This Christmas, my roommate got me an amazing present–the complete James Bond collection on Blu Ray. All twenty-three Broccoli/Saltzman Bond films, in a lovely binder, with all kinds of cool film geek extras.
(Through Skyfall, but not including Never Say Never Again, which was Kevin McClory’s remake of Thunderball and hence not part of the official canon. Nor does it include the 1967 Casino Royale, but being a total cult movie nerd, I already own that.)
In any event, we have been watching the movies in order (what else would you expect me to do?) Starting with Dr. No, then on to From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Oh, George Lazenby, how do you live with yourself?) and then Diamonds Are Forever before going on to the Roger Moore films with Live And Let Die.
We’ll continue, of course–next up is The Man With The Golden Gun (Christopher Lee and Hervé Villechaize!) but the one I wanted to talk about is Diamonds Are Forever.
It’s not only one of my favorite Bond films, it’s one of my favorite films, period. In many ways it represents a real turning point in the franchise. The best way I can explain it is that in my opinion Diamonds Are Forever is the first film set unapologetically in the “James Bond Universe.”
That is to say, the earlier films set the stage and built the world. Much of Dr. No is concerned with explaining the world of high tech international espionage to the audience. From Russia With Love is (forgive me, Hitchcock fans) more of an homage to North By Northwest than a “typical” Bond film. Goldfinger introduces the Bond Villain Minion trope in the person of Odd Job, in Thunderball Q Branch really comes into its own and You Only Live Twice introduces the mysterious (and multi-faced) Ernst Blofeld.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service comes close to turning the corner into the Bond mythos but despite Lazenby’s best efforts (and he’s really not bad) I don’t think he quite had the chops as an actor to transform the Bond character into an archetype.
They had to bring back Sean Connery for that, and in Diamonds Are Forever the stage is set. By this time the audience is ready to accept the absurdities of the world for the sake of the ride. Broccoli and Saltzman (courtesy of the brilliant eye of Guy Hamilton) deliver that ride. It’s pedal to the metal from first frame–even the exposition on the business of diamond mining is illustrated with the antics of the profoundly creepy Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd.
The all important willing suspension of disbelief was bought and paid for by the earlier films. When Q shows up in Vegas with a ring that controls slot machines, the filmmakers don’t have to waste time justifying it–Q is magic, we accept that.
Tiffany Case, Plenty O’Toole, Bambi and Thumper? Sure, beautiful women with absurd names are part of the mythos. Diamond powered space laser? Sure, we swallow it because we want to swallow it. The franchise has earned our trust at this point. We know that science is going to get bent over a pool table and molested, and if we weren’t okay with that we wouldn’t be in the theater in the first place.
The point is that this film works because the earlier films make it work. Together the films of the franchise represent a blueprint for an alternate world. James Bond has entered our collective lexicon as a shorthand phrase for an entire cosmos and we don’t have to concern ourselves with figuring out the rules–we know what they are and we know that they apply as soon as we see that trademark walk seen through a gun barrel.
Granted, the mythos has evolved over the years. Barbara Broccoli has put her own stamp on the universe, most strongly in the Daniel Craig films. However I do see her work as an evolution, not a contradiction, of her father’s legacy.
I want The Worms Of Heaven to be my Diamonds Are Forever.
In Catskinner’s Book I started world-building from scratch. I decided that I was going to throw out everything that I knew about Urban Fantasy and create something entirely new. Consequently, a lot of that book is concerned with simply introducing my readers to the world.
In Cannibal Hearts I built on that foundation, extending the boundaries and putting flesh on the skeleton. I think it is a solid piece of work. I’ve let my readers know the rules of my game, and I hope that I have convinced them that I can be trusted to play fair.
I want The Worms Of Heaven to be a “James&Catskinner Book” in a way that earlier two couldn’t be. Yes, I have spent some time on exposition to bring new readers up to speed, but I’ve tried to inject that as painlessly as possible into the prose. I am much more concerned with my existing fans and giving them an adventure set in a world that they’ve come to know.
I’ll have new characters, but they’ll fit in along side the ones they already know. New places to explore, but with characteristics and landmarks that will be recognizable. New Outsider technology, but nothing that contradicts the pretzel physics that I’ve already introduced.
I’ve built my playground, and now it’s time to play in it. This book is going to be fun. (Well, in the “death, doom and destruction” sense of fun.)