Overthinking: Can Contemporary Journalism Exist in a Bond Film?

It has recently been reported Daniel Craig will star in two more James Bond films.  This after he infamously claimed, ‘I would rather slash my wrists than play James Bond again’. The current run of Bond films, which was rebooted with Craig in 2006 with the gritty Casino Royale, will now continue more than one film beyond Craig’s contract and make him the oldest actor to play the role.

With Daniel Craig locked in the rumour mill has started on who will direct. Sam Mendes directed the last two instalments but will not return for what is currently working titled as Bond 25 or its sequel which is expected to be a reboot of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Favourites include Christopher Nolan, Ben Wheatley and Susanne Bier.

Will this mean that the last two Daniel Craig Bond films will be a sort of sub-reboot to the franchise?

Possibly, as certainly Mendes provided a distinct new feel to his instalments. After the relatively lacklustre commercial and critical performance of Quantum of Solace Mendes brought a sense of the aesthetic and pace to Skyfall while also subtly steering the rebooted Bond away from a rapidly changing contemporary world.

Once upon a time Bond films raced to include technology and visions of the future. In the 1970s, Bond, his allies and those

smartwatch
Bond had the first smartwatch?

he sought to foil travelled and fought in Jetsons-like amphibious cars, jets, submarines, and individual space shuttles. It wasn’t just transportation which the films invented but general technological gadgetry which didn’t exist then and still doesn’t today due to either impracticality or sheer implausibility. A possibly exception is Bond’s communications methods which were sometimes prescient when they were at their most simple.

The Daniel Craig Bond was rebooted to be competitive with the Jason Bourne films. The aim was to remove the far-fetched gadgets and add a sense of realism. This worked in the mid 2000’s but became difficult as the decade progressed. International decentralised terrorism posed a bigger threat than any villain in a volcano lair and the advent of smart-phones meant that we all had gadgets in our pockets as powerful as anything Q had ever provided to Daniel Craig or his predecessors. Rather than try to keep up with or predict the future of gadgets or villainy Craig and Mendes took a polite side-step of avoidance.

In Skyfall Daniel Craig operates without gadgets and drives a sixtiejamesbondskyfalls Aston Martin (the same model as driven by Sean Connery). The film’s showdown takes place against the backdrop of nature, the Scottish Highlands, rather than a space station. The heroes use ancient rifles and booby traps rather than lasers or rockets.

In the latest film, SPECTRE, Mendes double dipped in his avoidance of the contemporary by using the old-world settings of Mexico, Tangiers and the Moroccan dessert and the retro villain of Christopher Waltz’s Blofeld as the threat to Bond and the world. Aesthetically, SPECTRE is a beautiful film but fails on a story level with its desperate desire to connect Bloomfield’s villainy and menace to the events of the preceding films.

spectre_013921_c48
Daniel Craig and Léa Seydoux looking suave after a murderous train trip and ride in a 1948 Rolls through the Morroccan desert.

Unsurprisingly SPECTRE also avoids tackling modern international terrorism and its religious fundamentalist connections. Instead the looming threat to the world and freedom is the idea of surveillance and technology. This threat rings false though as the film refuses to ever fully examine real contemporary internet culture or even show the ubiquity of smart-phones. Indeed pivotal plot points where the media indicate Bond’s movements are detailed via printed newspapers rather than any form of MOJO.

An aside:

In contemporary journalism MOJO, mobile phone created and curated journalism, is increasingly becoming the most common and efficient way of reporting breaking news. Stephen Quinn in Mojo and the Mobil Journalism Revolution writes that the ‘revolutionary aspect of “full” mojo is the fact that all work is done on the device (a smartphone) – filming, interviewing, editing and creating the voice-over (6)’. Smartphones are able to act as the tool of transmission and often the end user will view the report on a similar device rather than traditional news mediums with push notifications able to alert users to breaking news in almost real time.

Pope Francis waves as he arrives for weekly audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican
Pope Francis surrounded by phone cameras(CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters) (May 15, 2013)

MOJO allows journalists to operate on a more mobile basis and with far less overheads then required by traditional camera equipment and crews. News can be compiled and filed or published quickly in the instance of breaking news events and the flexibility of MOJO allows reporters to easily story-build around events.

Another advantage is that since mobile phones are ubiquitous they are generally less intimidating for interview subjects. A phone can be operated by one person so that an event can be filmed inconspicuously and interviews can be conducted one on one. Most people have filmed or been filmed with a phone and will be more relaxed in front of a phone than a video camera.

It will be interesting to see whether a new director decides to do a soft reboot on the series so that it once again feels exists in the contemporary world. Some people are saying Bond will struggle to remain relevant in a post Trump world and the increased pace of political events. By the same token in a world where the president is responding to reporters on Twitter can a contemporary spy drama continue to avoid smart-phones and the story-building strength of mobile journalism?

Embracing rather than avoiding the issue could be the best thing that ever happened to the franchise. To avoid aping Mission Impossible and the conceit of prosthetic masks perhaps Bond will become a darker and more underground John Le Carré type of spy operating in the shadows and on the periphery of society and only irregularly rather than habitually showing up at gala balls. If nothing else perhaps in his last two films Daniel Craig will be a little more circumspect about telling all and sundry his name is Bond, James Bond.

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