MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Norris, Michele Norris.
And it's that time again.
(Soundbite of James Bond theme)
BLOCK: The James Bond films are the longest running movie franchise in history - spanning five decades. This weekend marks the debut of the new Bond film and the new James Bond. Daniel Craig is the sixth actor to play 007, and he's a controversial choice following five tall, slick, dark haired Bonds.
Mr. PIERCE BROSNAN (Actor): (as James Bond) Bond, James Bond.
Mr. TIMOTHY DALTON (Actor): (as James Bond) My name's Bond, James Bond.
Mr. ROGER MOORE (Actor): (as James Bond) My name's Bond, James Bond.
Mr. GEORGE LAZENBY (Actor): (as James Bond) Bond, James Bond.
Mr. SEAN CONNERY (Actor): (as James Bond) Bond, James Bond.
NORRIS: That's Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton, Roger Moore, George Lazenby and of course Sean Connery. Casino Royale is the 21st official Bond film. The first one, Dr. No, came out in 1962.
Our critic Bob Mondello is here with me to consider the evolution of the Bond films and the Bond character. Bob, we're going to have some fun.
BOB MONDELLO: We should, yeah.
NORRIS: Now I don't want to date you, but what was the first Bond movie you ever saw?
MONDELLO: I'm afraid this really does date me. It was Goldfinger. It was 1964. I was 15 and it was the first movie I was ever allowed to take the bus downtown to see. It was absolutely thrilling and the movie was just amazing. I mean it's a 15-year-old's dream come true is to see this beautiful lady painted gold at the very opening credits and that amazing voice singing Goldfinger, and it was just very exciting.
NORRIS: And it was very racy for the time.
MONDELLO: Yeah, it was. And it was a big step up - I've learned later - from the earlier Bonds because it was a really flashy picture. I mean they had all these neat things that moved and that enormous model of Fort Knox that came out of the ground. And it was, oh, it was just amazing.
(Soundbite of movie, “Goldfinger”)
Mr. GERT FROBE (Actor): (as Goldfinger) The gold depository at Fort Knox, gentlemen. In its vaults are $15 billion. The entire gold supply of the United States.
NORRIS: So Sean Connery sort of set for you a template for what a Bond should be?
MONDELLO: Well, for all of us, in a way. I think he was not Ian Fleming's first choice, the guy who wrote the novels. But he grew into it so quickly and was so accepted by audiences that he became absolutely the template for everybody else.
NORRIS: Now we're at that moment again where we've got a new guy and everybody's just trying to figure out just how good he is. What do you think of Daniel Craig?
MONDELLO: I think he's pretty amazing, and he's actually the first of all of the Bonds since Sean Connery to remind me of how Sean Connery felt in that role. He is kind of sensitive, he's a tough guy, but he's a kind of a sensitive tough guy. And he's very craggy. His face isn't handsome in the way as the other Bonds. It's interesting to look back at Sean Connery, because Connery has become craggy over the years. But back then he was this really dashing figure -
NORRIS: And he looked great in a white dinner jacket.
MONDELLO: Oh, totally. And he would always wear that coming out of a scuba outfit or something.
NORRIS: You know that Daniel Craig is a little bit craggy. He's an edgier James Bond. Are they trying to take the franchise in a new direction with this choice?
MONDELLO: Well, they're trying to take it where it was at the very beginning. Back in Dr. No and From Russia with Love, these were real mysteries. You know, it was like they were thrillers of the old school. They're spy thrillers. These days those kinds of pictures are done by Matt Damon. It's the Bourne Supremacy pictures and that kind of thing.
So what they're trying to do is make this more like that. So it's not as gimmicky and it is a lot more about him having some kind of prowess and him being an emotional creature.
NORRIS: Now you said that with Daniel Craig they're trying to go back to the original James Bond. It would be interesting to listen to both of them. We're going to first hear Sean Connery.
(Soundbite of movie, “Goldfinger”)
Mr. CONNERY: (as James Bond) You're quite a girl, Pussy.
Ms. HONOR BLACKMAN: (as Pussy Galore) I'm strictly the outdoor type.
Mr. CONNERY: I'd like to think you're not involved in this caper.
Ms. BLACKMAN: Skip it. I'm not interested. Let's go.
Mr. CONNERY: What would it take for you to see things my way?
Ms. BLACKMAN: A lot more than you've got.
Mr. CONNERY: How do you know?
NORRIS: That was Sean Connery from Goldfinger, the Sean Connery that you first saw, the James Bond you first saw.
MONDELLO: Yeah. And I'm afraid I thought that was very sophisticated at the time. But, yeah, you can hear in him that he - he could soften his voice. He could make himself very gentle. It's an interesting trick.
NORRIS: And now let's listen to Daniel Craig.
(Soundbite of movie, “Casino Royale”)
Mr. DANIEL CRAIG: (as James Bond) I'm Mr. Arlington Beach, professional gambler. And you're Ms. Tiffany Broadchest.
Ms. EVA GREEN (Actress): (as Vesper Lynd) I am not.
Mr. CRAIG: You're going to have to trust me on this.
Ms. GREEN: Right now I don't.
Mr. CRAIG: We've been involved for quite a while, hence the shared suite.
Ms. GREEN: My family is Roman Catholic. For appearance's sake it'll be a two bedroom suite.
Mr. CRAIG: I do hate when religion comes between us -
MONDELLO: That's nice. What he's doing there is he's describing - they've got a scam to go into the casino and they have to be someone who they're not. But you can hear, he's jokey and he's gentle at the same time. He's falling in love with that woman. Bond has just gotten his 00-status. It's as if all the previous stuff hadn't happened.
So he is just getting used to this idea that he's licensed to kill and is thinking, well, maybe he should settle down and, you know, be a family man. At least he's thinking that.
NORRIS: Now 007 fans are not quite like Trekkies. They're not - but they are very passionate about the series and they have very strong opinions. What do the Bond aficionados have to say about Daniel Craig?
MONDELLO: Well, up until the picture was released, they were all very upset. I mean, mostly over the fact that he was blonde, over the fact that he's a little shorter than the other guys -
NORRIS: Now what was the problem with him being blonde?
MONDELLO: Well, the character is not described that way in the Ian Fleming books. It's funny, Ian Fleming thought Roger Moore would be great for the part and warmed to the idea of Sean Connery at some point later. And Lazenby is actually the one who looks the most like you'd expect Bond to look. These other guys are all too handsome.
And at some point you start to say he's a secret agent? He's going to be turning heads as he walks down the street. I think Daniel Craig is the kind of person who wouldn't turn heads as he walked down the street. And so you believed that he could sort of slip in there and make things happen.
NORRIS: Bob, I want to take you back. And if you'd look at the evolution of these films, you can almost watch modern technology sort of emerge and evolve and explode through the course of these films. How has that changed the aesthetic?
MONDELLO: Well, I think what happened during all these films is that you started out with basic technology in the first two movies. Then it got grander. And it got grander very quickly, sort of exponentially, faster than anything that was real. And as you're watching the picture, you're thinking, okay, well, that's futuristic.
And once it got into science fiction, anything could happen. And it became pictures about gigantic, you know, satellite dishes and things. And what is happening with this picture is that it's a story about financing terrorism. And it's kind back down to Earth, which feels like it's of today in a way that all of the rush of technology didn't feel because it felt like it was of tomorrow.
NORRIS: Well, overall you liked the film?
MONDELLO: Yeah. I liked it a lot. I'm really hoping it gives the Bond series a new lease on life.
NORRIS: Thanks for coming in, Bob.
MONDELLO: It's great fun.
NORRIS: Bob Mondello is our man on film and on the Bond beat.