Lewis Gilbert, an appreciation

Lewis Gilbert (right) with Albert R. Broccoli, Roger Moore and Lois Chiles during filming of Moonraker

Lewis Gilbert, coming off producing and directing Alfie (1966), was not the most obvious candidate to direct a James Bond movie.

Alfie was a comedy-drama about the emptiness and consequences from pursuing a lifestyle purely for your own enjoyment. It was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture.

You Only Live Twice, the 1967 007 film Gilbert signed on for, by contrast was a huge, sprawling film. It teased the possibility of sending James Bond (Sean Connery) into space. It featured a SPECTRE headquarters inside a volcano, with a squad of Japanese Secret Service ninjas squaring off against the minions of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Subtle, it wasn’t.

Yet, Gilbert, with a varied resume of films, was up to the challenge. The movie did away with the plot of Ian Fleming’s 1964 novel. In its place was a thrill ride.

You Only Live Twice promotional art, which provides an idea of the movie’s spectacle

“Well, I was a bit dubious at first,” Gilbert said on an installment of Whicker’s World, the BBC documentary series while the movie was in production in Japan.

“I must say in this case the two of them (producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman), they’ve been wonderful. They’ve let me come in with any ideas that could improve the Bond.

“I don’t think there’s anything on this picture that I could ask for that hasn’t been given,” the director continued. “I said today, ‘Look, I want 5,000 people flown in from Tokyo, I’m sure they would be flown in.”

You Only Live Twice, the fifth film in the series, was a success despite how the 1960s spy craze was starting to wane. A decade later, Broccoli — his partnership with Saltzman now dissolved — came calling again.

This time, the project was The Spy Who Loved Me, the third 007 film with Roger Moore. The franchise was at a crossroads. The previous entry, The Man With the Golden Gun, had a falloff in the box office compared with Moore’s Bond debut, Live And Let Die.

Gilbert brought something of a fresh set of eyes having been away from Bond for so long. He decided Spy should play to Moore’s strengths and not have the actor try to copy Sean Connery.

Again, the movie would be epic: A tanker swallowed British, Soviet and U.S. submarines. A megalomaniac villain (Curt Jurgens) was out to end civilization and start over. Subtle it wasn’t.

At the same time, there was a moment of drama when Bond’s Moore admits to Soviet agent Anya (Barabara Bach) that he killed her lover while on a mission. It was a scene that caught a viewer’s attention amid the spectacle.

Spy was a huge success, revitalizing the series. So it was natural that Broccoli brought Gilbert back to direct Moonraker. The showman producer intended the film would be extravagant.

This time, a Bond film would complete was had been teased in Twice — Bond would go into space for a final showdown with another megalomaniac villain, Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale).

The plot of Gilbert’s three Bond adventures are undeniably similar. But the spectacle overwhelms such concerns during viewing. It’s only until the films are over that fans debate such concerns.

When Gilbert emerged from Bondage, he continued directing, working into his 80s.

When news of his death emerged on Tuesday (he had died late last week at the age of 97), a new generation of directors expressed admiration for his work.

“RIP Lewis Gilbert, the great British director who, among his 40 plus credits, directed ‘Alfie’, ‘Educating Rita’, ‘Reach For The Sky’, ‘Shirley Valentine’ and one of my very favourite Bond films: ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’,” Edgar Wright, the director of Baby Driver, wrote on Twitter. ‘”Why’d you have to be so good?”‘

“Lewis Gilbert, director of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER, has passed away,” Peyton Reed, the director of 2015’s Ant-Man wrote, also in a Twitter post. “SPY was the first Bond film I saw in the theater. (And I have a tiny homage to MOONRAKER in ANT-MAN AND THE WASP.) Rest in Peace.”

Paul De Meo, writer-producer, dies

Mark Hamill and John Wesley Shipp from a publicity still for the 1990 Flash TV series

Paul De Meo, a writer-producer who developed the 1990 television series The Flash, has died.

His death was announced on Twitter on Feb. 26 by his partner, Danny Bilson. There were few details immediately available.

The duo also scripted a 1991 movie, The Rocketeer, based on a graphic novel by Dave Stevens. The movie featured an Errol Flynn-like actor, played by Timothy Dalton, who is really a Nazi spy.

De Meo and Bilson were also wrote (with Bruce Feirstein) the  James Bond video game Everything Or Nothing. They also wrote the 007: Nightfire video game.

With The Flash, De Meo and Bilson wrote the two-hour pilot TV movie and were executive producers of the series that starred John Wesley Shipp.

There were influences from the 1989 Batman movie directed by Tim Burton. That film’s composer, Danny Elfman scored the pilot for The Flash and provided its theme music. Also, the pilot adapted a meme from Burton’s film.

In Batman, the Bat Plane flies above Gotham City and stops in front of the moon, mimicking the Bat insignia on Batman’s uniform. In The Flash pilot, the camera moves above Central City. A lightning bolt comes down in front of the moon, mimicking the symbol on The Flash’s costume.

The resulting series included casting Mark Hamill and David Cassidy as villains (the Trickster and the Mirror Master, respectively). For Hamill, it was the start of a new side career playing bad guys, including voicing the Joker on Batman cartoons starting in 1992.

The show, which aired on CBS, was one of the most expensive on television at the time, in part because of its special effects. It was canceled after one season.

Below are the tweets that Danny Bilson and John Wesley Shipp posted about De Meo’s passing.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Lewis Gilbert, director of three 007 epics, dies

Lewis Gilbert

Lewis Gilbert (1920-2018)

Lewis Gilbert, who directed three of the biggest, most spectacular James Bond films, has died at 97, according to a tweet by the James Bond fan website From Sweden With Love.

Gilbert helmed You Only Live Twice (1967), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979). The three epics contained more less the same basic plot, where a villain is going to wipe out huge parts of mankind.

The films also utilized production designer Ken Adam to the fullest, including a SPECTRE headquarters inside a volcano, a tanker that swallowed atomic submarines and a space station.

Gilbert wasn’t the most obvious choice to supervise such massive, escapist movies. The director’s first films in the 1940s were documentaries. During the 1950s and ’60s, he directed dramas or comedies such as The Good Die Young, Sink the Bismarck!, The 7th Dawn and Alfie.

The latter, released in 1966, was critically acclaimed. According to the documentary Inside You Only Live Twice, Gilbert initially turned down directing Bond but producer Albert R. Broccoli remained insistent until he got his man.

Twice was the first 007 film to totally dispense with the plot of an Ian Fleming novel as it instead tried to top its 1965 predecessor, Thunderball, for spectacle. It turned out not to be as big a hit as Thunderball but was still popular. The movie was overshadowed, to an extent, by star Sean Connery announcing he was through as Bond.

Gilbert directed other films until Broccoli came calling again. The producer had split with partner Harry Saltzman. This time, Broccoli only had a Fleming title with The Spy Who Loved Me.

By the mid 1970s, some questioned how much life was left in 007. The Man With the Golden Gun’s global box office had slid almost 40 percent compared with Live And Let Die. The Spy Who Loved Me would test both Broccoli and Bond’s box office appeal.

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The 10th James Bond film proved to be a big hit. Gilbert was brought back for Moonraker while Broccoli sought to make an even more extravagant film where Bond would go into outer space.

“Bond is just a huge entertainment, it isn’t just a normal film,” Gilbert told the BBC during filming of Moonraker in Rio. “It isn’t meant meant to be a great drama…It is pure escapism.”

Moonraker also delivered at the box office, although some fans complained the movie had strayed far beyond Fleming. Broccoli opted to bring Bond back to earth for For Your Eyes Only and the budget would be scaled back. Rather than retain Gilbert, Broccoli promoted editor-second unit director John Glen to the director’s chair.

Gilbert, though, didn’t lack for things to do. He directed six post-007 films, remaining active into the early 2000s. He wrote an autobiography, All My Flashbacks, that was published in 2010.

UPDATE (2 p.m. New York time): Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions issued a statement on the official James Bond website: “It is with great sadness that we learn of the passing of our dear friend Lewis Gilbert. Lewis was a true gentleman. He made an enormous contribution to the British film industry as well as the Bond films, directing YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER. His films are not only loved by us but are considered classics within the series. He will be sorely missed.”

Bond 25 questions (Danny Boyle edition)

Ever since Deadline: Hollywood’s story last week about how Danny Boyle may direct Bond 25 if the idea he and scribe John Hodge are developing is used there are new questions.

As usual, the blog isn’t in a position to answer. But it can ask. The queries below presuppose there’s something to the Deadline story.

How long has work on this new story been going on?  Deadline didn’t specify when this effort began. “MGM and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson sparked to Boyle’s idea enough to engage Hodge, who has quietly been writing their version,” Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. wrote.

The entertainment website provided a general idea of when Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer will have something to consider. Fleming wrote that, “Hodge won’t be done for a couple of months.” If taken literally, that would mean at least two months. But the phrase “a couple” if often not used precisely.

How do you think Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are taking this? It’s doubtful they like it. However, Purvis and Wade have worked for Eon since 1998 when they started work on The World Is Not Enough.

They’ve had their own ups and downs with the franchise. It seemed they were out after Skyfall. Yet, they were summoned back in the summer of 2014 to rewrite John Logan’s work on what would be titled SPECTRE.

By now, they’re more than aware of the twists and turns working on a Bond movie can entail.

Their participation in Bond 25 was one of the few specifics in a July 24, 2017 press release stating the movie has a November 2019 release date in the U.S. Barbara Broccoli also briefly mentioned the duo in a December 2017 podcast with The Hollywood Reporter. The writers, she said, are “busy working away, trying to come up with something fantastic.”

What about the schedule if Eon and MGM go with Boyle-Hodge? At the very least it makes you wonder about that November 2019 release date.

When Hodge produces a draft script, chances are it won’t be ready for filming. Typically, movies go through various rewrites.

In the case of SPECTRE, John Logan produced his first draft in March 2014. Purvis, Wade and Jez Butterworth were rewriting into December 2014, when the movie started principal photography.

Meanwhile, it would at least appear the art department may be limited in what it can do until the basic story is ironed out. On the other hand, there is a steady hand at the wheel.

Dennis Gassner, production designer on the series the last decade, has said he’ll be back for Bond 25. Gassner, whose credits also include Blade Runner 2049, is experienced with working on big, complicated productions.

What does star Daniel Craig think of all this? It’s likely OK with him. Boyle directed a video for the opening ceremonies featuring Craig as Bond taking Queen Elizabeth to the games.

What happens next? If no major developments are announced until April or May, that may be a sign that Deadline’s story and its “couple of months” timeline for Hodge’s writing a script are accurate.

What happens if Eon and MGM ultimately pass on the Boyle-Hodge story? At the very least, that might complicate things even more. Certainly the search for a Bond 25 director would go on.

Trigger Mortis: Possibly Fleming’s most preposterous idea

Ian Fleming

The blog has been catching up on Trigger Mortis, the 2015 James Bond continuation novel by Anthony Horowitz, with some previously unpublished Ian Fleming material.

It might contain Fleming’s most preposterous idea.

Now, that’s a tall order, given how Fleming wrote about a plot to steal gold from Fort Knox (Goldfinger), created a villain whose heart was on the wrong side of his chest (Dr. No) and spun a tale that included a villain enticing Japanese to commit suicide (You Only Live Twice).

Still, Fleming had an idea for an unmade James Bond TV series involving 007 driving against real race drivers on the famous Nurburgring track in Germany. When the Bond TV series failed to materialize, the author pitched the idea again in 1962 as part of his contributions to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series (1964-68).

In the Trigger Mortis novel, Bond is assigned to protect a race driver from a Soviet assassination plot (the Russians have a driver in the race).

Here’s the thing: No way.

Bond, while adept at driving fast, is up against an entire field of professional race drivers. He views some film of the Nurburgring and takes some practice laps and, supposedly, he’s all ready to go.

So here’s a first-hand observation. In the late 1990s, I was an at event in Indianapolis put on by Mercedes-Benz. It took place at an indoor go kart track. The guests were divided into teams.

Meanwhile, Mercedes brought in drivers who participated in the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) series, which was active at that time. The real racers were to be divided among the teams.

The problem: There weren’t enough real race drivers for all the teams. I was on the team that didn’t have a real race driver. So, as the teams rotated drivers, I found myself on the track with all of the real race drivers.

Humiliating doesn’t begin to describe it. It was akin to playing a game of Horse with National Basketball Association players or touch football with National Football League players.

James Bond, in novels or movies, is a fantasy. In this case, Fleming’s imagination was working overtime.

Quantum’s 10th: Impact still felt on 007 franchise

International poster for Quantum of Solace

This fall marks the 10th anniversary of Quantum of Solace, the 22nd 007 film made by Eon Productions. It’s a production that still reverberates with the franchise.

It was the last time the makers of James Bond films tried to come out with an entry just two years after the previous installment. And it’s possible it will remain the last.

As Casino Royale was ending production, Sony Pictures put out a July 20, 2006 release saying it intended to release Bond 22 (as it was then known) quickly — May 2, 2008.

“As we wrap production on CASINO ROYALE we couldn’t be more excited about the direction the franchise is heading with Daniel Craig. Daniel has taken the origins of Ian Fleming’s James Bond portraying, with emotional complexity, a darker and edgier 007,” Eon’s Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli were quoted in the press release.

Writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, with three Bond films under their belt, were aboard to come up with a story for what Eon would later describe as the series’ first “direct sequel.”

There were soon signs the pace was causing some strains.

‘Very Nervous’
Director Roger Michell opted not to helm the movie because he felt the story wasn’t developed enough. In 2007, Michell gave an interview to The Times. The original link to the interview is broken, but the Commander Bond website’s summary includes some of Michell’s comments.

“‘Well, I did give up directing the Bond film,” Michell told The Times, according to the Commander Bond summary. “It was because in the end I didn’t feel comfortable with the Bond process, and I was very nervous that there was a start date but really no script at all. And I like to be very well prepared as a director.”

Eventually, Quantum was pushed back to a fall 2008 release. But there were still time pressures. The Writers Guild of America was in labor talks and a strike deadline was looming. The union went on strike from November 2007 to February 2008, with the Bond movie starting production in early 2008.

There are conflicting versions of the movie’s story process.

Marc Forster

The director hired for the movie, Marc Forster, said in an April 2008 Rotten Tomatoes story, said there was a reset after he arrived.

‘From Scratch’
“Once I signed on to do it we pretty much developed the script from scratch because I felt that it wasn’t the movie I wanted to make and we started with Paul Haggis from scratch,” Forster said in the story. Haggis was the writer who did the final drafts of Casino Royale.

“And I said to him these are the topics I am interested in this is what I would like to say, what’s important to me,” the director said. “And we developed it from there together. Then Barbara and Michael said they liked where we were going and they liked the script.”

In this interview, Forster said everything worked out fine.

““The good thing is that Paul and I and Daniel all worked on the script before the strike happened and got it where we were pretty happy with,” the director said. “Then we started shooting and the only problems I had with the script we were shooting in April, May and June so as soon as the strike was over we did another polish.”

The writer doing that polish, Forster said, was Joshua Zetumer. The scribe’s involvement with the film was noted in other stories written during the production.

More Complicated
Forster, in a Nov. 3, 2008 story on the Vulture culture blog of New York magazine, indicated things were more complicated.

“Haggis had an idea they weren’t fond of, and I didn’t know if it would work or not,” Forster told Vulture. “The idea was that Vesper in the last movie, maybe she had a kid, and there would be an orphan out there.”

Eventually, with the clocking ticking to a WGA strike, the idea of Bond searching for Vesper’s child was rejected. Haggis, though, delivered a script ahead of the WGA walkout.

Daniel Craig in 2012 during filming of Skyfall.

In 2011, as Skyfall was preparing production, a new scenario was unveiled.

Daniel Craig in an interview with Time Out London, said he and Forster were forced to rewrite the script as Quantum was being filmed.

The actor described what they had as a “bare bones of a script.” Because of the WGA strike, “We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it.”

This tale has emerged as the now-accepted version, with Joshua Zetumer the movie’s forgotten man.

(Note: The original Time out link is still up but when I called it up, I got a warning about a “malicious link” from my computer. This SUMMARY OF THE INTERVIEW ON INDIEWIRE has the same Craig quotes with no malicious link” warnings.)

The movie did fine at the box office, with $586 million globally. But Quantum’s biggest effect may be that Eon doesn’t want to rush things if it can help it.

External Pressures’
“Sometimes there are external pressures from a studio who want you to make it in a certain time frame or for their own benefit, and sometimes we’ve given into that,” Eon’s Barbara Broccoli told the Los Angeles Times in 2012.

Barbara Broccoli

“But following what we hope will be a tremendous success with ‘Skyfall,’ we have to try to keep the deadlines within our own time limits and not cave in to external pressures,” the Eon boss told the newspaper.

She didn’t mention either Sony or Quantum of Solace. But it’s not much of a stretch to wonder if both were on her mind during the interview.

What’s more, a Sony executive told theater executives in 2012 that Bond 24 (eventually titled SPECTRE) would be out in 2014. Broccoli and Craig, in a May 1, 2012 interview with Collider, shut down such talk.

Broccoli: He was getting a little overexcited (laughs). We’re just actually focusing on this movie. One hopes that in the future we’ll be announcing other films, but no one’s officially announced it.

Craig: No one’s announced anything. He got a little ahead of himself (laughs). It’s very nice that he has the confidence to be able to do that, but we haven’t finished this movie yet.

SPECTRE, of course, came out in 2015, not 2014.

Today, Quantum occupies an odd space. Despite its financial success, it wasn’t discussed much in the 2012 documentary Everything Or Nothing. But many fans feel it’s more than a worthy entry in series.

Regardless of how you feel about the movie, though, it had an impact on the franchise. Trying to make a James Bond film within two years is now unthinkable.

Deadline says Bond 25 has dueling story lines

Bond 25 has dueling story lines, one of which would be directed by Danny Boyle, the other if he takes a pass, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

“Boyle had an idea for a very specific 007 movie, and he and his Trainspotting  partner John Hodge have teamed up to work out the beats,” Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. wrote. “Hodge is writing that version and if it all works out, that would be the 007 film that Boyle would helm.”

If Hodge’s script, whenever it’s finished, gets the OK, according to Fleming, Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would “shelve the movie they were contemplating…and they will instead make the version that was cooked up by the Trainspotting team.”

The version that would be junked would be the story cooked up by veteran 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The duo were hired for their seventh Bond effort almost a year ago. That was reported in March 2017 by the Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye and the hiring was confirmed in a July 24, 2017 release saying Bond 25 will be released in the U.S. in November 2019.

Hodge “won’t be done for a couple of months,” according to Deadline. MGM declined to comment to the entertainment website.

Fleming’s report followed a story yesterday in Variety saying that Boyle may direct Bond 25.

A couple of points:

This development, if true, has the potential to delay Bond 25: Filming on Skyfall and SPECTRE began between 11 and 12 months before they were released in the U.S. If Bond 25 had a similar schedule, it’d need to be in production before the end of this year.

Also, if Deadline is literally accurate, Hodge would be done sometime this spring. And you could almost count on additional rewriting taking place after that. Can all that be done and still get Bond 25 out in the fall of 2019?

This sounds similar to the scripting process of Quantum of Solace: That 2008 Bond film had dueling story lines also.

Whatever story work had been done before the arrival of director Marc Forster went out the window.

“Once I signed on to do it we pretty much developed the script from scratch because I felt that it wasn’t the movie I wanted to make,” director Marc Forster said in an April 2008 Rotten Tomatoes story.

Then the creative team spent time on another story line were Bond looks for a Vesper Lynd’s child which was eventually rejected, Forster said in a November 2008 story at Vulture, the entertainment blog of New York magazine.

Eventually, yet another script was submitted just ahead of a 2007 Writer’s Guild of America strike. That was the effort that was eventually dubbed a “bare bones of a script” by star Daniel Craig in 2011 when he discussed what happened with Quantum.

There, of course, is one big difference between Quantum and Bond 25. Quantum operated under a tight deadline. Sony Pictures, which released the film, first announced it would come out in May 2008. That would later be pushed back to the fall.

Bond 25, by comparison, doesn’t appear to have a lot of urgency.

As mentioned before, Purvis and Wade were hired almost a year ago. Craig said in the fall of 2016 at an event sponsored by The New Yorker that nothing was happening on Bond 25 “because genuinely everybody’s just a bit tired.” The actor didn’t publicly commit to doing Bond 25 until August 2017.