that I'd never personally seen before. The book begins with a foreward by Bond producer Michael G Wilson where he talks about how Cubby Broccoli's secret was putting the budget up on the screen and giving everyone value for money and an exotic sun drenched fantasy adventure where we could all forget our troubles. It's ironic really that - having put his finger on the source of the enduring appeal of the franchise - that he and his sister Barbara seem to have no idea to how to actually make a Bond film themselves. We then get quite a nice tribute written by Pfeiffer when Cubby Broccoli died before the book moves onto the film section.

Each film gets about eight pages laced with rare photographs and stills and - after some analysis - from the authors there is a look at the characters, the women, the mission, the gadgets, music, box-office and marketing. There are also additional snippets in little boxes under the heading 'Top Secret Cast & Crew Dossiers'. These tell us things like, in the case of Dr No for example, that Sean Connery was first suggested for the role of James Bond when Dana Broccoli, Cubby's wife, saw him in a Disney film called Darby O'Gill and the Little People. It's the stills and pictures that are the most interesting element on offer here. They include Shirley Eaton being painted gold for Goldfinger, early and rarely seen artwork that was never used for You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever, stills of the roof top chase with George Lazenby that was never included in the final print of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, director Guy Hamilton with Denise Perrier and Sean Connery rehearsing the pre-credits sequence for Diamonds Are Forever and so on. There are also some storyboards included and an amazing sketch by legendary production designer Ken Adam of Blofeld's oil-rig lair. Also of interest is a stylish teaser for Tomorrow Never Dies that was used for the Japanese market.

The co-authors views on the films are always balanced and reasonably interesting even if there are no major surprises or unconventional views. The Man with the Golden Gun, Moonraker and A View To A Kill are judged as weaker entries, Roger Moore should be praised for making the role his own after being given the impossible task of following Connery but there was a tad too much comedy in his entries, On Her Majesty's Secret Service is underrated etc, etc. The authors make some good points about Diamonds Are Forever being the first Roger Moore film in a way with the plentiful humour in that picture signalling the direction the series would take in the seventies with Sir Roger's more tongue-in-cheek take on the role. Timothy Dalton is praised for taking the role seriously and bringing the series back down to earth again in 1987 for The Living Daylights but his slight awkwardness with humour is cited as a minor problem. 'Indeed, if Dalton has one drawback it was his uncomfortable way of delivering the one-liners that are obligatory for any actor playing Bond.' Dalton's last film, Licence To Kill, is interestingly judged to have been controversial because of its more down and earth and less flippant approach. For some fans it wasn't 'Bondian' enough - which is exactly what many said about 2008's Quantum of Solace so we've come full circle. Pierce Brosnan, who was of course Bond when this book was compiled and released, is generally lauded as the best since Connery in the text.

There is a chapter on Ian Fleming and the various books - where much maligned continuation Bond author Raymond Benson gets off very lightly (!) - and one about the James Bond 'family' where we get a brief bio of everyone from Cubby Broccoli to John Glen to Maurice Binder to Derek Meddings and generally all the people who contributed most to the series. A chapter on '007 and Popular Culture' skims through the various copycats Bond inspired which included everything from The Man From U.N.C.L.E to Get Smart to Danger Man. A series called I SPY starring Bill Cosby and Robert Culp was 'the most intelligent and highly acclaimed of the Bond-inspired television series' according to the authors. A final shortish chapter on the 'Other James Bonds' looks at things like the 1967 version of Casino Royale and a television version of Casino Royale in the fifties where an American actor called Barry Nelson played Bond. The unofficial 1983 Bond film Never Say Never Again has its strengths and weaknesses assessed in balanced fashion in this chapter. 'This was a troubled production to get off the ground and the final cut suffers from erratic editing and a weak climax. However, there are many memorable sequences and the fact that Connery returned once more to the role was enough for most fans. Never Say Never Again was a sizeable hit.'

The Essential Bond covers familiar ground and Bond fans will already own several volumes in this style but the inclusion of some rare art and photographs and a generally attractive design makes this something that completists will be happy to own.

- Jake  


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