MARK O'CONNELL

Writer, Author, Bond Fan

Tag: Pinewood Studios (page 1 of 2)

SO DOES ENGLAND – Marking forty years of THE SPY WHO LOVED ME

7/7/77. As Bond film release dates go, the one for disco bullet The Spy Who Loved Me is perhaps the most unique for Double-O-Seven. Continue reading

FROM PINEWOOD WITH LOVE – celebrating 80 years of movie majesty

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Make mine a Jyn & Krennic – The Force Is Strong With This ROGUE ONE

 

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“This IS the STAR WARS film you are looking for” – Reviewing THE FORCE AWAKENS

Spoilers!

The Force Awakens feels like a missing Star Wars movie that came out in 1985. Blessed with a cracking first half that beguiles and reminds of our Kenner-addled childhoods with magic, dignity and a heraldic swagger, Episode VII is a wilfully old school swashbuckler whose final, ultimate success is how it may ultimately have not even needed the returning veterans.

From that opening crawl that feels like it has been part of our cinematic vista for decades already, the first act of The Force Awakens unfolds as if it has been barely a parsec since the Ewoks held their victory barbecue on Endor. Director JJ Abrams, producer Kathleen Kennedy, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, The Empire Strikes Back), composer John Williams, designers Darren Gilford and Rick Carter and their fellow creatives have done just as their two year publicity campaign promised – they made Star Wars analogue again.

Guess what – a rubber space vulture puppet picking at some sandy road-kill packs more impact than a bustling market place of mugging mouse-mat creations hanging off every moment and each other. A nosey B-movie alien head noting a passing BB-8 keeps more of a Star Wars beat that a somersaulting sight gag with a Gungan. And sometimes someone desperately trying to fix a spluttering Millennium Falcon just needs to drop into the floor with a wrench and some tech-talk to properly make a hunk of junk work. This is a SFX universe that almost starts out as if CGI was never going to be invented to awkwardly ‘beguile’ us all for a whole decade’s worth of villainous metallic liquids, cartoonish Spider Men and exploding White Houses. The Star Wars saga has always been linear. Aside from its scene wipes and concurrent narratives, it doesn’t play with its timelines. Maybe that is another reason the prequels were up against it from the start. We knew how they had to end. It became a digitally sterile exercise in joining the dots rather than reaching beyond them. However, under Abrams, Lucasfilm as godfather and a wisely supportive Disney we are back on that analogue, early 1980s timeframe -give or take three decades of CBS Fox home releases, two Ewok made-for-TV movies, A Clone Wars morning special come theatrical movie, the 1997 Special Editions and those prequels.

Star Wars used to be about a galaxy – one slither of a universe far, far away and all that t-shirt sloganeering jazz. Its’ success led galaxy hungry fans wanting more after 1983’s Return of the Jedi. Various tie in novels, extended world computer games and comic book sequels to prequels tried to fill in the gaps of story and expectancy as the fans terraformed new worlds and family spin-offs ad nauseam. The simple skill of The Force Awakens is that it dismisses all that non-cinematic surmising for a story and production that is pure cinema. The prequels were only ever beats in that Star Wars extended universe. But A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are key beats of popular twentieth century culture, Hollywood history and Reaganite cinema.

force 4Enter Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. I do not believe the gravitas of this trio returning has quite bedded into the new, evolved cinematic world of Star Wars. Least not our familiarity with it. Aside from Roger Moore returning to Bond, Richard Dreyfuss donning his Jaws beanie hat again or maybe Michael Crawford being Condorman once more (!), seeing Ford and Fisher back in the roles that launched a million plastic toy ships is akin to the great warm but narratively resourceful Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home. “You’re not exactly catching us at our best” pleads William Shatner’s Kirk and typifies the equally warm glory of seeing Luke, Han and Leia again on our movie screens for the first time in 32 years. And that old man run, lunge and punch of Han’s in this film is already the stuff of pub chat legend.

Ford isn’t still pretending to be an aloof heartthrob in his early forties. Neither is Solo. Instead of turning him into a grizzled father figure or embittered veteran, the script sees Solo instantly accept and admire our new heroes Rey, BB-8 and Finn. There is no resistance to this Resistance. That almost lost Star Wars vibe of the team is back. There was no sense of ensemble in the prequels. But here that careful group dynamic is back, led by Ford, Chewbacca and a maybe underused Fisher. It is then augmented by John Boyega’s cocksure Finn and Daisy Ridley’s resourceful Rey. We all thought we had The Force Awakens plotted out. We all assigned family links to Rey, Finn, Kylo and Dameron. One of the tricks of the new film is that we still know nothing about any of them. Ridley is of course the eyes of the audience in a newly pointed saga that sees Jedi sisters finally doing it for themselves in the guise of producer Kathleen Kennedy, editors Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey, Lupita Nyongo’s Yoda-wise Maz, Gwendoline Christie’s underused dominatrix Stormtrooper Phasma and of course Rey. The world of Star Wars has always been about fathers and sons. Now it is also centred on mothers, sons and surrogate daughters. If handled right it is a rich way forward.

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However, when it takes its eyes off the BB-8 ball (both figuratively and literally) The Force Awakens does exactly what it shouldn’t – it becomes a reheated soap opera based on the brilliant beats of other Star Wars films. A Death Star with a structural weakness for the third time in four successive episodes? Really?! Someone in First Order’s management team really must review their contractors safety records. And whilst we all love a cantina band and a motley band of law-dodging alien emigres, a hell of a lot of story-progressing homages take place in basically one happy hour in Maz Kanata’s bar where everyone knows Han’s name. A slither of that breathing space Abrams lends Jakku may not have gone amiss here. In the span of what barely feels like five minutes we have great Yoda-like wisdom from Kanata, avaricious gangsters, a empirical confession from Finn, the [convenient] discovery of Luke’s light sabre, the awakening of the Force in Rey, a curious Jedi dream/knightmare and aural cameos from Frank Oz’s Yoda, Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor. The old saga was also always successful because it had a cracking pace as well as those story beats. Kasdan gets that. And thereis a heraldic swagger to the whole piece that cinema just doesn’t do anymore. Even an ailing Finn is laid out like a Disney prince with a hopeful kiss from Rey possibly his only way to make Episode VIII.

force 3The prequel flaw of unfocused and abundant villainy and the realisation that the Empire was only as good as its Emperor does not work in The Force Awaken‘s favour. Putting Kylo Ren aside for a moment (maybe on the naughty step which his parents clearly never had because the droids would never get up it), the antagonists of The Force Awakens emerge worryingly like the prequels’ montage of disparate villainy. None of them are wrong as such. After BB-8, Domnhall Gleeson’s vampy, camp and hissy General Hux is the film’s second ginger stress ball – snarling his path across numerous Starkiller Base gantries whilst doing that necessary ‘looking down at very British deputy officers’ thing the high ranking villainy must always do in Star Wars.

And then we have Supreme Leader Snoke – Abrams and his mantra’s biggest contradiction. Corporate re-branding aside, the villainy of Star Wars is always Vader and ultimately his superior, Emperor Palpatine. Writers Abrams, Michael Arndt and Kasdan know that. Their most interesting malevolence is after all a Vader fanboy, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). But in a very CGI Snoke the current suggestion (though this is only the first act of this new trilogy so the Bothan jury is out for now) is that the past is sadly repointed to suggest the saga can hit a second, different iceberg after all. And Snoke is a very CGI ‘iceberg’ at that. 1983’s Return of the Jedi ends on such an earned note of victory and rebellion. Would it be so hard to suggest Palpatine is still pulling the strings? Might the tragedy of The Force Awakens be harsher and crueller if it was Palpatine who corrupted young Kylo, ruined Luke’s Jedi Academy start-up plans and proved the revenge of the Sith could still tear the one family apart who singlehandedly toppled the Galactic Empire? This writer would see a gnarled, red-hued, Sith ghost of a Palpatine holed away on a derelict Cloud City masterminding his final revenge against the Skywalkers. There is then grim drama to be had in a force-hating villain that now cannot die rather than a new villain in Snoke that we have to still learn why we hate him.

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In returning to that analogue Star Wars mentality of production and visual design, Episode VII curiously goes very non-analogue with its characters. Here it is a Stormtrooper that has that all-important first act change of heart and the lineage of a Sith groupie is shockingly familiar. The old 1940s WWII dog fights, cool heroines and Third Reich dynamics of Star Wars have now evolved into a 1960s Cold War of blurring allegiances. Old villains can now be moral heroes. And new moral-less villains can be Skywalkers. And Solos.

The familial dynamics surrounding Driver’s Ren are almost as unnerving as his last act fatal gesture towards a true icon of twentieth century cinema. Adam Driver is The Force Awakens biggest character gamble …. and success. The familiar character dynamics of the Luke, Leia and Han trinity have now been rewritten, underlined with a tragedy any future revenge will never sort. Carrie Fisher’s General Leia now has to face a future where her young protégé Rey is to be trained by her brother to avenge her lover’s death by killing the son obsessed by her dead father. Suddenly the infamous “No Luke, I am your father” is less of the twist it used to be. It is going to be fun Keeping Up With The Skywalkers again – and especially under the acting auspices of Driver’s angry, lost and unpredictable Kylo. This is where The Force Awakens, Abrams and Kasdan fire the starting space pistol on this trilogy with a flare of brilliance the prequels never could. Our heroes now have choices. Our villain now has choices. The story will now happen because of them, not around them. And I for one cannot wait for Ren’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are.

force 6Visually The Force Awakens is top-notch cinema, a return to a classical Hollywood sense of production, characterisation and physical rendering from our youths and video rental altars. Abrams and his artists went back to the original films and reportedly J.W. Rinzler’s vital The Making of book series. And it shows. Solo’s entrance aboard a smugglers freighter is brilliantly draped with Return of The Jedi mid-shots, reds, golds and black metal, The Starkiller Base is a disco white and grey nod to its 1977 DNA, Rey climbing throughout an upturned and cavernous Star Destroyer flecked with dust and the shadows of empire is aesthetically brilliant and the all-inclusive Resistance Rebels crowded round their command centre in a heroic Last Supper vignette (complete with a returning Admiral Ackbar brilliantly barking combat ideas like the grandad in the corner) are all pointing to a Best Art Direction Academy Award for The Force Awakens.

However, and this is Star Wars fanboy sacrilege so don’t come marauding like a boozed up Tuskan Raider but maybe – maybe – the wider sweep of the film could have done with a tad …. more …. CGI. Seriously. The soaring work on Abu Dhabi’s Jakku is beautifully sparse, tonally edifying and David Lean in cinematic ambition. Yet they are also scenes coyly punctuated with derelict space ships, webuyanydroid.com shysters, alien gas stations, food bank stamps and prized drinking holes. After a while the vegetation of the British countryside locations in the last act come over as, well, the vegetation of the British countryside locations. Three mossy, tree lined set pieces sometimes blend into one Home Counties production melange. The Empire Strikes Back icy Hoth world had a dramatic function – it was fatally cold and impossibly treacherous. The Starkiller Base scenes here with Ford’s Solo in a navy blue parka look cool (and with Solo that is almost enough as a great gag about wearing the right protective clothing plays out). But they are not earned. They are maybe indicative of Abrams nodding a tad too much at the past like a Jedi motioning for his light saber over a Sarlacc Pit. The Jakku overture gently bristles with a tactile and logical environment. The scavenging Rey values every drop of water, every inch of shade and improvised sand toboggan in this Star Destroyer boneyard. Yet, the last act’s Third Reich On Ice winter show of might may feel tonally right, but that is because it did before. The threat of the Empire in 1980 was because they turned up. Not because they were already there waving their own flags at their own supporters.

force 1But fear not. The Force Awakens is matinee adventure excellent when it breaks the tick-list shackles of all our expectations – a panicking and moored Tie Fighter, a lone heroine lunching by her fallen AT-AT home, a cracking B-movie monster attack on the Falcon that works because it is new, fun and justified, “Ben”, Kasdan’s cautious script wrangling skills that often reduce the story to a look or gesture rather than the expositional minutes of trade union politics, Adam Driver’s Darth Becomes Him dilemma, a cinematography decision to review and repeat the look, colours and visual depth of past glories, John Williams returning to his romantic glory (Rey’s Theme is already a classic in our house) and a Chewbacca that steals not only the Falcon at a powerful moment, he almost steals the whole film – had that orange ball of astromech sass not got there first.

To quote Solo and 1977’s A New Hope … “Uh, we had a slight weapons malfunction, but uh… everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine. We’re all fine here now, thank you.”

PENS MIGHTIER THAN SWORDS – Reviewing BOND BY DESIGN – THE ART OF THE JAMES BOND FILMS

With a growing archive of at least 15,000 illustrations, famed Bond creative hub EON Productions has collated a celebratory [and of course timely] coffee table look at 53 years of 007 design. Written by EON’s Archive Director Meg Simmonds, Bond By Design – The Art of The James Bond Films is a lavish 320 page tome – as much about the unnoticed artisans of cinema as it is James Bond 007’s glorious design legacy.

Straddling the various artistic strands feeding into the onscreen Bond – costumes, sets, graphic design, props, cars and stunts – Bond By Design explores the 007 design palette chronologically from Dr. No through to SPECTRE. As Archive Director at EON Productions, Meg Simmonds not only contributes to countless 007 books, articles, DVDs, auctions and documentaries, she has also helped curate, launch and maintain a triumvirate of Bond exhibitions. Designing Bond (which has just finished a summer run in Madrid), Bond In Motion (now parked up for a successful run in London’s Covent Garden) and the lesser known Exquisitely Evil (at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC) are all must-see branches of this ongoing project to mark and celebrate Bond’s production, sociological and cultural history.

As the lushly reproduced storyboards, charcoal sketches and hand-drawn illustrations evolve into rich marker pen interiors and beautiful water-coloured vistas before making way for the new era’s digital schematics and pre-vis imagery, Bond By Design is as much a document of late 20th century movie entertainment design as it is 007 – an opulent tribute to the lost heroes of movie design. The painted ponderings of costume designer Julie Harris (Live and Let Die) are as rich and relevant as any Cecil Beaton drawing for My Fair Lady. Anthony Mendleson’s costume paintings for 1965’s Thunderball equal any Edith Head etching for those balletic frames and never-ending legs. Donfeld’s watercolour illustrations for Diamonds Are Forever’s Tiffany Case are as luxuriant and era-pinning as any Vogue Paris cover or Robert McGinnis Matt Helm poster from the same time. And check out Barbarella’s Jacques Fonteray and his Moonraker suits and “Breeder” gowns! It is telling too how the ‘house style’ for Quantum of Solace, Royale and Skyfall ‘s digitally produced designs still hark back to that pulp fiction style of paperback cover art.

Of course the creative endowments to Bond and cinema from the likes of designers Ken Adam, Peter Murton, Syd Cain and Peter Lamont go unchallenged. Yet Meg Simmonds and the EON archive go further with Bond By Design. The end result is a rich reserve of those sleek sketches, languid watercolours and the vital scope of ambition EON and Danjaq afford these designers. But, Bond By Design also underlines the furnishing, decorative and architectural savvy these designers had [and continue to have]. The detail and notes Peter Lamont assigns a fairly incidental set and his clear awareness of materials, light, manoeuvrability and tone is as striking as any triangular ceiling of Ken Adam’s. And this is before the internet, online libraries and catalogued furniture archives. It is not enough for these designers to know their production and construction restraints. As this book testifies, they have to be ahead of fashion, erudite with what they know about the history [and future] of interior design and what will let all the global audiences into the story. And that is before you factor in the final challenge that twenty-four Bond films and their design teams increasingly come up against – originality.

“My job is to give them sets to work in that will surprise and amaze an audience”

Peter Lamont

Of course these designers are all sketching for the good of Bond and cinema. But Bond By Design lays bare their own characters. Ken Adam’s thick, dark and angular images for The Spy Who Loved Me and Goldfinger perfectly highlight just how he was indeed “the man who drew the Cold War” (The Daily Telegraph, 2008). Bond By Design sees those filmic and real life influences of his – The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Alexander Korda, that Germanistic penchant for precision and cavernous industry and a post-war, Space-Age renaissance of new materials and substances. Likewise, Peter Lamont’s career as a set draughtsman cannot be missed when you witness the mathematical precision he puts into each set, walkway or even doorframe.

“Never a dull moment working on a James Bond film, I can tell you!”

Syd Cain

The devil is naturally in the detail with this collection. It is as much about what we never see as what we do. So costume sketches contain reminders that stunt teams have to wear wet-suits under Lindy Hemming’s red dresses for Casino Royale’s Vesper Lynd and notes hint at how Blofeld’s coat of arms from OHMSS must be technically wrong.

 

The what nearly happened clues are nearly as rich as what did make its way up onto the screen. Close scrutiny of the artists notes and thoughts betray that Solitaire might well have worn an afro wig in Harlem in Live and Let Die (with a possible early thought that Diana Ross was in the running for that film?), the scarlet hues and hanging bling of The Man With The Golden Gun’s Bottoms Up Club are now a VIP room norm, that Willard Whyte in Diamonds Are Forever may have had an unused office complex to end all office complexes, that Whyte was first called ‘Graves’, Tomorrow Never Dies’ antagonist was once called Harmsway and that OHMSS’s Syd Cain designed an abandoned dog fight for GoldenEye. Very little is creatively wasted in the Bond franchise.

“What the Bond films did, they stimulated my imagination. I felt the sky was the limit. I could do anything.”

Ken Adam

Bond-by-Design-The-Art-of-the-James-Bond-Films-2It is the staggering specifics that go into these drawings – and ultimately on-screen – that makes Bond By Design such a valuable document for all film lovers, let alone Bond fans. The thought and notes jotted down for a simple flower-covered pillar in a party scene in A View to a Kill or the in-depth measurements Lamont makes for the flower elevations in OHMSS lay bare the commitment to quality first pioneered and bankrolled by the likes of Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and now well and truly continued with Barbara Broccoli and the man with the most producer credits on Bond, Michael G Wilson. This is the tireless effort going on behind, in-front and beside the scenes as hardened fans panic about gun-barrel logos infinitum on 007 forums. So much is actually designed for a Bond film beyond physical sets and theatrically-minded interiors. Gold bars, the front of Baron Samedi’s train, Bond’s MI6 logo, casino chips, Martini glasses, what ornaments a villain owns, is it to be a headscarf or a necklace a panicking tourist wears are all elements that viewers will never see and yet have to be factored in, designed, made and duplicated. This writer has always been a tad partial to a good villain’s logo. And those faux-corporate emblems are lovingly presented too including Zorin Industries’ try-out logos.

“I go with my instincts on every aspect of how I design films. It’s all emotional response to things”

Dennis Gassner, production designer on SPECTRE

SPECTRE is understandably not explored in too much depth this time round as a great many of its design and visual tricks are tied to its plot and story surprises. However, designer Dennis Gassner’s discussion of director Sam Mendes’s urge to explore “hot and cold” in the film makes utter sense for a Bond movie as does the use in Mexico City of those prime 007 colours – “red, black and white”.

As if it needs endorsing any more, this new champion of Bond production books also comes with a pair of glossy Ken Adam designs and a foreword contribution from Adam, Lamont and Gassner. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

 

Bond By Design – The Art of the James Bond Films

by Meg Simmonds

Dorling Kindersley

Published 1st October 2015

 

With thanks to Dorling Kindersley and EON Productions.

 

 

SPECTRE – EON Productions let the cat out the bag on the 24th Bond opus

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“Welcome to the 007 Stage – where budgets go to die” – Sam Mendes

So sure as light follows day, finger follows gold and fall follows sky, there will be a new James Bond movie. So at a traditional press call (this time at the famed 007 Stage on the equally famous Pinewood Studios lot where the new 007 epic has been setting up shop for a while) it has been officially announced that shooting on the twenty-fourth 007 epic is about to begin. And whilst “B24” will continue to be signposted to various locations and unit bases during the seventh month shoot, the rest of the world will know the newest 007 movie now as SPECTRE.

A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organisation. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.

Official press release, MGM / Sony Pictures / EON Productions

Joining producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson, and Daniel Craig on his fourth Bond outing as agent 007 will be two-time Oscar winner, Tarantino favourite and all-round Austrian acting powerhouse, Christoph Waltz. Playing the under-specified “Oberhauser”, Waltz’s casting alongside the title has pulled back the anti-shark floodgates for all manner of speculation and supposition suggesting Roger Moore failed in his efforts to rid the world of Ernst Stavro Blofeld down a chimney at Beckton Gas Works. To be fair on Sir Roger, the biggest victim of Blofeld’s treachery has always been continuity which certainly implies the scarred/not scarred/drag act/wheelchair bound chameleon himself is right royally back in SPECTRE. Or is he?

Ever since Barbara Broccoli and Waltz shared time on the judging panel at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival it felt like only a matter of time until the two-time Oscar winner graced the Bond podium. And of course Waltz has already had a loose brush with Bond having played a German spy in 1989’s Fleming TV drama, Goldeneye. Like Javier Bardem before him, you don’t cast Waltz in a Bond film and not use him. “And the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 2015 goes to Christoph Waltz….”

The SPECTRE Boardroom (from left) Daniel Craig, Naomi Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Dave Bautista, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear & Andrew Scott.

Sidling up alongside Waltz in a delicious piece of physically ill-matching casting is Dave Bautista. Fresh from his summer 2014 success in Guardians of The Galaxy, the American-Filipino ex wrestler is to play henchmen Mr Hinx. It’s been a while since Bond has a decent bitch fight with a man monolith who can actually act. No – Zao, Kil, Bull and all manner of Brosnan henchmen don’t count.

Irish actor Andrew Scott is to play “Whitehall” colleague Denbigh. Scott (Pride, Sherlock) is a massive fan favourite via his current turn as arch nemesis Moriarty in Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s Sherlock and no doubt a great box office lure for a whole slew of early 20s lady cult fans. Trust me. I have seen the Whovians and Sherlockians go crazy in Scott’s company and his casting represents more of a box office coup than may yet be realised. He is also a top notch actor. Scott’s Sherlock colleague and co-star Mark Gatiss (Catching Bullet’s very own cat-stroking ‘pre-title’ contributor) told this site upon Scott’s SPECTRE news “I’m naturally thrilled about Andrew being in Bond. He’s a brilliant actor and a brilliant man and now Her Majesty gets the unalloyed pleasure of his secret service!”

“I’m naturally thrilled about Andrew being in Bond. He’s a brilliant actor and a brilliant man and now Her Majesty gets the unalloyed pleasure of his secret service!”

Mark Gatiss on Andrew Scott’s casting in SPECTRE

Returning as MI6’s Chief of Staff Tanner, Rory Kinnear returns to the Eon fold for the third successive time. Clocking in with him at MI6’s new Bernard Lee-tastic HQ is Ben Whishaw as Q (who is already quite pleased to be back in the suit and glasses), Naomie Harris as arch-secretary Moneypenny (she is not arch at all but SPECTRE has now brought back such parlance) and of course Ralph Fiennes as 007’s new boss, passport holder and all-round brace wearing machine, M.

Remembrances of Things Past 

And what of Bond’s women? Well as was touted, rising French actress Lea Seydoux (Blue is The Warmest Colour, Grand Central, Midnight In Paris) is to play the Proustian Madeleine Swann. A possible play on words and continuing Skyfall and writer John Logan’s literary cameos, a madeleine cake was famously referenced at the beginning of Proust’s Swann’s Way – when the subject marks how a nostalgia-making madeleine brings back a tumult of hard emotions and childhood remembrances. A possible clue to Seydoux’s role, Swann’s Way was the first chapter of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (À la Recherché Du Temps Perdu, 1913) which translates as the more familiar Remembrance of Things Past. A possible pointer to Bond’s personal journey in SPECTRE?

And in what has quickly made bigger headlines than was maybe expected, Italian actress Monica Bellucci (The Apartment, The Matrix Reloaded) is to play the brilliantly named Lucia Sciarra. Aged 50, Bellucci will be the oldest leading Bond actress and marks the first time – if these things really matter (they don’t) only the second actress in 007 history to be older than her Bond (Honor Blackman was older than Connery in 1964’s Goldfinger). Married to French actor Vincent Cassel (Mesrine, La Haine) and already more of a Bond Cougar than a Bond Woman, Bellucci has set many a heart racing and could well – despite her standing already – be the breakout star of SPECTRE.

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SPECTRE NUMBER 1 :

How does it stand as a Bond title?

In two words – cool and ruthless.

To paraphrase Ian Fleming it is a blunt instrument of a title. Perhaps like no other 007 marquee name for quite a while it packs a cracking punch. There is no hiding or interpretation with SPECTRE. It certainly makes total sense for a Bond movie that has to sidle up to its sizeable 2015 box office cousins – The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, Fury Road, The Man From UNCLE, Inside Out, Terminator – Genysis, The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 2, Mission Impossible V, The Martian, The Fantastic Four, The Peanuts Movie (Bond’s US release day buddy) and Spielberg’s own Cold War spy drama St. James Place – to load itself up with the bombast, heritage and killer intent of a title like SPECTRE.

There is no deceit or bluff about SPECTRE. Or is there? Despite the official line being that Christoph Waltz is playing “Oberhauser”, reports and rumour merchants have opted for the easy copy stating Christoph Waltz must ultimately be playing Blofeld. A title like SPECTRE only fuels that and the thought of Waltz waltzing in as a new wave Ernst is just too delicious a premise. But this is 2015. EON are following up Skyfall and Sam Mendes is making his first sequel. This will be a story with plenty of secrets, surprises and triple bluffs up its Mao suit sleeves. The phrase “hiding in plain sight” comes to mind.

(c) Aston Martin Ltd

SPECTRE NUMBER 2 :

Who else will be sat round SPECTRE’s table of Bondage?

Barbara Broccoli confirmed at the March 2014 launch of Bond In Motion that Bond 24 will see the return of a new Aston Martin. Well in true game-show unveiling style, director Sam Mendes whipped back the sleekest tarpaulin ever designed to reveal possibly the sleekest, juice-inducing Aston Martin – the brand new and wholly unique DB10. Designed by Aston Martin’s Gaydon HQ and in unison with EON Productions, the model has been specifically engineered for SPECTRE , the first time the famed car company has created such a bespoke, film-steered sidekick for our man James.

Dr Andy Palmer, CEO of Aston Martin, says : “In the same year that we celebrate our 50-year relationship with 007, it seems doubly fitting that today we unveiled this wonderful new sports car created especially for James Bond…I’m incredibly proud of everyone in the team at Gaydon who have brought this special project from concept to reality.” (AstonMartin.com). Aside from the probable stunt requirements dictating more than one back-up of the car, production of the beautiful DB10 will be limited to merely ten models.

Production designer Dennis Gassner has his biggest Bond gig so far as the Ken Adam Does SPECTRE boots are hard to fill. Confirmed locations are now Austria – where the townsfolk of the mountainous Obertilliach in the Tirol region have already seen the Bond circus come to town in preparation for the new year’s ambitious and sizeable shoot. Alongside that, Sölden and Lake Altaussee will be on Bond 24’s itenary too.

Incidentally the Tirol region and Kitzbühel is known Fleming turf. Ian himself would regularly holiday there and Fleming heavily references “Oberhauser” and Kitzbühel (see below). Perhaps Obertilliach is doubling for Kitzbühel?

Flanking such Bond-tastic locations (and nothing screams Bond more than a mountain covered in snow) will be London – playing a significant role, following on from Skyfall – Mexico City and Morocco’s Tangier and Erfoud. Possibly linking Bellucci’s turn as the Italian Lucia Sciarra, the capital Rome will finally feature significantly in a Bond movie. Production has already been based at the mod-classic and landmark Cinecittà Studios for quite a while. As Variety reported on the 24th November 2014, “MGM’s 24th James Bond film is instead expected in Rome between February and March 2015 with reported plans for high-speed car chases down the Eternal City’s narrow cobble-lines streets, and Bond parachuting down onto the ancient Ponte Sisto bridge on the Tiber“.

 

SPECTRE NUMBER 3 :

So what do we need to know about SPECTRE?

SPECTRE_LogoFirst mentioned by Ian Fleming in 1961’s Thunderball novel, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (or  Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion – go on Don Black, get that one to rhyme) was next mentioned in 1962’s The Spy Who Loved Me, before taking centre stage in the following year’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The shadowy organisation’s infamous kingpin Ernst Stavro Blofeld later re-appears in 1964’s novel, You Only Live Twice. The Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice books are often classed as The Blofeld Trilogy. But then came the Bond movies which tapped into S.P.E.C.T.R.E. from the start (despite Ian Fleming’s on-going wranglings with producer Kevin McClory who claimed he shared ownership to Ernst and SPECTRE – having allegedly crafted both when developing Bond with Fleming, Jack Whittingham and others for a touted TV project). The dispute behind SPECTRE, Blofeld and indeed Thunderball’s content reputedly stalled the ninth 007 novel from being the first Eon produced Bond movie, so producers Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman went instead for the [then] less litigious and easier-to-mount Dr. No.

DR. NO: I’m a member of SPECTRE.

BOND: SPECTRE?

DR. NO: SPECTRE. Special Executive for Counter Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, Extortion. The four great cornerstones of power headed by the greatest brains in the world.

BOND: Correction. Criminal brains.

DR. NO: The successful criminal brain is always superior. It has to be.

Dr. No, 1962

The Doctor No of 1962’s Dr. No was instantly on the SPECTRE staff. In its rapid sequel From Russia with Love (1963) the toe-filleting Rosa Klebb had recently defected to SPECTRE from SMERSH (the real life Russian Soviet counter-intelligence organisation). From Russia With Love also marked the first feature appearance of one Ernst Stavro Blofeld – albeit shot with narrative chaste through a careful frame where only his hands and lap cat were seen. Played by Anthony Dawson (who also played SPECTRE agent Professor Dent in Dr. No) and voiced by actor Eric Pohlmann, it was From Russia’s Blofeld that set the template for the onscreen Blofeld – all Mao suits, Angora cats, menacing cuffs and the peril of anonymity.

That notion continued into the fourth Bond movie Thunderball (1965) before later evolving into a no holds (or faces) barred Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (Donald Pleasance, 1967), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Telly Savalas, 1969) and Diamonds Are Forever (Charles Gray, 1971).

More men have collectively played Blofeld than Bond. Though it is only one Blofeld who has ever tried to win Bond over in a panic by offers of a bizarre delicatessen start-up restaurant scheme (For Your Eyes Only).

Are we keeping up SPECTRE agents? This will not be repeated.

The 1970s saw various legal challenges, internal developments and ownership wrangles plaguing the Bond movies. The return of SPECTRE and Blofeld were toyed with for subsequent 007 episodes but times [and lawyers] changed and Eon Productions reputedly wanted to move on from Blofeld, his organisation and the possible claimants to the artistic properties in question (though the first draft notions of many a later Bond film was to go with SPECTRE). This possibly accounts for 1981’s in-joke overture – where an obscured wheelchair-bound Blofeld and his cat are plunged by Roger Moore and a 80s chopper  into a chimney at Beckton Gas Works (ironically, the site is now part of the SPECTRE inspired Docklands Light Railway monorail).

“He lets the other two fight while he waits. Waits until the survivor is so exhausted then he cannot defend himself. And then like SPECTRE, he strikes”

BLOFELD, From Russia With Love, 1963

 

SPECTRE_Logo Blofeld’s er filmic ‘swansong’ marked the final [to date] onscreen appearance of Blofeld in an Eon produced 007 opus. Of course 1983’s rival Bond film Never Say Never Again saw producer Kevin McClory exercising his rights to SPECTRE and Blofeld (having had the courts rule he does share an element of creative ownership with factors from that one novel). Max Von Sydow portrayed a decent enough Ernst in the less decent enough re-tread, but that would not stop McClory mounting various attempts to remake his remake (the only Bond property he was legally allowed to). Every decade and nearly every ex Bond actor it seemed were beckoned in to McClory’s remake plans with an abundance of schlocky titles (Warhead 2000?!!) and acrimonious lines in the sand.

“SPECTRE’s a dedicated fraternity to whose strength lies in the absolute integrity of its members”

BLOFELD, Thunderball, 1965

007 holding company Danjaq LLC and their various legal representatives naturally responded. Some courtroom altercations made headlines and some did not. The 2012 documentary movie Everything Or Nothing documents the toll it all took on Fleming, McClory, Eon and their associates. However, the end upshot was that in November 2013 the onscreen rights held by the McClory estate (which included Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE) were finally given to Danjaq/Eon and MGM. McClory himself passed away in 2006.

As Variety reported in November 2013, representatives of the McClory estate declared “the 50-year intellectual property row involving James Bond was settled because of a great deal of hard work by the attorneys for the estate of Kevin McClory, MGM, and Danjaq and will benefit James Bond film fans throughout the world.”

 

SPECTRE NUMBER 4 :

Right ideas, wrong rumours

So what does this Bond fan think or hope we have in store? A bespoke, bigger budgeted sequel to Skyfall (which was deliberately produced – as much as you can on a Bond – with an eye on the budget, hence the brilliant domestic, UK based scenes) with the luxury now of a great canonical title and story background. This will not be 1960s SPECTRE. There will not be hollowed out volcanoes and monorails (despite my pleas on a recent media interview for such design quirks). There is also not the concern of the Blofeld/SPECTRE parodies easy copy writers are already throwing at Bond 24. This SPECTRE and its ownership will definitely be cut from that Mendes/John Logan cloth. Already the suggestion is that SPECTRE has one of the biggest intents of a Bond film. Mammoth sets and stunt sequences are being constructed throughout the globe and the box office success of its predecessor buys it some budgetary goodwill (as well as immense pressure).

The cast is cracking. Gone are the days of unknown models and European art-house actors flanking the Bond stage. The cast of SPECTRE could easily be in the next Coen Brothers movie, a Paul Thomas Anderson drama or Tarantino’s next final film. Likewise, the craftsmen and women responsible for this movie have between them been responsible for the look, tone and creative success of Let Him Have It, Interstellar, Inception, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Her, Road To Perdition and American Beauty.

We still have no confirmation of a title song performer but lets something for the new year. Sam Smith has made the rumour rounds, but maybe it is time for a Depeche Mode or Rolling Stones type number – something a bit more cock-rock. Less Adele, more Cornell. But I would not be remotely surprised or delighted if Ms Adkins name is once again flanking a Bond film and the Best Song performances at the 2016 Academy Awards. However, two words though for Mendes, Thomas Newman and the EON team – London Grammar.

SPECTRE will be a natural successor to Skyfall. SPECTRE will inhabit its tonal and story world. Whitehall and how MI6 is run and led will once again be a thread, but in ways no-one possibly fathomed. Personally I would like to see Helen McCrory’s MP Claire Dowar being revealed as a SPECTRE agent all along. And what was in that file Mallory threw at Bond at the end of Skyfall?  One thing it is worth remembering – SPECTRE is not solely Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Nor are villain casting conclusions always right.

One final caveat for now is that “Oberhauser” is of course known to the Fleming / Bond world already. Hannes Oberhauser features in Ian Fleming’s 1966 short story Octopussy & The Living Daylights. In this novella (which inspired the onscreen Dexter-Smythe story strand in 1983’s Octopussy), this Oberhauser is pitched as a father figure to Bond, a ski and mountain instructor who was friends with his parents – the deceased Andrew and Monique Bond (referenced in the final act of 2012’s Skyfall). Bond’s parents also died in a climbing accident, the details of which could well be up for speculative grabs.

“It just happened that Oberhauser was a friend of mine. He taught me to ski before the war, when I was in my teens. He was a wonderful man. He was something of a father figure to me at a time when I happened to need one.”

Octopussy & The Living Daylights, 1966

Might SPECTRE be pitching Bond and Blofeld as former childhood friends?

 

ALBERT R BROCCOLI’s EON PRODUCTIONS LTD.

presents

DANIEL CRAIG

as IAN FLEMING’S

JAMES BOND 007 in

SPECTRE

Starring

CHRISTOPH WALTZ

MONICA BELLUCI

LEA SEYDOUX

RALPH FIENNES

BEN WHISHAW

RORY KINNEAR

DAVE BAUTISTA

STEPHANIE SIGMAN

BRIGITTE MILLAR

PEPPE LANZETTA

and NAOMIE HARRIS as MONEYPENNY

Directed by SAM MENDES

Produced by BARBARA BROCCOLI & MICHAEL G WILSON

Written by JOHN LOGAN and NEIL PURVIS & ROBERT WADE

Co-Producer ANDREW NOAKES

Associate Producer GREGG WILSON

Production Designer DENNIS GASSNER

Director of Photography HOYTE VAN HOYTEMA

Editor LEE SMITH

Main Titles designed by DANIEL KLEINMAN

Original Score by THOMAS NEWMAN

Costume Designer JANY TEMIME

Casting DEBBIE McWILLIAMS

Unit Production Manager CALLUM McDOUGALL

Second Unit Director ALEXANDER WITT

Special Effects & Miniature Effects Supervisor CHRIS CORBOULD

Sound Design PER HALLBERG

Stunt Coordinator GARY POWELL

Visual Effects and Miniature Supervisor STEVE BEGG

Filmed on location at Pinewood Studios and Cinecittà Studios, Rome

and Italy, Austria, Morocco, Mexico, London and the UK.

Spectre_onesheet

Catching SPECTRE – discussing Bond, his new mission, Vodka Martinis and SPECTRE monorails

SPECTRE cast banner 8

SPECTRE is a nod to the Connery cat-stroking years”

Talking Bond, SPECTRE, Vodka Martinis and villain’s monorails on Five News…

“SPECTRE goes right back to the heart of Bond”

And taking things with a twist of lemon and a spin of the SPECTRE dice….

With thanks to the team at Five News.

 

 

 

Set the timer to “007” – BOND 24 to reveal its true identity

Bond 24 Announcement

The Pandora’s box that is BOND 24 will open at 1050 GMT this Thursday (4th December 2014) when a cast-studded line up will pull the bed sheets off Daniel Craig’s fourth outing live from the 007 Stage at London’s Pinewood Studios.

The photo call and announcements will be streamed live on 007.com and here…

 

Any title thoughts? Casting thoughts? Who might be the villain? When it comes to rumours, should we believe everything or nothing?

 

Thanks to Sony Pictures Entertainment UK.

The film with the Midas Touch – GOLDFINGER @ 50

Goldfinger @ 50

 

A Sunday in March, 1964

Auric Goldfinger’s Ford Country Squire station wagon motors its charge along Main Street on a Sunday afternoon, passing the Embassy Picturehouse and pulling up dutifully at the lights. Its Mustang poppy-red and faux wooden panelling is 1960s Ford personified and the car’s wide dimensions spill into neighbouring lanes of traffic.

But this is not America. And the car’s fictional owner Auric Goldfinger is not at the wheel. Nor is his fictional chauffeur, Oddjob. James Bond is not even sat captive on the back seat as he does in Goldfinger.

This is Esher, Surrey. The year is indeed 1964, but Jimmy O’Connell is driving, his wing man is my Uncle Gerald and my dad, John, is sat in the back. The locals frequenting the pubs of Esher – including Jimmy’s much-loved The Bear – are most intrigued by the left-hand drive and Yankie expanse of the Ford …. and how it handles “like a tart’s waterbed on wheels”. Not very James Bond.

(extract from Chapter 8, Catching Bullets – Memoirs of a Bond Fan)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eszhV1M3Dk8

“Like all institutions that must safeguard their survival, the Bond series adapts and adopts. Three films in and we already recognise where the villains, heroes and those in between are positioned. The film’s glossy calling-card of dousing Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) in gold paint is not just a proficient and nasty way of telling the audience all we need to know about Auric Goldfinger. It tells us what this film series now wants to be – bespoke action adventures, a little bit kinky, a little bit violent, often original, always stylish, yet forever aimed at mass audiences. The Bond films are now in the business of showing their intent rather than telling it.”

(extract from Chapter 8, Catching Bullets – Memoirs of a Bond Fan)

PLAY IT AGAIN SAM – Mendes returning for ‘Bond 24’

Sam Mendes and Barbara BroccoliSam Mendes returning to the Bond fold is great news. Not because Skyfall was the most successful Bond movie, the most successful British movie ever, won two Oscars and a few high profile gongs. It is not even because it was the first Bond movie for a while to become a cultural event, a film whose momentum and qualities both shook and stirred the public’s consciousness and stoked the anticipation for what James does next in a way possibly not seen since the 1960s. No, Sam Mendes returning to direct Bond 24 is great news as the Bond series is in a new golden age of confidence and impetus. With 2012’s fiftieth anniversary bench-marker Skyfall pulling all sorts of clever doves out of Baron Samedi’s top hat, the pressure is naturally there for all involved to find a new hat to pull some tricks from.

Can lightning be trapped in an empty Bollinger bottle twice? Of course it can. 007 producers Eon Productions have a whole cellar full of lightning bottles. But I doubt Bond 24 will be Skyfall Too – Back to the Chapel. It will no doubt take its predecessor’s baton and sprint with it like a gym-fit Daniel Craig. Yet it will be a totally different kettle of SPECTRE piranhas. Heck, there may even be some SPECTRE piranhas in there. And a submersible Prius. With Union Jack airbags. Maybe not.

Yet it won’t retread. We are in era of Bond directors with firm creative signatures of their own. Mendes’ tends towards films exploring what circumstances and the wider facets of society does to people. Respectively American Beauty, Road To Perdition, Revolutionary Road and Skyfall are a turn of the century classic, an ode to gangsterdom, a bitter stab at suburban nirvana and a home-soil vendetta. They are Sam Mendes looking at what wider circumstances, societal structures and defence mechanisms do to the common man. Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva (Skyfall) is no different to Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham (American Beauty). Both have been chewed up and spat out by life. And both allow Mendes to have fun with how they stick up two fingers to the world. Likewise Jake Gyllenhaal in Jarhead and Away We Go’s Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski are striving to not let the same happen to them. There are lot of roads to perdition in Sam Mendes work. There is no reason to question why a new facet of Bond will not be explored, another internal scar creating external damage laid bare. That is the world of Fleming. And that is the DNA of Bond onscreen.

But along Mendes’ story paths there is a playfulness and wit. Lester Burnham’s breakdown is a lush descent into suburban anarchy and Away We Go is a fun road movie peppered with non-centric eccentrics. Mendes is currently executive producing Penny Dreadful under the auspices of his own creative company Neal Street Productions (Call The Midwife and The Hollow Crown – which of course saw Skyfall’s Ben Wishaw recently scoop the Best Actor BAFTA). Written by Skyfall and Bond 24’s John Logan, Penny Dreadful is a London Victorian re-imagining of the origins of classic horror creations such as Dracula and Frankenstein. A co-production with Showtime, the series is due to bite TV screens in 2014. This sort of baroque villainy has already shown its own teeth (literally) in Skyfall and could well flick a different villainous cape in Bond 24. With John Logan in the writing seat alongside Mendes, the end result of their 2012 ‘act one’ was a carefully arched Bond film marked by rich exchanges pushing the story forward through dialogue, character wit and drives (Bond and Severine, Bond and Silva, Bond and M, Bond and Q, Bond and Kincade, Bond and Moneypenny). The creative impulse to let the characters steer the story was a welcome one and wholly succeeded. Expect more of the same come the Fall of 2015. Skyfall ended with the orphan James Bond presented with a new family. Ben Wishaw’s Q is suggesting he will be back, as might Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and Ralph Fiennes as the new M. But what about the bureaucratic Clair Dowar MP (Helen McCrory – whose real life husband and possible ‘next Bond’ candidate Damian Lewis is currently shooting Eon’s new co-production, The Silent Storm) and Rory Kinnear’s much-liked ally Tanner? And of course we may well see more familiar keynotes of Bond re-dressed for 2015.

Mendes clearly relished his time working with Eon Productions, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson. It is a team-led ‘family’ operation with working relationships and continuity much valued linchpins. Throughout the 1980s, director John Glen helmed all five successive Bond movies with great results, creating new fans in new generations and blasting the lazy detractors of that era’s output with aplomb (see this writer’s Catching Bullets – Memoirs of a Bond Fan). Sam Mendes will have already done the same. As part of a maybe three-act regeneration of Bond, Skyfall certainly has re-pointed the character for its guardians and its audiences new and old. The twenty-second Bond film relished the heritage of 007. My hunch is that Bond 24 will move forward from that. Or aside. The history of the films will not be sidelined. The much touted ‘formula’ of Bond is entwined with the heritage of the character, the films and those that produce them. Yet, Mendes will want to produce a brand new movie, a brand new take and a brand new project. He has never directed a sequel to any of his cinematic work (whose narratives admittedly do not leave much room for ‘what happened next?’). We all have our wish lists and suggestions (mine would be Barcelona, Washington, a bit of skiing and a Daft Punk theme tune). However, it is worth noting the curious skill of Skyfall was how it packed in wholly familiar turf for the Bond series – London, the Far East and Istanbul – yet dressed it most wisely. Mendes is not about reinventing the wheel, but how the spokes work. We are still in a time of relative studio poverty (Skyfall had to allegedly hem in its budget and the results worked). Bond 24 will no doubt have to rein itself in too – as best as a multi million pound movie can. But having financial and physical restrictions often aides creativity. The Bond series’ production history has always proved that.

For any director or writer to come into that Bond world is no doubt a daunting task. Next time round Mendes is no longer the new boy at school. He is head boy – a proven newcomer with a few trophies (if that matters alongside such global box office stamina) gleaming in the Eon cabinet. But the team at Bond HQ are not wholly looking to emulate Skyfall. They are looking to emulate the decisions, the discussions, the aptitude and perceptions Mendes brought to the table. Of course the dollars and the studios that gave and then counted them are wanting more of the same. That is simple business sense. But film-making – even on the scale of a Bond – thrives on creative relationships and continuity. It is about both project and product for Eon.

The Sony PR elves were forever telling us how Mendes noted his own Bond fandom launched when he saw 1973’s Live and Let Die. There are echoes of that film in Skyfall (the arched villainy, the deathly opening titles, the throwaway dead girls, the drama often playing out on familiar streets and pavements and even the shared double-decker London buses…maybe). The question now is – what Bond film did Sam like next? My money’s on a direct sequel to Octopussy. That barge had to pull in somewhere?!*

(*joking)

Mark O’Connell is the author of Catching Bullets – Memoirs of a Bond Fan (Prelude by Barbara Broccoli). www.splendidbooks.co.uk

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