Alan J. Porter discusses his James Bond Lexicon project

Promo for The James Bond Lexicon

Promo for The James Bond Lexicon

Writer Alan J. Porter is coming out with a new reference work, The James Bond Lexicon. He’s also at work on a similar project concerning The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Porter discussed both projects in an e-mail interview. The Bond project is further along and within a few months of being published.

QUESTION: Please describe the format and organization of The James Bond Lexicon and The Lexicon Affair about U.N.C.L.E. About when will each be published?

PORTER: The Lexicon series from Hasslein Books (http://www.hassleinbooks.com) are encyclopedia style references guides related to various pop-culture franchises. They already have volumes on The Planet of the Apes, Back to the Future, and Red Dwarf. My wife, Gill, and I will be adding volumes on James Bond and U.N.C.L.E.

First up will be “The James Bond Lexicon” which will cover the world of 007 across all media, movies, novels, TV, and comics. The manuscript is currently with the publishers for copy-editing, and given it’s size (about 700 pages in total) we are discussing the possibility that it will be published as a two-volume set. Publication is slated for end of September, early October this year — around the same time that SPECTRE hits the movie screens.

While the Bond book is in production we have started writing “The Lexicon Affair: A Guide to the world of U.N.C.L.E.” This will cover both Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Girl from U,N.C.L.E. in TV, movies, novels, short stories, and comics. As we are relatively early in the writing stage we don’t have a publication date set just yet.

QUESTION: What do The James Bond Lexicon and The Lexicon Affair bring to the table compared with other books such as Raymond Benson’s James Bond Bedside Companion or Jon Heitland’s Man From U.N.C.L.E. Book or Cynthia W. Walker’s Work/Text Investigating The Man From U.N.C.L.E.?

PORTER: I believe that these will be the first books to comprehensively cover the franchises in detail across the full range of media. Plus they will be as up to date as possible. For instance the Bond Lexicon includes entries from the recent Stephen Cole authored Young Bond novel, Shoot to Kill.

The U.N.C.L.E. book will cover the upcoming movie reboot along with the classic series. The book style is more of an encyclopedia reference rather than a critical review style, although there will be a few supporting essays touching on items such as series continuity (or lack of) and the enduring popularity of the two franchises.

QUESTION: Did your encounter any surprises while researching each book?

PORTER: I think the biggest surprise from working on the Bond Lexicon was just how many different officially sanctioned interpretations of James Bond there has been over the years. I’m not talking about between actors, but distinctly different back-stories, ways of operating, time periods etc.

We grouped various Bonds together by loose continuity; for instance we considered that the Connery-Lazenby-Moore-Dalton-Brosnan Bond was a single Bond, while the Craig Bond was a completely new Bond.

Similarly, we counted the Fleming, Gardner, Benson Bonds as being three separate incarnations and so on. In the end we counted 18 different James Bonds. And I’m sure not everyone will agree with the way we defined those different Bonds either.

It’s early days on the U.N.C.L.E work so I can’t say that we’ve discovered any major surprises yet (although I’m sure we will). One initial observation is the appalling lack of consistency, often even within the same story. It’s making for some interesting discussions around how, and where, certain entries will go in the book.

QUESTION: What are the similarities, as you see them, between James Bond and Napoleon Solo? The differences?

PORTER: It’s often been stated that Ian Fleming designed Solo to be “Bond for the small screen” with the same basic traits and attitudes of a “suave sophisticated secret agent” with an eye for the ladies. But I think it’s fair to say that beyond that superficial description the two characters clearly diverged over the years.

Bond has that rougher edge, the underlying truth that he is a violent man, a “blunt instrument,” out to do a dirty job. In many ways Bond is the archetype lone stranger who arrives, sorts out the problem, and leaves.

Solo (ironically given his name) became the opposite of that, he is a team player, and part of double act where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Solo is less of the blunt instrument and more of the protector.

QUESTION: Who were you a fan of first? Bond or Solo? How did you become a fan of each? (Or are you a fan of each?)

PORTER: I can clearly date the start of my interest in Bond to the winter of 1965 and playing the Thunderball board game at a friends house, but with U.N.C.L.E. it’s always been more of a case of general awareness that probably started around the same time. I had both the Corgi Aston-Martin DB5 and the THRUSH buster toys, read Bond comics in the newspapers and U.N.C.L.E. comics in TV Tornado each week. Obviously U.N.C.L.E. faded into the background and Bond became more prominent because of the franchise’s continuing presence in the public eye, but I never forgot the guys in the secret headquarters behind the tailor’s shop.

QUESTION: Both Bond and Solo will have a film adventure in 2015, SPECTRE and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. What are you looking for from each one? What needs to happen for each film to be considered a success?

PORTER: Wow – the answer to that could be an essay all of its own.

I will say I was disappointed that they actually used SPECTRE as the title of the next Bond movie. I would have much preferred that the revelation about the return of SPECTRE would have come from the plot and been a surprise (much like the fate of M in Skyfall). Having said that, like most people I believe, I’m hoping for a return to some of the good old classic Bond movie tropes we’ve been missing for a while. The end of Skyfall hinted at it, I just hope they follow through with something that has the same vibe as movies like From Russia With Love, or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

With the U.N.C.L.E. movie my underlying hope is that they respect the source material, unlike certain recent Hollywood abominations (Green Hornet for instance). It looks like they have the tone and period right from what we’ve seen in the trailer so far although I was disappointed not to hear the classic TV show theme used. My fingers are crossed that it will be a fun ride and one that reinvigorates interest in the franchise bringing more people back to discovering the TV show. Then maybe I can wear my U.N.C.L.E. logo t-shirt without people asking me what it stands for.

QUESTION: Daniel Craig is now filming his fourth Bond film. What is your analysis of his tenure?

PORTER: I’ll be honest I’m still not sure. I thought Casino Royale was great, and loved his portrayal of Bond in that, although he was too old to be a Double-O at the start of his career. Hated Quantum of Solace, but I think that was more to do with the weak story and the frantic style of direction.

Skyfall left me conflicted, loved it at first but on each rewatch I dislike it more and more. Craig definitely plays the aging agent well, but, to put it bluntly, his Bond in Skyfall is simply incompetent. I’m looking forward to SPECTRE being the movie when the Craig era redeems itself in my eyes.

QUESTION: Henry Cavill, the new Solo, lost out to Craig to play Bond. How do you think he may do as Solo? (Right now, all we have to go on is a trailer.)

PORTER: From the short glimpses of him in the trailer he looks well suited to the part (much more so than he is to the Superman role). He’s an actor I’ve enjoyed watching over the years, although I’m not sure he would have worked as Bond either, and hopefully Solo will be his breakout franchise role.

QUESTION: A book is always hard work, but has either, or both, been fun to do?

PORTER: There is always a point about midway through any book project where you think, “What the hell am I doing this for.” The Bond Lexicon turned out to be a much bigger project than we first thought and ended up taking about three years to find everything and do the research. There was a point when we never wanted to look at anything Bond related again, but it didn’t last long. We’ve had so much support and interest from friends and fellow fans in the Bond community that it’s been a wonderful experience. We can’t wait to share the results of all that work later this year.

The U.N.C.L.E. book is great fun to do, and as we haven’t seen most of the material in decades, and in some cases this is the first time we’ve read many of the spin-off stories, it’s like rediscovering the franchise all over again.

For more about The James Bond Lexicon, CLICK HERE. For more about The Lexicon Affair, CLICK HERE. For Alan J. Porter’s website, CLICK HERE.

 

SPECTRE by the numbers (and not just 007)

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE is starting production in Rome, for a five-week shoot, including a car chase, that will cost almost as much (if not more) than some movies.

So, here’s a breakdown of the kind of spending that’s known about the 24th James Bond film. We’ll assume a total production budget of $300 million.

According to information from hacked Sony documents, the budget was on pace to well exceed that, but there were also efforts to rein it in. We’ll assume the trends cancel themselves out so we’ll go with a nice round number with $300 million.

For the purposes of this post, we’ll assume a 30-week shooting schedule. Principal photography began on Dec. 8 and is supposed to run seven months. Actual total may run a week or two less than 30 weeks, but some filming was done before principal photography began. So, again, we’ll use a round number.

Cost per week, total: $10 million.

Cost per week, Rome shoot: $12 million (five weeks, $60 million, according to figures reported by Variety.com)

ESTIMATED COST OF NOTABLE JAMES BOND MOVIES (not adjusted for inflation)

Dr. No: $1 million

From Russia With Love: $2 million

Goldfinger: $3 million

You Only Live Twice: $9.5 million (Ken Adam’s volcano set alone cost more than Dr. No)

The Spy Who Loved Me: $14 million

Moonraker: $31 million to $34 million, depending on estimate (Initial plan was to keep it close to Spy’s budget but it was evident that wouldn’t hold)

Tomorrow Never Dies: $110 million (first to exceed $100 million)

Quantum of Solace: $230 million (first to exceed $200 million)

SPECTRE: $300 million (first to reach $300 million).

One week’s shooting on SPECTRE costs more than You Only Live Twice, which had the one set that cost more than Dr. No.

Put another way, each day’s shooting on SPECTRE costs more than Dr. No. At $10 million a week, if you shot seven days a week, equals $1.43 million daily.

ESTIMATED COST OF OTHER 2015 SPY MOVIES

Taken 3: $48 million

Kingsman: The Secret Service: $81 million

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: $75 million

To be fair, none of this takes into account 50 years of inflation. At the same time, this exercise is also a reminder that studios don’t play with Monopoly money. Studios don’t get to spend, or receive, inflation-adjusted dollars.

Kingsman: Is the spy pendulum swinging back?

kingsman logo

Kingsman: The Secret Service, the next film up in “The Year of the Spy,” makes its U.S. debut on Feb. 13. Its importance, though, may extend beyond its opening weekend.

The movie, directed by Matthew Vaughn, may be a sign whether the pendulum of spy movies is starting to swing back from the grim and gritty that has dominated the 21st century.

Vaughn and his collaborators certainly haven’t been shy about playing up that angle. The return of the “fun” spy movie was emphasized last July at the massive San Diego comic book convention.

Vaughn’s film is based on a comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. At San Diego, Millar was quoted by the Screen Rant website as saying, “James Bond cries in the shower now in these movies but [Kingsman star Colin Firth] gets to do cool stuff – like firing these gadgets and all this stuff. I think he got the best gig in the end.”

Millar referred to a scene in Casino Royale, Eon Productions’ first entry in the “grim and gritty” genre, in which the 007 series started over. Bond (Daniel Craig) doesn’t actually cry in the shower. But he comforts a sobbing Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) who is overcome after watching Bond in action. Regardless, the scene was an example of how Casino Royale was from the preceding 20 007 films made by Eon.

Casino, in turn, had been influenced by 2002’s The Bourne Identity. That came out in June 2002, a few months before Die Another Day, the 40th anniversary Bond film starring Pierce Brosnan. A second Bourne film, The Bourne Supremacy came out in 2004 while Eon was agonizing what to do next.

Bourne’s style — including faster paced and grimmer action sequences — weighed on the minds of executives at Eon and Sony Pictures, which began distributing Bond movies with Casino. Here’s how The New York Times described it IN AN OCTOBER 2005 STORY about Craig’s casting. The passage refers to Barbara Broccoli, Eon’s co-boss and cites executives who weren’t identified.

For both Ms. Broccoli and Sony, executives said, the model was Jason Bourne, the character Matt Damon successfully incarnated in two gritty spy movies for Universal Pictures, “The Bourne Identity” and “The Bourne Supremacy.”

Casino turned out to be a big hit. For 2008’s Quantum of Solace, Eon doubled down on making its movies more Bourne like, including more rapid epiding and hiring Dan Bradley as second unit director. Bradley had worked on two Bourne films (The Bourne Supremacy and 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum).

Quantum roughly matched Casino’s box office. The next 007 entry, Skyfall, didn’t adhere so much to Bourne as it did to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, another dark series. Skyfall director Sam Mendes even acknowledged the influence.

No complaints at the box office. Skyfall reeled in $1.11 billion worldwide.

Still, trends don’t last forever. Even among fans, you’ll occasionally hear comments such as Skyfall “is like watching the same funeral over and over.”

So enter Kingsman. Its trailer openly mocks grim and gritty spy movies. Colin Firth at one point says current spy movies are too serious for his taste.

We’ll see how Kingsman performs with movie goers. It’s rated R — mostly because of its violence. That normally holds down ticket sales. Also, the comic book on which it’s based isn’t that well known among the general public.

Kingsman probably has more humor than The Man From U.N.C.L.E., although Henry Cavill, the star of that film, has said that movie also has a humorous element. U.N.C.L.E. won’t be out until mid-August.
SPECTRE LOGO

As for SPECTRE, the Bond film currently in production, it’s hard to tell. Sam Mendes is back as director and he’s not exactly hailed as a master of humor.

On the other hand, if you read between the lines of a spoiler-laden DEC. 12 GAWKER STORY, the movie appears to be attempting to be more like a “classic” Bond film while retaining Daniel Craig seriousness. The Gawker story was based on a draft SPECTRE script that surfaced because of the hacking at Sony.

Meanwhile, it’s too early to write off grim and gritty. Matt Damon is planning to do a fourth Bourne film that is supposed to be released in 2016.

UPDATE (Feb. 11) — Kingsman is forecast to finish a distant second to Fifty Shades of Grey this weekend, according to DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD.

Some questions about SPECTRE (no spoilers)

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster


No spoilers in this post.

SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film produced by Eon Productions, has been in the news lately. Part of it is the start of principal photography and part of it is the hacking at Sony Pictures, which will release the film in November 2015.

What follows are some questions, which will likely never be answered in full.

What was John Logan’s pitch that originally got him the job to script the movie?

One version of SPECTRE’s script was sent out by hackers. But well before that, it was reported that scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were summoned to significantly revise SPECTRE’s scrip. Playwright Jez Butterworth was also involved in altering it. So even without the hacking, you could conclude something went awry.

Likely, we won’t know the exact details of Logan’s pitch or why Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which control the 007 franchise, found it appealing. MGM executives disclosed Logan had been hired to write the movie in November 2012, the same month that Skyfall was released in the United States.

What will SPECTRE’s ultimate budget be? Again, hackers put out emails concerning the film’s budget, which indicated the 007 film could be one of the most expensive ever made. But even without the hacking, it was clear SPECTRE’s budget was likely to be higher than Skyfall’s.

Star Daniel Craig was reported in 2012 to be in line for a raise. Eon desperately wanted director Sam Mendes to return, which virtually assured he’d be due a big raise. And, as news dribbled out, it was clear SPECTRE would have more location shooting than Skyfall.

Skyfall’s estimated production budget was $200 million. So the question, which again won’t likely be known completely, is how high is up for SPECTRE?

Will Sony’s involvement with the 007 series end with SPECTRE?

MGM, after coming out of bankruptcy, emerged as a small company, with only limited movie production. So far, it has done movie-by-movie (or franchise-by-franchise) deals with other studios to release its films.

Sony cut a deal to release what would emerge as Skyfall and SPECTRE. That extended a relationship, where Sony released Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

Does MGM cut another deal with Sony? Or does the hacking at Sony encourage MGM to look for another studio to release future 007 films? There are no indications yet what that answer will be.

The evolution of James Bond movies

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

An exchange with a former colleague prompted us to look back at how James Bond films have evolved the past decade.

Paul Baack, co-founder of the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website (and originator of this blog), made the following observation via social media. His quote is presented here with his permission.

“At their best, James Bond movies are factory-made ‘B’ pictures with…’A movie’ polish.”

Ian Fleming’s original novels had a lot of influences. Some of his novels come across as fancier versions of pulp adventure stories. At one time, pulp-like stories were “B” movie fodder while “A” films were more prestigious, adult fare.

The early Bond movies were, indeed, like “B” movies with “A” movie gloss. Even the modestly budgeted Dr. No had Ken Adam-designed sets that made it look more expensive than it really was. Back in September, we posed the questions whether Goldfinger could be considered the first “A-movie” comic book film.

And, whether you consider them a factory product, the movies were controlled by producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and later Broccoli solo. Directors had impact, but Bond films weren’t part of the auteur school of movie making.

Since 2005, when actor Daniel Craig was cast for Casino Royale, the formula changed. The Bond series, in some respects, became “A-movie” dramas with genre-movie action sequences and special effects.

Directors began to exhibit auteur tendencies. Marc Forster had scripts reshaped to fit his “classical four elements” theme of fire, water, earth and air (see HAPHAZARD STUFF’s four-part video review of the film for details). Sam Mendes, with Skyfall, emphasized drama. Example: near the end of the pre-credits sequence, when it appears Bond has been killed, it starts raining outside M’s office. Also, M (Judi Dench) gets to read a poem in a dramatic moment.

Bond directors have yet to get a vanity credit — “A Sam Mendes Film” or “A Film by Sam Mendes”. Still, they do seem to have more control than under the Brocccoli-Saltzman days. With Mendes aboard once more for SPECTRE, that doesn’t look to change.

Meanwhile, the new Bond dramas aren’t inexpensive. Documents hacked from Sony Pictures indicate the new movie’s budget may exceed $300 million, which would make it one of the most expensive movies of all time. That’s not just “A-movie” polish, that’s a warehouse full of “A-movie” polish.

SPECTRE may be one of most expensive movies ever made

SPECTRE LOGO

SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film made by Eon Productions, may be one of the most expensive movies ever made, not adjusted for inflation, based on one movie data base.

The CNN/MONEY WEBSITE reported Dec. 10 that hacked Sony Pictures documents indicate SPECTRE is on pace to cost more than $300 million. (Note: the CNN/Money story does contain plot spoilers.)

The story quoted an e-mail by a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer executive as saying the budget “sits in the mid $300Ms,” while efforts were being made to get it back down to $250 million. Sony Pictures will release SPECTRE next year while Eon and MGM own the franchise.

THE NUMBERS WEBSITE, which compiles various movie financial data, includes a list of the 20 most expensive films it has information on. At $300 million, SPECTRE would tie Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End for No. 2 at that list. Only Avatar, at $425 million, is higher.

Other films of note that are high on the list: The Dark Knight Rises, John Carter and 2013’s The Lone Ranger, all at $275 million, and three Hobbit movies at $250 million each.

Quantum of Solace, the 2008 Bond film, is No. 14 on the list at $230 million.

The website has this caveat: “Budget numbers for movies can be both difficult to find and unreliable. Studios often try to keep the information secret and will use accounting tricks to inflate or reduce announced budgets.”

Also, as mentioned before, the list doesn’t adjust for inflation.

A look back at Quantum of Solace’s publicity

quantum-of-solace-international-poster

Bond 24 is expected to begin filming next month. If tradition holds, that also means they’ll be a press conference for the start of production.

These press conferences primarily are intended to promote the movie. That’s one reason why it’s a good idea to take some of what’s said with a few grains of salt.

We came across the video below at HAPHAZARDSTUFF.COM. It’s the first of three (and counting) videos that examine the 2008 James Bond film Quantum of Solace in detail.

We bring it up because in this first installment, we see a lot of footage from the Quantum press conference as well as other press interviews. Some of what the cast and crew said doesn’t, well, quite hold up to scrutiny. For example:

10:42 mark: Daniel Craig says, “We don’t have shaky cameras.”

10:48: Barbara Broccoli says, “It’s not a revenge movie.” (Full quote played around the 1:18 mark, “It’ not a revenge movie, it’s much more complicated than that.”)

10:50: Olga Kurylenko describes her character. “She’s driven by revenge.”

11:10: Director Marc Forester says, “I’ve never seen a Bond film set in a desert.” (Haphazard Stuff uses this opportunity to show desert clips from The Living Daylights and The Spy Who Loved Me.)

11:20: Forester in separate comments from what appears to be the same interview. Comment one: “I can’t think about an audience, making the movie to please them.” Comment two: “It has to be commercially successful.”

Well, you get the point. In any case, fans view these press conferences more as a chance to celebrate a new 007 film starting production.

To access all three Haphazard Stuff videos, CLICK HERE.

Quantum of Solace Review Part One from HaphazardStuff on Vimeo.

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