Skyfall’s 10th anniversary: Brief return to Bondmania

Skyfall’s poster image

Adapted from a 2017 post

Ten years ago, the James Bond film franchise reached a level — unadjusted, adjusted for inflation, or whatever measure you’d like — not achieved since the height of Bondmania in the 1960s.

That was Skyfall, the 50th anniversary 007 film. It was the first (and so far only) Bond film to reach and exceed the global $1 billion box office level.

Even taking into account ticket price inflation, the 2012 007 adventure is No. 3 in the U.S. in terms of number of tickets purchased. On that basis (or “bums in seats” as the British would say), Skyfall is  No. 3 in the U.S. market for Bond films, behind only Thunderball and Goldfinger.

Bringing the 23rd James Bond film to cinemas, however, was a more difficult undertaking than usual.

Beginnings

Initially, Eon Productions hired three writers: The team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade as well as prestige film writer Peter Morgan. Morgan had been twice nominated for an Academy Award.

As it turned out, Morgan had deep doubts about the viability of the James Bond character, something he didn’t go public with until a 2010 interview. “I’m not sure it’s possible to do it,” Morgan said in 2010, after he had departed the project.

Still, Morgan’s main idea — the death of Judi Dench’s M — would be retained, even though the scribe received no screen credit.

But there was a bigger challenge. While the film was being developed, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the 007 franchise’s home studio, went into bankruptcy.

Delay

Eon Productions, on April 19, 2010, said Bond 23, as the yet-untitled film was known, had been indefinitely delayed.

MGM emerged from bankruptcy in December 2010. There was a cost, however. MGM, which had already shrunk from its glory days, was even smaller. It had no distribution operation of its own.

Skyfall teaser poster

Behind the scenes, things were happening. Eon was bringing director Sam Mendes on board. Initially, he was a “consultant” (for contract reasons). Eventually, Mendes got his preferred writer, John Logan, to rework the scripting that Purvis and Wade had performed.

Mendes also was granted his choice of composer, Thomas Newman. David Arnold’s streak of scoring five 007 films in a row was over. Roger Deakins, nominated for multiple Oscars and who had worked with Mendes before, came aboard as director of photography.

Revival

In January 2011, a short announcement was issued that Bond 23 was back on.

Mendes officially was now the director. Over the next several months, the casting of Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw and Berenice Marlohe leaked out, with Eon not confirming anything until a November 2011 press conference.

Even then, some specific character details remained unconfirmed. For example, Eon wouldn’t confirm that Whishaw was the new Q until July 2012, well after the actor had completed his work on the film.

Publicity Surge

Regardless, Skyfall benefited from much hype. Being the 50th anniversary Bond film got the movie additional publicity.

What’s more, London hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics. A major part of the opening ceremonies was a Danny Boyle-directed sequence featuring Daniel Craig’s Bond and Queen Elizabeth supposedly parachuting to the festivities. Years later, Boyle would be hired to direct Bond 25 (No Time to Die) before exiting the project over “creative differences.”

Mendes, a director of the auteur school, also imported his style into the movie itself. Various segments were intended to provide dramatic moments to the principal actors.

Among them: A shaky Craig/Bond seeking redemption; a theatrical entrance for Javier Bardem’s villain; a dramatic reading of a poem for Judi Dench’s M, who is under fire by U.K. politicians.

Behind the Curtain

Not everything holds up to scrutiny if you think much about it.

–Bond deserted the service, apparently upset about being shot by fellow operative Naomie Harris, while MI6 doesn’t seem to mind that at all. This was based loosely on the You Only Live Twice novel, where Bond went missing because he had amnesia. That doesn’t appear to be the case in Skyfall.

–Bond has the Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5 in storage, all gadgets still operational. Purvis and Wade originally wrote it as the left-hand drive DB5 that Bond won in 2006’s Casino Royale in a high-stakes poker game. But Mendes insisted it be the Goldfinger car.

–M blathers on. She’s fully aware — because Rory Kinnear’s Tanner told her — that Bardem’s Silva has escaped.  But that’s secondary to the poem, which gives Silva and his thugs time to arrive and shoot up the place.

Unqualified Success

None of this mattered much with movie audiences.

Every time the Spy Commander saw the movie at a theater, the audience reacted positively when the DB5 was revealed.

Some British fans rave to this day how wonderful the M poem scene is. Yet, when you break the sequence down, the doomed MI6 chief got numerous people killed by Bardem’s thugs by keeping them around instead of letting them disperse.

For all the trouble, for all the script issues, Skyfall was an unqualified hit. The movie’s release was the biggest Bond event since Thunderball’s release in 1965.

Oscar Wins

Skyfall also broke a long Oscars losing streak for the 007 film series. The movie won two Oscars (for best song and sound editing). Both Newman and Deakins had been nominated but didn’t win. The Bond film series would go on to win Best Song Oscars for SPECTRE and No Time to Die.

Barbara Broccoli

Normally, a studio or a production company would want to strike while the iron was hot.

Not so in this case. Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli, in 2012 interviews, made clear she would not be hurried into the next 007 film adventure. There would be no quick attempt to follow up on Skyfall’s success.

At the same time, Mendes indicated he didn’t want to direct another Bond film. He relented and his hiring for the next Bond movie was announced in July 2013.

That movie, SPECTRE, would be released in the fall of 2015 after a soap opera all its own, including script leaks after Sony Pictures was hacked in 2014. Sony released Bond films starting with Casino Royale and running through SPECTRE.

It’s possible a bit of hubris set in. You can imagine people saying something like this: “If this movie did $1 billion at the box office, the next 007 film will surely do $1.5 billion!” Or whatever. That’s human nature after all.

Instead, the next Bond outing would run into a new set of problems. In fact, that movie performed a “retcon” (retroactive change in continuity) concerning Skyfall.

Mendes said in 2011 that Skyfall was not connected to Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. With SPECTRE (and 2021’s No Time to Die), Skyfall suddenly was part of one big epic. Javier Bardem’s Silva character was now a SPECTRE operative. Mendes’ 2011 comments were no longer acknowledged.

Nevertheless, that should not distract from what Skyfall achieved (even for fans who didn’t enjoy the movie as much as others) a decade ago.

Paul Haggis arrested on sexual assault charges

Paul Haggis, who worked on two James Bond films as a writer, has been arrested in Italy on sexual assault charges, Variety reported.

Haggis was a screenwriter on 2006’s Casino Royale and 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

Here is an excerpt from the Variety story:

According to multiple Italian press reports and a note from the public prosecutor of the nearby city of Brindisi, Haggis is charged with forcing a young “foreign” – meaning non-Italian – woman to undergo sexual intercourse over the course of two days in Ostuni, where he was scheduled to hold several master classes at the Allora Fest, a new film event being launched by Los Angeles-based Italian journalist Silvia Bizio and Spanish art critic Sol Costales Doulton that is set to run in Ostuni from June 21 to June 26.

When Casino Royale came out in 2006, Haggis got a lot of credit after taking over from Neal Purvis and Robert Wade in the scripting process.

Haggis’s pages referred to “James,” where most Bond scripts refer to Bond as “Bond.”

With Quantum’s final screenplay credit, Haggis got top billing over Purvis and Wade.

At one point, there were reports that Haggis supposedly contributed to the script of No Time to Die. The final credit went to Purvis and Wade, director Cary Fukunaga, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Haggis received no screenplay credit on No Time to Die.

Hard reboots vs. continuations

In the coming years, the James Bond franchise will need to decide how to continue. The basic paths involve hard reboots (which Bond has done once) versus continuations.

What follows is a sampling of each.

Mission: Impossible (1988): A new television version of Mission: Impossible debuted in 1988. Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) came out of retirement after his protege was murdered.

Phelps took command of a new collection of agents. Some of the original operatives, played by Greg Morris and Lynda Day George, appeared in one-offs. The series ran for two years.

Mission: Impossible (1996 and beyond): When Mission: Impossible went to the big screen in the 1990s, there was a hard reboot. So hard that Phelps (now played by Jon Voight) was the villain, leading star-producer Tom Cruise to become the lead figure. That has continued into the 21st century.

Casino Royale (2006): Eon Productions opted to start over with Casino Royale (a very hard reboot) when Eon’s Barbara Broccoli pushed hard for Daniel Craig to become the new James Bond. That era has now been completed with 2021’s No Time to Die.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015): So much time had elapsed from the 1964-68 television series (and a 1983 made-for-TV movie), a movie would have to do a hard reboot. Early takes included an older Solo paired with a young Kuryakin but it ended up with two actors near the same age, like the original TV show.

Bond 26 questions: Bond’s return

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Spoiler for No Time to Die

At a recent event sponsored by the Deadline entertainment news site, Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli said Eon has yet to figure out how James Bond will return after the events of No Time to Die.

By the end of the 25th Bond film, Bond has been blown to smithereens and other characters are in mourning. Yet, in the end titles, it says “James Bond Will Return.”

“We’ll figure that one out, but he will be back,” Broccoli said. “You can rest assured James Bond will be back.”

Naturally, the blog has questions.

Another reboot?

This would be the easiest route. With 2006’s Casino Royale, Eon started things over. Eon finally had its hands on the rights to Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. So one continuity ended after Eon dismissed Pierce Brosnan, another began after it brought on Daniel Craig.

Having multiple continuities is not unprecedented. Look at Warner Bros. and its various Batman movies.

Four movies from 1989 through 1997 were one continuity (multiple actors played Batman but all four had the same actors as Alfred the butler and Commissioner Gordon). Films from 2005 through 2012 were another continuity. And various films with Ben Affleck as Batman comprise yet another continuity. Now, yet another continuity is in works with Robert Pattinson as Batman.

If you’re a fan of Daniel Craig’s Bond films, you can’t complain about reboots. Yes, Eon fudged things at times, primarily with the Aston Martin DB5. But a new reboot may be the way to go.

What about the “code name theory”?

That would be another way to go.

For the uninitiated, the “code name theory” is a way of explaining all the different actors who’ve played Bond in the Eon series. Under this scenario, “James Bond” is a code name assigned to different people.

Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have said there’s only one Bond, just played by different actors. Besides, 007 is Bond’s code number. Why does he need a code name on top of that?

Nevertheless the “code name theory” refuses to die. It traces its origins to the development of the 1967 Casino Royale spoof produced by Charles K. Feldman. The original James Bond (David Niven) orders all British agents to be named “James Bond” to confuse enemies. This notion may be the 1967 movie’s legacy.

You’re not serious, are you?

To be clear, I am NOT advocating for it. However, “code name theory” would be one way to retain Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw as Q and Rory Kinnear as Tanner.

What would be the drawbacks?

A new Bond actor would be burdened by the Craig continuity. Remember, Craig’s Bond was burned out from Skyfall on. Personally, I would start fresh with a reboot. You DO NOT have to another Bond origin story. Just introduce your new Bond and go from there.

Sean Connery’s Bond never had an origin story. That worked out pretty well.

Bond 25 questions: What’s up with the U.S.?

No Time to Die poster

No Time to Die is the No. 1 box office movie among non-Chinese-made films. Happy days are here again, right? Well, there may be one nagging concern, the (relative) gap between international and the U.S.

The U.S., even with China emerging as the world’s largest market, remains a pretty big market for movies. Yet, relatively speaking, James Bond’s support in Britain’s former colonies appears to be eroding.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

What do you mean by eroding support?

Here is are the figures during the Daniel Craig era, according to Box Office Mojo:

Casino Royale, $167.4 million, 27.2 percent of the global total

Quantum of Solace, $168.4 million, 28.6 percent of the global total

Skyfall, $304.4 million, 27.5 percent of the global total

SPECTRE, $200.1 million, 22.7 percent of the global total

No Time to Die, $158.1 million, 20.9 percent of the global total.

So?

Some British fans attribute that to Brits having better taste than Americans. These same fans dismiss the importance of the American market at all.

Are you being serious?

Mostly not (though such fans as described above do exist). Rather, it raises the question whether there should be more changes for U.S. Bond marketing versus international Bond marketing.

With No Time to Time, U.S. trailers were different than international trailers. But is that enough?

Remember, Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions said in 2015 that Eon controls the marketing and that studios just execute that plan.

If anybody at Eon is disappointed with the U.S. box office — and no one has said so publicly — they should perhaps look in the mirror.

Anything else?

For better or worse, the U.S. market likes superhero movies more than international markets The No. 1 U.S. movie in 2021 is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings at $224.6 million. It’s based on a lesser-known Marvel Comics title from the 1970s.

Still, $158.1 million in the U.S. for No Time to Die, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, is nothing to sneeze at and not a flop. Many movies would love that size of box office.

Going forward, though, Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Amazon (which has agreed to buy MGM) may want to ponder Bond’s position in the U.S.

British broadcaster claims Bond is not a fantasy

Spoilers for No Time to Die.

Last month, British broadcaster Simon Mayo in a broadcast had a spoiler discussion with film critic Mark Kermode about No Time to Die. Mayo, as part of the chat, claimed that James Bond is not a fantasy.

MAYO: Batman’s fantasy, isn’t it?…Bond isn’t fantasy and Batman is fantasy.

Kermode attempted to talk Mayo down from that notion. “Daniel Craig in Casino Royale is not playing the same character that Sean Connery was playing in Dr. No.”

Of course, back in 2006, Eon Productions said it was starting the Bond series over with Daniel Craig. Most Bond fans got that and Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon made clear the series had begun all over.

Casino Royale’s “Bond begins” approach came a year after director Christopher Nolan helmed a Batman movie where the Dark Knight began again. By now, the approach is old hat for Batman.

Still, Mayo said that notion doesn’t apply for Bond.

Still, Bond isn’t fantasy?

A few examples:

–Casino Royale (novel): Bond smokes 70 cigarettes a day and consumes a lot of alcohol.

–Dr. No (novel): Bond kills the villain by burying him in bird guano.

–Goldfinger (novel): The villain actually intends to steal all the gold from Fort Knox. When the novel was turned into a movie, the plot became detonating an atomic bomb inside Fort Knox. That’s much more realistic, I guess.

–You Only Live Twice (novel): The villain constructs a “garden of death” to entice suicide-inclined Japanese to kill themselves.

–You Only Live Twice (film): A villain’s base inside a volcano and a giant magnet used by the Japanese Secret Service to whisk enemy cars away and drop them in the bay. Don’t forget the “intruder missile” that captures space capsules.

–Live And Let Die: Gas pellets that cause an opponent to expand and explode.

–The Spy Who Loved Me: A tanker that can capture submarines.

— Moonraker: A space station that can launch deadly globes that can wipe out millions of people.

But Bond, a fantasy? Of course not.

This all began when I put a few tweets referring to Mayo as Kermode’s “sidekick.” I stand corrected. But few, if any, who objected to my referring to Mayo as a sidekick defended his actual position. They mostly were upset about use of the term sidekick.

Anyway, the video of the Kermode-Mayo exchange is below. The “fantasy” debate starts after the 3:00 mark.


NTTD’s final U.S. trailer emphasizes Craig-era saga

No Time to Die’s final U.S. trailer debuted today, with an emphasis of the movie being part of a bigger saga featuring star Daniel Craig.

The trailer includes scenes and lines from some of Craig’s previous Bond films, including black-and-white scenes from Casino Royale (2006) where Bond got the kills needed to become a 00-agent.

Taglines in the trailer include: “And Every Mission…Every Sacrifice…Has Led Him…To This.” Later in the trailer, No Time to Die is referred to as “The Epic Conclusion.”

The trailer also has a bit more, but not a lot, about the plot by villain Safin (Rami Malek). Craig’s Bond says something about how “the people become the weapon.” Safin himself says, “Life is all about leaving something behind, isn’t it?”

Multiple YouTube outlets distributed the trailer. This is the YouTube video posted by We Got This Covered. The trailer was also posted at the Eon Productions James Bond YouTube channel.

Separately, the official Twitter feed of Eon Productions said a documentary about Craig’s Tenure as Bond, Being James Bond, will be on Apple TV on Sept. 7.

UPDATE (11:42 a.m. New York time): Universal put out the final international trailer.

Bond 21-25 questions: Assessing the Craig era edition

Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace

The Daniel Craig era of the James Bond films is drawing to a close. A thoughtful reader drew my attention to an August 2020 article by the Screen Rant site assessing Craig’s tenure.

Still, until No Time to Die comes out, there’s only so far you can go. Or is that correct? Naturally, the blog has questions.

Was the Craig era really that different? Absolutely.

Ian Fleming’s Bond novels referenced how his creation had relationships with married women. In the Eon film series, M lists “jealous husbands” as a possibility for hiring $1 million-a-hit-assassin Scaramanga in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun. But 2006’s Casino Royale was more explicit.

Anything else? The tone often was more violent, in particular a killing Bond performs early in 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

Quantum also had a more political point of view courtesy of director Marc Forster.

Did the Craig era follow earlier Bond films in any way? Yes. The Craig films, like earlier Eon Bond entries, adapted to popular trends in cinema.

In the 1970s, Bond films followed blaxploitation movies (Live And Let Die), kung fu (The Man With the Golden Gun) and science fiction (Moonraker).

In the 21st century Craig movies, the series followed Jason Bourne films (Quantum, including hiring a Bourne second unit director), Christopher Nolan Batman movies (Skyfall) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (SPECTRE, moving to tie all of the Craig adventures together).

Anything else? Some Bond fans argue Craig is the best film James Bond. No Time to Die (apparently) is the final chapter. No doubt there will be more debate once No Time to Die can be viewed.

Indiana Jones 5 cast begins to resemble 007 alumni club

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

The cast of Indiana Jones 5 is beginning to resemble a meeting of the James Bond film alumni association.

Last week, it was announced that Phoebe Waller-Bridge, one of the multiple No Time to Die screenwriters, would also be the female lead of the new Indy production. Waller-Bridge is both a writer and an actress.

Today, Deadline: Hollywood reported that Mads Mikkelsen, who played Le Chiffre in 2006’s Casino Royale, had also joined the Indy 5 cast.

There aren’t a lot of details available. Steven Spielberg, who directed the first four Indy films, has relinquished the director’s chair. He’s still around in a producer capacity.

Leading man Harrison Ford is 78. On the surface, that would make it more logical for Ford to portray Barnaby Jones, rather than Indiana Jones. But we’ll see.

Some YouTube posters have already put out videos speculating that Waller-Bridge will take over from Ford in future installments. Again, that remains to be seen.

Another returning Indy veteran is composer-conductor John Williams.

Bond as strategic thinker

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

I’ve been re-reading Ian Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale, for research. Something leapt out at me. James Bond is not the best strategic thinker.

Bond, thanks to Felix Leither providing much-needed funds from the U.S., bests a Communist operative, LeChiffe at the gaming tables. After winning, Bond drinks a lot of champagne while LeChiffre prepares a counter-attack. Bond eventually is captured.

Too late, it occurs to Bond he should have been more prepared.

He squirmed at the thought of himself washing down champagne at the Roi Gallant while the enemy was busy preparing the counterstroke. He cursed himself and cursed the hubris which had made him so sure that the battle was won and the enemy was in flight.

Chapter 16, The Crawling of the Skin

The thing is, Bond never really learns that lesson. In the novel From Russia With Love, Bond knows the situation is a trap but decides to ride the train to the end. In Dr. No (both novel and film), Bond travels to Crab Key with basically no plan, just bringing a gun with him.

Both the literary and cinema Bond doesn’t do much in the way of planning. In Quantum of Solace, Bond bounces from one situation to another. In the film Skyfall, Bond sort of, kind of, has a plan but M still gets killed.

Bond, of course, is a blunt instrument. On some occasions, he’s the dull instrument who nevertheless comes out on top. In Casino Royale (both novel and 2006 film), he’s been taken in by Vesper. In the film, he even loses all the money.