From the 1960s goofiness of “Dr. No” and “Goldfinger” to the darker realism of the Daniel Craig era, the James Bond franchise has taken on many tones over the years. Each new actor puts their own spin on the iconic spy character, and that versatility is a big reason why the series is still going strong after six decades.
Those changes also prompt plenty of debate between Bond fans, who all seem to have an opinion on which version of 007 is the best. Some prefer the grittiness of the modern era, while others lament the loss of the silliness that once defined the franchise.
However, diehard fans will be quick to point out that the lighthearted nature of the Sean Connery and Roger Moore eras was itself a departure from the original books. Ian Fleming’s Bond novels are quite dark, and the early films have little in common with his more serious spy tone.
Fleming’s involvement with the films was minimal , but he did attempt to adapt one of his novels, “Moonraker,” into a screenplay. He wrote a 150-page treatment for a “Moonraker” movie in 1956, a year after the novel was published but six years before the first Bond film came out. The script was largely ignored and forgotten by the film industry, and the 1979 film of the same name has little in common with Fleming’s vision.
The script was purchased by a collector in 2015, and new reporting from The Observer has revealed some new details from the lost piece of film history.
While the “Moonraker” film is one of the silliest entries in the series, featuring Roger Moore’s Bond traveling to space (just two years after “Star Wars” became a cultural phenomenon), Fleming’s vision was much more serious. While both stories feature Bond going to great lengths to stop supervillain Hugo Drax from destroying the world, the 1956 script is much more grounded, clearly informed by the threat of nuclear war.
Bond’s flirty secretary Miss Moneypenny is not featured, and the character of M is more of a normal government bureaucrat than a flashy Hollywood sidekick. There are also several new characters never seen in the films, and the action is set firmly within the earth’s atmosphere, an abrupt change from the over-the-top film.
The film “Moonraker” ultimately differed from Fleming’s novel so much that a new novelization of the film was released so that fans could experience the story in book form. But Fleming may have been ahead of the curve, as his lost script revealed the more serious direction that the franchise would eventually take. The lost script will likely inform the work of many Bond historians eager to track the character’s evolution.
“This is the very first screenplay written by Fleming imagining Bond for the big screen,” said Fleming expert Jon Gilbert “It is his only attempt at a film script, so it’s hugely important.”