Mendes muses to Baz about Bond films

Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes talked to Deadline: Hollywood’s Baz Bamigboye for a feature story that included a few musings about James Bond films.

–Making Bond films is as much being an engineer as being a director. “It’s like erecting scaffolding and building an entire world…It’s exhausting, in a different way.”

–“I don’t envy (Eon Productions boss) Barbara (Broccoli) having to follow Daniel’s [Craig] five movies. He reinvigorated the franchise but the franchise is so huge that it’s very difficult for a younger actor to step into that.”

–“I think that the actor playing Bond is going to evolve, the director has to evolve. I think it would be wonderful to see a woman directing Bond. I think it would be wonderful.”

Earlier in the story, Mendes said: “I don’t think they’d want me anymore.” He was asked if he had actually been told that. Mendes then said, “Let me rephrase that.” The comment about the director having to evolve followed.

Mendes directed Skyfall (2012) and SPECTRE (2015). Bamigboye formerly was at the Daily Mail, where he often wrote about Bond films.

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.

Ralph Fiennes rips off a SPECTRE scab

Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes caused a stir with comments on a podcast about how he successfully resisted attempts during production of SPECTRE to turn his M into a villain.

“I had to fight off an attempt by (Skyfall and SPECTRE director) Sam (Mendes) in SPECTRE…I don’t want to play M and then you turn around make M the bad guy. M is never the bad guy….I had to have some pretty intense discussions with Sam.”

The key excerpt is below:

The thing is all of this became known in 2014 with the hacking at Sony, which distributed Skyfall and SPECTRE. What makes it of interest is Fiennes talking about it. Eventually, a new character, dubbed C, became the traitor.

The 2014 hacks also revealed that, at the same time, Tanner would also be revealed to be a traitor. He would commit suicide while Bond observed. At least two SPECTRE script drafts, including one with an Irma Bunt henchwoman (a major character in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), leaked out.

Fiennes’ comments draw attention to a volatile time.

Pre-production of SPECTRE (then known as Bond 24) had been well underway when, on Nov. 15, 2013, it was announced that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Danjaq/Eon had reached an agreement with the estate of Kevin McClory. As a result of the pact, MGM and Danjaq/Eon now firmly held the rights to Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE.

One way to go would be to put Blofeld and SPECTRE in a drawer for use later. Instead, Blofeld and SPECTRE were shoehorned into Bond 24.

All of a sudden, everything was up for grabs. In Fiennes case, he put his foot down and the notion of M as a traitor passed.

All of this had been mostly forgotten until the actor’s recent comments. All of this reflects Eon’s “we’ll make it up as we go along” approach. Example: At a 2011 press conference, Mendes said Skyfall had nothing to do with Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

When SPECTRE rolled around, lo and behold, Skyfall villain Silva was really part of SPECTRE. It would be as if Goldfinger had been part of SPECTRE in 1964. (He wasn’t.)

So it goes.

Broccoli decries superhero films while using their tropes

Barbara Broccoli, boss of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli, the boss of Eon Productions, which makes James Bond movies, says the 007 film series is better than superhero films despite using some of the same tropes.

An April 26 story by The Express had this passage:

Ms Broccoli believed moviegoers connected with Bond because he remains an “ordinary” and “regular person” unlike “superheroes”.

She claimed this was reemphasised in (Daniel) Craig’s portrayal where “he bleeds” and “he cries” like any other person. 

Almost a decade ago, Sam Mendes, the director of Skyfall, acknowledged how he adapted ideas from Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies that ran from 2005 to 2012.

With SPECTRE (2015), Eon adopted the notion of multi-film continuity made popular by Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios unit.

With No Time to Die, director Cary Fukunaga in 2019 talked up “the joy of continuity.” He commented about how No Time to Die embraced the continuity of Daniel Craig’s first four James Bond films.

So it goes.

Eon’s 007 Twitter engages in revisionist history

The official 007 Twitter feed engaged in some revisionist history. In a tweet today, it referred to “the iconic Skyfall DB5.”

Skyfall DB5? Director Sam Mendes insisted the Aston Martin DB5 be the GOLDFINGER DB5.

Originally, scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade had it being the DB5 that Daniel Craig’s James Bond won in 2006’s Casino Royale. But Mendes wanted the Goldfinger car, and the Goldfinger car it was.

That was the entire point. And, when Skyfall went into theaters in 2012, it indeed got a rise from audiences.

You can view the tweet for yourself:

Bond 25 questions: Killing time until November edition

New (well, tweaked) No Time to Die character poster

Fans of the James Bond films have some time to kill before November. The blog has some questions.

What’s up with Bond’s new gun in a revised character poster for No Time to Time?

Previously, a series of character posters for the 25th James Bond film were released. One, naturally, featured star Daniel Craig.

A revised version went out this week. It now says “November” at the bottom instead of “April 2020,” reflecting the delay in release date.

But something else changed. The gun Craig is holding looks different, perhaps now equipped with a silencer or maybe simply a different firearm.

I’m not sure what caused the change. The MI6 James Bond website noticed the alteration, with a side-by-side comparison in THIS TWEET.

What happens to all the publicity we were going to get?

Well, Bond fans are getting some of it now. Publications such as GQ and Total Film came out with No Time to Die articles. The schedule was based on an April release of the movie. But last week’s decision to shift the movie to November came too late for the publications to change their plans.

The GQ piece was similar to Craig profiles of yesteryear (including 26 references to the f-word), how he initially hesitated to play Bond, etc.. We’re also told how “Craig introduced time to the Bond movies… Bond ages.”

This isn’t a new angle. Sam Mendes, the director of Skyfall boasted in 2014 that in that film “for the first time characters were allowed to age.”

It wasn’t true then. Previous Bond films had reference to aging. Sean Connery told True magazine in 1971 that he was playing Bond older in Diamonds Are Forever than his earlier 007 films. Also, aging was part of Roger Moore’s 1980s Bond films.

Still, you could argue that the aging theme was much more pronounced in Skyfall (with its often-repeated “the old ways are the best” line). Well, whatever works for an article.

Is there a bright side to this delay?

For that, I’ll defer to the Haphazard Stuff channel on YouTube. He found 13 bright spots. One involves the infectious laugh of former No Time to Die director Danny Boyle. You can view Haphazard Stuff’s take below.

Bond 25 questions: The potpourri edition

New No Time to Die poster

We’ve had a few No Time to Die developments recently. Naturally, the blog has a couple of questions.

Will the gunbarrel be at the beginning?

Hard to say, but this week’s Cary Fukunaga video suggests it’s a strong possibility.

“The white dots on the screen…the adrenaline starts pumping,” Fukunaga’s voiceover says, accompanying the Daniel Craig gunbarrel from SPECTRE. “Settle in and get ready for a ride.”

That sounds like a description of the first 20 Bond films when the gunbarrel was at the start of the movie. Things got changed up with 2006’s Casino Royale, which began a new, rebooted timeline. The gunbarrel appeared at the end of the pre-titles sequence.

Then, for Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, the gunbarrel appeared at the end of the film. There was some pushback from fans. That generated pushback to the pushback where other fans questioned how dare fans question the artistry of the films. The comments section of this 2012 post demonstrates both sides of the argument.

The gunbarrel was back at the start of SPECTRE, although it wasn’t the best executed, including having Daniel Craig swinging his arm wildly showing he’s holding a gun.

In any case, Fukunaga at least sounds more appreciative of the gunbarrel logo than his Bond directing predecessor Sam Mendes. We’ll see.

Why didn’t Scott Z. Burns get a script credit?

Supposedly, the ace Hollywood “script doctor” in early 2019 was on his way to save No Time to Die’s script. Certainly, The Playlist website made it sound that way in a February 2019 story.

To give credit where credit is due, The Playlist was the first to report Burns participating in the writing of the film. Saving the script? Not so much. Burns ended up not getting a credit while Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, director Fukunaga and scribe Phoebe Waller-Bridge did.

Ultimately, script credits are decided by the Writers Guild of America. The rules are a bit complex but in general favor the early writers over those who rewrite. There is also a cap on the number of credits available. In this case, Burns had no seat when the WGA musical chairs of writing credits ended.

A No Time to Die reality check

Daniel Craig/James Bond character poster

Adapted, updated and expanded from previous blog posts.

Ben Whishaw, who has played Q for three James Bond films, has told Collider.com that No Time to Die will be a “summing up” of Daniel Craig’s 007 films.

There has been some fan discussion of how the Craig films will now be this five-film epic, something the series had never attempted. Under this idea, No Time to Die will conclude five Bond films, similar to how Avengers: Endgame was the conclusion of more than 20 Marvel Studios movies.

No Time to Die may be presented that way. But this is just a reminder that Craig’s tenure was never planned this way unlike Marvel.

Let’s go back some years.

Sam Mendes said Skyfall “didn’t connect” to Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace: At a November 2011 press conference, Mendes was asked whether Skyfall was related to Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

“It’s its own story,” the Skyfall director said of Skyfall. “It doesn’t connect with the last two movies.”

After the fact, things changed.

The filmmakers once told us SPECTRE was passe: Here’s a quote from Barbara Broccoli in a 2012 interview with CRAVE ONLINE:

Barbara Broccoli: I mean, we’ve talked about Blofeld over the years. The thing is Blofeld was fantastic for the time but I think it’s about creating characters that are, villains that are more appropriate for the contemporary world. It’s more exciting for us to create somebody new. (emphasis added)

The filmmakers told us Quantum was better than SPECTRE: Here’s a summary by the JAMES BOND INTERNATIONAL FAN CLUB of an article that originally appeared in SPX magazine.

Interestingly, Wilson and Broccoli told SFX that they have not abandoned the Quantum organisation, but also confirmed that it is not used in ‘Skyfall’. Wilson also revealed that they have the rights to bring back Blofeld and SPECTRE. ‘We believe we can use them. They’re a little dated at the moment. We went for the Quantum organisation, which was more business oriented, trying to corner the market on scarce resources, rather than a criminal organisation that did blackmail and bank robberies…’.

But Wilson’s co-producer Barbara Broccoli added, cautiously, that they needed a little more time to pass before they could go back to ‘extortion and blackmail! The Quantunm organisation does seem far more realistic. (emphasis added)

In 2006’s Casino Royale, the mysterious organization that Bond battled didn’t have a name. In Quantum of Solace, we found out it was called Quantum. In SPECTRE, we learned there was a tie between Quantum and SPECTRE via Mr. White.

The 2013 settlement with the Kevin McClory estate that gave Eon Productions the ability to use SPECTRE was an opportunity. That changed everything,

With SPECTRE, we got a “retcon” (retroactive change in continuity).

I saw a tweet from a fan who wondered whether No Time to Die was SPECTRE Part II. Essentially, many fans are buying into the idea (seemingly voiced by Whishaw in his Collider interview) that No Time to Die is Casino Royale Part V.

None of this means No Time to Die won’t be an entertaining James Bond. Still, let’s not get carried away.

Bond 25 questions: The composer edition (again? maybe?)

No Time to Die teaser poster

On All Saints’ Day 2019, the James Bond Radio podcast raised the question whether Dan Romer may not score No Time to Die after all.

On posts on Twitter and Facebook, the fan site said it heard from a source that Romer has left the 25th James Bond film. Romer has worked with No Time to Die director Cary Fukunaga on other projects.

At this point, there’s no way to know. In the James Bond Radio post on Facebook, there was this caveat: “Our source does seem credible, but of course you never know for sure until we get an official word.”

With all that in mind, the blog has some questions:

Is Romer really gone?

There’s no way to know. Eon Productions isn’t likely to say until a replacement is lined up.

Is this sort of thing unusual?

Not really. Bernard Herrmann scored a number of films for producer-director Alfred Hitchcock. But Herrmnn delivered a score for Torn Curtain (1966). Hitchcock hated it and that was the end of the long collaboration between director and composer.

More recently, Warner Bros. superhero film Justice League (2017) started out with a score by Junkie XL. But the powers that be rejected it and Danny Elfman came in Elfman included his own theme for the 1989 Batman movie as well as John Williams’ theme for the 1978 Superman movie.

If (repeat IF) Romer is gone, who might replace him?

A lot of Bond fans would love to have five-time Bond film composer David Arnold back. Arnold hasn’t scored a Bond film since 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

Arnold has a following among Bond fans, many of whom have been wishing he’d return. Director Sam Mendes insisted on Thomas Newman to compose the scores for Skyfall and SPECTRE. Then, Romer was the man for No Time to Die, presumably because he worked with Fukunaga before.

Another fan favorite is composer Michael Giacchino, who has worked in John Barry-style flourishes in a number of scores including The Incredibles (2004) and other films. His credits include one Mission: Impossible movie and a number of Marvel Studios films.

Any other thoughts?

Not really. The James Bond Radio social media posts quickly spread among fans. It remains to be seen what’s really happening. That’s not a criticism of James Bond Radio. We just don’t know what’s happening.

Ready or not, the DB5 reports for service again

A replica Aston Martin DB5 rolls off the truck in preparation for Bond 25 filming

Italian news outlet Sassilive had a story about Bond 25 getting ready for filming in Matera, Italy. The article included a photo gallery, including a picture (see above) of an Aston Martin DB5 coming off a truck.

So, ready for not, the DB5 is back. Again.

Most people won’t care that the car (actually one of several) is an expensive replica of the DB5. Carbon fiber body. BMW engine. New suspension components that were never included in the DB5s that Aston Martin made in the 1960s.

Regardless, Eon Productions is turning to one the most iconic images of its James Bond film series. The question is whether this may be one time too many.

The original DB5 was introduced in Goldfinger and made a return in Thunderball. While other Aston models showed up in various Bond films, the DB5 wasn’t seen again in a 007 outing until 1995’s GoldenEye.

In that film, the DB5 appeared to be Bond’s personal car. Ditto for 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies. A left-handed drive version then appeared in 2006’s Casino Royale, something he won in a card game.

But the DB5 — an original right-hand drive version — was back in 2012’s Skyfall. This time, director Sam Mendes made sure everyone knew it was (or at least it was supposed to be) the original Goldfinger car. And, indeed, every time I saw the film in the theater, it got a rise out of the audience.

The DB5 was blown up in Skyfall, a somewhat emotional moment. But all was forgotten in 2015’s SPECTRE when Q (improbably) had it rebuilt. And Daniel Craig’s Bond appeared to drive off into the sunset at the end of the movie.

Since then, we’ve gotten expensive Lego DB5s and even more expensive replica DB5s with replica gadgets that Aston Martin is selling for more than $3 million each. That’s a lot of money, especially they’re not legal to drive in actual traffic.

Regardless, the DB5 (at least a faux version) is back for Bond 25. Daniel Craig told Prince Charles the secrets of the Bond 25 DB5s when the prince visited Pinewood Studios in June. Now the replica DB5 will soon be at work when Bond 25 begins filming in Italy in a few weeks.

I never really thought I’d say this, but I’m getting tired of the DB5.

Yes, people collect vintage cars. But does it really make sense for Bond to drive what’s supposed to be a 55-year-old (or so) car on a regular basis?

Yes, the DB5 is an iconic Bond car — or at least it was. But is it getting used too much?

Haphazard Stuff, which does very amusing, detailed videos, recently did a long look at Bond 25. He examined the DB5 issue, starting at the 33:36 mark. You can see the video below. (If I did this correctly, it’ll go to the DB5 discussion when you click.) Anyway, some food for thought.