Caveat Emptor: 007 sale rumor surfaces

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Amid the announcement that Bond 25 has a release date, the Birth.Movies.Death website dropped the idea that the Broccoli-Wilson clan might sell out its interest in the 007 enterprise in a few years.

The post, by Philip Nobile Jr., mostly looks at why the fall 2019 release date was announced without saying whether actor Daniel Craig will be back as Bond.

After going through some possibilities, Nobile concluded with this:

On the less official front, I have read thoughts from someone I believe to be close wth the production that the Broccolis are looking to do one more Bond then sell the franchise off, a la George Lucas/Star Wars/Disney. If that comes to pass, it will be interesting times indeed for Ian Fleming’s gentleman spy.

Read thoughts? Interesting phrasing. But, on Twitter, Nobile’s post drew a response from the James Bond MI6 website, which previously disclosed that a helicopter Eon purchased wasn’t for Bond 25.

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Putting the Caveat Emptor on this one because Birth.Movies.Death isn’t explicitly reporting it as well as the unusual phrasing of the post and the exchange on Twitter.

Eon and its parent company, Danjaq, jointly control the Bond franchise with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Disclosure: This blog’s webmaster has written two articles for MI6 Confiential, which is published by the James Bond MI6 website.

Separately, the BBC said it “understands” that Craig “has not yet signed a contract” for Bond 25. The New York Times reported Monday that Craig’s return is “a done deal.”

Craig will return as 007, New York Times says

Daniel Craig in 2012 during filming of Skyfall.

Daniel Craig will play James Bond in 25, The New York Times reported.

“Mr. Craig’s return is a done deal, according to two people briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid conflicts with Eon and MGM,” Brooks Barnes of The Times wrote.

Eon Productions on Monday announced a November 2019 release date for Bond 25 but had no casting information, including who would play James Bond.

Eon makes the movies and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is 007’s home studio. The two jointly control the 007 film franchise.

The Times provided few additional details. Barnes wrote The Times’ April story identifying five studios (Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Universal and upstart Annapurna) as seeking to cut a deal with MGM to release Bond 25.

MGM exited bankruptcy in 2010 and doesn’t have a film distribution operation. Sony has released the last four 007 films.

Questions after Bond 25 release date announcement

Is this guy coming back?

The official announcement that Bond 25 will be out in fall 2019 no doubt is spurring Bondologists to read it line by line for clues.

That’s because while being the first bit of hard news since SPECTRE came out in 2015, the announcement raises question. A number of questions.

And since questions is a specialty of the blog….

Why make this announcement now? After no hard news during 2016 and the first half of 2017, why say this in the last week of July?

Calling dibs on the release date (Nov. 8, 2019 in the U.S.)? Big movie franchises, such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe announce release dates years into the future, even if they just say “untitled.”

Regardless, there is a reason. This could have been done last week. It could have been done next week. We’ll see if the reason surfaces.

Is Daniel Craig coming back? The four-time 007 actor was conspicuously absent from the announcement. Is he coming back for his fifth go-round as 007? Or not?

Craig has a movie, Logan Lucky, coming out next month. You’d think he’d be asked about Bond regardless. If there aren’t additional announcements between now and the movie’s release, the Bond 25 announcement news ensures he’ll be asked about it during Logan Lucky publicity events.

Who’s going to distribute Bond 25? No word on that in the release date announcement. The New York Times reported in April that five studios (Warner Bros., Universal, 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures plus upstart Annpurna) were bidding to distribute the movie.

Bond’s home studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, came out of bankruptcy in 2010 and can’t release its own films. It negotiates distribution deals with other studios. Sony has released the last four 007 films.

Does Eon Productions announcing a release date mean the distributor has either been chosen or will be chosen soon? Michael G. Wilson of Eon said in November 2015 he expected MGM to make a decision by early 2016. It obviously didn’t happen.

Who’s going to direct? There have been occasional stories speculating about a new director. But there has been no hard news.

Bond 25 to get 2019 release; no word on 007 actor

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Bond 25 will come out in fall 2019, Eon Productions said in a short announcement on the official 007 website.

“James Bond will return to US cinemas on November 8, 2019 with a traditional earlier release in the UK and the rest of the world,” according to the announcement.

The only specific details were the movie is being written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and will be produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson.

For Purvis and Wade, it’s their seventh Bond screenwriting assignment, continuing a streak that began with 1999’s The World Is Not Enough. The news confirmed a March story by Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail

However, there was no word about a distributor, whether actor Daniel Craig will return for a fifth outing as James Bond or a director. Such matters “will be announced at a later date,” according to Eon.

 

A Sampling of Early Atomic Blonde Reviews

Atomic Blonde poster

Atomic Blonde, this summer’s spy movie, has received mostly positive back in March when the film was shown at the South by Southwest film festival.

The film, starring Charlize Theron, had a Rotten Tomatoes score of 81 percent because of those reviews. It remains to be seen how the score may change with newer reviews that come in ahead of its opening this week.

Regardless, here are some non-spoiler excerpts of reviews.

ERIC KOHN, INDIEWIRE: “The first solo effort by ‘John Wick’ co-director David Leitch, ‘Atomic Blonde’ exists in the same realm of hyperstylized action built around the cold ferocity of an unstoppable action star. It only falters when attempting to tie more story around her….Oscillating between the relentless energy of ‘John Wick’ and the dense plotting of a John Le Carré novel, ‘Atomic Blonde’ never quite finds a happy medium between the two. But when Theron goes back to kicking ass, nothing else matters.”

JOHN DEFORE, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: “The more obvious comparison, of course, is with the latest, earthily violent incarnation of James Bond. As enjoyable as Atomic Blonde can be at times, its main utility may be its demonstration that Theron deserves better than this. If not a reincarnation in which James becomes ‘Bond, Jane Bond,’ then at least something with more staying power than this actioner, which looks good and gets some things right, but is as uninterested in its protagonist’s personality as its generic name suggests.”

ANDREW BARKER, VARIETY: “Lifted from Antony Johnston’s graphic novel ‘The Coldest City,’ ‘Atomic Blonde’s’ heroine is a blank slate of emotionless efficiency. A master of cold stares and even colder line readings, (Theron character) Lorraine’s entire diet appears to consist of frozen Stoli on the rocks…Leitch seems uninterested in developing relationships between his characters, leaving them to scamper about on parallel tracks until the hazy machinations of the plot conspire to bring them together.”

JOANNA ROBINSON, VANITY FAIR: “In Atomic Blonde, (Theron’s) Cold War-era spy character, Lorraine Broughton, brutally dispatches Russian and German agents without ever losing an inch of style. She’s the captivating eye of a rather messy plot storm, and you won’t be able to keep your eyes off her for a second. The film had a triumphant, ecstatic debut at SXSW on Sunday night, but won’t debut in the U.S. until July 28. All other summer blockbusters should just surrender now.”

MEREDITH BORDERS: BIRTH. MOVIES. DEATH:Atomic Blonde gives us so little to actually care about, an exercise in style over substance where even the style starts to grate after a time.”

Flo Steinberg, Marvel Comics stalwart, dies

Flo Steinberg

UPDATE II (5:55 p.m. ET) The New York Daily News says Flo’s age was 78.

UPDATE (5:30 p.m. ET): I don’t have a specific age for Flo. Apologies.

ORIGINAL POST: Florence “Flo” Steinberg, at one point Stan Lee’s “Girl Friday” at Marvel Comics and later a comic book publisher, has died, according to the Newsarama website.

Today, Marvel is a part of Walt Disney Co. and known mostly for its movies. When Steinberg worked there in the 1960s, Marvel was a modest operation. It had nearly gone out of business in the 1950s. It actually relied on a sister company of much larger rival DC Comics for distribution.

She gained the nickname “Fabulous Flo.”

Steinberg departed Marvel in 1968. Here’s an except from the Newsarama obituary about what happened next.

Steinberg was also a key figure in the independent comics scene, launching what many consider to be the link between “underground” comics and modern-day “alternative comix” with the 1975 one-shot Big Apple Comix. Featuring work by such luminaries as Neal Adams, Wally Wood, Mike Ploog, and Marie Severin, Big Apple Comix broke ground in employing “mainstream” comics creators in stories featuring more sexual and real-world elements than most typical fare of the time.

Another website, The Comics Beat Culture, also posted a tribute. Heidi MacDonald wrote, “Flo returned to Marvel in the 90s as a proofreader, where I met her, as did many Marvel staffers of the era and she become an icon all over again.”

Flo didn’t receive regular credits in Marvel Comics published in the 1960s. But she was a presence in a 1965 record. That year, Marvel started a fan club, the Merry Marvel Marching Society. The record was part of what you’d receive if you joined.

The record is part of this YouTube video:

Some tributes to Steinberg were posted Sunday afternoon by comic book professionals past and present.

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Jon Burlingame on Wild Wild West, other TV soundtracks

Cover to The Wild Wild West CD soundtrack

Jon Burlingame is a journalist, author and academic, writing extensively about movie and television music.

Over the past 15 years, he has produced a number of television soundtracks, including CD sets for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible. His latest effort, a soundtrack for The Wild Wild West is now available from La-La Land Records.

The blog interviewed Bulingame by e-mail.

SPY COMMAND:  Movie soundtracks have been done for decades. But television soundtracks (actual music from TV shows, as opposed to new arrangements of TV music), by comparison are rarer. Why is that? Is part of it the notion that television work was more disposable than movie work?

JON BURLINGAME: That’s a very interesting question, Bill, and something not really understood by most outsiders.

Historically, TV soundtracks have generally been re-recorded because of the union rules involving music recorded for TV shows. In the past, the American Federation of Musicians demanded a full repayment to every musician who played on each score. If those rules were still in place (and the union relaxed that demand several years ago, making these “historical soundtracks” possible), the record label would have been responsible for repaying every musician (or his or her estate) for every recording session represented on the album; in this case over 200 individual musicians playing on more than two dozen scores over four years would have incurred a huge cost, possibly tens of thousands of dollars.

Cover to one of Jon Burlingame’s Man From U.N.C.L.E. soundtracks released in the 2000s.

I encountered this when I first proposed a classic MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack in 1990; the estimated union repayments alone were in the neighborhood of $80,000, making it prohibitive for any label attempting it. So it was always less expensive to just go back in the studio for one day and create a new recording of the various themes.

Also, the success of the show itself is always a factor — and, as you point out, a lot of TV music is just deemed forgettable.

SC:  The TV soundtracks you’ve produced have come out decades after the series involved. What are are some of the common challenges? (i.e., finding the music, etc.)

JON BURLINGAME: It’s always multiple challenges. First, does the music still exist? That alone can be a difficult problem (the Lorimar library, for example, is gone; there will never be a WALTONS soundtrack featuring those wonderful Jerry Goldsmith scores because all that music is lost).

Then, who controls that music? Is the studio that produced it still in business, and if so, will they license a soundtrack to an enterprising label interested in creating an album?

Then there are the creative aspects of producing: how to create an enjoyable listening experience featuring just the music, away from the images it was always meant to accompany.

SC: What’s the back story with your latest project, The Wild Wild West soundtrack?

JON BURLINGAME: La-La Land Records had a big success with its 6-disc MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE TV-score collection, which I produced for them in 2015. So when I asked if they’d like to follow it up with another classic 1960s spy show, THE WILD WILD WEST, their answer was an immediate and enthusiastic “yes.”

I knew it would be more of a challenge, but having already produced multiple MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and MISSION albums, I really wanted to do this. There had never been any commercial recording of that wonderful Richard Markowitz theme (much less any of the dramatic scores), and it seemed like a terrible oversight given the classic status of the Robert Conrad-Ross Martin series.

It was a different situation than the MGM-produced U.N.C.L.E. music or the Paramount-produced MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE music. Those studios retained copies of all the music on (mostly) quarter-inch tape, and once the deals were made, we simply accessed those archives, transferred the music to digital and went to work.

Artwork from the second-season Wild Wild West episode The Night of Big Blast.

WILD WILD WEST was different in that CBS (the original producer) closed its music-department doors in the early 1990s and donated its tapes to UCLA; unfortunately that collection was incomplete and many of the tape boxes were not well labeled, so finding individual scores was much more difficult.

I had very good documentation of who composed what and when it was recorded, so armed with that information I went looking for all of the original music. Some scores simply weren’t there or were impossible to find given the inadequate labeling.

I feel incredibly lucky, however, to have found nearly everything I really wanted for the collection in pristine condition at UCLA, including 10 of the original 11 Markowitz scores, all four of the original Robert Drasnin scores, and four of the six original Richard Shores scores. Add to those a handful of others by Harry Geller, Jack Pleis and Fred Steiner.

Four of the 26 scores we feature on the album — for which we could not find original tapes — had to be restored from the isolated music tracks from the shows themselves. But our restoration guy, the uber-talented Chris Malone, did such a brilliant job that you’ll be hard-pressed to tell which of those weren’t from tape sources.

I had great partners in the collaboration: Not just La-La Land executives Matt Verboys and M.V. Gerhard, but Film Score Monthly founder Lukas Kendall, who cleared everything with CBS and was my liaison on a daily basis; Johnny Davis, Chris Malone and Doug Schwartz, who transferred, restored and mastered all those 50-year-old tapes into the CDs you now have; spy-TV expert Craig Henderson, who looked over everything I did and helped ensure the accuracy of the booklet; and art director Jim Titus, who had never seen an episode prior to designing our cover and booklet, and yet created a spectacular, colorful, fun package that captures the spirit and look of the old show. He used some of the original art of the train and the opening titles and lots of great old photos of the cast and guest stars. It’s an eye-popping package, worthy of a Grammy if you ask me!

SC: While working on The Wild Wild West soundtrack, was there one moment that gave you more satisfaction than the rest of your work?

JON BURLINGAME: It’s always fun working with classic music from the era in which you grew up. WEST was filled with challenges, but a few moments stand out: Discovering that we had Markowitz’s original pilot score in three-track stereo; hearing Malone’s remarkable restoration of Dave Grusin’s delightful waltz from “Night of the Puppeteer”; and re-discovering Richard Shores’ thrilling action music, especially from the third and fourth seasons.

Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979)

We knew that Dimitri Tiomkin had written two different songs for the series that were eventually rejected. The question was, which were recorded and could we find those? I knew that the Tiomkin estate had a full-length vocal demo of one and sheet music for both. Especially satisfying during the search process was the discovery that an instrumental version of one of the themes had been recorded (in a last-ditch, ultimately unsuccessful, effort to salvage the Tiomkin deal for CBS) and that lyricist Paul Francis Webster actually wrote three lyrics for the two tunes, parts of which we reproduce in the booklet. Webster’s papers are currently being archived and preserved by the Film Music Society, and that’s where that discovery was made.

Robert Drasnin (1927-2015), who delivered memorable scores for The Wild Wild West

Very late in the process (in fact, the album was nearly finished), it occurred to me that former CBS music director Herschel Burke Gilbert retained many, many tapes from throughout his career. A glance at his inventory revealed that he had kept various mixes of the Tiomkin vocal demo; our mastering engineer Doug Schwartz did his magic and what’s on the CD actually sounds better than the version owned by the Tiomkin estate!

And one final thing: composers Markowitz and Drasnin didn’t live long enough to see this album reach fruition, but their children have, and it’s been a pleasure to be able to work with Kate Markowitz and Michael Drasnin, both of whom have been supportive and supplied materials (photos, scores, tapes) that enabled us to put together a package that honors their music and their memories.

Richard Shores (1917-2001)

SC:  I personally find it interesting that some of the composers who worked on The Wild Wild West (Robert Drasnin and Richard Shores) also worked on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Specifically with Drasnin (who composed the de facto theme for Dr. Loveless) and Shores, their names aren’t that well known among the general public. What makes their work special?

JON BURLINGAME: These guys were great composers and great human beings; I met both of them while writing my first book back in the early ’90s.

Drasnin could score anything, drama, comedy, Westerns, science fiction, you name it; he was the perfect composer for television, which requires not only immediate inspiration but also enormous craft. Plus he was tremendously witty (look at some of his amusing cue titles on the box).

Shores had an immediately recognizable style, and an unique rhythmic sense that inevitably brought a smile to your face (whether you were listening to his music for U.N.C.L.E., WEST, IT TAKES A THIEF or HAWAII FIVE-0).

A sampling of Richard Markowitz’s title cards.

SC: Finally, I wanted to ask about Richard Markowitz, who composed The Wild Wild West theme (and did a number of scores for the series, including the pilot). He did a lot of television work but probably isn’t that well known among the general public. From what I’ve heard on different series, he was pretty versatile. What made him stand out?

JON BURLINGAME: You’re right, Bill, he was incredibly versatile. He had a big record hit with the Johnny Cash vocal of THE REBEL, but if you listen to his music for episodes of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, THE FBI, POLICE STORY, MURDER SHE WROTE; or his themes for HONDO, JOE FORRESTER, THE LAW & HARRY McGRAW, you’ll hear a composer with a wide range and ability to work in any style. He worked consistently for more than 30 years in television. But I think THE WILD WILD WEST may be his most memorable theme.

SC: Final question. If you could only produce *one* more television soundtrack (and any pending rights situations were resolved), what would it be?

JON BURLINGAME: Hahaha! I guess I’d most like to round out my spy-TV experience by doing another I SPY album (there are two out there, and I only wrote the notes for one, but I’d love to produce one too), or a first-ever IT TAKES A THIEF soundtrack. I have a special fondness for THE GREEN HORNET at Fox, and if rights could be ironed out that would be fun too.

I have a long-range, hoped-for plan to do HAWAII FIVE-0 one day (have it all mapped out on paper) but there are legal issues that may preclude that from happening for some time. We’ll see. For now I am delighted to have been able to create soundtrack albums for some of my favorite shows as a kid.

Jon Burlingame also is the author of The Music of James Bond.