Remembering that 1989-95 007 hiatus

GoldenEye’s poster

Our post the other day about the anniversary of Licence to Kill’s release got the blog to thinking about what followed: The six-year hiatus in James Bond film production.

Like the earlier post, this is more of a personal take on the events.

The thing is, in those pre-internet days, the news was much slower in getting around. During much of this period, I saw a number of items in The Wall Street Journal. I had a subscription at the time.

Also, the extent of what was going on wasn’t immediately evident.

There were reports in the trade press that director John Glen and screenwriter Richard Maibaum wouldn’t be returning to the series. This was the first indication (at least to me) that a big makeover, rather than minor tweaks, was in store.

There were occasional stories about potential new directors and screenwriters. Things got more serious when it was announced that Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions, was putting itself up for sale. Eventually, no sale occurred, but seeing the original announcement was an eye-opener.

What’s more, the soap opera at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, went into overdrive. MGM was bought and sold again, with a bank (Credit Lyonnais) taking over the operation. Bond fans now needed to read the business pages of newspapers just to keep things straight.

Also, Danjaq/Eon filed a lawsuit related to what was going on with MGM. It was clear the next James Bond film wouldn’t be made soon. Even when the lawsuit was settled (I had a chance to read the press release at my office), it still wasn’t clear when production would resume.

Timothy Dalton

During this period, there were questions about what would happen with the incumbent 007, Timothy Dalton. Geraldo Rivera had a syndicated U.S. television show at the time and one broadcast was devoted to Bond. Some Bond experts participated. Rivera asked if Dalton would be back. The experts said they expected him to return.

Finally came the announcement that Dalton was gone. What was going to happen next?

Attention turned to Pierce Brosnan, who lost out on his chance to play Bond in 1986, when Dalton got the nod.

Eon maintained in a 1987 television interview that Dalton was always its No. 1 choice. In that interview, Albert R. Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson said Brosnan had never been signed to play Bond.

Brosnan had been signed (and it’s detailed in the Inside The Living Daylights documentary that’s part of home video release), but NBC reacted by ordering more episodes of Remington Steele. That, of course, was what gave Dalton his opportunity to play Bond.

In 1994, shortly before the casting decision was announced, The Wall Street Journal weighed in with a long front-page story about the Bond search and that it was not a clear-cut choice.

Regardless, Brosnan got the node. Many fans, no doubt, thought, “Finally!”

Advertisement for 1994 James Bond convention

Still, Bond had been away from theater screens for quite a while. Eon did something it had never done — having an official James Bond fan conventions in the fall of 1994 and 1995 (the latter days before the premiere of GoldenEye).

That was part of an effort to revive interest in Bond. For hard-core fans, they were anxiously waiting all along. Still, both conventions were interesting to attend. For some fans, it was a chance to meet like-minded people they had never had a chance to encounter before.

In the end, Bond resumed production. 007 even maintained an every-other-year schedule until the end of the 1990s.

Still, looking back at the hiatus, it’s a reminder that film franchises — for fans, for productions companies, for studios — can’t be taken for granted.

For Your Eyes Only’s 35th: Back to Fleming

Blofeld menaces 007 at the start of For Your Eyes Only

Blofeld menaces 007 at the start of For Your Eyes Only

Audiences got something in June 1981 they hadn’t seen in a while — a James Bond film with much of the proceedings actually based on Ian Fleming stories.

For Your Eyes Only, based on two Fleming short stories, even included some dialogue here and there taken from 007’s creator.

At this point, there hadn’t been so much Fleming material in a Bond movie since 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which ended with the death of Bond’s wife Tracy.

That movie was referenced at the very start of the pre-titles sequence when Bond visits Tracy’s grave. Her year of death was listed on her headstone as 1969 and her epitaph read, “We Have All the Time in the World.”

Following two Bond spectacles, 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and 1979’s Moonraker, the 1981 pre-titles sequence immediately signaled a change in tone.

Screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson ended up using chunks of the For Your Eyes Only and Risico short stories while fashioning a plot line to tie the two Fleming tales together.

It was also one time where Eon Productions and producer Albert R. Broccoli varied from their usual strategy of “tailoring” a movie to its leading man.

Roger Moore, making his fifth 007 film appearance, was called upon in the Maibaum-Wilson script to kick a car containing a killer in the employ of the movie’s villain off a cliff. Earlier in the story, Bond’s opponent was responsible for the death of an MI6 agent.

There were multiple accounts at the time that Moore hesitated but that first-time director John Glen (who had been promoted by Broccoli from second unit director) stuck to his guns.

It was a harder Bond than Moore normally played and it worked for the story. This was a case of writing Bond first and having the actor play to that.

For Your Eyes Only still added big set pieces, including a wheelchair-bound Blofeld (originally it wasn’t officially supposed to be the villain, but that got “re-conned” many years later as part of an official home video promotion) controlling a helicopter with Bond inside. There were also chases, with Bond in a small car for a change and on skis being menaced by various killers.

However, For Your Eyes Only stayed very much earth-bound compared with Moonraker, where Bond had gone into space. On more than one occasion, Moore’s Bond is forced to use his wits to survive.

During the summer of 1981, Bond still drew audiences amid heightened box office competition, such as Indiana Jones’ debut in Raiders of the Lost Ark, a huge hit with global box office of almost $390 million.

For Your Eyes Only generated global box office of $195.3 million. While a bit down from Moonraker’s $210.3 million, the change in direction was accepted by the general public.

Moreover, fans of Fleming’s original novels and short stories took note. It would not be until 2006’s Casino Royale that audiences would get as much Fleming content in a 007 film. For Your Eyes also was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song.

FROM 2011: For Your Eyes Only’s 30th anniversary: 007 returns to earth

 

Another View (to a Kill): Roger Moore’s farewell

A View to a Kill's poster

A View to a Kill’s poster

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer
Three decades have passed since Roger Moore bid farewell to the role of James Bond with A View to a Kill, directed by John Glen.

The film had a striking marketing campaign, an effective cast and realistic action sequences, but nowadays it remains hidden in the hall of shame by many Bond fans.

There are issues: Roger was getting old, turning 57 during production. The film is way too Americanized. See the “Dick Tracy” police captain lifted out of an Police Academy film. Bond has lost his mystery and his lethal side compared to the Sean Connery days, perhaps.

But why is it that some Bond fans still keep A View to a Kill close to their heart?

Maybe because it’s Roger Moore’s Bond farewell party – and it is done with a lot of style: KGB, explosions, ski chases, dances into the fire, lots of women, luxury, exotic locations. Moore said goodbye in his way.

Delivering punches to his adversaries like when he played The Saint, drinking his trademark Bollinger champagne, smiling to young ladies with his rather evident wrinkles and adopting a snobbish alias (James St John Smythe, pronounced Sin-jin Smythe), the third official 007 threw out a party and we were all invited, before the dark side of Timothy Dalton’s dangerous Bond debuted onscreen in 1987.

Music is a key element of every party. In the case of A View to a Kill we had not only master composer John Barry, but the popular teen idol band Duran Duran, with a rocking main title song that reached No. 1 in the U.S. charts.

Band member John Taylor confessed to be a Bond and Barry fan and approached the composer to sing the title song. Barry, surprised by the young man knowledge of his career, agreed. It was a hit. Every trailer and TV spot voiceover reminded the audience Duran Duran performed the title song.

Former KGB agent Max Zorin was effectively played by Christopher Walken, providing the first ruthless and fiercely violent villain on the series. He guns down his accomplices while trying to escape from a flooding mine and enjoys it. He orders an intruder thrown alive into a propeller. He tires to maim 007 atop the Golden Gate with an axe.

Grace Jones as May Day also provided a shake off as an exotic beauty, a deathly henchwoman who gets close –- literally — with the aging Moore. She was prominently featured in advertisements for the film which asked if James Bond had finally met his match.

On the other side, we had Stacey Sutton, portrayed by Tanya Roberts. Irresistible and charming, Roberts was perhaps not so memorable in acting, but definitively memorable in beauty and sweetness with every expression and glance with her incredible blue eyes.

The action sequences of the film took a realistic approach –- well, if we forget Moore used doubles — with Willy Bogner’s direction of the opening sequence in Siberia, where 007 escapes the KGB troops on skis, snowmobile and an improvised snowboard.

In the style of the Moore era of parodying popular culture (as the Close Encounters of the Third Kind tune in Moonraker or the Tarzan yell in Octopussy), a cover version of the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” song is heard as 007 (actually stuntman Steven Link) “surfs” the snow successfully evading the KGB, but then the dramatic John Barry tune returns as Bond down a pursuing helicopter by shooting a flare into the cockpit.

Then we have Bond pursuing May Day through the Eiffel Tower and through the streets of Paris with a destroyed Renault and escaping the incinerated City Hall in San Francisco with his girl, in a thrilling scene where you’ll seriously wonder if he’ll survive or how he will do it.

A bit satirical and gag-filled scene is the part where Bond boards a fire truck and evades the police, yet Barry’s music brings needed drama to this sequence. Besides the Police Academy films with the silly cops, this action scene is unadultered Moore Bond fun, as is the fight atop the Golden Gate between Bond and his nemesis perpetuated on the film’s theatrical poster. A scene that is not out of drama, thrills, suspense and it still has Moore’s humorous touch.

The very last scene of Roger Moore as James Bond harkens back to the first shot we saw of him in 1973’s Live and Let Die: with a woman.

In his debut, Moore was with Italian agent Miss Caruso in his apartment following a mission. Unlike Sean Connery’s and George Lazenby’s detail close ups before their “Bond, James Bond” moment, Moore let himself be introduced in his incurable playboy fashion.

In A View to a Kill, 007, presumed missing, is sharing a shower with Stacey as Q’s robotic dog observes them. He throws a towel right over the device’s camera-eyes.

It’s pretty logical. The playboy won his girl on his farewell party.

A View To a Kill’s 30th: no more Moore

A View to a Kill's poster

A View to a Kill’s poster

To sort of steal from Christopher Nolan, A View To a Kill isn’t the Bond ending Roger Moore deserved, but it’s the one that he got when the film debuted 30 years ago this month.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli had prevailed at the box office in 1983 against a competing James Bond film with Sean Connery, Broccoli’s former star. Broccoli’s Octopussy generated more ticket sales than Never Say Never Again (with Connery as de facto producer as well as star).

That could have been the time for Moore to call it a day. Some fans at the time expected Octopussy to be the actor’s finale. Yet, Broccoli offered him the role one more time and the actor accepted.

Obviously, he could have said no, but when you’re offered millions of dollars that’s easier said than done. There was the issue of the actor’s age. Moore would turn 57 during production in the fall of 1984.

That’s often the first thing cited, such as THIS SUMMARY OF THE MOVIE posted on April 2 by What Culture, an entertainment website that specializes in “click bait” lists.

However, the problems go deeper than that. As we’ve written before, the movie veers back and forth between humor and really dark moments as if it can’t decide what it wants to be.

Typical of A View To a Kill's humor

Typical of A View To a Kill’s humor

Director John Glen and screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson constantly go from yuks and tension and back again. If the humor were better, that might be easier to accept. Typical example: In the pre-titles sequence, there’s an MI-6 submarine that’s supposed to be disguised as an iceberg but its phallic shape suggests something else.

For those Bond fans who never liked Moore, just mentioning the title of the movie will cause distress. Based strictly on anecdotal evidence over the years, many times admirers don’t mention it as one of his better 007 efforts.

We could critique the movie further, but most fans have heard it all before and, honestly, we don’t feel like going over the same ground here. If you want to experience that, go to a James Bond fan group on Facebook, type in, “I really like A View To a Kill,” and read the responses come in.

Regardless whether you’re a critic of Moore as 007 or a fan, he did hold down the 007 fort through some hectic times (including the breakup of Broccoli with his 007 producing partner Harry Saltzman). It would have been nicer to go out on a higher note than A View To a Kill. But storybook endings usually only happen in the movies.

Marvel Studios and the Cubby Broccoli playbook

Avengers: Age of Ultron poster

Avengers: Age of Ultron poster

The Wall Street Journal, in a story by Ben Fritz, takes a look at how Marvel Studios operates. While it doesn’t come up in the story, it sounds like Marvel has read the old Albert R. Broccoli playbook.

Like James Bond movies produced by Broccoli, Marvel makes big, sprawling movies. But, like the Eon Productions co-founder, Marvel doesn’t spend top dollar for everything. Here’s a key excerpt:

But no company has eschewed A-list talent as consistently and effectively in the modern age as Marvel. All but one of its 10 films released so far have been hits, a record rivaled only by Pixar Animation Studios. And none have featured a major star or established action director.

Money is a key reason, say people who have done business with Marvel. The Disney subsidiary’s chief executive, Ike Perlmutter, is notoriously frugal and doesn’t believe that the millions rivals like Warner Bros. spend to get big-name stars like Ben Affleck and Will Smith are worth it.

“They are in the business of hiring the guy who hasn’t had a big success, because they don’t have to pay that guy very much,” said Mr. Whedon, adding that he made more money on his self-produced Internet series “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” than he did directing the first “Avengers,” which cost $230 million to produce and grossed $1.5 billion world-wide.

When Broccoli (first with Harry Saltzman and then on his own) produced 007 films, a formula eventually emerged where the actor playing James Bond would be paid well but Eon didn’t usually pay for A-list actors for other roles. “Regulars” such as Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn were paid relatively modestly.

As directors, Eon would hire journeymen such as Terence Young and Guy Hamilton. Or, with John Glen, promote from within, elevating him to the director’s chair from the second unit.

Marvel isn’t exactly the same, but there are similarities. The Journal describes how Marvel’s approach to talent is to seek out actors on their way up (who don’t cost top dollar yet) or are making a comeback (such as Robert Downey Jr.). There’s a similar strategy with directors, including Joss Whedon (referenced in the excerpt above) and Joe and Anthony Russo.

As we’ve written before, Eon’s strategy has evolved since the Cubby Broccoli days. Bond movies employ more auteur directors (Sam Mendes, Marc Forster) and more expensive actors for at least some roles (Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes).  Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the co-leaders of Eon, have been putting their own stamp on the series.

In any case, if you want to read the entire Journal story about Marvel, CLICK HERE.

 

Licence to Kill’s 25th: 007 flops in the U.S.

Licence to Kill's poster

Licence to Kill’s poster

Licence to Kill, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, is mostly known for a series of “lasts” but also for a first.

It was the last of five 007 films directed by John Glen, the most prolific director in the series; the last of 13 Bond films where Richard Maibaum participated in the writing; it was the last with Albert R. Broccoli getting a producer’s credit (he would only “present” 1995’s GoldenEye); it was the last 007 movie with a title sequence designed by Maurice Binder; and the it was last 007 film where Pan Am was the unofficial airline of the James Bond series (it went out of business before GoldenEye).

It was also the first that was an unqualified flop in the U.S. market.

Bond wasn’t on Poverty Row when Licence to Kill began production in 1988. But neither did 007 travel entirely first class.

Under financial pressure from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (which acquired half the franchise after buying United Artists earlier in the decade), Eon Productions moved the home base of the production to Mexico from Pinewood Studios.

Joining Timothy Dalton in his second (and last) outing as Bond was a cast mostly known for appearing on U.S. television, including Anthony Zerbe, Don Stroud, David Hedison (his second appearance as Felix Leiter), Pricilla Barnes, Rafer Johnson, Frank McRae as well as Las Vegas performer Wayne Newton.

Meanwhile, character actor Robert Davi snared the role of the film’s villain, with Carey Lowell and Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto as competing Bond women.

Michael G. Wilson, Broccoli’s stepson and co-producer, took the role as lead writer because a 1988 Writers Guild strike made Richard Maibaum unavailable. Maibaum’s participation didn’t extend beyond the plotting stage. The teaser trailer billed Wilson as the sole writer but Maibaum received co-writer billing in the final credits.

Wilson opted for a darker take, up to a point. He included Leiter having a leg chewed off by a shark from the Live And Let Die novel. He also upped the number of swear words compared with previous 007 entries. But Wilson hedged his bets with jokes, such as Newton’s fake preacher and a scene where Q shows off gadgets to Bond.

Licence would be the first Bond film where “this time it’s personal.” Bond goes rogue to avenge Leiter. Since then, it has almost always been personal for 007. Because of budget restrictions, filming was kept to Florida and Mexico.

The end product didn’t go over well in the U.S. Other studios had given the 16th 007 film a wide berth for its opening weekend. The only “new” movie that weekend was a re-release of Walt Disney Co.’s Peter Pan.

Nevertheless, Licence finished an anemic No. 4 during the July 14-16 weekend, coming in behind Lethal Weapon 2 (in its second weekend), Batman (in its fourth weekend) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (also fourth weekend).

Glen and Maibaum were done with Bond, the latter being part of the 007 series since its inception.

Initial pre-production of the next 007 film proceeded without the two series veterans. Wilson wrote a treatment in 1990 for Bond 17 with Alfonse Ruggiero but that story was never made.

That’s because Broccoli would enter into a legal fight with MGM that meant Bond wouldn’t return to movie screens for another six years. By the time production resumed, Eon started over, using a story by Michael France as a beginning point for what would become GoldenEye. Maibaum, meanwhile, died in early 1991.

Today, some fans like to blame MGM’s marketing campaign or other major summer 1989 movies such as Batman or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But Licence came out weeks after either of those blockbusters. In the end, the U.S. audience didn’t care for Licence. The movie’s total U.S. box office of $34.7 million didn’t match Batman’s U.S. opening weekend of $40.5 million. Licence’s U.S. box office was almost a third less than its 007 predecessor, The Living Daylights.

Licence to Kill did better in other markets. Still, Licence’s $156.2 million in worldwide ticket sales represented an 18 percent decline from The Living Daylights.

For Dalton, Glen, Maibaum and even Broccoli (he yielded the producer’s duties on GoldenEye because of ill health), it was the end of the road.

MI6 Confidential interviews Purvis & Wade

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis.

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis.

MI6 Confidential, the James Bond fan magazine, is out with a new issue that includes an interview with five-time 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.

In issue 24, the duo “talk candidly about their years with Bond,” according to an MI6 Confidential promo. The writing team’s work on Bond spanned more than a decade, from 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, through 2012’s Skyfall.

Purvis and Wade have now departed the series. Bond 24 is being written by John Logan, who rewrote Purvis and Wade on Skyfall. Logan is also slated to write Bond 25.

As we discussed IN A JAN. 11 POST, four of the five Purvis/Wade movies involved a theme where either Bond isn’t “fully” Bond yet, or he’s lost his mojo and needs to get it back.

Also in issue 24 of MI6 Confidential is a feature on John Glen, director of the five 1980s 007 films, about his career; a story about the casting of the female leads in 1989’s Licence to Kill; a story about Denise Richards; and a story about highlights of John Barry’s scores of Bond movies.

The price is 7 British pounds, $11 or 8.50 euros, plus postage and handling. For more information, CLICK HERE.