Mission: Impossible 7 (and Bond) questions

The trailer for Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One is out. For understandable reasons, fans of the James Bond films are interested.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

Is Tom Cruise’s M:I series ripping off Bond? You might not want to throw bricks from inside a glasshouse.

Live And Let Die evoked “Blaxploitation” films of the early 1970s. The Man With the Golden Gun evoked kung fu films from the same period. Moonraker evoked Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (even using the same musical notes from John Williams’ score from the latter movie). Moonraker also has similarities to the 1966 movie Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die.

So how would you phrase it?

It depends on how well the ideas are executed.

Movie audiences, generally, don’t care about what ideas are borrowed from whom. They care about whether they like the movie or not.

What makes Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible films different from the most recent Bond movies?

The most recent M:I movies (2011, 2015, 2018) are, for the most part, more fun than the Bond installments of the same period. According to Barbara Broccoli, No Time to Die was a “cinematic masterpiece” (source: No Time to Die official podcast).

No Time to Die enthusiasts would agree. Others may or may not say they had a better time viewing the three M:I films of the 2010s.

That’s all a subject for debate. The seventh M:I film won’t be out for more than a year. We’ll see how it goes.

About Bond’s Oscar prospects

The 2022 Oscars show is next Sunday. No Time to Die has three nominations. What are its prospects?

The categories are Best Song, Sound and Visual Effects. A quick look at each.

Visual effects: This reminds me of the 1980 Oscars (for 1979 movies). Moonraker had a nomination but it used “old school” effects based on models and other techniques.

The 1979 007 film was up against Alien, which got the visual effects award.

No Time to Die used visual effects to alter real life. But it’s up against movies such as Dune and Spider-Man No Way Home which, essentially, created new worlds for movie audiences.

Sound: The very first Bond Oscar went to Norman Wanstall for sound with Goldfinger and Skyfall got a sound award (a tie with Zero Dark Thirty). This year, No Time to Die is up against the likes of Dune, Belfast, The Power of the Dog and Steven Spielberg’s version of West Side Story.

Best song: Bond films have been nominated in this category six times. The last two 007 movies, Skyfall and SPECTRE, won. Can No Time to Die make it a hat trick? One of the alternatives is from the animated movie Encanto and was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

We’ll see.

Dr. No’s 60th anniversary Part V: Ken Adam’s magic

Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) gets his instructions from Dr. No on a Ken Adam-designed set.

Adapted from a 2012 post

Dr. No, the first James Bond film, had a modest $1 million budget. Ken Adam, the movie’s production designer, performed some magic that disguised that fact, making the film look more expensive than it really was. In doing so, the designer helped make James Bond’s world a special one.

Adam’s work on the initial 007 film included Dr. No’s living quarters, a mix of modern and antique; a mostly empty room with a large circular grille in the roof where an unseen Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) provides instructions to his lackey Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson); and Dr. No’s control room, complete with nuclear reactor, perfect for any ambitious villain.

Adam’s work had an immediate effect: director Stanley Kubrick snatched Adam up to work on Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. In that capacity, Adam’s sets included the Pentagon “war room.” That image has been said to prompt Ronald Reagan, upon becoming U.S. president in 1981, to inquire about seeing the place (CLICK HERE to see a 2001 story in the The Guardian that references this or CLICK HERE for a 2009 review of the movie that also makes mention of it.)

Ken Adam

In any case, 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, after having to forgo Adam’s services for From Russia With Love, made sure the designer was on board for Goldfinger. Adam’s sets got more elaborate. Some had moving sections, such as the room Goldfinger describes his plans to raid Fort Knox. Of course, there was the interior of Fort Knox itself.

Adam’s work influenced other ’60s spy movies. Films such as Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die and The Ambushers had scenes where a villain has quarters with moving sections. Adam, though, got more money to play with than his rivals, coming up with the Disco Volante (where a lead hydrofoil could separate from the rear section of the craft) in Thunderball and Blofeld’s volcano headquarters in You Only Live Twice.

Adam (1921-2016) was already a veteran designer when Dr. No came along. He helped make Bond movies special. Adam has worked on less than one-third of the Eon Productions-produced Bond movies and his last 007 credit was 1979’s Moonraker. But his work still stands out and remains the standard others are judged by.

Audiences received yet another reminder of that with 2021’s No Time to Die. Mark Tildesley, the production designer, did an homage to Adam’s circular grille. It was part of the lair of the movie’s villain, Safin played by Rami Malek.

Rami Malek on a No Time to Die set designed by Mark Tildesley certainly appears inspired by a Ken Adam set from Dr. No.

NEXT: Legacy

Michael G. Wilson turns 80

Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson, during publicity for 2015’s SPECTRE

Michael G. Wilson, a producer and writer who worked longer on James Bond films than anyone else, celebrated his 80th birthday today.

Wilson, who has been involved with Bond for 50 years on a full-time basis, is the stepson of Eon Productions co-founder Albert R. Broccoli and the half-brother of 007 producer Barbara Broccoli.

Wilson and Barbara Broccoli took command of Eon in 1994 as GoldenEye was in pre-production and Cubby Broccoli suffered from ill health. The Wilson-Barbara Broccoli combination has produced every Bond film starting with GoldenEye.

Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli died in 1996, ending 35 years with the franchise.

Wilson’s mother, Dana, married Cubby Broccoli in 1959. She had earlier been married to actor Lewis Wilson, who had played Batman in a 1943 serial. The actor was the father of Michael Wilson.

Michael Wilson’s first involvement in the 007 series was as an extra on 1964’s Goldfinger, but that was a one-off. Starting in 1972, he joined Eon and its parent company, Danjaq.

Michael G. Wilson’s first 007 on-screen credit in The Spy Who Loved Me

In those early years, Wilson, a lawyer who also had training in engineering, was involved in the separation between Eon founders Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the latter facing financial troubles. Eventually, United Artists bought out Saltzman’s interest in the 007 franchise.

Wilson’s first on-screen credit was as “special assistant to producer” on 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. Wilson got a small title card, sharing the screen with other crew members. But that belied how Wilson’s influence on the series was growing following Saltzman’s departure.

A Poster Changes

CLIP TO EMBIGGIN

A preliminary version of the poster for The Spy Who Loved Me, with a credit for “Mike Wilson.”

An early poster for Spy had the credit “Assistant to the Producer Mike Wilson.” It didn’t mention other notables such as production designer Ken Adam or associate producer William P. Cartlidge. Later versions didn’t include Wilson’s credits but Adam and Cartlidge still didn’t make the final poster.

For 1979’s Moonraker, Wilson was elevated to executive producer, a title which can be a little confusing. On television series, an executive producer is supposed to be the top producer or producers. For movies, it’s a secondary title to producer. This time, Wilson was included on the posters as were Adam and Cartlidge.

With 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, Wilson doubled as a screenwriter, working in conjunction with Bond veteran Richard Maibaum. Wilson received a screenwriting credit on every 007 film made by Eon in the 1980s. Starting with 1985’s A View to a Kill, he was joint producer along with Cubby Broccoli.

While adding to his production resume, Wilson also began making cameo appearances in the Bond movies themselves. A 2015 story in the Daily Mail provided images of a few examples. The cameos varied from a quick glance (The World Is Not Enough) to getting several lines of dialogue (Tomorrow Never Dies, as a member of the board of directors working with the villain).

‘Particularly Hard’

After Cubby Broccoli’s death, Wilson in interviews began complaining about the work load of making Bond films. “It just seems that this one’s been particularly hard,” Wilson said in an interview with Richard Ashton on the former Her Majesty’s Secret Service website concerning The World Is Not Enough that’s archived at the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

In an earlier Ashton interview, after production of 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, Wilson described the pressure he felt.

“There are a myriad of things every day,” Wilson told Ashton. “From the producer’s point of view they want to know the schedule, does the set need to be this big? Are we gonna shoot all this stuff in the action sequence? How much of it is going to end up on the cutting room floor? You’re putting the director under pressure to make decisions all the time – and he has a point of view he wants to put across.”

‘Desperately Afraid’

Dana Broccoli was an uncredited adviser on the Bond films during Cubby Broccoli’s reign. She became “the custodian of the James Bond franchise” after his death in 1996, according to a 2004 obituary of Dana Broccoli in The Telegraph.

With her passing, Wilson and Barbara Broccoli were truly on their own. One of their first decisions was to move on from Pierce Brosnan, the last 007 actor selected by Albert R. Broccoli, and go in a new direction with Daniel Craig.

In an October 2005 story in The New York Times, Wilson described the process.

“I was desperately afraid, and Barbara was desperately afraid, we would go downhill,” said Michael G. Wilson, the producer of the new Bond film, “Casino Royale,” with Ms. Broccoli. He even told that to Pierce Brosnan, the suave James Bond who had a successful run of four films, he said.

“We are running out of energy, mental energy,” Mr. Wilson recalled saying. “We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

Wilson and Barbara Broccoli also began pursuing other interests, including plays as well as movies such as the drama The Silent Storm, where they were among 12 executive producers.

Wilson as P.T. Barnum

Wilson, to a degree, also was the Bond franchise’s equivalent of P.T. Barnum. In separate interviews and public appearances he said he hoped Daniel Craig would do more 007 films than Roger Moore even as the time between Bond films lengthened while later saying Bond actors shouldn’t be kept on too long.

Legal fights between Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (which acquired United Artists in 1981) caused a six-year hiatus in Bond films between 1989 and 1995. When production resumed with GoldenEye, Wilson no longer was a credited screenwriter.

Cubby Broccoli had benefited from a long relationship with Richard Maibaum (1909-1991), who ended up contributing to 13 of the first 16 Bond movies. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli seemed to search for their own Maibaum.

At first, screenwriter Bruce Feirstein seemed to fit the bill. He received a writing credit on three movies, starting with GoldenEye and ending with The World Is Not Enough.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson in November 2011 Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson in November 2011.

Later, the producing duo seemed to settle on scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who received credits on six consecutive 007 epics. They ran began with 1999’s The World Is Not Enough and ran through 2015’s SPECTRE. They were hired in 2017 to work on a 007th film, No Time to Die, released in 2021. Director Cary Fukunaga and scribe Phoebe Waller-Bridge were among the other writers on the script.

Still, it wasn’t the same. After 2012’s Skyfall, Purvis and Wade weren’t supposed to return, with writer John Logan (who’d done Skyfall’s later drafts) set to script two movies in a row.

It didn’t work out that way. With SPECTRE, the followup to Skyfall, Logan did the earlier drafts but Purvis and Wade were summoned back. Eventually, Logan, Purvis, Wade and Jez Butterworth would get a credit.

Changing Role?

Cubby Broccoli seemed to live to make James Bond movies. Wilson  not as much, as he pursued other interests, including photography. By the 2010s, it appeared to outsiders that Barbara Broccoli had become the primary force at Eon.

In December, 2014, at the announcement of the title for SPECTRE, Wilson was absent. Director Sam Mendes acted as master of ceremonies with Barbara Broccoli at his side. Wilson showed up in later months for SPECTRE-related publicity events.

Nevertheless, Wilson devoted the majority of his life to the film series.

Making movies is never easy. Wilson’s greatest accomplishment is helping — in a major way — to keeping the 007 series in production. He was not a founding father of the Bond film series. But he was one of the most important behind-the-scenes figures for the film Bond beginning in the 1970s.

“When you go around the world you see how many people are so anxious, in every country, ‘Oh, when’s the next Bond film coming out?'” Wilson told Ashton after production of Tomorrow Never Dies. “You realize that there’s a huge audience and I guess you don’t want to come out with a film that’s going to somehow disappoint them.”

What’s left of Fleming for future Bond films?

Ian Fleming, drawn by Mort Drucker, from the collection of the late John Griswold.

The other day, the blog published a post about whether Ian Fleming content matters much anymore for James Bond movies. Still, how much “Fleming content” is left?

Bond screenwriters (most likely Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) have added scraps and bits over the past two decades. The first half of Die Another Day was a de facto adaptation of Fleming’s Moonraker novel. Skyfall, SPECTRE and No Time to Die have mined the novels On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice.

What follows is a partial list of what’s left. Consider this a starting point for a broader conversation.

–A brainwashed Bond tries to kill M: The Man With the Golden Gun novel is uneven because Fleming was in bad health. But the start of the novel includes a memorable set-piece where Bond, brainwashed by the Soviets, attempts to assassinate M.

Playboy magazine, when it serialized the novel, led off with an illustration of Bond (drawn, understandably, like Sean Connery) immediately after the failed attempt. It included an M drawn like Bernard Lee and a Moneypenny drawn like Lois Maxwell.

–Gala Brand: At one point, the lead female character of Fleming’s Moonraker novel was going to be named Gala Brand in Die Another Day. But the name was changed to Miranda Frost (a traitor) when the movie was filmed

–Bond vs. a giant squid: In the novel Dr. No, the villain sends Bond through an obstacle course. The agent eventually has to take on a giant squid. This never appeared in the first Bond film made by Eon Productions.

-The Spang Brothers: Jack and Seraffimo Spang were the villains of Diamonds Are Forever, Fleming’s fourth novel. One of the brothers owns an old western ghost town called Spectreville.

-Stuffing a fish down somebody’s throat: The character Milton Krest, from the short story The Hildebrand Rarity, has already been used in 1989’s Licence to Kill. But Krest’s literary demise, having a rare fish stuffed down his throat, still is out there.

Separately, a late friend of mine, Paul Baack, once designed a make-believe movie poster of an Alfred Hitchcock adaptation of The Hildebrand short story.

British broadcaster claims Bond is not a fantasy

Spoilers for No Time to Die.

Last month, British broadcaster Simon Mayo in a broadcast had a spoiler discussion with film critic Mark Kermode about No Time to Die. Mayo, as part of the chat, claimed that James Bond is not a fantasy.

MAYO: Batman’s fantasy, isn’t it?…Bond isn’t fantasy and Batman is fantasy.

Kermode attempted to talk Mayo down from that notion. “Daniel Craig in Casino Royale is not playing the same character that Sean Connery was playing in Dr. No.”

Of course, back in 2006, Eon Productions said it was starting the Bond series over with Daniel Craig. Most Bond fans got that and Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon made clear the series had begun all over.

Casino Royale’s “Bond begins” approach came a year after director Christopher Nolan helmed a Batman movie where the Dark Knight began again. By now, the approach is old hat for Batman.

Still, Mayo said that notion doesn’t apply for Bond.

Still, Bond isn’t fantasy?

A few examples:

–Casino Royale (novel): Bond smokes 70 cigarettes a day and consumes a lot of alcohol.

–Dr. No (novel): Bond kills the villain by burying him in bird guano.

–Goldfinger (novel): The villain actually intends to steal all the gold from Fort Knox. When the novel was turned into a movie, the plot became detonating an atomic bomb inside Fort Knox. That’s much more realistic, I guess.

–You Only Live Twice (novel): The villain constructs a “garden of death” to entice suicide-inclined Japanese to kill themselves.

–You Only Live Twice (film): A villain’s base inside a volcano and a giant magnet used by the Japanese Secret Service to whisk enemy cars away and drop them in the bay. Don’t forget the “intruder missile” that captures space capsules.

–Live And Let Die: Gas pellets that cause an opponent to expand and explode.

–The Spy Who Loved Me: A tanker that can capture submarines.

— Moonraker: A space station that can launch deadly globes that can wipe out millions of people.

But Bond, a fantasy? Of course not.

This all began when I put a few tweets referring to Mayo as Kermode’s “sidekick.” I stand corrected. But few, if any, who objected to my referring to Mayo as a sidekick defended his actual position. They mostly were upset about use of the term sidekick.

Anyway, the video of the Kermode-Mayo exchange is below. The “fantasy” debate starts after the 3:00 mark.


Bond 21-25 questions: Assessing the Craig era edition

Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace

The Daniel Craig era of the James Bond films is drawing to a close. A thoughtful reader drew my attention to an August 2020 article by the Screen Rant site assessing Craig’s tenure.

Still, until No Time to Die comes out, there’s only so far you can go. Or is that correct? Naturally, the blog has questions.

Was the Craig era really that different? Absolutely.

Ian Fleming’s Bond novels referenced how his creation had relationships with married women. In the Eon film series, M lists “jealous husbands” as a possibility for hiring $1 million-a-hit-assassin Scaramanga in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun. But 2006’s Casino Royale was more explicit.

Anything else? The tone often was more violent, in particular a killing Bond performs early in 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

Quantum also had a more political point of view courtesy of director Marc Forster.

Did the Craig era follow earlier Bond films in any way? Yes. The Craig films, like earlier Eon Bond entries, adapted to popular trends in cinema.

In the 1970s, Bond films followed blaxploitation movies (Live And Let Die), kung fu (The Man With the Golden Gun) and science fiction (Moonraker).

In the 21st century Craig movies, the series followed Jason Bourne films (Quantum, including hiring a Bourne second unit director), Christopher Nolan Batman movies (Skyfall) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (SPECTRE, moving to tie all of the Craig adventures together).

Anything else? Some Bond fans argue Craig is the best film James Bond. No Time to Die (apparently) is the final chapter. No doubt there will be more debate once No Time to Die can be viewed.

Bond, Steranko bits show up in Black Widow

Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine’s debut in Strange Tales 159 in 1967

Spoilers, although so much is available on social media, the horse is out of the barn.

Marvel Studios has resumed movie releases with Black Widow that was released last weekend. A lot of James Bond fans were pleased with 007 references. Also, a character created by writer-artist Jim Steranko’s run on Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD made an encore appearance in the MCU.

By this time, it’s pretty common knowledge that Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) is seen watching Moonraker, a scene that includes a clip from the 1979 Bond film. Also, John Barry gets a credit in the end titles crawl for a composition titled Bond Fights Snake. Those who’ve seen Moonraker will instantly remember the composition involved.

Beyond that, there has been a lot of Bond fan discussion via social media about other Black Widow sequences that borrow from Bond.

Meanwhile, in a scene during the end titles, a character created by Jim Steranko during his 1960s run on Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, made her second MCU appearance.

Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, aka Val, first appeared in 1967. Originally, Black Widow was intended to be Val’s MCU debut. However, the movie was delayed from its original May 2020 release date because of COVID-19.

As a result, Val (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) first showed up in the Marvel streaming series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier in April. Originally, Val was a SHIELD recruit. She’s now a villainous character.

UPDATE: Fellow Bond fan Jeffrey Westhoff and I exchanged messages on Facebook. He makes the case (and I agree) there’s a Black Widow sequence inspired by On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. You’ll have to see it for yourself.

Real-life Hugo Draxes play with rockets

Cover to a recent edition of Ian Fleming’s Moonraker novel

In the 1955 novel Moonraker, Ian Fleming wrote about Hugo Drax, a mysterious multi-millionaire who was building a missile for Britain.

Today, the 21st century has its own billionaire Hugo Draxes, except they’re playing with rockets as part of private space companies: Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic), Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin) and Elon Musk (SpaceX).

These billionaires can be flamboyant as Fleming’s Drax. Branson is scheduled to fly to the edge of space today. Fellow billionaire Bezos is scheduled to fly to space on July 20. The billionaires are feuding whether Branson is making a true space flight.

A Dec. 13, 2019 episode of the podcast James Bond & Friends mused whether you could do an updated adaptation of Live And Let Die in the 21st century. Toward the end (about the 1 hour, 6-minute mark) the discussion briefly turned to how to do a 21st-century Moonraker adaptation and how billionaires and their rockets could be a hook.

Perhaps it could still be done. Branson had a cameo in 2006’s Casino Royale. Bezos, with his shaved head, has been compared to a James Bond villain. And Musk is a big James Bond fan.

UPDATE (11:47 a.m. New York Time): Branson’s flight was successful. CNN provided a lot of breathless, context-free coverage.

For Your Eyes Only’s 40th: 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

Updated from a June 2016 post.

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