The 21st century 007 meme: a Bond who isn’t Bond (yet)

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

In the 21st century, there have been four James Bond films, two Bond actors and four directors. But there has been one thing in common over a decade: Bond either has lost his Bond mojo (and needs to get it back) or he’s not really Bond yet.

The trend began with 2002′s Die Another Day. Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is captured during a mission in North Korea and is tortured over the next 14 months. He’s eventually returned to the U.K. authorities, but not under good circumstances. He’s suspected of having spilled his guts and a prisoner exchange was set up. 007 proceeds on a mission of personal revenge.

In the DVD extras, writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade describe the storyline as how Bond becomes Bond again. Pierce Brosnan’s Bond, in his last film mission, succeeds.

Four years later, Eon Productions rebooted the franchise with Casino Royale and new star Daniel Craig. The film’s publicity stressed how this wasn’t a smooth, fully formed Bond. The James Bond Theme wasn’t heard until the very end of the movie after Craig’s 007 has endured a betrayal at the hands of Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. Now, he’s supposed to be a fully formed Bond.

Not so fast. With 2008′s Quantum of Solace, Bond still isn’t fully formed. During filming, Eon Productions stressed how the Casino storyline was so engrossing, it needed another film to play out. Thus, no James Bond gunbarrel at the start of the movie. That doesn’t appear until the end of the film, which implies Bond now is fully formed.

Four years later, with Skyfall, Bond is, more or less, where he was at the start of Die Another Day, i.e. a fully formed 007. Except, by the end of the pre-titles sequence, he has been shot by another MI6 operative and presumed dead.

He goes into a period of depression and alcohol dependence. In other words, he’s no longer a fully formed 007. At this point, the Craig Bond is, more or less, at the same point, that Brosnan/Bond was after the prisoner exchange in Die Another Day.

Craig/Bond rallies after seeing MI6 has been attacked but still has a lot of issues to deal with. Judi Dench’s M clears him for duty despite being told he’s nowhere near ready. He wears a scruffy beard until well into his mission. By the end of the film, he’s again a fully formed 007 (symbolized by the gunbarrel again being used at the end of the movie).

As Bond 24 begins production later this year (for a 2015 release), the question is whether we have a fully formed Bond (think, among other films, From Russia With Love, Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me, The Living Daylights) all the way through the story or will 007 again have a mojo crisis.

Writers Purvis and Wade, who’ve been involved in the various versions of the incomplete 007/007 who has lost his mojo aren’t scheduled to be part of this production. So we’ll see.

Are cameos in movies worth it?

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo right after his "directed by" credit in North by Northwest

Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo in North by Northwest

This fall, fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series wondered if the show’s original stars would have a cameo in a new film version underway. Some fans were vocal, arguing that of course they should.

It’s not known if such a cameo took place for the U.N.C.L.E. movie. (Robert Vaughn said more than once he’d welcome the opportunity; David McCallum made comments suggesting he wouldn’t participate.) The subject though got this blog to thinking: are such cameos worth it, or are they more of a distraction for a finished film?

The king of such cameos was director Alfred Hitchcock, who made a cameo in his more than 50 films. They can be something of a mixed bag. In North by Northwest, he appears right after his “directed by” credit as a man missing his bus in New York City. The appearance, in effect, is an extension of the main titles designed by Saul Bass. At this point, the viewer hasn’t been watching the actual story of the film.

In other cases, Hitchcock’s appearance almost draw attention to themselves. In 1969′s Topaz, there’s an airport scene. The viewer is drawn to Hitchock, in a wheelchair, guided by a nurse. Hitchcock meets a man, abruptly stands up and shakes the man hand before walking off. By this point, more than 20 minutes of the story have been told. You could argue it’s a distraction, although it’s over pretty quickly.

In the James Bond series produced by Eon Productions, co-boss Michael G. Wilson has been performing cameos for decades. Again, they’re a bit of a mixed bag. In some cases (Skyfall, The World Is Not Enough), they’re fleeting, something for the hard-core fans while more casual 007 cinema goers aren’t likely to notice. In others (Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale), they draw attention to themselves. Here are some:

The interest among U.N.C.L.E. fans whether the movie has cameos is different. Vaughn and McCallum established the original show’s popularity. There’d be no movie if there hadn’t been a television show in the first place. If one was filmed, would it distract from the Guy Ritchie-directed story? The counter question: do you owe it to the original actors if they’re interested? (Especially since Ritchie appears to have squeezed former soccer star David Beckham into the movie.)

None of these questions have right or wrong answers. Fan tastes vary. Hitchcock fans, for example, take pleasure in trying to spot the director’s cameos. In any case, it’s likely such cameos will continue in movies.

Quantum of Solace’s 5th anniversary: 007′s Rorschach test

Quantum of Solace's soundtrack

Quantum of Solace’s soundtrack

Quantum of Solace, the 22nd James Bond film that debuted five years ago this month, is like a 007 Rorschach test. Fans have expressed wide-ranging views of the film from a well-acted drama to a mishmash heavily influenced by the Jason Bourne films. Even Star Daniel Craig, in 2011, expressed disappointment in how Quantum turned out.

Quantum may be the most expensive 007 film, with an estimated budget of $230 million and location shooting in several countries. 2012′s Skyfall had an estimated budget of $200 million, obviously still a lot, but the first unit didn’t travel to Shanghai and Macau, with a second unit getting enough footage to make sequences set in those locations work.

During 2012 activities for the 50th anniversary of the Bond film series produced by Eon Productions. But Quantum wasn’t mentioned as much as other films. The Everything Or Nothing documentary included a few clips but Quantum wasn’t examined in detail.

Quantum was billed as a “direct” sequel: publicity stressed the story began moments after the end of 2006′s Casino Royale. Meanwhile, director Marc Forster, IN A 2008 INTERVIEW WITH NEW YORK MAGAZINE talked about how he sneaked political content into the movie past producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.

“I had to subversively inject my ideas to make the movie my own,” Forster said in the interview. There was also this passage:

In fact, the director—never a Bond fanatic—is surprised that 007 has survived this long, “especially as a colonialist or imperialistic character. That’s why you have to put a dent in him, because those powers can’t survive. It’s the end of the American world power in the next few decades.”

Paul Rowlands, writing in the Money Into Light Web site, called Quantum one of the most underrated of the series” while also saying the 2008 movie “took the crown of the most controversial Bond film from LICENCE TO KILL (1989).”

A writer’s strike occurred a few months before Quantum was scheduled to go into production. That is usually blamed for problems with the film. However, various accounts later surfaced indicating script problems occurred earlier, including time wasted on a rejected script about Bond’s search for the child of Vesper Lynd.

Quantum’s box office was almost identical to Casino, each having worldwide ticket sales exceeding $590 million. It would be the last 007 films for four years until after Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer completed a trip through bankruptcy, leading to 2012′s release of Skyfall.

It remains to be seen whether elements of Quantum, including the villainous organization by that name, will be taken up in future 007 film adventures.

Earlier posts:

MAY 2011: QUANTUM OF SOLACE, A REAPPRAISAL

DECEMBER 2011: DANIEL CRAIG, 2008 AND 2011 VERSIONS

DECEMBER 2011: WHAT REALLY HAPPENED WITH THE SCRIPT OF QUANTUM OF SOLACE?

Peter Lamont working on a book about his film career

Peter Lamont

Peter Lamont

Peter Lamont, whose 007 art department career ran from Goldfinger through Casino Royale, is working on a book, according to THE WEB SITE OF TOMAHAWK PRESS.

The book is to be called The Man With The Golden Eye. Here’s the description:

The legendary Academy Award winning production designer Peter Lamont is finally opening up his archive for Tomahawk Press in a new book, co-written with Max Pemberton. Lamont designed 18 Bond films, and many of James Cameron’s films, including Titanic. Lamont’s iconic work provided the classy look for these films, and his contribution cannot be overstated.

In addition to being one of the world’s foremost production designers, Lamont is an extraordinary raconteur -– his stories providing new perspectives on the both the Bond franchise and James Cameron’s work. We cannot express how excited we are about publishing what we know will be an extremely important and beautifully designed book.

At this point, there aren’t further details but the publisher promises more as time unfolds.

Lamont, 83, worked on every 007 film of the Eon Production series from Goldfinger in 1964 (as a draftsman) to 2006′s Casino Royale, as production designer, with one exception. He skipped 1997′s Tomorrow Never Dies to work as production designer for the James Cameron-directed Titanic.

Lamont scored an Oscar for that film and was also nominated for 1986′s Aliens and 1977′s The Spy Who Loved Me. On the latter, he worked as art director under legendary 007 production designer Ken Adam. After Adam left the Bond series for good following 1979′s Moonraker, producer Albert R. Broccoli promoted Lamont to production designer for 1981′s For Your Eyes Only.

For Lamont, the Bond series also was family business. His brother Michael Lamont and son Neil Lamont held art department posts on the Bond films.

007′s unheralded car

2006 Ford Mondeo prototype driven by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale

Ford Mondeo prototype from Casino Royale

The HMSS Weblog paid a visit to Momence, Illinois, over the weekend where the Ian Fleming Foundation was doing maintenance on vehicles that have appeared in James Bond movies. One of them isn’t thought of as a Bond car, even though it is.

It’s a Ford Mondeo prototype driven by Daniel Craig early in the 2006 movie Casino Royale, making it the first Bond car of the Craig era. Craig’s Bond in the movie would shortly drive flashier cars, such as an Aston Martin DB5 and a 21st century Aston. But the Mondeo is the first car Craig/Bond is seen in.

The foundation sought the Mondeo from Ford Motor Co. after the Casino Royale came out. The developmental prototype wasn’t built for everyday driving and not intended to go out on city streets. It’s just another example of the magic of the movies to make things seem what they aren’t. The only clue in the movie was the fact the Mondeo never drove in traffic, only by itself.

Henry Cavill’s Ian Fleming milestone

Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie began filming in London on Sept. 6, and a photo of Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo surfaced, including AT THE HENRY CAVILL NEWS SITE. Cavill, and what appears to be co-star Armie Hammer, have their backs to the cameras but the image spread on the Internet, nevertheless.

As a result, Cavill has now reached an Ian Fleming milestone — portraying two Ian Fleming-related characters, Solo and James Bond.

The latter occurred in 2005 when Cavill, then 22, DID A SCREEN TEST AS BOND for Casino Royale director Martin Campbell.

That’s a performance with an asterisk — screen tests aren’t intended for the public. But a lot was riding for Cavill with his test. If Cavill was going to show what he had as 007, the screen test was his last chance to demonstrate it. Producer Barbara Broccoli had favored Daniel Craig but Cavill was one of the finalists. Craig got the job, which he still holds eight years later.

Now, Cavill has filmed his first scenes as Solo, the character that Ian Fleming co-created with television producer Norman Felton. In a way, Solo is (figuratively) a distant relative of Bond’s.

This is mostly happenstance. Actors haven’t had the opportunity for both roles and there hasn’t been an U.N.C.L.E. production since 1983′s The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television movie. Still, it’s a milestone of a sort for Cavill.

Meanwhile, some Cavill fans haven’t given up on the actor succeeding Craig as 007. CLICK HERE for a Facebook page.

Daniel Kleinman discusses his influences

Jack Kirby self portrait

Jack Kirby (1917-1994) self portrait


Daniel Kleinman, who has designed the main titles for six James Bond movies, did an interview in April with the ART OF THE TITLE Web site. Kleinman discussed the titles and what has influenced his work. A few excerpts:

Bond title sequences obviously carry a huge legacy and they often present the themes and settings of the film they precede. What’s the starting point for a new Bond sequence? The script? A cut of the film?

The starting point for me is always the script; I am usually brought into the process before the film has started shooting or at least in very early stages of production. I read the script and get a sense of the main themes of the movie, perhaps start to have a few ideas, brainstorm with myself a bit, write lists, get excited, look for reference, and start sketching. Next I meet with the producers and the director of the film to get a clear idea of the vibe of the film and be aware of any input or requirements for the title sequence. Then, I explain how I see the tone of the titles perhaps with rough sketches and reference. I rarely see a cut of the film until quite late in the process but I do see some individual scenes particularly the ones that lead into and out of the title sequence. There is a back and forth process.

What were some of your stylistic influences?

I have very eclectic tastes! I trained as an artist and designer, so I love painting and film. I collected comics as a boy and was drawn to Aubrey Beardsley, Gustave Doré, Eduardo Paolozzi, Peter Blake, Saul Bass, Windsor McKay, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Magritte, Bosh, Géricault, George Grosz, Hokusai, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Holbein, Dürer, Arthur Rackham, Heath and Charles Robinson — actually the list is fairly endless!

One of Kleinman's influences

One of Kleinman’s influences

What are some of your favorite title sequences in general, whether film or television?

As a child I loved the opening to The Man From Uncle. The way Napoleon Solo stands behind the bulletproof glass being shot at perhaps subliminally influenced my mirror scene in Skyfall. Get Smart was a good one. Man with the Golden Arm was a great visual. Oddly, I’ve never really taken a great deal of notice of title sequences. I didn’t set out to do them and I don’t do any other than Bond, which I do for fun. I’m really an advertising director and therefore shoot a lot of disparate types of things. I suppose I don’t think of myself as a title sequence director.

To read the entire interview, CLICK HERE.

To view the Jack Kirby entry on Wikipedia, CLICK HERE.

To view the Steve Ditko entry on Wikipedia, CLICK HERE.

Sony watch: investor criticizes movie unit

sonylogo

A major Sony Corp. investor has stepped up criticism of the company’s movie unit, Sony Pictures, which releases James Bond films.

The hedge fund, in its SECOND-QUARTER LETTER TO ITS INVESTORS, said Sony Pictures, part of Sony’s entertainment business, this summer had “released 2013’s versions of Waterworld and Ishtar back-to-back” with After Earth and White House Down. “From a creative point of view, we are concerned about Entertainment’s 2014 and 2015 slate, which lacks lucrative `tent pole’ franchises. Anecdotally, we understand that its development pipeline is bleak, despite overspending on numerous projects.”

Sony schedule includes Spider-Man movies for 2014, 2016 and 2018 and Bond 24 for 2015. With the Bond films, Sony splits the take with Eon Productions/Danjaq and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Sony has released the last three 007 films, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall.

Third Point wants Sony to sell a piece of the U.S. entertainment business to the public. The company is considering the proposal.

In the latest letter to investors, Third Point said the entertainment unit “remains poorly managed, with a famously bloated corporate structure, generous perk packages, high salaries for underperforming senior executives, and marketing budgets that do not seem to be in line with any sense of return on capital invested.”

You can view Variety’s take on what all this means BY CLICKING HERE. You can CLICK HERE for Deadline Hollywood’s story.

UPDATE: You can also CLICK HERE for a story in the Los Angeles Times.

Sony watch: investor raises stake in 007 distributor

sonylogo

A major investor in Sony Corp., parent company of Sony Pictures, which released the last three 007 movies, has boosted its stake in the company.

Third Point LLC, controlled by billionaire Daniel Loeb, now holds 9.4 percent of Sony shares, according to a BLOOMBERG.COM STORY. That’s up from 6.5 percent previously.

Third Point wants Sony to sell 20 percent of its entertainment businesses, including Sony Pictures. The unit, through its Columbia Pictures brand, has released Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall from 2006 through 2012. Sony will also release the as-yet-unscheduled Bond 24.

Sony Pictures has been under pressure because it’s not as profitable as other studios, according to a MAY STORY IN THE NEW YORK TIMES despite its interest in 007, Amazing Spider-Man and Men in Black movies.

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