Update of The Music of James Bond in the works

Image of the cover of The Music of James Bond from the book's Amazon.com page

Image of the cover of The Music of James Bond from the book’s Amazon.com page

Author Jon Burlingame is working on an updated paperback edition of The Music of James Bond to be published sometime next fall.

Burlingame said in an email he’s working on a new chapter about Skyfall, the 2012 film that broke the 007 film losing streak in Oscar Best Song nominations. The original hardback edition, published in the fall of 2012, covered the first 22 Bond films made by Eon Productions as well as 1967′s Casino Royale and 1983′s Never Say Never Again.

Prior to Skyfall, Live And Let Die, Nobody Does It Better and For Your Eyes Only had been nominated for Best Song without winning. Thomas Newman’s score for the film was also nominated for an Oscar but didn’t win.

Previous posts:

September 2012: HMSS TALKS TO JON BURLINGAM ABOUT HIS 007 MUSIC BOOK

June 2013: REVIEW: THE MUSIC OF JAMES BOND (2012)

What we know and don’t know about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo

Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is days away from finishing principal photography. So here’s a quick look at some of what’s know and not known about the project.

It’s a (relatively) lean production: The movie has a production budget of about $75 million, according to a
JULY STORY IN VARIETY BY JON BURLINGAME.

That’s hardly pocket change and a bigger budget than independent dramas. But it’s also noticeably less than Skyfall, the most recent James Bond movie ($200 million); R.I.P.D. ($130 million); The Lone Ranger ($215 million); and Man of Steel ($225 million).

Then again, a big budget is hardly a guarantee of success. Skyfall was a hit and Man of Steel (with Henry Cavill, the U.N.C.L.E. movie’s Napoleon Solo, playing Superman) did well enough to proceed with a sequel. R.I.P.D. and The Lone Ranger (with Armie Hammer, the U.N.C.L.E. movie’s Illya Kuryakin, as the title character although the star was Johnny Depp’s Tonto) were bombs. That’s especially true of R.I.P.D. a comedy with Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds that generated total worldwide ticket sales of $78.3 million, which was split with theaters.

It was a (relatively) tightly scheduled shoot: The U.N.C.L.E. movie began filming on Sept. 6. It will finish on Dec. 7, according to A TWEET by Luca Calvani, who play’s the film’s villain. That’s almost exactly three months. By comparison, Skyfall had a seven-month filming schedule from late 2011 through mid-2012.

There will be humor; the question is how much: Cavill signed on as a late replacement for Tom Cruise to play Solo. He said U.N.C.L.E. would have “DRY HUMOR.” The 30-year-old actor described himself as liking dry humor but not a fan of slapstick humor.

One fear of first-generation U.N.C.L.E. fans is there would be too much humor, which happened during THE THIRD SEASON of the original 1964-68 series. One sign that may not be the case: Entertainment Weekly DESCRIBED a scene where Calvani attacks Cavill “savagely,” kicking him in the “bollocks.” That never happened during U.N.C.L.E.’s sometimes goofy third season.

A broken record (by this blog), but who’s going to be the composer? One of the biggest unknowns still remains who will be the movie’s composer.

Hans Zimmer, who worked on director Guy Ritchie’s two Sherlock Holmes movies, has said he probably doesn’t have time given other commitments. Jerry Goldsmith, who composed the distinctive U.N.C.L.E. theme, died in 2004. Music is always an important consideration and there’s still no clue who will handle those chores for the new U.N.C.L.E. movie.

45th anniversary of the best TV theme

Morton Stevens (1929-1991)

Morton Stevens (1929-1991)

Sept. 20 is the 45th anniversary of, arguably, the best television theme of all time: Hawaii Five-O by composer Morton Stevens.

The Five-O theme is one of the most famous pieces of music in the world. People who’ve never watched an episode recognize it when just a few notes are played. Over the decades, it’s been used in commercials and been played by marching bands. Yet, the vast majority of those who’ve heard it probably couldn’t name the man who wrote it.

In the 1960s, the likes of Stevens, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Lalo Schifrin were busy doing scores for television. Of that quartet, three became big-time film composers. Stevens didn’t.

In the spring of 1965, CBS hired Stevens to supervise its West Coast music operation. It was in that capacity that Stevens scored the Hawaii Five-O pilot. But Stevens couldn’t do every job himself. Thus, he hired Williams to score 1969′s The Reivers, which CBS released under the Cinema Center Films label. The Steve McQueen movie helped Williams transition from TV to films.

Stevens died in 1991, at the age of 62, of cancer. His lasting music achievement was the original 1968-80 Five-O series. Not only did he write the theme, he created the music template for the series. Stevens delivered episode scores for 11 of the 12 seasons. The Five-O theme was often used by Stevens and other composers in the background music. It showed up as an action riff. It would also be slowed way down for reflective moments in a story.

Only recently did Stevens get attention for his other work. The DVD set for the 1960-62 Thriller anthology series with Boris Karloff featured a number of episodes where viewers can isolate the scores of Stevens and Jerry Goldsmith. Jon Burlingame, who has written extensively about film and television music, did a commentary track about each composer. He discussed Stevens’ work in detail.

Here’s the version of the Five-O theme used during the first season of the show:

Sept. 1 post: HAWAII FIVE-O’S 45TH ANNIVERSARY: COP SHOW WITH A SPY TWIST

From Russia With Love’s 50th anniversary Part II: John Barry

John Barry

John Barry

John Barry wasn’t a happy man after Dr. No came out in 1962.

Barry had arranged and revamped Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme. He thought the piece would only be in Dr. No’s main titles. Instead, it was inserted by editor Peter Hunt throughout much of the movie.

With the second 007 film, From Russia With Love, “John Barry’s irritation at seeing his work all over the film of Dr. No would soon turn to elation,” author Jon Burlingame wrote in his 2012 book, The Music of James Bond. Barry got the job of scoring the new 007 film and, in the process, established the Bond movie music template.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman hired Lionel Bart to write the title song. But Barry would score provided all the dramatic music.

Barry’s impact was evident immediately. Dr. No’s gunbarrel logo utilized electronic noises. Barry instead used an arrangement of Bond theme. The pre-credits sequence, where where assassin Red Grant (Robert Shaw) kills a Bond double during a training exercise, was heightened by Barry’s music. In 1977′s The Spy Who Loved Me, composer Marvin Hamlisch did an homage to Barry’s work where Bond (Roger Moore) and Soviet agent Triple-X (Barbara Bach) are searching for Jaws amid Egyptian ruins. (CLICK HERE to see a Stuart Basinger-produced video comparing the two scenes.)

Barry’s work on From Russia With Love was the beginning of the James Bond sound.

“The 007 films demanded music that could be variously romantic, suspenseful, drive the action, even punctuate the humor,” Burlingame said in a 2012 E-MAIL INTERVIEW WITH THE HMSS WEBLOG about his book. “It was a tall order, and John Barry, especially, delivered what was necessary and helped define James Bond in a way that wasn’t possible with the visuals alone.”

Barry also composed what amounted to a second Bond theme, simply titled 007. It was used during two action sequences: A big fight between Bulgarians and gypsies working for MI6 and when Bond snatches a Russian decoding machine out of the Soviet consulate in Istanbul. Barry would end up bringing the 007 theme back in four more movies, the last being 1979′s Moonraker.

For the composer, this was just the beginning. He scored 10 more Bond movies and become one of the most sought-after composers in the movies. Remarkably, his Bond work never got an Oscar nomination. But he won five Oscars for non-007 films starting with 1967′s Born Free and ending with 1990′s Dances With Wolves.

Meanwhile, Barry’s template was something other composers had to keep in mind when they worked on 007 films. In the 1990s, David Arnold, a Barry admirer, produced new takes on classic Barry 007 songs. That helped him to secure work on five Bond films, making him the only composer so far besides Barry to work on more than one 007 film.

NEXT: Desmond Llewelyn’s debut as Q

January 2011 post: JOHN BARRY, AN APPRECIATION

September 2012 post: HMSS TALKS TO JON BURLINGAME ABOUT HIS 007 MUSIC BOOK

More questions about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

"Illya, we need to find out more about the U.N.C.L.E. movie."

“Illya, we need to find out more about the U.N.C.L.E. movie.”


One thing about the HMSS Weblog. It never runs out of questions. Certainly that’s the case with a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. So here we go:

1. Who’s doing the script? Back in late June, it seemed as if the film would use a script penned by Scott Z. Burns for director Steven Soderbergh, who exited the project in late 2011. An INTERVIEW WITH ACTOR ARMIE HAMMER (slated to play Illya Kuryakin) quoted Hammer thusly:

‘It’s such a great script (by Scott Z. Burns), and it’s so funny! Guy Ritchie has such a great take on it.”

But, looking back, Hammer doesn’t say “Scott Z. Burns.” It’s inserted by writer Ruben V. Nepales. Meanwhile, in a NEW STORY IN VARIETY BY JON BURLINGAME, there’s this information:

With a script by Ritchie and his “Sherlock Holmes” writer and producer Lionel Wigram, the film is an origin story that tells of the first pairing of the two spies — one American, one Russian.

Ritchie refers to director Guy Ritchie, who previously helmed two Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr. Later in the Variety story, it lists Burns as among a number of writers who’ve tried devising an U.N.C.L.E. tale over the years. Also, Burns HAS TALKED PUBLICLY ABOUT HIS SCRIPT. If it were actually being used for a film, you’d think studio executives wouldn’t be happy with the scribe disclosing details.

2. Why hasn’t Warner Bros. made an announcement yet? The studio has announced a Superman-Batman movie for 2015 (starring Henry Cavill, who played the title character in this year’s Man of Steel and is to play Napoleon Solo in the U.N.C.L.E. film); a 2014 science fiction movie directed by Christopher Nolan (which will be a co-production with Paramount); and The Judge, an October 2014 movie with Downey and Robert Duvall.

U.N.C.L.E. is supposed to start production in a little more than a month. Both Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer have separately said they’ll be doing the movie. Why is Warner Bros. still silent?

3. When will the U.N.C.L.E. movie reach audiences? Assuming the film begins production in early September, it’s possible you could get it out in time for the television show’s 50th anniversary in September 2014. But Warner Bros. (as noted before) has already announced fall 2014 films.

4. What about the rest of the cast? Will there be a Mr. Waverly, the U.N.C.L.E. chief played by Leo G. Carroll in the original 1964-68 series? Who will be the villain? Will there be an “INNOCENT” CHARACTER, one of the key elements that made U.N.C.L.E. different than James Bond?

5. What about the rest of the crew? As of early Aug. 1, the movie’s IMDB.COM entry listed mostly members of the art department. No director of photography. No composer. No editor. Those are all pretty major jobs on a movie and you’d think they’d be lined up by now.

6. Is a $75 million budget enough? Variety said the budget is $75 million. That’s less than half the budget for the 2012 James Bond movie Skyfall. Still $75 million ought to be sufficient. The movie is to be 1960s period piece, but computer effects make it easier to recreate past periods. Meanwhile, Hollywood has a hangover from a half-dozen or so very expensive movies that flopped, including The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer. It makes sense that Warner Bros. would be more conservative with this project.

UPDATE: The BLEEDING COOL Web site says the film will have one villain part who “will be a Christoph Waltz-type with fondness for torture.”

U.N.C.L.E. movie will start filming in September, Variety says

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin (Art by Paul Baack)

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer
(Art by Paul Baack)

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie will start filming Sept. 7, Variety said in a feature story in its print edition.

The article, by Jon Burlingame, says the movie “is an origin story that tells of the first pairing of the two spies — one American, one Russian,” a reference to the lead characters, Napeoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. “Unlike the friendly banter of the original series, the pair are initially hostile to each other, said someone familiar with the script.” Director Guy Ritchie declined to be interviewed, according to the story.

Burlingame also reported the reason after Tom Cruise left the project, that Warner Bros. wanted the budget reduced to $75 million. Cruise’s departure opened the door for Henry Cavill to take the Solo role. Armie Hammer had already been cast as Kuryakin. Solo and Kuryakin were played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in the original 1964-68 series.

Variety describes the movie as “a fairly serious action pic.” Recently, Variety had run ANOTHER STORY story saying the movie’s budget had been cut but provided no details.

The new story appeared in Variety’s print edition and doesn’t appear to be online. The quotes provided here are from a photograph of the first page of the story on Burlingame’s Facebook page. Jon Burlingame is an expert in film and television music and produced U.N.C.L.E. soundtracks in the last decade.

UPDATE: Story corrected in third paragraph to say the budget was cut after Cruise left the project.

UPDATE II (6:53 p.m.): Variety now HAS PUT THE STORY ONLINE.

Much of the rest of the story concerns efforts over 35 years for some kind of new version of U.N.C.L.E. One one, the 1983 television movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was made. There is this quote from producer John Davis, who has been involved in efforts to do an U.N.C.L.E. movie since the early ’90s:

“I loved this as a kid,” he says. “It was the coolest show in the world. I had all the guns and the communication devices; I was just a fanatic.”
(snip)
The one constant throughout, Davis says, has been the Cold War setting: “The idea was that the best of all the world’s intelligence services were working to keep the world safe, with the most up-to-date technology that existed.”

UPDATE III (8:42 p.m.), Variety, in A SEPARATE STORY says actress Elizabeth Debicki has been tapped for a role in the film. No further details are mentioned.

Elements that should be part of an U.N.C.L.E. movie

Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill


If Warner Bros. is serious about making a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, there are some elements that should be part of the film. Here are some examples:

The “innocent”: As envisioned by executive producer Norman Felton and writer-developer Sam Rolfe, the innocent was a character who acted as a stand-in for the audience. The innocent was an average person who got sucked into an exotic world of adventure, sometimes by design, sometimes by luck.

For example, in the Rolfe-scripted pilot episode, Napoleon Solo has been assigned to prevent an assassination of the leaders of a newly independent African country. Industrialist Andrew Vulcan (Fritz Weaver) is known to be part of Thrush, an independent, villainous organization (think SPECTRE but much larger).

Robert Vaughn’s Solo recruits Elaine May Donaldson (Patricia Crowley), a Vulcan girlfriend from college because she can get close to him quickly enough to be of help.

Some U.N.C.L.E. fans don’t like the innocent because they’d rather have more screen time for Solo and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). But the innocent is what makes U.N.C.L.E. different from James Bond. Solo and Kurykin have to both look out for the innocent and try to save the world.

Innocents can be hard characters to write. Bill Dana in the THIRD-SEASON episode The Matterhorn Affair is supposed to be funny but is really, really annoying. But it would be throwing out the baby with the bath water to not include the innocent.

The theme by Jerry Goldsmith: Jerry Goldsmith provided a distinctive theme for the 1964-68 series and scored three early episodes. Here’s how television music expert Jon Burlingame descrbed it in an INTERVIEW WITH HMSS:

…”The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” will not be “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” without Jerry Goldsmith (or, at least, a faithful rendition of his theme played by a 100-piece orchestra).

Sometimes, though, film composers don’t like using existing themes. There are some Star Trek movies that either don’t use or greatly downplay the Star Trek themes from the 1966 original show or 1987 Star Trek: The Next Generation theme. Indeed, Goldsmith himself scored the first Star Trek movie in 1979 and came with a main title theme that ended up being used as the Next Generation theme eight years later.

Meanwhile, Goldsmith’s U.N.C.L.E. theme isn’t the composer’s most famous television music with the general public. Star Trek: The Next Generation’s theme (which includes part of Alexander Courage’s 1966 original theme) is certainly better known. You could argue that’s also true of Goldsmith’s themes for The Waltons and Barnaby Jones.

As a result, it might be tempting for the filmmakers to not use Goldsmith’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Theme. But that would be a mistake.

A proper drama-humor balance: Like 007 movies, U.N.C.L.E. mixed humor in with drama. But U.N.C.L.E. had to produce as many as 30 episodes per television season. That (along with a turnover of producers) meant that the mix could, and did, get out of whack. In general, the third season had too much silliness (titles such as The My Friend, the Gorilla Affair are a sign of that). In fact, some of this began creeping in during the second half of season two. Meanwhile, some fans think the fourth season overcorrected and didn’t have enough humor.

Armie Hammer, who is slated to play the Kuryakin role, SAID IN AN INTERVIEW that the script is “so funny.” That would imply it’s not like the show’s fourth season. The trick is to avoid being like the third and instead like the better entries from the first two seasons.

We’ll see. Meanwhile, here’s the standard caveat: Warner Bros. has yet to make an announcement, though Cavill and Hammer have commented multiple times in interviews about it.

Never Say Never Again’s 30th: Battle of the Bonds round 2

Never Say Never Again's poster

Never Say Never Again’s poster

Never Say Never Again marks its 30th anniversary in October. The James Bond film originally was intended to go directly up against Octopussy, the 13th film in the 007 film series made by Eon Productions, that came out in June 1983.

Sean Connery, after a 12-year absence from the role, was going to make a James Bond movie his way. Warner Bros. and producer Jack Schwartzman had made the actor the proverbial offer he couldn’t refuse. He was not only star, but had approval over various creative aspects. He had much of the power of a producer without the responsibilities.

Schwartzman, an attorney turned film producer, took charge of a long effort to make an non-Eon 007 film. Kevin McClory, who controlled the film rights to Thunderball, had been trying to mount a new production since the mid-1970s with no success. Schwartzman became the producer, with McClory getting an executive producer credit and both men “presenting” Never Say Never Again.

McClory, at one point, had attemped a broader new 007 adventure. Never Say Never Again was only supposed to be a remake of Thunderball. Lorenzo Semple Jr., who had scripted non-serious (the pilot for the Adam West Batman series) and serious (Three Days of the Condor) was hired as writer. Irvin Kershner, who had directed The Empire Strikes Back, was brought on as director. As an added bonus, Kershner had a history of working with Connery in the 1966 movie A Fine Madness.

“As far as I’m concerned, there never was a Bond picture before,” Kershner said in quotes carried in the movie’s press kit. “There is a certain psychological righness to the characters as (Ian) Fleming saw them. He understood people very well. He was an observer of life and that’s what makes him a good writer. I tried to maintain that quality in the film. I wanted the people to be true.”

Not mentioned in the press hit was the fact that Connery, who had script approval, objected to Semple’s effort. As a result, at Connery’s urging, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais were hired to rewrite but didn’t get a credit.

The end result was a storyline that veered from a version of Largo who’s clearly off his rocker to goofy site gags involving the likes of British diplomat Nigel Small-Fawcett (Rowan Atkinson). Perhaps Connery really meant it when, in 1971, he called Tom Mankiewicz’s lighthearted Diamonds Are Forever script the best of the Eon series up to that point.

Also present in Never was an over-the-top SPECTRE assassin, Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera), a far wilder version of Thunderball’s Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi). In Thunderball, Bond tells Domino (Claudine Auger) her brother has been killed in a dramatic scene on a beach. In Never, he tells Domino (Kim Basinger) in the middle of a tango in a campy scene with loud music playing on the soundtrack.

Speaking of music, composer Michel Legrand was recruited by none other than star Sean Connery, according to Jon Burlingame’s 2012 book, The Music of James Bond. According to the book, Legrand felt burned out after working on the movie Yentl. “Sean’s warmth and enthusiasm persuaded me,” Legrand is quoted by Burlingame. Legrand’s score is a sore point with fans, who still give Connery a pass for his role in bringing Legrand to the film.

Understandably, fans prefer to focus on Connery’s performance in front of the camera, rather than decisions he made behind it. The actor, who turned 52 before the start of production in 1982, looked fitter than his Eon finale, Diamonds Are Forever. A survey of HMSS editors reflects admiration for his acting while mostly downplaying his decision making behind the scenes.

At the box office, Never Say Never Again did fine while trailing 1983′s Eon entry, Octopussy, $55.4 million to $67.9 million in the U.S. The Schwartzman production had been delayed by four months compared with Octopussy.

Years later, Connery was seen on a CBS News show, saying that Never had “a really incompetent producer.” For Schwartzman, things didn’t end happily. He died in 1994 at the age of 61 of pancreatic cancer. Connery remained a star until he retired from acting in the early 2000s. Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer eventually gained control of the rights to Never Say Never Again.

REVIEW: The Music of James Bond (2012)

Image of the cover of The Music of James Bond from the book's Amazon.com page

Image of the cover of The Music of James Bond from the book’s Amazon.com page

Music journalist Jon Burlingame is nothing if not persistent. To write The Music of James Bond, he had to reconcile differing accounts and memories of various participants to create a narrative of how 007 film scores were created. This included new interviews as well as drawing upon interviews he had done previously while writing about film and television music for variety.

Perhaps the most daunting task was explaining the creation of The James Bond Theme, composed by Monty Norman but revamped by aggressive orchestrations by John Barry. Short of traveling back in time to watch it first hand, Burlingame’s account is likely to be the most definitive we’re likely to get. Along the way, he provides additional anecdotes, including quoting a 1990 interview about Barry’s shock (and anger) after editor Peter Hunt had put it throughout the finished Dr. No film. Barry had been told it would just be in the main titles.

Along the way, Burlingame provides many other details about 007 scores, including Barry’s own disenchantment with Bond starting in the early 1970s. “It’s a trap, and I don’t know how to get out it, really,” Barry says in a 1971 interview published in the RTS Music Gazette in 1976. Burlingame also interviewed Cary Bates, a one-time scribe for DC Comics who among those who submitted story ideas for The Spy Who Loved Me. Barry had told Bates in 1972. “You know, I’m not doing them anymore.”

John Barry

John Barry

That would prove not to be the case. Barry kept returning, not ending his association with 007 until 1987′s The Living Daylights. Partly, it was out of loyalty to the series that helped launch his career as a movie composer. Partly it was because producer Albert R. Broccoli knew Barry could produce the inevitable tight deadlines that Bond movies made by Eon Productions continually faced. Barry had one last chance to return, for 1997′s Tomorrow Never Dies, but passed.

Some of the tales Burlingame tells are known but he adds nice flourishes. A 2006 U.K. television special detailed how producer Harry Saltzman despised the Barry-Don Black title song for Diamonds Are Forever. Burlingame notes how Broccoli was present after Saltzman stormed out of a meeting with Barry and Black at Barry’s apartment. “Do you have any Jack Daniels?” the veteran producer asked after a few moments of silence.

What’s more, some of the best passages discuss Bond songs that didn’t happen, including a planned Frank Sinatra rendition of a Moonraker title song (for which Paul Williams had written the lyrics). Also, throughout are quotes that go beyond the typical fare. One example was composer Marvin Hamlisch, who scored 1977′s The Spy Who Loved Me on his own frustration he was never asked to do another 007 film. “You can deliver an Oscar nominated song. You can deliver a number-two record, and it still ain’t good enough.”

Personally, I would have liked a bit more commentary on how Barry could get passed over for Oscar nominations for Bond while getting five Oscars for other work. But that’s a quibble. The author tells readers that Broccoli didn’t believe in big Oscar campaigns for Bond films as well as how United Artists actually unsuccessfully promoted a nomination for Clifton James as J.W. Pepper in Live And Let Die.

Music has always been one of the distinctive aspects about the Bond films. It’s about time for a book on the subject, including 1967′s Casino Royale and 1983′s Never Say Never Again, the two non-Eon Bond films. Burlingame delivers. GRADE: A.

SEPTEMBER 2012 POST: HMSS TALKS TO JON BURLINGAME ABOUT HIS 007 MUSIC BOOK.

The Music of James Bond, 293 pages, Oxford University Press.

UPDATE: The September 2012 post referenced a lawsuit related to the song Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. The lawsuit was filed by Shirley Bassey. She recorded her version *after* Dionne Warwick’s rejected main title song for Thunderball. The idea was it might be suitable as the song for the end titles. Jon Burlingame details how this plan went awry.

Tomorrow Never Dies’s 15th anniversary: tightrope

tndposter

This month marks the 15th anniversary of Tomorrow Never Dies, the 18th 007 film and one whose drama behind the camera — a tightrope act to meet a tight schedule — may at least match that of the finished product.

GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan’s debut as James Bond, revived the franchise after a six-year hiatus. So MGM’s United Artists wanted a follow up within two years’ time. The film had a $110 million budget, almost twice that of GoldenEye. That meant more resources but also more pressure.

Eon Productions for a time had employed writer Donald E. Westlake to do a story, which he said in interviews in 1995 concerned the U.K.’s 1997 return of Hong Kong to China.

For whatever reasons, Westlake didn’t work out and Eon hired Bruce Feirstein, who had done the final versions of GoldenEye’s script to have a go. Feirstein’s FIRST DRAFT (archived at the Universal Exports Web site) proved to be much different that the eventual final product.

Feirstein’s first draft concerned the theft of gold being transferred back to the U.K. from Hong Kong. The villain, Elliot Harmsway, also plans to create a nuclear meltdown in Hong Kong, because he opposed the giveback.

Co-bosses Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, working on their first film after the 1996 death of Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli, decided major surgery was in order. Other writers were summoned. Eventually, the Hong Kong angle was dropped; the movie would be out in December 1997, after the colony was returned to China. Sidney Winch, a former New York lawyer who runs a salvage ship, Feirstein’s female lead, was also a casualty.

In the rewriting process, a new heroine, Wai Lin, a Chinese agent, emerged. The move evoked Agent Triple-X from The Spy Who Loved Me two decades earlier. But the martial arts skills of actress Michelle Yeoh meant the new character would be deeply involved in the action sequences. One character that survived from Feirstein’s original story was Paris (Teri Hatcher), the villain’s wife who had a previous previous relationship with Bond.

Feirstein was then brought back to perform the final drafts of the revised storyline, in which a media mogul now named Elliott Carver (Jonathan Pryce) wants to start a U.K.-China war to boost ratings for his cable news empire and gain exclusive broadcasting rights in China. Feirstein ended up with the sole writing credit.

Director Roger Spottiswoode faced a tight deadline. The main until didn’t begin work until April 1, with the film set for a December release. The crew at one point was supposed to film in Vietnam but had to switch to Thailand. David Arnold, a new hire as composer, told journalist Jon Burlingame in an interview he had to score the movie in sections. That’s because the post-production time would be “non-existent,” Arnold told Burlingame. (To read a detailed account of filming, CLICK HERE for an article on the MI6 James Bond fan site.

In the end, the deadlines were met. Spottiswoode, in a commentary on the film’s DVD, while complimentary of Eon said he’d be in no hurry to repeat the experience. Michael G. Wilson, in interviews after the film came out, talked about being exhausted by the grind of making a 007 movie.

Tomorrow Never Dies ended up selling $339.5 million in tickets worldwide. That was down from GoldenEye’s $356.4 million (although Tomorrow’s U.S. ticket sales exceeded GoldenEye’s). All in all, it was plenty enough to ensure future film adventures for 007.

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