A footnote (or two) to last year’s aborted U.N.C.L.E. movie

A story popped this week on the Deadline entertainment news Web site that reminded us of last year’s aborted movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Channing Tatum: one-time Solo contender, now hot Hollywood property


The May 29 story said GI Joe 2 was being delayed from the end of June until early 2013 so scenes could be reshot. The reason? So that Channing Tatum’s character, who was going to be killed off, would miraculously survive. The original announcement of the delay said it was so the movie could be converted to the 3D format.

Anyway, we were minded about the U.N.C.L.E. project because Tatum had been mentioned as a possible Napoleon Solo had director Steven Soderbergh not exited the project. Tatum, a mix of linebacker build, jug ears and six-pack abs, wasn’t our first choice for the role. However, according to Deadline, Tatum is now such a hot property that Paramount decided it couldn’t afford his character being killed off in GI Joe 2. Tatum is in the Magic Mike movie coming out in June about male strippers directed by Soderbergh.

Meanwhile, all this got us to thinking more broadly about a 21st Century U.N.C.L.E. Throughout most of 2011, it seemed as every turn of the screw got lots of media attention — until Soderbergh quit. There were reports that Warner Bros. still wants to make an U.N.C.L.E. but the project is off the radar.

Robert Vaughn: the original Solo


Speculation (and we stress it’s only that): the source of much of 2011′s coverage of U.N.C.L.E. movie developments stemmed from Soderbergh himself. He granted many interviews, which makes you wonder if he was the source of the stories attributed to “sources.” There’s no way to know for sure. Still, once Soderbergh became involved, there were stories aplenty. After he left, virtually none.

In any case, for now, the only Napoleon Solo anybody is going to see is Robert Vaughn’s original on DVD.

Happy 104th birthday, Ian Fleming

The man without whom, etc…

Today is what would have been Ian Fleming’s 104th birthday. Fleming created James Bond as he composed the first draft of the Casino Royale novel in Jamaica six decades ago. A decade later, after a number of false starts and aborted projects, the first film based on a Bond novels was filmed and released.

Those facts are well known by fans. Even though none of the 50th anniversary movie 007 hoopla wouldn’t be possible without him, Fleming’s name hasn’t come up much in connection with the 50th anniversary of the 007 movies. The main exceptions:

–A press conference on April 29 in Turkey where the Skyfall principals mentioned the author in some detail. Meanwhile, Fleming hasn’t received a mention in one of Skyfall’s main social media marketing efforts.

Earlier this month when the Daily Mail wrote about how Fleming was keen on interesting Alfred Hitchock about doing a Bond film.

That’s the way of the world, we suppose. Still, on this day fans should raise a vodka martini (or a double bourbon or a whiskey and soda or a Miller High Life) to an author who created a special world, one still enjoyed all these years later. Fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. should also join in thanks to Fleming’s contribution of the name Napoleon Solo.

UPDATE: The Official 007 Twitter feed, on its 242nd post since early November, finally mentioned Ian Fleming on the 104th anniversary of his birth. The Tweet in question apparently went out just before midday New York time.

A few Skyfall numbers studio bosses will watch

The countdown for Skyfall’s release this fall has begun. For example, the official 007 Twitter feed says the movie is now 22 weeks away so it has a contest where the “best Tweet” today, May 27, receives 22 James Bond movie posters “signed by producers.” On the other hand, we’re wondering about some numbers that studio bosses at Sony’s Columbia Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer will be watching:

$600 million: Minimum figure for Skyfall’s worldwide ticket sales to be considered successful.

The highest worldwide gross to date was Casino Royale’s $596.4 million in 2006. In the U.S., the average ticket price was for a movie was $6.55 that year, according to to the National Association of Theatre Owners. That rose to $7.93 last year, according to the trade group.

So, ticket prices will be higher for Skyfall and the movie will be available at higher-priced Imax theaters, a first for a 007 film. As a result, if Skyfall ticket sales total under $600 million, executives (regardless of what they say in public) will probably be disappointed.

$70 million: Minimum figure for Skyfall’s opening weekend in the U.S. to be seen as a success. The biggest U.S. opening weekend for the Bond series was $67.5 million for 2008′s Quantum of Solace, when the average ticket price was $7.18 each.

Now, some will argue that the U.S. isn’t that important to the Bond franchise, that most of its sales are interantional, etc. That’s true. But U.S. numbers are important to the perception of how well a movie is scoring with audiences.

Example: Battleship had sold $230 million in tickets outside the U.S.. However, because it only had a $23.5 million opening weekend in the U.S., the Deadline entertainment Web site, said it had “John Carter-low grosses for high cost (which is why the star of both pics, Taylor Kitsch, will be asking “You want fries with that?” very shortly).”

50 percent: Studios expect, at least in the U.S., a movie’s ticket sales to decline 50 percent during a film’s second weekend. If the figure comes in at 50 percent or lower, execs are happy. Quantum of Solace dropped 60 percent its second weekend in U.S. theaters, yielding the No. 1 spot to the first Twilight vampire movie. Skyfall, in its second weekend in the U.S., will be up against The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II.

The statistic Sony and MGM will be looking at is whether Skyfall’s dropoff stays around 50 percent or if it’s worse, the way Quantum’s was.

007 questions now that Skyfall has finished filming

Skyfall wrapped up production this week, with the official 007 Twitter account uploading one last clapperboard shot as the second unit finished work in Turkey. As the movie enters the editing and post-production phase, we had a few questions.

001. Will there be a gunbarrel at the start of the movie? For all of the talking points from Daniel Craig & Co. about how Skyfall will be a classic James Bond movie, “Bond with a capital B,” etc., the subject of the traditional gunbarrel logo (Bond as seen from inside a killer’s gunbarrel, the agent turning and firing, etc.) never seemed to come up. The gunbarrel was used in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace but not at the start of either movie.

The gunbarrel is a prominent part of the teaser poster but that’s not a guarantee it will be used at the very start of the film (i.e., the traditional or classic way).

002. What is Thomas Newman going to do musically with the film? Newman is the first new composer to the series in 15 years. His track record consists mostly of dramas, including some with Skyfall director Sam Mendes. The composer recently said he’s “just brainstorming right now” on the Skyfall score.

003. Was the hiring of Roger Deakins as director of photography worth all the fuss? Based on the teaser trailer, a qualified yes. There were some striking images and colors. (One of our readers disagreed, so this is not a unanimous opinion.) Still, it should be noted that You Only Live Twice was photographed by Freddie Young, one of the best British directors of photography ever, and Twice rarely shows up in lists of best 007 movies. Photography is obviously important (it’s a movie, afterall) but you still need an engrossing story.

004. Will Skyfall really have more humor than recent Bond films? The notion that Skyfall will have a lighter tone has been one of the most frequent talking points during production. Whether that’s true remains to be seen. The teaser trailer didn’t have a hint of humor. The final trailer to the Christopher Nolan-directed The Dark Knight Rises had more humor (i.e. one joke) than the Skyfall teaser trailer.

005. How much Ian Fleming content will Skyfall have? Based on some of the spoilers that have come out, noticeably more than, say, Quantum of Solace. To put it in a non-spoiler way, screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan have tapped into Chapter 21 of Fleming’s 1964 You Only Live Twice novel, where the author presented background about his hero. The Skyfall principals really only talked about Fleming in detail once, at an April 29 news conference in Turkey. Until then, the subject hadn’t come up very much. It remains to be seen whether the movie incorporates more Fleming material or mood.

006. Was hiring of Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney worth all the fuss? There’s absolutely no way to know for sure at this point. The teaser trailer doesn’t provide an answer. An anxious Fiennes looks at Judi Dench’s M and there’s a silouhette of what may be Bardem’s villain. Bardem and Fiennes did some media interviews but didn’t say much. Some fans (as in this this HMSS editorial) have said it’s the best cast ever for a Bond movie. We won’t know until the fall whether that’s the case of if Skyfall becomes another example of The Missouri Breaks Syndrome.

007. So are you optimistic or pessimistic? We’re trying to avoid the extremes. Some fans argue you can’t criticize the movie until you see it. OK, but you can’t assume it’s great until you see it, either.

Two 007 connections to Men in Black III

Men in Black III debuted in the U.S. on May 25. One James Bond connection had been publicized — Skyfall’s teaser trailer would be attached, making MIB III the first opportunity to see it on the big screen after an online debut on May 21.

There’s another 007 connection of note. Men in Black III’s second unit director and stunt arranger is Simon Crane, who was second unit director for sequences in Panama on Quantum of Solace (Dan Bradley was the primary second unit director). Crane also was a stunt performer on 007 films inclujding The World Is Not Enough, GoldenEye and The Living Daylights. Crane’s on-screen credit is relatively early in the end titles of Men in Black III.

A 007 book from a fan’s perspective

There are various James Bond-related books being published this year because of the 50th anniversary of Dr. No. Mark O’Connell’s Catching Bullets is one written from the perspective of a fan. Here’s the official description:


From the offbeat vantage point of a gay teenager whose grandfather was chauffeur to legendary 007 producer Cubby Broccoli, Catching Bullets – Memoirs of a Bond Fan is a love-letter to James Bond, Duran Duran title songs and bolting down your tea quick enough to watch Roger Moore falling out of a plane without a parachute.

When Jimmy O’Connell took a job as chauffeur for 007 producers Eon Productions, it would not just be Cubby Broccoli, Roger Moore and Sean Connery he would drive to James Bond. His grandson Mark swiftly hitches a ride on a humorous journey of filmic discovery where Bond movies fire like bespoke bullets at a Reagan-era Catholic childhood marked with divorce, a closet-gay adolescence sound-tracked by John Barry and an adult life as a comedy writer still inspired by that Broccoli movie magic.

The book is being published in September and will cost 7.99 British pounds, with a preorder price of 6.99 British pounds. You can CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Thomas Newman says he’s `brainstorming’ Skyfall score

Thomas Newman, the composer for Skyfall, told journalist Jon Burlingame that he’s “just brainstorming right now” what the score will be like. That implies (but doesn’t actually state) that music in the teaser trailer that came out this week won’t be part of Skyfall.

Burlingame, who writes for Variety and has done a book about James Bond music coming out, got Newman for a quick interview at the recent 2012 BMI Film & TV Awards. Here’s the interview:

Newman was selected by director Sam Mendes to score Skyfall because the two had worked together on previous films. That bumped David Arnold, who had scored five consecutive 007 films. John Barry and Arnold are the only composers to work on more than one film in the series produced by Eon Productions.

The joke U.N.C.L.E. and Batman shared

We picked up a copy last weekend of Billion Dollar Batman, the new book by Bruce Scivally, examining the origins and television and movie adaptations of Batman. Scivally was part of the crew that in the 1990s turned out documentaries about the making of James Bond films that are part of the DVD extras.

“Holy recycling, Batman!”


We were skimming the chapter about the making of the Adam West-Burt Ward 1966-68 television series and were reminded of how writer Stanley Ralph Ross (1935-2000) managed to get the same joke in a third-season episode of The Man Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Batman.

The joke first appeared on The Thor Affair on Oct. 28, 1966, scripted by Ross and Don Richman. Character actor Bernard Fox was the title character, Brutus Thor, who has made a fortune selling weapons. Thor hatches an elaborate plot to assassinate a Ghadhi-like character (Harry Davis) who has pressured major countries into a peace conference. At one point, Thor is interrupted by his butler. “Yes, Rhett, what is it?”

Flash forward to Dec. 15, 1966, and The Bat’s Kow Tow, the second half of a Catwoman story on Batman, scripted this time by Ross solo. The Catwoman (Julie Newmar) has “stolen” the voices of British sensations Chad and Jeremy (don’t ask). Batman and Robin, at one point, visit a British official in the U.S. to discuss the Catwoman’s ransom demands. They’re interrupted by, you guessed it, the official’s butler. “Yes, Rhett, what is it?” Moreover, the same actor plays the butler.

In 1997, Ross contacted The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide by e-mail because its reviews of third-season episodes noted the joke in the U.N.C.L.E. episode and how it also appeared on Batman. Apparently because the writer was pleased that somebody spotted the joke (both times). Ross granted an interview via e-mail where he discussed his work on U.N.C.L.E. and Batman (he appeared as an actor on both as well as writing episodes) as well as other shows.

UPDATE: Oops. We should have provided this link before. To get more information on Billion Dollar Batman (including how to order), CLICK HERE to go to the author’s Web site.

Chicago television station interviews Raymond Benson

Raymond Benson's Die Another Day remains the most recent 007 film novelization. Photo copyright © Paul Baack

Benson


WGN, a Chicago television station that’s also available on U.S. cable systems, did a feature on Raymond Benson, the 007 continuation author from 1997 to 2002. To view the story on WGN’s Web site CLICK HERE.

The story presents Benson discussing the 50th anniversary of Dr. No. The piece also mentions his continuation novels and The James Bond Bedside Companion reference book first published in the 1980s (and recently reissued, though that’s not referenced). WGN also mentions his new series of books featuring a character called the Black Stiletto.

(A factoid for our readers outside the U.S.: WGN is short for “world’s greatest newspaper,” the former slogan of the Chicago Tribune, part of the same company.)

Comparing Skyfall talking points to teaser trailer


The Skyfall teaser trailer is less than 75 80 seconds, but it is the first real chance to compare Skyfall’s marketing and talking points to excerpts of the finished product. The teaser trailer is an indication what the Skyfall principals want to emphasize. Until now, fans only had words to go by.

So, here an *early* comparison. Until there’s more to judge, this is a preliminary evaluation:

ON THE MARK:

“With Casino Royale, we started down a path, and we’re sticking with that path.” Michael G. Wilson, co-boss of Eon Productions at November news conference in London, when asked if there would be any changes of direction in Skyfall. Based on the trailer, Skyfall looks to, indeed, another Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace.

In later 007 novels by Ian Fleming, James Bond Bond suffered from a “combination of lassitude, boredom, depression, difficulty with what he’s chosen to do for a living, which is to kill. That makes him a much more interesting character, and some of those things are explored in this movie, because Daniel (Craig) as an actor is capable of exploring them.” That’s director Sam Mendes as quoted by The Associated Press, talking to the press in Turkey in April. Based on the trailer, Craig/Bond is indeed a somber chap.

“Skyfall is even a bit darker than usual.” Mendes as quoted by LaRepubblica during an April media event. Darker than Quantum of Solace? Maybe, maybe not. Darker than the bulk of the 23-film series made by Eon? Again, the trailer would seem to say yes.

LOOKING DUBIOUS

“The director Sam Mendes and Daniel are taking it back to a 60s feel – more Sean. I think that’s what the fans wanted. There’s a magical Goldfinger feel ­surrounding it all. Michael G. Wilson, as quoted in the U.K.’s The People in December, about six weeks after he said there’d be no change in direction with Skyfall. The teaser trailer didn’t appear to have much of a Goldfinger feel.

“I’m making a film that’s both a traditional Bond film, but also one that’s very personal to me.” Mendes as quoted by Shortlist magazine in late April. Skyfall may be personal to Mendes but, based on the trailer, the movie doesn’t look remotely like a traditional Bond film.

“If I agreed to shoot Bond is because I believe that it is now possible to make a film of escape, fun, but at the same time tell us something about the world in which we live.” Mendes, again quoted by LaRepubblica. Escape and fun? Not much fun was evident in the Skyfall teaser trailer.

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