2016: 007’s lost year?

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

While there’s a little more than month yet to go, 2016 is shaping up as a kind of lost year for the cinematic James Bond — when pretty much nothing substantial happened.

Decision made about a studio to actually release Bond 25? No.

Release date, if only the year? No. Can’t set a release date without somebody to distribute it.

Script? Not that anyone knows about.

Director? No.

Bond actor cast for sure? Not really. Incumbent Daniel Craig said in October of Bond, ” Were I to stop doing it, I’d miss it terribly.” But that’s not the same thing as saying, “I’ll be back.”

Something else of note that Craig said was, “There’s no conversation going on because genuinely everybody’s just a bit tired,”

That evokes the 2002-2006 period when Eon Productions co-bosses Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were going through a creative mid-life crisis.

Or, as Wilson told The New York Times in 2005, describing that period: “We are running out of energy, mental energy. We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

That creative mid-life crisis followed the release of Die Another Day, a big, sprawling and expensive (for the time) movie. The current exhaustion followed the release of SPECTRE, a big, sprawling and expensive movie.

On top of the usual pressures, much of the behind-the-scenes issues on SPECTRE became public knowledge because of the Sony computer hacks in 2014.

Thus, e-mails about the film’s budget, script problems and negotiations for tax incentives in Mexico became public knowledge. The Gawker website described the plot in detail based on a draft of the script made available by the leaks. So, to be fair, you could argue SPECTRE was more stressful than the usual big-budget movie.

Still, nobody — especially this blog — expected that things would seemingly shut down in 2016.

Michael G. Wilson said late last year he thought Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would select a new distributor by January or February. Wilson also said MGM had talked with executives at three studios, although he didn’t identify them. Sony Pictures has distributed the past four 007 films but its contract expired with SPECTRE.

By March, MGM said no deal was struck and it wasn’t hurrying to reach one. Studio boss Gary Barber said he expected Bond movies to come out on a “three-to-four year cycle.” Eight months later, that’s still the status quo.

As a result, right now there appears to be no momentum on the 007 film front.

By contrast, in November 2012 (the same month Skyfall was released in the U.S.), a writer (John Logan) had been hired and publicly announced by MGM. In July 2013, a fall 2015 release date for the then-untitled Bond 24 was disclosed, along with an announcement that Skyfall director Sam Mendes would return for an encore.

Much of the year has been taken up by reports of supposed contenders for the Bond role or, conversely, supposed major offers for Craig to come back.

Remember how Tom Hiddleston, among others, was a cinch to be the next 007? Remember how Sony supposedly “should be announcing any day” it had a new deal to release Bond 25 and was offering Craig $150 million for two more movies?

Months and months later, neither has become reality.

Maybe there will be a flurry of news in December, such as MGM finally selecting its studio partner. Still, Bond 25 development is behind the pace of SPECTRE at a similar point three years ago. Maybe 2017 will be more eventful.

Why Sam Mendes directing Bond 25 isn’t a good idea

Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes

A major non-007 Sam Mendes project, a movie adaptation of The Voyeur’s Hotel, has evaporated, according to the Deadline: Hollywood website. That’s because of a documentary coming out concerning the person who is the the same subject as the non-fiction book.

That has gotten some James Bond fans wondering if Mendes could be available to direct Bond 25 (whenever it gets made) after helming Skyfall and SPECTRE.

To quote a retired comic, “Oh, I hope not.” Here are some reasons why.

He’s never sounded enthusiastic about directing a third Bond film: In July 2015, he told the BBC that, “I don’t think I could go down that road again. You do have to put everything else on hold.”

In May 2016, according to a story by The Associated Press, he said: “I’m a storyteller. And at the end of the day, I want to make stories with new characters.”

Directing a Bond film is a big undertaking. If he has even the slightest doubt (and it sounds he has big doubts), he shouldn’t attempt it.

Enough with the homages: Skyfall had homages to past Bond films, including bringing back the Goldfinger version of the Aston Martin DB5.

That continued with SPECTRE. The DB5, despite being blown to smithereens in Skyfall, is miraculously put back together in SPECTRE. A fight between Bond (Daniel Craig) and Hinx (Dave Bautista) seemed modeled after a similar scene in From Russia With Love. The Independent published a story listing other homages.

Mendes can’t help himself. The next movie, when ever it may come out, needs a break from homages.

No more boasting:  In an April 2014 interview on The Charlie Rose Show, Mendes said he cast all the major supporting characters, including Tanner.

Problem: Tanner was played by Rory Kinnear, who first portrayed the character in 2008’s Quantum of Solace, a film Mendes had nothing to do with.

Mendes also claimed that in Skyfall “for the first time characters were allowed to age.” Problem: He’s wrong, it happened a number of times in Bond films.

Enough already.

If Mendes comes back, that means Thomas Newman comes back as composer: Newman is Mendes’ guy. Fans have mixed opinions about Newman’s work on Skyfall. He did get an Oscar nomination but didn’t win.

However, with SPECTRE, it was clear that Newman had run out of ideas. He recycled a number of Skyfall music bits in SPECTRE. That’s true not just of the compositions, but the sound and orchestration.

John Barry used the 007 theme in five Bond films (From Russia With Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker). But it had different arrangements and orchestration each time. The repeated music in SPECTRE sounds the same as it did in Skyfall.

What’s more, based on his other work, it’s clear that smaller-scale dramas (such as Bridge of Spies) are more in Newman’s wheelhouse. He’s a talented composer with such films. Bond films just aren’t his strength.

Let someone else have a try on Bond 25. But that won’t probably won’t happen if Mendes is back as director.

Kingsman sequel gets pushed back to fall 2017

kingsman2-logo

The sequel to 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service has been pushed back to the fall of 2017 from June, Exhibitor Relations said on Twitter.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle now has a release date of Oct. 6, 2017, instead of June 16, according to Exhibitor Relations, which provides box office and release date information to clients. The company’s customers include Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, according to its website.

The June 16 date had Walt Disney Co.’s Cars 3 for competition, according to the release schedule maintained  by The Numbers website.

Kingsman: The Secret Service was based on a comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. The film, which incorporated memes from 1960s spy entertainment, generated worldwide box office of more than $414 million.

The results spurred studio 20th Century Fox to approve a follow-up movie. Both the original and sequel were directed by Matthew Vaughn with Taron Egerton as Gary “Eggsy” Unwin. Also, despite his character being killed in the first movie, Colin Firth is back as Harry Hart in the new film.

The change in the Kingsman sequel’s release date was one of several made Wednesday and listed on the Box Office Mojo website.

Here’s the Exhibitor Relations tweet:

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2003: Academics dissect (and then some) James Bond

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

We were reminded of an event that took on a life of its own: a 2003 academic conference about Ian Fleming and James Bond.

It was held at the main Indiana University campus in Bloomington, where many Fleming manuscripts and letters are kept. On May 29-June 1 of that year, various academics descended on Bloomington to examine 007 from every conceivable angle.

Some of the essays were collected in a 2005 book, Ian Fleming and James Bond: The Cultural Politics of 007. It’s a bit pricey even today, with a paperback costing $26.

However, the book’s introduction can be viewed on a Google preview of the book. It gives you a flavor of some of the subjects discussed.

For example, “Fleming’s Company Man: James Bond and the Management of Modernism” argued that 007 was “less a champion of consumer culture than a hero of the corporation,” according to introduction.

“‘Alimentary, Dr. Leiter’: Anal Anxiety in Diamonds Are Forever” is an essay that “explores Bond’s sexuality, but as it is represented in the films of the seventies.”

Another entry is “Lesbian Bondage,” which “traces Bond’s transformation from excessively masculine hero to stylishly accessorized dandy.” The latter version “is less appealing to feminists and lesbians,” according to the introduction’s summary of the essay.

Other essays presented at the conference sought to put Bond in a historical context, including how the novels were first published as the British Empire was dissipating. “The Bond novels represent a response to the dilemmas and give voice to the hopes and fears of Cold War England,” the introduction says.

What’s more, the introduction says there were disagreements arose during conference planning. It says there were “disparate goals” between Ian Fleming Publications and the Ian Fleming Foundation.

The latter preserves Bond-related artifacts, including vehicles and miniatures that appeared in the films. Ian Fleming Publications hires authors to write 007 continuation novels. IFP, according to the introduction, urged conference organizers “to use only Fleming’s name — not Bond’s — on our promotional material and to avoid any kitschy display of fan-based adoration.”

Four 007 films credited with saving the franchise

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

This week’s 10th anniversary of Casino Royale generated a number of stories crediting the 21st James Bond film with saving the franchise.

However, this wasn’t the first time the series, in the eyes of some, had been saved. What follows is a list of four.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971): Sean Connery returned to the Eon Productions fold for a one-off after 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman weren’t looking for Connery’s return. But United Artists executive David V. Picker was. As a result of efforts by Picker, Connery was offered, and accepted, a $1.25 million salary coupled with other financial goodies. John Gavin, who had  been signed as Bond, was paid off.

None other than Picker himself, in his 2013 memoir Musts, Maybe and Nevers,  said the moved saved the Bond series.

Hyperbole? Maybe. Still, Majesty’s box office ($82 million) slid 26.5 percent from You Only Live Twice and 42 percent from Thunderall. Those percentage change figures won’t warm a studio executive’s heart.

Diamonds rebounded to $116 million, better than Twice but still not at Thunderball levels. Nevertheless. Picker has argued his strategy of getting Connery back kept the series going.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): The 10th 007 film was made after Broccoli and Saltzman dissolved their partnership, with UA buying out Saltzman.

What’s more, the box office for the previous series entry, The Man With the Golden Gun, had plunged almost 40 percent from Roger Moore’s Bond debut, Live And Let Die.

As a result, there was anxiety associated with the production. Spy ended up re-establishing Bond, in particular the Roger Moore version. The movie produced a popular song, Nobody Does It Better, and the film received three Oscar nominations.

GoldenEye (1995): The 17th Bond adventure made its bow after a six-year hiatus, marked by legal fights. Albert R. Broccoli, at one point, put Danjaq and Eon on the market, though no sale took place.

As the movie moved toward production, health problems forced Broccoli to yield day-to-day supervision over to daughter Barbara Broccoli and stepson Michael G. Wilson.

The question was whether 007, now in the person of Pierce Brosnan, could resume being a successful series. The previous entry, Licence to Kill, didn’t do well in the U.S., finishing No. 4 in its opening weekend, even though it was the only new movie release released that weekend.

GoldenEye did fine and Bond was back.

Casino Royale (2006): This week, a website called History, Legacy & Showmanship had comments by various Bond students, including documentary maker John Cork, who is quoted as saying, “Casino Royale saved Bond.” Yahoo Movies ran a piece with the headline ‘Casino Royale’: The Movie That Saved James Bond Turns 10.

Meanwhile, GQ.com ran a article saying Casino was the best 007 film while Forbes.com aruged the movie “provides a helpful template in terms of doing the reboot just right.”

If Casino saved the franchise, it wasn’t necessarily in a financial sense. 2002’s Die Another Day was a success at the box officce. But Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were having a creative mid-life crisis.

“We are running out of energy, mental energy,” Wilson told The New York Times in October 2005. “We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

The something new was casting Daniel Craig in a more serious version of 007 and starting the series over with a new continuity.

Casino was a hit with global box office of $594.4 million compared with Die Another Day’s $431.9 million. In the U.S. market, Casino actually sold fewer tickets than Die Another Day (25.4 million compared with 27.6 million). But, with higher ticket prices, Casino out earned Die Another Day in the market, $167.4 million to $160.9 million.

On Twitter, the blog did an informal (and very unscientific) survey whether fans thought Casino had saved the series. You can see the results below.

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Writers to debate whether Fleming, Le Carre is better

Intelligence Squared's poster for its Fleming-LeCarre debate.

Intelligence Squared’s poster for its Fleming-LeCarre debate.

Intelligence Squared, which stages debates and presentations on various topics, will hold a debate this month whether Ian Fleming or John Le Carre is the better spy novelist.

Representing Fleming (1908-64) will be Anthony Horowitz, author of the James Bond continuation novel Trigger Mortis, according to the group’s website.

Advocating for LeCarre (real name David Cornwell, b. 1931) will be David Farr, who adapted LeCarre’s The Night Manager for the BBC. The debate is scheduled for Nov. 29 at Emmanuel Centre in London.

Here’s an excerpt from the website:

To illustrate their arguments, Horowitz and Farr will be calling on a cast of actors to bring the novels to life. So far we are delighted to have confirmed Harry Potter star Matthew Lewis and Peaky Blinders star Alex Macqueen.

The tone of the debate may be interesting. Le Carre and some of his fans over the years have been critical of Bond.

Le Carre, in a 2012 interview with CBS, said, “We had the image of James Bond. He had this extraordinary life: the license to kill, all the girls he could eat and so on, and wonderful cars. He was the Superman with some kind of mysterious patriotic purpose.

“But people knew while they were watching that stuff, people knew then about this gray army of spooks that was around.”

Thanks to 007 Magazine publisher Graham Rye for the heads up via posts on Facebook.

 

MGM: Bond 25 to be released ‘over the next few years’

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer expects Bond 25 to come out “over the next few years,” CEO Gary Barber said last week, without providing specifics.

On a conference call with investors and analysts, CEO Gary Barber listed “premium franchise titles” that “we expect to release over the next few years.” The list included Bond 25 as well as reboots of Death Wish and Tomb Raider.

A recording of the call is on the investor relations portion of MGM’s website.

MGM on Nov. 10 reported a third-quarter profit of $12 million, down from $124 million a year earlier. The main reason for the plunge was the studio’s unsuccessful Ben Hur remake released in August.

MGM, since emerging from bankruptcy in 2010, primarily makes television shows. It produces a small film slate, including the 007 series. But MGM isn’t big enough to release movies on its own. So it enters distribution deals with other studios. Ben-Hur, for example, was released by Paramount.

Sony Studios, through its Columbia Pictures brand, has released the last four Bond films. Sony’s most recent two-picture contract, where it co-financed Bond movies with MGM, expired with 2015’s SPECTRE. No new 007 distribution deal has been announced.

Thanks to reader Matthew Miner for the heads up.