Why in the world do we still bond with this guy?

That suave spy James Bond keeps changing with the times. Alwaysdebonair and witty, he's about to reveal a dark, more vulnerable side.

There are four things people expect to hear in a James Bond movie," laughs Bruce Feirstein, a veteran Bond screenwriter:

"The name is Bond, James Bond."

"Shaken not stirred."

"I've been expecting you, Mr. Bond."

"Oh, James!"

What audiences may not be expecting in the new Bond movie, "The World Is Not Enough" (opening in theaters Nov. 19), is Pierce Brosnan's portrayal of a more serious, fallible James Bond echoing the complexity of the character in the original novels by Ian Fleming.

Audiences balked when two earlier 007 movies ("On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and "License to Kill") attempted a similar direction. But this time it could turn out to be the shrewdest move yet in the evolution of the 37-year-old series that has become an indelible part of pop culture.

Those involved in producing the Bond series say the films have maintained their popularity by adjusting to the times while also retaining classic elements. "You can't stay the same," says Mr. Feirstein in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "We're dealing with a vastly different marketplace than we were in the 1980s or 1970s [when] the idea of movies as amusement parks was strictly the domain of James Bond."

"Tomorrow Never Dies," 007's previous outing, did little to differentiate itself from other action movies. Its exhilarating roller coaster of action set-pieces left little time for Mr. Brosnan's character - or the audience - to breathe. Feirstein promises that "World," by contrast, will tell "a more personal story," focusing on the series' most important asset: Bond himself.

"We want to see that Bond is not invincible and does more than run down hallways shooting off machine guns," the screenwriter says. "Bond makes a serious mistake, which is something that doesn't usually happen ... he trips himself up."

Tinkering with the basic formula by adding a dose of realism is a bold move.

Desmond Llewelyn, who has played the role of gadget designer "Q" in all but two of the Bond movies, opines that the series' enduring appeal up until now has been predicated upon "its pure fantasy."

"We live in a rather dreary world," he says in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, "and now we're looking at this wonderful world of Bond."

Mr. Llewelyn says that the series' long-time producer, Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, wisely followed Bond author Ian Fleming's own recipe for a good thriller. "Fleming said, 'To any adventure story, add all the advantages of an expensive living.' In other words, "Give Bond the right clothes, the right background, and the right girls; set your story in the most glamorous and beautiful of places ... and take your story along so fast that nobody notices the idiosyncrasies."

Mr. Fleming's prototype James Bond was different from later film versions. The internal monologues of his suave spy reflected the character's worries.

"Fleming wrote with a sense of elegance and panache," says John Cork, a board member of The Ian Fleming Foundation in Los Angeles. "You can see it in his book titles, 'Live and Let Die' and 'You Only Live Twice,' and chapter headings like 'Slay It With Flowers' ... which were witty, dark turns of phrase."

It was an attempt to retain the books' ambience that led early film adaptations to eschew the seriousness of his Bond in favor of more levity for Sean Connery's 1962 debut in "Dr. No." "What [director] Terence Young did with 'Dr. No' was to take that style of writing and put it into the character of James Bond as he appeared on screen," Mr. Cork says. "The sense of competence that Fleming wrote with became the sense of competence of the screen character."

The approach paid dividends with audiences, and even the initially skeptical Fleming had to admit that the jocular, muscular Sean Connery was Bond.

The films also began to develop their own identity. By the third movie, the fabulously popular "Goldfinger" (1964), the series had begun to err on the side of the fantastic with more emphasis on gadgetry. Connery, tired of the formula and the increasingly two-dimensional role, eventually allowed his "license to kill" to expire after his sixth outing as 007.

Enter the longest inhabitant of the role, Roger Moore, who filled Bond's shoes in the '70s. "Roger Moore couldn't imitate and wouldn't want to imitate Sean Connery, so he made him his own Bond," says series regular Llewelyn, who has worked with all five Bond actors. "He made him much lighter, more jokey."

Much of the series' success during the Moore era can be attributed to Mr. Broccoli, who twisted the basic formula to suit the times. The Space Age "Moonraker" (1979), for example, was rushed into production to capitalize on the success of "Star Wars." But the comic elements had become so outlandish that Mr. Moore's trademark raised eyebrow now signified that not even Bond was pretending to take the proceedings seriously.

The tenure of Moore's successor, Timothy Dalton, coincided with the advent of a new breed of gritty action movies like "Die Hard." The time seemed right to reintroduce a harder-edged Bond in 1989's underrated "License to Kill." "Timothy made him into a real character," Llewelyn says. "Well, that didn't go down well with the public because Bond is a romantic character."

Exactly 20 years earlier, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," starring unknown model George Lazenby, had tried to recapture the seriousness of the original books. Audiences were hardly prepared for the assassination of Bond's bride at the conclusion of the film, and, like "License," it didn't fare well at the box office.

After Dalton's exit, the producers sought to reinvent 007 yet again with "GoldenEye" (1995). In Pierce Brosnan they found someone able to deliver a bon mot as well as Roger Moore could while adding the dangerous presence of Sean Connery.

"GoldenEye" cleverly followed the Bond formula while also poking fun at it in a subtle postmodern way, even before the two "Austin Powers" spoofs. The success of Brosnan's Bond reestablished the franchise so strongly that its successor, "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997), matched "Titanic" for box-office dollars ($26 million) on their joint opening weekend.

It is this solid platform, and wide public acceptance of Brosnan, that has given the producers confidence to experiment with the character again.

"I think they'll like it," says Llewelyn, who sees a bright future for the series. "Bond films can go on forever."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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