About that whole ‘Blofeld Trilogy’ thing…

SPECTRE teaser image

SPECTRE teaser image

This blog’s recent post about suggestions for Bond 25 included the idea that it may be time to let the “Blofeld Trilogy” idea pass. But many don’t want to let go. So here’s a closer look.

What is it? The phrase was popularized by Raymond Benson in his 1984 book The James Bond Bedside Companion, referring to Ian Fleming’s novels, Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice.

The term “Blofeld Trilogy” isn’t mentioned in the index. On page 123, the author introduces his analysis of Thunderball thusly:

The ninth James Bond novel, Thunderball, is a terrific book. It is the beginning of what could be called the Blofeld Trilogy, which also includes On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. Thunderball also marks the change from the earlier novels to the later, more mature books.

Anything wrong with that? Not wrong, but perhaps more complex.

How so? First, Fleming almost certainly didn’t plan a trilogy. The Thunderball novel was Fleming’s way of recouping time spent on the unsuccessful film project spearheaded by Kevin McClory. McClory sued after the novel came out. In the resulting settlement, future editions of the novel indicated it was based on a screen treatment by McClory, screenwriter Jack Whittingham and Fleming.

Second, Fleming wrote four novels during this period. He also penned The Spy Who Loved Me, published in 1962, written from the perspective of a woman who encounters Bond in the last third of the novel. Bond is on the trail of SPECTRE but this only is mentioned in passing. Again, a sign this wasn’t a planned thing.

An important part of the Blofeld Trilogy: At the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond’s new bride, Tracy, is dead. Early in the You Only Live Twice novel, we’re told how Bond has fallen apart and is about to get his walking papers. He’s given a last chance to salvage his career. The unlikely mission leads to Blofeld and a final confrontation.

Yeah, so? The 007 film series adapted the novels out of order (as hard-core fans know all too well), so the Blofeld Trilogy, per se, wasn’t done. However, Eon Productions already has clearly cherry picked from the Blofeld Trilogy.

Example: In Skyfall, Bond has fallen apart after being shot by Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). He’s a shell of former self when he finds out MI6 has been attacked. Even then, it takes quite a bit of screen time before Bond is back to his former self.

I repeat, yeah, so? Some fans would like Bond 25 to adapt the setup of the Blofeld Trilogy, have Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) killed and have 007 have a proper “revenge” story.

Initially, SPECTRE was a bit of a remake of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. During the scripting process, there was a henchwoman named Irma Bunt and the last line of the movie was Bond saying, “We have all the time in the world.” Both were deleted from the final film.

A couple of things, regarding Bond 25:

1) Do we really want Bond to fall apart for the second time in three movies? Remember, it’s not the Blofeld Trilogy if he doesn’t fall apart.

2) We’ve had either revenge story lines or elements of them in Licence to Kill, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day and Quantum of Solace. Does the film series really cry out for another revenge story?

Nobody is going to change their mind based on this post. Just something to think about.

Our modest proposals for Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Since the British tabloids are stirring the pot, what better time for this blog to weigh in with some Bond 25 ideas? So here goes.

Consider adapting one of the better continuation novels: For years, Eon Productions has resisted this path. Michael G. Wilson, Eon’s co-boss, has bad mouthed the John Gardner novels.

However, Eon itself opened the door with SPECTRE. The 24th James Bond film includes a torture scene based on the one in 1968’s Colonel Sun novel. So much so, there’s a “special thanks” credit for “The Estate of Kingsley Amis” in the end credits.

Generally speaking, it’s easier to use a novel as a starting point. The movie You Only Live Twice didn’t have much in common with its namesake novel, but characters, names, situations, etc. did figure into the movie. Given the soap opera of SPECTRE’s scripting process, any step to simplify the process would be a help.

At this point, there are plenty of continuation novels to choose from.

Worry about the script first, actor second: Various “making of” documentaries about 007 films discuss how scripts are tailored to their lead actor.

How about this? Write a James Bond story first, tweak it later after your actor has been cast. James Bond is the star. The series has seen six different actors play Bond. Some day, there will be a seventh.

Albert R. Broccoli, co-founder of Eon, always felt 007 was the star, the rest came later. Words to live by.

Or, put another way: story, story, story.

If you have a good story but it conflicts with continuity, go with the story: Let’s be honest. Continuity isn’t a strong point for the Bond film series. Michael G. Wilson said Quantum of Solace took place “literally an hour” after Casino Royale.

Yet, Quantum couldn’t be bothered with the slightest effort to tie together with Casino. Casino took place in 2006. Quantum in 2008. Did it really take Bond *two years* to track down Mr. White? Only if Bond and Mr. White are idiots.

Continuity isn’t in Eon’s wheelhouse. If you have a great Bond story but it doesn’t match up with earlier films? Go with the story. If fans exit the theater thinking, “That was one of the best Bond movies I’ve ever seen,” nobody will really care about the continuity.

Have a great Bond 25 idea that doesn’t immediately tie in with SPECTRE? Go with the great idea. You can always bring Blofeld back later, even if he’s not played by Christoph Waltz.

But what about the “Blofeld Trilogy”?: That ship has sailed. It was a lost opportunity. Meanwhile, you might find the part of the You Only Live Twice novel that Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman and their cohorts didn’t use might make for difficult filming. Don’t twist yourself into a pretzel trying to recapture the past.

Put yet another way: How many people leaving the theater after seeing SPECTRE really thought Daniel Craig’s Bond loved Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine as much as George Lazenby’s Bond loved Diana Rigg’s Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? This blog’s guess: Not many.

The Spy Command’s final thoughts on ‘Year of the Spy’

BridgeOfSpies
Almost a year ago, this blog christened 2015 as the “Year of the Spy.” As the year draws to a close, this post looks back on that year with some final thoughts.

The blog didn’t write about all the movies discussed here. But the blog editor did see them all. The films listed are in order from best to worst. Actually, none of them was a stinker, so “worst” here is relative. Regardless, here we go.

Bridge of Spies: This wasn’t so much a spy movie as a film about the aftermath of espionage.

The Steven Spielberg-directed “biopic” starred Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan (1913-1970), the American lawyer who negotiated the release of U.S. U2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers from the Soviets.

With any “based on true events” film, one should never view it as history. Regardless, it was very engrossing. Here, CGI is used to recreate Powers’ capture when his plane was shot down.

Hanks is an accomplished actor and, as usual, delivers a strong performance. This movie also is a milestone of a different sort. Spielberg had to rely upon a composer other than mostly retired John Williams. For this film, that was Thomas Newman.

Bridge of Spies is mostly a low-key drama. The stakes are large, but it doesn’t have the pyrotechnics of the typical action film. This is exactly what Newman excels at. His score is perfect for the movie — and also points out his weakness at another prominent movie on this list.

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The return of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin after a 32-year absence was a financial failure, despite a modest $75 million production budget.

The Guy Ritchie-movie took liberties with the source material. Henry Cavill’s Solo was, more or less, the same character that Robert Vaughn played in the 1964-68 series but his back story was quite different. Ritchie took more liberties with Armie Hammer’s Kuryakin, who had a far darker side than David McCallum’s original.

Still, it mostly worked, even if it relied on an “origin” story line. It had a strong opening, downshifted to a decent middle section, then went into high gear in its second half. Once main villain Victoria (Elizabeth Debecki) calls Cavill by “Mr. Solo,” the proceedings accelerated until the end.

One of the strengths of the movie is Daniel Pemberton’s score. The composer was instructed by Ritchie NOT to emulate John Barry’s 007 movie style and that advice pays off.

The chances of a sequel are remote. That’s show biz. But the movie wasn’t camp (a fear of long-time U.N.C.L.E. fans). Perhaps, in coming years, this movie might attain the status of a “cult classic.”

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE:  The 24th James Bond film started out strong as it sought to mix “traditional” 007 movie elements with Daniel Craig’s 21st century grittier take. For the first two-thirds, it succeeded.

Yet, in its desire to top 2012’s Skyfall, some things went awry. The same writers of Skyfall (John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) worked on this year’s Bond film. Their roles, however, were reversed.

Until now, Purvis and Wade — who are very familiar with Ian Fleming’s original novels and short stories — would do the early drafts while another writer (Logan in the case of Skyfall) would come in and polish things up.

In this case, Logan did the early drafts. Purvis and Wade weren’t even supposed to participate. However, Logan’s efforts were found lacking — something that likely wouldn’t have been known had it not been for computer hacking at Sony Pictures, which exposed behind-the-scenes details of many movies, including SPECTRE. Also, playwright Jez Butterworth (who did uncredited polishes on Skyfall) apparently did more on SPECTRE because he got a credit with the other scribes.

Thomas Newman, who did such a splendid job on Bridge of Spies, is only serviceable here, even recycling some of his Skyfall score in some scenes. Clearly, doing a Bond film is NOT in the talented composer’s wheelhouse.

Regardless of the soap opera, SPECTRE ran out of gas. Its final third wasn’t a total loss but it didn’t sustain the momentum of the first two-thirds. As a result, this blog puts SPECTRE behind U.N.C.L.E., which finished much stronger.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation: The fifth Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible film had its own behind-the-scenes soap opera.

The movie was originally scheduled to debut Dec. 25. But Paramount abruptly moved up the release date to July 31, presumably to get it out of harm’s way from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Presumably, that had to add extra stress to screenwriter-director Christopher McQuarrie. Directors almost always want more time to tinker with a movie in editing, not less.

Regardless, from a box office standpoint, it was an astute move. It definitely hurt the U.N.C.L.E. movie (which came out two weeks later). And the movie was well received, encouraging Paramount to order up another film.

Technically, the movie was very exciting. Star (and producer) Cruise probably scares studio bosses by insisting on doing his own stunts. This blog drops the movie down a step because it’s not as much of a Mission: Impossible movie as its predecessor, the Brad Bird-directed Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol.

The original M:I series (1966-73) was very much about team work. Ghost Protocol very much followed that path (even reworking some bits from the show, albeit in a bigger and more spectacular fashion). Rogue Nation was a step backward. It was another example of turning M:I into The Tom Cruise Show.

Kingsman: The Secret Service: If this movie had sustained its first half for the rest of the film, it probably would have been the best spy movie of the year.

It didn’t. In the first half of the movie, one of the best scenes in the first half is where Kingsman Harry Hart (Colin Firth) says, “Manners maketh man,” before he clobbers some British thugs. But director Matthew Vaughn conveniently forgets that advice. Once Harry is killed midway throught he film, the movie dies a bit with him.

There’s still a decent amount worth watching (and the movie was a hit, especially with international audiences). Still, whatever class was present disappears into the mist.

Taken 3: The final (we hope) of Liam Neeson’s adventures as a former spy does everything it’s supposed to do — but no more. In this installment, the wife of Neeson’s Bryan Mills has been killed and he’s been framed. Of course, he’ll get out it. The question is how.

What will be the No. 1 spy movie in the U.S. for 2015?

Christoph Waltz in SPECTRE

“Do I look like I give a damn?” Blofeld asked.

As the Year of the Spy winds down, there’s a little bit of drama, such as it is. Will SPECTRE or Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation be the No. 1 spy movie in the U.S. and Canada?

At the start of the year, the answer would have been a slam dunk — SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film was the heavy favorite. It was the followup to Skyfall, the No. 2 movie in the world in 2012 and the No. 4 for the U.S. and Canada.

However, that was before Paramount moved Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation from Dec. 25, Christmas Day, to July 31.

That move got the fifth Tom Cruise M:I movie out of harm’s way from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, due out Dec. 18. The M:I film became a summer hit and took away the spy audience from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie that came out two weeks later.

To be clear, SPECTRE already is the global spy movie champ ($792.6 million so far versus M:I Rogue Nation’s $682.3 million). But SPECTRE isn’t doing the same business as Skyfall globally and it’s significantly behind the pace of Skyfall in the U.S. and Canada. The region contributed $304.4 million of Skyfall’s $1.11 billion box office.

As of today, it’s still an open question whether M:I Rogue Nation’s $195 million in the U.S. and Canada will hold up as the top spy film in the U.S. and Canada. SPECTRE’s box office in the take totaled $185.1 million through Dec. 7.

Agent 007, of course, still is in theaters. Daniel Craig’s Bond is certainly within striking distance of Cruise’s Ethan HUnt.

Still, as time goes on, SPECTRE is being shown on fewer screens. Its first weekend, Nov. 6-8, SPECTRE was on 3.929 screens, according to BOX OFFICE MOJO. That was down to 2,840 for the Dec. 4-6 weeekend.

The guess here is that SPECTRE will eke out the U.S.-Canada win. It has one more weekend (Dec. 11-13) before Star Wars: The Force Awakens sucks up screens (and ticket sales).

Still, the race shapes up to be considerably closer than what was expected at the start of 2015.

007 book auction: cashing in collections can be tricky

First edition copy of 1953's Casino Royale sold at auction

First edition copy of 1953’s Casino Royale sold at auction


The first rule of collecting is a collectible is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for it.

This week, 007 collector Gary J. Firuta’s collection of first-edition James Bond novels, page proofs and other items was sold by Heritage Auctions. The auction showed how prices for collectibles can vary widely.

For example, A U.K. first edition of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale novel sold for $21,250. (The auction company takes a cut so the seller doesn’t receive the full price.) Heritage has auctioned a number of other first-edition copies of Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel and the Firuta sale is in the middle of a wide range.

In 2010, a first edition copy of Casino Royale was sold by Heritage for $11,950. In 2014, another copy was sold for $32,500. Then, there was a special case. In 2009, a first edition copy of the book, which included a Fleming inscription (“to M”) sold for $50,787.50.

The condition of the book can be a factor. The book sold in 2009 was described by Heritage as a “stunning example of the first Bond novel in fine condition.” The book sold in 2010 was described as a “very good copy of the first Bond novel.” And the copy sold in 2014 was described as “a fine copy of a very rare title in dust jacket and much better than usually seen.”

Meanwhile, with the Firuta sale, the first edition Casino Royale did not generate the highest price. Instead, an uncorrected proof of From Russia With Love sold for $40,000.

Here’s part of the description from Heritage:

London: Jonathan Cape, [1957]. Uncorrected Proof. One of 75 copies printed, though few have survived. Octavo. 249, [7, blank] pages. Publisher’s printed wrappers (with “Uncorrected Proof” at the bottom of the front wrapper.) Some toning and wear to edges of wrappers, front wrapper with crease at lower corner and faint ink notes with erasure marks, spine slightly sunned, some rubbing to spine, hinges starting, title-page a bit loose, page 249 with small hole (very little loss to text). With a Jonathan Cape advertisement for From Russia With Love (“Spring List 1957”) affixed to the inner front wrapper. A very good copy of an extremely rare item.

With a textual change to page 94, in the final paragraph, changing from “In all respects. She is very beautiful. Naïve but obedient.” to “The woman said grudgingly ‘She is very beautiful. She will serve our purpose.'” This was done by Fleming to tone down the lesbian overtones of the passage. Moreover, the published novel features a significant expansion to the novel’s closing paragraphs. (emphasis in original)

What follows are some other highlights of the sale.

–A Moonraker first edition that included a letter by Fleming to G. Wren Howard, a co-founder of publisher Jonathan Cape. The letter concerned a would-be title for the novel, The Infernal Machine. Price: $15,000.

–A first edition of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that was No. 205 of a set of 250 signed by Fleming. Price: $10,312.50. However, another regular first edition of the novel went unsold.

–A first edition of Live And Let Die, price: $10,000.

–Three first edition copies of Fleming’s final Bond novel, The Man With the Golden Gun. Price: $8,750. Here’s a description:

One copy is the rare first edition, first issue, first state (trial binding) with the gilt-stamped gun on the front board; the other two copies are first editions, second state bindings, one with the first issue green endpapers, the other with the second issue plain white endpapers. Spines lettered in gilt, dust jackets.

Firuta’s collection of posters and related items will be auctioned later this month by Heritage.

Positive reactions from U.K. press showing of SPECTRE

SPECTRE LOGO

One spoiler, but a ways down the page (not a plot spoiler). Stop reading now if you’re spoiler adverse.

A press showing of SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film, was held Wednesday evening in the U.K. and generated some positive reactions.

What follows is a sampling and isn’t comprehensive. The first two of the following tweets aren’t spoilers. The third contains what many would consider a spoiler but there is no plot information.

One of the first we saw was from Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian:

Deathlan Slashin, home page editor of BuzzFeed’s UK edition appeared to like it.

And now for that spoiler:

A Daily Mirror staffer weighs in:

And here’s one more:

UPDATE: First negative reaction we spotted:

UPDATE II: Meanwhile, the chief film critic of The Times in the U.K. gave readers a preview of what she’s writing.

007 screenwriter Christopher Wood dies

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

Christopher Wood, screenwriter on two big James Bond films of the 1970s, has died, Roger Moore said on Twitter.

Wood, 79, was brought on to write 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me by the movie’s director, Lewis Gilbert. He came aboard after various scribes — Richard Maibaum, Stirling Silliphant, Cary Bates and others — had tried their hand at a story for the 10th 007 film.

Wood ended up sharing the screenplay credit with Maibaum, while Tom Mankiewicz did some uncredited rewrites.

Spy was a major test for producer Albert R. Broccoli. It was his first Bond film as solo producer after Harry Saltzman sold off his interest to United Artists. Also, The Man With the Golden Gun had underperformed at the box office.

A lot was riding on Spy and the escapist, extravagant film delivered, becoming a big hit in the summer of 1977.

Wood was brought back for 1979’s Moonraker, also directed by Gilbert. While writer Tom Mankiewicz helped plot the story, Wood was the only credited screenwriter. Broccoli wanted to outdo himself this time, wanting to send Bond into outer space and going bigger in every way. It also was a big hit, but Broccoli scaled things down for future films.

As big as Moonraker was, it was actually reduced from THE FIRST-DRAFT SCREENPLAY, which had his and her micro-jets, a keel-hauling sequence and a jet pack. The keel-hauling sequence (based on the Live And Let Die novel) would be saved for For Your Eyes Only and (only one) micro-jet would be utilized in Octopussy.

Wood also wrote the novelization for the two movies. In the minds of many fans, Wood successfully merged Ian Fleming’s literary Bond with the large-scale epic films.

Here’s Sir Roger’s tweet about Wood’s death:

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