Given the impression James Bond and his guns, girls and gadgets have made on our collective conscience for 50 years, it was only natural that spoofs would also make their appearance.
There is a flurry of activity in the celluloid world of the gentleman spy, James Bond. This October 5, it will be 50 years since Sean Connery raised the famous eyebrow to say “Bond, James Bond” in Dr. No.
November 1 will see the release of Skyfall, the 23rd instalment of the longest-running movie franchise. The film features Daniel Craig in his third outing as 007. Craig, who was all for reinventing the series and making it edgier — he even suggested that M be lesbian — has gone on record to say the Austin Powers movies have totally wrecked (he used an unprintable expletive) the franchise.
Sigh! One can almost imagine him making a moue with his sexy pout while saying that! In an interview to Esquire magazine, he said that while a sense of humour is important to the series, the Mike Myers’ spoof “had blown every joke apart. Things had gotten so post-modern, it wasn’t funny anymore.”
The Austin Powers trilogy starred Mike Myers as the shagedelic spy from the swinging 1960s, Austin Powers, and poked fun at the James Bond movie template. There was the evil megalomaniac Dr. Evil (played by Myers), his fantastic lair, killing of under-performing associates in supremely intricate ways (“I’m going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death”), the funny names (remember Ivana Humpalot?), the abundant chest hair and hoards of other hysterically funny gags.
Dr. Evil and Austin Powers are cryogenically frozen in the 1960s for 30 years and a lot of the laughs come from adjusting to the changed scenario of the 1990s. Number Two has made all Dr. Evil’s enterprises legit and would have made to the cover of Fortune if not for Evil’s plans to take over the world!
Dr. Evil’s plans are all dated; he asks for a million dollars ransom much to the amusement of the UN and threatens to blow a hole in the ozone layer. His demand for a shark with a laser on its head (everyone deserves a hot meal) is nixed as sharks are endangered but Number Two suggests a mutated bad-tempered sea bass instead.
Mother of all spoofs
International Man of Mystery (1997) was followed by Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) and Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002). The three movies, with decreasing levels of inventiveness and humour, were written by Myers and directed by Jay Roach.
The Canadian Myers sought inspiration for the spoofs from the mother of all James Bond spoofs Casino Royale. The 1967 film is a magnificent psychedelic masterpiece. The film has six directors including Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish and Val Guest and ensemble cast including David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Barbara Bouchet, Deborah Kerr and Jacqueline Bisset. Yeah, baby, yeah!
Casino Royale cost $ 12 million, which was more than the budgets of the James Bond films released around the same time: Thunderball (1965, $ 11 million) and You Only Live Twice (1967, $ 9.5 million). The film had quite a few writers, which would explain the uneven and episodic nature of the plot. David Niven played the fastidious Sir James Bond; there is a “sexual acrobat who leaves a trail of dead beautiful women like so many blown roses behind him” going by the name of James Bond.
Sir James is brought out of retirement after the accidental death of M to foil SMERSH’s plan of eliminating secret agents around the world. Bond hits upon a counter-plan to confuse SMERSH by naming all agents James Bond.
So there are a whole lot of James Bonds running about including baccarat master Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers) who needs to defeat Le Chiffre (Orson Welles), Vesper Lynd (original Bond girl, Honey Rider in Dr. No, Ursula Andress), a millionaire spy, Money Penny and Bond’s daughter with Mata Hari, Mata Bond! Woody Allen plays Jimmy Bond, James Bond’s neurotic nephew who informs the firing squad he has a “low threshold for death” and if they shoot him, “it means an angry letter to the Times!” He is also the head of SMERSH planning to rule the world by creating hoards of short men and beautiful women.
Closest to the novel
The section featuring Peter Sellers is closest to the Ian Fleming novel even featuring the infamous torture scene. There are, however, laughs to be had there as well, as Le Chiffre encouragingly tells Tremble, “Don’t worry about the chair with a hole in the middle. It is waiting to be reupholstered!”
Spoofs are a fair indication of the influence a particular work has on the collective conscience. And the libidinous James Bond with guns, girls and gadgets has made a super-size impression. So it is only natural that there will be spoofs. From the not-so-funny Spy Hard — the funniest part of the movie was the title song by weird Al Yankovic — to the mildly funny Johnny English films with Rowan (Mr Bean) Atkinson playing the inept bumbling spy to the cheerfully campy Austin Powers movies. Even movies like James Cameron’s True Lies (Battery Aziz!) and XXX with the bald and tattooed Vin Diesel playing an extreme spy, are versions of the James Bond template.
We love Mr. Bond in his Savile Row suits as much as we love him with tombstone teeth, velvet trousers, frilly shirts and thick glasses. As long as he defeats the baddie, saves the world and gets the girl, shaken and stirred, we are all good. Double oh behave!