Getting away with things in the James Bond Novels that you can't do in the James Bond Films?

DragonpolDragonpol Euro Disney, Paris. Twitter: @Dragonpol.
edited November 13 in Bond Movies Posts: 10,771
cwtat-this-banner_orig.png

By way of a prelude to this thread I'm of course fully aware that books and films are two very different mediums of storytelling, but nonetheless this is a question that has cropped up in my mind for a long time when considering the James Bond films more in-depth as I am apt to do frequently.

I'm thinking here of the scenes in the original Ian Fleming James Bond novels (and of course the many continuation Bond novels afterwards by various authors) that are fine enough in a novel on the written page. In a book, the the dear reader can use their fevered imagination as much as he or she pleases in order to bring the author's words to life in the form of a personalised visual image. However, on film such a scene would cause problems with the censors (the Honey Rider crab scene in Dr. No for instance which was greatly toned down in the film version) or for reasons of good taste, overly long scenes of dialogue, for political and motal reasons etc.

Another thought is why these scenes or even types of villains are fine in books - e.g. having neo-Nazis a s villains in John Gardner's Icebreaker (1983) and SeaFire (1994) but would not ever really be countenanced an official Bond film by Eon. Of course other spy films based on books have featured neo-Nazis (one thinks of The Quiller Memorandum (1966) based on the novel by Adam Hall), so why do neo-Nazis never feature in a Bond film? Probably for the same reason the New IRA, ISIS or Al-Queada will not either - it dates the film, is too overtly political/current affairs-like for the Eon Bond film series. The graphic I posted above illustrates the dangers of making a Bond film which involves, say, Islamic extremist villainy better than I could ever encapsulate it in words!

Anyway, this fine line between what is acceptable in an official Bond novel and an official Bond film is of great interest to me (and hopefully others here, too). So what are the basic differences between the nature of the Bond novels and the Bond films that preclude certain scenes,characters, themes, dialogue, villains, villain organisations etc.? Basically, why is it fine in one of the main two strands of the Bond character construct but not in the other strand? This is the crux of what I want to discuss in this thread.

Take it away, Sam...

Comments

  • 0BradyM0Bondfanatic70BradyM0Bondfanatic7 It was this or the priesthood.
    edited November 13 Posts: 27,296
    I think most of the sensitivity is aimed at nudity and sexuality as an extension of that, and certain political content as well.

    Scenes like Honey's first meeting with Bond had to be neutered and re-imagined to get rid of the nudity, just as Klebb's lesbianism is only implied and the same for Pussy Galore's sexuality. Some of these issues of sexuality were pretty taboo for the time and, where the nudity is concerned, the west has always had a prudish sensitivity for what is the most natural aspect of humanity, and that very much remains true here.

    When it comes to why strong content like nudity is removed from a film, I think the reason is most often down to profit and audience reach. When you're promoting a film you want to reach as wide a range of audiences as possible, and strong content (like the nudity Fleming often depicts of Bond and the women, or even his torture at the hands of Le Chiffre or his trials under Dr. No) is a quick way to get yourself a high certification rating. It's best to avoid things like R-ratings if you're going to be marketing a blockbuster (in those days I mean, not so much now) and so you have to make alterations to avoid getting the censors on your rear about fixing this and that for audiences. Quite quickly any instances of nudity, extreme violence and anything in between too mature for most audiences is out, and anything of a taboo or sensitive nature is left to either be strongly implied or not featured at all. Language neutering follows suit, of course.

    All this will lead to what would likely be at most a PG-13 rating, a "safe" rating for a blockbuster you want to reach a wide scope of audiences. R-ratings were thought to limit that audience pool, as well as add a taboo stink to the film for being of questionable content. Thankfully we now live in a world where studios are taking risks and showing how financially and critically successful R-rated films can be when they are done right, but this is a nascent age and wasn't what the industry favored for the vast majority of its history. Far better to shoot for PG or PG-13.


    As for why certain types of villains, especially political ones, are removed from the films or changed in allegiance (Hugo Drax or Le Chiffre), that seems to most logically come down to profits too. Not only would a Nazi or a radical Islamic terrorist villain erupt the culture with wounds marked by those forms of evil that are too real to see at theaters, but more saliently for studios, they could risk selling less tickets and find it harder to market their film. When you're a studio throwing big money at a film, the ultimate goal is to break even and get a nice profit for you, your distributors, the theaters who play the films and everyone else who funded or crafted the film and got it from script to final product. To do this, you want to play to any international box office market you can to increase your profits. Who the villains are that you are marketing towards your audiences become important, then, as there's a danger of upsetting those who find themselves negatively reacting to how a particular character is portrayed through their shared nation or background. When you make a film that has, say, a German or French villain in it that is really despicable, you could offend those in that native country from seeing the film for how someone of their ilk is being portrayed. This then has the effect of kicking up a negative response for your film in those international markets while also lowering the reach or profit of it in the long run.

    To avoid this particular pitfall, EON have always had a golden rule of never making a particular nation or someone of a high profile government an enemy of their heroes since the start of the Bond series, and that's a big part of where the books and films divide in what they can do. Fleming was happy to make the Russians a big villain of his novels alongside the SMERSH operatives that crossed paths with Bond, for example, but the movies hit a wider audience, are marketed everywhere and are far more consequentially affected by a lack of profit because they cost millions upon millions of invested money to make. While Fleming could have his pick of villains and not worry about causing so much upheaval while acting inside a smaller market with his novels, movies were/are everywhere and everything, a huge cultural touchstone, and so more eyes would naturally be on them. You can't play as fast and loose as you can in books under that larger microscope and bigger need for profit.

    EON had and still have to be more lenient and conscious of how they portray the nations of the world in the Bond films because of their bigger market and its bigger risk so, instead of dangerously marketing a villain that was attached to a particular political group or nation, they devised a smart and sensible alternative: when they needed to have their villain defined by a country or political power, they always had said villain acting as a threat unconnected to that nation, government or agency. This is most clear in how Russia is portrayed in the Bond films.

    We can see how the Bond films of the 70s and 80s in particular portray a very detente focused dynamic between what were the big Cold War nations of the time, the US, UK and Britain, and that very much serves the goal of profit and goodwill for EON as Russians are treated fairly in the films. Gogol and Pushkin are both Russian characters that the films don't portray as villainous (despite other films of the time slinging such propaganda), and Bond is often written to come to an understanding with them in an unexpected but reasonable alliance. The result is EON showing the east and the west working for a common goal, quite a progressive message for the time that no doubt endeared those native markets to the films more strongly. And, in the rare moment when one of the Russian side were painted as a villain, like an Orlov or Koskov, they were always men who were acting independently of their governments with their own goals in accordance with the golden rule, giving EON the built-in excuse to say, "The villain wasn't working on the orders of Russia, he was a lone wolf baddie" if anyone got offended.

    Now, I don't think this profit risk is true in all cases, as some audiences from particular nations may not care either way how they are portrayed through a villain or other character, but just look at how strongly the Chinese got upset when Silva was mentioned to have been tortured by Chinese agents in SF. To screen in China SF had to be edited to remove what that market saw as offensive content implicating their country in a villainous and negative light, as MGM and EON risked losing out on important profit in China's market. Certain powerful markets can dictate certain traits or allegiances of villains like this and can make an entire idea get thrown out or altered in the final cut of a film if those representing that market deem its content offensive to the nation in question, as we saw in 2012. With China becoming one of the most valuable international markets for studios thirsty for profit, I'd bet my life that you will never see a major Chinese villain in a future Bond film. EON and MGM will need that market for their box office and will play to it out of that desperation for profit. To do so they will avoid painting China in a negative light and, who knows, we may even see them persuaded into casting a Chinese Bond girl to really appeal to that market more than ever before.


    So, as with everything, I think the censorship of the Bond films when it comes to certain aspects is prominently focused on money. Like any business, filmmaking must play to markets and the audiences that pay into those markets. If certain content doesn't sell the film or detracts from its profit, out it goes.

    I'll be interested to see how Bond films adapt to this brave new R-rated world in the future, where movies that were once taboo can make hundreds of millions of dollars and be insanely profitable for their studios (Logan, Deadpool, IT). We've all debated R-rated Bond films before, but I think EON will be able to keep things PG-13 while still pushing for more content than they have ever been able to before when it comes to the biggies of violence and sexuality now that the market is responding to the mature content and the dollars aren't diminishing as a result.
  • Agent_99Agent_99 Enjoys a spirited ride as much as the next girl
    Posts: 879
    You can have Bond get sweary in the novels, because you only need to say that he swore, without filling in the exact words used.

    (I thought the 'Freddie Uncle Charlie Katie' business in YOLT was pretty daring for the time.)
  • Posts: 2,735
    Well, "Merde" et "N'enculons pas les mouches" were pretty daring for France at the time also. To the point where the translator felt obligated to mention that those two phrases were used completely in the original (at the time, we used a lot of dots, like "M..." or "Enc...").
  • DragonpolDragonpol Euro Disney, Paris. Twitter: @Dragonpol.
    edited November 14 Posts: 10,771
    Agent_99 wrote: »
    You can have Bond get sweary in the novels, because you only need to say that he swore, without filling in the exact words used.

    (I thought the 'Freddie Uncle Charlie Katie' business in YOLT was pretty daring for the time.)

    True, however the acronym for FCUK wouldn't have been as shocking in the years after the Lady Chatterley obscenity/censorship trial of 1960. Of course it was a novel that contained the f-word and other epithets! I have a few books on Chatterley and even managed to track down the Law Report on the trial that appeared in the pages of the Criminal Law Review in 1961. So glad to have got that whole year of the journal off eBay!

    As a lawyer I find the post-Chatterley effect on Fleming rather fascinating and that is just another example of it. Thank you for reminding me of that passage, @Agent_99. I have planned an article on the effect of Chatterley on Fleming's work afterwards as I certainly think there were at least some changes rang in by him in his post-Chatterley trial novels.
  • 0BradyM0Bondfanatic70BradyM0Bondfanatic7 It was this or the priesthood.
    Posts: 27,296
    @Dragonpol, what do you think the effect on Fleming's work was? Do you think he was more emboldened to not be so self-censored, in light of the climate in which a book like Chatterley was published?
  • JamesBondKenyaJamesBondKenya God I love Quantum of Solace
    Posts: 1,216
    I would like to mention, about 70% of the parents I have talked to about bond in my life, all thought bond was rated R. I’m not sure how much profits would drop if they just went for a more accurate to the book film considering a large amount of people believe it is R and won’t let their kids see it anyway
  • 0BradyM0Bondfanatic70BradyM0Bondfanatic7 It was this or the priesthood.
    Posts: 27,296
    I would like to mention, about 70% of the parents I have talked to about bond in my life, all thought bond was rated R. I’m not sure how much profits would drop if they just went for a more accurate to the book film considering a large amount of people believe it is R and won’t let their kids see it anyway

    @JamesBondKenya, that's interesting. As I noted in my post, the current movie climate is more ripe than ever for R-rated films to be successful, as studios have finally decided to take risks that have paid off. Until this point, however, blockbusters would avoid that rating because of the taboo surrounding it and how that rating was perceived to limit profit from audiences (if kids under a certain age can't even see the film, that's an issue). So these studios, and especially EON and their big profile, had the habit of shooting for PG-13 and cutting any content to avoid approaching an R.

    There's a thread around here for debating R-rated Bond films, but I personally don't think EON need to go there. The way the films are marketed has been consistent for the franchise's entire life and I can't see much changing. Unless there's a reason to go R, and a good one, I just don't see the point. And Bond films don't need to do that, more importantly.
  • Posts: 485
    * Fleming regretted the outcome of the Lady Chatterly trial, but that didn't stop him from loading TMWTGG with more vulgarities than usual (aside from the f-word).

    * Something you can get away with in a Bond Novel that you can't do in a Bond Film: end directly after "The bitch is dead now."

  • JamesBondKenyaJamesBondKenya God I love Quantum of Solace
    Posts: 1,216
    I would like to mention, about 70% of the parents I have talked to about bond in my life, all thought bond was rated R. I’m not sure how much profits would drop if they just went for a more accurate to the book film considering a large amount of people believe it is R and won’t let their kids see it anyway

    @JamesBondKenya, that's interesting. As I noted in my post, the current movie climate is more ripe than ever for R-rated films to be successful, as studios have finally decided to take risks that have paid off. Until this point, however, blockbusters would avoid that rating because of the taboo surrounding it and how that rating was perceived to limit profit from audiences (if kids under a certain age can't even see the film, that's an issue). So these studios, and especially EON and their big profile, had the habit of shooting for PG-13 and cutting any content to avoid approaching an R.

    There's a thread around here for debating R-rated Bond films, but I personally don't think EON need to go there. The way the films are marketed has been consistent for the franchise's entire life and I can't see much changing. Unless there's a reason to go R, and a good one, I just don't see the point. And Bond films don't need to do that, more importantly.

    The current bond films, absolutely don’t need to be R, look at what they were able to get away with in CR. ( although I would like an extended uncut R version on blu ray) but if they went back to the 60’s to faithfully adapt all the novels, should the films then be R?

    I think so...
  • 0BradyM0Bondfanatic70BradyM0Bondfanatic7 It was this or the priesthood.
    Posts: 27,296
    I would like to mention, about 70% of the parents I have talked to about bond in my life, all thought bond was rated R. I’m not sure how much profits would drop if they just went for a more accurate to the book film considering a large amount of people believe it is R and won’t let their kids see it anyway

    @JamesBondKenya, that's interesting. As I noted in my post, the current movie climate is more ripe than ever for R-rated films to be successful, as studios have finally decided to take risks that have paid off. Until this point, however, blockbusters would avoid that rating because of the taboo surrounding it and how that rating was perceived to limit profit from audiences (if kids under a certain age can't even see the film, that's an issue). So these studios, and especially EON and their big profile, had the habit of shooting for PG-13 and cutting any content to avoid approaching an R.

    There's a thread around here for debating R-rated Bond films, but I personally don't think EON need to go there. The way the films are marketed has been consistent for the franchise's entire life and I can't see much changing. Unless there's a reason to go R, and a good one, I just don't see the point. And Bond films don't need to do that, more importantly.

    The current bond films, absolutely don’t need to be R, look at what they were able to get away with in CR. ( although I would like an extended uncut R version on blu ray) but if they went back to the 60’s to faithfully adapt all the novels, should the films then be R?

    I think so...

    Well, adaptations of the novels would largely deal with nudity and some intense violence as the biggies for the R rating and that's just not something I see the mainstream films tackling to that degree.

    Personally, I'd like to see a mature adaption of each novel done in miniseries format on an HBO type outlet that would allow all of the books to be adapted completely, from Bond's full torture in Casino (though the film does it perfectly) to Honey's nudity in Dr. No and everything in between no matter the content.
  • TheWizardOfIceTheWizardOfIce 'One of the Internet's more toxic individuals'
    Posts: 7,425
    I would like to mention, about 70% of the parents I have talked to about bond in my life, all thought bond was rated R. I’m not sure how much profits would drop if they just went for a more accurate to the book film considering a large amount of people believe it is R and won’t let their kids see it anyway

    @JamesBondKenya, that's interesting. As I noted in my post, the current movie climate is more ripe than ever for R-rated films to be successful, as studios have finally decided to take risks that have paid off. Until this point, however, blockbusters would avoid that rating because of the taboo surrounding it and how that rating was perceived to limit profit from audiences (if kids under a certain age can't even see the film, that's an issue). So these studios, and especially EON and their big profile, had the habit of shooting for PG-13 and cutting any content to avoid approaching an R.

    There's a thread around here for debating R-rated Bond films, but I personally don't think EON need to go there. The way the films are marketed has been consistent for the franchise's entire life and I can't see much changing. Unless there's a reason to go R, and a good one, I just don't see the point. And Bond films don't need to do that, more importantly.

    The current bond films, absolutely don’t need to be R, look at what they were able to get away with in CR. ( although I would like an extended uncut R version on blu ray) but if they went back to the 60’s to faithfully adapt all the novels, should the films then be R?

    I think so...

    Well, adaptations of the novels would largely deal with nudity and some intense violence as the biggies for the R rating and that's just not something I see the mainstream films tackling to that degree.

    Personally, I'd like to see a mature adaption of each novel done in miniseries format on an HBO type outlet that would allow all of the books to be adapted completely, from Bond's full torture in Casino (though the film does it perfectly) to Honey's nudity in Dr. No and everything in between no matter the content.

    Including the n- word stuff from LALD and Korean ape quips from GF? Even HBO not that brave.
  • 0BradyM0Bondfanatic70BradyM0Bondfanatic7 It was this or the priesthood.
    Posts: 27,296
    I would like to mention, about 70% of the parents I have talked to about bond in my life, all thought bond was rated R. I’m not sure how much profits would drop if they just went for a more accurate to the book film considering a large amount of people believe it is R and won’t let their kids see it anyway

    @JamesBondKenya, that's interesting. As I noted in my post, the current movie climate is more ripe than ever for R-rated films to be successful, as studios have finally decided to take risks that have paid off. Until this point, however, blockbusters would avoid that rating because of the taboo surrounding it and how that rating was perceived to limit profit from audiences (if kids under a certain age can't even see the film, that's an issue). So these studios, and especially EON and their big profile, had the habit of shooting for PG-13 and cutting any content to avoid approaching an R.

    There's a thread around here for debating R-rated Bond films, but I personally don't think EON need to go there. The way the films are marketed has been consistent for the franchise's entire life and I can't see much changing. Unless there's a reason to go R, and a good one, I just don't see the point. And Bond films don't need to do that, more importantly.

    The current bond films, absolutely don’t need to be R, look at what they were able to get away with in CR. ( although I would like an extended uncut R version on blu ray) but if they went back to the 60’s to faithfully adapt all the novels, should the films then be R?

    I think so...

    Well, adaptations of the novels would largely deal with nudity and some intense violence as the biggies for the R rating and that's just not something I see the mainstream films tackling to that degree.

    Personally, I'd like to see a mature adaption of each novel done in miniseries format on an HBO type outlet that would allow all of the books to be adapted completely, from Bond's full torture in Casino (though the film does it perfectly) to Honey's nudity in Dr. No and everything in between no matter the content.

    Including the n- word stuff from LALD and Korean ape quips from GF? Even HBO not that brave.

    Have you seen some recent HBO programming? They tackle all kinds of strong subject matter.

    Not that the language elements of the novels are that crucial anyway, or some of the old-fashioned views of other nations. The core of the stories, those of sex, endurance through strong violence and a very mature sensibility would remain well served in an HBO model, however.
Sign In or Register to comment.