What struck me is that the former had already embraced the “Bond genre” and while the latter differed from it considerably (making it clearly best Roger Moore Bond film), it was still chained to the same conventions.
This reminded me of my occasional rants about Star Wars and how it’s transitioned from a superb space fantasy epic to just another genre, replete with its own conventions, in-jokes and so on.
From 1977 to 1983, Star Wars was for everyone. The backstory was minimal and kept purposefully vague. The characters were simple archetypes but fun to watch.
Since then fandom and insatiable greed have combined to give it a lumbering, contradictory bunch of lore. The news that Disney is now looking at another Star Wars tv show confirms that as a unique and interesting story, Star Wars is dead. It’s just another genre ghetto.
Genre Films = Diminished Expectations
Let’s be blunt: genre films are almost always and inferior form of art. They’re graded not on meaning, story, or the other conventional criterial for greatness, but rather in hitting a checklist of ‘fan service’ items.
Like an actual ghetto, they are also off-limits to outsiders – and paradoxically restrict their inhabitants from outside themes and concepts.
One a film series becomes a genre, it will inevitably shrink its audience, destroying its mass-market appeal.
For example, everyone agrees thatStar Trek II: The Wrath of Khanis by far the best film in the series, but does it make sense to anyone who doesn’t know anything about the tv show that spawned it? Of course not. Must of the dialogue is impenetrable to people unfamiliar with Star Trek, and the characters are completely inexplicable in their actions. Only someone well versed in the dynamics of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the themes of the old show can follow it.
This brings me back to the Bond films. Originally they were just film versions of some spy novels – which weren’t even filmed in chronological order.
The whole conventional format of the title sequence, ritual visit with M and then Q to get gear – none of that was a given. The early films are a little jarring in that sense.
By Goldfinger, however, the pattern was set. It was reinforced in Thunderball and by You Only Live Twice the concrete had hardened. Indeed, that’s what struck me about You Only Live Twice – the series was already descending into something approaching parody.
I will contrast that with For Your Eyes Only which has its silly moments (the opening sequence is awful), but it then breaks away from the formula. It works as a movie, but unfortunately it’s still chained to the James Bond franchise. Even the parts where it breaks the pattern (Bond embarrassingly turning away the skating sex kitten who is half his age), only make sense if you know that Bond normally doesn’t do that.
People of a certain age will know that the success of The Empire Strikes Back came as a total surprise. Of course Hollywood would make a sequel, but the smart money was that it would be as unwatchable as Grease II or More American Graffiti. In his review Roger Ebert remarked that sequels weren’t supposed to be better than the original, but The Empire Strikes Back managed to achieve that. While Return of the Jedi gets a bum rap, it successfully concluded the story arc and that triumph cemented Star Wars‘ place in the popular culture.