Thursday, August 23, 2018

EON Productions: Bond's First Line of Defence

James Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli during a premiere for 2015's SPECTRE.

Oscar-winning British director Danny Boyle has left Bond 25. In a very short statement, EON Productions and Daniel Craig announced he was no longer directing the upcoming James Bond film due to "creative issues". For some, this is bad news. On the other hand, others are relieved.

While this may delay Bond 25's schedule a bit, there's something rather important to point out. There are some good news inside the bad news. This is the fact that this is the perfect example to prove how much producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli defend their franchise, the legacy of the great producer Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli (with Harry Saltzman during the first 12 years) and previously Ian Fleming, who created James Bond.

Since 2008, EON showed interest for auteur directors like Marc Forster and Sam Mendes, the first one helming Quantum of Solace that year and the second one behind Skyfall and SPECTRE in 2012 and 2015, respectively. Following this logic, in May this year Danny Boyle was announced as the director of Bond 25, with his long time collaborator John Hodge as screenwriter.

Boyle and Hodge had an apparently innovative idea, which EON liked enough to discard the original script penned by the regulars Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, present in the series since 1999's The World Is Not Enough. This way, the shooting was announced for December 2018 with Annapurna and Universal distributing the movie by November 2019.

The bomb was dropped last Monday when Boyle decided to leave the director chair empty. 

Depending on the time it takes them to find a new director, this could delay the November 2019 release date of the film. However, it is good to take into account that EON may have had another filmmakers shortlisted before going for Boyle. Plus, there's the possibility they re-hire Purvis and Wade and focus on their original idea. Back in July 2017, even before Daniel Craigannounced his return to the role, EON released a statement announcing November 2019 as Bond 25's release date and that Purvis and Wade were working on the script. In that case, they could reach that deadline after all.

But the good news inside the bad news is that this ordeal with Boyle's departure reaffirms the fortitude of producers Wilson and Broccoli and the zealous way in which they defend their James Bond saga, inherited from the legendary producer Albert R. Broccoli who, in 1962 with his then partner Harry Saltzman, knew how to build a solid cinematographic identity for the character: a pop-culture myth that has survived more than five decades, geopolitical changes, entire generations, globalization and many changes in the actors portraying the leading role.

Rumours and insiders point out that Boyle's departure was due to his insistence to cast Cold War actor Tomasz Kot as the leading villain, in his idea a Russian nemesis in a script based on a "modern-day Cold War". Apparently, Daniel Craig, who has a say in the casting, felt the Polish actor was "too left-field" for the role. Other sources point out that Barbara Broccoli was infuriated with Boyle bringing his whole crew for the movie, namely John Hodge who caused the forced departure of Purvis and Wade in favour of the Boyle/Hodge idea.

Following with more speculation, it's also probable that Boyle wanted to gamble too far with his style and the particular stamp every one of his movies has. We can see that in both Trainspotting movies, the drama Slumdug Millonaire and Trance to understand what that personal stamp is (narration, vocal song soundtrack, surrealism, etc). 

The origins of the big screen James Bond: Sean Connery surrounded by producers Albert R. Broccoli (left) and Harry Saltzman (far right) with author Ian Fleming (sitting).

The thing is we'll never know exactly what idea he proposed for the upcoming James Bond adventure, but probably he wanted an abrupt change, either in the artistic or story field. Other speculation point out the Russia angle as proposed by Boyle was a political gamble that could have gone too far. Remember that EON always wanted to avoid political feuds as much as possible to make everyone line up in Bond's side. This way, in 1963's From Russia With Love, SPECTRE replaced the Russians from the same novel as the main enemy. In You Only Live Twice, it's Blofeld the one who wants to frame Russia as the responsible part in hijacking an American space capsule to provoke World War Three, and in the 1980s we have the figure of the charming KGB leader General Gogol (Walter Gottell) who ended up joining the British to achieve world peace. 

Moreover, while Donald E. Westlake and Bruce Feirstein worked on treatments based on Hong Kong's handover to the Chinese in 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies, the plot veered to a multimedia tycoon trying to provoke a war between China and the United Kingdom to increase his ratings and the historical milestone was set apart, the main reason being that EON didn't want to dare a Bond film set on a very political event set the same year the movie was going to be released in case something went wrong with the ceremony.

Back to the artistic aspect, the producers made a mistake in letting Marc Forster take many artistic determinations with Quantum of Solace. Namely, the interpolation of a Tosca performance with a shootout between Bond and Greene's goons held at the same theatre complex in Austria. Something alike happens minutes before as 007 chases an MI6 traitor over the roofs of Siena, Italy, and the scene is intercut with the traditional Palio horse race taking place nearby.

Probably Boyle aimed something along these lines and it felt like too much for Bond, who has a very established formula and "dogmas" whom an audience wouldn't like to be touched. Sam Mendes, another drama director, avoided to impose his aesthetic seal too much on his two James Bond movies, yet in the line of his films, the story whirls around the protagonist recent or remote past.

Depending on the kind of director they end up choosing for Bond 25, we could say Wilson and Broccoli learnt from the mistakes of their past. But the most important thing to point out is that they still keep in mind the message "Cubby" Broccoli left them: "Don't screw it up. Everyone's going to try and mess with it".

With this determination, it's very clear that EON holds its legacy with a very firm hand and there's the certitude that the legacy they knew to build, inherit and hold is in capable hands, despite some occasional hit and miss.

"Cubby" Broccoli always insisted that in a James Bond movie, the star is always James Bond and no-one else. Therefore, when you make a James Bond movie, you are not making a Daniel Craig, John Hodge or Danny Boyle movie.

You are doing a James Bond movie.

Nicolás Suszczyk

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