The rise of the ‘origin’ storyline

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Fifty, 60 years ago, with popular entertainment, you didn’t get much of an “origin” story. You usually got more-or-less fully formed heroes. A few examples:

Dr. No: James Bond is an established 00-agent and has used a Baretta for 10 years. Sean Connery was 31 when production started. If Bond is close to the actor’s age, that means he’s done intelligence work since his early 20s.

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: During the first season (1964-65), Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) has worked for U.N.C.L.E. for at least seven years (this is disclosed in two separate episodes). A fourth-season episode establishes that Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) graduated from U.N.C.L.E.’s “survival school” in 1956 and Solo two years before that.

Batman: While played for laughs, the Adam West version of Batman has been operating for an undisclosed amount of time when the first episode airs in January 1966. In the pilot, it’s established he has encountered the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) before. There’s a passing reference to how Bruce Wayne’s parents were “murdered by dastardly criminals” but that’s about it.

The FBI: When we first meet Inspector Lewis Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) in 1965, he’s established as the “top trouble shooter for the bureau” and is old enough to have a daughter in college. We’re told he’s a widower and his wife took “a bullet meant for me.” (The daughter would soon be dropped and go into television character limbo.) Still, we don’t see Young Lewis Erskine rising through the ranks of the bureau.

Get Smart: Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) was a top agent for CONTROL despite his quirks. There was no attempt to explain Max. He just was. A 2008 movie version gave Max a back story where he had once been fat.

I Spy: Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) have been partners for awhile, using a cover of a tennis bum and his trainer.

Mission: Impossible: We weren’t told much about either Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) or Jim Phelps (Peter Graves), the two team leaders of the Impossible Missions Force. A fifth-season episode was set in Phelps home town. Some episodes introduced friends of Briggs and Phelps. But not much more than that.

Mannix: We first meet Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) when he’s the top operative of private investigations firm Intertect. After Joe goes off on his own in season two, we meet some of Joe’s Korean War buddies (many of whom seem to try to kill him) and we eventually meet Mannix’s father, a California farmer. But none of this is told at the start.

Hawaii Five-O: Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) is the established head of the Hawaiian state police unit answerable only to “the governor or God and even they have trouble.” When the series was rebooted in 2010, we got an “origin” story showing McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) as a military man, the unit being formed, his first meeting with Dan Williams, etc.

And so on and so forth. This century, though, an “origin story” is the way to start.

With the Bond films, the series started over with Casino Royale, marketed as the origin of Bond (Daniel Craig). The novel, while the first Ian Fleming story, wasn’t technically an origin tale. It took place in 1951 (this date is given in the Goldfinger novel) and Bond got the two kills needed for 00-status in World War II.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, co-bosses of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Nevertheless, audience got an “origin” story. Michael G. Wilson, current co-boss of Eon Productions (along with his half-sister, Barbara Broccoli) wanted to do a Bond “origin” movie as early as 1986 after Roger Moore left the role of Bond. But his stepfather, Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli, vetoed the idea. With The Living Daylights in 1987, the audience got a younger, but still established, Bond (Timothy Dalton). In the 21st century, Wilson finally got his origin tale.

Some of this may be due to the rise of movies based on comic book movies. There are had been Superman serials and television series, but 1978’s Superman: The Motion Picture was the first A-movie project. It told the story of Kal-El from the start and was a big hit.

The 1989 Batman movie began with a hero (Michael Keaton) still in the early stages of his career, with the “origin” elements mentioned later. The Christopher Nolan-directed Batman Begins in 2005 started all over, again presenting an “origin” story. Marvel, which began making movies after licensing characters, scored a big hit with 2008’s Iron Man, another “origin” tale. Spider-Man’s origin has been told *twice* in 2002 and 2012 films from Sony Pictures.

Coming up in August, we’ll be getting a long-awaited movie version of U.N.C.L.E., this time with an origin storyline. In the television series, U.N.C.L.E. had started sometime shortly after World War II. In the movie, set in 1963, U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t started yet and Solo works for the CIA while Kuryakin is a KGB operative.

One supposes if there were a movie version of The FBI (don’t count on it), we’d see Erskine meet the Love of His Life, fall in love, get married, lose her and become the Most Determined Agent in the Bureau. Such is life.

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.

REVIEW: Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar poster

Interstellar poster

Normally, this blog wouldn’t review a science fiction movie. But some James Bond fans fancy the notion of Christopher Nolan directing a 007 film (while others despite it). And Interstellar’s director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema has been tapped to photograph Bond 24, to be directed by Sam Mendes.

A number of reviews have discussed at length Interstellar being inspired by the Stanley Kubrick-directed 2001: A Space Odyssey. That influence is undeniable. But Nolan appears to have done other homages.

One is based a 1979 movie by journeyman director Gary Nelson, which more than once referenced Dante’s Inferno (Google it and the answer should be evident. Additional clue: it had a John Barry score). Another, of two small figures fighting amid a barren landscape, seems to be composed similarly to a famous shot in director William Wyler’s 1958 Western film, The Big Country.

What’s more, books also play an important role in Nolan’s film. For example, the camera lets you see a Charles Lindbergh biography, reinforcing the movie’s notion of exploration and adventure. Actually, the importance of books goes beyond that, but we won’t mention more to avoid spoilers.

All of this may be coincidence, but we’re reminded of a comment by the director Stanley Donen in a documentary that nothing in a movie is by chance. He was talking about a famous scene in the musical Singing In The Rain (and how a street stage was made to ensure puddles would form when a rainstorm was simulated). But Donen’s comment is applicable to almost any movie.

Anyway, Nolan likes a big canvas for his films. Interstellar — which takes place on Earth, the solar system and beyond (just like 2001) — is as big as you could want. The story concerns a dying Earth sometime in the future and a last, desperate attempt to ensure mankind can survive, even if it’s not on its home planet.

And yet….

Somewhere in the last third of the movie, Nolan’s story seems to get away from him. Stanley Kubrick, in 2001, made no attempt to explain the movie’s final act. You either went on the ride or you didn’t. Nolan provides striking images but some of his explanations are hard to follow even if the viewer is paying rapt attention.

Interstellar certainly is an emotional film, with a major theme of a father’s relationship to his daughter (and a woman’s relationship to her father). It’s also, technically, a well-made film. Still, there are too many twists in the 169-minute film. Interstellar is by no means a failure, but it seems as if, at some stage, a fresh eye was needed.

Which brings us to one of the reasons for this review.

At first glance, it seems unlikely Nolan will ever get his chance at directing a Bond movie. With Nolan, you have to hire his posse, including his producer-wife Emma Thomas and his screenwriting brother Jonathan Nolan. Christopher Nolan has tremendous control over his projects and it seems unlikely Eon Productions co-bosses Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson would yield the complete control Nolan yields. But who knows for sure?

As for van Hoytema, he delivers interesting images. So he’ll likely do fine on Bond 24. Van Hoytema has confirmed his involvement with Bond 24, according to a STORY on the MI6 James Bond website.

Interstellar, try as it might, is not the second coming of 2001. It’s an interesting attempt to be different than usual fare studios churn out. But, this being the movie business in the 21st century, it still leaves itself open for a sequel. So it’s not that different. GRADE: B-Minus.

Chris Corbould confirms he’s on Bond 24 crew

Chris Corbould, who’s worked special effects on a number of James Bond films, confirmed on Twitter he’ll be part of Bond 24’s crew.

Corbould has Bond special effects credits going back at least as far as 1987’s The Living Daylights and ACCORDING TO HIS IMDB.COM ENTRY did uncredited work on some Bond movies before that.

He’s also worked with director Christopher Nolan (winning an Oscar on Nolan’s 2010 film Inception) and is part of the crew of Star Wars: Episode VII.

Here’s what Corbould’s Tweet looked like. It was only his third post on the social media network.

Goldfinger: the first ‘A-movie’ comic book film?

Goldfinger poster

Goldfinger poster

Here’s a thought as Goldfinger celebrates its 50th anniversary. In a way, the third James Bond film may have been the first “A-movie” comic book film.

Before Goldfinger, comic book films existed as serials. Lewis Wilson, father of Eon Productions co-boss Michael G. Wilson, played Batman in a 1943 serial, for example. Serials would run for weeks in 15-minute or so installments ahead of the main feature.

Goldfinger, of course, was based on Ian Fleming’s novel, not a comic book. Still, some Fleming novels seem to draw their inspiration from pulp adventure stories (also a source of inspiration for comic books).

In Fleming’s novel, Goldfinger’s henchman Oddjob was already over the top. With the film, that increased. A gold bar bounced off his chest without causing Oddjob harm. Harold Sakata’s Oddjob crushed a golf ball to show his displeasure with Sean Connery’s Bond. The henchman used his steel-rimmed hat to kill with precision. Oddjob, for a time in the Fort Knox sequence, bats Bond around like a cat playing wth a mouse.

Nor did the comic book style action end there. Bond’s tricked out Aston Martin became the inspiration for “spy cars,” with far more weaponry that a few extras the novel’s Aston had. The deaths of both Oddjob and later Auric Goldfinger could be described as comic book like. It was as if Jack Kirby of Marvel Comics drew the storyboards.

The difference, of course, was this all occurred in a $3 million A-movie where the audience could see the story all in one night.

Goldfinger’s success certainly was felt in the 007 series. In Thunderball, Bond flew a jet pack and in the climatic underwater fight had an oversized air tank that had additional weapons. You Only Live Twice included a helicopter snatching a car with a giant magnet and Blofeld’s volcano headquarters set that cost more than it took to produce Dr. No.

The success of such movies demonstrated audiences had an appetite for such uber-escapist sequences when executied in an entertaining way. You could make the case that Goldfinger blazed a trail that the likes of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and, yes, movies based directly on comic books, exploited.

The path from Connery’s Bond to, say, Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man may be shorter than it appears.

The most obvious sign: director Christopher Nolan, a self-described 007, adapted Bond bits (the Bond-Q briefing evolved into Bruce Wayne getting new equipment from Lucius Fox) into his three Batman movies. Director Sam Mendes in Skyfall returned the favor, saying Nolan’s 2008 The Dark Knight influenced the 2012 007 film.

Happy 100th birthday, Bill Finger

One of a number of productions that would have been impossible without Bill Finger

One of a number of productions that would have been impossible without Bill Finger

Feb. 8 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of comic book writer Bill Finger, who probably should be credited as the co-creator of Batman. Without him, a number of productions, including 2012’s Skyfall, the most recent James Bond movie, wouldn’t have been possible.

Artist Bob Kane had an idea, of a Bat-themed character. But it was Finger who, among other things, changed a plain mask to a cowl, devised the Bruce Wayne true identity, the Batman back story, the Robin back story, and….well, you get the idea. It was Finger who devised much of the Batman mythos.

Without Finger, there wouldn’t have been Batman serials in the 1940s, no Batman television series in the 1960s, no Batman movies in the 1980s, ’90s and 21st century — at least nothing remotely in the form that people know them.

Indirectly, the 007 film crew also owes Finger a debt. Sam Mendes, the director of Skyfall, is on record as saying 2008’s The Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan, inspired elements of the 2012 007 film. That extends to Thomas Newman’s score, which in places sounds similar to the Batman music Hans Zimmer produced for Nolan.

Thus, without Bill Finger, there’d be no Nolan Batman movies and Skyfall wouldn’t be the same film fans remember today.

Finger, who died in 1974, less than a month before his 60th birthday, still doesn’t get officially credited as creating Batman. (Although there is a campaign to try to change that in time for Batman’s 75th anniversary.) But there’s little doubt Finger’s impact lasts long after his death.

Questions about a (possible) Nolan-directed 007 film

Logo of Syncopy, Christopher Nolan's production company

Logo of Syncopy, Christopher Nolan’s production company


WARNING: This is very much putting the cart before the horse. Nobody has said Christopher Nolan *will* direct Bond 24. The U.K. Daily Mail has reported only that the director has been *approached* about the job. Bear all that in mind before reading the following.

This week, the Daily Mail newspaper in the U.K. reported that Christopher Nolan, director of three Batman movies from 2005 through 2012, had been “approached” about directing Bond 24.

The writer, Baz Bagimboye, had a number of scoops about Skyfall, the most recent 007 movie, that proved to be correct. So, it got the attention of a lot of fans. If Nolan eventually signs on the dotted line, it raises a number of questions about Bond 24. Among them:

1. What happens to writer John Logan? Logan was brought in by director Sam Mendes to rewrite Skyfall. Eon Productions originally announced that Peter Morgan would collaborate with scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Eventually, Morgan left without getting a screen credit. But Logan evidently impressed somebody because he was hired to write Bond 24 and Bond 25 while Purvis and Wade departed the series.

But things can change, as Morgan can attest. Christopher Nolan is fond of writing his own movies, either by himself (Inception) or collaborating with his brother Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer (the three Batman movies or the upcoming Man of Steel, which was produced by Nolan). If Nolan comes aboard, will Logan stay or go?

2. Do other members of Nolan’s posse also participate? Nolan has a production company, Syncopy. That logo ended up being featured at the start of the third Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, along with the logos of Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures. Ditto for Man of Steel. The Syncopy group includes Emma Thomas, a producer who’s married to Nolan, and Charles Rovan, another producer. Also, Nolan frequently collaborates with Wally Pfister as director of photography. Pfister is directing Transcendence a movie scheduled for a 2014 release.

While Eon may be interested in Nolan’s services as a director, would it also hire Nolan-affiliated producers such as Thomas and Rovan? Eon, led by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, has its own group of supporting producers, including Gregg Wilson, the son of Michael. On the other hand, Eon has probably would be open to hiring Pfister. That would be similar to Skyfall, where Roger Deakins was brought on as director of photography because Mendes wanted him.

3. Would Hans Zimmer be the newest 007 composer? Zimmer also works frequently with Nolan. Again, that’s a situation similar to Skyfall, where Thomas Newman was hired as composer because of his relationship with Mendes. A Zimmer-scored Bond 24 might be similar to Skyfall in other ways. Mendes said that Nolan’s The Dark Knight from 2008 influenced the 2012 007 movie. Some tracks of Newman’s score (particularly the Shanghai sequences and the action sequences at the Macao casino) sounded similar to Zimmer’s music for Nolan’s Batman films.

4. What would the running time of a Nolan-directed Bond 24 be? Probably not short. Batman Begins was 140 minutes, The Dark Knight was 152 minutes, Inception was 148 minutes and The Dark Knight Rises was a whopping 165 minutes.

UPDATE (May 22): The Latinos Post Web site has a short article about actresses Nolan has cast in various movies and whether they could become part of the cast of a Nolan-directed Bond 24.

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