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Is James Bond Good or Bad? Casino Royale by Ian Fleming – A Review

Daniel Craig as James Bond

Daniel Craig looking bad ass.

James Bond’s First Mission as 007

Given the impressive release of Skyfall (2012), the 23rd Eon produced James Bond film; Daniel Craig’s 3rd outing as the British spy, and the 50th anniversary of the franchise, I decided to start reading the books to get a feel for who the real Fleming-inspired James Bond really is.

A common misconception is that Dr No is Bond’s first mission due to the first screen adaptation with Sean Connery. However, Fleming’s first book in the spy series in Casino Royale is referenced throughout the story as Bond’s first mission as a British Secret Service agent.

After working as Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence during the Second World War, Fleming set out to write the spy stories to beat all spy stories. Living in his Jamaican home, which he built and named ‘Goldeneye’, Fleming wrote Casino Royale in two months.

Upon its publication in 1954, the book had sold out its print runs in the first, second and third months of its release. Whilst sales in the US were very slow, the UK couldn’t get enough of its new Cold War era hero.

Authir Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming with For Your Eyes Only

In his first mission as a double-O, Bond is tasked with bankrupting Le Chiffre at the casino in Royale-Les-Eaux, who is bankrolling the Russian counter-intelligence organisation SMERSH (literal meaning in Russian as Death to Spies). M., the head of British Intelligence, sends Vesper Lynd to assist Bond in his mission, as well as Rene Mathis from French Intelligence and Felix Leiter from the C.I.A.

The story is well known to contemporary Bond fans, thanks to Daniel Craig’s first film, so I was keen to see if there were many different aspects to the book than the film, as there often are.

In short, there isn’t. The film stayed pretty close to the core of the story. The main deviations were in there openings, as Fleming chose to start with Bond playing in the casino rather than perform a vast array of stunts, jumps and chases. Dr No started very similarly to Casino Royale where the first image of Sean Connery as Bond was playing the winning card in a game of Baccarat whilst smoking a cigar.

After just three chapters, it was clear that Fleming nailed the art of keeping the readers interest for the duration. Every chapter finished with a major event which moved the story forward dramatically, maintaining a fast pace to the narrative.

A marked difference in Bond’s character is his attitude towards women. When he first hears of Vesper’s assistance he immediately frowns and says that women have no place on a mission of such importance and that she should be in the kitchen where a woman belongs!

The finest part of the book is when Vesper is kidnapped and Bond chases after her. He gets caught himself in the process – this is his first mission after all – he gets tortured and blacks out.

From here Fleming gets very philosophical and creates a moral quandary in Bond’s head – is he a good man doing an immoral job or a bad man doing whats right for his country?

This very theme is what drives Daniel Craig’s Bond in Skyfall, and leaves the audience feeling torn as to whether he is the conventional hero we’ve come to expect.

What do you think? Is James Bond a good or bad guy?


Old Story, New Adventure

Image of author Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton

Due to the fact that my dissertation is based on the late Michael Crichton, I thought I’d finally get round to doing another blog post and spread the word of this writer. Few realise that Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster hit started as a novel, with all of the film’s intricacies and heart pounding suspense penned by one man.

Before I look into the novel itself, here’s a quick run-down of the information you really need to know about Crichton;

  • Died of leukaemia in 2008 while finishing two books published posthumously.
  • He remains the only person in history to have a number one film (Jurassic Park) a number one book (Disclosure) and a number one television series (E.R) all at the same time.
  • Of the 18 fiction novels he has published, 11 of them have been adapted to the big screen, including Jurassic Park’s sequel The Lost World, Rising Sun, Sphere, The Great Train Robbery, Disclosure and Timeline. It will soon be 12 as Steven Spielberg has bought the filming rights to his posthumous novel Pirate latitudes.
  • He is considered the father of the techno-thriller who meticulously researched his novels. Jurassic Park took 8 years to finish.
  • He is responsible for the films Twister and Westworld, with the latter being the first film in history to use CGI, using it as a viewpoint for a robot. This is no doubt where the Terminator franchise got the idea of using a robot POV from.

A quick summary of the plot, for the rare few that don’t know, is that philanthropist John Hammond (Sir David Attenborough) has come up with a way of using dinosaur DNA, found in mosquitoes set in amber resin, to clone and reproduce real life dinosaurs. He breeds them all on an island off the coast of Costa Rica to build a theme park around them to profit on his discovery. A routine inspection made by archaeologists, businessman and investors soon turns into a disaster when the park’s defences shut down and the dinosaurs run amok.

Sam Neil looking up at a T-Rex

Sam Neil vs T-Rex

Upon picking up the book of Jurassic Park, my thoughts were that I’d find it boring and uninteresting since I had watched the film over a dozen times since it was released. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The pace at which Crichton wrote the book was electrifying. Even though I knew the outcome of the story, I still found myself turning the pages until four in the morning. Crichton had said in an interview that he only used 20% of the book when writing the screenplay for Spielberg, so the book has plenty to offer in terms of a new adventure in an old story. Unfortunately, readers still have to put up with John Hammond’s screaming grandchild, who is just as grating in the book as she is the film.

The book’s stand out character though is Dr Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum, whose constant belittling of the park and Hammonds vision with dry humoured remarks offer an insight into the writer himself. In the years before his death, Crichton was a politically outspoken critic of global warming and the extent to which scientists and media have portrayed its disastrous consequences for future generations. It’s easy to see a comparison of sorts between Malcolm’s scepticism of the park and Crichton’s criticism of global warming. Malcolm was right about the park, is Crichton right about global warming?

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