Early indications are that "Skyfall," the new James Bond movie opening next week, will be one of the best entries in the 50-year-old series. If that's so, I can honestly say it's a movie I've been waiting three decades to see.
I became a Bond fan when I was 10; since then, my life following 007 has included high hopes, dashed expectations, movie marathons and more memorabilia than I can recall.
It all started in the summer of 1982 when I saw "For Your Eyes Only" on HBO. I'd seen the movie when it was released the previous year, but this time it clicked. I didn't yet know what "suave" meant, but Bond defined it. The movie was packed with amazing stunts, cool gadgets and guns, and eye-popping scenery (and I don't even mean the women, who wouldn't mean much to me until later). It was just, "Wow."
I was hooked, but fandom took more work back before the Internet. I scoured used bookstores for paperback copies of Ian Fleming's novels, which I often devoured overnight. I bought used vinyl LPs of the original soundtracks, which I still have, though they've been digitally replaced many times over. And I found cool oddities, such as a box of "Moonraker" movie trading cards at the flea market.
I first saw Sean Connery in "Goldfinger" on a rented VCR. The Bond movies were also staples on ABC's "Sunday Night Movie" back then, and I made sure I was home to watch every one. I couldn't believe my luck when a double feature of "The Spy Who
And then, in 1985, Bond came to my backyard. In "A View to a Kill," Agent 007 saved Silicon Valley from sure destruction at the hands of a Nazi-created, bleached-blond madman who looked a lot like Christopher Walken. Had the British superspy known how those high-tech companies would one day make his Q Branch gadgets look so outdated, he probably would have let an earthquake destroy every tilt-up in the valley.
Unfortunately for this Bond fan, who was 13 when the movie was being filmed in the Bay Area in late 1984, I had no idea my new hero was in town. There were no movie websites back then, so I never knew James Bond was chasing bad guys around the historic Dunsmuir House in Oakland or saving former "Charlie's Angels" star Tanya Roberts from a burning San Francisco City Hall.
I even missed the movie's star-studded world premiere at the Palace of Fine Arts on May 22, 1985, which was declared James Bond Day in San Francisco by then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein.
Ironically, "A View to a Kill" is my least favorite Bond film. By the time it was released, I had mainlined so many of the classic movies (not to mention the more-serious books), that I knew the one 007 adventure that took place close to home was a stinker. Even so, I still cherish an original movie poster, featuring Moore's Bond posing in an impossible angle atop the Golden Gate Bridge.
Timothy Dalton was a dour Bond in 1987's "The Living Daylights," but I liked the movie enough to have seen it twice the Friday it opened at the Century 21 on Winchester Boulevard in San Jose. My appreciation for the serious Dalton was a perfect example of teenage rebellion against Roger Moore, who had been the Smirking Bond of my youth. I appreciated Sean Connery, but my only real experience with him as Bond was in 1983's rogue, unofficial entry "Never Say Never Again."
By the time Dalton made his second movie, "License to Kill" in 1989, I was college-bound and disappointed by a movie I thought looked cheap and didn't rise to the oh-so-high standards that I, at 17, had set for the series. I can't imagine how I would have reacted to "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" -- George Lazenby's unfairly dissed Bond film -- had I been around for its release in 1969.
My karmic comeuppance was that my entire time in college -- plus two more years for good measure -- passed without a James Bond film being produced. I was crushed, but the drought had two high points: I met Bond producer Michael G. Wilson after a photography lecture in Santa Barbara, and he assured me that the series would continue once the studio's financial situation was sorted out. And, during my senior year, I discovered vodka martinis.
By the time Pierce Brosnan was issued his Walther PPK for 1995's "Goldeneye," the tech world and other action movies such as James Cameron's "True Lies" threatened to make Bond look obsolete. A highlight of 1997's "Tomorrow Never Dies" was when Brosnan used his cellphone to pilot his BMW by remote control from the back seat. (That's probably the moment future Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page first turned to each other and said, "One day, we should make a car that drives itself.") By the end of his stint, Brosnan was driving a ridiculous Aston Martin Vanquish that could turn invisible in 2002's "Die Another Day."
The Brosnan years mirrored my 20s -- enjoyable, but not very memorable. My matured fandom more easily endured a four-year gap between Brosnan's last movie and "Casino Royale," Daniel Craig's 2006 debut. During that span I managed to meet, court and marry my wife.
Our first dance at our wedding was to a Bond theme and, in 2008, she gamely watched all the previous movies with me in anticipation of the disappointing "Quantum of Solace." For my 40th birthday last year, she organized a screening of the equally aged "Diamonds Are Forever" at the Retro Dome theater in San Jose. That, my friends, is love.
Craig is the fourth Bond since I became a fan, and while I was initially taken aback by the blond hair, he's probably the best actor to wear Bond's tux (though no one can really compete with Connery, who created the role). "Casino Royale" wasn't just a great Bond movie, it was a great movie -- period. I just wish Craig would smile more. Being James Bond would be fun. Doesn't he know that?
It doesn't surprise me that now that I'm in my 40s -- and having added two kids to our family since the last Bond came out -- I appreciate most of Moore's movies again for the lighthearted adventures they were. (By the way, kids, Bond isn't a good role model for a 10-year-old: He smokes too much, drinks too much, sleeps around and kills people for a living.)
Sure, Bond's once-cool gadgets -- a homing device, a video watch, a jet pack -- seem quaint compared to such real-world advances as electric cars, Google Earth and just about every new product Apple churns out. But you can't outdo the Aston Martin DB5 with its ejector seat or a Lotus Esprit that turns into a submarine. That's just, "Wow."
And that's why I'll be heading back to the movies again to see a boyhood hero who has long outlasted my boyhood.
sal pizarro's top 5 james bond films
1. "Goldfinger" (1964): This is the, ahem, gold standard that provided the template for decades of fun, outlandish Bond adventures to follow -- Shirley Bassey's iconic title song, Ken Adam's outlandish sets, derby-tossing henchman Oddjob and the gadget-laden Aston Martin DB5.
2. "From Russia With Love" (1963): Fans of Ian Fleming's novels consider this fast-paced thriller to be the best, and its seduction scene between Bond and Daniela Bianchi's Tatiana Romanova is still used to screen-test potential 007s.
3. "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977): After the poor performance of 1974's "The Man With The Golden Gun," Roger Moore's third film brought back all the essential Bond ingredients: huge action set pieces, cool gadgets, a hit theme song and an amazing opening stunt with Bond skiing off a mountain.
4. "Casino Royale" (2006): Borrowing more from Bourne than Brosnan, Daniel Craig's first outing rebooted the series and reset audiences' expectations for what a serious Bond film could be.
5. "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969): It doesn't compare to the spectacle of "Thunderball" or "You Only Live Twice," but George Lazenby's only stint as 007 takes a mostly successful gamble as presenting Bond as a vulnerable, romantic hero -- helped immensely by co-star Diana Rigg and John Barry's amazing score.
Opens: Nov. 8, IMAX theaters only;
Nov. 9 elsewhere
Rating: PG-13 (for violence, sexuality and language)
Cast: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem,
Ralph Fiennes and Judi Dench
Director: Sam Mendes
Running time: 2 hours, 13 minutes