SPECTRE: newest twist on 007 product placement

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

No spoilers.

James Bond movies have never been shy about product placement. SPECTRE may just be a twist on a long-standing tradition.

For decades, the 007 film series produced by Eon Productions has cut deals with companies pitching their wares. Goldfinger did deals with Ford Motor Co. and Gillette. With Thunderball, not only did Ford provide vehicles but then-CEO Henry Ford II appeared as an extra. Moonraker had deals with Marlboro, 7 Up and British Airways.

By the time Pierce Brosnan was 007 (1995-2002), writer Bruce Feirstein, in his FIRST DRAFT for what would become Tomorrow Never Dies, didn’t even specify a car model for 007’s vehicle. It just said “(Insert name).”

What’s different about SPECTRE is it may amount to being product placement for a country — Mexico, to be specific — than a series of companies.

The Tax Analysts website, which is targeted at tax professionals, PUBLISHED A MARCH 3 ARTICLE detailing how SPECTRE’s script was altered to take advantage of as much as $20 million in Mexican incentives. (If you click on the link, there are spoilers.)

The incentives are intended to make Mexico look as good as possible in movies, according to the website. The country has reason to do so, according to AN ARTICLE IN THE WASHINGTON POST. Here’s an excerpt:

The Mexican government’s sensitivities to its violent reputation are no secret. When President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in 2012, he tried to minimize the focus on the drug war while emphasizing economic and political reforms. But ongoing high-profile violence, including battles in Michoacan and the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero, has undercut that message.

None of this is happening in a vacuum. For blockbuster movies, access to the vast Chinese market is a must. The 2013 movie Iron Man 3 was a co-production with China. The 2012 remake of Red Dawn turned the villains into North Koreans instead of Chinese.

With SPECTRE, according to Tax Analysts, it was more of a direct subsidy. SPECTRE’s budget may exceed $300 million, making it one of the most expensive movies ever made.

Meanwhile, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio that owns half the Bond franchise, emerged from bankruptcy only a few years ago. It doesn’t even release its own movies, cutting deals with Sony Pictures (including the 007 films) or Warner Bros. (the now-completed Hobbit series). For MGM, $300 million is a huge bet, even for a 007 film and even though the most recent Bond movie (Skyfall) had a worldwide box office of $1.1 billion.

Put another way, $300 million is real money. Some Bond fans may get annoyed with product placement but they don’t have to sign the checks. As a result, it’s understandable why MGM would be willing to change SPECTRE’s story in return for millions of dollars.

Goldfinger: the first ‘A-movie’ comic book film?

Goldfinger poster

Goldfinger poster

Here’s a thought as Goldfinger celebrates its 50th anniversary. In a way, the third James Bond film may have been the first “A-movie” comic book film.

Before Goldfinger, comic book films existed as serials. Lewis Wilson, father of Eon Productions co-boss Michael G. Wilson, played Batman in a 1943 serial, for example. Serials would run for weeks in 15-minute or so installments ahead of the main feature.

Goldfinger, of course, was based on Ian Fleming’s novel, not a comic book. Still, some Fleming novels seem to draw their inspiration from pulp adventure stories (also a source of inspiration for comic books).

In Fleming’s novel, Goldfinger’s henchman Oddjob was already over the top. With the film, that increased. A gold bar bounced off his chest without causing Oddjob harm. Harold Sakata’s Oddjob crushed a golf ball to show his displeasure with Sean Connery’s Bond. The henchman used his steel-rimmed hat to kill with precision. Oddjob, for a time in the Fort Knox sequence, bats Bond around like a cat playing wth a mouse.

Nor did the comic book style action end there. Bond’s tricked out Aston Martin became the inspiration for “spy cars,” with far more weaponry that a few extras the novel’s Aston had. The deaths of both Oddjob and later Auric Goldfinger could be described as comic book like. It was as if Jack Kirby of Marvel Comics drew the storyboards.

The difference, of course, was this all occurred in a $3 million A-movie where the audience could see the story all in one night.

Goldfinger’s success certainly was felt in the 007 series. In Thunderball, Bond flew a jet pack and in the climatic underwater fight had an oversized air tank that had additional weapons. You Only Live Twice included a helicopter snatching a car with a giant magnet and Blofeld’s volcano headquarters set that cost more than it took to produce Dr. No.

The success of such movies demonstrated audiences had an appetite for such uber-escapist sequences when executied in an entertaining way. You could make the case that Goldfinger blazed a trail that the likes of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and, yes, movies based directly on comic books, exploited.

The path from Connery’s Bond to, say, Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man may be shorter than it appears.

The most obvious sign: director Christopher Nolan, a self-described 007, adapted Bond bits (the Bond-Q briefing evolved into Bruce Wayne getting new equipment from Lucius Fox) into his three Batman movies. Director Sam Mendes in Skyfall returned the favor, saying Nolan’s 2008 The Dark Knight influenced the 2012 007 film.

Will Bond 24 be Skyfall Part II?

Bond 24 writer John Logan

Bond 24 writer John Logan

The answer is almost certainly not. But some recent comments by Bond 24 scribe John Logan remind long-time 007 fans of history: on previous occasions, Eon Productions has followed up enormous Bond hits with more of the same.

The IGN website had a Jan. 17 story that quotes Logan, signed to write Bond 24 and Bond 25, about the next 007 movie.

“My goal is to write a great movie that’s appropriate, to build on what we did on Skyfall, but make it its own unique animal,” Logan said of the teams aspirations for Bond 24. “The themes, ideas and the characters from Skyfall can obviously continue on, because it is a franchise, and it is an ongoing story. So I think there’s resonance from Skyfall in the new movie.”

Some history: 1965’s Thunderball was the biggest 007 hit of the 1960s, the decade the film series began. Eon followed it up with You Only Live Twice, which dispensed with most of the plot of the 1964 Ian Fleming novel. Instead, Eon came up with bigger set pieces and even had a SPECTRE woman assassin (Karin Dor) made up to look very similar to Thunderball’s femme fatale (Luciana Paluzzi).

In the 1970s, the future of the franchise was at stake. The Spy Who Loved Me was a huge hit in 1977 and Eon’s next outing was Moonraker, an even bigger spectacle. The former had a villain who wanted to kill off the human race to preserve the oceans; the latter had a villain who wanted to kill off the human race and repopulate it with a “flying stud farm” of perfect human specimens.

Skyfall, while having its share of spectacle, was more about introspection, inner emotions and the like. Based on Logan’s remarks, will viewers get even more introspection, even more inner emotions? Perhaps even flashbacks as Bond thinks back to the demise of M (Judi Dench)?

Obviously, few people have any idea what will happen next. Logan has made a tease, but that’s all it is. Still, it’ll be interesting to see when the movie comes out in the fall of 2015.

Hank Simms, extraordinary announcer, dies

An end titles from the first season of The FBI

An end titles from the first season of The FBI


Hank Simms, an announcer best known for the words “a Quinn Martin production!”, died last month at the age of 90, according to THIS OBITUARY But he did lots of other announcing work, including movie trailers and the Oscars television broadcast.

Simms first work for QM was The FBI in 1965. He went on to be the announcer for other QM hit shows including Barnaby Jones, Cannon and The Streets of San Francisco not to mention less successful series such as Dan August, Caribe and Banyon.

Simms also did “bumpers” for Mannix, as in, “Mannix…brought to you by…” followed by the name of a sponsor.

Simms worked the microphone at the Oscars, including when John Stears got his Oscar for Thunderball (explaining that Ivan Tors was picking it up in Stears’ place) and when Roger Moore and many viewers were surprised when Marlon Brando declined his Oscar for best actor.

His work could also be heard in trailers including movies edited from episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. such as TO TRAP A SPY and ONE SPY TOO MANY as well as THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT, the Doris Day spy comedy, and POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES, the final Frank Capra film.

The announcer’s voice was so distinctive when the makers of the 1982 comedy Police Squad! decided to do a QM-style opening, there was only one man for the job:

Rest in peace, Mr. Simms.

UPDATE: Here is the very first Hank Simms announcing job for Quinn Martin:

UPDATE II (Oct. 13): The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences put up an obituary for Hank Simms on its Web site on OCT. 2.

Happy 83rd birthday, Sean Connery

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Sean Connery, circa 1963

It’s a day early but here’s wishing a happy 83rd birthday to Sean Connery (b. Aug. 25, 1930), the first screen James Bond.

Sir Sean is only seen occasionally in public these days. While his Bond work is a prominent part of his resume, he’s often noted for his non-007 work as well. If you do a SEARCH FOR HIS NAME ON IMDB.COM, it lists him as “(Actor, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989))”.

Even in the world of Bond fandom, there has been a shift. The $1.11 billion box office take of Skyfall has been cited as having the top 007 box office even adjusted for inflation, displacing Connery’s Thunderball. Many fans say the 21st century Bond films of Daniel Craig are much more sophisticated than previous films, the first Connery movies included.

Also, Barbara Broccoli, co-boss of Eon Productions is on record as saying Daniel Craig, the current 007, is the best James Bond ever. (Click HERE, HERE and HERE.)

To be clear, nobody says “Sean Who?” But Connery and his six films for the Eon Productions series aren’t necessarily held with the same reverence as even 10 years ago. Occasionally, you’ll see some younger fans tell older ones who still hold Connery as the No. 1 007 that they need to let it go.

It’s easy to forget, however, how Connery’s Bond early movies — Dr. No through Thunderball, released annually — were a phenomenon. By the mid-1960s, in the days before home video, his 007 adventures seemed to run non-stop in theaters, whether they be new releases or double feature re-releases. Connery, aided and abetted by talented crew members, made a huge impact on popular culture.

So happy birthday, Sir Sean. The blog has posted the following before. It’s Connery’s appearance in the fall of 1965 on the CBS prime-time game show What’s My Line?

By this point, Connery was tiring of Bond and working for producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Thus, Connery talks more about his other projects at the time, including The Hill, which was about to open. But during this mystery guest sequence (where blindfolded panelists try to guess the celebrity’s identity) there’s also banter about how the Bond films were constantly in theaters.

Red 2 utilizes a familiar meme

Luciana Paluzzi and Sean Connery during the filming of Thunderball

Luciana Paluzzi and Sean Connery on the set of Thunderball

This weekend’s release of Red 2 includes one of the most dependable memes of spy fiction: the hero and the femme fatale who have been more than friendly.

In the new movie, Catherine Zeta-Jones’s Katja is described as “Kryptonite” for Bruce Willis’s Frank Moses. Often the femme fatales are enemies but at times reach an uneasy alliance with the hero — at least until she starts trying to kill him again.

James Bond-Fiona Volpe (Thunderball): In Goldfinger, Sean Connery’s James Bond “recruited” Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore to the side of right. In Thunderball, Connery’s Bond tries it again, albeit unsuccessfully, with Fiona Volpe (Luciana Volpe), the chief executioner for SPECTRE. “What a blow it must have been — you having a failure,” Fiona says. “Well, you can’t win them all,” Bond replies.

Fiona doesn’t survive long after that. But Paluzzi made such an impact that in the next 007 film, You Only Live Twice, Karin Dor’s Helga seems to be a knockoff of Fiona.

Napoleon Solo/Angela-Angelique-Serena Luciana Paluzzi had a dry run before her Thunderball role. When The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pilot was in production, producer Norman Felton had additional footage shot for a movie version for international audiences. Paluzzi’s Angela lures an U.N.C.L.E. agent to his death and tries to do the same with Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo. The extra footage for the movie version as used, yet again, in a first-season episode of the series called The Four-Steps Affair.

Other Thrush femme fatale operatives showed up in Man’s first season, Serena (Senta Berger) and Angelique (Janine Gray). Solo has had a history with both but the viewer isn’t provided many details. Serena helps abduct Solo for a double can take his place. But at the story’s climax (the TV version was called The Double Affair, the movie version The Spy With My Face), Serena ends up shooting the double.

Matt Helm/Vadya: In the third Matt Helm novel by Donald Hamilton, The Removers, Helm goes to the “recognition room” to review dossiers of Soviet-bloc assassins. One of the dossiers concerns the mysterious “Vadya.” Helm readers don’t meet Vadya until Hamilton’s sixth Helm novel, The Ambushers. The encounter ends in a draw. Helm meets Vadya twice more in the novels The Devastators and The Menacers. She’s killed off early in The Menacers, but her death is a key part of the novel’s plot.

Meanwhile, the 1967 adaption of The Ambushers, starring Dean Martin, includes Vadya (Senta Berger again), except the character has been renamed. The character is killed before the end of the movie.

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