The Ballad of James and Madeleine

SPECTRE promotional art

SPECTRE promotional art

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

“As the daughter of an assassin, she can understand Bond in a way others cannot.”

This is how the official SPECTRE synopsis describes Madeleine Swann, the female lead character of the 24th James Bond adventure, about to hit the stores in DVD and Blu Ray home video formats.

Played by French actress Léa Seydoux, known for movies like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and the acclaimed Blue is the Warmest Color, her character was built by scribes Jez Butterworth, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan to –- apparently –- give Daniel Craig’s James Bond the first and only happy ending he’s ever had in the series.

The first encounter 007 has with Madeleine Swann is at the Hoffler Klinik in Austria. Posing as a patient, Bond visits her and suspects that Swann, a doctor in psychiatry graduated in the Sorbonne who worked with Medicine Sans Frontiers, is hiding from someone in the clinic. Of course, the secret agent was led there by her disgraced father, none other than his previous Quantum nemesis Mr. White, who took his life right after Bond promised to protect her of the tentacles of SPECTRE.

She first resists to Bond, but ultimately she sees he’s the only one who can keep her alive after her hideout clinic is discovered by SPECTRE agent Mr. Hinx.

Much in the way of previous Bond girls Natalya Simonova (from GoldenEye) and Octopussy, she dislikes 007’s violent life, seeing him as a man who is the same kind as her father: determined to leave him right after he returns for a final assignment to stop Denbigh, the mole placed at the British Intelligence by the organization leader Franz Oberhauser, aka Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

There is, in contrast to the previous affairs of Craig’s Bond, a happy ending this time as 007 opts to leave the wounded Blofeld alive instead of shooting him. As the Special Forces arrest the SPECTRE leader, the happy couple walk together -– holding hands — across the Westminster Bridge.

Madeleine Swann is no match for Vesper Lynd, Tracy Di Vicenzo or even Paris Carver when it comes to exploring Bond’s human side. Yet, the idea of Madeleine’s persona was originally very good and sadly more of her connection with 007 would have been explored a lot better.

“Is this really what you want? Living in the shadows, hunting, being hunted, always looking behind you? Always alone?” the doctor asks a white tuxedo-clad Bond as they have a soft-light dinner travelling in the Oriental Desert Express trough Morocco.

In one of the first drafts of the (leaked) script, the couple had a conversation that included Vesper, Eva Green’s ill-fated character from Casino Royale, the film that opened the arc that SPECTRE has apparently closed.

“You’re not like my father at all. He was cold, but you’re wounded,” the doctor said. As she asks him if he has ever been in love, he replies “Once. She died.” Quickly, he tells her he “dealt with it.”

The Bond-Swann relationship would have had a bigger emotional impact if more deep dialogue was added as the first draft shows. If Vesper Lynd and her death were the main subjects of the first two films of Craig era, the girl who makes him move on should have deep-delved into his emotions.

Show the audiences how Vesper was important then and why Madeleine is important now. A contrast between the two characters and how Bond slowly recovers what he lost during that black day in Venice nine years before. In the same way the connection between SPECTRE and the previous villains isn’t fully explained, the importance of Madeleine can’t overshadow the image of Vesper in an emotional context.

The barn scene between Bond and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, or the Pierce Brosnan-Izabella Scorupco scene at the Cuban beach in GoldenEye, or Bond’s love declaration to Vesper at the Lake DiGarda in Casino Royale, just to name a few scenes. These are wonderful examples on how to explore Bond’s feelings.

SPECTRE is a celebration of all things Bond in terms of excitement, perhaps the closest one to “a classic one” so far. Daniel Craig is a wonderful actor and the role now fits him as a tailored Tom Ford tuxedo. Léa Seydoux also has great acting talents as she proved in movies such as The Lobster, Blue is The Warmest Color and La Belle Personne.

The James Bond and Madeleine Swann relationship is not wasted at all. But, surely, should have been better exploited and contextualized.

007 movies listed by number of tickets sold, 1995-present

Skyfall teaser poster

Skyfall teaser poster

The BOX OFFICE MOJO website has tools that let you look beyond unadjusted movie box office. You can also, for example, get a listing (for the U.S. and Canada, at least) of the estimated number of tickets sold.

There are various formulas for adjusting box office figures for inflation. But tickets sold is basic. So we decided to take a look back at the number of tickets sold for the eight 007 films of the past 20 years. Home video was firmly established, as opposed to the early years of the Bond series, where it didn’t exist and movies could get re-released.

Using this measure, 2012’s Skyfall, by far, sold the most tickets among 007 films in the region. After that, there’s less difference that the unadjusted box office figures might suggest.

What follows is each movie’s total U.S.-Canada tickets sold, with the number in parenthesis the number for its opening weekend. The average ticket price for each year is also listed. The total figure for SPECTRE is through Nov. 23.

GoldenEye (1995): 24,403,900 (6,024,100); average ticket price, $4.35

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997): 26,911,200 (5,477,800); average ticket price, $4.59

The World Is Not Enough (1999): 24,853,800 (6,991,900); average ticket price, $5.08

Die Another Day (2002): 27,584,000 (8,101,900); average ticket price, $5.81

Casino Royale (2006): 25,428,700 (6,234,100); average ticket price, $6.55

Quantum of Solace (2008): 23,449,600 (9,405,100); average ticket price, $7.18

Skyfall (2012): 37,842,000 (10,977,000); average ticket price, $7.96

SPECTRE (2015): 18,085,500, through Nov. 23, (8,176,900); average ticket price, $8.34

UPDATE: Out of curiosity, we went back to the earliest days of the series. Remember, these movies had re-releases, in some cases several re-releases. But in the cases of Goldfinger and Thunderball, you get an idea that Bond was a *very* big thing in the U.S. in the mid-1960s. Also, there was a big decline, relatively speaking, when You Only Live Twice came out. At the same time, Twice sold almost as many tickets in the U.S. and Canada as Skyfall did. Anyway, here’s a sampling:

Thunderball (1965): 74,800,000 (no opening weekend figure available)

Goldfinger (1964): 66,300,000

You Only Live Twice (1967): 35,904,000

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): 16,038,400

Diamonds Are Forever (1971): 26,557,300

Live And Let Die (1973): 19,987,500

Moonraker (1979): 28,011,200 (2,832,000 opening weekend)

Octopussy (1983): 21,553,500 (2,826,200)

Licence to Kill (1989): 8,732, 200 (2,210,300)

UPDATE II: To give that Thunderball figure some perspective, the top box office movie in the U.S. and Canada so far this year has been Jurassic World. It sold about 79 million tickets, according to Box Office Mojo. While comparisons that far apart are dicey, it’s fair to say Thunderball was in the same general league in its day. But before Bond fans brag too much, The Sound of Music (released the same year as Thunderball and also re-released several times), sold more than 142 million tickets.

GoldenEye’s 20th anniversary: 007 begins anew

GoldenEye's poster

GoldenEye’s poster

GoldenEye, the 17th James Bond film, had a lot riding on it, not the least of which was the future of the 007 franchise.

It had been six years since the previous Bond film, Licence to Kill. A legal fight between Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had kept 007 out of movie theaters. In 1990, Danjaq, the holding company for Eon, was put up for sale, although it never changed hands.

After the dispute was settled came the business of trying kick start production.

Timothy Dalton ended up exiting the Bond role so a search for a replacement began. Eon boss Albert R. Broccoli selected Pierce Brosnan — originally chosen for The Living Daylights but who lost the part when NBC ordered additional episodes of the Remington Steele series the network had canceled.

Brosnan’s selection would be one of Broccoli’s last major moves. The producer, well into his 80s, underwent heart surgery in the summer of 1994 and turned over the producing duties to his daughter and stepson, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Broccoli himself would only take a presenting credit in the final film.

Various writers were considered. The production team opted to begin pre-production on a story devised by Michael France.

His 1994 first draft was considerably different than the final film. France’s villain was Augustus Trevelyan, former head of MI6 who had defected to the Soviet Union years earlier. Bond also had a personal grudge against Trevelyan.

Other writers — Jeffrey Caine, Kevin Wade and Bruce Feirstein — were called in to rework the story.  The villain became Alec Trevelyan, formerly 006 and now head of the Janus crime syndicate in the post-Cold War Russia. In addition, the final script included a new M (Judi Dench), giving Bond a woman superior. Caine and Feirstein would get the screenplay credit while France only received a “story by” credit.

In the 21st century, many Bond fans assume 007 will always be a financial success. In the mid 1990s, those working behind the scenes didn’t take success for granted.

“Wilson and (Barbara) Broccoli already knew that GoldenEye was a one-shot chance to reintroduce Bond,” John Cork and Bruce Scivally wrote in the 2002 book James Bond: The Legacy. “After Cubby’s operation, they also knew the fate of the film — and James Bond — rested on their shoulders.”

GoldenEye’s crew had  new faces to the 007 series. Martin Campbell assumed duties as the movie’s director. Daniel Kleinman became the new title designer. His predecessor, Maurice Binder, had died in 1991. Eric Serra was brought on as composer, delivering a score unlike the John Barry style.

One familiar face, special effects and miniatures expert Derek Meddings, returned. He hadn’t worked on a Bond since 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. GoldenEye would be his last 007 contribution. He died in September 1995, before the film’s release.

In the end, GoldenEye came through, delivering worldwide box office of $352.2 million. Bruce Feirstein, who had done the final rewrites of the script, was hired to write the next installment. Bond was back.

 

Caveat Emptor (Cont.): Future 007 films to be set in ’60s?

Jack Lord, Ursula Andress and Sean Connery relaxing on the Dr. No set

Jack Lord, Ursula Andress and Sean Connery during production of Dr. No in 1962

A British tabloid, the Sunday Express, HAS A STORY saying that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer plans future James Bond films to be set in the 1960s.

The change would occur after current 007 Daniel Craig departs the role, according to the story.

The tabloid quotes an MGM executive it didn’t identify as saying, “We’ll go forwards by taking 007 back to the era in which we believe he fits most.” The film series started with 1962’s Dr. No.

If true (a major qualification), such a move would be an even bigger change than 2006’s Casino Royale, which hit the reset button and started the series all over. Even with the reboot, Bond films such as the upcoming SPECTRE continued to be set in the present day, rather than as period pieces.

However, the story hints at the possibility of an even bigger change.

According to the Sunday Express, MGM has asked Matthew Weiner, creator and executive producer of Mad Men, “to head a new team to oversee Bond’s return to his heyday 1960s.”

The story doesn’t mention current 007 producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, who’ve headed up the Bond production team since 1995’s GoldenEye. Wilson, 73, and Broccoli, 55, have been involved with the franchise for decades.

What’s more ownership of the 007 franchise is split between the Wilson-Broccoli family and MGM. That’s a pretty major detail that’s not even mentioned in the story. Do Wilson and Broccoli agree with this? It’s a point that’s not addressed at all.

At this point, caveat emptor — let the buyer beware — applies even more than usual with Bond-related items.

MI6 Confiential looks at GoldenEye

GoldenEye's poster

GoldenEye’s poster

MI6 Confidential is out with a new issue looking at GoldenEye, the 1995 007 that jump started the franchise after a six-year absence.

The issue has several articles on the movie, including an interview with director Martin Campbell.

GoldenEye was the first 007 film since 1989’s Licence to Kill. The hiatus had been marked by a legal fight and a financial reorganization at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Eventually after multiple script rewrites, a new Bond film finally went into production.

The film was Pierce Brosnan’s debut as James Bond, the start of a four-movie run in the role. It was also Judi Dench’s debut as M.

For more information about the issue’s contents and ordering information, CLICK HERE.

The issue costs 7 British pounds, $11 or 8.50 euros, plus postage and handling.

1998: the Purvis & Wade era begins

The World Is Not Enough poster

The World Is Not Enough poster

Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, at six movies and counting, are No. 2 among credited 007 screenwriters, behind only Richard Maibaum at 13. Their tenure began with a first draft script for The World Is Not Enough, submitted June 15, 1998.

The title page says the draft is based on an idea by Maibaum. The copy this blog got from Bond collector Gary Firuta has The World Is Not Enough on the title page, though it’s referred to as Bond 19 on subsequent pages.

The script weighs in at 109 pages. The rule-of-thumb for scripts is they average out at one minute of running time per page. The final movie, released in November 1999, was 128 minutes. The first draft would eventually be rewritten separately by Dana Stevens and Bruce Feirstein. Feirstein would share the screenplay credit with Purvis and Wade.

Overall, the 1998 first draft is closer to the final product than either Michael France’s first draft for GoldenEye or Feirstein’s first draft for Tomorrow Never Dies. There are still significant differences, but the basic plot and many set pieces are present in the initial effort by Purvis and Wade.

The pre-credits sequence of the first draft is similar to the final movie with a couple of major differences. It opens in Havana, instead of Bilbao, Spain. Later, in London, Bond takes off after the woman assassin with a jet pack instead of the gadget-laden Q boat.

Bond uses the jet pack to get ahead of the woman assassin in her boat. She spots him “minus jet pack, standing at the front of a moored ship, feet apart, poised to start firing.” The two fire at each other. She’s hit and “crashes into the side of the ship.”

This sets up a bit of a cliffhanger as an explosion ensues “lighting up the evening sky, enveloping James Bond and burning us into our….TITLES.”

Of course, Bond survives (it’d be a short movie it he didn’t), but after the titles we see a funeral. It takes an exchange between M and Bill Tanner to establish it’s the funeral for businessman Robert King (thus establishing it’s not 007’s funeral). We don’t actually see Bond until the next scene.

In this draft, Q is around for a bit longer than in the final film, which would be actor Desmond Llewelwyn’s final appearance in the role. There’s no “R,” the Q deputy John Cleese would play. There’s also no sign of Robinson, the aide to M who debuted in Tomorrow Never Dies. As a result, Tanner gets more dialogue.

The woman doctor Bond gets to clear him for duty is named Greatrex instead of Molly Warmflash.

The character of Christmas Jones is present, but there’s a bit of a difference. Here, she’s  a “BEAUTIFUL FRENCH POLYNESIAN GIRL,” and “is a mid-twenties, shortish hair, hot right now.”  She also speaks with a French accent.

Her entrance is much like the final movie. When she gets out of protective suit she has “a khaki sports bra, similar shorts, heavy duty boots. Deep tan, incredible figure. Totally unselfconscious.” The part ended up going to American actress Denise Richards.

The biggest structural difference in this draft compared with the movie is that M stays put and doesn’t go out into the field. Thus, M is never kidnapped and put into peril. Later versions of the script added that element, which would be the start of the trend where Judi Dench’s M leaves the office a lot to deal with Bond away from MI6 headquarters. That became a way for the series to provide more screen time for the Oscar-winning actress.

Finally, the first draft — similar to Bruce Feirstein’s first draft for Tomorrow Never Dies — makes occasional references to earlier 007 films.

Besides the jet pack (a nod to Thunderball) in the pre-titles sequence, Bond initially travels to see Elektra King posing as David Somerset (an alias Bond used in From Russia With Love). Here, the David Somerset cover is supposed to be a public relations expert in crisis communications.

Anyway, for Purvis and Wade this was just the start. The duo have made five 007 encores, including SPECTRE, the 24th 007 film that comes out this fall. With SPECTRE, the duo revised drafts by John Logan.

 

 

David Letterman’s 007 moments

David Letterman, after 33 years on late-night U.S. television (11 years on NBC, 22 on CBS), is retiring after his May 20 telecast.

One of Letterman’s most memorable moments occurred shortly after his switch to CBS. He interviewed Sean Connery in a segment that opened with an homage to Thunderball.

The 1993 appearance had its ups and downs but is still, after all these years, a Letterman highlight. Connery was on the mend from a serious throat condition so the laughs had an undertone of seriousness.

Take a look:

Two years later, Letterman hosted in show from London. One of those installments included interviewing Pierce Brosnan as filming of GoldenEye was wrapping up.

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