The 25th Bond film continues to spin in horror
In this Halloween season, let us look at the eerie hauntings surrounding the next Bond film. For what hath this film succumbed to? Well, chaos is come again with the exit of director Danny Boyle and a preproduction in upheaval. Only a few months after the proclaimed auteur, Boyle, announced to the world he would direct the next 007 film, the producers ousted him and his scriptwriter John Hodge mere weeks before filming was due to begin. Hence, no director, no completed shooting script, a preproduction in free-fall, the hasty search for Boyle's replacement, and a delayed release, which is now set for Valentine's Day 2020. Not that it matters. At this rate of chaos, the film may be completed some time in the next 18 years. Fortunately, any delay does provide the cadaverous Daniel Craig the opportunity to return to the theater—for example, in the spirit of wandering actors in the nineteenth century, we may find him traveling from stage to stage, reciting lines from Poe with his ass, or rather his mule, though it doesn't really make a difference. On the other hand, the loss of Boyle—an immensely overrated director deluded in political pretensions—is the only bliss that has surfaced from this tortured production; but in the search for a new director, we gather the producers reached a dead end to lure a top notch helmer, considering they had settled for the renowned director What's-His-Name. Meanwhile, the reason for Boyle's exit points to the usual claptrap of "creative differences," as highlighted in the official statement:
Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig today announced that due to creative differences Danny Boyle has decided to no longer direct Bond 25.
The phrase, we must admit, is the high-sounding expression for battling egos unable to compromise in the asshole world of Hollywood filmmaking. And just as I had sensed would happen, the producers have summoned Neal Purvis and Robert Wade to restart the script. Here's me, last spring, noting the inevitable return of the duo:
If the ritual of recent 007 films are to go by, we can be virtually certain of a comeback by Purvis and Wade—Eon’s standby scribes for wretched scripts since 1999’s The World Is Not Enough—to tweak whatever screenplay the anointed director has been left with. Sad to say, the pair cannot be hastily deposed, and this opens the door to a familiar problem: we’re back to the degeneration as manifested in their works.
Madam Barbara Broccoli, I imagine, brushed the dust off the original Purvis-Wade treatment (which she hastily ditched during her glee for the great Danny Boyle) and convinced herself it was serviceable to churn out a Bond film. This adherence to a rejected script for a major film production suggests that the spearhead of the Bond film empire is fairly casual about her standards. Then again, the Boyle version must have been phenomenally below-average that she had to resort to the established mediocrity of Purvis and Wade to salvage the project.
And so the decline of the series continues. To make matters worse, film number 25 is surrounded by additional events that only underscore the decadence of the franchise, unfolding as absurdities—paranormal activities, if you will, completely laughable in their inanity. Let those dubious of such an assertion study the evidence. It was Purvis, in January 2017, who described the impossibility of writing another Bond movie in the age of Trump. Tragedy of tragedies: a New Yorker with a bombastic and braggadocios personality is all that it takes to wipe out any creative force from this screenwriter. Yet, although neutered by Trump, he and his crony Robert Wade have been given "the go-ahead to complete a full script"(Pulver). In other words, those who want nothing to do with the series are actually brought back to work on the next film.
Another example of this wondrous paradox: the one and only Mr. Live and Let Gripe, Daniel Putin Craig, in the now infamous interview for Time Out magazine, just before the release of Spectre, expressed bizarre tantrums of hatred for the series when pressed if he would make another 007 film: “I’d rather break this glass and slash my wrists,” said the unstable actor. “Not at all,” he continues, presumably after wetting himself. “That’s fine. I’m over it at the moment. We’re done. All I want to do is move on.” At that point, we suspect Craig's PR handlers were hoping for a city-wide power failure to interrupt the interview. Nevertheless, still the "official" 007, the Octo-wussy will be returning to the role, a testament to Madam Barbara's continued abysmal taste.
Director Boyle also had his antics. Why in hell did he announce, confidently and prematurely, that he would helm film number 25 when his script wasn't even complete? Back in March 2018, a cloud of vagueness loomed over his involvement: “We are working on a script right now,” he explains. “And it all depends on that really” (Wakeman). As I noted last spring, the director wasn't fully on board:
So it seems the gig is not fully bagged by Boyle, and the situation raises the spectre that it’s all tentative until the producers are confident with the new script.
He was, in essence, auditioning for the job, which obviously hinged on the quality of his script. At the time, the producers hadn't even seen the finished version; and, ultimately, Boyle did not know how the the top brass would react to his ideas. Yet they all touted, or at least suggested, that the magnificence of the next film was guaranteed by his involvement. The whole notion is ridiculous. But, hey, there's nothing more productive than the warm collaboration of self-promoting narcissists. "I can't believe Boyle's gone, completely fired," writes one Bond fan in an email. "They all acted like ego-maniacs, and all that preproduction work imploded. It's so surreal. Can this really happen to a Bond film?" Oh yes, fellow Bond fan, oh yes. As the late Ismail Merchant proclaimed, "film-making is madness" and to survive in that world, you'd have to be "happy to be counted amongst the insane" (151).
Where does this leave us? With another paradox, of course: one producer and one actor, both past their prime, teaming up again to make another Bond film that nobody really asked for or cares about. This means ushering in a nondescript, available, willing, and (most importantly) cheap director. Thus, as a bizarre phenomenon for the series, we find hack directors summoned for a big budget action film. Consider the pedigree bandied about in the rumor mill: Denis Villenueve (who delivered the snoozer and inevitable flop Blade Runner 2049); Yann Demange (helmer of the James Joyce classic White Boy Rick); Jean-Marc Vallee (who specializes in movies no one remembers); and That Guy, That Other Guy, and That Guy Over There. Oh, let's just bring in the person who directs Verizon TV commercials.
However, it's Cary Joji Fukunaga who'll be sitting in the director's chair. Based on his repertoire, he specializes in the small-scale canvas, as if he bears the scarlet letters TV on his jacket. Years of dabbling with HBO and Netflix will do that. Yet, in another strange twist, a TV director somehow muscled his way into the big screen production of a Bond film. Moreover, at one point, Fukunaga tackled the script for the recent adaptation of Stephen King's It. As the backstory goes, he gave it the old college try when he was set to direct the film but the powers-that-be at New Line Cinema dropped his script, citing the approach was all wrong. Ah, another rejected script! And written by a director who was ousted from that production. Sound familiar? It should; for the Fukunaga history brings this whole damn Bond 25 chaos into full circle.
Now toss into the mix a comment from Fukunaga back in 2015, while promoting his film Beasts Of No Nation, an Idris Elba starrer: “That would be pretty cool to have Idris and I do a Bond film together. I wouldn’t say no to that” (Lee). It was Fukunaga's swift response to whether “he’d be up for taking over from Spectre’s Sam Mendes.” This professed casting preference takes us to the very center of his dream Bond film—a completely revisionist approach, toppling the traditional image of 007 by reshaping the character for the dictates of political correctness. The added touch would be to “Maybe find a role for Abraham in there too.” He is, of course, referring to the teen actor, Abraham Attah, who costarred with Elba in the aforementioned film. For what role, we ask? The villain? If so, the first ever teenybopper Bond villain. It's quite the hooey that would appeal to the Disney Channel crowd—and it wouldn't be farfetched for the less-than-brilliant Hollywood types to be courting such an idea. So, you see, the potential for idiotic filmmaking, in the hands of Fukunaga, would accord neatly with the kitsch of Madam Barbara and Mr. Putin Craig. In any case, the director's mangled vision of the character gives us a less-than-stellar impression of how he would approach a Bond film. Cue the gothic horror music: there is something eerie going on here with Fukunaga, a director whose ideas presage the fiascos of Bond 25.
Suspiciously missing from the Fukunaga-as-director announcement is the Pale One himself:
“We are delighted to be working with Cary. His versatility and innovation make him an excellent choice for our next James Bond adventure,” said Wilson and Broccoli.
Why is their demigod, Craig, not included in this announcement? Didn't he have a say in the selection of Fukunaga? Or has he been canned from his executive producer role? Nevertheless, it's been bizarre that the Bond producers have given so much power to old Danny Boy within Eon Productions. That alone is a paranormal phenomenon. The guy isn't even a household name, let alone a Hollywood superstar who commands authority in the business. If anything, his involvement as a producer has been less than remarkable: presumably, his input has been substantial; and without him, the recent bullshit in the films—such as brother Blofeld, a gay-friendly Bond, the little orphan melodrama, and the muddled plots—may not have happened. (Craig has even acknowledged the shambles of Quantum, stating "a writer I am not.")  All things considered, Craig's involvement underscores how much of a failure the reboot of the series has been and how the last four films have been a sop to the ego for one producer and one actor—the organ grinder and her monkey—both passé, a kitsch act that needs to be pulled from the stage.
Yet the decline of the series juts out severely when considered against another strange phenomenon: the most recent Bond film since 2002 is essentially Mission: Impossible - Fallout, a non-Bond film that nevertheless functioned as one, so much so that it took the thunder away from the 007 camp. Its cinematography, the editing, the music, and the general pacing of the action set pieces captured the Bondian atmosphere more than the Craig films ever did. Even the signature 007 elements that Eon Productions had once monopolized—intriguing European locales, innovative car chases, thrilling large-scale stunts, dazzling gadgets, and exotic babes—have been appropriated by the MI series, reinterpreted with colossal flair using today's production values. The bigwigs at MGM, or whatever useless studio is backing Eon Productions these days, must have been outraged at Tom Cruise's critically revered blockbuster and the consensus reached by the media elites that “Daniel Craig should be quaking in his tux since Cruise 'out-Bonds James Bond'” (Mohr). In other words, for 007, the thrill is gone. Sad to say, it's the result of a deeper problem that has haunted the series for the last decade, if my questionable Halloween analogy is to be tolerated. Let us admit the series has been adrift since the idiotic reboot. We've had increasing stagnation and a lingering sense of aimlessness as seen through bland villains, adherence to the PC culture, adherence to the style and mood of the Bourne films, adherence to the noir-style of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight series, and the recycling of the Bond-goes-rogue motif in each passing entry. Meanwhile, the MI series—after 22 years and six films, with an aging A-list star—manages to be fresh and exuberant. Once again, imagine the MGM executives puzzled by their floundering series: "We've got Bond but what are we missing? Our films don't feel like a Bond film with all this PC crap!" Of course, we can just as hear the echo of Madam Barbara's arguments. Arguments such as "Hell, yes! Are you guys nuts? Our Bond has gay sensibilities and he gets teary-eyed at the thought of his lonely orphaned childhood." But huddled in a private screening room, watching MI: Fallout in an endless loop, the executives must be shouting, "Damn it, how do we make one of these Bond films?"
Well, how about bringing on board those who can bring about creative and enthusiastic filmmaking, and an actor who cherishes the role? The current stewards of the franchise have indulged in the kitschy "modernization" of Bond—in the last four films, the distinguishing aspects of the series have been abandoned, losing the core identity of what differentiated the Bond films from mundane action films. Meanwhile, the MI series has maintained a strong sense of identity: the essential aspects—the world domination plots, creepy villains, outrageous stunts, esoteric femmes fatales, and an underlying sense of lightness in tone despite the danger—have come across consistently with vigor. Director Christopher McQuarrie has the balanced touch to enrich that formula, padding out the story with character points without losing sight of said formula. This is the filmmaking that Eon Productions had once mastered. Its other baggage is Craig himself: the actor's condescending attitude toward the 007 franchise has been very apparent on screen (and underscored by his meltdown during the aforementioned Time Out interview). His attitude, unfortunately, has just been mistaken for "brooding" and "gritty" characterization, as proclaimed by the Craiggyboppers.
In tandem with the preproduction mess, the next film has one other ghoulish aspect, or at least some apprehensiveness may descend upon anyone who considers the disarray of its distributor, Annapurna Pictures. This minuscule outfit had edged out prominent studios to snatch the domestic distribution rights and, presumably, has a stake in the financing of the film—but how's that done when you yourself are mired in financial wreckage? The studio, as reported by Variety, has the knack for “hemorrhaging money for years and continues to suffer an exodus of top executives who have either been forced out or who left on their own accord” (Lang and Donnelly). Its leader, one Megan Ellison, has sought infusions of cash from her dear old daddy, Larry Ellison—yes, that Ellison, the founder of Oracle—who is scrutinizing the balance sheets “to figure out a way to overhaul the operation.” Fortunately, as the Variety report asserts, the company is optimistic about the next Bond film. I must say that I hope so. Unfortunately, the film's delayed release also delays the much needed profit. Meanwhile, Father Ellison is now meddling in the management, a maneuver that may unleash disasters of its own: Hollywood is not Silicon Valley, and shoving mounds of money into an enterprise will not necessarily guarantee success. And how far does Father Ellison's influence extend? Will he too have a say in the development of the next film? Known for his "warrior ruthlessness" in the industry, it would not be inconceivable to see the bellicose entrepreneur advising and interfering in the production. Bond film history, thanks to Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, began with creative types such as Terrence Young and Richard Maibaum. Now we get a geek from Silicon Valley. That truly is a paranormal activity, even more frightening than Linda Blair's head-spinning demon in The Exorcist.
The final paradox is that, for Madam Barbara, the flurry of preproduction chaos is much ado about nothing. In an interview for Metro, she laughs, asking ‘concerned about what?’ when questioned about the behind-the-scenes turmoil. Ah, laughter. In Kundera's fictional world, nothing is more dangerous than laughter—the laughter that occurs when the meaning of something is subverted; the laughter, introduced in any situation, that erases the dignity of the moment, reducing even our most heartfelt intentions into something utterly foolish. Let's not forget Clevis, in Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting: on a windy day, during a funeral, his hat is blown away, landing between the open grave and the mourning family. Just as he bends down to retrieve the hat, a gust of wind moves it out of reach until it drops into the pit. At that moment, "the entire assembly of mourners was racked by a silent wave of laughter" (221). In other words, all it takes is some inappropriate laughter to ruin everything. The meaningful essence of a moment is easily erased. The line between meaning and absurdity is fragile.
And so Madam Barbara laughs, deflecting, hiding, the idiocy that consumes her film. What stagecraft! She conjures an illusion, despite the obvious shambles in production that we commoners have noted. It's all in order, she is saying, and we are all mistaken. Just how inept can we be? This is the natural course of movie-making! From this, we can deduce that chaos lies ahead in the actual filming—we can expect again, as Madam Barbara implies, the slapdash efforts that have afflicted the last four films. Nevertheless, like Baron Samedi sitting on a tombstone, she will burst into sonorous laughter if chaos comes again during filming, and we'll remember the typical routine for Eon: after the last film wraps, the studio flounders for three years and then scrambles on the fourth year to deliver another. Still, the one thing that cannot be hidden is the signs of crack in the bright veneer; that the chaotic practice is unsustainable, considering how the 007 franchise has been eclipsed by the MI series. It's time for the Bond makers to shape up and avoid the fall of the house of Eon. If they don't, I shall be forced to revisit my Halloween analogy, and no one wants that to happen.
|||Before the release of Brokeback Skyfall, Craig summarized the troubled production of Quantum Of Solace. From IndieWire, in the actor's usual eloquence: “On ‘Quantum,’ we were fucked,” he said plainly. “We had the bare bones of a script and then there was a writers’ strike and there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it. I say to myself, ‘Never again,’ but who knows? There was me trying to rewrite scenes – and a writer I am not.’” Likewise, a producer he is not.|
||| Some context to this fictional scenario: for Brokeback Skyfall, Madam Barbara and Danny DeVito (who, inexplicably, directed the movie under the alias Sam Mendes) introduced their fantasy of a gay James Bond. This they followed with Spectre (not to be confused with the Greg Evigan classic Spectre: A Legacy of Evil), a tender drama about brothers reunited, based loosely on Eight Is Enough: A Family Reunion.
In addition, if Madam Barbara's hypothetical argument doesn't sound all that compelling, please remember she had also produced Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, an indie film that opened in five theaters and was seen by two individuals in this over-populated world of 8 billion people.
|||Spectre, for example, had the notorious out-of-control budget, and filming ended mere weeks before the film's premiere in the UK.|