Our modest proposals for Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Since the British tabloids are stirring the pot, what better time for this blog to weigh in with some Bond 25 ideas? So here goes.

Consider adapting one of the better continuation novels: For years, Eon Productions has resisted this path. Michael G. Wilson, Eon’s co-boss, has bad mouthed the John Gardner novels.

However, Eon itself opened the door with SPECTRE. The 24th James Bond film includes a torture scene based on the one in 1968’s Colonel Sun novel. So much so, there’s a “special thanks” credit for “The Estate of Kingsley Amis” in the end credits.

Generally speaking, it’s easier to use a novel as a starting point. The movie You Only Live Twice didn’t have much in common with its namesake novel, but characters, names, situations, etc. did figure into the movie. Given the soap opera of SPECTRE’s scripting process, any step to simplify the process would be a help.

At this point, there are plenty of continuation novels to choose from.

Worry about the script first, actor second: Various “making of” documentaries about 007 films discuss how scripts are tailored to their lead actor.

How about this? Write a James Bond story first, tweak it later after your actor has been cast. James Bond is the star. The series has seen six different actors play Bond. Some day, there will be a seventh.

Albert R. Broccoli, co-founder of Eon, always felt 007 was the star, the rest came later. Words to live by.

Or, put another way: story, story, story.

If you have a good story but it conflicts with continuity, go with the story: Let’s be honest. Continuity isn’t a strong point for the Bond film series. Michael G. Wilson said Quantum of Solace took place “literally an hour” after Casino Royale.

Yet, Quantum couldn’t be bothered with the slightest effort to tie together with Casino. Casino took place in 2006. Quantum in 2008. Did it really take Bond *two years* to track down Mr. White? Only if Bond and Mr. White are idiots.

Continuity isn’t in Eon’s wheelhouse. If you have a great Bond story but it doesn’t match up with earlier films? Go with the story. If fans exit the theater thinking, “That was one of the best Bond movies I’ve ever seen,” nobody will really care about the continuity.

Have a great Bond 25 idea that doesn’t immediately tie in with SPECTRE? Go with the great idea. You can always bring Blofeld back later, even if he’s not played by Christoph Waltz.

But what about the “Blofeld Trilogy”?: That ship has sailed. It was a lost opportunity. Meanwhile, you might find the part of the You Only Live Twice novel that Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman and their cohorts didn’t use might make for difficult filming. Don’t twist yourself into a pretzel trying to recapture the past.

Put yet another way: How many people leaving the theater after seeing SPECTRE really thought Daniel Craig’s Bond loved Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine as much as George Lazenby’s Bond loved Diana Rigg’s Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? This blog’s guess: Not many.

GUEST REVIEW: Trigger Mortis

Trigger Mortis cover

Trigger Mortis cover

By Brad Frank, Guest Writer
Anthony Horowitz’s Trigger Mortis proves to be one of the better James Bond continuation novels, though not because of what has been emphasized in the novel’s publicity.

The book has been heavily hyped as featuring the return of Pussy Galore. It’s set in 1957, immediately following the novel Goldfinger, with Pussy having moved in with Bond in London.

She is not, however, the primary heroine of the book, and actually has nothing to do with the main story line. Two of Goldfinger’s Korean thugs make an attempt on her life out of revenge, but Bond comes to the rescue. Soon afterwards, she leaves Bond to resume her lesbian lifestyle (as in the original book), having appeared in less than one fourth of the novel.

Ian Fleming’s unpublished story outline “Murder on Wheels” is the basis for the first third of the new novel (CLICK HERE for the back story). It concerns a SMERSH plot to assassinate a famous driver during a Grand Prix race. (The motivation behind this is unclear.)

Bond is assigned to protect him, under cover as a wealthy amateur racing enthusiast, who has bought his way into the race.

Prior to the race, Bond brushes up on his driving skills with the help of Logan Fairfax, the daughter of another famous driver who was killed at Le Mans in 1955, in a real life tragedy that claimed the lives of 83 people, mostly spectators. (One wonders why they wouldn’t simply recruit a professional racer instead … but then, Bond wouldn’t have a mission.)

The would-be assassin is a Russian driver. Needless to say, Bond thwarts the plot. Horowitz describes the race with great skill, evoking similar imagery to Fleming’s descriptions of car chases.

Following the race, all of the drivers and VIPs are invited to a party at the residence of a wealthy patron, Sin Jai-Seong, aka Jason Sin, a Korean SMERSH agent who was not only behind the assassination attempt, but has something much grander in the works.

At the party, Bond meets a journalist named Jeopardy Lane, who turns out to be a U.S. Treasury agent. Together, they discover Sin’s complicated plot to sabotage a U.S. rocket test. This was timely stuff for 1957. The Space Race was about to begin, with the Soviet launch of Sputnik later that year, with America’s Project Mercury soon to follow.

As most of the later Bond authors do, there is a certain amount of name-dropping of Fleming characters, intended to invoke nostalgia, and/or to convince the reader that this is a genuine Bond novel.

Like Sebastian Faulks (Devil May Care) and William Boyd (Solo) before him, whose recent Bond novels were set in the ’60s, Horowitz includes numerous contemporary references, intended to solidly fix the story in a specific historical year. He manages to insert both of these elements fairly naturally, and is less in-your-face about it than his predecessors.

In a very Fleming-esque scene, the villain Sin tells Bond his life story, and his motivation for the sabotage. Horowitz winks at the reader, acknowledging the obvious cliché from both books and films, by having Sin tell Bond “I will admit that it gives me some satisfaction in relating it … (and) in a short while, you will be dead.”

Goldfinger (in both the book and the film) used mostly Korean help, and this is mentioned in the current novel. Since Jason Sin is also Korean, I was expecting some connection between them to ultimately be revealed, but nothing like that is suggested or implied. It might have been better had Jason Sin been of a different ethnicity.

On the whole, Trigger Mortis is one of the better continuation novels. I would place it among the top 10 percent of them all. Definitely recommended.

Comments below contain spoilers.

An attempt on Pussy Galore’s life is one of the weaker points of the novel. Two of Goldfinger’s Korean henchmen kidnap her, and paint her gold. It’s obviously meant to be ironic, but comes across as a rather lame attempt to invoke a Fleming-ism.

What really spoils the scene is how it perpetuates the myth of skin suffocation. A few years ago “Mythbusters” proved that, while being covered in paint is unpleasant and over time can lead to heat exhaustion due to blockage of the pores, it would not be fatal or even particularly harmful in the short term. The fact is that skin does not breathe.

And yet in the novel, as they’re covering her with the paint, Pussy almost immediately collapses and begins gasping, implying that she will survive for only a few minutes once her body is completely covered. Of course, Bond interrupts them before it gets that far.

A major plot point hinges on a bomb being set off in the New York subway, with a replica of the test rocket planted there to give the false impression that it went off course and was responsible for the explosion.

There are two problems with this. The launch site is 330 miles from New York, and the rocket is easily tracked while in flight. And the massive amount of C-4 explosive used –- supposedly enough to demolish a building –- would totally obliterate the fake rocket.

Fleming certainly had his share of implausibilities, so despite these criticisms, so despite all that, I highly recommend Trigger Mortis.

© 2015, Brad Frank

 

Brad Frank is a director of the Ian Fleming Foundation

Our modest proposal for the title of the newest 007 novel

Jim Murray, ace Los Angeles Times columnist

Jim Murray, ace Los Angeles Times columnist

So, Anthony Horowitz, the author hired to write the newest James Bond continuation novel, let it be known this month he’s delivered his manuscript and he approves of the cover for the U.K. edition.

It’s probably too late to make this modest suggestion for the title. It’s based on the previously disclosed information the novel is based on an Ian Fleming idea for a never-made James Bond television series and it involves a setting in the world of auto racing.

The Fleming story idea was titled Death on Wheels, but Horowitz has previously said that won’t be the title of the novel.

But what would be a good title? Well, one of the best U.S. sports writers of the 20th century provides something worth considering.

“Gentlemen, start your coffins,” Jim Murray, sports columnist of the Los Angeles Times, wrote in a column about the Indianapolis 500 published in 1966.

At the time Murray penned those words, the Indy 500 was at its height as the pre-eminent auto race in the world. In the 1960s, the 500 was so big, the stars of Formula One and NASCAR came to Indianapolis to compete in the event. In 1965 and 1966, Formula One stars won the race.

But the 500 could also prove deadly. As late the as the 1980s, The Associated Press news service would send to member newspapers a list of all fatalities that occurred during the race over the years. Meanwhile, Murray’s line for his Indy 500 column was just one of many memorable comments he wrote over a long career. Murray died in 1998.

John Logan to write Bond 24 AND Bond 25, Deadline says

Skyfall co-scripter John Logan

First, the Daily Mail says John Logan, co-writer of Skyfall, has signed to write Bond 24. Now, the Deadline entertainment news Web site says Logan has a deal TO WRITE THE NEXT TWO 007 MOVIES.

An excerpt:

EXCLUSIVE: As buzz builds for the 23rd James Bond film Skyfall, the franchise’s producers have quietly made a deal with John Logan to write not one but two 007 films. I’m told that Logan pitched an original two-movie arc to Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson while they were shooting Skyfall, and that he has already begun writing the scripts. If plans work out, this would be the first Bond film with a storyline to be played out over multiple films, and it certainly makes it feasible that the pictures could be shot back-to-back.

The “I’m” refers to Deadline’s Mike Fleming, who has trumped Baz Bagimpoye of the U.K. Daily Mail, who was the first to report that Logan would script the next Bond movie.

If the Deadline report is true, it would mark a departure for Eon Productions.

In the early 1990s, Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli put the company up for sale. No deal resulted. Then, there was talk that Eon was stockpiling scripts so it could get off to a running start once a legal dispute between Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was resolved. But even after the legal fight ended, no multi-movie scheme occurred. Instead, everything went back to square one, which resulted in 1995’s GoldenEye.

The background of all this: MGM wants to get Bond movies back on an every-other-year schedule (MGM said this as part of it s2010 bankruptcy). Sony wants the next Bond movie out in 2014 (making an announcement to theater executives earlier this year that would happen). The one piece of the puzzle: Eon itself, where co-boss Barbara Broccoli hasn’t publicly committed to such a schedule.

As Lt. Colubmo once said, “Just one more thing.” Eon has long said it doesn’t like any of the continuation novels commissioned by Glidrose/Ian Fleming Publications after the death of Ian Fleming. Eon co-boss Michael G. Wilson, at a 1995 fan convention in New York, indicated he didn’t like any of the John Gardner continuation novels. So, if John Logan really has a two-picture writing deal, it will probably be a new story and not based on any continuation novel.

Also, to date, Eon hasn’t demonstrated the kind of long range planning that the Marvel Studios unit of Walt Disney Co. has.

UPDATE (Oct. 27): The Hollywood Reporter has a STORY ON THIS which adds Logan’s two screenplays will tell an original story and aren’t based on anything by Ian Fleming.

007’s P.T. Barnum

Michael G. Wilson, the co-boss of Eon Productions, which produces James Bond movies, is considerably lower key than Phineus Taylor Barnum, who, as Wikipedia notes, founded the circus that became Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Michael G. Wilson

Yet, at times, Wilson at times comes across as a kindred spirit of P.T. Barnum.

Wilson can go from saying he’d love for Daniel Craig to do another *FIVE* 007 movies in December to saying just months later it’s possible that, hypothetically, a Bond actor should be replaced quickly if merited.

While a general comment, it implies one shouldn’t pencil Craig, or any actor, in for a 16-year run as 007 (which Craig would have if he did eight movies *and* Eon could resume an every-other-year production pace). Of course, nobody was talking in those terms until Wilson raised the subject of Craig doing a total of eight movies so he could beat Roger Moore’s record in the Eon series.

Wilson can go from saying in November that “With Casino Royale, we started down a path, and we’re sticking with that path.” yet six weeks later state that with Skyfall, “The director Sam Mendes and Daniel are taking it back to a 60s feel – more Sean. I think that’s what the fans wanted. There’s a magical Goldfinger feel ­surrounding it all. That suggests, at least, a more escapist tone.

Nor is this new territory for Wilson. Back in 2008, he said that Quantum of Solace’s gunbarrel sequence would “probably go back to the traditional style.” Except, of course, it didn’t. Quantum’s gunbarrel came at the end of the movie, instead of the traditional gunbarrel at the start.

Going further back to the 1980s, Wilson has declared that at least some of the 007 continuation novels “are not popular. They’re not mass media entertainment,” while approving scripts (as producer) for movies such as Die Another Day, which some fans think had mixed quality. He was also the lead writer on 1989’s Licence to Kill, which bombed in the U.S. (U.S. ticket sales fell by about a third compared with 1987’s The Living Daylights.)

But who really knows? Trying to fact check Wilson is like trying to fact check P.T. Barnum. By the time you’ve nailed down one conflict, the Eon co-boss is off on another talking point.

Also, you have to give the veteran producer credit: he can get fans talking. Back in December, pro-Daniel Craig fans were loving the talk of eight Craig 007 films. This week, some 007 fans wanting a change are practically beginning a countdown to a new Bond.

Never a dull moment. Maybe that’s the main thing Wilson has in common with Barnum.

UPDATE I: Here’s the talk Wilson gave this week in the U.K. Go to the 11:00 mark or so. Wilson’s comments were, indeed, more hypothetical about when it’s time to replace a Bond actor. “It’s important to get ahead of the curve, to change things before they start to taper off,” he says. “Bond is bigger than any actor who portrays him and no director, writer or producer is indispensable.”

Chicago television station interviews Raymond Benson

Raymond Benson's Die Another Day remains the most recent 007 film novelization. Photo copyright © Paul Baack

Benson


WGN, a Chicago television station that’s also available on U.S. cable systems, did a feature on Raymond Benson, the 007 continuation author from 1997 to 2002. To view the story on WGN’s Web site CLICK HERE.

The story presents Benson discussing the 50th anniversary of Dr. No. The piece also mentions his continuation novels and The James Bond Bedside Companion reference book first published in the 1980s (and recently reissued, though that’s not referenced). WGN also mentions his new series of books featuring a character called the Black Stiletto.

(A factoid for our readers outside the U.S.: WGN is short for “world’s greatest newspaper,” the former slogan of the Chicago Tribune, part of the same company.)

The Times runs excerpts from Carte Blanche

News Corp.’s The Times of London today has excerpts of Jeffery Deaver’s new James Bond continuation novel, Carte Blanche. The Times is a subscription-only Web site, so you’ll have to pay to see it. You can CLICK HERE to access the Web site, where you’ll be prompted how to pay for access.