Why 2018 will be an eventful 007 film year

Steady as she goes scenario: Eon boss Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig make another movie together without major changes.

No matter what happens, 2018 is shaping up an eventful year for the James Bond film franchise.

Steady as she goes scenario: Eon Productions gears up its 25th 007 film, aiming for a fall 2019 release.

Eon (and studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) on July 24 announced a November 2019 release date for the United States, with an earlier release in the U.K.

Under “steady as she goes,” a director gets announced (presumably early in 2018). Pre-production commences. Casting announcements take place. Principal photography begins before the end of 2018. In most years, that’d be plenty for fans to absorb. (Think Skyfall between January and November 2011.)

Apple logo

Disruption scenario: This is not the most stable time in the movie business.

For example, Walt Disney Co. is reported to be negotiating to buy most of 21st Century Fox’s assets (including the 20th Century Fox studio). The movie industry isn’t the most stable in general.

Could this affect the Bond film franchise? Back in September, The Hollywood Reporter reported that tech companies Apple and Amazon were sniffing around the Bond film rights. That’d be a huge change. Since then? No word at all. THR hasn’t followed up. Other news outlets that follow tech companies closely haven’t followed up.

Disruption may happen for Agent 007 in 2018. Then again, you can’t bet on it.

Logo of Syncopy, Christopher Nolan’s production company

Middle ground scenario: Every so often, the notion arises that director Christopher Nolan, a Bond fan, might get involved with the 007 films.

Most recently, the Archivo 007 Spanish fan website said Dec. 2,  citing two people it didn’t identify, that Nolan “is already working” on Bond 25.

In the 21st century, Eon has employed “auteur” directors such as Marc Forster and Sam Mendes. But Nolan is a special case. He has his own production company (Snycopy). His wife, Emma Thomas, works as producer on Nolan films.

To call this unconfirmed is an understatement. “He wasn’t doing it when I spoke to him on Friday!” Baz Bamigboye, a Daily Mail writer who has had a number of Bond scoops proven correct, wrote on Twitter on Dec. 3, after interviewing Nolan.

Nevertheless, there are has been a fascination among Bond fans with Nolan. Also, in 2015’s SPECTRE, Eon employed Nolan regulars editor Lee Smith and director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema.

Whatever scenario you favor, something’s got to happen in 2018. It’s a few weeks early, but Happy New Year.

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Recap of Skyfall, SPECTRE director announcements

The past sometimes is prologue. Sometimes, not. But here are details when the director was officially announced for the past two 007 films, Skyfall and SPECTRE.

Skyfall: Sam Mendes officially was announced as the director of the 23rd 007 film produced by Eon Productions on Jan. 11, 2011.

There had been news reports that Mendes was working on the film before that. But the official announcement was made via e-mail on Jan. 11. The same release had the U.S. release date of Nov. 9, 2012. Skyfall began production in November 2011.

SPECTRE: Mendes, after Skyfall was released, said he wasn’t interested in coming back. Nevertheless, on July 11, 2013, Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Sony Pictures, said Mendes would direct the then-untitled Bond 24.

At the time off the announcement, there was no script. Writer John Logan wouldn’t submit that until spring 2014. SPECTRE production didn’t begin until December 2014 after Near Purvis and Robert Wade submitted a rewrite of Logan’s work.

What does this mean? Roughly speaking, Bond 25 is a bit behind SPECTRE’s pace but can still match the pace of Skyfall.

There are still a lot of balls being juggled. Distribution (and therefore financing) still hasn’t been locked down. There’s no director of record. Still, at this point, Bond 25 can still easily make a U.S. release date of November 2019. That’s the date Eon and MGM announced on July 24, 2017.

RE-POST: Why Mendes shouldn’t direct Bond 25

Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

A year ago, a Sam Mendes film project went up in smoke. That got Bond fans talking whether he might return to direct Bond 25. Then, Mendes was attached to a Disney live-action adaption of Pinocchio.

But now, Mendes is no longer attached to that project. So, again, there’s talk such as THIS STORY in the Express) wondering whether Mendes might direct Bond 25 after all.

Originally the blog was going to ignore it. But, just in case, what follows is the text of a November 2016 post. All points still apply.

A major non-007 Sam Mendes project, a movie adaptation of The Voyeur’s Hotel, has evaporated, according to the Deadline: Hollywood website. That’s because of a documentary coming out concerning the person who is the the same subject as the non-fiction book.

That has gotten some James Bond fans wondering if Mendes could be available to direct Bond 25 (whenever it gets made) after helming Skyfall and SPECTRE.

To quote a retired comic, “Oh, I hope not.” Here are some reasons why.

He’s never sounded enthusiastic about directing a third Bond film: In July 2015, he told the BBC that, “I don’t think I could go down that road again. You do have to put everything else on hold.”

In May 2016, according to a story by The Associated Press, he said: “I’m a storyteller. And at the end of the day, I want to make stories with new characters.”

(That AP link has been broken. However, here’s a Deadline: Hollywood story about the same event with the same quote.)

Directing a Bond film is a big undertaking. If he has even the slightest doubt (and it sounds he has big doubts), he shouldn’t attempt it.

Enough with the homages: Skyfall had homages to past Bond films, including bringing back the Goldfinger version of the Aston Martin DB5.

That continued with SPECTRE. The DB5, despite being blown to smithereens in Skyfall, is miraculously put back together in SPECTRE. A fight between Bond (Daniel Craig) and Hinx (Dave Bautista) seemed modeled after a similar scene in From Russia With Love. The Independent published a story listing other homages.

Mendes can’t help himself. The next movie, when ever it may come out, needs a break from homages.

No more boasting:  In an April 2014 interview on The Charlie Rose Show, Mendes said he cast all the major supporting characters, including Tanner.

Problem: Tanner was played by Rory Kinnear, who first portrayed the character in 2008’s Quantum of Solace, a film Mendes had nothing to do with.

Mendes also claimed that in Skyfall “for the first time characters were allowed to age.” Problem: He’s wrong, it happened a number of times in Bond films.

Enough already.

If Mendes comes back, that means Thomas Newman comes back as composer: Newman is Mendes’ guy. Fans have mixed opinions about Newman’s work on Skyfall. He did get an Oscar nomination but didn’t win.

However, with SPECTRE, it was clear that Newman had run out of ideas. He recycled a number of Skyfall music bits in SPECTRE. That’s true not just of the compositions, but the sound and orchestration.

John Barry used the 007 theme in five Bond films (From Russia With Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker). But it had different arrangements and orchestration each time. The repeated music in SPECTRE sounds the same as it did in Skyfall.

What’s more, based on his other work, it’s clear that smaller-scale dramas (such as Bridge of Spies) are more in Newman’s wheelhouse. He’s a talented composer with such films. Bond films just aren’t his strength.

Let someone else have a try on Bond 25. But that probably won’t happen if Mendes is back as director.

Here’s why the Bond 25 distributor is a legitimate question

On Twitter, the blog got some push back about continuing to ask about what’s going on with Bond 25’s distributor.

“I think you need to chill about the distributor,” a Bond fan wrote on Twitter. “It’s going to happen don’t you think.”

Here’s why asking about the Bond 25 distributor is a legitimate question.

–The distributor will likely supply a good chunk of the production budget: Sony Pictures (via its Columbia Pictures brand) co-financed Skyfall and SPECTRE while only getting 25 percent of the profits.

Because of the Sony hacks of 2014, it’s known that Sony only had a modest profit from Skyfall. Despite doing almost as well as Skyfall, Sony’s take was even less from SPECTRE. The various studios trying to cut a deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for Bond 25 know this.

–It has been almost three months since MGM and Eon Productions announced a November 2019 release date for Bond 25: That’d be fine except neither MGM nor Eon actually is in the business of releasing movies. Eon never has distributed films. MGM hasn’t since emerging from bankruptcy in 2010.

Essentially, two parties who don’t release movies said there was a release date.

OK, the 007 film series is established and this may not be a big deal. However…

–Until the distributor is established, Bond 25’s budget won’t be either: It remains to be seen whether Bond 25’s distribution deal is the same as Skyfall and SPECTRE. But it seems pretty evident the Bond 25 distributor will be providing some of the cash to make the movie.

It’s fun speculating whether Denis Villeneuve will be Bond 25’s director, whether director of photography Roger Deakins will return, etc., etc. But until the budget is nailed down, things can only go so far.

Just to be clear, the blog isn’t pushing the panic button. There isn’t information available to push the panic button.

At the same time, legitimate questions ought not to be shooed away simply because they’re inconvenient. Bond 25 has been handled almost from the start in a very peculiar way. The fog isn’t clearing yet.

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.

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.