Skyfall’s 5th anniversary: Brief return to Bondmania

Skyfall’s poster image

Five 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.

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 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.

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.

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

Our parody Bond 25 plot summaries

James Bond, feeling sad after examining his back story one more time.

James Bond, feeling sad after examining his back story one more time.

With no real news about Bond 25 to report, the blog is collecting various parody storylines it has posted on its social media outlets.

If Sam Mendes changes his mind (again) and comes back to direct a third Bond film.

BOND 25 (20XX): Bond (Daniel Craig) discovers he was really adopted, sending him on another mission of self discovery.

If Sam Mendes changes his mind *and* Naomie Harris wins the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Moonlight:

BOND 25 (20XX): Bond (Daniel Craig) discovers he was really adopted, sending him on another mission of self discovery. Meanwhile, Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) escapes prison, killing the father of Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). She swears vengeance, and goes back into the field. The two developments combine in an explosive way.

If Bond 25 takes a lot longer to make than anybody anticipates now.

BOND 25 (2052): For the 90th anniversary James Bond film, Bond (Daniel Craig) and Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) battle to the death in an assisted-living center.

The film brings to an end Craig’s 46-year reign as Agent 007.

“I just don’t want to think about it,” Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli says, repeating comments she made in 2015. “I’m in denial. I don’t want to think about that day. Daniel Craig is Bond, forever, as far as I’m concerned.”

Why nobody should be surprised that ‘nothing is happening’

Naomie Harris in Moonlight

Naomie Harris in Moonlight

Naomie Harris caused some buzz in 007-land this week after giving an interview with Total Film that got summarized in the UK tabloid Mirror.

According to the story, the actress wanted to find out from Eon Productions what was going on with Bond 25. Here’s the key excerpt:

Even though she is part of the 007 franchise, Naomie admits she has equally been drawn into speculation about who will be Bond in the next film, though producers have insisted to her they are not even thinking about the project yet.

(snip)

“I met them recently and said, ‘What’s going on guys? Because everybody keeps asking me.’ I was believing the hype. I was like, ‘Is it Tom Hiddleston? What’s going on?’ They were like, ‘Naomie, nothing is happening.’ Because they’re doing another film at the moment. They were like, ‘We are focusing on this film. We have nothing to do with that.’ “

Nobody should be surprised. Why? Because if we were within a year of production starting, more would be happening.

Some recent history. The Deadline: Hollywood website first reported in January 2010 that Eon was considering Sam Mendes to direct the then-untitled Bond 23.

The project got delayed by the bankruptcy that year of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio. But the movie was a go again by January 2011 — 10 months before it began filming.

Later THAT SAME MONTH, Deadline reported that Eon was considering casting Javier Bardem in the film. Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail reported in February 2011 that Ralph Fiennes was in talks to join the cast. Harris’ own casting in the film was reported by the now-defunct News of the World in June 2011.

In other words, months before filming began, news about the director and cast began to appear. The story was similar with 2015’s SPECTRE, which had an announced writer in November 2012 and a release date and director (Mendes again) announced in July 2013.

With Bond 25, there’s no director, no script (as far as anyone knows) and no cast, including a confirmed James Bond. Daniel Craig, who turns 49 in March, has said he’d miss playing Bond but hasn’t actually said he’ll do it again.

Oh, and there’s no studio to release Bond 25. MGM is too small to distribute Bond films and has no studio partner lined up yet. Sony Pictures has released the past four 007 films.

Many fans are hopeful that Bond 25 can make a fall 2018 release date. But there are no signs Eon is gearing up. Eon boss Barbara Broccoli produced Craig’s now-concluded Othello play. She is working on a non-Bond film (Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool) and another play, based on the life of studio mogul Robert Evans.

At this point, there is no sign of the kind of activity that precedes a Bond movie. So the quotes from Harris ought not be surprising. If Eon and MGM showed more urgency a 2018 release date could still happen. But there’s no sign of such urgency.

Harris says she wants to remain as Moneypenny

Naomie Harris

Naomie Harris

Naomie Harris, in an interview with Ain’t It Cool News primarily about the movie Moonlight, said she wants to remain as Moneypenny in the 007 film series.

Here’s an excerpt of the interview, conducted by Steve Prokopy, who posted at the website under the name of “Capone.” It concerns what happens to the supporting cast of Bond movies if there’s a change in lead actor.

Capone: Judi Dench certainly was able to work with multiple Bonds over the years, so I’m just wondering does everybody get to stay where they are if he doesn’t decide to go forward?

NH: I would imagine so. I can’t imagine that they’re going to get rid of all of us.

Capone: They’ve done such wonderful things, especially with your character compared to how she’s been portrayed in the past, and I’d hate for that to go away.

NH: Yeah, I know. And I’d hate to say goodbye to Moneypenny as well. I love playing her.

Earlier in the interview, Harris said she filmed her part for Moonlight over three days during a break in the SPECTRE publicity tour. “They were three consecutive days, but I was shooting out of sequence,” Harris told the interviewer.

Harris has previously said, such as in this BBC story, that she wants Daniel Craig to return as Bond.

To read the entire interview, CLICK HERE.

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.

 

A sampling of mirth and merriment with 007 on Google

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

One of the habits this blog has is typing “news about James Bond” into Google to make sure we haven’t missed anything. Of late, there’s nothing to *really miss* but that doesn’t stop stories from being cranked out.

On Friday afternoon, for example, there are a number of stories about a number of actors who don’t know very much about the future of the 007 franchise. Here’s a sampling of the mirth and merriment. We don’t actually encourage to click on the links but for those who can’t help themselves, you can check these items out further.

Naomie Harris in the dark about James Bond (XPOSE.ie): The actress, who played Moneypenny in Skyfall and SPECTRE, doesn’t know if Daniel Craig is going to return to the 007 role or not. Turns out the story is actually a summary of The Evening Standard. But it rocketed to the top of our Google search anyway.

Damian Lewis has heard nothing about James Bond role (Guelph Mercury Tribune): The actor, 44, “had no contact with anyone about the possibility of him taking on the role of James Bond.” Once upon a time, that would have meant no story. Oh well…

Has Tom Hiddleston ruled himself out of playing James Bond (Metro): Of course, you’d think someone would actually have to make you an offer first, or even inquired about your availability. Metro’s story is a summary of a talk show appearance but declares Hiddleston has “practically ruled himself out.” Metro calls this, “Tragic.”

Ewan McGregor doesn’t understand why an actor would want to play James Bond (Metro again): The headline pretty says it all.

There were  7.42 million items in all in the search.

 

How a line from David Lean applies to Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bondlifier  feed on Twitter

The line we’re referring to comes from the director’s 1957 epic The Bridge On the River Kwai: “Madness! Madness!”

Put another way, the last few days have been a doozy regarding the future of the cinema version of James Bond.

Character actor and Daniel Craig friend Mark Strong, while promoting a movie, was quoted by THE SHORT LIST WEBSITE as saying:

““Do you know what, I’d have loved to have played the villain in a Bond movie while Daniel was doing it because he’s a pal and that would have been great. But I think he’s come to the end of his Bond time and so it’s probably never going to happen, but that would have always been great.”

Despite starting off the last sentence with the words, “But I think,” Strong’s comments were read as a virtual confirmation not only by The Short List but by THE INDEPENDENT (albeit with the qualifier “seemingly”), THE DAILY MAIL, THE MIRROR,  MOVIE WEB and /FILM.

In turn, FORBES.COM film writer Scott Mendelson used the news (such as it was) to write why Craig should come back for a fifth outing as 007, even though the writer criticized SPECTRE, the most recent 007 film, when it came out.

Separately, actress Naomie Harris, weighed in on Twitter with her opinions about 007 film’s future, including how she hopes her portrayal of Miss Moneypenny will eventually be seen like Judi Dench playing M:

Imagine what it will be like when there’s actual news about Bond 25.