Bond 25 questions: The mid-year edition

We’re almost halfway through 2019. That’s as good a reason as any for the blog to ask some new questions about Bond 25.

What do you make of the (apparently) discarded title A Reason to Die?

The MI6 James Bond website sniffed out that A Reason to Die was the tentative title for Bond 25. But Eon Productions after conferring with its studio partners decided not to proceed with it the night before an April 25 live stream event from Jamaica.

What the blog wonders is why did it take so long to make that decision? Or, put another way, was the live stream event scheduled before said studio partners (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Universal among them) weighed in?

Back in 2015, Eon’s Michael G. Wilson said the production company devises the marketing while the studios executes those plans.

So, was A Reason to Die an Eon initiative? Were MGM (handling U.S. distribution for Bond 25) and Universal (handling international distribution) not in the loop until the last minute? Or was the situation more complicated?

Where did A Reason to Die come from anyway?

Edward Biddulph of the James Bond Memes website wrote on Twitter the title may stem from the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service novel.

Specifically, in Chapter 5, The Capu, Marc-Ange Draco tells Bond, referring to his daughter Tracy: “Will you help me save this girl? It is my only chance, that you will give her hope. That you will give her a reason to live. Will you?”

Is that a big deal?

It’s hardly the most significant Ian Fleming reference available. Fleming short titles (Risico, The Hildebrand Rarity, The Property of a Lady and 007 in New York) haven’t been used. However, plot elements from Risico were used for 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. Ditto for The Hildebrand Rarity in 1989’s Licence to Kill (plus a passing reference to the name Hildebrand in 2015’s SPECTRE). Also, plot elements from  The Property of a Lady showed up in 1983’s Octopussy.

What’s more, there are chapter titles from the Fleming novels that might be worth considering. Still, veteran 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are known for mining small details from Fleming. They were the first screenwriters on Bond 25. It’s possible A Reason to Die fits their original script.

So what happens next?

When Prince Charles visited the Bond 25 set at Pinewood Studios earlier this month, Daniel Craig told him that filming on the production was about one-third complete.

There’s no teaser trailer yet, although a promotional video was released this week. A teaser trailer may be out sooner than later and we may get a title — A Reason to Die or something else — at that time. As usual, we’ll see.

A Reason to Die was B25’s tentative title, MI6 site says

Eon’s Bond 25 logo

A Reason to Die was the tentative title for Bond 25, the MI6 James Bond website said.

The title “was attached to Bond 25 right up until” April 24, the night before a livestream event from Jamaica revealing cast and crew members, the website said.

Eon Productions conferred with its studio partners and A Reason to Die was “considered weak and ‘not Bond enough’ and pulled from the event,” the website reported. “A title treatment had been created.”

Bond 25, due out in April 2020, will be distributed by United Artists Releasing (a joint venture between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Annapurna Pictures) in the U.S. and Universal internationally.

MI6 James Bond sent out this tweet on Wednesday night. It includes a red “X” and the April 24 date written in pencil.

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Reports based on the tweet alone then surfaced earlier today, including The Express and Esquire UK. The latter said it was skeptical MI6 James Bond was correct.

At the April event in Jamaica, Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson only referenced Bond 25. Wilson said he couldn’t remember the last time a Bond film had a title when filming began. A May 5 Haphazard Stuff video contrasted that statement with Eon media events held when filming began on earlier Bond films.

Bond 25: The week the optics changed

Eon’s Bond 25 logo

The Royal family this week, intentionally or not, gave 007 an assist with the optics of Bond 25’s production.

Prince Charles on Thursday showed up at Pinewood Studios and chatted with the likes of Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and director Cary Fukunaga on Bond 25 sets.

As is often the case, there were many media members in attendance, with video and stills being taken.

It wasn’t the prince’s first turn at doing this sort of thing, In the 1980s, he and his then-wife, Princess Diana, toured Pinewood during production of The Living Daylights.

Such visits are arranged well in advance. It’s not like Prince Charles would just show up at Pinewood.

Still, for one day at least, the images and stories generated from the visit washed away a lot of previously Bond 25 publicity concerning star injuries, script rewrites, the departure of Danny Boyle as director, an explosion that damaged the famous 007 Stage and tales of other problems.

The timing may have been coincidental. But for Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Universal (the latter handling international distribution of Bond 25), the prince’s visit could not have come soon enough.

For those who wanted more, a video by 5 News provided some Bond 25 tidbits as the prince asked questions of the Bond 25 cast and crew.

To be sure, Bond 25 has a lot of filming to go. About a third has been completed. Also, making large, big-budget movies rarely is an easy endeavor.

Still, the topic of Bond 25 conversation has been changed, at least for a while.

Licence to Kill’s 30th anniversary: 007 falters in the U.S.

Licence to Kill's poster

Licence to Kill’s poster

Adapted and updated from a 2014 post.

Licence to Kill, which had its world premiere 30 years ago today, 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 (1909-1991) 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, who would die in 1990.

–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 to falter badly in the U.S. market.

Economy Class

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.

Wilson’s Role

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 been frequently been personal for 007. Because of budget restrictions, filming was kept primarily 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 U.S. 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.

Bond 17’s Fembot

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 that included a deadly fembot. Scripts with other scribes were then written based on that treatment. 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 until 1995. 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.

And, it needs to be repeated, Bond couldn’t best Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, which also came out weeks earlier.

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 sold the fewest tickets in the U.S. among James Bond films.

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

Blood Is Thicker Than Water

Some 007 fans blame a lackluster U.S. advertising campaign. However, Michael G. Wilson said in 2015 that Eon “really run the marketing ourselves” and the and the studios involved “execute it.” Did that apply to Licence to Kill? Or was Licence somehow an exception?

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.

Michael G. Wilson, despite his enormous impact on Licence to Kill, remained in place. Blood (even adopted blood), after all, is thicker than water — or even box office receipts.

MGM executive affirms Bond 25 is Craig’s final 007 outing

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer executive last month affirmed that Bond 25 will be Daniel Craig’s finale as James Bond.

“Daniel Craig, of course, will star in his final turn as 007 under the direction of Cary Fukunaga,,” Christopher Brearton, chief operating officer of the studio, said in prepared remarks for shareholders. The conference call took place in early May when MGM reported first-quarter financial results.

That’s not an especially remarkable statement. In August 2017, Craig announced on Late Night With Stephen Colbert he was returning for Bond 25. The host asked him if he might do more Bonds.

“I think this is it,” Craig said. “I want to go out on a high note.”

Of course, there have been occasional tabloid stories suggesting otherwise. The Sun, in a January 2019 story, and The Express in an April 2019 article each said Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli hasn’t given up on the idea of getting Craig back for Bond 26.

Meanwhile, Brearton didn’t have much else to say about Bond 25 on the May call.

“In film, we announced the kickoff of production of the 25th instalment of the Bond franchise, unveiling the storyline and a terrific cast, including Rami Malek, fresh off his Academy Award-winning turn as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody as a mysterious new villain,” the executive said.

“We are very excited to be getting production underway and you will be hearing more from us in the coming months.”

MGM executive says 2020 will be ‘a Bond year’

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s chief operating officer said 2020 will be “a Bond year” with the release of Bond 25.

“As for 2020, we could not be more excited about the film slate,” Christopher Brearton said on an investor call. “It’s a Bond year.” The movie’s April 8, 2020 U.S. release date, he said, means it “will be out in time” for Easter and spring break.

Bond 25 has been delayed twice. It originally had U.S. release dates of November 2019 and February 2020. The exit of Danny Boyle as director caused the postponement until February 2020. The second move came as the film’s script was rewritten for four weeks by script doctor Scott Z. Burns.

Brearton, in prepared remarks, didn’t get into that background.

“We will soon commence production on Bond 25, directed by Cary Fukunaga of True Detective fame,” he said. “And as we recently announced we have secured a strong pre-Easter 2020 date for the film.”

Bond 25 is being released in the U.S. by United Artists Releasing, MGM’s joint venture with Annapurna Pictures. Universal is handling international distribution.

The executive also said MGM’s 2019 financial results will be affected by investments in its film and TV units as well as Bond 25 being pushed back into 2020.

Brearton emerged as a first among equals in the MGM executive suite after CEO Gary Barber departed the company in March 2018. No CEO has been named since.

The chief operating officer also talked about MGM’s strategy more broadly. He said the studio plans to release four-to-six movies under the MGM brand and additional, smaller budget films under its Orion brand. Brearton said a third Creed movie, a continuation of the Rocky saga, is in development.

MGM also has done a deal with Joe and Anthony Russo where the brothers will supervise remakes of movies in the company’s film library. The Russos have co-directed four Marvel Studios movies, including the upcoming Avengers: Endgame.

MGM looks to expand film-based consumer products

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer wants to expand consumer products based on its films, including James Bond, Variety reported.

The home studio of the 007 film series hired Robert Marick as executive vice president of global consumer products and experiences, the entertainment news outlet said. Marick has worked at various studios prior to joining MGM.

Marick will supervise “expansion of MGM’s traditional merchandise, interactive and consumer products business,” Variety said. Besides Bond, the executive will deal with film franchises and TV series such as The Handmaid’s Tale, The Pink Panther and Legally Blonde.

In recent years, Bond-related merchandise has been mostly high-end, such as a Lego Aston Martin DB5 and replica DB5s made by Aston that cost 2.75 million British pounds each and aren’t street legal.

The 007 series was once an active generator of video games but that’s fallen off. In the 1960s, Bond-related merchandise included lunch boxes, puzzles, liquor and clothing. The official Eon James Bond site has a section that includes various goods.