About that remaking OHMSS idea

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

The New York Post’s Page Six gossip operation succeeded in creating a buzz with a report that Bond 25 will rework part of the plot of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But is it a good idea?

Many fans enthusiastically say yes, because it means a proper adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1964 You Only Live Twice novel.

Let’s take a look at some issues involved.

–Another revenge plot? In the Twice novel, Bond is a broken man following the death of his wife Tracy. He’s given an “impossible mission” involving diplomacy instead of guns (trying to get the Japanese to share intel it gathers and decodes using its Magic 44 system).

But through a few twists and turns, it turns out Blofeld is in Japan and Bond gets to go after him.

Eon Productions did Twice first, dispensing with most of the plot while retaining key characters. Majesty’s became the next film in the series. Diamonds Are Forever didn’t make any direct references to Majesty’s. Thus, many fans say they were deprived of a classic revenge plot.

True enough. Eon, over the years, has made up for lost time revenge wise: Licence to Kill (Bond goes after the killers of Leiter’s wife, who also severely maimed Leiter); GoldenEye (Bond, betrayed by 006, goes after him); The World Is Not Enough (Bond is betrayed by Elektra King, goes after her); Die Another Day (Bond is framed and imprisoned, goes after those responsible); Quantum of Solace (Bond swears revenge for the death of Vesper in Casino Royale).

Bond films may have things in short supply, but revenge plots aren’t among them. This time it’s personal (again).

–Chemistry, or lack thereof, with the actors involved. In SPECTRE, Lea Seydoux was very convincing when her Madeline Swann said she hated Daniel Craig’s Bond. Not so much when Swann decided she was in love with Bond.

In 1969’s Majesty’s Diana Rigg as Tracy was very convincing as the character who made Bond feel she was “the one,” his true love. Seydoux wasn’t in that league, a point this blog made in a January 2016 post.

Or, as Philip Nobile Jr. of Birth. Movies. Death wrote: “Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux had absolutely no chemistry on together.”

None of this will matter to advocates of using Majesty’s and Twice as the basis for Bond 25. Blofeld Trilogy, Garden of Death and all that. We’ll have to wait for a couple of years before seeing if there’s anything to all this.

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Long-term issues confronting the 007 franchise

Daniel Craig in 2012 during filming of Skyfall.

Daniel Craig in 2012 during filming of Skyfall.

Here are some long-term issues confronting the James Bond film franchise that extend beyond purchased helicopters or even the next 007 film (whenever it comes out).

MGM needs to get bigger or sell out: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, is in a no man’s land in Hollywood.

It’s not big enough to release it’s own movies. In fact, it’s more of a television production company than an actual studio. What few movies it makes annually require cutting deal with another studio to distribute. The last four 007 films were released by Sony, with other MGM projects released by other studios.

Time Warner, which includes Warner Bros., has agreed to be acquired by AT&T. If that deal receives U.S. regulatory approval (not a sure thing), other deals may result.

That leaves MGM to decide whether it’s present strategy is adequate. If a new wave of deals develops, MGM probably has to move one way or another — get bigger or sell off to a buyer.

Eon’s succession plan: Eon is a private outfit that doesn’t discuss such subjects. Maybe it has one, maybe it doesn’t. Regardless, it needs a succession plan if it doesn’t have one.

Michael G. Wilson, one of the Eon principals, turned 75 last month. His half-sister, Barbara Broccoli, is only 56. But, as the saying goes, nobody lives forever.

Perhaps Gregg Wilson, one of Wilson’s sons who has been working on recent films, is being groomed to take more responsibility once his father retires. At this point, nobody really knows.

Is it time for new marketing ideas? There are recurring themes in marketing Bond films over the past two decades.

One of the most repeated is having the lead female actor talk about his character is Bond’s equal. It was uttered most recently by actress Lea Seydoux in an interview with Empire magazine in early 2015.

We get it. Bond women are now strong and independent. Maybe it’s time to come up new marketing points. Strong women in Bond films are now a given.

About that SPECTRE budget

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE poster

As Eon Productions decide what to do next with the 007 franchise, one issue is whether the series can sustain SPECTRE-sized budgets.

In early December 2014, director Sam Mendes joked that Pinewood Studios’ 007 Stage was, “The stage where budgets go to die.”

Not long after, the humor faded as the hacking at Sony Pictures revealed a memo by a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer executive saying the SPECTRE budget was heading well above $300 million, various outlets reported, including CNN Money. Efforts were underway to reduce the budget and gain, among other things, incentives from Mexico to help defray costs.

Before the movie came out in fall 2015, reports (citing studio representatives who weren’t identified) had the budget down to $240 million or so. Regardless, the movie was expensive, putting it in the neighborhood of comic book-based movies such as Marvel Studios’ two Avengers films and Warner Bros.’ Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

There were, no doubt, lots of reasons for the outlay. But two scenes spring to mind.

One was a Rome car chase, which cost 24 million British pounds (around $36 million at the time). Eon seemed rather proud of the spending, giving the Mail on Sunday  lots of access to describe how it was filmed.

The thing was, the chase was mostly plot exposition. During much of the chase, Bond (Daniel Craig) is on the phone to Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) asking her to check out the supposedly dead Franz Oberhauser. It wasn’t exactly in the class of 1968’s Bullitt or a more recent film such as 1998’s Ronin.

The other scene came near the end of Bond’s escape from a SPECTRE lair. The agent blows it up. In November 2015, after the movie’s U.S. release, the Bond team uploaded a YouTube video saying the explosion was a world’s record:

 

 

“Largest explosion in the history of movies,” a pleased Mendes says in the video.

Except, was it that dramatic a moment? Bond and Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) already had made their escape. Obviously, blowing up SPECTRE headquarters would require a big explosion. But did the extra cost of making it a world’s record actually add to the story? Was the extra spending an artistic choice or ego?

Just to remind everyone, this blog had a favorable review of SPECTRE. At the same time, in some respects SPECTRE indicates that Eon should at least review its spending.

Put another way, would SPECTRE have been harmed if, say, only 12 million pounds had been spent on the car chase? Would artistic integrity been compromised if the SPECTRE lair explosion not been a world’s record?

What’s more, the series on occasion has dialed back — most famously with 1981’s For Your Eyes Only which followed 1979’s Moonraker.

It’s going to be a long while before Bond 25 comes out. Consider this post food for thought.

 

Daily Mail says Daniel Craig is out as 007

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE's main titles

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE’s main titles

UPDATE (May 19): The BBC reports that “authoritative Bond sources” say Daniel Craig hasn’t made up his mind and no decision is expected soon. CLICK HERE and see the item with a time stamp of 07:56.

ORIGINAL POST: The U.K. tabloid newspaper and website the DAILY MAIL said turned down a 68 million pound ($99 million) to do two more 007 films.

In the past, the Daily Mail had a number of scoops about 2012’s Skyfall and 2015’s SPECTRE that were proven to be true. The bulk of those stories were written by Baz Bamigboye, but he been writing about other entertainment subjects since late 2014.

Here’s an excerpt from the new story by Rehema Figueiredo:

Insiders said Craig turned down a £68million offer from MGM studio to return as Bond for two more films following last year’s hit Spectre. The sum included endorsements, profit shares, and a role for him working as a co-producer.

One LA film source said: ‘Daniel is done – pure and simple – he told top brass at MGM after Spectre. They threw huge amounts of money at him, but it just wasn’t what he wanted.’

There has been a lot of speculation that Craig, 48, was quitting Bondage and even more about possible replacements. Almost all of those stories cited how Craig some in some interviews shortly after SPECTRE finished filming that he would rather slit his wrists than do another Bond film.

However, the Daily Mail is the first outlet to go out on a limb and state definitively that Craig was out. Craig has done the last four films, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale. Craig also was a co-producer of SPECTRE.

What follows is in the for what it’s worth category (and not an endorsement of the Daily Mail story):

SPECTRE ended with Bond driving off in the Aston Martin DB5 with Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux).

Just before filming began, the script had Bond saying, “We have all the time in the world,” a line originally from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, spoken by George Lazenby’s Bond, just before (and after) his wife Tracy (Diana Rigg) is killed. The finished version of SPECTRE didn’t have the line.

To read the entire Daily Mail story, CLICK HERE.

 

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.

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.

SPECTRE’s Oscar campaign gets underway

SPECTRE LOGO

Sony Pictures has kicked off its campaign for promoting SPECTRE for Oscars.

If you CLICK HERE, you’ll see a Sony website aimed at members of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Scientists who nominate and vote on the Oscars.

Sony’s website lists “for your consideration” basically all the major SPECTRE cast and crew members. Among them: Daniel Craig for Best Actor; Christoph Waltz, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Dave Bautista and Andrew Scott for Best Supporting Actor; and Lea Seydoux, Naomie Harris and Monica Bellucci for Best Supporting Actress.

One change of note, compared with Skyfall’s Oscar campaign. Here, Sony suggests SPECTRE’s scribes of John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth as worth of “Best Original Screenplay” consideration.

Three years ago, Logan, Purvis and Wade were promoted for “Best Adapted Screenplay” for Skyfall.

Skyfall ended up with five nominations, the most for any Bond film. It won two, including Best Song.

Sony’s contract to distribute Bond movies for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer expires with SPECTRE. MGM will either reach a new agreement with Sony or sign with another studio.

A shout out to “Gustav Graves” on the message board of the MI6 James Bond website for pointing out the website.