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.

Our modest proposals for Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Since the British tabloids are stirring the pot, what better time for this blog to weigh in with some Bond 25 ideas? So here goes.

Consider adapting one of the better continuation novels: For years, Eon Productions has resisted this path. Michael G. Wilson, Eon’s co-boss, has bad mouthed the John Gardner novels.

However, Eon itself opened the door with SPECTRE. The 24th James Bond film includes a torture scene based on the one in 1968’s Colonel Sun novel. So much so, there’s a “special thanks” credit for “The Estate of Kingsley Amis” in the end credits.

Generally speaking, it’s easier to use a novel as a starting point. The movie You Only Live Twice didn’t have much in common with its namesake novel, but characters, names, situations, etc. did figure into the movie. Given the soap opera of SPECTRE’s scripting process, any step to simplify the process would be a help.

At this point, there are plenty of continuation novels to choose from.

Worry about the script first, actor second: Various “making of” documentaries about 007 films discuss how scripts are tailored to their lead actor.

How about this? Write a James Bond story first, tweak it later after your actor has been cast. James Bond is the star. The series has seen six different actors play Bond. Some day, there will be a seventh.

Albert R. Broccoli, co-founder of Eon, always felt 007 was the star, the rest came later. Words to live by.

Or, put another way: story, story, story.

If you have a good story but it conflicts with continuity, go with the story: Let’s be honest. Continuity isn’t a strong point for the Bond film series. Michael G. Wilson said Quantum of Solace took place “literally an hour” after Casino Royale.

Yet, Quantum couldn’t be bothered with the slightest effort to tie together with Casino. Casino took place in 2006. Quantum in 2008. Did it really take Bond *two years* to track down Mr. White? Only if Bond and Mr. White are idiots.

Continuity isn’t in Eon’s wheelhouse. If you have a great Bond story but it doesn’t match up with earlier films? Go with the story. If fans exit the theater thinking, “That was one of the best Bond movies I’ve ever seen,” nobody will really care about the continuity.

Have a great Bond 25 idea that doesn’t immediately tie in with SPECTRE? Go with the great idea. You can always bring Blofeld back later, even if he’s not played by Christoph Waltz.

But what about the “Blofeld Trilogy”?: That ship has sailed. It was a lost opportunity. Meanwhile, you might find the part of the You Only Live Twice novel that Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman and their cohorts didn’t use might make for difficult filming. Don’t twist yourself into a pretzel trying to recapture the past.

Put yet another way: How many people leaving the theater after seeing SPECTRE really thought Daniel Craig’s Bond loved Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine as much as George Lazenby’s Bond loved Diana Rigg’s Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? This blog’s guess: Not many.

Some early fan suggestions for Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

As SPECTRE winds down its run in theaters, there have been some fan suggestions for what should come next.

The James Bond Dossier, IN ITS SURVEY of 007 bloggers and website editors included prescriptions from participants for Bond 25.

Here are some excerpts:

Anders Frejdh (From Sweden With Love): Fingers crossed for a continuation of the Blofeld saga with a twist. And an older woman as his sidekick.

Marcos Kontze (James Bond Brasil): My bet: Irma Bunt will be back as Blofeld’s allie, they will kill Madeleine in the PTS at some beach location, and then Blofeld you’ll be hidden in the Amazon Jungle in Brazil, and we’ll be seeing the Garden of Death from YOLT’s novel. Yes, BOND 25 is Shatterhand 😀

Some background: At one point in the scripting process, SPECTRE was a bit of a remake of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  The script even specified that the main titles have images from the earlier Daniel Craig films.

As late as Dec. 1, 2014, the last line in the script was Bond saying, “We have all the time in the world,” before he and Madeleine Swann drive off. Also, in earlier drafts, there was an Irma Bunt henchwoman. Both ideas weren’t in the final film.

Some fans are looking for Bond 25 to be a de facto adaptation of the You Only Live Twice novel (the 1967 movie had characters from the 1964 novel but dumped the plot). After Tracy’s death in the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service novel, Bond went to pieces but unexpectedly gets another shot at Blofeld in Japan.

Jeffrey Westhoff, author of the novel “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” suggested a different path IN AN ESSAY HE WROTE on his Culture Spy page.

Here’s an excerpt, where he argued against having Swann killed at the start of Bond 25:

Murdering her also would undercut Bond’s decision to not kill Blofeld on the bridge. The moment was supposed to point out Bond’s sense of morality. So what point would it prove if Bond’s sense of morality gets his girlfriend killed?
(snip)

Finally, I go back to wish No. 1 on my list (for Bond 25). I don’t want to see any more James Bond revenge stories. They have become tired. I read fans saying that Bond 25 finally could be what Diamonds Are Forever should have been, or the movies finally might bring the themes of Fleming’s You Only Live Twice to the screen. I say it’s too bad Diamonds Are Forever turned into a cartoon and that You Only Live Twice was filmed out of order. They were blown opportunities, but the time to correct them is long past.

To read more, CLICK HERE for The James Bond Dossier post. (This blog was a participant, but didn’t provide a plot idea for Bond 25). CLICK HERE for Jeffrey Westhoff’s essay titled, “My Seven Wishes for the Next James Bond Movie.” It covers quite bit of territory and is worth a look.

SPECTRE global box office at about $750 million

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE’s worldwide box office is now at about $750 million, according to a tweet by Exhibitor Relations, which tracks movie ticket sales.

The 24th James Bond film has been out since Oct. 26, when it premiered in the U.K.

SPECTRE added an estimated $12.8 million to its U.S.-Canada box office this weekend, according to Box Office Mojo.

The 007 adventure, after four weekends in release in the U.S. and Canada, has generated about $176 million in ticket sales in the region.

The results for the Nov. 27-28 weekend — part of a long holiday weekend in the U.S. — represented only a 15 percent decline from the previous weekend’s $15 million. A decline of 50 percent is considered normal.

SPECTRE was No. 4 for the weekend behind The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, the animated movie The Good Dinosaur and Creed.

Skyfall, the previous 007 film, had a worldwide box office of $1.11 billion, including $304.4 million in the U.S. and Canada.

SPECTRE has sold an estimated 20.4 million tickets in the U.S. and Canada, according to Box Office Mojo. That’s line with with most 007 films of the past 20 years, which sold between 23.4 million and 27.6 million each.

The one exception was Skyfall, which sold 37.8 million tickets in the region. That was the most for a Bond film in decades. You Only Live Twice sold 35.9 million tickets in the U.S. and Canada in 1967.

Here’s the tweet from Exhibitor Relations. Meanwhile, a bit later, Box Office Mojo came out with a figure of $749.6 million.:

UPDATE (Nov. 30) — The final SPECTRE figure for the Nov. 27-29 weekend was $12.9 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

 

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

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.

The Chronicles of SPECTRE Part IV: You Only Live Twice

You Only LIve Twice poster

You Only LIve Twice poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Based on Ian Fleming’s penultimate novel, 1967’s You Only Live Twice features the SPECTRE organization as the main villain plus the same Japanese locations and characters as in the 1964 book.

Still, scribes Roald Dahl and Harold Jack Bloom went further and discarded the darkness of the novel by bringing the protagonist and the antagonist on the same setting, but with a more extravagant and actual plot: the Space Race, very much like the first Bond film, Dr. No.

While James Bond fakes his death as part of a staged MI6 operation, America blames Russia for the abduction of a space capsule, an operation executed by a mysterious spacecraft with the USSR insignia.

British intelligence noted echoes of that spacecraft coming down in Japan, where the “deceased” 007 is sent to investigate. Bond will discover that, of course, SPECTRE was behind it all, and this time, he comes face to face with the organization’s leader.

Bond’s contact with SPECTRE comes through the corrupt Japanese businessman Osato (Teru Shimada), who provides chemicals for SPECTRE and has the organization’s Number 11 Helga Brandt (Karin Dor) posing as his secretary.

Captured while investigating Osato’s Ning-Po vessel in Kobe, Bond seduces Helga and manages to escape with her help, but she betrays him and, unsuccessfully, tries to kill him.

Soon, we get to see the new SPECTRE headquarters –- inside an inactive volcano in Japan! Clearly, the organization has made a lot of money from its criminal and terrorist activities conducted in the two years between Thunderball and You Only Live Twice.

As SPECTRE’s Bird 1 spacecraft captures a Soviet capsule and imprisons its astronauts (or “cosmonauts”), we meet again with Number One. Once again, we only get his hands stroking his cat.

He has a bank account in Buenos Aires and asks some money in advance from two of his clients who would benefit after the war is broken between the U.S. and the USSR. Number One he observes how his piranha fish can eat a man to the bone in 30 seconds. He provides a demonstration. Helga Brandt is feed to the piranhas after she failed to kill 007, much like Largo’s henchmen Quist in Thunderball or Kronsteen in From Russia with Love.

First the U.S. blamed Russia, now Russia blames the US. The clock is ticking.

With the aid of his “wife,” Japanese agent Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama), James Bond investigates a cave where an ama fishing girl was mysteriously killed. He eventually reaches the volcano and, observing a helicopter went landed inside it, the team decides to investigate.

As Kissy seeks the aid of his boss of Japanese intelligence, Tiger Tanaka (Testuro Tamba), Bond gets inside the volcano base, rescues the astronauts and tries to sabotage the Bird 1, but he is discovered by Number One.

“Allow me to introduce myself, I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld,” the leader introduces himself to the captured Bond, showing the face of the first credited actor to portray him: Donald Pleasence.

Despite the frightening scar around his right eye, Pleasence’s Blofeld seems less threatening than the mysterious Anthony Dawson/Eric Pohlman character that ordered death sitting on his throne.

Blofeld still has some memorable quips towards Bond as he shows him how the hidden machine guns in the crater terminate some of Tanaka’s ninja men. “You can watch it all on TV, it’s the last program you’re likely to see.” He also seems to be intellectual, by quoting Shakespeare’s Macbeth as he says his hideout is “impregnable”.

But, just like Macbeth, his hideout isn’t impregnable enough when Tanaka’s men get to infiltrate the volcano and a fantastic battle ensues, where 007, after beating Blofeld’s bodyguard Hans (Donald Rich), manages to destroy the Bird 1 spacecraft seconds before another American craft is captured.

SPECTRE’s plans went from toppling space rockets to trying to provoke World War III. Its base of operations expanded from a building in Paris (in Thunderball) to a hidden volcano in Japan. Much of the same characteristics remain: a beautiful female agent (Helga Brandt) and a well-built henchman (Hans). The price for failure of betrayal is still death and nobody is forgiven.

But the most important aspect of You Only Live Twice regarding the organization is that, from now on, SPECTRE loses identity. SPECTRE is now Ernst Stavro Blofeld and the leader assumes the role of the villain more than the organization.

As a matter of fact, we’ll see how in the two other remaining films (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever) the organization is barely mentioned and Blofeld takes the lead as the main nemesis.

In the following entry we’ll see Bond getting personal with Blofeld as George Lazenby took over the role of Ian Fleming’s spy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, released in 1969.

Does the title song of a Bond movie really matter?

New SPECTRE poster

New SPECTRE poster

In the past few days, there have been reports, speculation, etc., about who may be perform the title of SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film.

Here’s a question that isn’t being asked much: Does the title song, or the selection of a title song performer, really matter that much for a James Bond movie?

For example, the 2006 Casino Royale got a lot of good reviews and is held is high opinion by a lot of fans. But very little of that has to do with “You Know My Name,” the song played over the main titles.

Meanwhile, the title song to 1967’s You Only Live Twice, written by John Barry and Leslie Bricusse and performed by Nancy Sinatra, is considered one of the best 007 title songs.

Yet, a lot of fans feel the film You Only Live Twice isn’t up to the standards of the first four Bond films made by Eon Productions. Part of that stems from how it was the first movie to throw out the main plot of an Ian Fleming novel.

For that matter, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is another highly regarded Bond film. It didn’t even have a title song. Instead it had a Barry instrumental for the main titles. It was the last time the main titles didn’t feature a song.

Yes, a good title song can enhance the movie (“Nobody Does It Better” for The Spy Who Loved Me being an example), but it’s rarely make or break. In the 21st century, however, the sort of perspective is in short supply.

An announcement may be coming Tuesday. Meanwhile, over at the MI6 JAMES BOND WEBSITE there’s an attempt to make sense of the latest news.

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