Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Next Best Thing to Bond

When the James Bond film series first debuted with Dr. No in 1963, it became an instant sensation, with the main character becoming a worldwide icon. It wasn't long after that the imitators started to arrive, some better than others, but none quite as popular or brilliant as the best of the James Bond films. Still... some of them are quite fun, and many have become icons in their own right. For the last day of James Bond week here at Blessed Are the Geeks, I'm going to briefly discuss some of these series and characters that were inspired by the James Bond series.

In no particular order:

Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a phenomenally popular tv show starring Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo, a secret agent for the United Network Command for Law Enforcement. The stories were a little slow at times, but the chemistry between Vaughn and his partner Illya Kuryakin (played by David McCallum) was phenomenal. Really, this show is worth watching because Napoleon Solo is a brilliant character who out Bonded most of the actors who played James Bond.

If you only know Robert Vaughn as the guy from Superman 3 and Pootie Tang, do yourself a favor and track down some episodes of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. It's good fun. David McCallum is currently one of the stars of the hit show NCIS, but I've never actually watched it. Good for him.

The Avengers
The Avengers come pretty close to matching the popularity of the James Bond series. It's certainly the most popular and prolific of any of the other Bond clones on this list. It was just a wonderful, charming series that stood out as more than just a Bond rip-off, by creating a very unique and different view on British secret agents.

Patrick Macnee was amazing as series lead John Steed, who was always impeccably dressed, in great spirits and good humor, and carried an umbrella with a sword hidden in the hilt. Macnee later made an appearance in A View to a Kill as an associate of James Bond. The two female leads of the series (though in different seasons), were Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg, both of whom also starred as Bond girls. Blackman was Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, while Rigg was Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Strictly speaking, the Avengers can't really be called a Bond clone, since the series actually premiered in 1961, one year before the release of Dr. No. Although it's hard to believe it wasn't at least partly inspired by the novels of Ian Fleming.

The series eventually came full circle when they remade it as a film in 1998 and featured Sean Connery as the main villain. I never saw the movie, but by all accounts it was supposed to be awful.

Matt Helm
The Matt Helm films are shameless James Bond rip-offs starring Dean Martin as the main character. These films are really, really dumb, and work only when viewed as James Bond parodies, since their stories are poorly told and unengaging. But boy is Dean Martin fun to watch as a womanizing, boozing, secret agent. He drinks more, cracks more jokes, and gets it on with more beautiful woman than James Bond ever did. Basically, it's just Dean Martin playing Dean Martin, only in between jokes he gets to kill some people.

Supposedly the original novels are very serious and suspenseful, but I've never read any of them. But the movies are a lot of fun, even though I don't really recommend them.

The Flint series of films are another tongue-in-cheek attempt to parody James Bond. James Coburn (in his film debut) stars as Derek Flint, a retired agent for Z.O.W.I.E. (Zone Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage) who is lured back for one last mission. Or something like that. This series isn't as fun as the Matt Helm films, but they are worth checking out for Coburn's performance as Flint, and for Lee J. Cobb's performance as the M like boss. But if you haven't seen them (and you haven't), you aren't missing much.

The first xXx film opens with a handsome, suave secret agents dressed in a Tuxedo, running through a beautiful European city, where he is killed by the bad guys. This was the film's way of saying, "our guy is better than James Bond." They were wrong, of course, but Vin Diesel's take as an extreme sports star turned secret agent was a lot of fun. Anyway, I enjoyed it, and it worked both as a dumb action movie as well as a parody of the tropes and cliches from the James Bond series.

They made a sequel with Ice Cube as the new xXx, but it wasn't any good. Rumors are a new xXx film starring Vin Diesel is in the works, but I'll believe it when I see it. And I'm not ashamed to admit I'll see it.

Cody Banks
I've never seen either of these movies, but they were fairly popular when they came out. Or, at least, the first one was. Cody Banks is a teenage secret agent played by Frankie Muniz. Like I said, I haven't seen them, but I remember seeing the trailer and thinking it looked like a cute movie. 

Get Smart
I've actually never seen get smart so I can't really say if this show was inspired by James Bond or not, but it's fairly famous for its portrayal of a wacky secret agent who teams up with beautiful woman and uses crazy gadgets to fight bad guys. The original TV series is considered by most people to be an all time classic. They recently remade Get Smart as a film starring Steve Carrell, but I haven't seen that either. It isn't considering to be an all time classic. 

I Spy
I Spy is an awesome tv series from the 1960s starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby as secret agents. I used to watch this show all the time in reruns when I was a kid, and it was great fun. It was notable for being one of the first prime time dramas (if not the first) to feature an African American in a starring role. Even though it featured Bill Cosby, it was mostly played straight and not as a parody of the James Bond series. It was just a cool, super fun spy show with lots of action, exotic locations, and pretty girls.

They made a film a few years ago starring Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson, but it was awful.

Austin Powers
I already talked about Austin Powers's antagonist Dr. Evil in my Blofeld post, but I figured the series was worth another mention. Austin Powers, and the entire universe in which the character lives, was a very lighthearted and affectionate take on James Bond and the various other British spy series he inspired. Mike Meyers wrote the scripts for these films and played many of the main characters, including Powers, Dr. Evil, Fat Bastard, and the eponymous Goldmember from the third film.

These movies are very, very funny, with lots of beautiful women with funny names, ridiculously over the top plots for world domination by the bad guys, and more in-jokes and Bond references than any one fan could ever hope to catch in one viewing. Good stuff. They got progressively less funny as the series went on, but they are all worth watching.
Our Man Bashir
Our Man Bashir was an episode from the fourth season of Star Trek Deep Space Nine. As Star Trek episodes go, it was a very, very silly episode detailing some weird Holdeck accident (naturally) that trapped Bashir in a program where he was a James Bond clone, while the rest of the cast made appearances as various clones of Bond girls, henchmen, and super villains. Silly episode, but also awesome. It's one of my very favorite episodes of Star Trek, and one of the best James Bond homages I've ever seen. And it is an homage and not a parody, with a very reverent reenactment of the various Bond cliches. Avery Brooks's performance as Dr. Noah was amazing, and he was probably the best Bond villain who's never actually been in a Bond film.

Check it out if you are a fan of Star Trek and James Bond. It's fantastic.

Indiana Jones
According to popular lore, after Spielberg made Jaws, what he really wanted to do next was a James Bond film. When he shared this with his friend George Lucas, Lucas told him that he had a story and character that was even better than Bond. The two went on to make Indiana Jones, and history was made.

So, no, Indiana Jones wasn't a clone of James Bond, but James Bond was clearly an inspiration for the character, and the structure of the Bond films clearly influenced the way Spielberg approached this series. Like the Bond films, the usually begin with an opening teaser that sets up the character while acting as a mostly stand alone adventure. Jones and Bond are both quick with a a joke and do well with the ladies. And both characters go up against megalomaniacal super villains bent on world domination.

Also, the original James Bond himself played the father of Indiana Jones in Last Crusade, which was perfectly fitting since it was clear Indiana Jones never would have existed if not for James Bond.

Interesting tidbit: Spielberg put another homage to James Bond in his film Catch Me if you Can. Leo DeCaprio's character idolizes James Bond after seeing Goldfinger, and then goes and buys a matching suit and Aston Martin, enabling him to seduce

1 comment:

Justin Garrett Blum said...

I used to watch Get Smart on Nick (Nik?)-at-Nite. Funny show, though I can't remember much about it. I did watch the film version with Steve Carrel a few months ago and's not bad. Pretty funny.

There's a Reno station that shows all of these retro TV programs, and I discovered a while back that they air episodes of "I Spy" during the week. I've only watched a few, but what I like about it is that the espionage elements are played so straight, but there's also a great, amusing chemistry between Cosby and Culp.