While out shopping for a friend’s birthday gift last weekend, I came upon an item I certainly wouldn’t mind having for myself—a DVD box set containing all 23 official James Bond films. As a huge 007 fan, I was amazed, and I got to thinking how great it would be to own every installment in the series. But then a difficult question occurred to me: Can it ever be said that anyone truly “owns” the complete James Bond collection?
What would that even mean, anyway?
As much as I wanted to exchange money for the compilation of digitally remastered, widescreen motion pictures and declare it my property, I found it impossible to look upon the set without asking myself, “Who am I to exert any rights of ownership over the fearless exploits, memorable one-liners, and sexual conquests of the world’s most cunning secret agent? Could possessing a mere receipt for such a transaction confer upon me ‘every pulse-pounding Bond moment from Connery to Craig,’ as the box proclaimed?”
Surely if I took home every Bond masterwork, from Dr. No up to Skyfall, I would at most be borrowing these great pieces of cinema. It would be patently absurd to believe that paying $199.99 for this deluxe, one-of-a-kind collector’s edition would make the heart-stopping Golden Gate Bridge climax of A View To A Kill “mine.” Yes, I could technically hold each one of those appealingly packaged DVDs in my hands, but no reasonable person would contend that their iconic protagonist, their ingenious villains, or the wildly inventive gadgets from the mind of Q—including the ski pole rifle from The Spy Who Loved Me and Octopussy’s TV watch—belonged to me.
In reality, we each carry our own complete James Bond collection within us.
No, the legacy of Goldfinger, of Thunderball, of Quantum Of Solace must be a shared cultural inheritance. The claim of a single individual over the unforgettable gun barrel title sequence—let alone the entire franchise—has no merit. So long as you and I both cultivate an appreciation for 007’s vast repertoires of quick comebacks and daring feats, then each of us has an equal right to them. One might even argue that the James Bond cinematic catalogue belongs to all of us—all who love the cocksure swagger and the impeccable style of that iconic MI6 agent with a license to kill.
Unfortunately, such a position is deeply problematic.
In reality, we each carry our own complete James Bond collection within us. When we cue up the scene from Die Another Day in which Bond makes his own heart flatline in order to confuse his captors and escape their clutches, we each bring with us our own set of life experiences. This colors our perception of the story, meaning my Die Another Day isn’t the same as yours. In that sense, none of us are even watching the same film. Thus, there can be no single “correct” Die Another Day for us to call our common property.
The conclusion is clear: The gripping spy-thriller classics imprinted on the surface of these reflective discs are not yours or mine. They transcend the human race entirely and belong to no one at all.
The Bond franchise is now in its sixth decade. It was here before me, and God willing, it will be here long after I am gone. By purchasing this bonus-feature-packed collection, I would at best become a kind of temporary custodian of the films, keeping watch over something far greater and more enduring than my ephemeral self.
While I might well devour all 120 hours of the box set’s behind-the-scenes supplemental materials, I would never pretend to own any part of it: not a single line of dialogue from The Living Daylights; not the exquisite form of Ursula Andress rising from the Caribbean in Dr. No; not Roger Moore driving a gondola hovercraft through the streets of Venice in Moonraker; not the scene in GoldenEye where Pierce Brosnan rides a motorcycle off a cliff and free-falls into the cockpit of a nosediving plane he then brings out of its descent at the last possible second. Possession of such things is simply not possible.
Unless I owned them all on Blu-ray, maybe. That would be unbelievable.