Skyfall’s 10th anniversary: Brief return to Bondmania

Skyfall’s poster image

Adapted from a 2017 post

Ten years ago, the James Bond film franchise reached a level — unadjusted, adjusted for inflation, or whatever measure you’d like — not achieved since the height of Bondmania in the 1960s.

That was Skyfall, the 50th anniversary 007 film. It was the first (and so far only) Bond film to reach and exceed the global $1 billion box office level.

Even taking into account ticket price inflation, the 2012 007 adventure is No. 3 in the U.S. in terms of number of tickets purchased. On that basis (or “bums in seats” as the British would say), Skyfall is  No. 3 in the U.S. market for Bond films, behind only Thunderball and Goldfinger.

Bringing the 23rd James Bond film to cinemas, however, was a more difficult undertaking than usual.

Beginnings

Initially, Eon Productions hired three writers: The team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade as well as prestige film writer Peter Morgan. Morgan had been twice nominated for an Academy Award.

As it turned out, Morgan had deep doubts about the viability of the James Bond character, something he didn’t go public with until a 2010 interview. “I’m not sure it’s possible to do it,” Morgan said in 2010, after he had departed the project.

Still, Morgan’s main idea — the death of Judi Dench’s M — would be retained, even though the scribe received no screen credit.

But there was a bigger challenge. While the film was being developed, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the 007 franchise’s home studio, went into bankruptcy.

Delay

Eon Productions, on April 19, 2010, said Bond 23, as the yet-untitled film was known, had been indefinitely delayed.

MGM emerged from bankruptcy in December 2010. There was a cost, however. MGM, which had already shrunk from its glory days, was even smaller. It had no distribution operation of its own.

Skyfall teaser poster

Behind the scenes, things were happening. Eon was bringing director Sam Mendes on board. Initially, he was a “consultant” (for contract reasons). Eventually, Mendes got his preferred writer, John Logan, to rework the scripting that Purvis and Wade had performed.

Mendes also was granted his choice of composer, Thomas Newman. David Arnold’s streak of scoring five 007 films in a row was over. Roger Deakins, nominated for multiple Oscars and who had worked with Mendes before, came aboard as director of photography.

Revival

In January 2011, a short announcement was issued that Bond 23 was back on.

Mendes officially was now the director. Over the next several months, the casting of Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw and Berenice Marlohe leaked out, with Eon not confirming anything until a November 2011 press conference.

Even then, some specific character details remained unconfirmed. For example, Eon wouldn’t confirm that Whishaw was the new Q until July 2012, well after the actor had completed his work on the film.

Publicity Surge

Regardless, Skyfall benefited from much hype. Being the 50th anniversary Bond film got the movie additional publicity.

What’s more, London hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics. A major part of the opening ceremonies was a Danny Boyle-directed sequence featuring Daniel Craig’s Bond and Queen Elizabeth supposedly parachuting to the festivities. Years later, Boyle would be hired to direct Bond 25 (No Time to Die) before exiting the project over “creative differences.”

Mendes, a director of the auteur school, also imported his style into the movie itself. Various segments were intended to provide dramatic moments to the principal actors.

Among them: A shaky Craig/Bond seeking redemption; a theatrical entrance for Javier Bardem’s villain; a dramatic reading of a poem for Judi Dench’s M, who is under fire by U.K. politicians.

Behind the Curtain

Not everything holds up to scrutiny if you think much about it.

–Bond deserted the service, apparently upset about being shot by fellow operative Naomie Harris, while MI6 doesn’t seem to mind that at all. This was based loosely on the You Only Live Twice novel, where Bond went missing because he had amnesia. That doesn’t appear to be the case in Skyfall.

–Bond has the Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5 in storage, all gadgets still operational. Purvis and Wade originally wrote it as the left-hand drive DB5 that Bond won in 2006’s Casino Royale in a high-stakes poker game. But Mendes insisted it be the Goldfinger car.

–M blathers on. She’s fully aware — because Rory Kinnear’s Tanner told her — that Bardem’s Silva has escaped.  But that’s secondary to the poem, which gives Silva and his thugs time to arrive and shoot up the place.

Unqualified Success

None of this mattered much with movie audiences.

Every time the Spy Commander saw the movie at a theater, the audience reacted positively when the DB5 was revealed.

Some British fans rave to this day how wonderful the M poem scene is. Yet, when you break the sequence down, the doomed MI6 chief got numerous people killed by Bardem’s thugs by keeping them around instead of letting them disperse.

For all the trouble, for all the script issues, Skyfall was an unqualified hit. The movie’s release was the biggest Bond event since Thunderball’s release in 1965.

Oscar Wins

Skyfall also broke a long Oscars losing streak for the 007 film series. The movie won two Oscars (for best song and sound editing). Both Newman and Deakins had been nominated but didn’t win. The Bond film series would go on to win Best Song Oscars for SPECTRE and No Time to Die.

Barbara Broccoli

Normally, a studio or a production company would want to strike while the iron was hot.

Not so in this case. Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli, in 2012 interviews, made clear she would not be hurried into the next 007 film adventure. There would be no quick attempt to follow up on Skyfall’s success.

At the same time, Mendes indicated he didn’t want to direct another Bond film. He relented and his hiring for the next Bond movie was announced in July 2013.

That movie, SPECTRE, would be released in the fall of 2015 after a soap opera all its own, including script leaks after Sony Pictures was hacked in 2014. Sony released Bond films starting with Casino Royale and running through SPECTRE.

It’s possible a bit of hubris set in. You can imagine people saying something like this: “If this movie did $1 billion at the box office, the next 007 film will surely do $1.5 billion!” Or whatever. That’s human nature after all.

Instead, the next Bond outing would run into a new set of problems. In fact, that movie performed a “retcon” (retroactive change in continuity) concerning Skyfall.

Mendes said in 2011 that Skyfall was not connected to Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. With SPECTRE (and 2021’s No Time to Die), Skyfall suddenly was part of one big epic. Javier Bardem’s Silva character was now a SPECTRE operative. Mendes’ 2011 comments were no longer acknowledged.

Nevertheless, that should not distract from what Skyfall achieved (even for fans who didn’t enjoy the movie as much as others) a decade ago.

NTTD’s reactions from its co-stars

No Time to Die poster

h/t to MI6.HQ.COM which compiled this.

Daniel Craig’s James Bond met his end in No Time to Die. If Craig’s co-stars are to be believed, they had no idea this was happening.

Lea Seydoux, Den of Geek: “I still can’t really believe that that’s what they decided, that he’s gone…It made me sad, actually, it made me really sad…But I hope they will find a new way to—you know they will find something else.”

Naomie Harris, Radio Times: “Because there’s so much secrecy around all of the Bond movies, I thought, ‘Is this a joke? Am I being sent, like, the wrong ending, and then they’re gonna send me a new one?’. I really thought that, because I just thought… this doesn’t happen. Bond doesn’t die. It’s sacred that Bond should never die.”

A reminder: No Time to Die’s script began development in 2017. That’s when Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine met his end in a film. Earlier, Craig and Jackman had appeared together in a play in New York.

Prior to No Time to Die, Craig’s Bond had unhappy endings. At the end of SPECTRE, he finally (or so it seemed) had a happy ending with Seydoux’s Madeline Swann. Instead, No Time to Die threw that out the window.

Observations of a No Time to Die rewatch Part II

No Time to Die poster

The family theme: James Bond traditionally wasn’t known as a family man. But No Time to Die makes a big deal about a family theme.

That’s not me talking. Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli played up that idea in a podcast interview with The Hollywood Reporter. She talked about Bond’s “MI6 family” and “his real family.”

Rewatching the movie, that comes through. Safin’s villainous scientist refers to Madeleine Swann and her daughter as “your family” to the villain. Bond (according to the closed captions for the movie) refers to them as his family.

Revisiting the SPECTRE scripts: There were some drafts of the script for SPECTRE (2015) where Bond shot Blofeld in the head. One draft (completed shortly before filming began) ended with Bond telling Madeline, “We have all the time in the world.”

Neither made it into the final film. But with No Time to Die, Eon doubled down.

In the pre-credit sequence of No Time to Die, Bond tells Madeline that, “We have all the time in the world.” Toward the end, just before Bond is blown to smithereens, Bond tells her, “You have all the time in the world.” And, of course, just before that, Bond blasts Safin away.

Scooby Gang gets to emote: It’s not just Bond (Daniel Craig) who gets a big death scene. Lea Seydoux as Madeline gets to emote. So do the Scooby Gang: Ralph Fiennes’ M, Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw’s Q, and Rory Kinnear’s Tanner.

“You promised”: Just before he dies, Bond tells Madeline he’s not going to make it. She replies: “You promised.”

At this point, Bond has apparently lost a fair amount of blood and isn’t moving around very well thanks to a few bullet wounds courtesy of Safin.

Did Bond really have to die? That’s almost irrelevant. The whole movie was designed to have Bond die. Quibbling about nanobots (couldn’t Bond’s EMP watch rid him of the nanobots?), etc., etc. doesn’t really matter. Bond was going to die. The question was how.

Bond 26 questions: Bond’s return

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Spoiler for No Time to Die

At a recent event sponsored by the Deadline entertainment news site, Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli said Eon has yet to figure out how James Bond will return after the events of No Time to Die.

By the end of the 25th Bond film, Bond has been blown to smithereens and other characters are in mourning. Yet, in the end titles, it says “James Bond Will Return.”

“We’ll figure that one out, but he will be back,” Broccoli said. “You can rest assured James Bond will be back.”

Naturally, the blog has questions.

Another reboot?

This would be the easiest route. With 2006’s Casino Royale, Eon started things over. Eon finally had its hands on the rights to Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. So one continuity ended after Eon dismissed Pierce Brosnan, another began after it brought on Daniel Craig.

Having multiple continuities is not unprecedented. Look at Warner Bros. and its various Batman movies.

Four movies from 1989 through 1997 were one continuity (multiple actors played Batman but all four had the same actors as Alfred the butler and Commissioner Gordon). Films from 2005 through 2012 were another continuity. And various films with Ben Affleck as Batman comprise yet another continuity. Now, yet another continuity is in works with Robert Pattinson as Batman.

If you’re a fan of Daniel Craig’s Bond films, you can’t complain about reboots. Yes, Eon fudged things at times, primarily with the Aston Martin DB5. But a new reboot may be the way to go.

What about the “code name theory”?

That would be another way to go.

For the uninitiated, the “code name theory” is a way of explaining all the different actors who’ve played Bond in the Eon series. Under this scenario, “James Bond” is a code name assigned to different people.

Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have said there’s only one Bond, just played by different actors. Besides, 007 is Bond’s code number. Why does he need a code name on top of that?

Nevertheless the “code name theory” refuses to die. It traces its origins to the development of the 1967 Casino Royale spoof produced by Charles K. Feldman. The original James Bond (David Niven) orders all British agents to be named “James Bond” to confuse enemies. This notion may be the 1967 movie’s legacy.

You’re not serious, are you?

To be clear, I am NOT advocating for it. However, “code name theory” would be one way to retain Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw as Q and Rory Kinnear as Tanner.

What would be the drawbacks?

A new Bond actor would be burdened by the Craig continuity. Remember, Craig’s Bond was burned out from Skyfall on. Personally, I would start fresh with a reboot. You DO NOT have to another Bond origin story. Just introduce your new Bond and go from there.

Sean Connery’s Bond never had an origin story. That worked out pretty well.

No Time to Die podcast returns

The official No Time to Die podcast returned Wednesday evening U.S. time. The podcast began in September 2020 but went into hibernation after the movie’s release was pushed back into 2021.

The first two episodes are online. The first, Bond in Context leads off with a discussion about how the 25th James Bond film has been delayed three times because of COVID-19. Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions are interviewed about that subject.

Also, “You can also be the first to hear exclusive score from Hans Zimmer released by Decca Records,” according to the episode’s description. The episode runs 44 minutes.

The second episode is titled A Name to Die for: Allies and Enemies of Bond.

“Led by interviews from Rami Malek, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw and Lashana Lynch, we’ll explore what makes a classic supporting character and look back at some of 007’s most iconic nemeses,” according to a description.

James King is the host.

UPDATE: In episode 1, Barbara Broccoli says No Time to Die “is a cinematic masterpiece.” We’ve all heard hype for movies but those are strong words.

Harris reinforces her status as Bond film ambassador

Naomie Harris introduces the Lego Aston Martin DB5 in 2018

Namomie Harris, yet again, has reinforced her status as the ambassador for the James Bond film franchise.

For years, that status belonged to Roger Moore, who played Bond in seven movies from 1973 to 1985. Long after that, he appeared on TV specials and in other appearances on behalf of the franchise.

Since Moore’s death, Harris — who made her Bond film debut in 2012’s Skyfall — has done the heavy lifting in Bond promotion. In 2019, she was at a promotional event in Jamaica for No Time to Die despite how none of her scenes in the movie were filmed there. She has also shown up to promote things such as a Lego Aston Martin DB5.

All of that may seem strange. Harris is a supporting player. Since 2005, when he was first cast as Bond, Daniel Craig has been the star. But, let’s face it, promotion isn’t Craig’s strong point. One reason why Roger Moore reached people was his enthusiasm for the part — even after his departure — was evident.

Of those involved with the franchise, only Naomie Harris currently has a similar stature.

The official Eon Productions James Bond feed on Twitter featured a video of Harris today. You can see it below.

Competing spy franchises make the rounds at the British GP

Tom Cruise

Representatives of the Mission: Impossible and James Bond film franchises made the rounds at today’s British Grand Prix.

M:I’s star-producer Tom Cruise, 59, was present to root on eventual winner Lewis Hamilton. The F-1 telecast periodically cut to the Mercedes team where Cruise could be seen wearing a mask. The Express and the The Sun (among others) had accounts of Cruise’s day.

Also present was actress Naomie Harris, 44, who plays Moneypenny in the Bond films and acts as unofficial ambassador for the Bond films. The official 007 Twitter feed of Eon Productions took note.

How Operation Kid Brother was ahead of the Bond films

Operation Kid Brother had tropes that would later appear in the Bond films.

I finally finished off watching Operation Kid Brother/OK Connery/Double Double 007. It turns out the Italian production starring Sean Connery’s brother, Neil, provided the path that the Eon-produced James Bond film series would follow.

–Assistant Maxwell (Lois Maxwell) isn’t just a helper for Commander Cunningham (Bernard Lee). She goes out into the field and shoots guns. This is a preview of agent Eve (Naomie Harris) in Skyfall, who revealed to be Moneypenny at the end of the film.

–There’s a ship of female operatives overseen by Maya Rafis (Daniela Bianchi). But those women aren’t just decoration. They can fight. In fact, fight in a manner similar to the Octopussy women in Octopussy (1983).

By the end of Operation Kid Brother/OK Connery, Maya Rafis and her women operatives have switched sides to the cause of good. Dr. Neil Connery (Neil Connery) uses his powers of hypnotism to make Commander Cunningham forget pretty much everything.

The movie ends with Dr. Neil Connery and Maya Rafis sailing off with all the women operatives. It’s implied that Dr. Neil Connery will be even busier than James Bond (George Lazenby) was at the top of Piz Gloria in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

‘No comment’ trumps a falsehood

Rami Malek

Earlier today, I saw some social media accounts express exasperation that the idea that Rami Malek may be playing a rebooted Dr. No in No Time to Die.

Malek, in a recent interview, said he wasn’t playing Dr. No. Shouldn’t that be the end of it?

Under normal circumstances, yes.

But Malek’s Dr. No denial comes after Eon Productions, and the actors it hired, denied things that were true.

–Naomie Harris denied she was playing a new version of Moneypenny in Skyfall. But she was.

–Eon boss Barbara Broccoli and star Daniel Craig, in a joint interview during the production of Skyfall, denied Ben Whishaw was playing Q in Skyfall. This came after Whishaw’s agent said his client had the part.

“Agents are liars,” Craig said. “You know that.” The actor laughed, according to the transcript.

–Christoph Waltz denied he was playing Blofeld in SPECTRE. But he was.

It may well be true that Malek isn’t playing Dr. No. The timeline for the Malek-is-playing-Dr. No is a bit odd. See THIS DEC. 6 SPY COMMAND POST for some background.

The thing is, once a pattern is established of denying things that are true, you lose the benefit of the doubt. You don’t get to unring a bell. You don’t get a do-over.

Put another way, credibility once lost is hard to get back. With Malek as Dr. No 2.0, fans may be going down a rabbit hole. But Eon Productions and its publicity department have only themselves to blame.

“No comment” is always a better alternative to a falsehood.

About that Dr. No vibe for No Time to Die

Rami Malek in the No Time to Die trailer

There are fan questions whether Rami Malek is playing a rebooted version of Dr. No in No Time to Die. But how did that get started?

Well, back on April 25, Malek appeared on Good Morning America. He was asked if he had a favorite James Bond film.

“I liked Dr. No quite a bit,” Malek replied.

Later in the day, CBS posted an online story that originally said Malek would play Dr. No. However, that reference was deleted and this added to the end of the story: “Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that it is unclear which James Bond villain Malek will be playing.”

Regardless, the idea remained in the background, even after Malek’s character name was revealed to be Safin.

This week, the No Time to Die trailer debuted, providing a first look of Malek in character. The trailer did little to put the Dr. No vibe to rest. For example, Joe Darlington of Being James Bond noted this similarity.

Dr. No: BOND (Sean Connery): Our asylums are full of people who think they’re Napoleon — or God.

No Time to Die trailer: BOND (Daniel Craig): History isn’t kind to men who play God.

However, Malek, during an interview seemed to want to wind back the Dr. No angle. He said he watched previous Bond films but “it was not as if I was going back o play an exact character. I was not playing  Dr. No again.”

You can see it below, starting around the 7:23 mark.

Normally, that would be that.

Except, during production of Skyfall, Naomie Harris denied she was playing Moneypenny while Daniel Craig and Barbara Broccoli in a joint interview denied Ben Whishaw was playing Q (even though Whishaw’ agent had let the cat out of the bag). Also, during production of SPECTRE, Christoph Waltz denied he was paying Blofeld.

As a result, maybe Malek means it. But, based on recent history, maybe he doesn’t.

We’ll see.