Bond 25 questions (Danny Boyle edition Part III)

After Danny Boyle this week confirmed his involvement in Bond 25 (he’ll direct if a script being written by John Hodge is approved), the director’s comments generates even more questions about the next 007 film.

Who will be the composer? Some directors have a long-running collaboration with composers. The duos of Blake Edwards and Henry Mancini along with Steven Spielberg and John Williams come to mind.

The 007 film series isn’t immune. Thomas Newman did the scores for Skyfall and SPECTRE because director Sam Mendes wanted him.

Boyle has worked with a variety of composers.

Some examples: Boyle’s A Life Less Ordinary (1997) was scored by David Arnold, the five-time 007 film composer. A.R. Rahman scored Boyle’s 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire. Daniel Pemberton scored 2015’s Steve Jobs.

Arnold, of course, knows his way around scoring a Bond film. Pemberton, in scoring 2015’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E., was under orders from director Guy Ritchie to avoid a James Bond sound. To know how to avoid a 007 sound, you have to know what the Bond sound is to begin with.

Then again, Boyle might have a new choice up his sleeve. Assuming Boyle makes it to the Bond 25 director chair, the composer question may be one of the biggest wild cards in the production.

Why Boyle, and why now? Boyle wasn’t asked this question and nobody else is talking for the record.

A guess: For what ever reason, the powers that be (Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) were looking for something different. 

In March 2017, the Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye reported that six-time 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade had been hired for yet another go. That was confirmed in July 2017 and, as recently as December, Eon boss Barbara Broccoli said in a Hollywood Reporter podcast the writers were still going at it.

P&W was a safe choice. Eon, which has employed P&W’s services since 1998, when they began work on the World Is Not Enough’s first draft, knows what P&W can do. By this time, P&W knows the ups and downs of working for Eon.

Boyle (and writer Hodge) evidently pitched something that caught the interest of Eon and MGM.

Is everything locked down? In the words of Sheriff J.W. Pepper: “Helllllllllll no!”

Outsiders don’t know when Hodge will deliver his first draft. Regardless, it’s doubtful that draft will be ready to go before the cameras. In movies, there is much rewriting after the initial draft is delivered.

What would be the strangest thing you could imagine regarding this process? If P&W were brought in to rewrite whatever Hodge delivers.

 

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Disney-Fox footnote: Will Fox fanfare survive?

One subject that hasn’t come up much is whether the Fox Fanfare — that familiar piece of music that accompanies the 20th Century Fox logo at the start of Fox movies — will survive Walt Disney Co. buying the Fox studio.

The fanfare has been around since 1933, back when it was 20th Century Pictures Inc. It was written by composer Alfred Newman (1901-1970), the father of Skyfall and SPECTRE composer Thomas Newman. Here’s an early version:

In 1935, a merger took place and the familiar 20th Century Fox name was born.

In 1953, the fanfare was extended because Fox began showing movies in a new widescreen format. And the studio wanted viewers to be aware of it right away.

More recently, Fox has used a 3D version of its logo, including the extended logo music.

The Fox fanfare was part of the first six Star Wars movies. But it has been absent since Disney acquired Lucasfilm Ltd., the maker of those films. There has been some discussion whether the fanfare could be reunited with Star Wars in light of Disney’s $52.4 billion announced acquisition of most of Fox.

Meanwhile, Jon Burlingame, an author and historian of film and TV music, made clear he wants the fanfare to be preserved after Disney takes possession of the Fox assets.

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Why Sam Mendes directing Bond 25 isn’t a good idea

Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes

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.”

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 won’t probably won’t happen if Mendes is back as director.

‘Year of the Spy’ reflected in music award nominations

Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman

The Film Music Reporter today published a list of nominees for the World Soundtrack Awards. Musical work done during 2015’s “Year of the Spy” figures into some of the nominations.

Thomas Newman was nominated as film composer of the year for SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film; Bridge of Spies, a historical drama directed by Steven Spielberg about the American lawyer who negotiated the release of U2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers; and Finding Dory

Daniel Pemberton was nominated in the same category for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the movie based on the 1964-68 television series, Steve Jobs and Mal de pierres (From the Land of the Moon).

Other film composer of the year nominees were John Williams, Ennio Morricone and Carter Burwell.

There are also five nominees for best song written directly for a film. “Writing’s On The Wall,” used during SPECTRE’s main titles is one of the nominees. The song, co-written by performed by Sam Smith, won the Oscar for best song in February

SPECTRE title song gets Oscar nomination

SPECTRE teaser image

SPECTRE teaser image

“Writing’s On The Wall,” the title song for SPECTRE, was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Song, ACCORDING TO A LIST OF THE NOMINEES on the Acamdemy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website.

The nomination comes four days after the song won a Golden Globes award.

With the Oscars, the songwriters get nominated. In this case Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith are the nominees. Smith performed the song.

This is the second consecutive Bond title song to pick up a nomination. Adele and Paul Epworth won the Best Song Oscar three years ago for Skyfall’s title song.

Thomas Newman, who was nominated for Skyfall’s score, didn’t get a nomination for SPECTRE. However, he picked up a nomination for the Cold War drama Bridge of Spies. The latter received a number of nominations, including Best Picture.

To be honest, it was more appropriate Newman got a nomination for Bridge of Spies. Drama is more in his wheelhouse. Meanwhile, with SPECTRE, Newman repeated some of his Skyfall score in several spots.

REVIEW: a look at SPECTRE’s soundtrack

SPECTRE promotional art

SPECTRE promotional art

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer
Thomas Newman became the third composer to do more than one Bond album after John Barry (11 007 scores and David Arnold (five). It happened when Sam Mendes returned for the 007 director chair for SPECTRE, after the success of Skyfall.

With the son of the legendary Alfred Newman being one of Mendes’ favorite musicians, it was almost predictable that Newman would be coming back as well.

By the beginning of October, two tracks from SPECTRE were released through the British radio, disappointing many people as they sounded too similar to Skyfall.

Of course, both Barry and particularly Arnold repeated some of their previous films cues into the Bond film in hand, yet the SPECTRE soundtrack seemed almost a remix of the Skyfall score.

However, when watching the movie, the soundtrack effect grows.

The gunbarrel –back at the beginning for the first time since 2002’s Die Another Day – has a sound reminiscent to Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is not Enough, with the last bars of the James Bond Theme as the blood drips down. It was, unfortunately, discarded from the commercial album, which starts with a track titled “Los Muertos Vivos Están” (The Dead Are Alive).

Track 1 is a pretty cool rendition of the James Bond Theme accompanied by the drums of a Mexican band known as Tambuco.

Something very important to say is that Newman, this time, seems more confident when using the Bond Theme, using it prominently and in full, unlike his previous job where he seemed a bit afraid to repeat his predecessor’s expertise in handling the piece attributed to Monty Norman.

Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman

More effective uses of the James Bond Theme are heard during the last seconds of “Detonation” (track 23) and “Westminster Bridge” (track 24, very similar to Skyfall’s “The Moors”). An unreleased Bond fanfare is heard at the end of the helicopter fight during the pre-credits sequence, with a piano orchestration leading us to Smith’s theme.

As Vauxhall Bridge (track 2) reminds us to “New Digs” from Skyfall (funnily enough, Bond points out the CNS building as “C’s new digs” in the scene), the third track is almost a cut and paste version of “Brave New World,” also from Skyfall. Yet, Newman manages to change the epic Hans Zimmer-esque sound for a lyrical chorus to enhance Bond’s arrival to Rome aka “The Eternal City,” which is the title given to the track.

The use of the chorus, also present in “Backfire” (track 6) and the end titles (track 26) were perhaps the best thing Newman did and one of the strongest points of the score.

“Donna Lucia” (track 4), used for 007’s seduction of Monica Bellucci’s character, reminds us a bit to Die Another Day, particularly the scene where Pierce Brosnan’s Bond is visited by Peaceful Fountains of Desire.

Romantic pieces are Newman’s strong point as he proves in “Madeleine” (track 9) and “Secret Room” (track 13). The piano notes and the strings make us fall in love with the leading lady and feel some empathy for the death of her father, as she observes her childhood photos on Mr. White’s hidden room in an African hotel. A choral version of Madeline’s theme is reprised during the end credits.

The North African sounds combined with Hoyte Van Hoytema’s shots of the train through the desert are perhaps one of the best audiovisual moments in the whole franchise.

Track 15 is the only time when we hear a rendition of Sam Smith’s theme song, “Writing’s on the Wall”. Newman made his own instrumental version (the first minute sounds very similar to the original) for Bond’s intimate moment with Madeleine Swann on the train.

As Bond escapes a horrid torture by Oberhauser, a piece titled “Tempus Fugit” (track 19) is heard for the second time. Closely similar to another track from Skyfall titled The Bloody Shot, this track first appears as Bond fights Sciarra inside an helicopter atop Mexico City, at the very beginning of the film.

Perhaps the least interesting piece is the atonal “Snow Plane” (track 11), where it seems Newman tried to imitate Bill Conti’s For Your Eyes Only disco score. This scene – where 007 chases Hinx and his goons with a plane across the snowy Austria — needed a more John Barry or David Arnold like sound, a closer feeling to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, way more darker.

Apart from that, it was a nice nod of Newman to add a source piece in the score. Track 18, “Day of the Dead”, features Tambuco and has the actual chorus from the festive mourners, cheering up for the “resurrection” of their deceased ones.

Before the end titles, the composer closes with “Out of Bullets” (track 25), which is a very beautiful version of the romantic piano cue from “Secret Room” and “Madeleine”, combined with a lush sound reminiscent to David Arnold’s romantic sounds from his Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day scores.

In conclusion, the SPECTRE score is indeed special and fits with the conclusion of the story opened in Casino Royale, almost ten years ago. A needed criticism has to be made to the way Newman made that cut-and-paste to the Skyfall score (he should have used the cues in a more subtle way), but it indeed achieves the objective of transporting us to the magic atmosphere of the film’s locations –from the lyrical Rome to the exotic Tangier– in a very pretty way.

The Spy Command’s final thoughts on ‘Year of the Spy’

BridgeOfSpies
Almost a year ago, this blog christened 2015 as the “Year of the Spy.” As the year draws to a close, this post looks back on that year with some final thoughts.

The blog didn’t write about all the movies discussed here. But the blog editor did see them all. The films listed are in order from best to worst. Actually, none of them was a stinker, so “worst” here is relative. Regardless, here we go.

Bridge of Spies: This wasn’t so much a spy movie as a film about the aftermath of espionage.

The Steven Spielberg-directed “biopic” starred Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan (1913-1970), the American lawyer who negotiated the release of U.S. U2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers from the Soviets.

With any “based on true events” film, one should never view it as history. Regardless, it was very engrossing. Here, CGI is used to recreate Powers’ capture when his plane was shot down.

Hanks is an accomplished actor and, as usual, delivers a strong performance. This movie also is a milestone of a different sort. Spielberg had to rely upon a composer other than mostly retired John Williams. For this film, that was Thomas Newman.

Bridge of Spies is mostly a low-key drama. The stakes are large, but it doesn’t have the pyrotechnics of the typical action film. This is exactly what Newman excels at. His score is perfect for the movie — and also points out his weakness at another prominent movie on this list.

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The return of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin after a 32-year absence was a financial failure, despite a modest $75 million production budget.

The Guy Ritchie-movie took liberties with the source material. Henry Cavill’s Solo was, more or less, the same character that Robert Vaughn played in the 1964-68 series but his back story was quite different. Ritchie took more liberties with Armie Hammer’s Kuryakin, who had a far darker side than David McCallum’s original.

Still, it mostly worked, even if it relied on an “origin” story line. It had a strong opening, downshifted to a decent middle section, then went into high gear in its second half. Once main villain Victoria (Elizabeth Debecki) calls Cavill by “Mr. Solo,” the proceedings accelerated until the end.

One of the strengths of the movie is Daniel Pemberton’s score. The composer was instructed by Ritchie NOT to emulate John Barry’s 007 movie style and that advice pays off.

The chances of a sequel are remote. That’s show biz. But the movie wasn’t camp (a fear of long-time U.N.C.L.E. fans). Perhaps, in coming years, this movie might attain the status of a “cult classic.”

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE:  The 24th James Bond film started out strong as it sought to mix “traditional” 007 movie elements with Daniel Craig’s 21st century grittier take. For the first two-thirds, it succeeded.

Yet, in its desire to top 2012’s Skyfall, some things went awry. The same writers of Skyfall (John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) worked on this year’s Bond film. Their roles, however, were reversed.

Until now, Purvis and Wade — who are very familiar with Ian Fleming’s original novels and short stories — would do the early drafts while another writer (Logan in the case of Skyfall) would come in and polish things up.

In this case, Logan did the early drafts. Purvis and Wade weren’t even supposed to participate. However, Logan’s efforts were found lacking — something that likely wouldn’t have been known had it not been for computer hacking at Sony Pictures, which exposed behind-the-scenes details of many movies, including SPECTRE. Also, playwright Jez Butterworth (who did uncredited polishes on Skyfall) apparently did more on SPECTRE because he got a credit with the other scribes.

Thomas Newman, who did such a splendid job on Bridge of Spies, is only serviceable here, even recycling some of his Skyfall score in some scenes. Clearly, doing a Bond film is NOT in the talented composer’s wheelhouse.

Regardless of the soap opera, SPECTRE ran out of gas. Its final third wasn’t a total loss but it didn’t sustain the momentum of the first two-thirds. As a result, this blog puts SPECTRE behind U.N.C.L.E., which finished much stronger.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation: The fifth Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible film had its own behind-the-scenes soap opera.

The movie was originally scheduled to debut Dec. 25. But Paramount abruptly moved up the release date to July 31, presumably to get it out of harm’s way from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Presumably, that had to add extra stress to screenwriter-director Christopher McQuarrie. Directors almost always want more time to tinker with a movie in editing, not less.

Regardless, from a box office standpoint, it was an astute move. It definitely hurt the U.N.C.L.E. movie (which came out two weeks later). And the movie was well received, encouraging Paramount to order up another film.

Technically, the movie was very exciting. Star (and producer) Cruise probably scares studio bosses by insisting on doing his own stunts. This blog drops the movie down a step because it’s not as much of a Mission: Impossible movie as its predecessor, the Brad Bird-directed Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol.

The original M:I series (1966-73) was very much about team work. Ghost Protocol very much followed that path (even reworking some bits from the show, albeit in a bigger and more spectacular fashion). Rogue Nation was a step backward. It was another example of turning M:I into The Tom Cruise Show.

Kingsman: The Secret Service: If this movie had sustained its first half for the rest of the film, it probably would have been the best spy movie of the year.

It didn’t. In the first half of the movie, one of the best scenes in the first half is where Kingsman Harry Hart (Colin Firth) says, “Manners maketh man,” before he clobbers some British thugs. But director Matthew Vaughn conveniently forgets that advice. Once Harry is killed midway throught he film, the movie dies a bit with him.

There’s still a decent amount worth watching (and the movie was a hit, especially with international audiences). Still, whatever class was present disappears into the mist.

Taken 3: The final (we hope) of Liam Neeson’s adventures as a former spy does everything it’s supposed to do — but no more. In this installment, the wife of Neeson’s Bryan Mills has been killed and he’s been framed. Of course, he’ll get out it. The question is how.