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Why Bond, James Bond, never goes anywhere dangerous

Date

Frank Jacobs

Tracing 007's frequent flyer miles offers a glimpse of a global PR push possibly bound for Australia, writes Frank Jacobs.

"Bond has visited just under 50 countries, many of those multiple times" ... Istanbul, the location of <i>Skyfall</i>, has featured prominently in three different Bond movies.

"Bond has visited just under 50 countries, many of those multiple times" ... Istanbul, the location of Skyfall, has featured prominently in three different Bond movies.

In the opening scenes of Skyfall, the latest instalment of the James Bond franchise, the world's favourite MI6 operative chases a bad guy across Istanbul on motorcycles, through the city's Grand Bazaar and over its minaret-backed rooftops. Bond jumps and weaves with such verve and ease it's like he knows his way around the city. Has he been here before? Well, no. But: yes.

Skyfall hits the cinemas here on Thursday, half a century after the first Bond movie, Dr No. It is the 23rd official Bond movie and the third with Daniel Craig, the sixth man to play 007 on the silver screen. Craig plays a decidedly muscular Bond, less of a gentleman and more of a street-fighter than previous incarnations - an attempt to align the slightly time-worn gentility of the series to grittier espionage oeuvres.

A producer of the Bond franchise, Barbara Broccoli, claims Istanbul was Bond writer Ian Fleming's favourite city, but it is not the only foreign city to feature prominently in three different Bond movies - Venice and Hong Kong share the accolade. In those 50 years and 23 movies with ''her majesty's secret service'', James Bond has seen a lot of the world. The man not only has a license to kill, but also a travel allowance to kill for. Which is understandable: you can't conference-call your way out of some madman's diabolical plot to wreck the planet.

The sum of Bond's 23 erratic itineraries reveals something of the cinematic imperative behind the franchise - Bond movie locations need to be exotic, spectacular and/or glamorous. But there's also a lingering geopolitical motive. After all, Bond's mission is to preserve, protect and promote British influence and interests in the world.

Bond has visited just under 50 countries, many of those multiple times. About 20 are in Europe, with about a dozen each in Asia and the Americas. With a mere four visits, Africa scores pretty low on the list. Only two of those were in sub-Saharan Africa - Madagascar and Uganda, both in Casino Royale - which obviously did its best to fill in a blank on Bond's world map. The other two were Morocco, in The Living Daylights, and Egypt, twice: in Diamonds Are Forever and The Spy Who Loved Me.

Mentioning those Arab countries touches upon a defect of the Bond franchise: he doesn't really go where the action is. Four Bond movies have been released in the post-September 11 era, but none deals even obliquely with the supposed clash with (or within) Islam that has been animating newspaper columns and battlefields ever since. Apart from an unconnected, brief foray into Pakistan in Casino Royale, Bond never comes near the giant, throbbing conflict zone from Israel to Kashmir.

This is quite in character. In previous decades, Bond never was the West's fiercest cold warrior. Although the red menace is a theme throughout the early oeuvre, with forays into Yugoslavia (From Russia with Love) and East Germany (Octopussy), Bond only infiltrates the evil empire itself in its final years - merely retrieving a microchip in Siberia in A View to a Kill. In those three movies, however, it's never the Communist establishment that is the enemy, but rogue elements within it.

It's a fantasy world in which the filmmakers have the luxury of choosing Britain's enemies; ones that bear only the slightest resemblance to its real-world opponents. Forget Islamic fundamentalist terrorists blowing up public transport on the streets of London. Instead, it's cartoonish geniuses that practice evil for its own sake, or for monetary gain. This takes the politics out of global conflict, and allows Britain to assume the mantle of high morality.

Essential to the crime syndicate/super villain set-up is the enemy's lair: a secluded, secret and sophisticated base bristling with high-tech weapons and teeming with underlings. Of these, the island lair may be the best.

Where will the resorts and the lairs of future Bond movies be situated? Bond 24 and Bond 25, as yet unnamed and perhaps still non-location-scouted, are rumoured to be set for release in 2014 and 2016. Craig has said he would like to shoot in Australia. That would make sense, as neither Australia nor New Zealand has seen any Bond action, despite being former outposts of the British Empire.

Other blind spots on the Bond world map include Scandinavia, the Arabian Peninsula and most of Africa and China: aside from the former Western colonies of Hong Kong and Macau, Shanghai is the only bit of mainland China that has been in a Bond movie. Nor has Canada ever had the pleasure of welcoming 007 to its chilly shores.

Based on previous experience, we can safely predict they won't take place in China. The West's No.1 threat is too hot for Bond, who is, after all, an agent for a power in decline. One could argue Bond's suavity is a sort of childlike compensation for Britain's past arrogance as the world's only superpower, his go-it-alone attitude a symbol for a homeland bereft of colonies and grovelling allies. But Britain, even in its reduced circumstances, is not without recourse to the ebbing tide of global relevance. Indeed, the movie franchise itself quietly achieves the goals Bond purports to pursue on screen.

As global cinemagoers root for Bond, they unwittingly subscribe to the idea of the British hero, of Britishness as heroic, and of Britain forever on the side of good, and against evil. Those are valuable assets for a medium-sized power, and they won't be squandered in a confrontation with China or any of the world's other up-and-coming heavyweights - not even a fictional one. So yes, maybe Bond will be boxing with kangaroos in the next instalment.

Foreign Policy

Frank Jacobs is an author, journalist, and blogger living in London.

24 comments

  • You can't offend one of the possibly biggest markets in the world, even if some piracy occurs. In the end, it is profit that matters to the producers, just like the megalomaniacal villains of the series. I don't ever recall any in-depth backstory to the villains or the henchmen. Although the Austin Powers spoof of the possible real lives and the widows and orphans that the sure to be dead henchmen poked fun at our calluseness. They are always the 'bad guys' that have to die. The audience does not have to go home and grieve about their demise and instead revel with the dash and righteous justice performed by our venerable Mr James Bond.

    Commenter
    Knee Jerk
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    November 21, 2012, 8:03AM
    • Lucky Team America took down the Islam terrorists and North Korea

      Commenter
      Franky
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 21, 2012, 9:10AM
    • Yet it seems fine for the Bourne movies to go after the CIA. Maybe part of the reason the Bourne movies are better than Bond ones. Killing the fictional "bad guy" is so cliche.

      Commenter
      JamesM
      Date and time
      November 21, 2012, 10:33AM
  • Actually, Bond freed members of, and fought alongside, the Afghan mujahideen in The Living Daylights - which was all well and good since they were fighting the Russians at the time, but of course that group more than likely became the Taliban. Something he'd perhaps like to forget.

    Commenter
    Ted
    Date and time
    November 21, 2012, 8:20AM
    • So did Rambo I seem to recall, around about the same time.

      Commenter
      Stevo
      Date and time
      November 21, 2012, 11:12AM
  • James Bond = imperialism redefined as a wet dream.

    Commenter
    Atilla the Hun
    Location
    barbarian encampment, Sydney
    Date and time
    November 21, 2012, 8:34AM
    • Perhaps he could redeem himself by freeing some penguins from an oil slick or something,
      or better yet we could have Christine Milne as a Bond in girl in one of those Koala suits with a bucket full of loose change instead of a bimbo in a skimpy bikini.

      Commenter
      SteveH.
      Date and time
      November 21, 2012, 9:16AM
  • Bond movies, pffft...what a joke. I think Mike Myers Austin Powers movies are much better and don't look half as silly, they don't take themselves seriously.

    Commenter
    Soot
    Location
    sydney
    Date and time
    November 21, 2012, 8:36AM
    • aGree with you, the Blonde Bond all he does is quiver the bottom lip a bit, very few lines, and he has the cheek to say about time Dame Judy did some acting. At least she can act. As for wet dream, he is the ugliest Bond ever but I suppose under those tux he is covered head to toe in tatts a real turn on for Gen x and Gen y. Yeah baby, Austen Powers! Hubba Bubba a man with real thick hair on his chest and buck teeth to die for!

      Commenter
      Pickled Herring
      Location
      Frankston
      Date and time
      November 21, 2012, 10:12AM
  • Yes I would like to see some Bond action in Australia, we've got such a diverse range of environments to choose from (desert/rainforest/tropical islands/cities etc).

    I think Australia's only even been mentioned once in all the movies, and that was a reference to the Sydney olympics in Die Another Day.

    Still, an Aussie did play Bond, maybe that's an even bigger accolade.

    Commenter
    pOiter
    Date and time
    November 21, 2012, 8:40AM

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