Taking Solace

For the latest film in the James Bond franchise, the producers have taken the title of Ian Fleming's most offbeat James Bond story-- one where our central hero makes only a cameo. Is this a crazy idea, or a brilliant one?

Bond producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli announced yesterday that the 22nd official Bond feature (not counting Never Say Never Again, or the one with David Niven) would be called Quantum of Solace. The title is taken from a short story in Fleming's 1960 collection of Bond tales, For Your Eyes Only. I read it over 20 years ago, at the teenaged start of a serious Bond fixation that continues to this day. I remembered it as a sad, moody, ironic little tale of marital strife, one told to Bond at an embassy dinner party. Bond historian and novelist Raymond Benson compared it, in his essential James Bond Bedside Companion, to the works of Somerset Maugham. A quick search on the intertubes for some plot summaries (I don't have the collection with me here) confirmed and expanded on my memory of it, and further piqued the curiosity I felt when I read of the new film title in today's Plain Dealer.

Fans of Fleming's novels know that the James Bond of the books is a far more complex and difficult soul than the suave quipster that's often played in the movies, and that the stories have a quiet, fatalistic quality that reminds you they were written in the shadow of postwar Existentialism. A great deal of this mood was captured in 2006's Casino Royale, despite the liberties and expansions the producers took to make the film more conventionally action-packed, and a great deal of the credit for the mood must go to actor Daniel Craig, who really captured Fleming's blend of bitter wit, stoicism and underlying, nagging regret (even as he delivered the action and sex appeal fans of the films also expected).

For all that, though, and for all the admirable ways the series producers seemed intent on returning to source material last time, I have to suspect their Quantum of Solace will be rather different from Fleming's. Indeed, in the linked article, Wilson proclaims of his film, ""There's much more action in this film compared to the last film. There's probably twice as much action sequences. It's pretty much jam-packed."

That's ok-- I love action, and I'm as big a fan of the movie Bond as I am the written one. I would never demand slavishness to the original text, and Craig does action so well that I am excited just thinking about how the new film might top last time's dazzling rooftop chase/shootout. But I'm also gratified by his remark that "We thought it was an intriguing title that references what's happening to Bond and what's happening to him in this film" (Barbara Broccoli noted that the new film starts just one hour after the last one ended).

Indeed, without spoiling Casino Royale for those who haven't seen it, I'd imagine "Quantum of Solace" is a good description of Bond's state of mind at the end of that film. If the producers have managed to model even some of the rich, wry character detail from Fleming's original story and blended it with the series' usual slam-bang action, Mr. Kiss-Kiss-Bang-Bang might continue to surprise us in his fourth decade as a screen icon.


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