007 Fidelity Index: How close are the films to the books? Part I

An exchange of e-mails between James Bond fans referenced a range of faithfulness of the 007 films to Ian Fleming’s novels. That got us to thinking, what would a spectrum of 007 fidelity look like?

Here’s our try at it. To keep thing simple, we’re keeping it to the official series made by Eon Productions

THE ONE ABOVE THE REST

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: The major components of Fleming’s novel, written in 1962 while filming of Dr. No was underway in Jamaica, are in Peter Hunt’s film version. Richard Maibuam (aided by Simon Raven’s dialogue polish) brings the books’s two storylines closer by having Blofeld capture Tracy, giving her a role in the cliamatic attack on Piz Gloria. The filmmakers may have considered further deviations, but the finished product is the closest to having Fleming’s world put up on the screen.

BEST OF THE REST

Dr. No: Some sequences, and even dialgoue, are taken directly from Fleming’s 1958 novel. But Dr. No now works for SPECTRE, rather than the Russians; the screenwriters add Felix Leither and a new character, Miss Taro; Bond’s trip through Dr. No’s obstacle course is removed and he just crawls through tunnels instead; and Dr. No’s demise is totally changed.

From Russia With Love: No. 2 in the series again transposes sequences and dialgoue. Still, some notable tinkering — including having SPECTRE organizing the plot instead of the Russians; Bond gets off the Orient Express much earlier, creating two new, outdoor action sequences; and Bond’s final faceoff with Klebb occurs in Venice, rather than Paris and the film lacks the cliffhanger ending of Fleming’s original. On the latter point, given the filmmakers changed the order of books they used, that’s just as well but it’s still a deviation.

Goldfinger: Makes changes that improve upon Fleming’s 1959 novel, including having the villain plot to irridate Fort Knox’s gold (to make his own more valuable) rather than stealing it. Screenwriter Maibuam felt the novel’s buzz saw corny and a cliche, so the laser beat was introduced instead. The Maibuam-Paul Dehn script also has Goldfinger in an alliance with China, rather than working for the Russians.

Thunderball: The film is not only based on Fleming’s novel but scripts that preceded the book. The novel introduced Blofeld and he’s still pulling the strings here, with Largo being the operational commander. Maibaum and co-screenwriter John Hopkins make things more complicated by having SPECTRE substitute a double for a NATO pilot, rather than just buying off the pilot. And the climatic underwater fight takes place in the middle of the day (probably to make things easier to film, a difficult enough undertaking in 1965) rather than at night.

Casino Royale: In the 21st Century, Eon adds considerably to the basic story of Fleming’s first novel. Also, Vesper’s suicide is transformed from just taking an overdose of pills to being part of a huge action set piece. Still, the main part of Fleming’s novel is there, including the torture sequence and “The bitch is dead” line.

TO BE CONTINUED

2 Responses

  1. I’ll be interested to see your take on ‘The Living Daylights’. For my money the post-credits sequence is one of the most gratifying bits of Fleming adaptation EON ever did, and even retains several key bits of Fleming’s dialogue, which doesn’t happen even in some of the most faithful films you mention. But, of course, with the original being a short story, it’s only a small part of the film as a whole, so where does that fit on a fidelity index?

  2. […] was around to argue? Not Ian Fleming, who died in August 1964 and hadn’t been too vocal about other major changes Eon made in adapting his novels. Not United Artists. The money was coming in and Eon’s decision making was a safe investment. […]

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