A Bond for all seasons; how 007 endures

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming


By Nicolás Suszczyk

Who was the best James Bond? Which is the Best Bond film?

We often ask and we often fight in boards, Facebook groups, Twitter posts, etc. Want to know my answer? Pierce Brosnan and GoldenEye. Still, I get along with every Bond and every film very well, despite those I don’t like very much, i.e. Quantum of Solace.

But besides many people are a child of their generation or relate to their favorite Bond actor/film to his first memories, there are many reasons to consider every 007 film was great and every Bond actor was unique. They represented a particular time in society.

Back in 2005, Daniel Craig was the most “hated” newcomer James Bond -– mainly thanks to the Internet and the famous CraigNotBond.com site. We can remember Daniel wasn’t only criticized for his looks but for representing an opposition to the style set by Pierce Brosnan in four James Bond films, a style reminiscent to the Roger Moore era with typical “save the world” and “get the girl” plots with a pinch of drama.

But Craig promised a grittier and tougher Bond, his muscular body giving us a hint of that, and fans couldn’t really get it.

It is funny to see what happens now, with Daniel Craig being established as a successful 007 after three films: Casino Royale, his follow-up Quantum of Solace and the Academy Award winning Skyfall, also the most successful Bond film to date. Now there are lots of people out there blaming the Pierce Brosnan era calling his Bond “weak”, “without charm” and with “stupid plots”.

This makes me think and evaluate every Bond and Bond film not as standalone plots or just thinking about the actor, but going beyond the film and actor and thinking of the sociopolitical/cultural era they were released. Why does Bond battle a media-tycoon in Tomorrow Never Dies? Why does Bond go to outer space in Moonraker? Why the Miami Vice-style villains and plot in Licence to Kill?

The answer is simple: the era in which the film was released.

It’s perfectly logical Bond has to face a guy like Franz Sánchez: his American friend works with the DEA, he was captured and tortured, his wife killed, Bond seeks revenge on his own –- and obviously, Auric Goldfinger won’t be his villain, he’ll have to face a ruthless drug dealer with his butchers. The same way a man obsessed with increasing his value of gold won’t be a drug dealer in 1964. In 1989, you could obviously expect plots like Miami Vice or Die Hard.

Of course, if Star Wars rings a bell to you, then you’d understand why 007 went to outer space in 1979, the same way in 1997 communications and technology were involving every day and you could create a war using mass media – oh, by the way, remember how the media was involved in the Gulf War from the 1990s?

Ian Fleming began writing his novels in the early ‘50s and the Broccoli-Saltzman duo adapted the plots to the ‘60s, respecting the standards set by the British spy, journalist and author, but making them suitable for the time we were living.

That’s why Goldfinger tries to irradiate Fort Knox and ties the secret agent to a laser beam instead of stealing the gold or using a buzz-saw. The same reason the guano plot from Dr. No the novel is no match for the rocket toppling the evil doctor plans in the 1962 film. And of course, the abundance of girls had to be there (the swinging ‘60s) in the first Bond cinematic adventure, instead of letting Honey Ryder being the only girl in the whole adventure.

Barbara Broccoli

Barbara Broccoli

Fifty years later, producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli go straight the same way: they respect the origins of the character, but they also give a look at the times we’re living. Plenty of situations in Casino Royale and Skyfall were lifted from the Fleming books: Bond’s “death” at the end of You Only Live Twice with M’s obit, the Glencoe settings where Fleming tells us Bond was born, and 007’s decadent situation and re-shaped for duty just like at the beginning of The Man With The Golden Gun.

We all have our hearts, people. Mine is, of course, with that first glance at the GoldenEye film and game and the cardboard Tomorrow Never Dies standee I came across at a shopping mall being a kid in the ‘90s. That was “James Bond” for me as today “James Bond” is what people see in Skyfall or what my parents or my uncle watched in the Roger Moore era (some of them still complaining about the few gadgets in Quantum of Solace).

But Bond was made for all seasons. Perhaps that’s why we all get the “James Bond Will Return” credit at the end of every film!

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.

Quantum of Solace’s revisionist history continues

quantum-of-solace-international-poster

Marc Forster picked up A CAMERIMAGE AWARD last week in Poland. In AN INTERVIEW with Empire magazine, the subject of Quantum of Solace came up — and Forster’s comments didn’t exactly match up with what he said during production.

Excerpt from Empire:

So after that, Quantum Of Solace must’ve seemed like a walk in the park.
Not quite a walk in the park (laughs). Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson are great producers, the best I’ve ever worked with – fantastic. So you have a well-oiled machine and you’re in such good hands, even though you don’t have a script (laughs). It makes it easier, even when you only have half a script. That was the problem there. You had Casino Royale, which came from the best book by Ian Fleming, and three or four years to develop the script. You have Skyfall, another three years to develop a script. We were in the middle – ‘Here, three months, make a movie.’ And as a director you can only do as much as you have on the page.

In that case, why did you take it on?
Because I believed the script would come. But it never did! (Laughs). At one point I felt like pulling out but I didn’t. Barbara and Michael and Eon wanted to make the movie and I thought we’d pull it off.
(emphasis added to Forster quotes)

In 2008, Forster told a much different story to THE ROTTEN TOMATOES WEBSITE. Among other things, Forster said then that the Quantum script was mostly ironed out before a 2007 Writer’s Guild strike. “The good thing is that Paul (Haggis, the screenwriter) and I and Daniel (Craig) all worked on the script before the strike happened and got it where we were pretty happy with.”

In the same interview, Forster said there was a script when he first came on board, but he tossed it out and things started from scratch. Forster said he conferred with Haggis, “And I said to him these are the topics I am interested in this is what I would like to say.”

This, of course, isn’t the first instance or revisionist history with the 2008 James Bond film. Daniel Craig also drastically changed his tune in 2011 compared with what he said in 2008.

The main talking point now is that the 2007 writer’s strike damaged the production and everybody soldiered on as best as they could.

For Forster, that’s convenient because he can ignore his contributions to the problem — throwing out a script and starting over from scratch and his emphasis on “topics” rather than a story.

Forster didn’t specify the topics to Rotton Tomatoes. In another 2008 interview, NEW YORK MAGAZINE, he talked about sneaking political ideas past the Bond producers into the movie. “I question the role that these Secret Service agencies play today—is their role really to protect the country? Or the interest of a few?” Forster told New York five years ago.

Earlier posts:
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED WITH THE SCRIPT OF QUANTUM OF SOLACE? (December 2011)

DANIEL CRAIG, 2008 AND 2011 VERSIONS (December 2011)

QUANTUM OF SOLACE’S POLITICAL POINT OF VIEW (March 2012)

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?

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.

Forster’s World War Z scores No. 2 at U.S. box office

Marc Forster while directing Quantum of Solace

Marc Forster while directing Quantum of Solace

The Marc Forster-directed World War Z finished No. 2 at the U.S. box office this weekend, with $66 million in ticket sales, according to the Box Office Mojo Web site. It finished behind Monsters University at $82 million and ahead of Man of Steel, on its second U.S. weekend, at $41.2 million.

World War Z, with Brad Pitt as star and producer, shared some things with the Forster-directed Quantum of Solace: script problems and a high budget. Paramount Pictures, however, unlike Sony Pictures with Quantum, was willing to delay its movie so a new ending could be written and filmed.

World War Z, which concerns a mysterious plague that turns people into fast-moving zombies, cost an estimated $190 million to make, less than Quantum even with the reshoots and more elaborate special effects.

Forster and World War Z initially got some bad publicity about the reshoots (which delayed the film’s release from late 2012), including a VANITY FAIR STORY. But as the movie got released and reviewed, the publicity turned positive, including A SYMPATHETIC STORY ABOUT FORSTER on the Deadline: Hollywood site.

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.

Man of Steel soars; will it help U.N.C.L.E?

"See the guy in the cape, Illya? He's supposed to play me in the U.N.C.L.E. movie."

“See the guy in the cape, Illya? He’s supposed to play me in the U.N.C.L.E. movie.”

Man of Steel, the newest cinematic take on Superman, appears headed to a big opening weekend at the U.S. box office. Given that the movie’s star, Henry Cavill, is supposed to be play Napoleon Solo, could Man of Steel provide a boost for the prospects of a film based on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.?

First the Man of Steel numbers: the Box Office Mojo Web site, in a June 13 story by Ray Subers, says “it’s very likely that the movie winds up with at least $100 million through Sunday” in ticket sales. Meanwhile, Nikki Finke at the Deadline Hollywood site, in June 14 post is going higher. Here’s an excerpt:

Superman audiences have just thumbed their noses at the new movie’s critics and given it an ‘A-’ CinemaScore. That will further help word of mouth as it’s already setting records for the biggest opening for June and the second biggest weekend opening of 2013….My sources have now refined their estimates to $46M Friday including that $9M in midnight shows (though some think the number could get as high as $50M). That makes for $120M for the three-day weekend, and $132M for the four-day cume including that $12M from Thursday 7 PM Wal-Mart shows.

For argument’s sake, lets say Man of Steel is declared a hit once preliminary weekend box office results are posted on June 16. From the perspective of the U.N.C.L.E. project, a number of questions arise:

Does Cavill end up getting at least partial credit for the box office performance of Man of Steel? If so, does that help create buzz for other Cavill projects, including U.N.C.L.E.? Does Man of Steel’s box office give Warner Bros. — which hasn’t formally announced a Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie — the confidence to proceed with Cavill in the lead?

On the other hand, you can make the case Cavill’s Man of Steel may not transfer at all to U.N.C.L.E. Superman has been continuously published for 75 years and has been the subject of multiple movies and television shows. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on the other hand, went off the air in 1968. It has been 30 years since The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. television movie, with no new U.N.C.L.E. since.

Even if U.N.C.L.E. gets made, few actors guarantee a movie will be a hit. Daniel Craig’s three James Bond movies have recorded high box office ticket sales and he has said he’s signed for two more. But Craig-starring movies such as Cowboys and Aliens and The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo lost money.

UPDATE (June 16): Man of Steel sold an estimated $113 million in tickets for the June 14-16 weekend, according to THE BOX OFFICE MOJO SITE. The film’s domestic total as of today is an estimated $125 million.

RE-POST: a modest proposal for the post-Skyfall 007 series

Originally posted Feb. 19, 2012. Re-posted because, well, subsequent events make this post look even more interesting in hindsight. While it’s not official Bond 24 will be delayed so that Sam Mendes can direct, another four-year gap is looking like a possibility. The days of an every-other-year production schedule clearly seem to be in the past. Every third year looks like a stretch at this point. Perhaps the “Bond market” can only bear a movie every fourth year or so.

So what happens after Skyfall? The 23rd James Bond film is still filming, of course, but we got to thinking what happens in the future.

Michael G. Wilson, co-boss of Eon Productions


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which co-owns the franchise with the Broccoli-Wilson family, wants the series to get back to an every-other-year schedule, something it said as part of its 2010 bankruptcy filing.

But MGM relies on Eon Productions to actually produce the films. Michael G. Wilson, co-boss of Eon along with his half-sister Barbara Broccoli, has talked about how wearying making Bond movies are, including in 2009, (“Filming Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace back to back took a lot out of time and energy so at the moment we are all just recharging our batteries.”) in 2005, (“We are running out of energy, mental energy…We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”) one in 2004 or 2005 (“It doesn’t give me a problem to do one in three years instead of two. The studio may feel different, but these are very hard to put together. They take over your life. When we’re working on the script and production, my wife will say, ‘Do you realize you’ve been working seven days a week?’ So I don’t mind doing something else; to me it’s fine.”) and in 1999 (“We don’t have any ideas at this point…It just seems that this one’s [The World Is Not Enough] been particularly hard.”).

So maybe it really is time to give up on the idea of James Bond films coming out at regular intervals.

To maintain an every-other-year schedule, around the time you have one filming coming out, the story for the next should at least be taking shape. MGM’s bankruptcy gets most of the blame for what will be a four-year gap between Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. But there are signs the scripting of Skyfall has been a drawn-out affair regardless of MGM’s financial ills. For example:

–In January 2011, when it was announced that Bond 23 would be a go after MGM exited bankrupctcy, the script wasn’t done. John Logan, hired to rewrite drafts by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, said in a Feb. 17 interview with the BBC that he’s been working on Skyfall for “over a year.” That means he would have begun work on Skyfall around the time of the January 2011 announcement.

–Earlier, in August 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported the movie’s script “isn’t ready” and, at that point, not even sent to MGM for review. This, after Eon announced in June 2009, more than six months after Quantum of Solace debuted, that Purvis, Wade and Peter Morgan had been hired to write Bond 23. But the release also noted that Morgan wouldn’t start writing until he completed other scrips.

Eon has mined all of Ian Fleming’s original novels and short stories. Wilson has ruled out, on multiple occasions, basing a film on any of the Bond continuation novels. (CLICK HERE FOR ONE EXAMPLE.) So Eon is pretty much on its own to develop stories.

Wilson’s stepfather, Albert R. Broccoli, lived to make 007 films and, after ending his partnership with Harry Saltzman in the mid-1970s, cranked out Bond films on an every-other-year schedule from 1977 through 1989. Wilson isn’t Broccoli. We take him at his word that he finds it a grind; he has said it for too long and on too many occasions to doubt it. He’s either 69 or 70 (different reference sources place his birth year as 1942 or 1943) and he’s been involved with the film series longer than Cubby Broccoli was.

So, maybe, Eon should follow the lead of Ian Fleming Publications. Starting in 1981, IFP (previously known as Glidrose) published 007 continuation novels mostly on an annual basis, first with John Gardner, later with Raymond Benson. That ended in 2002 as new management took over. Since then, IFP has come out with other projects such as the “Young Bond” novels. Meanwhile, its last two regular continuation novels, 2008′s Devil May Care and 2011′s Carte Blanche, were done more as “events” rather than part of a regularly published series. Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks was done as a period piece, Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver featured a rebooted 21st Century Bond, who would have been born around 1980.

Perhaps Eon should view its Bond films as “events,” with a gap of four years, maybe more, between movies, each a stand alone. Studio marketers have hyped “the return of Bond!” before after a hiatus (1995′s GoldenEye and 2006′s Casino Royale).

In any event it’s clear Wilson & Co. aren’t enthusiastic about an every-other-year schedule. Skyfall had scripting delays that had nothing to do with MGM’s financial problems. As long as Eon controls half the 007 franchise, it’s going to be like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole for MGM to have Eon come out with 007 adventures every other year.

ADDENDUM (Feb. 20, 2012): Just to be clear, as a matter of personal preference, we’d like Bond movies to come out more often than called for above. We call this a “modest” proposal because it calls for no changes in the cast of characters.

To get Bond movies more often, one of the following is going to have to happen: 1) Eon agrees to use continuation novels (because you’d at least have a starting point, something that would save time in story development); 2) Michael G. Wilson retires (though that alone doesn’t guarantee it); 3) MGM, or Sony or somebody else buys out the Broccoli-Wilson family (something that would be unpopular with much of the fan base), causing a jump start in the frequency (again not guaranteed).

Something has to got to give in the MGM/Eon dynamic: either MGM backs off an every-other-year schedule or Eon accelerates the pace of movie development or some combination of both. Maybe every third year, but *no* backsliding (Casino Royale was originally supposed to be released in 2005, but was delayed a year). The modest proposal above is a compromise that could occur without taking more far-reaching steps. Essentially the “modest proposal” is more or less the status quo of the past decade, simply recognizing it for what it is.

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