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Droning On

A new director announced, amid reports of studio chaos and a
pointless sound-bite from Peter Morgan.

By Ian Dunross
January 11, 2010
For clarity, all book titles are displayed in small caps (Casino Royale), and short stories are shown in quotes and capitalized accordingly ("Quantum of Solace"). Film titles, on the other hand, are italicized and shown with the capitalization used by the filmmakers (Quantum Of Solace).

The comic and the pomp: recent news



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On January 5, 2010, as we squandered the hours pursuing the trivial—the care of our children, our careers, our overall well-being in this global economic recession—The Hollywood Reporter, along with other news wires (and no doubt orchestrated by Eon Productions), revealed information vital to the advancement of modern civilization: Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes “is in negotiations to direct the 23rd installment of the venerable James Bond franchise” (Belloni and Kit). Should we be at all concerned? Does the announcement foretell the end of days?

This announcement joins a recent flurry of disturbing news concerning the series. The moribund MGM, the studio behind the Bond films, dangles on the verge of bankruptcy just as its less-than-brilliant executives in Ray Bans have put it up “for sale in a bid to clear mounting debts,” a situation that halted pre-production of the next film and thrust the 007 franchise into an unsettling state. Producer Michael G. Wilson even admits, “We just don’t know enough about the situation to comment but we know it’s uncertain” (Fitzherbert). Under such circumstances, to make the 2011 release date planned for the next Bond film, the earliest the production could possibly start is an end-of-this-year timeframe.

Though not an official press release, the sudden announcement of director Mendes reads like a hastily packaged PR stunt to counter the bad press and to enhance the appeal of the studio for potential buyers—all is well with MGM, the handlers seem to say. Even things are on course for Bond, our most lucrative franchise. In other words, plans for the movie are proceeding, despite the impending sale of the studio, with principal photography now targeted for June.

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Baffled by Bond? Peter
Morgan tackles the new
screenplay.

The news about Mendes also comes in the wake of a bizarre statement from screenwriter Peter Morgan. Morgan, you'll recall, comes on board with some glorious credentials, considering that he had written award-winning films The Queen (2006) and Frost/Nixon (2008)—yes, at first glance, an impressive pedigree, but his work on laughable movies such as Madame Sousatzka (1988) and Shalom Joan Collins (1989), as well as the ridiculous historical inaccuracies known as The Last King of Scotland (2006) and The Other Boleyn Girl (2008), suggest another profile: namely, he's ultimately a questionable talent who has somehow gotten the opposite impression and therefore plopped himself on the throne of self-importance. This would explain why he sought attention last December by babbling to the Austrian newspaper Kurier that the next Bond film has a “shocking story” (Miller). Ah, what stagecraft! The sound-bite was enough for the ministers of Profound Historical Events (i.e., the mainstream media) to tremble in excitement. But the statement is the statement: utterly vague, worthless, something that the world didn't need because Morgan understandably could not reveal details.

Still, Morgan's scheme worked: the news wires quoted him, his mug shot was plastered in articles, and a lot of speculation could be drawn from the statement to generate buzz for the film. I personally think Morgan was referring to Daniel Craig's heightened approach to metrosexualdom for his Bond, the shocker being that Craig straps on a man-purse in the next film and not the old Berns-Martin holster. Then again, Morgan could be hinting that he and his cronies (scripters Neil Purvis and Robert Wade) have embellished Paul Haggis's unused stupid idea for Quantum Of Solace1: Bond discovers Vesper's little daughter and, for dramatic impact, realizes she is attending kindergarten!

He did end the interview with a shocker of his own, implying his lack of awareness for the Bond series when he revealed his astonishment over the intense public interest:

“Bond creates a hysteria around it, one that I haven’t previous known… It's a magnet for publicity – everyone wants to know what’s going on with the new Bond.” (Miller)

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The private sanctuary of Peter Morgan? A
section of the underground astroparticle
laboratory of the Laboratori Nazionali del
Gran Sasso in Italy.

Could it be that Morgan lived most of the last three decades or so in an underground astroparticle laboratory, thereby missing the media frenzy surrounding each new Bond film, completely mesmerized by wave-particle duality and beams of muonic neutrinos? If that is so, how did this relatively young gent come to possess his own astroparticle laboratory? Another explanation for his astonishment: now immersed in the world of Bond, Morgan finds himself way out of this depth.


On director Sam Mendes

But back to the award-winning Sam Mendes, the latest ornament in the Bond pre-production. How is one to deal with the news of his appointment? From his repertoire, we note the lack of action-heavy films and a flair for subjects that don't require explosions: the strategy, then, is to bring his sensibilities for drama to the next 007 film. It would seem that the producers are attempting to elevate the quality of the storytelling, to give it a high-brow dimension, by roping in a director known for “serious” films. This approach seems to me to be both admirable and sort of futile.

Let us recall Michael Apted, an acclaimed director of dramas and documentaries, and his involvement in 1999's The World Is Not Enough, which at the time was an unconventional choice by the producers. The director himself was apprehensive with the endeavor:

“I really was so surprised. But when I realized producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli were being deadly serious, I thought about it and decided I'd be thrilled to bits to take on something like this. . . . I did hesitate in accepting the offer,” continued Apted. “All I kept thinking was, What the hell do they want me for? Then I found out they wanted a better story to go between all the action and someone well-versed in drama to make it pay dividends. They also wanted to do different things with the women in the film, make them more interesting and not just be there for sexual decoration. So it was natural they would come to a director who works in drama, especially ones involving women, more than the action genre.” (Jones)

The result was a somewhat satisfying, if uneven, entry in the series—if we've downplayed the fantastical to delve into character study, then why the onslaught of action scenes (for example, the lengthy boat chase)? Nevertheless, the producers took another crack at nabbing a director with a reputation for quiet dramas for the last entry, Quantum Of Solace. Their first choice: Roger Michell, who had enough dignity to bow out quickly when he sensed the looming pre-production chaos.2 The producers therefore turned to the maestro himself: the lamentable Marc Forster.

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Director Marc Forster on the set of Quantum
Of Solace in Chile.

I cannot think of anyone more likely to have dragged the series into the depths of kitsch than Forster, a German-Swiss filmmaker with the impulse to wow audiences in those art house theaters that smell of arcane mildew and where the guy selling tickets is dressed as Joy Behar. Based on his filmography, it was the “offbeat” region that Forster sought, and the quantum of kitsch mattered like hell: Monster's Ball (2001), Finding Neverland (2004), Stay (2005), Stranger Than Fiction (2006), The Kite Runner (2007), just to name a few.3 But as one of those bizarre ironies in life, his most commercial endeavor, Solace, is undoubtedly his magnum opus—a bottomlessly stupid film that self-destructs on so many levels.

Consider how that turned out: relentless action scenes flood the movie, awkwardly strung together in choppy, fast-paced editing, pointing to a pitiful attempt at emulating the Bourne narratives. There are ripples of an incomprehensible plot with some sort of geo-political polemic; and the cerebral character study (supposedly the raison d'être of Herr Forster) surfaces in a two-minute scene where Craig sits in a cave, mumbling and attempting to look serious. Tossed into the confusion, and without any dramatic significance, is a bizarre obsession with the sexuality of the villains: main nemesis Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), of course quite mad but with hints of pansexuality, gads about in floral shirts and screams like a girl, while his effeminate henchmen look as if they had just stepped away from a photo shoot for a Bloomingdale catalog. Meanwhile, Bond seems pleased with the shortage of babes, swaggers in tight-fitted shirts, and beats up someone dumber than himself every five minutes or so. A farcical nutty piece, packaged with a horrendous hip-hop tune for the title song, it's laughable in its insistence as a serious tome. It's also the kind of film that forces you to wonder whether to take some time off from movies and just play bocce instead.4

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Director Sam Mendes prepares a scene in
Away We Go (2009).

Now it seems that an extraordinary Bond film will be made, or so the producers would have us believe. Cometh the hour, cometh the man: Sam Mendes, who, like Morgan, carries a batch of respected films—respected, at least, by the Hollywood machine. Yet, once again, it seems that the work of an art house director cannot be taken at face value. We need take no more note of it than of Mendes's Revolutionary Road (2008), a kitschy Marxist critique of American suburbia and, most notably, a distinctive blend of histrionics and self-importance. None of the turmoils of the characters ring true, not even the grim scene with the Kate Winslett character undergoing a botched abortion. In other words, an unsettling sign for the next Bond film. We are, so to speak, back where we started.

Fortunately, as the report indicates, negotiations are in progress, with the director's involvement not exactly final. Thus, some latitude exists for Mr. Mendes; and if sanity serves him well, he'd make for the nearest exit, stage left. Then I humbly suggest he take a long break from filmmaking and go some place far from editing rooms. I hear there are many things to see and do in nouveau resorts such as underground astroparticle laboratories. Just ask Peter Morgan.

Notes

1 A bizarre plot point appeared in a draft of Quantum Of Solace: screenwriter Paul Haggis, another master of kitsch, introduced the ridiculous idea that Vesper Lynd, the heroine of Casino Royale, has a child—essentially an orphan—somewhere in the world who Bond tracks down for whatever reason and leaves behind, presumably at the end of the film. The producers adamantly rejected the idea because of its blatant harshness. Moreover, the idea meddles with Fleming's characterization of Bond, an orphan himself, and the whole notion raises disturbing things: would Bond just leave the child? If not, how do the filmmakers resolve the situation with humanity? Do they proceed with fatherhood for Bond, thereby abandoning the entire mythology of the character as the carefree womanizing agent? As we can see, the idea creates levels of dramatic problems—and reveals Haggis's carelessness and utter lack of understanding of Fleming's Bond. We can only hope that Peter Morgan has some respect for the character.
2 For more information about the troubled development of Quantum Of Solace, refer to my essay “Consider The Chaos.”
3 For an analysis of Marc Forster's repertoire, refer to my essay “On Marc Forster.”
4 For a detailed review of Quantum Of Solace, refer to my essay “A Travesty of Bond.”

List of Illustrations

“The Declaration of Self-Importance.” Personal graphic by author.   6 Jan. 2010.
“The Startled Peter Morgan.” Online Photo. Guardian.co.uk.   9 Jan. 2010
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/jun/15/james-bond-peter-morgan>.
“Underground Astroparticle Laboratory.” Online Photo. Interactions.org.   8 Jan. 2010
<http://www.interactions.org/cms/?pid=1012524>.
“Marc Forster in Chile.” Online Photo. Time Out Sydney.   8 Jan. 2010
<http://www.timeoutsydney.com.au/film/newsinterviews/marc-forster--director--quantum-of-solace.aspx>.
“Director Sam Mendes.” Online Photo. Screen Crave.   9 Jan. 2010
<http://screencrave.com/2009-06-04/exclusive-interview-with-sam-mendes/>.

Works Cited

Alan Jones, “The World Is Not Enough: Michael Apted on directing the nineteenth James Bond epic,”
Cinefantastique   December 1999:   36.
Belloni, Matthew, and Borys Kit. “Sam Mendes to direct next Bond pic.”
Hollywood Reporter.   5 Jan. 2010.   6 Jan. 2010
<http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/news/e3i856fd022b069b3fed1d9372af1ebe6fe>.
Fitzherbert, Henry. “For Sale – James Bond.”   Express.co.uk.   3 Jan. 2010.   4 Jan. 2010
<http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/149406/For-sale-James-Bond>.
Miller, Ross. “Bond 23 Writer Says It Has A ‘Shocking Story’.”   Screen Rant.   21 Dec. 2009.   23 Dec. 2009
<http://screenrant.com/bond-23-screenwriter-peter-morgan-shocking-story-ross-38793/>.

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