Die Another Day’s 20th: Eon discovers CGI is hard

Die Another Day’s gunbarrel, complete with CGI bullet

Adapted from a 2017 post.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Die Another Day, the James Bond film where Eon Productions decided to go all-in on computer-generated imagery.

Eon had dabbled with CGI before, including the title designs of Daniel Kleinman who had taken over for the late Maurice Binder.

But Die Another Day was another matter entirely. First up was a CGI bullet fired at the audience by Pierce Brosnan’s Bond in the opening gunbarrel sequence. Evidently, Bond was a better shot than anyone knew. He was able to fire a bullet into the barrel of another person’s gun.

Later, U.S. operative Jinx (Halle Berry) supposedly dives backward into the ocean from a cliff — supposedly being the operative word.

There was also an Aston Martin that could turn invisible. For Bond, it helped that the thugs of villain Gustav Graves didn’t notice the tracks the invisible car was putting in the snow.

But, of course, the movie’s most famously bad use of CGI came as Brosnan/Bond surfs to avoid being swallowed up by a tidal wave. Much of the sequence looks like a mediocre video game with insert shots of Brosnan gamely trying to sell the audience he’s actually concerned about the proceedings.

Director Lee Tamahori was a big enthusiast of what digital imagery would bring to the table of the 20th James Bond film.

The “manipulations” enabled by CGI “are endless and effortless,” Tamahori said. “The high-end action sequences that are done for real are still going to exist.” The rest, he said, might move into entirely digital effects. These comments were once on the Haphazard Stuff website but have since been yanked.

John Cleese and Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day

Tamahori was indeed correct that digital effects would become more prominent in future Bond movies. Safety cables for stunt performers can be hidden, for example. Also, mice can be created and rail cars can be added to trains. (For the latter two examples, CLICK HERE for a post about CGI use in 2015’s SPECTRE.)

Unfortunately for Die Another Day, the director and production company found out CGI is hard. Better execution of CGI in a Bond would movie would have to wait for another day.

Poor CGI wasn’t the movie’s only problem. For the first time, Eon decided to make a big deal about a 007 film anniversary (2002 being the series’ 40th anniversary). Tamahori & Co. opted to put all sorts of Bond film references that tended to distract from the film’s plot. Look, a set based on a Ken Adam set from Diamonds Are Forever! Look, there’s the Thunderball jet pack! Look, there’s the same electronic noise that accompanied the Dr. No gunbarrel! Look, there’s a Union Jack parachute! And on, and on, and on, and….

At the same time, Die Another Day proved to be the end of the line for Pierce Brosnan.

When the film was released, Brosnan said during talk show appearances that Eon wanted him back for a fifth Bond film and he was looking forward to it. Two years later, Brosnan got a telephone call from Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson informing the actor that his services were no longer required.

Brosnan was the last Bond chosen by Albert R. Broccoli. “The kids” were about to pick their own.

Dr. No’s 60th anniversary Part IV: `The Elegant Venus’

Adapted from a 2012 post

For their first 007 film, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman faced a challenge. Ian Fleming had provided a memorable introduction for Honeychile Ryder in the Dr. No novel.

Ursula Andress as part of her entrance in Dr. No.

The first time Bond sees the novel’s heroine she’s “not quite naked. She wore a broad leather belt around her waist with a hunting knife in a leather sheath at her right hip.” Agent 007 is reminded of “Botticelli’s Venus seen from behind.” The title of chapter is “The Elegant Venus.” The task for Broccoli and Saltzman was to find somebody who could live up to that title.

The producers cast Ursula Andress. Director Terence Young staged her first appearance, coming out of the Carribean in a bikini, rather than naked as in the novel. The scene is one of the most commented aspects of the movie. Young’s technique was simple. Andress (dubbed by Nikki Van der Zyl) walks out of the sea, singing Underneath the Mango Tree. There are no fancy camera angles: first a long shot of Andress, followed by a reaction shot of Sean Connery as Bond, followed by a waist-high shot of Andress.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it made an impact on the audience. Honey doesn’t even appear until after an hour of screen time. Andress, nevertheless, became the first major Bond woman in the series. As noted by the John Cork-directed Inside Dr. No, Ian Fleming was impressed by Andress, even dropping in a mention of the actress into his On Her Majesty’s Secret Service novel that he was writing as Dr. No was being filmed.

Decades later, Barbara Broccoli, the current boss of Eon Productions, told the London Evening Standard: “And look at Ursula Andress [emerging from the sea in Dr No]. Yes, she’s the most stunningly beautiful person in the whole world but her look was very different to what had come before. First of all, she had a very athletic body, and she was also incredibly natural — no make-up, no false eyelashes. I think that image of natural beauty is one we appreciate.”

Contrast that with Die Another Day, the 40th anniversary Bond movie in 2002. Director Lee Tamahori tried to emulate the scene from Dr. No with Halle Berry’s Jinx wearing an orange bikini, rather than the white one Andress wore. Tamahori used a couple of slow-motion shots and Berry preens for a moment before she comes out of the ocean. The extra bells and whistles of that scene emphasize how it’s a copy, rather than an original.

NEXT: Ken Adam’s magic

What’s left of Fleming for future Bond films?

Ian Fleming, drawn by Mort Drucker, from the collection of the late John Griswold.

The other day, the blog published a post about whether Ian Fleming content matters much anymore for James Bond movies. Still, how much “Fleming content” is left?

Bond screenwriters (most likely Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) have added scraps and bits over the past two decades. The first half of Die Another Day was a de facto adaptation of Fleming’s Moonraker novel. Skyfall, SPECTRE and No Time to Die have mined the novels On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice.

What follows is a partial list of what’s left. Consider this a starting point for a broader conversation.

–A brainwashed Bond tries to kill M: The Man With the Golden Gun novel is uneven because Fleming was in bad health. But the start of the novel includes a memorable set-piece where Bond, brainwashed by the Soviets, attempts to assassinate M.

Playboy magazine, when it serialized the novel, led off with an illustration of Bond (drawn, understandably, like Sean Connery) immediately after the failed attempt. It included an M drawn like Bernard Lee and a Moneypenny drawn like Lois Maxwell.

–Gala Brand: At one point, the lead female character of Fleming’s Moonraker novel was going to be named Gala Brand in Die Another Day. But the name was changed to Miranda Frost (a traitor) when the movie was filmed

–Bond vs. a giant squid: In the novel Dr. No, the villain sends Bond through an obstacle course. The agent eventually has to take on a giant squid. This never appeared in the first Bond film made by Eon Productions.

-The Spang Brothers: Jack and Seraffimo Spang were the villains of Diamonds Are Forever, Fleming’s fourth novel. One of the brothers owns an old western ghost town called Spectreville.

-Stuffing a fish down somebody’s throat: The character Milton Krest, from the short story The Hildebrand Rarity, has already been used in 1989’s Licence to Kill. But Krest’s literary demise, having a rare fish stuffed down his throat, still is out there.

Separately, a late friend of mine, Paul Baack, once designed a make-believe movie poster of an Alfred Hitchcock adaptation of The Hildebrand short story.

Jinx spinoff script performs comics homages

Die Another Day poster

This week, @007inLA came across a 2003 script of a proposed Jinx spinoff from Die Another Day. The resulting tweets give a viewer the idea of what Neal Purvis and Robert Wade’s ideas ideas of what a Bond film spinoff would have looked like.

For one thing, P&W seemingly went into the comic book world. In a big way.

At one point, in a flashback sequence, Jinx’s parents are killed. This is similar to how Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered by criminals in Gotham City.

Still later, Jinx discovers her parents were spies. This is how (years after his introduction), Peter Parker’s Spider-Man discovers his long-lost parents were SHIELD agents.

The script is dated 2003. In real life, MGM canceled the Jinx project. One suspects Eon has been annoyed every since.

The P&W script also has various other complications. The thread that provide details STARTS HERE.

About those Bond film series gaps

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Last week saw another delay announced for No Time to Die. That has prompted some entertainment news websites to look back at how the gap between SPECTRE and No Time to Die ranks among Bond films.

With that in mind, here’s the blog’s own list.

You Only Live Twice (1967) to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): This isn’t getting the attention as the others.

But You Only Live Twice came out in June of 1967 while On Her Majesty’s Secret Service debuted in December 1969. That was about two-and-a-half years. Today? No big deal. But at the time, the Bond series delivered entries in one- or two-year intervals.

This period included the first re-casting of the Bond role, with George Lazenby taking over from Sean Connery. Also, Majesty’s was an epic shoot.

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) to The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): This period often is written up as the first big delay in the series made by Eon Productions.

It’s easy to understand why. The partnership between Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman broke up. There were delays in beginning a new Bond film. Guy Hamilton originally was signed to direct but exited, with Lewis Gilbert eventually taking over. Many scripts were written. And Eon and United Arists were coming off with a financial disappointment with Golden Gun.

Still, Golden Gun premiered in December 1974 while Spy came along in July 1977. That’s not much longer than the Twice-Majesty’s gap. For all the turmoil that occurred in the pre-production of Spy, it’s amazing the gap wasn’t longer.

Licence to Kill (1989) to GoldenEye (1995): This is the big one. Licence came out in June 1989 (it didn’t make it to the U.S. until July) while GoldenEye didn’t make it to theater screens until November 1995.

In the interim, there was a legal battle between Danjaq (Eon’s parent company) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, which had acquired UA in 1981. MGM had been sold, went into financial trouble, and was taken over by a French bank. The legal issues were sorted out in 1993 and efforts to start a new Bond film could begin in earnest.

This period also saw the Bond role recast, with Pierce Brosnan coming in while Timothy Dalton exited. In all, almost six-and-a-half years passed between Bond film adventures.

Die Another Day (2002) to Casino Royale (2006): After the release of Die Another Day, a large, bombastic Bond adventure, Eon did a major reappraisal of the series.

Eventually, Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided on major changes. Eon now had the rights to Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. So the duo opted to start the series over with a new actor, Daniel Craig and a more down-to-earth approach.

Quantum of Solace (2008) to Skyfall (2012): MGM had another financial setback with a 2010 bankruptcy. That delayed development of a new Bond film. Sam Mendes initially was a “consultant” because MGM’s approval was needed before he officially was named director.

Still, the gap was only four years (which today seems like nothing) from Quantum’s debt in late October 2008 to Skyfall’s debut in October 2012.

SPECTRE (2015) to No Time to Die (?): Recent delays are due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But pre-production got off to a slow start below that.

MGM spent much of 2016 trying to sell itself to Chinese investors but a deal fell through. Daniel Craig wanted a break from Bond. So did Eon’s Barbara Broccoli, pursuing small independent-style movies such as Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Nancy, as well as a medium-sized spy movie The Rhythm Section.

Reportedly, a script for a Bond movie didn’t start until around March 2017 with the hiring (yet again) of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The hiring was confirmed in summer 2017. Craig later in summer of 2017 said he was coming back.

Of course, one director (Danny Boyle) was hired only to depart later. Cary Fukunaga was hired to replace him. More writers (Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Scott Z. Burns) arrived. The movie finally was shot in 2019.

Then, when 2020 arrived, the pandemic hit. No Time to Die currently has an October 2021 release date. We’ll see how that goes.

Halle Berry provides a Jinx footnote

Die Another Day poster

Variety is out with an interview with Halle Berry where she describes her efforts to become a director. Her debut as a director, in a film titled Bruised, is being shown at the Toronto Film Festival.

The story also provides a kind of footnote to the proposed spinoff based on her Jinx character from Die Another Day.

Here’s the key excerpt:

After the success of “Die Another Day,” “Bond” producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson lobbied for Jinx to get her own spinoff, an idea that thrilled Berry. But MGM balked at the $80 million price tag. “It was very disappointing,” Berry says. “It was ahead of its time. Nobody was ready to sink that kind of money into a Black female action star. They just weren’t sure of its value. That’s where we were then.”

At the time, Berry had appeared in X-Men (2000), a 20th Century Fox adaptation of the Marvel comic book. But that was an ensemble project and it was dominated by the debut of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Jinx, on the other hand, would have highlighted Berry. According to Variety, when the Jinx spinoff didn’t happen, that spurred Berry to star in Catwoman (2004), a movie that didn’t work out so well.

Meanwhile, this was an odd period for Eon Productions as well.

Dana Broccoli, the widow of Eon-co-founder Albert R. Broccoli and the mother of Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, died in 2004. Eventually, “the kids” decided to start the James Bond film series over with 2006’s Casino Royale. Barbara Broccoli was the force behind the casting of Daniel Craig in the series reboot.

The canard that haunts the Bond franchise

The prototype for the “reveal” of SPECTRE (2015)

Last week, a website called The Ringer became the latest outlet to repeat the canard that the James Bond films were forced to change in tone to be more serious.

The article was called “Austin Powers Still Haunts the James Bond Franchise.” Here’s an excerpt:

But as excellent as some of (Daniel Craig’s) Bond films have been, fun probably isn’t the first adjective that comes to mind when describing Craig’s take on the character; that was a point unto itself. “Mike Myers fucked us,” Craig told the Bond fan site MI6 Confidential Magazine in 2014. “I am a huge Mike Myers fan, so don’t get me wrong—but he kind of fucked us.”

He’s referring to—what else?—the Austin Powers franchise, Myers’s iconic spoof of Bond and the larger spy genre.

The problem with this often-repeated trope is Austin Powers was hardly the first to poke fun at Bond’s expense.

As early as 1964, future Bond Roger Moore played 007 in a variety show skit.

In 1965, The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71), a wildly successful, if improbable, situation comedy, featured man-child Jethro Bodine returning from the theater after seeing Goldfinger. Jethro recites the plot to his rich uncle Jed Clampett, who has lost none of his common sense despite his sudden wealth.

After listening to Jethro, Jed has one question: “Why didn’t he just shoot him?” Jethro, who had been smiling moments before, is crestfallen.

Despite that, Jethro decides that being a “double-naught spy” is his life’s calling because double naughts engage in a lot of “fightin’ and lovin’.” Jethro takes the Clampett family truck and adds a bulletproof shield (a meta tub), defensive weapons (two rifles that can be fired when Jetro pulls on strings tied to the rifles) and an ejector seat. Naturally, the latter figures into the episode’s final gag.

In fact, Jethro’s quest to be a “double naught” became a running gag for multiple episodes. There was a follow-up story the next season as Thunderball was coming out.

The Beverly Hillbillies wasn’t the only show to poke fun at 007. It happened all the time during the 1960s. Another example: A 1966 episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show titled “The Man From My Uncle,” in which Godfrey Cambridge played a character named Harry Bond. (“Yeah. Please no jokes. I’m not 007.”)

And, of course, there was Get Smart, a parody of Bond and the spy craze that ran for five seasons (four on NBC, one on CBS).

So, the Austin Powers series, consisting of three movies, was hardly plowing new ground in making light of Bond. Indeed, the Austin Powers series ended (for now) with Austin Powers in Goldmember in 2002, the same year as Die Another Day.

The first new serious, Daniel Craig film, Casino Royale didn’t come out until 2006. Casino Royale had been influenced (in terms of a more serious tone) by the Jason Bourne films starring Matt Damon. With 2008’s Quantum of Solace, the Bond series went full Bourne, bringing in Dan Bradley as second unit director, who had the same job on the Bourne films.

By Casino Royale, and certainly by Quantum of Solace, Austin Powers was receding into memory.

Meanwhile, with 2015’s SPECTRE, the Bond series embraced one of the Austin Powers tropes. It had been revealed that Austin Powers and his arch-enemy Dr. Evil were really brothers. In SPECTRE, it was revealed that Craig/Bond and Blofeld were foster brothers. And SPECTRE came out more than a decade after Austin Powers in Goldmember.

In the words of Daniel Craig, if Austin Powers “fucked us,” it was self-inflicted.

Eon’s non-Bond spy film to get a box office test

A poster for The Rhythm Section

In the next week, a non-James Bond spy film made by Eon Productions will be tested by the global box office.

The Rhythm Section, starring Blake Lively, will be released by Paramount (Jan. 31 in the U.S.)

Since the early 1980s, the James Bond film series has been part of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s film portfolio. MGM acquired United Artists, Bond’s original studio home, and has been involved in the Bond film franchise ever since.

Eon has been diversifying from Bond for a number of years. It has made small, indie-style movies such as The Silent Storm (2014), Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017) and Nancy (2018).

The Rhythm Section represents a more commercial project. Once upon a time, Eon wanted to do a movie featuring Halle Berry’s Jinx character from Die Another Day (2002). But that never took place.

The Rhythm Section has had some bad luck. Blake Lively suffered a hand injury, which caused production delays. The movie originally was to have been released in early 2019. It was pushed back to the fall of 2019 and now to the end of January 2020.

Eon’s Barbara Broccoli gave an interview to the Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye. While Eon is preparing to release the 25th Bond movie in April, Broccoli indicated she’s still thinking a lot about The Rhythm Section.

‘Why should women have to play men’s roles?’ Broccoli asked when I met her and Morano for tea at the Piccadilly mansion that’s the headquarters of the Eon Productions empire she runs with stepbrother Michael G. Wilson.

For the record, Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson are half-siblings (same mother, Dana Broccoli, different fathers).

Regardless, we’ll soon see how The Rhythm Section performs with audiences. I have seen a number of ads for the movie on new outlets such as ads on YouTube and Twitter. We’ll see.

Broccoli says Eon resisting doing Bond spinoffs

Barbara Broccoli, boss of Eon Productions

Eon Productions chief Barbara Broccoli says in a recent magazine story that the production company has been pressured to make James Bond spinoffs but is resisting such a move.

“We’ve been under a lot of pressure to make spinoffs,” Broccoli told Total Film, whose 2020 movie preview issue went on sale this month.

“Bond is Bond, she added. “We want to make these theatrical films. We want to make them one at a time, and create an anticipation for them, and deliver films of a very high standard.”

Broccoli didn’t specify where the pressure was coming from. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Danjaq (Eon’s parent company) share custody of Bond.

Marvel Studios, which has produced more than 20 inter-connected movies since 2008 is branching into TV series for the Disney + streaming service.

The entire Total Film article is not online but scans of it are showing up on internet bulletin boards. There is a preview of the story online.

Eon has avoided planning long story arcs. Quantum of Solace was always intended to be a “direct” sequel to Casino Royale. But Skyfall director Sam Mendes said at a 2011 news conference that his movie wasn’t tied to the two earlier Daniel Craig films.

Then, with SPECTRE, the filmmakers did a “retcon,” making Skyfall connected to Casino and Quantum after all. Skyfall villain Silva became part of SPECTRE/Quantum after the fact. Now, all four are connected to the upcoming No Time to Die.

In the 2000s, Eon developed a proposed Bond spinoff movie featuring Jinx, the character played by Halle Berry in Die Another Day. Nothing came of the project.

Meanwhile, Eon has stepped up its production of non-Bond movies, including the upcoming The Rhythm Section being released by Paramount in January.

THR features Lynch, de Armas and evolving Bond women

Lashana Lynch publicity still released during April “reveal” event in Jamaica

The Hollywood Reporter is out with a feature story about Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas and how they’re part of efforts “about bringing James Bond into the #MeToo age” in No Time to Die.

Lynch and de Armas have worked with director Cary Fukunaga and producer Barbara Broccoli “to create a new type of female Bond character who is much more fully realized than the ‘Bond girls’ of films past,” writes Rebecca Ford of THR.

“It’s pretty obvious that there is an evolution in the fact that Lashana is one of the main characters in the film and wears the pants — literally,” de Armas told the entertainment news outlet.

Referring to her character, Nomi, Lynch told THR: “Everyone was really responsive to having her be what I wanted. You’re given a fresh perspective on a brand-new black woman in the Bond world.”

Lynch confirmed Nomi is a British agent. She did not comment whether that character has the 007 code number after Bond departed MI6. Ford wrote that “sources close to the film tell THR that it’s accurate.”

The Lynch character joins a series of women agents in the Bond film series, including Soviet Agent Triple-X in The Spy Who Loved Me; CIA agent and astronaut Holly Goodhead in Moonraker; Chinese operative Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies; and NSA agent Jinx in Die Another Day.

De Armas, meanwhile, provided a bit of detail about her character, Paloma.

Paloma “is a character that is very irresponsible,” the actress told THR. “She’s got this bubbliness of someone who is excited to be on a mission, but she plays with this ambiguity — you don’t really know if she’s like a really trained, prepared partner for Bond.”

This is not the first time the franchise has said it’s improving the way women are treated in Bond films. In 2012, Broccoli told the Evening Standard: “Fortunately, the days of Bond girls standing around with a clipboard are over.”

However, No Time to Die is the first Bond film since the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and sexual harassment.

In 2018, The New York Times and The New Yorker magazine shared a Pulitizer Prize “for their revelations of sexual harassment and abuse that had gone on, unheeded and unpunished, in the spheres of Hollywood, politics, the media and Silicon Valley,” The Times said in its account of the awards.

Other highlights from the article:

–THR says the movie’s budget is $250 million. This is the first estimate I’ve seen. That is probably after tax breaks, incentives and product placement deals have been factored in.

–Both actresses compliment screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge. “I very literally squealed when I first heard her name,” Lynch said to THR. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, British girl just like me. She’s going to know how to actually take care of women onscreen.’ ”

–De Armas told THR that reports that an “intimacy coach” being hired for her scenes with Daniel Craig were false.

To view the entire article, CLICK HERE.