Eon’s new normal (cont.): Q’s comments analyzed

Publicity still of Ben Whishaw with Daniel Craig in Skyfall

So, this week, actor Ben Whishaw, Q in the two most recent James Bond movies, made a few comments to Metro which were deemed news about Bond 25.

“I haven’t had an update for a while. I would imagine, I think they have a release date for next year, so I think by the end of this year we have to have started filming something,” Whishaw was quoted by the website. “Although it has gone strangely quiet, but that’s often the way it goes.”

This was analyzed by Birth. Movies. Death (“Q Is Standing by for BOND 25“) and Screen Rant (“Ben Whishaw Expects Bond 25 To Begin Filming Later This Year“).

And, yes, it was news, at least of a sort. Neither Eon Productions (which makes Bond movies) nor Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (which controls half of the 007 franchise) have said a whole lot for months. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In the land of a news blackout, a nugget becomes news.

It’s another reminder about Eon’s new normal. The Bond franchise has franchise has transitioned from being a film series to more like occasional events not on a set schedule.

In the 1970s, even 1980s, it probably wouldn’t have been much of a story if Desmond Llewelyn, the longest-serving film Q, commented about an upcoming film.

Imagine in that time period if Llewelyn said, “I guess they’re getting ready. They have a release date. So they’d have to start filming something before too long.” That wouldn’t have been a blip.

Also, consider this line from the Screen Rant story: “Whishaw may have confirmed his involvement, but there is still no news as to whether Ralph Fiennes (M) or Naomie Harris (Moneypenny) may be joining him.”

In the 1970s, the equivalent would have been: “Llewelyn may have confirmed his involvement, but there is still no news as to whether Bernard Lee (M) or Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny) may be joining him.”

In those days, it’s not a question a lot of people would have been asking. The show was James Bond and whoever was playing him. Connery is back! (Diamonds Are Forever) Who will be the new Bond? Can Roger Moore make it as the new Bond? (Live And Let Die)

This isn’t a complaint. The world is as it is. And Eon’s new normal is what it is.

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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.

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.

Ralph Fiennes speculates Bond 25 may take a lighter tone

Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes, the current M in the James Bond film series, speculated that Bond 25 might take a lighter tone.

“Well I think if you’re the next director of Bond, you’re going to not want to go down the tone and argument of what Sam [Mendes] has put into the films,” Fiennes said in AN INTERVIEW WITH THE TELEGRAPH.

Fiennes stressed to the newspaper he knows nothing about the next 007 project, which currently has no confirmed leading man, no director and no script.

Anyway, in the interview, Fiennes did a quick summary of the Mendes-directed Skyfall and SPECTRE, and commented about how a new director might approach Bond.

“Questions of British nationhood, and whether Bond is a dinosaur, all that,” the actor told The Telegraph, in describing the Mendes 007 films. “So I would guess if you’re coming to do the next Bond, you’d want to take it somewhere radically different, I think.”

It’s an interesting bit of conjecture. SPECTRE was intended as a hybrid of the serious Daniel Craig style while having more of the traditional escapist Bond tone. The movie supplied a new Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who turned out be Bond’s foster brother.

To read the entire interview, CLICK HERE. The story leads off with Fiennes commenting about how Russian audiences didn’t like the more serious approach of the Craig films.

007 silly season proceeds

Matthew Goode, 38, appears unlikely to utter the words, "Bond, James Bond," for audiences.

Matthew Goode, 38, may not utter the words, “Bond, James Bond,” for audiences.

The following is presented for entertainment purposes only.

Matthew Goode, 38, who played Henry Talbot in Downton Abbey, has “scuppered his chances” to play James Bond, according to a story in the Daily Mail that cites a Thursday appearance on British television.

On the televised interview, Goode said he wasn’t invited back for a second interview.

Here’s an excerpt:

The actor took a swipe at the 007 film franchise after revealing he had auditioned for the titular job but hadn’t been invited back for a second during a appearance on This Morning on Thursday.

He continued: ‘I think they should half the budget. Reboot it. I don’t think modern Bond is working as well [as old Bond].’

How much of this is fact and how much is fantasy? Your guess is as good as ours. Still, if true, it *might* be worth noting that the actor got push back on the idea that Bond films need to reduce their budgets. SPECTRE’s budget exploded, spurring a lot of concern that became public because of the Sony Pictures hacking.

–Ralph Fiennes has said (ACCORDING TO THE DEN OF GEEK WEBSITE) he signed a three-picture deal to play M but doesn’t know if he’ll be back for Bond 25.

Here’s an excerpt:

“I have no idea”, Fiennes said, unsurprisingly. “I’m poised to do another Bond if they want me, and I don’t know who is going to be next – it may still be Daniel (Craig) – no one knows. I signed up for three, and I’ve done two, but I don’t know what the variants of the contract are except that we’re all waiting to see ‘will Daniel do another, will he not?’ and if he does, I have a feeling I will be M and if he doesn’t, I’m waiting to hear where they’ll take it.”

Let’s face it: at this point, there’s no real news about Bond 25. But we stand by our modest proposals for Bond 25, including worry about story first, worry about your 007 actor second.

SPECTRE’s Oscar campaign gets underway

SPECTRE LOGO

Sony Pictures has kicked off its campaign for promoting SPECTRE for Oscars.

If you CLICK HERE, you’ll see a Sony website aimed at members of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Scientists who nominate and vote on the Oscars.

Sony’s website lists “for your consideration” basically all the major SPECTRE cast and crew members. Among them: Daniel Craig for Best Actor; Christoph Waltz, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Dave Bautista and Andrew Scott for Best Supporting Actor; and Lea Seydoux, Naomie Harris and Monica Bellucci for Best Supporting Actress.

One change of note, compared with Skyfall’s Oscar campaign. Here, Sony suggests SPECTRE’s scribes of John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth as worth of “Best Original Screenplay” consideration.

Three years ago, Logan, Purvis and Wade were promoted for “Best Adapted Screenplay” for Skyfall.

Skyfall ended up with five nominations, the most for any Bond film. It won two, including Best Song.

Sony’s contract to distribute Bond movies for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer expires with SPECTRE. MGM will either reach a new agreement with Sony or sign with another studio.

A shout out to “Gustav Graves” on the message board of the MI6 James Bond website for pointing out the website.

SPECTRE: U.S. reviews keep rolling in

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE reviews from U.S. film critics roll in ahead of Friday’s “official” opening (regular U.S. showings begin Thursday night).

So, with the movie about to come out here in the States, we present our final review excerpts. The 24th James Bond film has a 67 PERCENT “FRESH” RATING on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

As usual, plot details are being kept out of these excepts, but one man’s careful presentation is another’s thoughtless spoiler.

TONY HICKS, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS: “(D)espite having the countenance of a wolf about to strike, (Daniel) Craig finally looks like he’s having fun this time — and not in a Roger Moore, self-spoofing kind of way. Director Sam Mendes gives him rein to indulge himself as the womanizing, violent, always-in-action, quip-dropping Bond like never before….one thing is clear: The 007 franchise is in a much better place than when Craig first appeared as Bond in 2006.”

KENNETH TURAN, LOS ANGELES TIMES: “But like a baseball team leaving its starting pitcher in a World Series game too long (no names, please), the folks at Eon went to the well once too often with both Craig (“Spectre” is his fourth Bond) and director Sam Mendes, doing his second.

“When Craig took on the role in 2006’s ‘Casino Royale,’ his rougher-edged, less-flippant Bond felt like a breath of fresh air, but almost a decade later it’s gone stale. Craig’s expression is so unchanging it might as well be chiseled out of stone, and his emotionally uninvolved performance is similarly lacking in nuance.”

PETER TRAVERS, ROLLING STONE:If there is such a thing as ‘James Bond’s Greatest Hits,’ then Spectre is it. The 25th movie about the British MI6 agent with a license to kill is party time for Bond fans, a fierce, funny, gorgeously produced valentine to the longest-running franchise in movies.

Spectre carries on Craig’s reinvention of Bond, blowing a reported $250 million budget on spectacular action without losing what’s personal. Skyfall director Sam Mendes is back to keep things real, but the plot cooked up by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth is a 148-minute minefield of distractions. Ah, but what distractions. Apologies to The Spy Who Loved Me, but the Bond series has never had a more drop-dead dazzler of an opener than this one.”

LAWRENCE TOPPMAN, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER: “Daniel Craig debuted in the gripping ‘Casino Royale,’ stumbled through the gibberish of ‘Quantum of Solace,’ then topped himself with the terrific ‘Skyfall.’ Now, in ‘Spectre,’ he presides impassively over 2 1/2 hours of mediocrity. He and almost everyone else seem to be fulfilling an obligation so they can make films they care about.”

JAKE COYLE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: “‘Spectre’ is Craig’s fourth Bond movie and his muscular tenure has been defined not just by his full embodiment of the character, but his overall stewardship. His ability to attract top-notch talent, in front and behind the camera, and to imbue the spy series with a seriousness of purpose reads in every frame. His Bond may still sip martinis, but he’s stone-cold sober.”

CHRIS VOGNAR, DALLAS MORNING NEWS:  “Spectre’s quest for seriousness yields mixed results. One big plus: the pedigreed cast, from world-class actors including (Christoph) Waltz and (Ralph) Fiennes to the bit players to the rising French star Léa Seydoux, who still gets saddled with some unfortunate Bond Girl lines.

One big demerit: the excessive running time. If there’s a reason why a James Bond movie needs to last 148 minutes, Spectre does not provide it. A big, dry narrative lull rests at the movie’s core, which lifts only when Waltz makes his grand entry with about an hour left, purring evil as only he can.”

UPDATE: The New York Times, the leading U.S. newspaper, had not published a SPECTRE review as of Wednesday night. As it turns out, the newspaper had a Nov. 4 Times Talks event in New York, where you had to buy tickets to attend, featuring Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes. It began at 7 p.m. New York Times and was webcast while it was underway.

Here are some tweets the newspaper sent out from the event: