Casino Royale’s 5th anniversary: a new path

“With Casino Royale, we started down a path,” Eon Productions co-boss Michael G. Wilson said last week at a London press conference, “and we’re sticking with that path.”

That path was unveiled five years ago this month. And of all the major Bond movies anniversaries in 2011, the fifth anniversary of 2006’s Casino Royale is the one that’s arguably most germane today. Not only did a new Bond (Daniel Craig) debut, but a new direction did as well, one that continues over the next year as Skyfall, Craig’s third 007 movie, is filmed, edited and — in late October in the U.K., Nov. 9, 2012 in the U.S. — is shown.

Wilson had a different message in October 2005, when Eon first announced the choice of Craig and that Casino Royale, the 21st Bond movie produced by Eon, would be a reboot, throwing out previous continuity. Here’s an account in The New York Times on Oct. 15, 2005:

“We are running out of energy, mental energy,” Mr. Wilson recalled saying. “We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

Dana Broccoli, widow of Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli, mother of Wilson and his half-sister Barbara Broccoli, and the last of the Eon old guard, had passed away in 2004. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli had been in charge since Cubby Broccoli’s failing health forced him to the sidelines during the production of 1995’s GoldenEye (he’s get his usual “presents” credit, but not be listed as producer). But Dana Broccoli, Cubby’s confidante, was still keeping an eye on things.

Until Casino Royale, that is. Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli were truly on their own.

First, the Wilson-Barbara Broccoli duo told Pierce Brosnan, star of four 007 filmms, his services were no longer required. “If we wanted to make a deal, we would’ve made a deal with Pierce at some financially viable level,” Wilson was quoted by The Times. “This was about us trying to find new inspiration for the series.”

In Brosnan’s place, their choice was Craig, light-haired (Blond Bond soon became a label) and shorter (though hardly a runt) compared with his predecessor. The casting proved divisive within the fan base. Many loved the tougher take on 007. Others felt Craig’s version was closer to Jason Bourne than James Bond.

According to The Times, in a story written by reporter Sharon Waxman, who now oversees The Wrap entertainment Web site, Bourne did play a factor:

For both Ms. Broccoli and Sony (released Casino, Quantum of Solace and will release the upcoming Skyfall), executives said, the model was Jason Bourne, the character Matt Damon successfully incarnated in two gritty spy movies for Universal Pictures, “The Bourne Identity” and “The Bourne Supremacy.”

But the producers and Sony are well aware that they are tinkering with one of Hollywood’s most lucrative franchises, one that has generated an estimated $4 billion in ticket sales over more than four decades. It is MGM’s most important film property and a legacy carefully guarded by Ms. Broccoli, whose father, Albert R. Broccoli, initiated the movie series, based on the books by Ian Fleming, in 1962 with “Dr. No.”

Regardless of motivation, Casino Royale was grittier than previous Bond entries. The producers had secured the rights to Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, the last Fleming original novel available to them. The novel’s torture sequence was retained. The story’s heroine, Vesper Lynd, did betray 007. Still, there were major differences. Screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis devised a new storyline that dominated the first third of the film until Fleming’s storyline kicked in. Vesper, instead of a quiet suicide, killed herself as part of a big action setpiece.

In the end, Casino Royale got both good reviews and the highest worldwide 007 box office at about $596 million. Craig still has the role, despite what will be a four-year gap between his second 007 outing, Quantum of Solace, and next year’s Skyfall. Craig, and the new “path” that Wilson referred to last week, are still spurring debate among Bond fans today. An example: a Web site whose name is self explanatory, Danielcraigisnotbond.com.

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