Bond 25 questions: The mid-year edition

We’re almost halfway through 2019. That’s as good a reason as any for the blog to ask some new questions about Bond 25.

What do you make of the (apparently) discarded title A Reason to Die?

The MI6 James Bond website sniffed out that A Reason to Die was the tentative title for Bond 25. But Eon Productions after conferring with its studio partners decided not to proceed with it the night before an April 25 live stream event from Jamaica.

What the blog wonders is why did it take so long to make that decision? Or, put another way, was the live stream event scheduled before said studio partners (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Universal among them) weighed in?

Back in 2015, Eon’s Michael G. Wilson said the production company devises the marketing while the studios executes those plans.

So, was A Reason to Die an Eon initiative? Were MGM (handling U.S. distribution for Bond 25) and Universal (handling international distribution) not in the loop until the last minute? Or was the situation more complicated?

Where did A Reason to Die come from anyway?

Edward Biddulph of the James Bond Memes website wrote on Twitter the title may stem from the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service novel.

Specifically, in Chapter 5, The Capu, Marc-Ange Draco tells Bond, referring to his daughter Tracy: “Will you help me save this girl? It is my only chance, that you will give her hope. That you will give her a reason to live. Will you?”

Is that a big deal?

It’s hardly the most significant Ian Fleming reference available. Fleming short titles (Risico, The Hildebrand Rarity, The Property of a Lady and 007 in New York) haven’t been used. However, plot elements from Risico were used for 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. Ditto for The Hildebrand Rarity in 1989’s Licence to Kill (plus a passing reference to the name Hildebrand in 2015’s SPECTRE). Also, plot elements from  The Property of a Lady showed up in 1983’s Octopussy.

What’s more, there are chapter titles from the Fleming novels that might be worth considering. Still, veteran 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are known for mining small details from Fleming. They were the first screenwriters on Bond 25. It’s possible A Reason to Die fits their original script.

So what happens next?

When Prince Charles visited the Bond 25 set at Pinewood Studios earlier this month, Daniel Craig told him that filming on the production was about one-third complete.

There’s no teaser trailer yet, although a promotional video was released this week. A teaser trailer may be out sooner than later and we may get a title — A Reason to Die or something else — at that time. As usual, we’ll see.

Octopussy, a reappraisal

Octopussy, the 1983 James Bond film, doesn’t get love from some 007 fans, particularly those fans who first got the Bond habit from the Sean Connery films of the 1960s. That includes editors from our parent site, HMSS, where a survey of editors gave it no higher than a B letter grade, with mostly Cs and Ds.

Watching it again recently reminds us the film is hardly a lost cause. Granted, it doesn’t have much Ian Fleming content. The author’s Octopussy short story provides the backstory of the movie’s female lead (Maud Adams). An auction scene, is based on another short story, The Property of a Lady.

Still, there are sequences that evoke Fleming. The best example is a sequence right after the main titles, set in East Berlin, where a double-O agent attempts to pass along vital information.

For star Roger Moore, who was 54 when filming began in the summer of 1982, Octopussy was an opportunity. Under other circumstances, Eon Productions might hired a new Bond. Indeed, Eon did screen test American James Brolin for the Bond role.

But going into production, Eon knew it was going to have 007 competition in the form of Never Say Never Again, a Thunderball remake starring Sean Connery. Eon eventually concluded this wasn’t the time for a new actor and brought Moore back. And the “Battle of the Bonds” was underway.

Some actors may have wilted under such pressure. But Moore seems to be thriving. The actor exhibits a kind of cockiness, a confidence that he knows exactly what he’s doing. He out-cheats Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) is a game of backgammon. He later seems to be having a great time fighting off Kamal’s thugs along with MI6 operative Vijay (Vijay Amritraj):

At the same time, when Vijay ends up being the film’s “sacrificial lamb,” Moore/Bond doesn’t laugh it off; he seems quite touched by the loss of a fellow agent. Up to that point, Bond and Vijay had demonstrated good chemistry. As a result, Vijay is one of the best “sacrificial lambs” of the Eon-produced series. Even after the character’s death, Bond is reminded of him while in Berlin. John Barry’s sad music adds to the scene without overpowering it.

Is Octopussy a perfect Bond adventure? No. Its comic elements get too strong at times, in particular a Tarzan yell Bond makes while being hunted in India by Kamal’s men. Later, he gets in and out of a gorilla suit impossibly quickly. Still, there is a sense of adventure, even joy at times. Sequences set in Germany, including an extended action sequence on a train with Bond constantly in peril, tend overall to be more serious than the ones set in India.

A viewer does get the impression that Eon, because of Never Say Never Again, pulled out the stops. At one point, both the two Bond films were scheduled to come out one week apart. Never Say Never Again, however, ended up delayed until the fall of 1983. But Eon had to assume Never would meet its original summer release date.

Octopussy was made by “journeymen” such as director John Glen and screenwriter Richard Maibaum (aided in this installment by George MacDonald Fraser and Michael G. Wilson). They didn’t have the critical acclaim of recent Eon hires. But, looking at it again, Octopussy is miles ahead of films such as Quantum of Solace, which featured a critically acclaimed director (Marc Forester) and an equally critically acclaimed writer, Paul Haggis. But you can actually tell what’s happening in the action sequences (something you can’t say about Quantum). Also, at times, Octopussy has an elegance about it, another aspect Quantum lacked.

For those who don’t like any 007 film with Roger Moore (which includes some of our staff), that’s not enough. For others, Octopussy is a Bond movie that’s easy to take for granted. It shouldn’t be, though. Bond films are harder than they look to make, something “prestige” hires such as Marc Forester and Paul Haggis, should have discovered by now.

007 questions now that Bond 23 is back on

A few key questions have been answered: we know Daniel Craig is coming back for his third 007 film, director Sam Mendes was finally confirmed and the names of the writers were disclosed. That just raises more questions about Bond 23, due to come out in November 2012. Here are some of the most obvious:

001. What’s the title? Remaining Ian Fleming short story titles include The Property Of a Lady (referenced already in Octopussy), Risico, The Hildebrand Rarity and 007 in New York. Few thought that Quantum of Solace would be used as a movie title, so the remaining are fair game, though it’s hard to imagine 007 in New York would be that appealing.

Of course, Eon bosses Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli don’t have to use a Fleming title. Fans have also speculated over the years that chapter titles from Fleming novels might be used. Your guess is as good as ours at this point.

002. Who’s John Logan? He’s a 49-year-old, Chicago-born writer, who has written both movies and made-for-television films, ranging from a genre movie (Star Trek: Nemesis in 2002), to a big costume drama/action movie (2000’s Gladiator, where he was part of a tag team of scribes) to a TV movie about the making of Citizen Kane, RKO 281.

Logan also was nominated for two Oscars, for Gladiator and The Aviator, a film biography of Howard Hughes. So Logan sports a varied resume.

003. Does John Logan have more enthusiasm for James Bond than Peter Morgan did? Some time back, Eon said they’d hired Morgan, a writer of politically themed movies mostly to work with with writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who’ve hung around the 007 series since 1999’s The World Is Not Enough.

Given Morgan’s comments after he stopped working on Bond 23, bordering on disdain for 007, it’s hard to imagine Logan has less enthusiasm compared to Morgan. It would be nice if Logan advanced further than Morgan did. After promising a story that would be “shocking,” Morgan never got past the treatment phase (essentially a detailed outline) and never even wrote a draft of a script.

004. Will Logan, Purvis and Wade pick up on that “shocking” story? After Quantum of Solace, we’d settle for an entertaining story. We’re also on record as saying it’d be nice if Bond 23 wasn’t “personal.” Time to give the “this time it’s PERSONAL!” theme a rest.

005. Is Judi Dench coming back as M? No word in the Jan. 11 press release by Eon Productions and MGM. Dench’s status is just one of casting questions, with others including who’s going to be the villain, female lead, etc.

006. What does Mendes coming aboard as director mean? It means that producers Wilson and Broccoli still aren’t giving up on their desire for critical respect after getting a taste of it for 2006’s Casino Royale. The question really is whether Mendes can do a better job that the one Marc Forster did with the muddled Quantum of Solace.

007. But aren’t you glad about this announcement? Of course. This blog has been getting more traffic about the new Hawaii Five-0 series lately than it has about James Bond. All those posts about MGM’s financial ills weren’t very fun. At least there’s something new to talk about.