Happy 75th birthday, Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson

Today, Jan. 21, is the 75th birthday of Michael G. Wilson, stepson of Albert R. Broccoli.

He has been involved with the James Bond film franchise full-time since the early-1970s, excluding being a double for Harold Sakata’s Oddjob in 1964’s Goldfinger.

As a result, Wilson has been involved with the franchise longer than anyone, including his step-father, Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of Eon Productions and its parent company, Danjaq LLC.

Cubby Broccoli invested the last 35 years (1961-1996) of his life in Bondage. Wilson’s tenure is longer.

This blog has published critical posts about Wilson over time. But we always give Wilson his due. Spending more than four decades on a full-time basis on a single movie franchise should be noted.

Happy birthday, Mr. Wilson.

 

Why nobody should be surprised that ‘nothing is happening’

Naomie Harris in Moonlight

Naomie Harris in Moonlight

Naomie Harris caused some buzz in 007-land this week after giving an interview with Total Film that got summarized in the UK tabloid Mirror.

According to the story, the actress wanted to find out from Eon Productions what was going on with Bond 25. Here’s the key excerpt:

Even though she is part of the 007 franchise, Naomie admits she has equally been drawn into speculation about who will be Bond in the next film, though producers have insisted to her they are not even thinking about the project yet.

(snip)

“I met them recently and said, ‘What’s going on guys? Because everybody keeps asking me.’ I was believing the hype. I was like, ‘Is it Tom Hiddleston? What’s going on?’ They were like, ‘Naomie, nothing is happening.’ Because they’re doing another film at the moment. They were like, ‘We are focusing on this film. We have nothing to do with that.’ “

Nobody should be surprised. Why? Because if we were within a year of production starting, more would be happening.

Some recent history. The Deadline: Hollywood website first reported in January 2010 that Eon was considering Sam Mendes to direct the then-untitled Bond 23.

The project got delayed by the bankruptcy that year of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio. But the movie was a go again by January 2011 — 10 months before it began filming.

Later THAT SAME MONTH, Deadline reported that Eon was considering casting Javier Bardem in the film. Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail reported in February 2011 that Ralph Fiennes was in talks to join the cast. Harris’ own casting in the film was reported by the now-defunct News of the World in June 2011.

In other words, months before filming began, news about the director and cast began to appear. The story was similar with 2015’s SPECTRE, which had an announced writer in November 2012 and a release date and director (Mendes again) announced in July 2013.

With Bond 25, there’s no director, no script (as far as anyone knows) and no cast, including a confirmed James Bond. Daniel Craig, who turns 49 in March, has said he’d miss playing Bond but hasn’t actually said he’ll do it again.

Oh, and there’s no studio to release Bond 25. MGM is too small to distribute Bond films and has no studio partner lined up yet. Sony Pictures has released the past four 007 films.

Many fans are hopeful that Bond 25 can make a fall 2018 release date. But there are no signs Eon is gearing up. Eon boss Barbara Broccoli produced Craig’s now-concluded Othello play. She is working on a non-Bond film (Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool) and another play, based on the life of studio mogul Robert Evans.

At this point, there is no sign of the kind of activity that precedes a Bond movie. So the quotes from Harris ought not be surprising. If Eon and MGM showed more urgency a 2018 release date could still happen. But there’s no sign of such urgency.

About that Christopher Nolan directing 007 film thing

Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan

There’s been another breakout of “Christopher Nolan directing James Bond fever.”

The subject comes up every so often. It’s well known the London-born Nolan likes James Bond movies. His Batman trilogy (2005-2008) contains references to Bond films. So does 2010’s Inception.

In May 2013, Nolan’s name was briefly mentioned as a possibility for directing Bond 24 (eventually titled SPECTRE) by Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail. Nolan’s representatives were supposed to have been approached. But, two months later, the return of Sam Mendes, the director of Skyfall, was announced.

The newest outbreak of Nolan fever occurred Jan. 15 after actor Tom Hardy told the Daily Beast website that it “would be so cool” to play Bond with Nolan directing. Hardy has been in several Nolan-directed movies, including the upcoming Dunkirk.

With all that in mind, here are some observations and a question.

Skyfall was Nolan-lite:  Mendes, during Skyfall’s production, acknowledged The Dark Knight (the second of Nolan’s trilogy) was an inspiration for Skyfall. As a result, there are a number of similarities.

There are two ways to look at this. One, you already have an idea what a Nolan-directed Bond film would be like. Or two, why not have the real thing?

Nolan would work with some familiar faces: For SPECTRE, Eon Productions hired a Nolan director of photography (Hoyte Van Hoytema) and film editor (Lee Smith). Both worked with the director on Dunkirk.

What’s more, veteran Eon special effects man Chris Courbould also was a crew member on Nolan’s Batman films and Inception.

Nolan still would make changes: The director likes to write his own movies. No Bond director has also had a writing credit on the 007 film he helmed. It also seems likely Nolan would want to bring Hans Zimmer aboard as composer. They’ve worked together a number of times, also including Dunkirk.

Logo of Syncopy, Christopher Nolan's production company

Logo of Syncopy, Christopher Nolan’s production company

Does Eon bring Syncopy into the Bond mix? With Nolan, you typically also get the involvement of his production company, Syncopy. Nolan gets a producer’s credit. So does his wife, Emma Thomas.

Bond films traditionally were a producer-driven operation. Since the late 2000s. Eon boss Barbara Broccoli has been more enthused by “auteur” directors (Mendes and Quantum of Solace’s Marc Forster). But would Eon accommodate Nolan’s production company in a Bond film?

Many 007 fans reply something like, “Nolan loves James Bond so of course he will!”

This blog is a little more skeptical of that. At this point, though, there’s not much point in speculation. Bond 25 doesn’t have a director or a confirmed leading man. So we’ll see.

MGM’s possible studio partners for Bond 25 Part III

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

It’s a new year but there some leftover business from the old: What studio will end up releasing Bond 25?

The blog has twice (once in April and again in September) analyzed the possibilities. So here’s an updated look.

Sony (the incumbent): Sony Pictures released the last four 007 films but as of now has no new contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for future Bond movies.

Not a lot new since September. Last year’s Ghostbusters reboot wasn’t a success for Sony and isn’t likely to become a franchise. Sony is teaming up with Marvel Studios to get new Spider-Man movies going.

Sony may be sufficiently desperate to again accept a low-profit distribution deal for Bond 25. Most recently, Sony co-financed Skyfall and SPECTRE but only got 25 percent of the profits. It received less money than MGM and Danjaq, the parent group for Eon Productions.

However, there’s the possibility of a wild card.

The New York Post last month reported that its “Tokyo tipsters claim” that CBS chief Les Moonves was looking to acquire Sony Pictures from its parent company, Sony Corp. The story didn’t offer much in the way of details. Certainly, no actual deal materialized.

Paramount: CBS had been looking to merge with Viacom, parent company of ParamountBut that deal unraveled in December.

CBS and Viacom had once been together but then were split apart. The companies are controlled by the Redstone family. There had been a family soap opera in 2015 and 2016 which led to, among other things, a new leadership team at Paramount.

It remains to be seen how quickly Paramount recovers from all this and whether it’s in the position to make a Bond deal with MGM.

Warner Bros.: AT&T announced in October it agreed to acquire Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros. The $85 billion deal isn’t forecast to be complete until the second half of this year.

That raises the question whether Warners can do a Bond 25 deal. The studio already is busy trying to establish its “shared universe” of movies based on DC Comics characters. Two big ones, Wonder Woman and Justice League, are coming out this year.

20th Century Fox and Universal: Neither studio has the issues confronting Sony, Paramount or Warner Bros. Either or both could make a play. But the question is whether either would be willing to take the kind of low profits Sony got for Skyfall and SPECTRE.

Walt Disney Co.: This is strictly a guess but Disney doesn’t act like a company interested in doing a limited distribution deal for Bond. Disney likes to get out its checkbook and buy properties whole, such as Marvel and Lucasfilm Ltd. If Disney were interested in 007, it’d be more likely to buy everybody else out.

MGM (?): Sony emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 as a much smaller company without its own movie distribution operation.

MGM has been working toward an initial public offering of stock in a few years. However, if the pending AT&T acquisition causes a new round of media deals, MGM will face a decision.

Is the current strategy adequate? If not, does it get bigger (and re-establish distribution)? Or does it sell out and get acquired by someone else?

How fans view 007 movies as LEGO blocks

On Her Majesty's Secret Service poster

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service poster

Fans treat the object of their affection like LEGO blocks. You can just move a few blocks from here to there without any other differences.

So it is with 007 films and 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

For years — decades, actually — Bond fans have debated the subject. The 007 film series produced its adaptations of Majesty’s and You Only Live Twice out of order.

Take out George Lazenby and put in Sean Connery? OHMSS would be a lot better is a common talking point.

Except, real life doesn’t necessarily work that way.

“If only they’d made OHMSS before YOLT…”

Except, you don’t get Peter Hunt as director. In turn, that means a ripple effect. You likely don’t get the most faithful adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel, as the 1969 movie turned out to be.

Instead, you get You Only Live Twice except the character names and locations are changed.

Meanwhile, you have a greater chance of an underwater Aston Martin (in one of the script drafts before Hunt came aboard). You may even get Blofeld as a half-brother of Goldfinger.

All this isn’t speculation. Author Charles Helfenstein provides a summary of the various 1964-68 treatments and drafts for Majesty’s written by Richard Maibaum. Blofeld as Goldfinger’s half-brother was in a screenplay dated March 29, 1966, according to the book (pages 38-39).

In real life, making movies is more complicated. Change a major piece, such as the director, and there are ripple effects throughout the production.

Meanwhile, Eon Productions changed the order it filmed Dr. No and From Russia With Love.

With the novels, Russia came first. Dr. No came second. The movies reversed the order. Yet, few Bond fans complain about that.

Fan discussions about 007 movies are similar to debates among sports fans. Example: Which baseball team was better, the 1927 New York Yankees or the 1976 Cincinnati Reds?

For fan purposes, things would have been a lot better if Ian Fleming hadn’t sold off the rights to Casino Royale, his first novel, so quickly. In theory, if that had happened, Eon could have done Fleming’s novels in order.

Except, does anyone believe Sean Connery would have done a dozen Bond films?

Would Connery really have been satisfied doing that many 007 films in a little more than a decade? On the other hand, would fans have been satisfied with a Bond series of only six Connery movies starting with Casino Royale and ending with Dr. No?

Fans have their fantasies. Real life, though, is more complicated. Certainly, making movies is not like assembling LEGO blocks.

You Only Live Twice: Beginning of the end of ’60s spymania

You Only Live Twice promotional art

You Only Live Twice promotional art

The 50th anniversary of You Only Live Twice isn’t just a milestone for a memorable James Bond film. It’s also the anniversary for the beginning of the end of 1960s spymania.

The 007 film series led the way for spymania. Over the course of the first four Bond films, everything skyrocketed. Not only did the Bond series get bigger, it created a market for spies of all sorts.

By June 1967, when You Only Live Twice debuted, that upward trajectory had ended.

To be sure, Twice was very popular. But there was a falloff from its predecessor, 1965’s Thunderball. Twice’s box office totaled $111.6 million globally, down 21 percent from Thunderball’s $141.2 million.

The fifth 007 movie produced by Eon Productions didn’t lack for resources.

Twice’s famous volcano set cost $1 million, roughly the entire budget of Dr. No. Helicopters equipped with giant magnets swooped out of the sky. A seeming endless number of extras was available when needed. .

At the same time, the movie’s star, Sean Connery, wanted out of Bondage. Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman adjusted his contract. But their inducements weren’t enough.

You Only Live Twice marker in western Japan

You Only Live Twice marker in western Japan

It didn’t help that Broccoli and Saltzman themselves had their own, growing differences. Broccoli didn’t want to take on Connery as another partner — the same kind of arrangement Broccoli’s former partner, Irving Allen, bestowed upon Dean Martin for the Matt Helm movies.

Finally, there was another Bond film that year — the spoof Casino Royale, released in the U.S. less than two months before Twice. However, anybody who viewed Casino Royale’s marketing or trailers could mistake the Charles K. Feldman production for the Eon series.

As this blog has discussed before, Twice has a lot going for it. Ken Adam’s sets were spectacular. John Barry’s score was among the best for the Bond series. It was also the one film in the series photographed by acclaimed director of photography Freddie Young.

In the 21st century, fan discussion is divided. Some appreciate the spectacle, viewing it as enough reason to overlook various plot holes. Others dislike how the plot of Ian Fleming’s novel was jettisoned, with only some characters and the Japanese location retained.

With this year’s 50th anniversary, the former may be celebrated more. The movie’s scope, even its posters, aren’t the kinds of things you see these days.

The longer-term importance of the movie, however, is that Twice symbolizes how interest in the spy craze was drawing to a close. Bond would carry on, but others — including U.S. television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy — weren’t long for this world when Twice arrived at theaters.

Craig’s Othello play may get a separate Broadway run

Eon co-boss Barbara Broccoli and current 007 star Daniel Craig

Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig

The off-Broadway production of Othello, with Daniel Craig as Iago, may get a separate run on Broadway in spring 2017, the New York Post reported.

The play currently is at the New York Theatre Workshop, which it is scheduled to conclude on Jan. 18.

The Post is saying the play may come to broadway. Here’s an excerpt:

Meanwhile, Daniel Craig is eying a move to Broadway after winning raves for his Iago in the New York Theatre Workshop production of “Othello.”

Craig, sources say, initially shied away from talk about Broadway because the critics were lukewarm to him in 2013’s “Betrayal.” But he’s happy now — as is his co-star, the excellent David Oyelowo — and senses a shot at a Tony for Best Actor in a Play, if the show can get in under the Tony cut-off date, which is April 27, 2017.

Othello is produced by Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli. The Post’s Page Six gossip feature said last week that Othello is part of an effort by Broccoli to lure Craig back for Bond 25.

Craig’s schedule includes Kings, a movie about the 1990s LA riots, and Purity, a limited-run television series for the Showtime pay-cable channel.