Eon’s drive for ‘respect’ and how it affects the 007 film franchise

The Peter Morgan situation (fiasco?), where Eon Productions’ flirtation with a “prestige” writer didn’t pan out, got us to thinking about the state of the James Bond movie franchise. As Lt. Columbo on more than one occasion said, “little things” bothered him about a case. So it is with our concerns about the state of the James Bond movie franchise.

Peter Morgan wrote Frost/Nixon and other movies that had the label of being a Very Important Film. So, in 2009, when Eon announced that Morgan would be part of a writing team to script Bond 23, it got a lot of attention, especially among Bond fans. Months after ending his 007 writing efforts, Morgan gave an interview where he indicated he really didn’t care that much for the Bond concept.

In a way, that seems to seems to represent the approach of Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli after the death of Albert R. Broccoli, Eon’s co-founder, in 1996. There have been hints of this for awhile. Michael Apted got hired to direct 1999′s The World Is Not Enough, even though he had basically no experience directing action films. But the stepson and daughter of Cubby Broccoli really hit paydirt on the respect scale with 2006′s Casino Royale, which arguably got the best reviews of a 007 film in decades. Part of the reason was co-screenwriter Paul Haggis, known as a writer and director of Very Important Movies, despite the fact he also created the schlocky TV series Walker, Texas Ranger.

That’s a heady thing to ignore. So the duo hired Marc Forster, also known as a director of Very Important Movies, such as Monster’s Ball, to direct Quantum of Solace, with Haggis returning as the lead writer, getting first billing ahead of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The result: a $230 million-budgeted movie that was hard to follow in many places and seemed twice the length of its 106-minute running time, the shortest of the 22-film Eon/Bond series.

For an encore, the Wilson-Broccoli duo hired Peter Morgan to write Bond 23. Now the delay in Bond 23, understandably, is blamed on financial problems at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., 007′s home studio which also controls half of the Bond franchise with Eon. But even if MGM’s finances hadn’t tanked, there’s some reason to doubt the current Eon regime was up to getting out a Bond film in a reasonable amount of time. In April, when Eon said it was suspending development of Bond 23 because of MGM’s financial ills, it said the film was originally scheduled for a “2011/2012″ release. That would have been three or four YEARS after Quantum of Solace.

What’s more, Morgan revealed in an interview that after months of work in 2009, he had gotten no further than a “treatment” (essentially a detailed outline) and never had gotten around to actually writing a script. Aside from Morgan himself plus the grateful city of Vienna (where Morgan lives), it’s hard to see who else benefitted from the decision to hire Morgan in the first place. Morgan made his reputation on films that were lathered in politics. Bond films, while having a few referendces to the time they were made, tended to be as “timeless” as possible. Eon’s co-founders, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, de-emphasized the Cold War roots of Ian Fleming novels such as Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, which formed the basis of the first three films of the series. The Russians were the ultimate villains of all three novels; in the first two films the independent SPECTRE took the place of the Soviets while in Goldfinger, the title character was acting independently with the backing of the Chinese.

Bond 23 has been delayed primarily because of MGM’s financial ills, make no mistake. But even if MGM’s finances were fixed tomorrow, Eon would still have a lot of work to do to get a shootable script ready. The Broccoli-Saltzman team was able to do four films in four years and, after that, adhere to producing a film every other year (more or less). It’s unimaginable to envision the current Wilson-Broccoli regime sticking to such a schedule. They seem too busy worrying about their press clippings. The irony: Cubby Broccoli, a supposed hack, in 1982 received the Irving Thalberg Award, one of the most prestigious Hollywood gives to one of its own. Does anyone really think either Michael Wilson or Barbara Broccoli will receive that award anytime soon?

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5 Responses

  1. It’s as if they think a Bond film could ever win a best picture Oscar. Never going to happen, guys.

  2. [...] take on EON Productions in light of Peter Morgan’s recent comments.  http://hmssweblog.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/eons-drive-for-respect-and-how-it-affects-the-007-film-fr… The Peter Morgan situation (fiasco?), where Eon Productions’ flirtation with a “prestige” [...]

  3. Well said! I often amazes me how long it takes them to do these films, but perhaps the reason is that they -EON – focus their energies in the wrong places.

    Also, one of the reasons for Casino Royale’s success is that it was based on an Ian Fleming story. EON has never done better than when they stick closely to the source material, even when the source is a stories that were never intended to be links, as per FYEO, or add/change elements as in CR.

  4. [...] mean? It means that producers Wilson and Broccoli still aren’t giving up on their desire for critical respect after getting a taste of it for 2006′s Casino Royale. The question really is whether Mendes can do a better job that the one Marc Forster did with the [...]

  5. After the incredibly bad QOS, mean spirited disaster, it looks like Bond will have to continue to dodge his real enemies again- No. 1, the producers,No.2 the director, and # 3 the writers. I hope he survives, if 23 is a stinker he will be in a real fix, as QOS ran mostly on CR coat tails.

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