Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Casino Royale, Ian Fleming

Casino Royale
Ian Fleming

So, I hear you wonder, what the heck is Jeff doing reading a James Bond book? Consider it research. I wanted to understand how different the original book (first published in 1953) is from the relatively recent movie of the same name. Someday I want to do some serious writing, and this was a chance to consider the script writer's art in a particular way.

I enjoyed the movie. In my opinion it is the best Bond flick created so far, but I have a taste for realism, and most of them are so far over the top that all I can do is laugh. Don't get me wrong, this one was over the top as well, but it didn't ever get so crazy that my willing suspension of disbelief shut down all on it's own. The rest of the Bond flicks I've seen have that effect on me.

For its time, the book is reasonable, but as you can guess from that statement, it's also pretty dated. The enemy is communism and the Soviet Union, for example, and some of it just sounds silly to my ears, 55 years later. It's a quick read, but it suffers from a couple of plot holes, an odd slowness to the pacing, and a division into two parts that keeps the story from flowing well in my opinion. It was his first novel, though, and Fleming was probably still getting the writing business figured out. I'll cut him some slack. After all, he's published and I'm not.

For those who are curious about the differences between the novel and the movie, they are pretty significant, but it's not like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Blade Runner. The entire opening sequence in the movie where Bond earns his double-zero status is not in the novel, nor is the chase scene where he eventually catches the bomber in the embassy. Obviously there's nothing about cellular phones in the book either.

The setting has changed - the book is set in France - and as previously mentioned the bad guys are Soviet instead of more modern money suppliers, guerrilla leaders, and thugs. Even the high stakes game is changed, from Baccarat in the novel to some flavor of poker in the movie. (Doug can no doubt tell me exactly what flavor of poker was used in the movie. That's not one of my specialties.)

But moving to what is the same, there is a symmetry to the overall plot that is still present. The character names are all there. The leading lady is reasonably independent for a woman in the 1950's, though she's a bit of a wall flower in some ways as well. The relationship between her and Bond is still complicated, and yes, she's still a double agent. Oh, and the torture sequence is still there as well. (Are all of the men reading this now doubled over, protectively? Smile. )

In all, the book and movie clearly are related. It's an interesting exercise to note the similarities and differences, however.

Overall I'd have to say that the book hasn't aged all that well. It's OK, but I wouldn't go out of your way to read it, and you probably won't see me review another Bond book. If, however, you're researching something specific that's different. I'm not all that serious about script writing, but my wife has this unpublished novel that I keep seeing pictures for in my head. I may have to adapt her unfinished work into a script for the heck of it one of these days. Who knows.