The case for and against SPECTRE

SPECTRE's soon-to-be-replaced teaser image

SPECTRE’s soon-to-be-replaced teaser image

This is a weird time for SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film.

The movie is coming off a huge financial success with 2012’s Skyfall. This should be like 50 years ago, when Thunderball was in production coming off Goldfinger. But it isn’t.

Instead, the past few days have concerned how the production may have made script changes to qualify for as much as $20 million in Mexican tax incentives. The reason for going for the tax incentives was that the budget may have shot past $300 million, making it one of the most expensive movies of all time.

Images of what appears to be an elaborate car chase in Rome have come out (it is hard hard to disguise your intent when filming in public locations). But that’s gotten drowned out by the publicity about the other matters. We know that because of the hacking at Sony Pictures, something that didn’t happen with other Bond movies.

Regardless, here’s a guide to some of the pros and cons for the movie’s prospects.

PRO: Bond has a built-in audience: No question. Around the globe, there are 007 maniacs eagerly awaiting SPECTRE, regardless of recent publicity. For these folks, Marvel’s Avengers aren’t super heroes, 007 is.

CON: SPECTRE is playing around with serious money: The rule of thumb for movies is they need to have box office equal to 2.5 times to 3 times the production budget to be profitable. Marketing costs total almost, or as much as, the production budget. Theaters take a share. Taxes must be paid, etc.

With Skyfall, with an estimated $200 million budget, its $1.1 billion worldwide box office was like the cherry on top of the sundae. For SPECTRE, a $1 billion box office is almost a necessity. Put another way, if SPECTRE’s worldwide box office totals $750 million, it will be seen as a disappointment. That sounds crazy. But that’s the way it is.

PRO: Eon Productions has been in this place before and it always turned out well in the end: True enough.

There were a lot of questions about the cinema future of 007 in 1977 when The Spy Who Loved Me came out. It wasn’t an easy production, with many scripts written. It went through one director (Guy Hamilton) before Lewis Gilbert brought it home. And it was the most expensive 007 film up to that date. Yet, it was a hit and Bond would go on.

Just two years later, Moonraker’s budget almost doubled from initial projections. Producer Albert R. Broccoli refused the financial demands of leading special effects companies for Agent 007’s journey into outer space. But Broccoli’s boys, led by Derek Meddings, did just fine and got an Oscar nomination. Moonraker also was a big hit.

In 1997, Tomorrow Never Dies was a chaotic production with a number of writers (only Bruce Feirstein got a credit) taking turns on the script. Feirstein returned to do rewrites during the middle of filming. Still, Pierce Brosnan’s second 007 outing did fine in the end.

Past performance isn’t a guarantee of future performance. Yet, it would seem extremely premature to bet against 007 at this point.

CON: The Sony hacks showed there were a lot of troubles during pre-production, particularly with the script: The Sony hacks are unprecedented in that they revealed inside information while an expensive movie was in production. To say more would mean major spoilers. We’ll avoid that here.

Suffice to say, the hacks revealed the kind of detail that, for other 007 films, only emerged many years after they were released, when people could research the papers of 007 principals such as screenwriter Richard Maibaum.

On March 17, a teaser poster for SPECTRE is to be unveiled. This may be the start of changing the conversation about SPECTRE compared with the past few days. 007 fans certainly hope so.

SPECTRE: Welcome to the new MI6

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

Minor spoilers in this post.

By Nicolás Suszczyk, guest writer

The countdown has already begun for the release of the 24th James Bond film, SPECTRE, on Nov. 6.

The movie is directed by Sam Mendes, who helmed the previous 007 film Skyfall, whose story (apparently) completed the James Bond reboot process bringing back the full MI6 team missing in the first two previous James Bond films starring Daniel Craig, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

Throughout the story, the 2012 film introduced the audiences to Miss Moneypenny, played by Naomie Harris; gadget-master Q, played by Ben Whishaw; and a male M in the person of Ralph Fiennes’ Gareth Mallory.

By the end of  Skyfall, we had the MI6 team as we know it from the 1960s Bond films: M, Q and Moneypenny. The latter two were absent in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, while M was still portrayed by Judi Dench who was first cast in 1995’s GoldenEye, the first outing of Pierce Brosnan as James Bond.

But is SPECTRE bringing back the old MI6? We’ll just get Bond flirting with Moneypenny, then M’s briefing followed by the Q lab scene? Probably not.

Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes

In a videoblog last week, Mendes – who says he shaped Fiennes, Harris and Whishaw in their roles – pointed out that the trio “will risk their careers in order to help Bond,” a far cry from the old days where the service remained in Whitehall or Vauxhall Cross to brief Bond and wish him luck on the job.

In fact, since Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997, Judi Dench’s M has had more screen time, even going to the field to assist Bond (something that Robert Brown and Bernard Lee barely did) or being a substantial part of the plot in 1999’s The World is not Enough as well as Skyfall.

Introduced in Skyfall as the chariman of the security comittee, Gareth Mallory is set to replace the Dench’s M. A former lieutenant colonel of the British Army, he was captured by the IRA and after his retirement he turned into a bureaucrat.

Nevertheless, he gets involved  in a shootout very well as he proves during Silva’s attack during the inquiry audience, even after being wounded by one of the villain’s bullets.

In SPECTRE, M will battle political forces – in a fight where Andrew Scott’s Denbigh character probably is involved. What makes us think that Mallory won’t be going into the action this time?

More of this in Moneypenny's future in SPECTRE?

More of this in Moneypenny’s future in SPECTRE?

Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny sat at a desk of MI6 facilities in Egypt and Brazil in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, or posing as a HM Customs officer in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. But it looks as if Naomie Harris’s version will be involved in the action, as we saw during the inquiry scene in Skyfall. In February 2014, the British actress said she thinks her character “needs to be in the action,” even when she followed Bond’s advice that “field’s work is not for everyone” and took a desk job.

A big revelation may be provided by Ben Whishaw who plays Q.

Desmond Llewelyn’s Q is known for heading to the field to deliver Bond his gadgets as we could see in You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy and most notably Licence to Kill, just to name a few examples. On the contrary, John Cleese’s Q in Die Anopther Day stuck on the MI6 underground lab proud of his invisible Aston Martin Vanquish.

Recently, German actor Detlef Bothe told the press that he’ll have a showdown with Ben Whishaw’s character on a cable car, which seems pretty logical after footage of Q entering a gondola in Austria has been released on the videoblog.

Ben Whishaw with Daniel Craig in Skyfall

Ben Whishaw with Daniel Craig in Skyfall

This probably leads to a new approach of the MI6 quartermaster, perhaps taking advantage of Whishaw’s age (34) that seems more suitable for fist-fights than the elderly Desmond Llewelyn and John Cleese.

Twenty-six years ago, in Licence to Kill, the character of Q had the longest screening time appearance in the series when he decides to help Timothy Dalton’s 007 on his personal vendetta against drug lord Franz Sánchez in the field, not only as his armorer but as a field operative and integral part of the mission. He poses as Bond’s chauffeur at Isthmus City and helps the agent and the CIA’s Pam Bouvier to sneak into the Wavekrest vessel.

It’s likely that Whishaw’s Q will have a similar part in SPECTRE while going even one step further – action scenes. According to Empire Magazine, 007 visits Austria following the lead of one Dr. Madeleine Swann, Léa Seydoux character, apparently a psychiatrist or therapist working on a clinic in the Austrian Alps.

If Q is going to the clinic to assist 007 or take part into the mission, is he probably doing the same than Agent Campbell in the 1969 film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? Maybe he won’t face the same fate than the “sportsman” agent, who was hanged upside down by Blofeld in his Piz Gloria clinic. With that in mind,  it wouldn’t be strange that Q would play some kind of aid on the field to James Bond.

However it is done, it’ll be interesting to see Mendes’ take on the new MI6 staff, classic but redefined and modernized.

 Nicolás Suszczyk is editor of The GoldenEye Dossier.

Aston Martin, glamorous on screen, struggles in real life

Daniel Craig and Aston Martin DB5 in a Skyfall publicity sill

Daniel Craig and Aston Martin DB5 in a Skyfall publicity sill

Aston Martin, thanks to James Bond movies, including the upcoming SPECTRE, is a symbol of glamor and British ingenuity. In real life, it’s not easy being Aston.

Ford Motor Co. owned Aston for 20 years. The U.S. automaker sold off the niche maker of expensive sports cars in 2007 amid as Ford got its own economic house in order. Ever since, Aston hasn’t been owned by a major automaker unlike other British vehicle brands such as Bentley (owned by Volkswagen AG) or Jaguar and Land Rover (India’s Tata Motors).

Aston, however, is carrying on, including plans to introduce a seven-vehicle lineup this week at the Geneva Motor Show, according to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.

A quick excerpt:

GENEVA — Andy Palmer once tried to convince former employer Nissan Motor Co. to buy niche sports-car maker Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. Now as the tiny British car maker’s chief executive, Mr. Palmer is fighting to keep it independent.

Long associated with its role as a featured automobile in the James Bond series, Aston Martin has struggled in recent years even as a cast of high-end rivals surged. Sold by Ford Motor Co. in 2007, annual sales have since fallen about 40%, from 7,300 to 4,000 in 2014.

Palmer, a U.K. native, has been on the job for less than six months. He’s counting on a cost-sharing agreement with Daimler AG to help the British company stay competitive with other automakers who are ramping up spending on research and development, according to the Journal. Daimler owns 5 percent of Aston.

For more details about Aston’s new lineup, you can view the Journal story BY CLICKING HERE. There is a pay wall at the Journal’s website.

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.

 

Eon vs. Marvel: the sequel

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

In April 2013, we contrasted the corporate model of movie making, as done by Marvel Studios, with the family model, as embodied by Eon Productions, which produces James Bond movies.

Since then, the differences have only gotten sharper and more defined.

Marvel, owned by Walt Disney Co., has laid out a slate of movies for the rest of the decade. It’s a movie assembly line.

Eon, controlled by the heirs of Albert R. Broccoli, isn’t so machine like. After a big hit with 2012’s Skyfall, it delayed production of SPECTRE, its current production, to ensure the participation of director Sam Mendes.

As a result, we’ve updated and expanded that 2013 post. To read the new version, CLICK HERE. It’s archived at the new SPY COMMAND FEATURE INDEX.

That site is a place to find longer feature stories written by Bill Koenig, editor of The Spy Command, that originally appeared on a now-inactive website.

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.

A look at a century of Aston Martin

XCARFilms, a YouTube channel, last month put together a video about the first 100 years of Aston Martin. Naturally, a good amount of the video concerned the Aston Martin DB5, initially made famous in Goldfinger and which appeared as recently as 2012’s Skyfall.

The video provides a recap of Aston’s founding. Writer-presenter Drew Stearne obviously is a DB5 fan and takes great pleasure as he drives one around a parking structure.

Take a look for yourself below. For other XCar videos, CLICK HERE.

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