The Bond of the 1990s

Pierce Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Does anyone remember the 1990s?

Beverly Hills 90210, the Backstreet Boys, the fall of Communism, Claudia Schiffer everywhere, the rise of the Nintendo and Sega videogames, Windows, Internet… so much stuff to make us all feel a little nostalgic and perhaps a bit old, too.

Now we can watch once again on YouTube, in that standard VHS quality, we might now consider bad footage of a long haired and beardy man in a dark suit being surrounded by thousands of cameras and photographers, next to producers Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli and a director called Martin Campbell.

It was 20 years ago. The man was Pierce Brosnan. And this moment was the return of James Bond.

The franchise had its weak moments before, but in the longest gap in the franchise history between 1989 and 1994, Bond seemed really dead, without a chance to survive the post Cold War era or the legal troubles surrounding Danjaq and MGM.

Even with the necessary reboot in 2006 with Casino Royale after the somewhat exaggerated Die Another Day, there was probably no bigger buzz about Bond being outdated than in these five years, for many reasons: (a) Agent 007 was a product of the Cold War, and there was no more Cold War, (b) Licence to Kill was a commercial failure and had weak reviews, and (c) too many years were passing without Bond.

By no means was the return of 007 in the form of Daniel Craig unimportant. It certainly was, but it was expected James Bond would return. By the early 1990s, with only the TV cartoon James Bond Jr. and some telefilm Ian Fleming biopics, the “man on the street” would have many doubts of watching our hero back in the silver screen. Some headlines even called Licence to Kill “007’s final mission.”

This is why June 8, 1994, will be remembered as one of the greatest days in the history of the cinematic agent 007.

With a thousand journalists and photographers from all over the world, Brosnan promised to show us “what is beneath the surface of this man, what makes him a killer,” but also maintain the elements that made him famous: “He’s still a ladies man, yes.”

(Essay continues below the videos)

From that day on, the name of James Bond, sentenced to be part of a retro club subject of conversations years before, was being heard again everywhere, including in Papua New Guinea, where Brosnan, shooting Robinson Crusoe, was recognized by a group of children as the secret agent.

The Brosnan era firmly represented the ‘90s, in the humor, the costumes, the music and the scripts.

GoldenEye (1995) offered us a classic story with some twists. The old Communists were back –- in jokes included –- but also with explicit sex scenes; a metallic and modern score by Eric Serra; and, of course, the inclusion of something that was starting to change our lives, the Internet (Natalya asks for an IBM Computer with 650 MB hard drive, basically one-sixteenth the capacity of our iPad;), the 007 vs 006 rivalty, first time a 00 agent –- a friend of Bond — goes rogue.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) opted for a more pragmatic and less brainy idea by having media tycoon Elliott Carver using his empire to make a war between China and Britain (action, action, action everywhere).

The World Is Not Enough (1999), being the last Bond of the 20th century, provided a twist by having as a villain a woman he fell for, with Sophie Marceau having the distinction of being the first female mastermind in a 007 film.

The 40th anniversary adventure, 2002′s Die Another Day, might have been a weak film in many aspects, but it also had its dosage of drama and violence (i.e. a depiction of torture as part of the main titles).

Even when nowadays Pierce says his Bond wasn’t “good enough” and that he doesn’t dare to watch his own Bond movies, his contribution to the franchise was more than memorable and needed.

Brosnan not only resurrected Bond but also brought a new generation of fans. The end of Cold War couldn’t kill James Bond.

MI6 Confidential features Armstrong, Picker in new issue

David Picker

David Picker

MI Confidential is out with A NEW ISSUE that, among things, includes features on stuntman/second unit director Vic Armstrong and former United Artists executive David V. Picker.

Armstrong worked on the 007 film series in such films as You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He was interviewed for John Cork-directed documentaries about those movies, providing some behind-the-scenes perspective about how stunts were performed. From 1997-2002, Armstrong assumed the helm as stunt coordinator and second unit director for three Bond films starring Pierce Brosnan.

Picker was among the UA executives who reached a deal in 1961 with producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to get the 007 film series started. His memoirs were published last year, including A CHAPTER ON THE BOND FILM SERIES.

Also included in the issue are stories about Lana Wood and her experiences filming Diamonds Are Forever and Ian Fleming’s taste in cars.

The price for MI Confidential No. 25 is 7 British pounds, $11 or 8.50 euros. For more information about the contents or to order, CLICK HERE.

HMSS Weblog’s guide to Bond 24 ‘silly season’

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

The Bond 24 “silly season” is underway as reports begin to emerge about possible casting.

The term “silly season” isn’t entirely accurate. Often, at least during the months leading to Skyfall, the reports WERE USUALLY PROVEN TO BE CORRECT.

Still, here’s a few things to keep in mind:

Read the actual story, not just the headline: The entertainment news website The Wrap ran A STORY saying that Chiwetel Ejiofor from the film 12 Years a Slave was the frontrunner to snare the role of Bond 24′s villain. The story was referenced in other entertainment site.

This got 007 fans going all over the Internet. But the story itself was less than definitive. An excerpt:

While Ejiofor does not have an official offer yet and is not in formal talks, he is being eyed for the coveted role and is widely presumed to be the frontrunner amongst the other actors under consideration.

Translation: He hasn’t been cast yet and the situation is still in flux.

That hasn’t stopped fans from debating whether the actor would be a good choice to play a new version of Blofeld.

The Wrap’s story doesn’t even come close to mentioning Blofeld. But, given that Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer finally secured the rights to the character once and for all from the Kevin McClory estate, what’s a little speculation among friends?

Put another way: read the story, don’t just read the headline and don’t make assumptions.

With Skyfall, almost all the major casting news was reported accurately before an official announcement: News of Skyfall casting Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Albert Finney and other actors was reported before the official press release in November 2011. Given that track record, it could happen again with Bond 24.

Don’t take denials from Eon at face value: Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig denied Ben Whishaw was playing Q in Skyfall even though Whishaw’s agent said it was true. Sam Mendes denied he was in talks to direct Skyfall even though his publicist told other media outlets that was taking place. Barbara Broccoli denied that Skyfall co-writer John Logan had been hired to write Bond 24 and Bond 24 days before MGM announced that Logan had, in fact, been hired.

The past doesn’t guarantee the future: This contradicts the first two points, admittedly. But, as fans read news accounts about possible Bond 24 casting and other news, they should take into account the source. Moreover, they should actually seek out the actual original source.

Often, websites will mention where the news came from. They may even provide a link to the original source. But fans should, at the very least, actually read the original source before getting overly excited. It may still be difficult to evaluate how accurate the report is. At the very least, check out where the news originated and how that source phrased the news.

Licence to Kill’s 25th: 007 flops in the U.S.

Licence to Kill's poster

Licence to Kill’s poster

Licence to Kill, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, is mostly known for a series of “lasts” but also for a first.

It was the last of five 007 films directed by John Glen, the most prolific director in the series; the last of 13 Bond films where Richard Maibaum participated in the writing; it was the last with Albert R. Broccoli getting a producer’s credit (he would only “present” 1995′s GoldenEye); it was the last 007 movie with a title sequence designed by Maurice Binder; and the it was last 007 film where Pan Am was the unofficial airline of the James Bond series (it went out of business before GoldenEye).

It was also the first that was an unqualified flop in the U.S. market.

Bond wasn’t on Poverty Row when Licence to Kill began production in 1988. But neither did 007 travel entirely first class.

Under financial pressure from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (which acquired half the franchise after buying United Artists earlier in the decade), Eon Productions moved the home base of the production to Mexico from Pinewood Studios.

Joining Timothy Dalton in his second (and last) outing as Bond was a cast mostly known for appearing on U.S. television, including Anthony Zerbe, Don Stroud, David Hedison (his second appearance as Felix Leiter), Pricilla Barnes, Rafer Johnson, Frank McRae as well as Las Vegas performer Wayne Newton.

Meanwhile, character actor Robert Davi snared the role of the film’s villain, with Carey Lowell and Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto as competing Bond women.

Michael G. Wilson, Broccoli’s stepson and co-producer, took the role as lead writer because a 1988 Writers Guild strike made Richard Maibaum unavailable. Maibaum’s participation didn’t extend beyond the plotting stage. The teaser trailer billed Wilson as the sole writer but Maibaum received co-writer billing in the final credits.

Wilson opted for a darker take, up to a point. He included Leiter having a leg chewed off by a shark from the Live And Let Die novel. He also upped the number of swear words compared with previous 007 entries. But Wilson hedged his bets with jokes, such as Newton’s fake preacher and a scene where Q shows off gadgets to Bond.

Licence would be the first Bond film where “this time it’s personal.” Bond goes rogue to avenge Leiter. Since then, it has almost always been personal for 007. Because of budget restrictions, filming was kept to Florida and Mexico.

The end product didn’t go over well in the U.S. Other studios had given the 16th 007 film a wide berth for its opening weekend. The only “new” movie that weekend was a re-release of Walt Disney Co.’s Peter Pan.

Nevertheless, Licence finished an anemic No. 4 during the July 14-16 weekend, coming in behind Lethal Weapon 2 (in its second weekend), Batman (in its fourth weekend) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (also fourth weekend).

Glen and Maibaum were done with Bond, the latter being part of the 007 series since its inception.

Initial pre-production of the next 007 film proceeded without the two series veterans. Wilson wrote a treatment in 1990 for Bond 17 with Alfonse Ruggiero but that story was never made.

That’s because Broccoli would enter into a legal fight with MGM that meant Bond wouldn’t return to movie screens for another six years. By the time production resumed, Eon started over, using a story by Michael France as a beginning point for what would become GoldenEye. Maibaum, meanwhile, died in early 1991.

Today, some fans like to blame MGM’s marketing campaign or other major summer 1989 movies such as Batman or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But Licence came out weeks after either of those blockbusters. In the end, the U.S. audience didn’t care for Licence. The movie’s total U.S. box office of $34.7 million didn’t match Batman’s U.S. opening weekend of $40.5 million. Licence’s U.S. box office was almost a third less than its 007 predecessor, The Living Daylights.

Licence to Kill did better in other markets. Still, Licence’s $156.2 million in worldwide ticket sales represented an 18 percent decline from The Living Daylights.

For Dalton, Glen, Maibaum and even Broccoli (he yielded the producer’s duties on GoldenEye because of ill health), it was the end of the road.

Writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. dies

Lorenzo Semple Jr. scripted the Batman pilot and 1966 feature movie

Lorenzo Semple Jr. scripted the Batman pilot and 1966 feature movie

Lorenzo Semple Jr., a writer best known for the 1960s Batman television show but who also did spy-related scripts including Never Say Never Again, has died at 91, according to an obituary in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

Semple wrote the pilot for the 1966-68 Batman series as well as the quickly made 1966 feature film starring Adam West and Burt Ward. When executive producer William Dozier decided on a less-than-serious take, Semple devised a simple format for other writers to follow.

The opening of Part I would establish a menace. Batman and Robin would be summoned by Police Commissioner Gordon. The dynamic duo proceeded on the case, ending with a cliffhanger ending. Part II opened with a recap, the heroes escaped and eventually brought the villains to justice.

Among Semple’s memorable lines of dialogue: “What a terrible way to go-go,” and “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”

Never Say Never Again's poster

Never Say Never Again’s poster

Semple always was drawn more than once to the spy genre. In the 1950s, he worked on drafts of a script based on Casino Royale, the first 007 novel, but nothing went before the cameras. Decades later, he was the sole credited writer on Never Say Never Again, a Thunderball remake not produced by Eon Productions but starring Sean Connery. Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, writers brought in by de facto producer Connery, did uncredited rewrites.

Between Semple’s Bond work, he scripted films such as 1967′s Fathom with Raquel Welch (featuring a Maurice Binder-designed title sequence), 1974′s The Parallax View with Warren Beatty (a movie about a conspiracy to assassinate political candidates) and 1975′s Three Days of The Condor, a serious spy film with Robert Redford.

In The Hollywood Reporter’s obituary, Semple is quoted about the ups and downs of film production. Here’s a passage involving Never Say Never Again:

Semple met with Sean Connery in Marbella, Spain and sold him on his 70-page treatment for Never Say Never Again, which saw the aging actor return as 007 in the much-litigated Warner Bros. film based on Thunderball. But when some action scenes were cut as a cost-saving measure, the producers pacified an angry Connery by blaming — and then booting — Semple.

“I was quite relieved; I really didn’t want to go on with it,” he said. “I also agree a human sacrifice is required when a project goes wrong; it makes all the survivors feel very good.”

To read the entire obituary, CLICK HERE. There’s one mistake. It says Semple only wrote the first four episodes of Batman. He wrote or co-wrote 10 episodes during the first season, though he penned fewer in the final two seasons.

Bond fandom in the 21st and 20th centuries

A sample of Roger Deakins' photography in Skyfall

A sample of Roger Deakins’ photography in Skyfall

Perhaps nothing illustrates how Bond fandom has evolved in the 21st century than all of the attention being paid to how Skyfall’s director of photography, Roger Deakins, has said he won’t return for Bond 24 because “I don’t know what else I could do with it, really.”

The news has discussed and analyzed on fan message boards (CLICK HERE for one example and CLICK HERE for another). Websites such as Ain’t It Cool News declared the development to be a “little bit of a bummer.”

Deakins was nominated for an Oscar for his Skyfall efforts and got a lot of praise. Skyfall director Sam Mendes said Deakins’ opening shot was so special, he just couldn’t put the gunbarrel logo at the start of the film. So, fans are wondering how his absence will affect Bond 24, which will start filming later this year.

In the early years of the film 007, a director of photography didn’t get that kind of attention. Eon Productions had a kind of “in-house” DOP in Ted Moore. It’s not like Moore was a hack. He got AN OSCAR for photographing 1966′s A Man For All Seasons.

Moore was behind the camera for the first four Bond films and did other jobs inbetween. For the fifth 007 film, director Lewis Gilbert sought Freddie Young, who he described as “one of the great artists in British cinema.” But the center of fan discussion was Ken Adam’s volcano set or Sean Connery’s impending departure as Bond.

In 1974, Eon subbed one Oscar-winning director of photography for another when Oswald Morris took over after Ted Moore fell ill. But again, it wasn’t a major top of fan conversation.

Flash forward to 2014. Nobody’s pushing the panic button, but certainly many fans are disappointed Deakins isn’t coming back. Perhaps this reflects greater artistic expectations in the fan base. Perhaps it’s also concern about not breaking up a winning team after Skyfall. Perhaps it’s a lack of much else to talk about regarding Bond 24.

Things change. The attention given Deakins is an indicator how the 007 fan world has changed.

The Bond 24 ‘hot stove league’

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

For those who follow baseball in the United States, there’s what’s known as the “hot stove league” — what happens during the off-season that will affect the following year’s games.

Right now, we’re in Bond 24′s “hot stove league” — filming won’t start until sometime this fall and the movie won’t be seen until fall 2015. As a result, people get excited about the smallest bit of information, even when it concerns A BOGUS TITLE.

Here’s how the Bond 24 “hot stove league” is shaping up on some key ingredients.

Bond 24′s title: The information will be available when Internet domain names get registered. In the case of Skyfall, the THE FUSIBLE WEBSITE sniffed out the domain registrations a month before the official announcement.

Casting: This is a little harder to pin down. With Skyfall, Naomie Harris’ casting was reported by the now-defunct News Of The World; Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney by the Daily Mail; Javier Bardem’s offer to be in the movie was reported by the Deadline entertainment news website and Bardem confirmed he’d been cast in an interview with ABC News; Ben Whishaw’s casting was disclosed by his agent, even though Eon Production denied it for months.

In other words, fans inclined to keep up with casting news should be on alert going forward.

Crew: Again, harder to pin down, but Skyfall’s history provides some guidance.

Roger Deakins confirmed in a 2011 post on his blog (later zapped) in spring 2011 that’d he be Skyfall’s director of photography. John Logan’s hiring as writer already was reported by the Daily Mail and Deadline in November 2012. It was initially denied by Eon Productions but confirmed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer a few days later.

While Deakins isn’t returning for Bond 24, he said recently that Skyfall director Sam Mendes, who is returning for Bond 24, has a “great idea for another film, which is really an extension [of 'Skyfall'] but from my point, I don’t know what else I could do with it, really.”

If Skyfall is a guide, some of the crew appointments may get reported by mid- to late-spring.

James Bond Radio

James Bond Radio isn’t so much radio as a couple of 007 fans getting together to discuss what’s going on with their favorite fictional character.

The format is simple: the two participants (Chris Wright and Tom Sears) appear in a split screen format and have a wide-ranging conversation. There have been seven installments so far, including reviews of the first three 007 films and a look at the “lost music” of Bond.

James Bond Radio has a WEBSITE, a FACEBOOK PAGE and a YOU TUBE CHANNEL. The podcasts are also available on iTunes.

Here’s the second installment, in which the hosts discuss what may happen in Bond 24 and beyond. Topics include whether the gunbarrel logo will ever appear at the start of a 007 movie (at least during the remainder of Daniel Craig’s run), how many computer-generated special effects should be in a Bond film and possible successors after Craig retires from the role.

Golden Gun’s 40th anniversary: 007′s sacrificial lamb

goldengunposter

Normally, we’d have waited to do a post about The Man With The Golden Gun’s 40th anniversary. But with this week’s passing of co-director of photography Oswald Morris, this is as good a time to examine the ninth James Bond film.

Let’s face it: Golden Gun doesn’t get a lot of love among James Bond fans or even professionals. It’s exhibit A when the subject comes up about 007 film misfires. Too goofy. Too cheap. Too many of the crew members having a bad day.

Over the years, Bond fans have said it has an average John Barry score (though one supposes Picasso had average paintings). It has too many bad gags (Bond watches as two teenage karate students take out a supposedly deadly school of assassins). And, for a number of first-generation 007 film fans, it has Roger Moore playing Bond, which is bad it and of itself.

Golden Gun is a way for fans to establish “street cred” — a way of establishing, “I’m not a fan boy.” The 1974 film is a way for the makers of 007 films to establish they’re really talking candidly, that not every Bond film has been an unqualified success.

The latter point is true enough. Golden Gun’s worldwide box office plunged 40 percent compared with Live And Let Die ($97.6 million versus $161.8 million, according to THE NUMBERS website). Within a few weeks of its December 1974 U.S. release, United Artists hurriedly paired Golden Gun with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which UA released earlier in 1974, to make a double feature.

In terms of long-term importance, Golden Gun was the finale of the Albert R. Broccoli-Harry Saltzman 007 partnership. Saltzman would soon be in financial trouble and have to sell out his share of the franchise to United Artists. In a way, things have never really been the same since.

This is not to argue that Golden Gun is the best offering in the Eon Production series. Rather, in many ways, it’s the runt of the litter that everybody likes to pick on — even among the same people who’d chafe at criticism of their favorite 007 film.

The documentary Inside The Man With The Golden Gun says the movie has all of the 007 “ingredients.” Of course, such a documentary is approved by executives who aren’t exactly demanding candor. But the statement is true. It has not one, but two Oscar winning directors of photography (Morris and Ted Moore); it has a score by a five-time Oscar winner (Barry); it is one of 13 007 movies Richard Maibaum contributed writing.

Then again, movies sometimes are less the sum of their parts. It happens. Not everyone has their best day.

For many, Golden Gun is a convenient piñata. Despite some positives (including a genuinely dangerous driving stunt), it’s never going to get much love in the 007 community.

Director of photography Oswald Morris dies at 98

goldengunposter

Oswald Morris, a distinguished director of photography whose work included part of one James Bond movie, has died at age 98.

Morris photographed films of various genres, according to his IMDB.COM BIO. They included Moulin Rouge, Moby Dick, A Farewell to Arms, Lolita, The Hill, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and The Man Who Would Be King.

His one Bond contribution was 1974′s The Man With The Golden Gun, the second Roger Moore 007 film.

Morris was hired to replace Ted Moore, who had fallen ill after completing location shooting in the Far East. Morris took over photography of the interiors. That included the scenes at the “fun house” of assassin Francisco Scaramanga, which the assassin uses for training. In the John Cork-directed documentary Inside The Man With the Golden Gun, Morris commented shooting on the set with its many mirrors was “a pain in the butt” to photograph. Morris also had tight deadlines to meet Christmas 1974 release dates.

Neither Morris nor Ted Moore would return to the 007 series. Morris won an Oscar (for Fiddler On The Roof) and was nominated for two others, ACCORDING TO IMDB.COM

You can CLICK HERE to read an obituary by The Hollywood Reporter, HERE for Variety.com’s obit and HERE one by The Guardian.

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