Saturday, July 27, 2013

007 Project #20 Dr. No

Dr. No

The first entry into the James Bond movie franchise has everything you want from a great Bond flick, except for a credible villain.  Dr. No himself is about as threatening as an angry kitten.  Maybe it is just my post-postmodern sensibilities, and maybe in the era of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a character like Dr. No presented more of a real danger. Watching this film today he comes across as rather ineffective and without teeth.  His plan is to hijack a Mercury rocket and then bend it to some nefarious purpose that was never really clear to me.  That alone, I suppose, could be a credible threat and reasonable plot for a criminal mastermind, but the scope of his operation seems greatly disproportionate to the size of his actual plan. 

What he is trying to do could be done with a super computer (even of the day, slightly futured-up) and a broadband radio station.  Instead, Dr. No has commandeered an entire Jamaican island, built a sub-sea nuclear reactor and a sprawling complex to house it in.  It just feels like overkill.  It’s like building a sub-lunar moon base out of the rarest diamonds just to disrupt a baseball game.  It is no real wonder that Austin Powers is almost a direct spoof of this movie.  Dr. No is almost a spoof of a villain compared to the amount of spying that goes into taking him down.  There is much made of the fact that he has metal hands and that he should be feared as a result of that feature.  Yet apart from mentioning that he has them, very little else is done with them.  I think he tries to karate chop (I’m still deciding if me saying that is racist) Bond at one point, but that’s about it.

Which brings us to the best part of the movie:  James Bond.  Connery knocks it out of the park right out of the gate making everyone wonder why anyone else was ever considered for the role (until Connery got Henry Jones old).  All of the James Bond action in this movie is spot on.  He’s charming, suave, always a step ahead of the bad guys, and most of all, he’s a man’s man.  He kills a man on the beach of Dr. No’s island and when Honey Ryder asks him why, he says, “because I had to.”  Sweet.  For me, this movie defines the Bond character perfectly.  There is plenty of intrigue, even with a plot as straightforward as this.  Bond is always stealthy and covert, but never completely subtle.  There aren’t a lot of reversals or plot twists, but that doesn’t make the ride any less fun, until we get to Dr. No’s house where things just kind of work out for the best.   

And there’s my real problem, I guess.  There is all of this great spy movie stuff going on in order to ferret out the mystery of what Dr. No is up to.  There are tense action sequences that get us onto the island.  There is a mental game of chess between Dr. No and Bond as they calmly discuss No’s plan at the dinner table.  And then there’s a climactic, I guess, scene where Bond turns a giant wheel, dumps Dr. No into radioactive water, and then jumps in a boat and leaves.  Ho-hum.

Also ho-hum is our Bond girl, Honey Ryder, who is practically an afterthought in this movie.  In later Bond films, for better or worse, the Bond girl usually factors into the plot in some way.  Not Honey.  She pops up on the beach in Act III searching for sea shells and, I guess, revenge for her father’s death.  She seems more motivated for the former than the latter and ultimately just ends up being an accessory to the story.  Honestly, I was far more interested in the Chinese secretary.

All in all, Dr. No isn’t a bad Bond film.  Thanks to Connery’s performance and the first two-thirds of the story, it is actually a pretty fun watch.  It just leaves me wanting more in the way of a conclusion and good, diabolical villain with a chilling scheme.  

Aimee Says:

Screw all of you, I like this movie. It's not really all that great, but it's not bad, and what's more, it's first.

This is what Bond movies are all about: 1960's travel to exotic places, Sean Connery looking slick and masculine, and a quasi-wacky super villain. That said, all of Stan's points are quite valid. This movie isn't too exciting, and it's painfully straight-forward. Ursula Andress wears a knock-out bikini and speaks dubbed dialogue; Quarrel is a fun ally until he gets killed. Villain has metal hands and a fish fetish. Check and check.

My only defense for this movie is that it is the first, and therefore, it has to serve as a kind of introduction to the series that would follow. This story in particular was selected for its relative simplicity, and it shows. For its small scale and budget, the sets were stellar. It's not the early Connery era at its finest, but it's pretty damn good...

...just not as good as roughly 19 other movies on the list. I don't think there's anything exactly wrong with it, and it's impossible to argue that it's not "Bond like" because it's the very first outing in the series. It just lacks in several areas and leaves you wishing it had been just a tiny bit more complex, and a tiny bit more thrilling.

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