Alan J. Porter discusses his James Bond Lexicon project

Promo for The James Bond Lexicon

Promo for The James Bond Lexicon

Writer Alan J. Porter is coming out with a new reference work, The James Bond Lexicon. He’s also at work on a similar project concerning The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Porter discussed both projects in an e-mail interview. The Bond project is further along and within a few months of being published.

QUESTION: Please describe the format and organization of The James Bond Lexicon and The Lexicon Affair about U.N.C.L.E. About when will each be published?

PORTER: The Lexicon series from Hasslein Books (http://www.hassleinbooks.com) are encyclopedia style references guides related to various pop-culture franchises. They already have volumes on The Planet of the Apes, Back to the Future, and Red Dwarf. My wife, Gill, and I will be adding volumes on James Bond and U.N.C.L.E.

First up will be “The James Bond Lexicon” which will cover the world of 007 across all media, movies, novels, TV, and comics. The manuscript is currently with the publishers for copy-editing, and given it’s size (about 700 pages in total) we are discussing the possibility that it will be published as a two-volume set. Publication is slated for end of September, early October this year — around the same time that SPECTRE hits the movie screens.

While the Bond book is in production we have started writing “The Lexicon Affair: A Guide to the world of U.N.C.L.E.” This will cover both Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Girl from U,N.C.L.E. in TV, movies, novels, short stories, and comics. As we are relatively early in the writing stage we don’t have a publication date set just yet.

QUESTION: What do The James Bond Lexicon and The Lexicon Affair bring to the table compared with other books such as Raymond Benson’s James Bond Bedside Companion or Jon Heitland’s Man From U.N.C.L.E. Book or Cynthia W. Walker’s Work/Text Investigating The Man From U.N.C.L.E.?

PORTER: I believe that these will be the first books to comprehensively cover the franchises in detail across the full range of media. Plus they will be as up to date as possible. For instance the Bond Lexicon includes entries from the recent Stephen Cole authored Young Bond novel, Shoot to Kill.

The U.N.C.L.E. book will cover the upcoming movie reboot along with the classic series. The book style is more of an encyclopedia reference rather than a critical review style, although there will be a few supporting essays touching on items such as series continuity (or lack of) and the enduring popularity of the two franchises.

QUESTION: Did your encounter any surprises while researching each book?

PORTER: I think the biggest surprise from working on the Bond Lexicon was just how many different officially sanctioned interpretations of James Bond there has been over the years. I’m not talking about between actors, but distinctly different back-stories, ways of operating, time periods etc.

We grouped various Bonds together by loose continuity; for instance we considered that the Connery-Lazenby-Moore-Dalton-Brosnan Bond was a single Bond, while the Craig Bond was a completely new Bond.

Similarly, we counted the Fleming, Gardner, Benson Bonds as being three separate incarnations and so on. In the end we counted 18 different James Bonds. And I’m sure not everyone will agree with the way we defined those different Bonds either.

It’s early days on the U.N.C.L.E work so I can’t say that we’ve discovered any major surprises yet (although I’m sure we will). One initial observation is the appalling lack of consistency, often even within the same story. It’s making for some interesting discussions around how, and where, certain entries will go in the book.

QUESTION: What are the similarities, as you see them, between James Bond and Napoleon Solo? The differences?

PORTER: It’s often been stated that Ian Fleming designed Solo to be “Bond for the small screen” with the same basic traits and attitudes of a “suave sophisticated secret agent” with an eye for the ladies. But I think it’s fair to say that beyond that superficial description the two characters clearly diverged over the years.

Bond has that rougher edge, the underlying truth that he is a violent man, a “blunt instrument,” out to do a dirty job. In many ways Bond is the archetype lone stranger who arrives, sorts out the problem, and leaves.

Solo (ironically given his name) became the opposite of that, he is a team player, and part of double act where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Solo is less of the blunt instrument and more of the protector.

QUESTION: Who were you a fan of first? Bond or Solo? How did you become a fan of each? (Or are you a fan of each?)

PORTER: I can clearly date the start of my interest in Bond to the winter of 1965 and playing the Thunderball board game at a friends house, but with U.N.C.L.E. it’s always been more of a case of general awareness that probably started around the same time. I had both the Corgi Aston-Martin DB5 and the THRUSH buster toys, read Bond comics in the newspapers and U.N.C.L.E. comics in TV Tornado each week. Obviously U.N.C.L.E. faded into the background and Bond became more prominent because of the franchise’s continuing presence in the public eye, but I never forgot the guys in the secret headquarters behind the tailor’s shop.

QUESTION: Both Bond and Solo will have a film adventure in 2015, SPECTRE and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. What are you looking for from each one? What needs to happen for each film to be considered a success?

PORTER: Wow – the answer to that could be an essay all of its own.

I will say I was disappointed that they actually used SPECTRE as the title of the next Bond movie. I would have much preferred that the revelation about the return of SPECTRE would have come from the plot and been a surprise (much like the fate of M in Skyfall). Having said that, like most people I believe, I’m hoping for a return to some of the good old classic Bond movie tropes we’ve been missing for a while. The end of Skyfall hinted at it, I just hope they follow through with something that has the same vibe as movies like From Russia With Love, or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

With the U.N.C.L.E. movie my underlying hope is that they respect the source material, unlike certain recent Hollywood abominations (Green Hornet for instance). It looks like they have the tone and period right from what we’ve seen in the trailer so far although I was disappointed not to hear the classic TV show theme used. My fingers are crossed that it will be a fun ride and one that reinvigorates interest in the franchise bringing more people back to discovering the TV show. Then maybe I can wear my U.N.C.L.E. logo t-shirt without people asking me what it stands for.

QUESTION: Daniel Craig is now filming his fourth Bond film. What is your analysis of his tenure?

PORTER: I’ll be honest I’m still not sure. I thought Casino Royale was great, and loved his portrayal of Bond in that, although he was too old to be a Double-O at the start of his career. Hated Quantum of Solace, but I think that was more to do with the weak story and the frantic style of direction.

Skyfall left me conflicted, loved it at first but on each rewatch I dislike it more and more. Craig definitely plays the aging agent well, but, to put it bluntly, his Bond in Skyfall is simply incompetent. I’m looking forward to SPECTRE being the movie when the Craig era redeems itself in my eyes.

QUESTION: Henry Cavill, the new Solo, lost out to Craig to play Bond. How do you think he may do as Solo? (Right now, all we have to go on is a trailer.)

PORTER: From the short glimpses of him in the trailer he looks well suited to the part (much more so than he is to the Superman role). He’s an actor I’ve enjoyed watching over the years, although I’m not sure he would have worked as Bond either, and hopefully Solo will be his breakout franchise role.

QUESTION: A book is always hard work, but has either, or both, been fun to do?

PORTER: There is always a point about midway through any book project where you think, “What the hell am I doing this for.” The Bond Lexicon turned out to be a much bigger project than we first thought and ended up taking about three years to find everything and do the research. There was a point when we never wanted to look at anything Bond related again, but it didn’t last long. We’ve had so much support and interest from friends and fellow fans in the Bond community that it’s been a wonderful experience. We can’t wait to share the results of all that work later this year.

The U.N.C.L.E. book is great fun to do, and as we haven’t seen most of the material in decades, and in some cases this is the first time we’ve read many of the spin-off stories, it’s like rediscovering the franchise all over again.

For more about The James Bond Lexicon, CLICK HERE. For more about The Lexicon Affair, CLICK HERE. For Alan J. Porter’s website, CLICK HERE.

 

Kingsman: Is the spy pendulum swinging back?

kingsman logo

Kingsman: The Secret Service, the next film up in “The Year of the Spy,” makes its U.S. debut on Feb. 13. Its importance, though, may extend beyond its opening weekend.

The movie, directed by Matthew Vaughn, may be a sign whether the pendulum of spy movies is starting to swing back from the grim and gritty that has dominated the 21st century.

Vaughn and his collaborators certainly haven’t been shy about playing up that angle. The return of the “fun” spy movie was emphasized last July at the massive San Diego comic book convention.

Vaughn’s film is based on a comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. At San Diego, Millar was quoted by the Screen Rant website as saying, “James Bond cries in the shower now in these movies but [Kingsman star Colin Firth] gets to do cool stuff – like firing these gadgets and all this stuff. I think he got the best gig in the end.”

Millar referred to a scene in Casino Royale, Eon Productions’ first entry in the “grim and gritty” genre, in which the 007 series started over. Bond (Daniel Craig) doesn’t actually cry in the shower. But he comforts a sobbing Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) who is overcome after watching Bond in action. Regardless, the scene was an example of how Casino Royale was from the preceding 20 007 films made by Eon.

Casino, in turn, had been influenced by 2002’s The Bourne Identity. That came out in June 2002, a few months before Die Another Day, the 40th anniversary Bond film starring Pierce Brosnan. A second Bourne film, The Bourne Supremacy came out in 2004 while Eon was agonizing what to do next.

Bourne’s style — including faster paced and grimmer action sequences — weighed on the minds of executives at Eon and Sony Pictures, which began distributing Bond movies with Casino. Here’s how The New York Times described it IN AN OCTOBER 2005 STORY about Craig’s casting. The passage refers to Barbara Broccoli, Eon’s co-boss and cites executives who weren’t identified.

For both Ms. Broccoli and Sony, executives said, the model was Jason Bourne, the character Matt Damon successfully incarnated in two gritty spy movies for Universal Pictures, “The Bourne Identity” and “The Bourne Supremacy.”

Casino turned out to be a big hit. For 2008’s Quantum of Solace, Eon doubled down on making its movies more Bourne like, including more rapid epiding and hiring Dan Bradley as second unit director. Bradley had worked on two Bourne films (The Bourne Supremacy and 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum).

Quantum roughly matched Casino’s box office. The next 007 entry, Skyfall, didn’t adhere so much to Bourne as it did to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, another dark series. Skyfall director Sam Mendes even acknowledged the influence.

No complaints at the box office. Skyfall reeled in $1.11 billion worldwide.

Still, trends don’t last forever. Even among fans, you’ll occasionally hear comments such as Skyfall “is like watching the same funeral over and over.”

So enter Kingsman. Its trailer openly mocks grim and gritty spy movies. Colin Firth at one point says current spy movies are too serious for his taste.

We’ll see how Kingsman performs with movie goers. It’s rated R — mostly because of its violence. That normally holds down ticket sales. Also, the comic book on which it’s based isn’t that well known among the general public.

Kingsman probably has more humor than The Man From U.N.C.L.E., although Henry Cavill, the star of that film, has said that movie also has a humorous element. U.N.C.L.E. won’t be out until mid-August.
SPECTRE LOGO

As for SPECTRE, the Bond film currently in production, it’s hard to tell. Sam Mendes is back as director and he’s not exactly hailed as a master of humor.

On the other hand, if you read between the lines of a spoiler-laden DEC. 12 GAWKER STORY, the movie appears to be attempting to be more like a “classic” Bond film while retaining Daniel Craig seriousness. The Gawker story was based on a draft SPECTRE script that surfaced because of the hacking at Sony.

Meanwhile, it’s too early to write off grim and gritty. Matt Damon is planning to do a fourth Bourne film that is supposed to be released in 2016.

UPDATE (Feb. 11) — Kingsman is forecast to finish a distant second to Fifty Shades of Grey this weekend, according to DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD.

Idris Elba praises Daniel Craig as 007

Idris Elba

Idris Elba

Ever since computer hacks at Sony Pictures turned up an executive’s memo saying Idris Elba should be the next film 007, the actor keeps getting asked about it. Elba keeps trying to play it down.

For example, there’s THIS JAN. 28 BLOOMBERG STORY, which contains this excerpt:

“It’s really just a rumor—and it’s not even my rumor!” he says via phone from Germany. He has called me, an auto journalist, because the luxury brand Jaguar recently hired him to drive from London to Berlin in its new XE diesel sedan, the one that gets 75 miles per gallon. He drove it to DJ a Jaguar-sponsored party the night of his arrival in Berlin.

It was a well-timed publicity stunt. While it is true that Elba has long followed car culture—his father worked for years at Ford, and Land Rovers and a Jaguar XJR are his current cars of choice—the drive comes right after revelations from the Sony hack revealed that Elba was being considered for the title role in the next 007 flick.

For the moment, Elba says he is focusing on his life as a DJ.

“I appreciate you saying that I’d be a good James Bond, but Daniel Craig is doing a great job with it right now,” he says. 
”I love working with music, making people dance.”

The Sony executive involved was Amy Pascal. “Idris should be the next bond (sic),” she wrote in a Jan. 4, 2014 email, reported by The Daily Beast website. She’s dealt with Bond since Sony released 2006’s Casino Royale. Sony’s current agreement with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer expires after the release of SPECTRE, coming out this fall. Meanwhile, Craig is under contract through Bond 25.

Some questions about SPECTRE (no spoilers)

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster


No spoilers in this post.

SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film produced by Eon Productions, has been in the news lately. Part of it is the start of principal photography and part of it is the hacking at Sony Pictures, which will release the film in November 2015.

What follows are some questions, which will likely never be answered in full.

What was John Logan’s pitch that originally got him the job to script the movie?

One version of SPECTRE’s script was sent out by hackers. But well before that, it was reported that scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were summoned to significantly revise SPECTRE’s scrip. Playwright Jez Butterworth was also involved in altering it. So even without the hacking, you could conclude something went awry.

Likely, we won’t know the exact details of Logan’s pitch or why Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which control the 007 franchise, found it appealing. MGM executives disclosed Logan had been hired to write the movie in November 2012, the same month that Skyfall was released in the United States.

What will SPECTRE’s ultimate budget be? Again, hackers put out emails concerning the film’s budget, which indicated the 007 film could be one of the most expensive ever made. But even without the hacking, it was clear SPECTRE’s budget was likely to be higher than Skyfall’s.

Star Daniel Craig was reported in 2012 to be in line for a raise. Eon desperately wanted director Sam Mendes to return, which virtually assured he’d be due a big raise. And, as news dribbled out, it was clear SPECTRE would have more location shooting than Skyfall.

Skyfall’s estimated production budget was $200 million. So the question, which again won’t likely be known completely, is how high is up for SPECTRE?

Will Sony’s involvement with the 007 series end with SPECTRE?

MGM, after coming out of bankruptcy, emerged as a small company, with only limited movie production. So far, it has done movie-by-movie (or franchise-by-franchise) deals with other studios to release its films.

Sony cut a deal to release what would emerge as Skyfall and SPECTRE. That extended a relationship, where Sony released Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

Does MGM cut another deal with Sony? Or does the hacking at Sony encourage MGM to look for another studio to release future 007 films? There are no indications yet what that answer will be.

The main difference between Fleming’s two spy heroes

"I would have thought the difference was obvious," Solo said.

“The difference is obvious,” Solo said.

In 2015, there will be two movies featuring two spy characters Ian Fleming helped to create. The one with the most publicity is SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film. The other is The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a movie adaptation of the television series, coming to theaters a few months before the 007 film.

With U.N.C.L.E., Fleming’s involvement was limited (lasting from October 1962 until June 1963) and he exited the project after being bullied by 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman (whose film series was in its earliest stages) to quit.

There are some basic similarities. Both Bond and Napoleon Solo, the lead character in U.N.C.L.E., are womanizers. Both deal in espionage and death. But Solo has one major difference with Bond: The U.N.C.L.E. agent has a moral core than Bond doesn’t appear to possess.

Eon Productions co-boss Michael G. Wilson has called Bond an “antihero,” defined as “a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes.” His stepfather, Eon co-founder Broccoli, used the same terms in his autobiography.

In Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale, Bond describes how he got his 00-designation, which involved killing two people. In Fleming’s fifth Bond novel, From Russia With Love it’s stated that Bond had never killed in cold blood. (Collector Gary Firuta pointed this out and we looked up our copies of the novels to verify.) But fans say Casino Royale cancels that out. Dissenting fans say in Casino Royale the two kills were described by Bond (who may or may not have been lying) while the From Russia With Love reference is in the “voice of God” (i.e. Fleming’s “narrator” description).

Napoleon Solo, meanwhile, demonstrates a moral streak periodically throughout the 1964-68 series.

In the first-season episode The Finny Foot Affair, the “innocent” is a young boy played by Kurt Russell. Russell’s character has a rough time. He witnesses an U.N.C.L.E. agent fight to the death. The agent, with his dying breath, entrusts the boy with an object that may be of assistance to Solo.

Later, on a flight to Norway, the boy describes what he saw to Solo. The U.N.C.L.E. agent attempts to deceive the boy that what he saw wasn’t as serious as it seems.

Later, the boy witnesses Solo kill some of his opponents. “Chris,” Solo tells the boy at one point, “you know now this is for real.” At the end of the episode, the Russell character decides Solo may not be the best potential mate for his “beautiful widowed mother.”

The best example of Solo’s moral streak occurs during the last episode of the series, broadcast by NBC on Jan. 15, 1968. Its one of the best scenes in the entire show for star Robert Vaughn. Solo confronts a group that plans to bring the entire world under its control, ending the “fight between good and evil” once and for all. The leader of this scheme is named Kingsley (Barry Sullivan), a former top U.N.C.L.E. official.

SOLO: You intend — you seriously intend — to make the world world act and think like you want it to?
(snip)
It’s a blasphemy. Your plan denies humanity its freedom to find its own way to better times.

At the end of the episode, there’s this exchange between Solo and his boss, Alexander Waverly.

WAVERLY: Good job, gentlemen.

SOLO: Kingsley sincerely believed history would have said the same of him, sir.”

That’s not the kind of thing that Bond stops to reflect about.

When is it time for 007 actors, or fans, to ‘move on’?

John Cleese and Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day

John Cleese and Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day

John Cleese, who appeared in two James Bond movies, has let it be known he doesn’t think that highly of 007 films since he departed the series.

Cleese is promoting a new book, but his association with Bond (in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough and 2002’s Die Another Day) keeps coming up in stories run by DIGITAL SPY SHORTLIST.COM and DEN OF GEEK among other websites.

Here’s an example of what Cleese has said. It’s from ShortList.com, and these comments have been picked up by other sites.

I didn’t see [Skyfall], because I have criticisms of the new Bond movies. Two things went wrong: the plots became so impossibly obscure that even professional writers couldn’t figure out what they were about; and the action scenes, which are supposed to make the adrenaline run, go on far too long. They discovered these movies were popular in places such as the Philippines and South Korea, and so they dropped the humour because no one there is going to understand jokes about the English class system. They’re financially incredibly clever, as the take goes up by $100m every movie, but one of the great things I’ve learnt in the last few years is just how much money spoils everything.

Cleese made some similar comments in June in a RADIO TIMES interview.

In turn, some 007 fans on social media have reacted by saying Cleese is bitter because he wasn’t included in the Daniel Craig reboot, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale, he should “just move on,” or simply “shut up.” Skyfall was a billion-dollar blockbuster, Casino Royale and Skyfall got some of the best reviews of the series, etc.

Of course, if you spend enough time on social media or 007 message boards or other spots on the Internet, you’ll see fans debate things going back 30, 40, almost 50 years. For example, many still don’t like how 1967’s You Only Live Twice jettisoned the plot of Ian Fleming’s novel. Some still strongly criticize the performances of Roger Moore, who hasn’t made a Bond movie since 1985. Some feel the movies went wrong in the early 1970s when the humor element increased. And so on and so forth.

A few questions: When is it time to move on? Ten years? Twenty? Longer? If Cleese should move on, should fans do so as well? Are Cleese’s complaints substantially different than the complaints fan air on the Internet? Where’s the line between being a devoted fan and taking things too seriously?

The answers are going to vary from fan to fan, of course. But Cleese has, probably unintentionally, given something for fans to think about.

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