Higson delivers a James Bond oasis in 2023

Charlie Higson, with his On His Majesty’s Secret Service book, has delivered a James Bond oasis for 2023.

The cinematic Bond isn’t close to another movie adventure. Ian Fleming Publications, overseen by the heirs of the author, is mostly dealing with Kim Sherwood’s “James Bond without James Bond” trilogy.

Higson’s novella — written and published quickly to coincide with the coronation of King Charles III — is what James Bond fans get for now.

Higson’s book is both modestly sized (noticeably smaller than current continuation novels) and a modest page count (161 pages).

Yet, Higson captures many of the Bond memes. A villain with an outrageous speech. A villain with an outsized plan.

Higson also provides long (relatively speaking) action sequences. His version of Bond observes a lot of about the world of 2023, the way Fleming’s Bond made observations about the world of Stalin, Kruschev, and U.S. leaders such as John F. Kennedy.

Higson uses Fleming’s Bond as a vehicle to comment about the 21st century in Europe and the U.S. I’ve seen some Bond fans on social media object to that.

Regardless, Higson’s book is what James Bond fans are going to get for the foreseeable future. Sherwood’s trilogy features new 00-agents. Who knows when Eon will be ready to get on with things after the end of the Daniel Craig era?

Higson has also transitioned an analog Bond into the digital era. On His Majesty’s Secret Service references YouTube, bitcoin, social media, etc.

Other Bond continuation authors “timeshifted” Fleming’s creation. But in recent years, Ian Fleming Publications has mostly emphasized period pieces. Perhaps Higson really does show the old boy still has a place in modern times.

Bond (and his rights holders) try to decide what’s next

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

It’s a weird time to be a James Bond fan.

In terms of the films, we are — yet again — in another hiatus. This time, it’s entirely voluntary on the part of Eon Productions. Eon killed off the Daniel Craig version of Bond in No Time to Die. Where does it go from here?

The message from Eon: Don’t call us. We’ll call you.

Put another way: Bond 26? What’s that?

In the literary Bond world, Ian Fleming Publications wrapped up a trilogy written by Anthony Horowitz anchored in the Ian Fleming timeline. It’s now emphasizing a timeshifted “James Bond is missing” trilogy by Kim Sherwood with a quickly done timeshifted Charlie Higson story. The Sherwood and Higson stories have nothing to do with each other.

Higson’s tale, On His Majesty’s Secret Service, was connected to the recent coronation of King Charles III, the long-in-waiting monarch. Meanwhile, Sherwood’s trilogy still has two parts to go. More James Bond without James Bond.

For now, Bond overall is in neutral. Aside from Higson’s story, there’s not much actual Bond.

All of this, you might say, is obvious. And so it is. Regardless, it’s one of the oddest periods for Bond fans.

60th anniversary of the end of Fleming and U.N.C.L.E.

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

The spring and summer of 1963 was a decisive period for Ian Fleming’s involvement — and in the end non-involvement — in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Fleming and producer Norman Felton had met just months earlier, Oct. 29-31, 1962. The two had co-created Napoleon Solo. Felton turned over that material to writer-producer Sam Rolfe to do the heavy lifting. Rolfe revamped the previous ideas into a series proposal. It was titled Ian Fleming’s Solo. Rolfe was not happy about that. It was mostly (actually, almost entirely) his work.

On May 8, 1963, the Ashley-Steiner agency sent a letter to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which includes details about Fleming’s financial demands for being a participant in U.N.C.L.E.

“He definitely wants to be involved in the series itself if there is a sale and is asking for a mutual commitment for story lines on the basis of two out of each 13 programs at a fee of $2500.00 per story outline,” according to the letter.

Fleming also wanted a fee of $25,000 to be a consultant for the series per television season. In that role, the author wants two trips per “production year” to travel to Los Angeles for at least two weeks each trip and for as long as four weeks each trip. The author wants to fly to LA first class and also wants a per diem on the trips of $50 a day.

However, Fleming was under pressure from Bond film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to exit U.N.C.L.E. Fleming would sell off his U.N.C.L.E. rights for 1 British pound.

In early July 1963, Felton sent Fleming a letter: “May I thank you for meeting with me when I was in England recently. It was deeply appreciated in view of all of the pressures on you at that time. I am hoping, incidentally, that your move to the country has worked out satisfactorily.

“Your new book, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, is delightful. I am hoping that things will calm down for you in the months to come so that in due time you will be able to develop another novel to give further pleasure to your many readers throughout the world.”

Fleming sent a reply to Felton on July 16, 1963: “Very many thanks for your letter and it was very pleasant to see you over here although briefly and so frustratingly for you.”

Kathleen Kennedy doesn’t read the room

Kathleen Kennedy, head of Walt Disney’s Lucasfilm unit.

Kathleen Kennedy, 69, the chief of Walt Disney Co.’s Lucasfilm subsidiary, says she’s looking for guidance from the James Bond film franchise.

“I’ve often brought up Bond,” Kennedy told Empire magazine. “That’s every three or four years and there wasn’t this pressure to feel like you had to have a movie every year. I feel that was very important to Star Wars. We have to eventize this.”

Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012 for more than $4 billion. Disney wanted to revive the Star Wars film franchise. The plan that emerged: Do a Star Wars film every other year (beginning in 2015), with other Star Wars-related projects coming out in-between.

Since then, there hasn’t been a Star Wars movie since 2019, while various shows have shown up on the Disney + streaming channel.

“It’s much better to tell the truth,” Kennedy told Empire, “that we’re going to make these movies when they’re ready to be made, and release them when they’re ready to be released.”

That is, more or less, the same message that Barbara Broccoli, the boss of Eon Productions, has given out regarding future James Bond films. Eon will come out with a new Bond film when it’s ready and not before.

The problem is, many Bond fans are getting impatient with such long stretches between 007 movies.The gaps are closer now to five years to six years.

The last Bond film, 2021’s No Time to Die, saw the Daniel Craig version of Bond die with a vague promise the character will return sometime, someday. Meanwhile, the early generation of Bond film fans is reaching the end, with no certainty the cinematic 007 will actually return before those fans shed their mortal coil.

In Star Wars fandom, Kathleen Kennedy is a divisive figure. In Bond fandom, so is Barbara Broccoli.

We’ll see what happens.

007 reality show turns to Succession star Cox

The James Bond-themed reality show on Amazon Prime has signed up Brian Cox, star of the series Succession, for a part.

On 007’s Road to a Million, Cox will be “The Controller.” Cox’s character controls the fate of contestants on the show.

Cox’s hiring was reported on various entertainment sites, including Deadline: Hollywood. The James Bond website of Eon Productions also carried an announcement.

The reality show is a competition among teams of two. Here’s an excerpt from the Eon announcement about Cox’s participation:

The Controller revels in the increasingly difficult journeys and questions the contestants must overcome. He has millions of pounds to give away, but he doesn’t make it easy. Whilst he lurks in the shadows, he is watching and controlling everything.

Brian Cox said, “I got to see how ordinary people would cope with being on a James Bond adventure. As they travel the world to some of the most iconic Bond locations, it gets more intense and nail-biting. I enjoyed my role as both villain and tormentor, with license to put the hopeful participants through the mangle.”

This is the first major piece of news since the reality show was announced in early 2022. The contestants are seeking a prize of 1 million British pounds ($1.25 million).

The reality show is the only James Bond spinoff Amazon has come up with since it acquired Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli has said she’s not interested in Bond streaming shows and that 007 will remain a theatrical movie franchise.

Here’s an Eon tweet about the hiring of Cox:

Villeneuve is mentioned as a Bond 26 director

Denis Villeneuve

Really? Seriously? Here we go again.

Here’s the start of a post from the World of Reel website.

The search is still on for the next James Bond actor, but the hunt for the next 007 director is well underway and none other than Denis Villeneuve seems to be the frontrunner at the moment.

Wait? What? Oh, yes.

Back in 2017, Denis Villeneuve was supposed to be in the running to direct Bond 25 (later titled No Time to Die). Deadline: Hollywood told us so. Oops. It may turn out that way. He ended up directing a new version of Dune.

Got it.

Good grief. Maybe it comes to pass. Maybe not.

Villeneuve, supposedly, is a big Bond fan. Still, he’s a bigger Dune fan.

That’s fine. You like what you like.

At this point, go with what you like. As far as Villeneuve is concerned, I can live without the fans of the directors who attack those who “fail” to appreciate his genius.

About those recent Bond casting comments

Sean Connery, 31, during the filming of Dr. No

Some recent comments from Debbie McWilliams, casting director for a number of James Bond movies, centered on how younger actors aren’t up to playing James Bond.

“We did look at a lot of younger actors. and I just don’t think they had the gravitas, they didn’t have the experience, they didn’t have the mental capacity to take it on,” she told Radio Times.

But how young is too young?

Sean Connery was 31 when he was cast in late 1961 to play Bond in Dr. No. He didn’t turn 32 until August 1962 when filming was complete.

George Lazenby, Connery’s successor in the series made by Eon Productions, was even younger. He was born in 1939, almost a decade later than Eon’s first Bond actor (1930).

Henry Cavill, who turns 40 later this year, was in the conversation for 2006’s Casino Royale. But he was just in his early 20s at the time and lost out to Daniel Craig (born 1968). As things stand now, Cavill may be a longshot to be the next film Bond.

To be sure, the 1960s were a lot different than today. People were expected to grow up faster. They did so.

We will see how this plays out for Bond 26.

Literary James Bond reaches 70

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

Today, April 13, is the 70th anniversary publication of Casino Royale, the first James Bond novel written by Ian Fleming.

In those seven decades, Bond became one of the major fictional characters of the 20th century. The film series, produced by Eon Productions, kept that going into the 21st century.

Those first-edition copies of Fleming’s Casino Royale sell for a lot. In the mid-2010s, a friend of mine got quite a lot for his copy, part of an auction of his various 007 collectibles.

Since that book’s publication, the world of James Bond has evolved. The movie series eclipsed the literary Bond.

Still, Fleming’s originals attracted prominent fans. In the United States, that included Hugh Hefter, founder of Playboy magazine, and President John F. Kennedy (1961-63). Hefner, when Raymond Benson was Bond continuation author (1997-2002), revived Playboy’s tradition of serializing Bond short stories and novels.

Ian Fleming Publications, run by the heirs of the 007 author, is coming out with new editions of the Fleming originals. There are some alterations that are controversial.

Regardless, nobody would care unless James Bond still elicited excitement and interest.

So, Mr. Bond, happy 70th anniversary.

Quantum’s 15th: Impact still felt on 007 franchise

International poster for Quantum of Solace

Adapted and updated from a 2018 post

This fall marks the 15th anniversary of Quantum of Solace, the 22nd 007 film made by Eon Productions. It’s a production that still reverberates with the franchise.

It was the last time the makers of James Bond films tried to come out with an entry just two years after the previous installment. It’s probably the last time this will happen.

As Casino Royale was ending production, Sony Pictures put out a July 20, 2006 release (the press release was once online but has been yanked by the studio) saying it intended to release Bond 22 (as it was then known) quickly — May 2, 2008.

“As we wrap production on CASINO ROYALE we couldn’t be more excited about the direction the franchise is heading with Daniel Craig. Daniel has taken the origins of Ian Fleming’s James Bond portraying, with emotional complexity, a darker and edgier 007,” Eon’s Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli were quoted in the press release.

Writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, with three Bond films under their belt, were aboard to come up with a story for what Eon would later describe as the series’ first “direct sequel.”

There were soon signs the pace was causing some strains.

‘Very Nervous’
Director Roger Michell (1956-2021) opted not to helm the movie because he felt the story wasn’t developed enough. In 2007, Michell gave an interview to The Times. The original link to the interview is broken, but the Commander Bond website’s summary includes some of Michell’s comments.

“‘Well, I did give up directing the Bond film,” Michell told The Times, according to the Commander Bond summary. “It was because in the end I didn’t feel comfortable with the Bond process, and I was very nervous that there was a start date but really no script at all. And I like to be very well prepared as a director.”

Eventually, Quantum was pushed back to a fall 2008 release. But there were still time pressures. The Writers Guild of America was in labor talks and a strike deadline was looming. The union went on strike from November 2007 to February 2008, with the Bond movie starting production in early 2008.

There are conflicting versions of the movie’s story process.

Marc Forster

The director hired for the movie, Marc Forster, said in an April 2008 Rotten Tomatoes story, said there was a reset after he arrived.

‘From Scratch’
“Once I signed on to do it we pretty much developed the script from scratch because I felt that it wasn’t the movie I wanted to make and we started with Paul Haggis from scratch,” Forster said in the story. Haggis was the writer who did the final drafts of Casino Royale.

“And I said to him these are the topics I am interested in this is what I would like to say, what’s important to me,” the director said. “And we developed it from there together. Then Barbara and Michael said they liked where we were going and they liked the script.”

In this interview, Forster said everything worked out fine.

“The good thing is that Paul and I and Daniel all worked on the script before the strike happened and got it where we were pretty happy with,” the director said. “Then we started shooting and the only problems I had with the script we were shooting in April, May and June so as soon as the strike was over we did another polish.”

The writer doing that polish, Forster said, was Joshua Zetumer. The scribe’s involvement with the film was noted in other stories written during the production.

More Complicated
Forster, in a Nov. 3, 2008 story on the Vulture culture blog of New York magazine, indicated things were more complicated.

“Haggis had an idea they weren’t fond of, and I didn’t know if it would work or not,” Forster told Vulture. “The idea was that Vesper in the last movie, maybe she had a kid, and there would be an orphan out there.”

Eventually, with the clocking ticking to a WGA strike, the idea of Bond searching for Vesper’s child was rejected. Haggis, though, delivered a script ahead of the WGA walkout.

Daniel Craig in 2012 during filming of Skyfall.

In 2011, as Skyfall was preparing production, a new scenario was unveiled.

Daniel Craig in an interview with Time Out London, said he and Forster were forced to rewrite the script as Quantum was being filmed.

The actor described what they had as a “bare bones of a script.” Because of the WGA strike, “We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it.”

This tale has emerged as the now-accepted version, with Joshua Zetumer the movie’s forgotten man.

(This SUMMARY OF THE INTERVIEW ON INDIEWIRE has the Craig quotes involved.)

The movie did fine at the box office, with $586 million globally. But Quantum’s biggest effect may be that Eon doesn’t want to rush things if it can help it.

External Pressures’
“Sometimes there are external pressures from a studio who want you to make it in a certain time frame or for their own benefit, and sometimes we’ve given into that,” Eon’s Barbara Broccoli told the Los Angeles Times in 2012.

Barbara Broccoli

“But following what we hope will be a tremendous success with ‘Skyfall,’ we have to try to keep the deadlines within our own time limits and not cave in to external pressures,” the Eon boss told the newspaper.

She didn’t mention either Sony or Quantum of Solace. But it’s not much of a stretch to wonder if both were on her mind during that interview.

What’s more, a Sony executive told theater executives in 2012 that Bond 24 (eventually titled SPECTRE) would be out in 2014. Broccoli and Craig, in a May 1, 2012 interview with Collider, shut down such talk.

Broccoli: He was getting a little overexcited (laughs). We’re just actually focusing on this movie. One hopes that in the future we’ll be announcing other films, but no one’s officially announced it.

Craig: No one’s announced anything. He got a little ahead of himself (laughs). It’s very nice that he has the confidence to be able to do that, but we haven’t finished this movie yet.

SPECTRE, of course, came out in 2015, not 2014.

Today, Quantum occupies an odd space. Despite its financial success, it wasn’t discussed much in the 2012 documentary Everything Or Nothing. But many fans feel it’s more than a worthy entry in the Eon-made series.

Regardless of how you feel about the movie, though, it had an impact on the franchise. Trying to make a James Bond film within two years is now unthinkable. There would be a six-year gap between SPECTRE and No Time to Die. The COVID-19 pandemic was a major reason, but not the only one.

As for Bond 26? Who knows. It’s obviously not coming out in 2023 (two years after No Time to Die). There’s no script, no Bond actor, no director (as of this writing), etc., etc.

High-end 007 tour is unveiled

For a mere 60,000 British pounds per person ($74,256), you too can participate in a European tour of James Bond locations.

Here is part of the announcement on the official 007 site of Eon Productions:

Today (March 30), Black Tomato have released details of their limited edition travel experience. ‘The Assignment’ is an immersive journey to signature destinations inspired by the world of James Bond. The United Kingdom, France, Monaco, Italy and Austria are the five countries which feature in the trip. 

In addition to stays in world renowned hotels such as London’s Corinthia and Hotel Metropole in Monte Carlo, ‘The Assignment’ features a hand-picked itinerary of Bond experiences created exclusively for this unique journey.

There is more information on Black Tomato’s website. The tour lasts 12 nights.

Black Tomato’s Tom Marchant gave an interview to The Bond Experience channel on YouTube.

I guess this makes that pricey backgammon set from 2019 look cheap by comparison.