James Bond: The tired franchise?

Daniel Craig

Happy 50th birthday, Daniel Craig. You’re only the second cinematic James Bond to make it to 50, after Roger Moore, while in the employ of Eon Productions.

(Sean Connery had passed his 50th birthday when he did Never Say Never Again, but that 1983 007 film was not part of the Eon series.)

Still, the blog can’t help but remember Craig’s remarks in October 2016 during an event sponsored by The New Yorker magazine.

“There’s no conversation going on (about Bond 25) because genuinely everybody’s just a bit tired,” Craig said at that time.

When Craig said that, he had worked on the movie Logan Lucky, was getting ready to do a stage production of Othello and had other projects. Barbara Broccoli, the boss of Eon Productions, was producing that Othello stage production, was planning the film Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. And she had other projects in the pipeline.

Physically tired? No.

Tired of making James Bond movies?

That’s the question.

Bond 25, in its early stages, didn’t seem to be making major changes.

Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, writers on six 007 films, were hired for a seventh. This was confirmed in a July 24, 2017 press release that said the movie would be released in November 2019 in the United States. This was weeks before Craig, confirmed in August 2017 he was coming back to Bondage.

At this point, Bond 25 is mostly murky. There is no announced distributor and no announced director,

Supposedly, Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer want prestige director Danny Boyle to helm the movie, according to stories last month in Variety and Deadline: Hollywood. If that happens, the choice of Boyle would follow the selections of “auteur” directors such as Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace) and Sam Mendes (Skyfall and SPECTRE).

The Deadline story said Boyle would direct if a new story he devised with John Hodge is used. Meanwhile, The Hollywood Reporter said March 1 that Boyle may direct another film as early as this summer.

Mmuch of Bond 25 is unresolved. What’s also unresolved is how enthusiastic Eon is regarding the film future of 007.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool has been described as a dream project of Barbara Broccoli. It’s not a big box office hit. But it wasn’t intended to be.

As the sixth film Bond celebrates his half century, there’s still a lot to be determined in the film world of 007. One of the most important questions is what does “everybody’s just a bit tired” really mean.

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Lewis Gilbert, an appreciation

Lewis Gilbert (right) with Albert R. Broccoli, Roger Moore and Lois Chiles during filming of Moonraker

Lewis Gilbert, coming off producing and directing Alfie (1966), was not the most obvious candidate to direct a James Bond movie.

Alfie was a comedy-drama about the emptiness and consequences from pursuing a lifestyle purely for your own enjoyment. It was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture.

You Only Live Twice, the 1967 007 film Gilbert signed on for, by contrast was a huge, sprawling film. It teased the possibility of sending James Bond (Sean Connery) into space. It featured a SPECTRE headquarters inside a volcano, with a squad of Japanese Secret Service ninjas squaring off against the minions of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Subtle, it wasn’t.

Yet, Gilbert, with a varied resume of films, was up to the challenge. The movie did away with the plot of Ian Fleming’s 1964 novel. In its place was a thrill ride.

You Only Live Twice promotional art, which provides an idea of the movie’s spectacle

“Well, I was a bit dubious at first,” Gilbert said on an installment of Whicker’s World, the BBC documentary series while the movie was in production in Japan.

“I must say in this case the two of them (producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman), they’ve been wonderful. They’ve let me come in with any ideas that could improve the Bond.

“I don’t think there’s anything on this picture that I could ask for that hasn’t been given,” the director continued. “I said today, ‘Look, I want 5,000 people flown in from Tokyo, I’m sure they would be flown in.”

You Only Live Twice, the fifth film in the series, was a success despite how the 1960s spy craze was starting to wane. A decade later, Broccoli — his partnership with Saltzman now dissolved — came calling again.

This time, the project was The Spy Who Loved Me, the third 007 film with Roger Moore. The franchise was at a crossroads. The previous entry, The Man With the Golden Gun, had a falloff in the box office compared with Moore’s Bond debut, Live And Let Die.

Gilbert brought something of a fresh set of eyes having been away from Bond for so long. He decided Spy should play to Moore’s strengths and not have the actor try to copy Sean Connery.

Again, the movie would be epic: A tanker swallowed British, Soviet and U.S. submarines. A megalomaniac villain (Curt Jurgens) was out to end civilization and start over. Subtle it wasn’t.

At the same time, there was a moment of drama when Bond’s Moore admits to Soviet agent Anya (Barabara Bach) that he killed her lover while on a mission. It was a scene that caught a viewer’s attention amid the spectacle.

Spy was a huge success, revitalizing the series. So it was natural that Broccoli brought Gilbert back to direct Moonraker. The showman producer intended the film would be extravagant.

This time, a Bond film would complete was had been teased in Twice — Bond would go into space for a final showdown with another megalomaniac villain, Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale).

The plot of Gilbert’s three Bond adventures are undeniably similar. But the spectacle overwhelms such concerns during viewing. It’s only until the films are over that fans debate such concerns.

When Gilbert emerged from Bondage, he continued directing, working into his 80s.

When news of his death emerged on Tuesday (he had died late last week at the age of 97), a new generation of directors expressed admiration for his work.

“RIP Lewis Gilbert, the great British director who, among his 40 plus credits, directed ‘Alfie’, ‘Educating Rita’, ‘Reach For The Sky’, ‘Shirley Valentine’ and one of my very favourite Bond films: ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’,” Edgar Wright, the director of Baby Driver, wrote on Twitter. ‘”Why’d you have to be so good?”‘

“Lewis Gilbert, director of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER, has passed away,” Peyton Reed, the director of 2015’s Ant-Man wrote, also in a Twitter post. “SPY was the first Bond film I saw in the theater. (And I have a tiny homage to MOONRAKER in ANT-MAN AND THE WASP.) Rest in Peace.”

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.

Roger Moore: Let’s just say, ‘Au Revoir’

Roger Moore in a 1980s publicity still

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

On Dec. 31 2016, I spent New Year’s Eve alone. I decided it was a way to say goodbye to my late father who – among other things – introduced me to James Bond.

So, breaking all the known traditions, I popped in the BluRay discs of Live And Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun and Moonraker starting around the afternoon and ending minutes before midnight, to bid farewell to him with those three classic films he always told me about before we watched them on blurry VHS tapes after he picked me up from school.

Little I knew that I was bidding farewell of their protagonist as well.

Painful Year

2017 will be remembered as a painful year for the James Bond community. On May 23, we lost our most remarkable ambassador: Sir Roger Moore, the longest serving James Bond actor in the official cinematic series starring Ian Fleming’s secret agent.

I received the news of his passing with great shock on the afternoon of that fateful day, during my lunch break. It was a simple text message saying “RIP Roger Moore.” My immediate reaction was, simply, to ask “What?!”

Of course, it sounds silly. One should expect an 89-year-old man to depart soon. Maybe I was among those who thought he would live forever and that’s where my surprise and astonishment of sorts came.

Sir Roger Moore became the first (official) film Bond to visit the ultimate location no other Bond has been in: heaven.

My first touch with Moore’s Bond came shortly after I discovered GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies, almost 20 years ago.

It was my dad – whom I hope he has meet Roger up in the borderless skies by now – who once told me (in another lunch break, this time from school) about a Bond movie where a car made a 360 degree jump over a bridge.

Some days later, we were watching The Man With The Golden Gun on a VCR. And months later, we were enjoying Live And Let Die and Moonraker, in that order.

The days went on and as much older people than me explained that Roger Moore was also a relevant figure in The Persuaders! and The Saint, I managed to get a glimpse of those two wonderful TV series thanks to a retro channel that broke the barriers of time.

And as kids of my age were on Dragon Ball Z or Knight of The Zodiac, I was into the globe-trotting adventures of Lord Brett Sinclair and Simon Templar.

Personal Connection

I’m sure I’m not the only one who will feel Roger’s departure as something personal. He joined us on our childhood, teens and adult life.

He retired from the role of James Bond in 1985, exceptionally looking good at 58 years old and he went on to work in comedies and doing small appearances on TV shows like Alias. Much more important, he joined UNICEF and has been actively working as a Goodwill Ambassador, helping children in need.

Still, he always showed gratitude to the role he played in seven films over twelve years. He never refused an autograph. “I’m here because of them,” he told his daughter Deborah when she noted that he took so much time to sign photos, posters or DVD covers.

But more than that, he has been the only one true Bond Ambassador. Having his word on every released 007 film on his many published books or his Twitter account.

The Ambassador

He didn’t go to premieres often, but he cherished every time a new Bond adventure was released. He was the one who bid farewell to the many members of his cinematic family like Richard Kiel, Geoffrey Holder or Guy Hamilton, and a man that retained the same charm, style and sense of humor he had when he portrayed the role.

The truth is… I don’t see any of the other five actors fully acting as “Bond Ambassadors.”

Sean Connery seems out of the spotlight and has barely reconciled with the character that brought him to fame. Timothy Dalton remembers Bond from time to time. George Lazenby and Pierce Brosnan would be the closest ones as they often share an anecdote of their time as 007.

Lazenby had a funny biopic titled Becoming Bond and we see Brosnan sharing some publicity stills on Instagram although he’s clearly focused on his current projects. Yet, nobody had the panache of remembering James Bond as Sir Roger Moore did.

While the others portrayed Bond as another job, Moore was Bond until he died. That day, I felt as if James Bond –the unbeatable secret agent– had died. I never stopped feeling that at any age he still had the charm of the James Bond of the 1970s and 1980s.

Roger Moore was a very much important part of my time as a Bond fan. It’s fair to admit that I owe much of my good taste and my sense of humor to him.

It may be a cliché to say this at this point but, truly, nobody did it better.

Good-bye Roger, or – as I’ve learnt from you in that film of 1977 – let’s just say ‘au revoir.’

Thanks for being part of my life.

Roger Moore part of TCM Remembers 2017

Turner Classic Movies has unveiled the 2017 edition of its TCM Remembers video, honoring actors and crew members who passed away during the year.

Roger Moore, who played James Bond in seven 007 films from 1973 to 1985, was part of the video. At around the 3:10 mark, the video includes a clip of Moore from 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

Other notables in the video include:

–Martin Landau, who played a henchman in 1959’s North by Northwest (used for one of two clips in the video) and gained fame in the Mission: Impossible television series.

–Veteran character actor Clifton James, whose many credits include playing redneck sheriff J.W. Pepper in Live And Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun.

–Fred Koenekamp, an Oscar-winning director of photography who had earlier honed his craft photographing 90 episodes (out of 105 total) of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

–Daliah Lavi, an actress whose credits included the first Matt Helm film, The Silencers, and the 1967 Casino Royale spoof.

–Bernie Casey, a busy actor who, among other things, played Felix Leiter in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, the non-Eon 007 film starring Sean Connery.

You can view the video below.

BBC Radio 2 schedules Roger Moore special

Roger Moore in a 1980s publicity still

BBC Radio 2 has scheduled a two-hour special about Roger Moore for Boxing Day, Dec. 26.

Sir Roger Moore: Nobody Did It Better will air from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. that day, according to a BBC Radio 2 schedule of holiday programs.

The special will include interviews conducted since Moore’s death in May. Among those interviewed: Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions; his daughter, Deborah Moore; and actor Michael Caine, a friend of Moore’s.

There also will be archived interviews where “Roger himself discusses his life and his work, his family and his friendships,” according to the program description.

Moore played James Bond in seven films produced by Eon after starring as The Saint in a successful 1960s television series. He was also a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF.

007: News mostly about the past

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

As 2017 enters its final month, James Bond is mostly looking backward, rather than forward.

News item: There’s an expanded soundtrack now available for Die Another Day, a movie that originally came out in 2002 — 15 years ago.

News item: Roger Moore’s diary written during the filming of Live And Let Die is to get a new printing next year. The original was published in 1973 — 44 years ago. The new version will be printed in hardback. It will also feature a forward by David Hedison, a long-time friend of Moore’s who played Felix Leiter in Live And Let Die.

But wait! Isn’t there a new 007 product coming out in 2018? True. That will be the second 007 continuation novel by Anthony Horowitz. It is scheduled to be published sometime in the spring.

However, the literary Bond, in the 21st century, is almost like a distant satellite of the larger 007 entity, the film series.

Which leads us to….

Bond 25’s status: As of this writing, the film officially has a leading man (Daniel Craig), a pair of producers (Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson), a pair of writers (Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) and a release date (Nov. 8, 2019 in the United States).

And not much else. At least not now.

Around this time a year ago, the blog asked if 2016 was 007’s lost year.

2017 has been more eventful, but not by much. While Bond 25 has a release date, nobody knows — for sure — how it will get to theaters.

The Deadline: Hollywood website reported Nov. 12 that a new joint venture between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Annapurna Pictures was close to striking a deal to distribute Bond 25 in the U.S. But there’s been no announcement. And the Deadline report said international distribution hadn’t been decided.

Since then, no news. For most franchises, the distributor isn’t a big deal. The studio involved controls that. MGM, seven years after exiting bankruptcy, is trying to become a “big boy” studio again. But MGM, which controls half the Bond franchise, isn’t there yet.

And for Bond 25, an international distributor (assuming the MGM-Annapurna deal comes to be) is probably going to kick in a large piece of the production budget.

Obviously, there are things happening behind the scenes. Purvis and Wade have had enough time to complete a first-draft script. Whether they have or not is anybody’s guess.

James Bond can look back to a glorious past with certainty. The expanded Die Another Day soundtrack and new printing of Roger Moore’s Live And Let diary are just two of many examples.

An even bigger example: The death of Roger Moore in May naturally spurred a look back at his seven 007 films. He was the first of six screen Bonds in the Eon Productions series to pass away.

The future? That’s still a little fuzzy as 2017 nears its end. We’ll see if that status changes in the year’s final month.

Meanwhile, here’s a bit of perspective: General Motors Co. said Nov. 30 it expects to launch a “ride-hailing service” of self-driving cars in the United States by 2019. Self-driving cars are supposed to be the next big thing in autos. If GM is correct, that service could be in business before 007’s next screen adventure.