The 007 film dilemma in 3 minutes

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

As the James Bond film franchise decides what to do next, it faces a bit of a dilemma:

Should it continue to seek more critical respect (Casino Royale and Skyfall) or should it embrace its roots, the way SPECTRE, the most recent 007 film, did?

The last two Bond films were directed by an auteur, Sam Mendes.

In 2012, Eon Productions co-boss Barbara Broccoli told ComingSoon.Net that the franchise didn’t hire journeymen directors: “(W)e’ve never been one to hire directors for hire. We always wanted someone who was a great director in their own right and a storyteller.”

Yet, in the first four movies of the series — which generated some of the most memorable scenes for the franchise — were directed by journeymen Terence Young and Guy Hamilton. Young, in particular, dealt with cost and schedule overruns on Dr. No and From Russia With Love.

Young even had part of his Dr. No fee impounded until costs were recouped at the box office because of the overruns. Bond was a much more modest undertaking in those days.

2012 also saw something that summarizes the divide between respect and tradition.

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts wanted to celebrate the 50th anniversayr of the Bond films. So Tom Jones appeared to perform the title song to Thunderball, the fourth 007 film.

The audiences was full of artistes. Yet they seemed to be having as good a time as audiences did in 1965 when Thunderball first came out.

On some occasions, respect and tradition can coincide. Something to keep in mind as Bond 25 undergoes its journey in development. Here’s Sir Tom in 2012:

The official 007 Blofeld survey and the options not listed

Max Von Sydow

Max Von Sydow

When you have a long break between films, you need to engage the fans somehow.

So the official James Bond account on Twitter asked, “Who is your favourite Blofeld?”

However, given the weird history about Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s film rights, this question is more complicated, with some options understandably not listed.

The four choices are the Blofeld actors whose face could be seen onscreen in movies made by Eon Productions: Donald Pleasence (You Only Live Twice), Telly Savalas (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), Charles Gray (misspelled Grey, at least when the tweet first went up, in Diamonds Are Forever) and Christoph Waltz (SPECTRE).

Not making the cut are the combination of Anthony Dawson (body) and Eric Pohlman (voice), used in From Russia With Love and Thunderball. On screen, we never see Blofeld’s face. The dialogue only refers to “Number One,” although the From Russia With Love end titles list “Ernst Blofeld” followed by a question mark in the cast of characters.

This version of Blofeld also dresses different than the others, wearing a suit and not the Nehru jacket-style top of the other four.

Also not listed is the stuntman (body) and Robert Rietty (voice) in the pre-titles sequence of For Your Eyes Only. Last year, the official 007 website carried a press release promoting a re-release of Bond movies featuring SPECTRE. The list included For Eyes Only. The villain in the pre-titles sequence was the only trace of SPECTRE in the movie.

At the time Eyes came out, the rights to Blofeld were in dispute and officially the character in the pre-titles sequence wasn’t Blofeld. In 2013, a settlement was reached with the estate of Kevin McClory, finally bringing Blofeld back into the Eon fold.

Finally, and most significantly, there’s Max Von Sydow, who played Blofeld in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, the McClory-Jack Schwartzman remake of Thunderball. It, of course, is not part of the Eon series and there’s no way the 007 Twitter account would include Von Sydow.

Still, Von Sydow is a great actor and his casting was a major plus for the movie. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get that much screen time. Von Sydow’s Blofeld does have a cat (like Eon’s Blofelds) but wears a suit.

The tweet about Blofeld is embedded below. Click on it to see the complete image.

UPDATE (10:10 p.m. New York time): Over on the official James Bond Facebook page, that version of the post does include the Dawson-Pohlman duo.

It should be noted that you can’t actually cast a ballot either on Twitter or Facebook.

About that whole ‘Blofeld Trilogy’ thing…

SPECTRE teaser image

SPECTRE teaser image

This blog’s recent post about suggestions for Bond 25 included the idea that it may be time to let the “Blofeld Trilogy” idea pass. But many don’t want to let go. So here’s a closer look.

What is it? The phrase was popularized by Raymond Benson in his 1984 book The James Bond Bedside Companion, referring to Ian Fleming’s novels, Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice.

The term “Blofeld Trilogy” isn’t mentioned in the index. On page 123, the author introduces his analysis of Thunderball thusly:

The ninth James Bond novel, Thunderball, is a terrific book. It is the beginning of what could be called the Blofeld Trilogy, which also includes On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. Thunderball also marks the change from the earlier novels to the later, more mature books.

Anything wrong with that? Not wrong, but perhaps more complex.

How so? First, Fleming almost certainly didn’t plan a trilogy. The Thunderball novel was Fleming’s way of recouping time spent on the unsuccessful film project spearheaded by Kevin McClory. McClory sued after the novel came out. In the resulting settlement, future editions of the novel indicated it was based on a screen treatment by McClory, screenwriter Jack Whittingham and Fleming.

Second, Fleming wrote four novels during this period. He also penned The Spy Who Loved Me, published in 1962, written from the perspective of a woman who encounters Bond in the last third of the novel. Bond is on the trail of SPECTRE but this only is mentioned in passing. Again, a sign this wasn’t a planned thing.

An important part of the Blofeld Trilogy: At the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond’s new bride, Tracy, is dead. Early in the You Only Live Twice novel, we’re told how Bond has fallen apart and is about to get his walking papers. He’s given a last chance to salvage his career. The unlikely mission leads to Blofeld and a final confrontation.

Yeah, so? The 007 film series adapted the novels out of order (as hard-core fans know all too well), so the Blofeld Trilogy, per se, wasn’t done. However, Eon Productions already has clearly cherry picked from the Blofeld Trilogy.

Example: In Skyfall, Bond has fallen apart after being shot by Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). He’s a shell of former self when he finds out MI6 has been attacked. Even then, it takes quite a bit of screen time before Bond is back to his former self.

I repeat, yeah, so? Some fans would like Bond 25 to adapt the setup of the Blofeld Trilogy, have Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) killed and have 007 have a proper “revenge” story.

Initially, SPECTRE was a bit of a remake of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. During the scripting process, there was a henchwoman named Irma Bunt and the last line of the movie was Bond saying, “We have all the time in the world.” Both were deleted from the final film.

A couple of things, regarding Bond 25:

1) Do we really want Bond to fall apart for the second time in three movies? Remember, it’s not the Blofeld Trilogy if he doesn’t fall apart.

2) We’ve had either revenge story lines or elements of them in Licence to Kill, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day and Quantum of Solace. Does the film series really cry out for another revenge story?

Nobody is going to change their mind based on this post. Just something to think about.

Thunderball’s 50th: apex of the 1960s spy craze

Thunderball British quad poster.

Thunderball British quad poster.

December marks the last major 007 anniversary of this year — the 50th anniversary of Thunderball, the fourth Bond film and the apex of the 1960s spy craze.

This blog has written a lot about Thunderball. It was a milestone. In the fall of 1965, spies had taken over television, trying to get a piece of the spy frezy unleashed by Agent 007. But Thunderball transcended all that.

A half-century after it was released, Thunderball generates mixed reactions. For those who were there, it was a huge event. For those who weren’t, some go so far to wonder what the fuss was all about.

The former looks fondly at a spectacle that could only be viewed on the silver screen, not on TV. The latter sees a slow-moving movie (at least in its underwater sequences).

The former sees a self-assured Sean Connery as Bond, at the height of his powers. The former says, “Meh!” and the original 007 director, Terence Young, phoning it in.

In the U.S. and Canada (ticket information outside that region is hard to come by), no James Bond movie sold more tickets for viewing in a theater. Not just during its initial release, but various re-releases that took place for almost a decade.

In the end, which James Bond movie you like best comes down to personal preference. When looked at on that basis, there are untold opinions.

But Thunderball remains the movie when 007 made his biggest impact on popular entertainment. Thunderball was the follow-up to Goldfinger, the first Bond mega-hit. That was a time that can’t be re-created.

Thunderball, like other spy-entertainment of the mid-1960s, was like catching lightning in a bottle. No matter was happens in the 007 film series, Thunderball remains something to be celebrated.

The Incredible World of James Bond’s 50th

Thunderball British quad that was auctioned this month

Thunderball British quad that was auctioned this month

This post is both to wish readers a Happy Thanksgiving Day and to note the 50th anniversary of The Incredible World of James Bond.

Incredible World first aired Nov. 26, 1965, in the United States. NBC pre-empted The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to air the special, which reviewed the first three 007 movies and promoted the upcoming Thunderball, due out the following month.

In the 21st century, business types would call this “synergy.” U.N.C.L.E. was at its peak of ratings. Bond was at his peak of popularity. Even though 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had once tried to stop production of U.N.C.L.E., putting the Bond special in U.N.C.L.E.’s time slot made perfect business sense.

For this blog, there’s also a personal note. Incredible World was how the Spy Commnader first discovered 007.

Originally, Sean Connery was to host the special but he pulled out at the last minute. As a replacement, character actor Alexander Scourby was hired to narrate.

Scourby (1913-1985) had already acted as a narrator on other documentaries. He was blessed with a pleasant sounding, but firm, voice that conveyed authority. He was perfect for the project.

Had Connery gone through with it, Incredible World might have seemed like a cheesy infomercial (though the term hadn’t been coined yet). Scourby gave Incredible World a sense of heft, perhaps more than it actually deserved. It came across as a documentary, not a promotional vehicle (which it also was).

The narration spoken by Scourby covered both the movies and Ian Fleming’s novels, including a sequence providing a biography of Bond taken from the obituary chapter of You Only Live Twice. In short, Incredible World was the perfect vehicle to entice even more new followers for the exploits of agent 007.

So, Happy Thanksgiving. And happy anniversary to The Incredible World of James Bond.

UPDATE: A couple of other things of note about The Incredible World of James Bond:

–It shows part of the casino scene from Thunderball. Adolfo Celi and Claudine Auger can be heard speaking in their own voices. They were dubbed for the movie.

–Over at The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Inner Circle page on Facebook, an original viewer notes that U.N.C.L.E.’s David McCallum was seen at the end of The Incredible World of James Bond saying the show would be back next week but not sounding very pleased it had been pre-empted in the first place.

007 movies listed by number of tickets sold, 1995-present

Skyfall teaser poster

Skyfall teaser poster

The BOX OFFICE MOJO website has tools that let you look beyond unadjusted movie box office. You can also, for example, get a listing (for the U.S. and Canada, at least) of the estimated number of tickets sold.

There are various formulas for adjusting box office figures for inflation. But tickets sold is basic. So we decided to take a look back at the number of tickets sold for the eight 007 films of the past 20 years. Home video was firmly established, as opposed to the early years of the Bond series, where it didn’t exist and movies could get re-released.

Using this measure, 2012’s Skyfall, by far, sold the most tickets among 007 films in the region. After that, there’s less difference that the unadjusted box office figures might suggest.

What follows is each movie’s total U.S.-Canada tickets sold, with the number in parenthesis the number for its opening weekend. The average ticket price for each year is also listed. The total figure for SPECTRE is through Nov. 23.

GoldenEye (1995): 24,403,900 (6,024,100); average ticket price, $4.35

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997): 26,911,200 (5,477,800); average ticket price, $4.59

The World Is Not Enough (1999): 24,853,800 (6,991,900); average ticket price, $5.08

Die Another Day (2002): 27,584,000 (8,101,900); average ticket price, $5.81

Casino Royale (2006): 25,428,700 (6,234,100); average ticket price, $6.55

Quantum of Solace (2008): 23,449,600 (9,405,100); average ticket price, $7.18

Skyfall (2012): 37,842,000 (10,977,000); average ticket price, $7.96

SPECTRE (2015): 18,085,500, through Nov. 23, (8,176,900); average ticket price, $8.34. UPDATED FIGURE: 22,996,5000 through March 27, 2016.

UPDATE: Out of curiosity, we went back to the earliest days of the series. Remember, these movies had re-releases, in some cases several re-releases. But in the cases of Goldfinger and Thunderball, you get an idea that Bond was a *very* big thing in the U.S. in the mid-1960s. Also, there was a big decline, relatively speaking, when You Only Live Twice came out. At the same time, Twice sold almost as many tickets in the U.S. and Canada as Skyfall did. Anyway, here’s a sampling:

Thunderball (1965): 74,800,000 (no opening weekend figure available)

Goldfinger (1964): 66,300,000

You Only Live Twice (1967): 35,904,000

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): 16,038,400

Diamonds Are Forever (1971): 26,557,300

Live And Let Die (1973): 19,987,500

Moonraker (1979): 28,011,200 (2,832,000 opening weekend)

Octopussy (1983): 21,553,500 (2,826,200)

Licence to Kill (1989): 8,732, 200 (2,210,300)

UPDATE II: To give that Thunderball figure some perspective, the top box office movie in the U.S. and Canada so far this year has been Jurassic World. It sold about 79 million tickets, according to Box Office Mojo. While comparisons that far apart are dicey, it’s fair to say Thunderball was in the same general league in its day. But before Bond fans brag too much, The Sound of Music (released the same year as Thunderball and also re-released several times), sold more than 142 million tickets.

Thunderball poster sells for $13,145

Thunderball British quad that was auctioned Saturday

Thunderball British quad that was auctioned Saturday

A 1965 Thunderball poster was sold for $13,145 on Saturday, including a buyer’s premium, as part of an auction of James Bond film posters and lobby cards by Heritage Auctions.

The Thunderball poster was a British quad, put up for sale by collector Gary J. Firuta, who earlier this month sold off his collection of first-edition James Bond novels.

Here’s part of the description of the Thunderball poster by Heritage:

This extremely rare and highly sought country of origin British quad will surely be the highlight of all Bond fans’ attentions. Ian Fleming’s agent 007 is at his most spectacular, with Sean Connery in his fourth, and some say best, outing as Bond. As seen on this advance quad, the non stop action takes place in the air, on the land, and in the sea. Only a small number of copies still exist left uncut and this is the only poster from this film to use the artwork featured on the lower right side by Robert McGinnis and Frank McCarthy.

Another highlight of the sale was a Goldfinger “Style B” British quad that went for $10,157.50, including the buyer’s premium. This version had “more conservative artwork for the film was produced primarily for Ireland,” according to the Heritage description. It was also put up for sale by Firuta.

Prices varied widely and 1970s posters put up for sale by Firuta fetched less. A version of The Man With The Golden Gun‘s poster that included Bond villains from previous films went for $1,971.75. A British quad of Moonraker, which also plugged Seiko watches, sold for $406.30. A British quad for The Spy Who Loved Me, that also plugged Seiko, sold for $370.45.

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