Bond 26 and beyond

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Bond fans are waiting for another delay for the release of No Time to Die/Bond 25. If/when (probably when) that happens, the bigger question is for Bond 26 and beyond.

No Time to Die was a pre-COVID-19 movie with pre-COVID-19 finances. The 25th James Bond film ran up costs approaching $290 million as of mid-2020, according to a U.K, regulatory filing.

But, hey, it was a contender for a theatrical box office of $1 billion or more (split with theaters). Certainly Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Bond’s home studio) and Danjaq LLC (parent company of Eon Productions) were working on that assumption.

Then, of course, COVID-19 changed everything. Theaters were shut down in many regions. And the virus — despite the emergence of vaccines — has not been brought to heel. At least not yet and maybe not soon.

Perhaps you can just kick the can. Delay the release date one, two, who knows how many times? Eventually, everything will be back to normal.

Won’t it?

No Time to Die is on the shelf. It will get shown. Sometime.

The big question is what happens with Bond 26, whenever that gets made, and in whatever form.

Studios such as Walt Disney Co. and AT&T’s Warner Bros. have embraced the streaming model model. MGM reportedly shopped No Time to Die around for a streaming deal but couldn’t get the price it wanted.

What’s more, MGM reportedly has put itself up for sale. The studio’s association with Bond will reach its 40th anniversary this year. The Bond-MGM association has been a rocky one, dysfunctional even.

Danjaq/Eon controls the rights to Bond. But Danjaq/Eon needs MGM (whether by itself or in alliance with other studios) to get 007 movies made.

Put another way, there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed before you can even talk about future Bond adventures.

Example: Is the traditional model of a big theatrical release followed by home video revenues even practical now? Or do studios need to reduce the costs of big “tentpole” films?

Of major tentpoles, Bond seemingly is in a good position to ramp down and do more cost-effective productions. The early 007 films such as Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, were pretty lean films.

Still, that was almost 60 years ago. Things change.

No Time to Die may be a rousing James Bond film. But Bond’s future still is being determined — and things are more uncertain than James Bond emerging triumphant at the end of a movie.

Unlikely Bond streaming spinoff series

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

There has been a lot of speculation whether the streaming era will lead to new James Bond-related series for streaming.

In late 2019, Eon’s Barbara Broccoli told Total Film magazine that her company was resisting the idea of such spinoffs. “We’ve been under a lot of pressure to make spinoffs,” she told the publication. She didn’t specify where the pressure was coming from but a reasonable guess might be Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio.

Broccoli may be able to head off such pressure. Or perhaps not. Regardless, this list of potential spinoffs is unlikely to see the light of day.

The Adventures of Bill Tanner: In Ian Fleming’s novels, Bill Tanner, chief of staff to M, was the closest thing to a friend that James Bond had in the British secret service.

In the films made by Eon, Tanner hasn’t had that much of a presence.

In GoldenEye, Tanner (Michael Kitchen) criticizes the new M (Judi Dench), unaware she’s right behind him. In For Your Eyes Only, Tanner (James Villiers) comes across as a stuffy bureaucrat and not a pal of James Bond (Roger Moore). In more recent films, Tanner (Rory Kinnear) is there, gets a few lines with Daniel Craig but not much else.

Trying to build a streaming series, even if it were only six to eight episodes, might be a bit of a challenge.

Cooking With May: May, Bond’s housekeeper, is a character from Fleming’s novels who hasn’t been included in the films.

One possibility would be to hire someone who can cook playing May as she prepares meals for Bond. Expect many of her dishes to involve scrambled eggs.

Leolia!: Leolia Ponsonby was the secretary to the 00-section in Fleming’s novels. There were three 00-agents. Others were referenced, but readers only witnessed Ponsonby interacting with Bond. The character was phased out and replaced by Mary Goodnight.

A streaming series would have the inevitable origin story. That would answer such pressing questions such as how she came to work for the British Secret Service in the first place.

Golfing With Hawker: This would be a show about how to improve your golf game. A real golfer would play Hawker, Bond’s caddy in both the novel and film Goldfinger. Viewers would learn the secrets of hitting out of sand traps, straightening out their drives and hitting around trees.

After watching Golfing With Hawker, you, too, can learn to hit out of a bunker like this one.

Spy entertainment in memoriam

In the space of 12 months — Dec. 18, 2019 to Dec. 18, 2020 — a number of spy entertainment figures passed away. The blog just wanted to take note. This is not a comprehensive list.

Dec. 18, 2019: Claudine Auger, who played Domino in Thunderball (1965), dies.

Jan. 8, 2020: Buck Henry, acclaimed screenwriter and co-creator of Get Smart (with Mel Brooks), dies.

Feb. 8, 2020: Anthony Spinner, veteran writer-producer, dies. His credits include producing the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a 1970s version of The Saint.

Feb. 8, 2020: Robert Conrad, star of The Wild Wild West and A Man Called Sloane, dies.

March 8, 2020: Actor Max von Sydow dies. His many credits playing a villain in Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Blofeld in Never Say Never Again (1983).

April 5, 2020: Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale in The Avengers and Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), dies.

Sept. 1, 2020: Arthur Wooster, second unit director of photography on multiple James Bond movies, dies.

Sept. 10, 2020: Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel in The Avengers and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), dies.

Sept. 21, 2020: Michael Lonsdale, veteran French actor whose credits included playing the villain Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979), dies.

Oct. 5, 2020: Margaret Nolan, who was the model for the main titles of Goldfinger and appeared in the film as Dink, dies.

Oct. 31, 2020: Sean Connery, the first film James Bond, dies. He starred in six Bond films made by Eon productions and a seventh (Never Say Never Again) made outside Eon.

Dec. 12, 2020: David Cornwell, who wrote under the pen name John le Carre, dies. Many of his novels were adapted as movies and mini-series.

Dec. 18, 2020: Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of many James Bond films, including production designer from 1981-2006 (excluding 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies), dies.

Peter Lamont, 007 art department mainstay, dies

Peter Lamont

Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of 18 James Bond films, has died. He was 91.

Reuben Wakeman, a Bond collector, in response to an inquiry by me, said on Twitter he had been informed directly by Gareth Owen of Bondstars LLP, who was also a friend of Lamont’s. Owen also assisted Roger Moore on his memoirs.

Lamont began on the Bond series as a draftsman on 1964’s Goldfinger.

One of his first assignments was to make blueprints for the Ken Adam-designed replica of the exterior of Fort Knox’s depository building.

“There were no measurements, just odd bits of information from the little bits of paperwork that Fort Knox” provided to Adam, Lamont said in the home video documentary Designing Bond: Peter Lamont.

He rose through the ranks to become a set decorator, art director and, beginning with 1981’s For Your Eyes Only as production designer.

“I never got bored of the Bond films,” Lamont said in a special issue of MI6 Confidential magazine in 2019.

“They’re fun, action-packaged adventures, they’ll offer challenges for even the most experienced filmmakers and they never take themselves too seriously.” The issue provided Lamont commentary about working on the last film in his career, 2006’s Casino Royale.

Octopussy set

A Peter Lamont-designed set in Octopussy

Working on Bond films also provided Lamont with other surprises.

“I was sitting in the office one day and the phone went,” Lamont said for the 1995 home video documentary The Thunderball Phenomenon. “A voice said he was Captain So-and-So from the Royal Engineers and did I know anything about Thunderball.”

The inquiry concerned a supposed miniature underwater breathing device used by Sean Connery in the 1965 film. The caller wanted to know how much of an air supply it had.

“‘I can tell you exactly,'” Lamont said, recalling the conversation. “‘As long as you can hold your breath.’ I can imagine this poor fellow going white.”

Lamont was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning for 1998’s Titantic, directed by James Cameron. That movie caused him to step aside as production designer for the 1997 Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. Lamont also was nominated for another three BAFTA awards.

Martin Campbell, director of GoldenEye and Casino Royale, praised Lamont in a forward to the 2019 MI6 Confidential issue.

“Peter designed both my Bond films and made my life so simple,” Campbell wrote. “I loved his concepts and, apart from maybe a few technical adjustments, I left him alone.”

The art department of the Bond series was a family affair for Lamont. His younger brother, Michael (who died in 2007), also worked on the series as did his son, Neil.

Peter Lamont’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists credits going back to 1950.

UPDATE (11:47 a.m., New York time): Eon Productions put out a statement on social media.

UPDATE II ( 4:40 p.m. New York time): The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put out a tribute to Peter Lamont:

Sean Connery, an appreciation

Sean Connery in Thundereball (1965), the apex of the 1960s spy craze

For those of us who were in on the ground floor of the 1960s spy craze, the last decade has been pretty rough.

Actors who were leads in multiple TV shows and movies have passed away during that time.

But the passing this weekend of Sean Connery (1930-2020) was the big one. Connery’s early film performances as James Bond provided the foundation for the spy craze.

You had to be there to appreciate it.

At the dawn of the 1960s, the U.S. had a new president. One of his 10 favorite books was Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love. Suddenly, it was a new world.

Bond made his film debut in 1962 (in the U.K., at least). Not long before he was assassinated in November 1963, John F. Kennedy viewed From Russia With Love in the White House, according to a tweet by prominent historian Michael Beschloss.

From Russia With Love was early days for Connery’s Bond career. Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice were even bigger film adventures.

Connery, as Bond, was a worldwide phenomenon. Still, for him, it was the early stages of a career that extended decades.

Connery was one of the biggest film stars of the 20th century. Yet, the actor wasn’t afraid to make quirky choices such as Robin and Marian (a re-telling of the Robin Hood story), The Offence, Zardoz, and Time Bandits.

Eventually, Connery came out with his own take on Bond with Never Say Never Again, the 007 film not made by Eon Productions. Personally, I find it uneven. But Connery made the movie on his own terms.

This weekend, millions of people around the globe are in mourning. That’s understandable. The worldwide audience has lost one of its most memorable and durable performers.

Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering a remarkable actor and the work he has left behind.

Update: Things not looking good for Bond’s ride

Things continue to look bleak for Aston Martin, the preferred ride for the cinematic James Bond.

Earlier this week, Daimler AG’s Mercedes Benz took a 20 percent stake in Aston Martin, as noted by multple outlets including the BBC. Mercedes is boosting its stake from 5 percent.

The maker of British luxury sports cars earlier this year saw Lawrence Stoll, owner of a Formula One team, take a majority stake.

Under the deal with Mercedes, Aston will get access to Mercedes electric-car technology.

Meanwhile, Aston also has boosted the yield on a $1.1 billion junk-bond (no pun intended) sale to about 10.5 percent, according to Reuters.

Translation: Aston is viewed as a risky bet, meaning it has to pay higher interest on its borrowings even while interest rates generally are low.

Aston was owned by Ford Motor Co. from 1987 to 2007. The company has had its share of ups and downs (mostly downs) ever since.

Aston has been part of the Bond film series since 1964’s Goldfinger. There will be multiple Aston models in No Time to Die (whenever it comes out).

Margaret Nolan, Bond’s ‘Golden Girl,’ dies

Margaret Nolan, an actress who appeared in Goldfinger and A Hard Day’s Night, has died, according to director Edgar Wright.

Wright reported her passing on Twitter:

Nolan was 76, according to her entry on Wikipedia.

Nolan had a small role as Dink in Goldfinger, a woman James Bond (Sean Connery) meets in Goldfinger. But it was the film’s main titles, designed by Robert Brownjohn, where Nolan made her biggest impact.

In Ian Fleming’s 1959 novel, Auric Goldfinger has a fetish of having women painted gold. Brownjohn jumped on the idea for his main titles. Nolan, clad in a bikini, was painted gold, with scenes from the movie (as well as scenes from Dr. No and From Russia With Love) projected onto her body.

Brownjohn’s visuals of Nolan coupled with the title song written by John Barry and lyricists Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, helped make Goldfinger a huge hit. The lyrics referred to a “Golden Girl.” Both the song and the images captured the imaginations of audiences in 1964.

She also had a small role in A Hard Day’s Night starring The Beatles. Bond fans could spot her instantly.

Below is an image from her brief appearance in Goldfinger outside of the main titles.

“Dink, say goodbye to Felix.”

And below is one of the Goldfinger posters with the Nolan image.

Goldfinger poster

UPDATE (Oct. 12): The official 007 Twitter feed took note of Nolan’s passing this morning.

The nature of fandom

Daniel Craig as James Bond

The past few weeks have been rough for James Bond fans. They’ve witnessed the passing of key actors such as Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Michael Lonsdale.

All three had long careers that extended beyond James Bond films. But some Bond fans say something to the effect that they represent OUR Pussy Galore, OUR Tracy, OUR Drax.

However, fans of The Avengers TV series might counter something like, yes but that’s OUR Cathy Gale or OUR Emma Peel.

This extends beyond Bond fandom.

I’ve seen some fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. say having an American and a Russian as partners was BIG AND BOLD.

Meanwhile, fans of the original I Spy television series counter that having a White and a Black man as equal partners was a lot more controversial in the U.S. in the 1960s.

Undoubtedly, there are many other examples. Many fans, though, don’t want to examine all that. They are concerned with their fandom. No more, no less.

No criticism is intended in any of this. It’s the way of the world. It’s also the nature of fandom.

New normal? ‘U.S. Last’ releasing model isn’t that new

Christopher Reeve near the end of Superman II

There has been a lot of buzz this month that the “new normal” for major theatrical releases will be a “U.S. Last” model (the blog’s name for it, nothing official) where the United States will get the movie much later than other regions.

The reason for this is how the U.S. is one of the countries hardest hit by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). While much of Asia and Europe have managed to contain the virus, there are major outbreaks in highly populated U.S. states such as Florida, Texas and California.

A July 22 story in The Hollywood Reporter describes what may be happening.

In recent weeks, a campaign to begin releasing new Hollywood movies even if it means only launching a title in markets that are able to open safely — whether overseas or in the U.S. — has gained momentum as a global day-and-date launch becomes impossible in the era of coronavirus.

The thing is such a model, if it emerges, is more like the old normal than a new normal.

Back in the day, it took a long time for a movie to reach all global markets. With Dr. No, for example, its U.K, premiere was in October but it didn’t reach the U.S. until the spring of 1963. From Russia With Love came out in the fall of 1963, but didn’t reach U.S. shores until the following year. And Goldfinger didn’t reach the U.S. until Christmas 1964, months after its U.K. debut.

Nor was Bond alone. With Superman II, a highly awaited sequel to Christopher Reeve’s debut as Superman in 1978, the movie was in major markets in late 1980 and didn’t get to the U.S. until the summer of 1981. Some U.S. publications referenced what was in the movie ahead of its American premiere.

In recent decades, studios have grabbed for theatrical release money fast. Movies came out in a relatively short time globally. That enabled quicker home video releases.

All of this may affect No Time to Die. Is it possible a “U.S. Last” releasing model may be used for the 25th James Bond film? We’ll see.

Aston Martin deflects current crisis with 2-year-old news

Aston Martin playbook? Play up your connection to the 007 film series. 

Aston Martin, amid a plunging stock price, falling sales and many other challenges, dumped its CEO and selected a replacement. How do you deflect bad news?

If you’re Aston, play up two-year-old news and your connection to the James Bond film series.

Aston said in August 2018 that it planned to build 25 replica DB5 cars complete with gadgets from Goldfinger The cost: (in U.S. dollars) $3.5 million each.

Warning: The cars were not “road legal” (or “street legal” as the term is used in the United States).

Regardless, Aston said deliveries wouldn’t take place until 2020.

Flash forward to late spring of 2020, Aston Martin has gotten a new CEO. After years of saying it needed to diversify from James Bond, Aston is as tethered to Bond as ever.

How do you get out of this?

Play up your Bond connections. Again.

The New York Times bit in a May 25 story. So did the Hindustan Times in a May 28 story.

The Times’ story referenced how Chris Corbould, who has worked on special effects for many Bond films, was involved in the project. But, that wasn’t news, either. An August 2018 release by Eon Productions mentioned how Corbould was involved in the project.

Safe to say, Aston Martin has many challenges ahead. But the 25 DB5 replicas aren’t going to save the company.