And You Thought It Was Safe(?)


Goldfinger (1964)

“Sir, I’m aware of my shortcomings. But I’m prepared to continue this assignment in the manner you suggest…if I knew what it was about. Sir.

"Now...what were you saying about 'Napoleon Complexes'?"

“Now…what were you saying about ‘Napoleon Complexes’?”

And so we come to the production model: James Bond v. 3.0 Alpha. Current series producer Michael G. Wilson has said they start off every film trying to make the next From Russia with Love (only to end up, more often than not, with “the next Thunderball”), and while there’s truth to this, Bond’s second outing isn’t nearly as influential as his third. A more accurate assessment might read, “They start out each film trying to make the next Goldfinger” because Goldfinger carved the Bond Template in stone, no matter the producer’s frequent assurances that they’ve “updated” the character for each generation.

This is the first film that starts off with a “true” pre-credit sequence: Bond in Mexico, taking care of some heroin smugglers by bombing their supply of Nitro. (Every good drug kingpin knows its best keep the nitro within easy walking distance of the production facilities.) Back at the hotel, Bond’s girl of the night asks why he always carries a gun. Bond straight-up admits “I have a slight inferiority complex.” Only slight, James? You’re British and it’s the 60s – your country’s still recovering from WWII. Military bases the world over are either closing down or being taken over by those Ugly Americas with their machine guns. The sun’s setting on the British Empire for the first time in four hundred years, and you, Mr. Bond – a walking example of Hefnerian overcompensation – you’re talking about “slight” inferiority complexes? Continue reading

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From Russia with Love (1963)
The Parents Television Council began stalking Bond early on, fearing he might encourage children to become globe-trotting secret agents. Who SMOKE!

The Parents Television Council began stalking Bond early on, fearing he might encourage children to become globe-trotting secret agents. Who SMOKE!

With Dr. NoBond producers Harry Slatzman and Albert Brocoli turned one million dollars into sixty. The collision of good casting and good direction, along with enough sex appeal for most genders and orientations to get at least something out of the deal, created a sustained fusion reaction between the Cold War Era spy thriller and the kind of pulp adventures not seen (by self-conscious adults, scared their friends might think their entertainment “childish”) since before the Second World War made everyone so serious.

The studio that backed Dr. No, United Artists, called for a sequel by October, 1963, handling EON Productions a whopping two million dollars to get the job done. Is it any surprise From Russia with Love went with the Bigger Is Better and More is More philosophy that’s characterized Hollywood sequels from the very beginning? No. What’s surprising is that it worked so well, when conventional wisdom would have it sequels inherently suck. Yet this remains many people’s favorite James Bond films, including Sean Connery’s, Daniel Craig’s and Timothy Dalton’s. Who am I to snark at it?

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Logan’s Run (1976)
"You *will* like this film, damnit!"

“You *will* like this film, damnit!”

The mid-70s were a stranger time for SF films than most of us realize. Nowadays we see that pre-Star Wars decade through a screen called 2001: A Space Odyssey, forgetting how much that film (like Star Wars after it) polarized opinion, only assumed the status of Unassailable Classic after the stoned teenagers who loved it became filmmakers themselves. Before that, the Big Name in successful sci-fi films from 1968 was Planet of the Apes. Which deserves to be examined in its own time. So let’s just skim over its superficial attributes real fast.

Apes is a big budget ($5 million went a lot further back then) Major Studio SF picture based on a novel few bothered to read with a well-known piece of beefcake in the lead role and supporting actors doing much better jobs. So I’m not surprised William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s novel got its own time in the limelight. Logan’s Run-the-book hit shelves in 1967…the same year our beefcake, Michael York, hit screens in The Taming of the Shrew. By the time he won the lead in this big budget ($9 million) Major Studio SF picture, he’d become internationally famous as D’Artagnan in both of Richard Lester’s Musketeers movies. As to the supporting cast…yep. We’re in the pipe, five by five. Continue reading



Westworld (1973)
"You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe...whatever you want to believe...you take the red pill, you stay in wonderland...and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes..."

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe…whatever you want to believe…you take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland…and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes…”

If you were alive on planet Earth in 1993, you probably found yourself face-to-face with the work of Michael Crichton. He was fifty-one by that point, and a multiple New York Times bestselling author with a shelf’s worth of fiction and non-fiction to his name. Most didn’t bother looking at them, but some of us did, and through them we learned Jurassic Park was the end point of a thought-line that runs through Crichton’s whole career, possibly his entire life.

To tease that thought-line out, it’s best we step back into the shoes of a thirty-one-year-old Crichton as he attempted to become a full-time filmmaker. It’s 1973, and Crichton’s last two books are doing well, though nowhere near as well as his first real successThe Andromeda Strain. Published in ’69 and made into a movie two years later, Strain contains the seeds of Crichton’s literary obsessions…though neither book nor film are as thrilling as they think are.

Which is probably why his next book, Binary, reads more like an episode of CSI than as an actual Michael Crichton novel (and since it was the last one he published under a pseudonym, that kinda fits). Police procedurals always sell, especially when they can wow the audience with all that fun, new forensic technology modern cops (supposedly) get to play with these days. So Binary became a made-for-TV movie, re-titled Pursuit, with Circhton himself directing. Continue reading