Dr. No’s 55th: A peculiar anniversary

Dr. No poster

This week, the James Bond film franchise celebrates the 55th anniversary of its first entry, Dr. No. However, it’s a bit of peculiar milestone.

Five years ago, for the 50th anniversary, it was a time of celebration. The golden anniversary of Dr. No was marked with the knowledge that a new Bond film, Skyfall, would be out soon.

For Bond fans, it was a “win-win.” They could celebrate the franchise’s past while looking forward to the near future

For the 55th, not as much.

Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in July announced a November 2019 release date for Bond 25. But, as of this writing, there isn’t an actual distributor to get the movie into theaters. Such a distributor likely would provide a significant chunk of the funding for the project.

The incumbent 007, Daniel Craig, said in August he’s coming back for a fifth outing. However, besides the lack of a distributor, there’s no director in place, either.

Veteran 007 film scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are working on Bond 25 story, according to that July announcement.

But until a director is on the job — and directors are known for bringing in their own writers to re-work a script — things can only proceed so far. One of the reported contenders, Denis Villeneuve, confirmed to The Montreal Gazette, that he has been in talks with Craig and Eon boss Barbara Broccoli. But Villeneuve, coming off Blade Runner 2049, is in demand for other projects.

What’s more, there have been fuzzy, imprecise vibes that Eon Productions might sell off its interest in 007 after Bond 25. Nobody has actually said this will happen but people have said it might happen.

Finally, tech giants Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. are looking to get the Bond 25 distribution rights or perhaps acquire the whole thing, according to a Sept. 6 story by The Hollywood Reporter. Yet, major news outlets that follow both Apple and Amazon closely (think The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal) have ignored the story.

Is there anything to The Hollywood Reporter’s story or not? Who knows?

All this uncertainty overshadows Dr. No.’s anniversary. The first 007 film included Sean Connery introducing the line, “Bond, James Bond. It was a project the followed the unusual circumstances that brought Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman together.

While a modestly budgeted production, the work of production designer Ken Adam made Dr. No look more expensive than it was. And actress Ursula Andress made an impression on audiences. Director Terence Young, not the first choice of either the producers or distributor United Artists, got the series off to a rousing start.

Some Bond fans fans are sure a major announcement about Bond 25 is coming on Oct. 5, Global James Bond Day and also the anniversary of Dr. No’s premiere. Maybe they’re right. We’ll see.

In any case, the 55th anniversary of Dr. No has an uncertainty that the 50th anniversary didn’t.

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How adapting Fleming’s Twice novel may be hard

Cover to the first-edition U.S. hardback edition of You Only Live Twice

This week, the blog published a post about issues related to reworking the plot of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as a way to faithfully adapt Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice novel.

A reader e-mailed the blog should go a step further and discuss the difficulties in doing a faithful adaptation of the 1964 novel.

So, with that in mind, here’s a breakdown by chapter of what a screenwriter would need to examine. Fleming creates a mood by describing Bond’s inner thoughts and observations. The novel also was a major change of pace following the epic novel of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Chapter 1, Scissors Cut Paper: Bond and Tiger Tanaka are at a geisha party. They drink sake and play a game of scissors-rock-paper.

Bond is a bit uneasy. “Tiger had promised he would beat Bond. To fail would be to lose much face. How much? Enough to breach a friendship that had become oddly real between the two of them over the past weeks?”

The chapter ends with Bond at Tiger’s home to discuss a discrete matter.

Chapter 2, Curtains for Bond?: Flashback to previous events where Bond is a broken man following the events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Chapter 3, The Impossible Mission: M, after consulting with Sir James Molony in the previous chapter, gives Bond a diplomatic mission. A lot of talking and exposition, not many visuals.

Chapter 5, Magic 44: The novel’s McGuffin is explained and why it’s important.

Chapter 7, The Death Collector: Plot twist. Tiger tells Bond there’s a fellow, one Doctor Shatterhand, who’s causing the Japanese government some discomfort by enticing those inclined to suicide. Much of the chapter is a list of types of poisons as well as poisonous plants.

Chapter 8, Slay It With Flowers: Tiger puts the proposition to Bond — kill the foreigner with his poison garden that attracts the suicidal. “You are to enter this Castle of Death and slay the dragon within.”

Chapter 11, Anatomy Class: Tanaka tells Bond about haiku poems and 17th century poet Bassho. Bond writes his own haiku: “You only live twice: Once when you are born, Once when you look death in the face.” Tiger tells Bond that “it is a most honourable attempt.”

Chapter 12, Appointment in Samarra: The chapter begins with a bit of action. Bond and Tiger are being followed by a man on a motorcycle. The tables are turned and a chase ensues. The motorcycle rider dies. A tattoo shows he is a Black Dragon.

Later, Bond discovers that Doctor Shatterhand, the target he’s been given by Tanaka, is really Blofeld.

You Only Live Twice first U.K. edition

Chapter 13, Kissy Suzuki: More details why Bond wants revenge on Blofeld and the scale of his villainy, which is on “the scale of a Caligula, of a Nero, of a Hitler or any other great enemy of mankind.” Bond also meets Kissy Suzuki.

Chapter 17, Something Evil Comes This Way: Bond has infiltrated the Shatterhand/Blofeld estate. He witnesses Blofeld’s guards torture a man before tossing him into a lake with piranha. Blofeld and Irma Bunt chat a bit. Blofeld suggests they may need to move on, establishing other places to entice suicides. “The same pattern can be repeated in other countries,” Blofeld says. “Everywhere there are people who want to kill themselves.”

Chapter 20: Blood and Thunder: Bond and Blofeld have their showdown. Bond escapes Blofeld’s castle via a balloon but after an explosion he drops into the sea.

Chapter 21; Obit: M writes Bond’s obituary for The Times of London. Skyall (2012) adapted this, substituting Turkey for Japan.

Chapter 22: Sparrows’ Tears: It turns out Bond is suffering amnesia due to head injuries. He’s settles down with Kissy but finds a scrap of paper with the word “Vladivostok.” The novel ends with Bond (unaware that Kissy is pregnant) planning to go to the Soviet Union.

This was loosely adapted in Skyfall. In that film, Bond simply quits MI6 (and goes off the grid) after being wounded by Moneypenny.

007 by the numbers: Films per decade

An exchange with a fellow James Bond fan got us to thinking about the output of James Bond fans by decade.

There has been a long-term trend of fewer movies. Some say it’s because making films has gotten more complicated.

Anyway, without further analysis, here’s how it breaks down by decade.

1960s: 007 films. This was the decade of Bondmania so, naturally, it’s when output reached its zenith. There were six entries in the Eon Productions series, plus the Casino Royale spoof produced by Charles K. Feldman with fifth credited directors including John Huston.

1970s: 005 films. The Eon series began the decade by bringing back its original leading man (Sean Connery) while spending the rest of the ’70s with Roger Moore.

1980s: 006 films. The Eon series was like clockwork, with a movie every other year. Also, there was Connery’s final Bond film, Never Say Never Again, the non-Eon production that came out in 1983, the same year as Eon’s Octopussy.

Timothy Dalton replaced Moore with 1987’s The Living Daylights (after Pierce Brosnan had been signed but couldn’t get out a contract with NBC). Eon didn’t miss a beat. That would be the last time such a statement would be uttered, though fans didn’t realize it at the time.

1990s: 003 films. A big legal fight between Eon and studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer shut down production at the start of the decade. Bond didn’t return until 1995’s GoldenEye. But the (by now) tradition every-other-year production schedule still resulted in three entries for star Pierce Brosnan.

2000s: 003 films. MGM gave Eon an extra year to put out Die Another Day in 2002. It was Brosnan’s finale, though he didn’t know it at the time. Eon then went into a period of self-reflection. It got the rights to Casino Royale, opted to ditch Brosnan and hire Daniel Craig as a replacement.

Quantum of Solace in 2008 proved to be the final 007 film produced on an every-other-year schedule. But nobody knew it at the time.

2010s: 003 films (scheduled). The decade began with MGM going into bankruptcy and emerging as a smaller company. Craig, though, stayed onboard with 2012’s Skyfall, followed by 2015’s SPECTRE.

“Everybody’s just a little bit tired,” Daniel Craig said in 2016.

Then, another self-imposed break took hold.

“There’s no conversation going on because genuinely everybody’s just a bit tired,” Craig said at a New Yorker magazine event in fall 2016, referring to the next Bond film. Eon boss Barbara Broccoli stepped up her involvement with non-Bond films as well as plays, including a production of Othello with Craig.

Craig said last month on CBS’s The Late Show he would be back for Bond 25. “I needed a break,” he told host Stephen Colbert.

Eon has announced a U.S. release date of November 2019 for Bond 25. But, for now, it’s not known what studio will actually distribute the film. MGM doesn’t have a distribution operation and cuts deals with other studios.

Bond 25 questions: Lull before the news edition

Daniel Craig in 2012 during filming of Skyfall.

The past few months has had significant Bond 25 news (Daniel Craig confirming his return and a U.S. release date). And some additional news may be made soon.

Until then, some questions to pass the time.

Who is the distributor going to be? This isn’t as sexy as the lead actor (there was plenty of speculation before Craig announced his return on CBS’s The Late Show) or who the title song performer will be (the current focus of U.K. tabloids).

But without a distributor, nobody can see the movie. And, with a U.S. release date of November 2019 being announced by Eon Productions, you’d think one was already in place. If the distributor still hasn’t been decided, well, announcing a release date shows lots of chutzpah.

Back in April, The New York Times reported there were five contenders: Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Universal and upstart Annapurna. Nothing has come out since.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio, doesn’t have a distribution operation. And MGM, despite a financial recovery since a 2010 bankruptcy, probably doesn’t have the resources to mount a Bond movie by itself. It needs a studio partner to kick in the money to film Bond 25.

Yes, this blog has raised this question before. It’s still the most important unanswered question at this point.

Which leads us to…..

How much will Bond 25’s budget be?

2012’s Skyfall had a big budget (estimated at $200 million) but less than 2008’s Quantum of Solace (estimated at $220 million to $230 million).

The only significant first-unit location shooting for Skyfall was in Turkey, while a second unit got enough Shanghai shots to make it look as if 007 & Co. actually went there.

With 2015’s SPECTRE, thanks to the Sony hacks of 2014, e-mails about spending exceeding $300 million became known. Thanks to product placement and Mexican tax incentives, the net cost supposed was lowered to $245 million (though nobody involved put their name to that figure).

Even so, SPECTRE was still the most expensive Bond film to date, fattened up by a $36 million “car chase” in Rome and the biggest explosion in motion picture history that wasn’t particularly dramatic. Before the $300 million-plus figure emerged, SPECTRE director Sam Mendes joked (maybe) that the 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios is where “budgets come to die.”

So: Does Bond 25 follow the Skyfall model (some economizing) or not? The answer depends on the answer to the previous question.

As Eon’s non-007 portfolio expands, what about Bond 25?

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Eon Productions is going to make a spy movie without James Bond. Naturally, that raises some questions. So here goes.

Does anybody think Bond 25 is coming out in late 2018?

There are always some die-hard believers. After all, Linus believed the Great Pumpkin was coming.

Still, the evidence available to outsiders suggest 2018 is no longer operative, if it ever was.

Eon announced July 12 it would make The Rhythm Section, a spy thriller featuring a female lead played by Blake Lively. According to the announcement, filming is to begin later this year.

The last two Bond films, Skyfall (2012) and SPECTRE (2015) began filming in November and December respectively of the years before they were released.

Bond 25, with no confirmed leading man, no director and no script, doesn’t seem to be on track for 2018.

At this point, the question is whether 2019 is realistic. Eon is supposed to be producing a historical war movie starting late this year, according to the James Bond MI6 website.

So when does Bond 25 actually get into production and come out?

Who knows? We won’t get much information until at least Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer reaches a deal with another studio to release Bond 25. As of today, there’s no such deal.

What does this mean?

It means this is not your father’s (or grandfather’s) James Bond film series.

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the founders of Eon, had various non-Bond film projects. But, aside from 1963’s Call Me Bwana, Broccoli and Saltzman didn’t do them through Eon. They did them through separate production companies.

Eon has a lot on its plate. Not all of its various projects have become reality. In the early 2000s, a proposed Jinx movie was junked, for example.

But, for now, things are more complicated than the days (say 1977-1989) when Cubby Broccoli produced Bond movies every two years. Maybe every three years.

Nolan tells Playboy he’s still interested in 007

Christopher Nolan

Playboy, in its July/August issue has an interview with director Christopher Nolan. In what is almost an aside, the filmmaker says he’s still interested in James Bond.

The full interview, at least at the moment, isn’t available on Playboy’s website. ACCORDING TO ADWEEK, the interview “will post online in a few weeks.”

However, A VERY SMALL PORTION of the interview has shown up via a posting on one of the message board of the MI6 James Bond website.

The main takeaway is that Nolan says he, indeed, has talked with Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions at some point in the past. No specifics were offered.

“I’ve spoken to the producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson over the years,” Nolan told Playboy. “I deeply love the character, and I’m always excited to see what they do with it.”

At the same time, Nolan says the 007 film franchise would have to be on shaky ground for him to become involved. The franchise would “need renivention.”

“And they’re getting along very well,” Nolan said.

Some of the the director’s films — including The Dark Knight and Inception — contain homages to 007 movies. Meanwhile, the two Sam Mendes-directed Bond films, Skyfall and SPECTRE, contain influences of Nolan’s three Batman movies.

Nolan’s newest film, Dunkirk, a World War II drama, is coming out later this month.

How to write a ‘Time to End 007 Movies’ essay

Daniel Craig in 2012 during filming of Skyfall.

Something you can count on, at least every so often, is for the appearance of an essay saying it’s time for James Bond to put up his shoulder holster up for good.

The blog was reminded about this during an exchange on Facebook. A reader posted THIS JULY 5, 2010 ESSAY BY THE GUARDIAN.

At the time, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, was in bankruptcy and the future of the 007 franchise was more uncertain.

Still, the essay by Stuart Heritage provides a template for the next time a scribe wants to declare the cinematic Bond is dying.

With that in mind, here’s an excerpt from the 2010 story altered to fit 2017.

Bond 23 25 – the Sam Mendes Bond, the Peter Morgan Bond, the Bond that was going to right all the wrongs of Quantum of Solace  SPECTRE – is no more. Although its status had been set to “indefinitely delayed” since April, the continuing financial mess at MGM means that the film has now been cancelled altogether puttering around. It also means that we’re back in a situation where the next 007 movie could feasibly be several two or three years away.

The ramifications are huge, not least for Daniel Craig who, at 42 49, may have slipped into the old tuxedo for the last time. But maybe it’s time that a bigger question was asked. Should James Bond’s enforced hiatus be turned into a permanent retirement?

(snip)
James Bond isn’t James Bond any more. He’s a tedious exercise in relentless product placement transparently modelled on Jason Bourne the Batman films of director Christopher Nolan. James Bond actually died long ago, when Roger Moore strapped himself into his first male girdle and started wheezing around in a safari suit. The Connery films will still exist no matter what happens at MGM. Do people really want anything else?

Just to be clear, this isn’t an endorsement of the 2010 Guardian piece. The alterations are intended as parody of a genre that, sooner or later, will return “with the inevitability of an unloved season.”