Tuesday, 31 December 2013

All the Bond films, from best to worst

A while ago I watched the first ten Bond films and put them into a list. Now I've watched all the others, and put them into the same list. It's a long list. The best ones are at the top, the worst ones are at the bottom, and some things happen in the middle. It looks about right to me. I gave this a lot of thought. For some of them, almost five minutes. Here it is.

1. Casino Royale
2. Skyfall
3. Goldeneye
4. Goldfinger
5. You Only Live Twice
6. Moonraker
. Live and Let Die
8. Dr No
9. Tomorrow Never Dies
10. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
11. From Russia With Love
12. The Man with the Golden Gun
13. The Spy Who Loved Me
14. Quantum of Solace
15. Die Another Day
16. The World is Not Enough
17. The Living Daylights
18. A View to a Kill
19. Octopussy
20. Licence to Kill
21. Diamonds are Forever
22. Thunderball
23. For Your Eyes Only

Skyfall is very good. I think it's the best looking, best directed Bond film, and a solid, significant story. It seems like a change of pace. It's almost atmospheric, particularly in its build-up to one of the creepiest Bond villains. It deserves to be right at the top, but really, I just prefer Casino Royale. These films come down to a blend of serious and silly, and Casino Royale gets that exactly right. Its story might be less clean and a bit sprawling, but where Skyfall is grim, Casino Royale is escapism. It's got high-stakes poker in a fancy casino and sinking buildings in Venice. For pretty much all of Skyfall Bond is in a mood, but here he's funnier and more confident and sure of his own invincibility. It does all that while still seeming weighty and important, with real characters and plot. That seems like a strange thing to say, but when it comes to things like character and plot, most of these films don't bother. There isn't always a story. Sometimes it's just bits of talking about missiles and satellites to string the action together. Casino Royale and Skyfall are about the people, and that's why they work so well.

They're not the best because they're new. Quantum of Solace is proof of that. It's a flimsy series of action sequences held together by nothing at all. It seems like a better film than it is because of Daniel Craig, but even he can't save it. There's nothing there. Nothing memorable. There are others, that even when they're not bothering to be serious, work because you can remember than, and they're just good fun. I was worried that Goldeneye might be all nostalgia, but it really is one of the best. After that the Brosnan films go downhill, with the quite-good-really Tomorrow Never Dies, and the really-very-boring World is Not Enough. Die Another Day is only worth talking about as context for how off the rails things went. The invisible car and ice palace are fine, but the bit where he surfs down a crumbling cliff then rides the wave to safety is so out of place it could have ruined the entire franchise.

I'd like to write about the Dalton films, but I can't really remember them, which probably says more than enough. At least they were better than the last few Roger Moores. For Your Eyes Only is at the bottom of the list for being more boring than all the other boring ones, even A View to a Kill, which is the one with the airship. Trying to reboot it with a serious tone didn't work as well with Dalton as it did with Daniel Craig. It seems like the series goes through cycles. It doesn't always know what it wants to be. When everyone gets tired of the jokes they put on serious faces, and when that gets old they try to have more fun again. It's when the two meet that things go best. And anyway, this list is just how I saw it, and it's not always easy to judge. I know that I enjoyed Moonraker more than I thought I would, but On Her Majesty's Secret Service is still just hanging around, maybe a few places too high. I might have been too mean on Thunderball - it was only at the bottom of four films before all the others piled on top of it. And who really knows or cares whether Octopussy is better than Licence to Kill?

When it comes down to it, their age is irrelevant. It would be easy to say that the old Connery ones are the best, but they're not. If you ignore what you're meant to think about the style of the classics and the unfair advantage of modern special effects, Casino Royale is a better film than Goldfinger. It's harder to judge the present, but a good film can be made at any time, and the best work on this series has been done this century. That being said, they are hardly ever consistently good, so the next one might be rubbish.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Earthbound is the game I missed twenty years ago

In 1994 Nintendo released a game called Earthbound on the SNES. At least, they released it in most parts of the world. It didn't come out in Europe until this year, possibly because they forgot about it. So I hadn't played it until now. I could have downloaded it from some dodgy website, but I like to be nice and legal, and I didn't really care that much. But it's a classic, both in the sense of it being really good and quite old. It's an adventure, about a boy leaving home to fight aliens with his friends. It's funny, and inventive, and charming, and reminded me how special games can be.

Even by the standards of 1994, this is not a very good looking game. But at the same time it is a very good looking game, because sometimes all you need is a few pixels in the right place. And it's also just a basic RPG, even though that makes it constantly compelling. The thing that makes this game special is that, more than anything else I've played recently, there's a sense of adventure. At the start, a boy wakes up in his bedroom, says goodbye to his family, and goes out to save the world. He wanders around the town, eating burgers and fighting snakes. He goes to the next town, saves a friend from a brainwashed cult, then goes to the next town to fight zombies. Soon you're on a different continent altogether. There's a long way to walk, and it's always strangely brilliant. It's funny, and I don't just mean there's a few jokes. The entire game is a surreal comedy, both in the script and the way it plays around with gaming conventions. This was back in the days when games were made by a few people, and this is all the vision of one Japanese designer, Shigesato Itoi (and translated to English by one guy). It's a very personal game - to the people who made it, and to the people who played it.

I didn't realise how wrapped up I was in all this until I was standing in a desert and a monkey taught me how to teleport. Suddenly, after plodding around the whole world, I could warp to wherever I wanted. I didn't go straight for some item shop or old dungeon. The first thing I did was teleport home. There was no reason, even in the story, for me to go back to the house where I started, but that's what I felt I needed to do.When I got there my mother was watching television, and said she was proud of me for saving the world. My point is that with simple graphics and brilliant writing, this game from twenty years ago made me care. It's a shame I didn't play it back then, because good game + time = nostalgia. I know it would be something I'd look back on as being part of my childhood, as many other people do. More than any other media, games are what I remember from that long ago. The best ones can take you back to another time, even by just hearing the soundtrack. They are different worlds that never change. Parts of your childhood that you can always go back to. To a lot of people, Earthbound is that special. To me, twenty years late, it's just a very good game.