A modest proposal for a Moonraker video game

Moonraker teaser poster

On a Nov. 27 James Bond & Friends livestream, the discussion veered into the opinion of participants about which films might make a good video game.

I suggested Moonraker. It takes James Bond into outer space (a place many fans say Bond should never go). It was a big, sprawling film that lends itself to video games.

The movie also has a number of similarities to 1966’s Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die. Since you’ve gone that far, why not adapt scenes from the earlier movie and provide Sony Corp. (parent company of Columbia, which released the 1966 film) a token payment.

For example, in a Moonraker video game, you could have a level where Jaws and other Hugo Drax henchmen chase Bond to the Christ the Redeemer statue.

Bond goes inside the statue, followed by the baddies. You could have a series of fights as Bond struggles to get to the top. Finally, Bond makes it. In comes Manuela, the local Rio operative from British Intelligence, flying a helicopter with a ladder dangling from it.

Bond gets on the ladder just in time as Jaws lunges for the agent. But Jaws only gets Bond’s shoe. Bond then smiles at Jaws (the way he did in The Spy Who Loved Me and in the film Moonraker) to taunt him. Jaws shakes his fist at the escaping Bond.

Another possibility would a proper sequence at Iguazu Falls. The location figures briefly into the movie but you don’t get a sense of the majesty of the place. Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die sets its title sequence at the falls and you get a better feel for the location.

Thus, with a Moonraker video game, another level would depict Bond with a mini-adventure at the falls.

Separately, Christopher Wood’s novelization for Moonraker had Bond doing a space walk to get from one place on Drax’s space station to another. Obviously, the could make an interesting level for a Moonraker video game.

Needless to say, these suggestions won’t be going anywhere. Consider them food for thought.

The blog’s complicated feelings about Moonraker

Moonraker teaser poster

This week, I participated in an upcoming episode of the James Bond & Friends podcast where everybody watched Moonraker and commented about it in real time.

Afterward, I reflected on my own conflicted feelings about the 11th James Bond film.

When Moonraker came out in the summer of 1979, I was all in. The Spy Who Loved Me two years earlier had re-energized the franchise. Producer Albert R. Broccoli promised he was going all out with his next effort.

When the movie came out, Broccoli delivered. It even got favorable reviews from The New York Times (Vincent Canby wrote it was “one of the most buoyant Bond films”) and Time magazine, which likened Broccoli to the proverbial Jewish mother who doesn’t let anyone go away hungry. And it was a big hit.

Later, after the initial hit waned, I noted the lack of Fleming material in the movie. And, yes, that double-taking pigeon was a reminder the movie went for comedy in places.

I probably felt the lowest toward the movie in the 2000s. I was a contributor to the now-offline site Her Majesty’s Secret Servant. The site asked its contributors to rank all the movies up through 2006’s Casino Royale. We were also asked to write some remarks and mine about Moonraker were pretty tough.

Since then, my opinions toward the movie have mellowed. Here in the 21st century, there’s been a lot of bad news, including two major financial recessions a decade apart. Escapist entertainment, such as Moonraker, looks a lot better now. I appreciate it a lot more for what it is.

My stock line about Moonraker is, whatever you think of it, is it’s not pretentious. That’s not true of all Bond films.

Also, at this point, we have 25 Bond films from Eon Productions. The fact we can’t see the 25th (because of the release delay because of COVID-19) is another indicator of just how the 21st century has a lot of bad news.

That’s yet another reason why escapist entertainment like Moonraker is better appreciated.

A look back at the blog’s other media appearances

2019 was an interesting year for the blog because of appearances on podcasts and one YouTube video. So what follows are some highlights. Thanks to all involved for having me on.

James Bond & Friends logo

James Bond & Friends podcast: This is a podcast produced by the MI6 James Bond website and MI6 Confidential magazine. It debuted in March and I was on some episodes.

Part of the format is the title of an episode is based on the often freewheeling conversation among participants. During recording, I’m often not sure what the title of an episode will be until it’s out.

I ended up contributing a few titles including these:

Episode 0012: Cai-Cai-Cairo (May 20): The episode’s main topic was how unused parts of Bond screenplays show up in later films. The title is from the pre-titles sequence of Diamonds Are Forever where the dialogue and lip movements didn’t quite match.

Episode 0013: The Peeing Dog (May 28): Somewhere in the conversation (which primarily was about how perception of Bond films can change over the years), I referenced the dog that’s urinating in the middle of a frame during Thunderball’s Junkanoo sequence.

Episode 0016: Powered by Explodium (July 3): The episode primarily explored “defending the indefensible.” But the title referred to the apparent power source for the hotel in the middle of nowhere featured in Quantum of Solace.

Other highlights for me (where I had nothing to do with the title) included Episode 0029 Survey Says, based on the game show Family Feud. I blew the climatic question that lost my team the game.

Also, Episode 0024 Freddy’s Got a Cold was pretty fun. That episode had suggestions for alternate takes on James Bond songs. The idea was to put together something similar to David Arnold’s 1990s album Shaken and Stirred.

My suggestions were offbeat: Tony Bennett singing Goldfinger (similar to the arrangement Anthony Newley once performed) and Hugh Jackman performing Thunderball.

Spybrary podcast logo

Spybrary: Spybrary is for fans of spy books and movies. Host Shane Whaley interviewed me in a July 31 episode. We discussed Bond films and novels, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, Mission: Impossible and Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm novels.

I discovered what it’s like to host a podcast in a Nov. 23 episode of Spybrary that provided an overview about The Man From From U.N.C.L.E. The other participants were academic Cynthia Walker and Robert Short, a film industry professional and long-time U.N.C.L.E. fan. He has the distinction of appearing in both an U.N.C.L.E. episode and a James Bond movie (Diamonds Are Forever in an out-of-focus way).

Hosting a podcast is harder than it sounds. You have to recruit guests and then keep an eye on the clock during recording. Shane Whaley was on hand to handle production, which was a big help.

Being James Bond: The podcast hosted and produced by Joseph Darlington interviewed me for an Oct. 11 episode. We covered a lot of ground about Bond, the blog and the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website.

The Bond Experience: David Zaritsky, host of the YouTube channel, asked me to discuss how James Bond marketing has evolved. The video was posted Oct. 27 and is embedded below.

Bond 25 questions: The trailer edition

No Time to Die logo

h/t @CorneelVF for a tweet that got me thinking about this.

James Bond fans may finally get to see the first trailer for No Time to Die next week. Naturally, the blog has some questions.

Is this the teaser trailer we heard about back in August?

In August, the James Bond & Friends podcast referenced a rough cut, or preliminary version, of a teaser trailer for No Time to Die.

However, a finished version of that trailer — whatever it contained — has yet to be shown. Meanwhile, the MI6 James Bond website, which produces James Bond & Friends, reported this week the trailer will go online Dec. 4 or 5, depending on what time zone you’re in.

If that comes to be, will this be the same trailer? Or will it be different?

What makes you ask that?

In August, there was still a lot to be be filmed. In late August, filming began in Matera, Italy, involving replica Aston Martin DB5s and other vehicles in a car chase. That got a lot of exposure thanks to tourists taking smartphone videos.

What’s more, filming ended in late October. So there is a lot of footage available to update the trailer — if the filmmakers decide to do so. At this point, there’s no way to know for sure.

Do you think we’ll really see a trailer (updated or not)?

Walt Disney Television, which owns ABC, put out a press release about guests who will be appearing on Good Morning America next week.

On Dec. 4, No Time to Die’s Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Lashana Lynch, Lea Seydoux and director Cary Fukunaga are listed as scheduled guests. It would appear to be a natural their appearance would come at the same time as the trailer.

Also, in late April, there was a segment about the movie on Good Morning America. Anyway, we’ll see how it plays out next week.

No Time to Die Trailer due out next week, MI6 says

No Time to Die teaser poster

The first trailer for No Time to Die may be released online as early as Dec. 4, the MI6 James Bond website said, without disclosing how it obtained the information.

The teaser trailer “has been scheduled for release online on December 4th or 5th (depending on your time zone),” the website said.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer said Nov. 21 on an investor call the bulk of the movie’s marketing effort would ramp up after Jan. 1. However, MGM didn’t specify dates for marketing elements such as trailers or advertising by companies with No Time to Die deals. For example, Advertising Age reported in 2018 that star Daniel Craig filmed a Bond-themed Heineken commercial related to the movie.

MI6’s James Bond & Friends podcast said in August that a preliminary version of the trailer, also known as a rough cut, had been prepared. However, that trailer has yet to be shown officially.

The teaser trailer “was very briefly leaked on Instagram a couple of months ago but was swiftly removed,” MI6 said.

“The studio and distributors are meeting this week to finalize the ‘No Time To Die’ marketing strategy,” MI6 said.

MGM is the home studio of the Bond series, which is produced by Eon Productions. No Time to Die is being released in the U.S. by United Artists Releasing, a joint venture between MGM and Annpurna Pictures. Universal is handling international distribution.

MGM says No Time to Die marketing gears up in early 2020

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer said this week that No Time to Die’s marketing will gear up in early 2020.

The film “wrapped filming in October and is on track for its Easter 2020 release,” Christopher Brearton, MGM’s chief operating officer, said on a quarterly call with investors.

“Marketing is slated to swing into high gear early in the New Year,” he said. “And we couldn’t be more excited about what we have in store for Bond fans around the world.”

The executive didn’t provide any additional details about the 25th James Bond film. There has been fan speculation when the first trailer for No Time to Die will be released. The James Bond & Friends podcast said in August that a rough cut of the trailer existed at that time.

Brearton’s remarks covered other upcoming projects, including a 2021 sequel for MGM’s recent Addams Family animated film (Brearton said Addams Family “will develop into a family franchise.”), Creed III and a new Tomb Raiders movie. Brearton also talked about MGM’s television business.

Also on the call, Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Kay said the company expects No Time to Die to help generate cash for the company. In 2019, MGM has been spending money on the Bond film and other projects as it increases film and TV production as well as investing in its Epix TV channel.

Kay referred to MGM’s movie business in 2020 as a “James Bond-led revitalized film slate.”

Unanswered Questions

Executives dodged two Bond-related questions on the call. The first was whether MGM had conferred with Eon Productions whether the Bond series could produce films on a more regular basis (“maybe every two or three years”) or move into streaming television the way Marvel Studios and Star Wars have. The last 007 film, SPECTRE, came out in fall 2015. MGM and Danjaq, Eon’s parent company, control the Bond franchise.

Brearton replied that MGM is focused on No Time to Die for now. “We’re in constant communication with Barbara (Broccoli) and our partners on the best way to maximize the value of the franchise,” he said.

The MGM executive was also asked about finding the next James Bond actor. Daniel Craig has said No Time to Die is his Bond finale.

“We’re very focused on this film, No Time to Die, in April,” the COO replied. “Going forward, we don’t speculate on that.”

Bond 25 questions: The end of filming edition

No Time to Die logo

No Time to Die wrapped up principal photography this week. Naturally, the blog has some questions.

Does it seem like there’s been less publicity than other Bond movies?

Compared to the films earlier this decades, yes.

Skyfall and SPECTRE each had a series of video blogs. A crew member would describe his or her responsibilities, for example. One of the SPECTRE vlogs showed preparations for a car chase. Another highlighted the preparations for a big explosion.

Also, with SPECTRE, some news outlets were given access to do stories about the car chase. The Associated Press posted a short video. The Mail on Sunday ran a story with behind-the-scenes details about the chase sequence.

Not so much with No Time to Die.

There was a single promotional video in June showing filming in Jamaica. A visit by Prince Charles in June to the set generated a lot of TV images. In one video, star Daniel Craig can be seen explaining how the Aston Martin DB5s in the film are replicas, with carbon fiber bodies and BMW engines.

On the other hand, cast and crew members (particularly director Cary Fukunaga) made social media posts. And when the crew went to Matera, Italy, tourists took many smartphone videos that spread quickly.

When will things change?

No Time to Die added to its publicity efforts on Saturday when Empire posted a story with an image from the movie.

The entertainment publication said the image is part of its 2020 Preview issue out next week.

What’s next?

There still isn’t a trailer. The James Bond & Friends podcast said months ago there was a rough cut of a teaser trailer. For whatever reason, that has stayed under wraps. No word on when it will come out.

Based on Empire’s story, there may be articles by other outlets that have been prepared but are embargoed until closer to the movie’s April release.

Those odd back covers to 1960s Bond paperbacks

Back cover to a Signet paperback edition of Live And Let Die (it’s on top of a DVD collection of UPA cartoons, in case you’re wondering).

In episode 0028 of the James Bond & Friends podcast, there was a discussion about the back covers of 007 paperbacks and the odd order they listed the Ian Fleming books.

David Leigh of The James Bond Dossier noted how Pan paperback editions of the Fleming novels listed the books in a seemingly random order.

The podcast got a reaction on social media. I remembered the U.S. paperbacks also seemed odd. So I got out a couple of my own Signet paperbacks issued in the U.S. during the 1960s.

A 1963 Signet printing of For Your Eyes Only listed the books in this order:

Casino Royale, Live And Let Die, Goldfinger, From Russia With Love Moonraker, Doctor No, Diamonds Are Forever and Thunderball.

Casino Royale and Live And Let Die were the first two books in the series. But it jumps out of order after that.

At the same time, an inside page lists the Fleming Bond novels in a different order. It starts with From Russia With Love, goes back to Doctor No, then presents the rest randomly (Casino Royale listed fourth, Goldfinger fifth and Moonraker sixth, among others.

The 27th printing by Signet of Live And Let Die (no specific printing date but before The Man With the Golden Gun was out in paperback) has this listing in alphabetical order (discounting “the”) with more titles:

Casino Royale, Diamonds Are Forever, Doctor No, For Your Eyes Only, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Live And Let Die, Moonraker, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice.

Spy Command participates in two podcasts

Spybrary podcast logo

The Spy Command was part of two podcasts in the past week.

The Spybrary podcast on July 31 featured an interview with me. Host Shane Whaley asked for my “dead drop five.”

I named a combination of TV shows and books, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible (the original TV series), and From Russia With Love novel and film as a joint entry. I also listed the Matt Helm series of serious novels (as opposed to the Dean Martin movies).

Shane and I have discussed this possibility for more than a year and it was fun to get it done. Shane also wants me to host a panel about U.N.C.L.E. in the future.

The Spybrary host followed up with an Aug. 5 podcast reviewing The Removers, the third Matt Helm novel by Donald Hamilton. It was one of the titles I had discussed on the July 31 podcast.

James Bond & Friends logo

Meanwhile, James Bond & Friends, produced by the MI6 James Bond website, is back with episode 0020, which came out on Aug. 6. This edition includes a new guest, Marcos Kontze of the James Bond Brasil website. I was there as well along with David Leigh of The James Bond Dossier, Ben Williams of MI6 Confidential as well as MI6 founders Paul Atkinson and James Page. A description from the MI6 website:

Observing the passing of David Hedison – two time Felix Leiter – we note how he became the first man to return to the role some 10 years later with the long-serving ally’s pivotal role in ‘Licence to Kill’. We continue by discussing Leiter and Bond’s relationship and how the re-casting has lead to some inconsistent characterisation. Along the way, we stumble on Leiter’s drinking habits, Felix’s faux pas, his Kennedy impersonation, Jack Lord’s moisturiser, Felicia Leiter, big livers, the martini olive scam, an ill-fated fishing trip, Le Chiffre’s undead exit, rewrites whilst boozing, and the Leiterverse.

Golden Gun’s 45th anniversary: The unloved Bond?

goldengunposter

The Man With the Golden Gun poster

Updated and expanded from a 2014 post.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of The Man With The Golden Gun.

The 1974 film has received a lot of flak over the decades. It’s exhibit A when the subject comes up about 007 film misfires. Too goofy. Too cheap. Too many of the crew members having a bad day.

For example, Don McGregor, then a writer for Marvel Comics, savaged the movie in a lengthy article in a 1975 issue of Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine (which featured a cover drawn by comics legend Neal Adams).

Also, the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website had few kind words when its contributors (including myself) did rankings of the Bond films. (Speaking only for myself, as I look back on my comments, one about John Barry was over the top.)

Over the years, Bond fans have said it has an average John Barry score (though one supposes Picasso had average paintings). It has too many bad gags (Bond watches as two teenage karate students take out a supposedly deadly school of assassins). And, for a number of first-generation 007 film fans, it has Roger Moore playing Bond, which is bad it and of itself.

Golden Gun is a way for fans to establish “street cred” — a way of establishing, “I’m not a fan boy.”

Neal Adams cover to The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine containing an article savaging The Man With the Golden Gun

However, the movie also has its defenders. Among them is David Leigh, who runs The James Bond Dossier website and is a regular guest on the James Bond & Friends podcast.  Also, the August 2018 issue of 007 Magazine (which is sold out) had an article titled, “In Defence of The Man With the Golden Gun.”

The movie was a bit of a disappointment at the box office. Golden Gun’s worldwide box office plunged 40 percent compared with Live And Let Die ($97.6 million versus $161.8 million, according to THE NUMBERS website). Within a few weeks of its December 1974 U.S. release, United Artists hurriedly paired Golden Gun with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which UA released earlier in 1974, to make a double feature.

In terms of long-term importance, Golden Gun was the finale of the Albert R. Broccoli-Harry Saltzman 007 partnership. Saltzman would soon be in financial trouble and have to sell out his share of the franchise to United Artists. In a way, things have never really been the same since.

The end of the car jump of The Man With the Golden Gun

Golden Gun is not the best offering in the Eon Production series. Rather, in many ways, it’s the runt of the litter that many like to pick on — even among the same people who’d chafe at criticism of their favorite 007 film.

The documentary Inside The Man With The Golden Gun says the movie has all of the 007 “ingredients.” Of course, such a documentary is approved by executives who aren’t demanding candor.

But the statement is true. It has not one, but two Oscar winning directors of photography (Oswald Morris and Ted Moore); it has a score by a five-time Oscar winner (John Barry); it is one of 13 007 movies Richard Maibaum contributed writing.

Then again, movies sometimes are less the sum of their parts. It happens. Not everyone has their best day.

For many, Golden Gun is a convenient piñata. Despite some positives (including a genuinely dangerous driving stunt), it doesn’t get much love from part of the 007 fan community.