Countdown to ‘Skyfall’ – A history of the James Bond film franchise Part 8
Tomorrow Never Dies was not as big a hit as its predecessor, Goldeneye, particularly when one considers that the cost of the former soared in excess of $100 million. There was no more original material from Ian Fleming to mine for a storyline, but the title of the next film was taken from a Fleming novel.
“The World is Not Enough” appears in the novel “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. It is often mistakenly referred to as the Bond family motto, but it’s actually the motto of Sir Thomas Bond, who lived in the 17th Century. There was never any claim that James Bond was a descendent of his. In the film, Bond does claim it as his family motto.
Pierce Brosnan would return for his third time out as 007 and the very talented Robert Carlyle would portray one of the most interesting villains in the film franchise. Injured by a bullet to the head, “Renard” feels no pain, although the bullet is slowing killing him. Renard arranges for the killing of the father of “Elektra King”, played by the beautiful Sophie Marceau, who joins the sorority of Bond girls. So does Denise Richards, playing perhaps the most mis-cast Bond girl ever as “Christmas Jones”, a Ph.D. holding nuclear physicist who is working on nuclear disarmament.
While he wasn’t officially retiring from the franchise, this became the final film for Desmond Llewelyn as “Q”, as he died shortly after the film’s premiere. His replacement, John Cleese as “R”, had been cast in this film to become Q’s ultimate replacement. Dame Judi Dench once again portrays “M” and Robbie Coltrane returned for a second and final time as “Valentin Zukovsky”, a Russian mob boss and in this film, casino owner.
Michael Apted was signed to direct and this would be his first, and thus far, last Bond film. The film cost $135 million to make, the most expensive Bond film yet and it turned out to become the highest grossing film in the series until replaced by Die Another Day. It was #1 at the box office in the U.S. its opening weekend. The critical reception was mixed. Roger Ebert giving it 3.5 stars out of four, while “Entertainment Weekly” ranked it as the worst Bond film of all time. It also rated Denise Richards as the worst Bond girl of all time, and many found her unbelievable in her role as nuclear physicist.
2002 would be the 40th anniversary of the franchise and so the release of the next Bond film, Die Another Day was pushed back until then. It would mark the 4th and final appearance of Pierce Brosnan as the iconic secret agent. Halle Berry became the first Bond Girl portrayed by an Academy Award winning actress. Kim Basinger who appeared in the non-Eon production of Never Say Never Again did not win her Oscar until over a decade after she became an unofficial Bond Girl. Berry played “Gacinta ‘Jinx’ Johnson”, an American agent who teams up with Bond to stop the plans of “Gustav Graves”, the film’s central villain. Portrayed by Toby Stephens, he was assisted by “Yao” (Rick Yune) and “Miranda Frost”, an undercover MI6 agent. Played by Rosamund Pike, Miranda turns out to be a double agent, working for Graves all along. Dame Judi Dench continued as “M” and this would be the fourth and final appearance of the appropriately named Samantha Bond as “Miss Moneypenny”. Madonna appeared in a small role as a fencing instructor as well as singing the title theme.
Die Another Day reached new heights for the franchise at the box office. Grossing nearly $432 million worldwide, it was a smash hit in spite of being savaged by the critics. Among the criticisms were an extremely convoluted plot, much too much usage of CGI and an overabundance of product placements. Reports range the amount of money paid for product placement at between $70 million and $100 million. Koreans on both sides of the DMZ were also upset by the film’s portrayal of the North Korean villains.
In 2004, Pierce Brosnan announced he was done playing James Bond. Whether he was the one who quit, or Eon Productions decided to replace him is something that will never be fully known. Brosnan said he was quitting, but the rumors abound that because he was approaching the age of 50, Eon planned to replace him. Given the criticism of the films done by Roger Moore after his 50th birthday, such a decision would not have been a surprise.
Depending on who you believe, there was either a huge search for the new Bond, or only one or two actors were ever under serious consideration. Names rumored to be in the running included Eric Bana, Hugh Jackman, Gerard Butler and Henry Cavill. Producer Michael G. Wilson gave an interview in which he said there was a list of over 200 names being looked at. However, Martin Campbell, who was already signed to direct the reboot of the franchise, disputes this. He says there were only two or three other actors given serious consideration other than the eventual choice of Daniel Craig. Interestingly, it was discovered only recently, by Ancestry.com that Craig is actually related to the real James Bond. No, not a spy, the author whose name Iam Fleming used as inspiration for the character’s name. James Bond wrote a book about birds of the West Indies and that’s where Fleming first saw his name.
Since they were rebooting the series, the producers went back to its roots. An Ian Fleming novel, Casino Royale would supply the story. However, the main gambling game of Baccarat in the novel would be replaced by the very popular card game at the time, Texas Hold’Em. Worldwide interest in Texas Hold’Em had been growing since an amateur named Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker in 2004. The rest of the plot involving the central villain of “Le Chiffre” and a critical torture scene would remain, although other elements to the story would be added.
Craig would be introduced and his history as a double-00 agent shown. Mads Mikkelsen played “Le Chiffre”. Eva Green would become “Vesper Lynd”, another character from the pages of the novel, although here she became an employee of Her Majesty’s Treasury, assigned to handle the money involved for Bond. Caterina Munro played the wife of an associate of Le Chiffre whom Bond seduces. “Felix Leiter” returned, and for the first time in the history of the Eon Productions franchise, be played by a black actor, Jeffrey Wright. It is worthy of noting that in the unofficial Never Say Never Again, Bernie Casey portrayed Leiter. But most of Bond’s assistance came from “Rene Mathis”, played by Giancarlo Giannini. Dame Judi Dench was the only actor held over from the Brosnan-era Bond films, reprising her role as “M”.
Casino Royale was a smash, with critics and at the box office, grossing $594 million on a budget of $150 million. The producers had reacted to the criticism of too much product placement in Die Another Day and limited this in Casino Royale. Critics loved Craig’s performance as Bond, saying he hewed closer to Fleming’s creation than any other actor to have played the role, except perhaps Timothy Dalton. Some called him the best ever.
Before Casino Royale hit theaters, Eon announced that the follow-up would be based on an original idea and be a direct sequel. However, the title that was selected, Quantum of Solace, is from a Fleming work. It’s the title of one of his short stories, although none of the elements of that story are in the film. Several writers were involved in the script and Paul Haggis reportedly completed it just hours before the Writer’s Strike began. Marc Forster was chosen to direct.
Craig would return as Bond of course, and Dame Judi Dench made her sixth appearance as “M”. Olga Kurylenko played “Camille Montes”, a Bolivian woman who was out for revenge and teamed up with Bond to foil the plans of “Dominic Greene” (Matthieu Amalric). He is aligned with, but exploiting “General Medrano” (Joaquin Cosio), who happens to be the man who murdered Camille’s family when she was young. Gemma Atherton also becomes a Bond girl who plays the ultimate price as “Strawberry Fields”, who wasn’t an agent but just an office worker in the MI6 office in Bolivia. Jeffrey Wright and Giancarlo Giannini also reprise their roles as “Leiter” and “Mathis” from Casino Royale.
Quantum of Solace was another smash at the box office, although the critical reception was decidedly mixed. Craig’s performance was lauded but many felt the film didn’t measure up to Casino Royale. It grossed $586 million, but at a cost of $200 million, it isn’t nearly as successful a return on investment as many of the earlier films were.
In the final installment of “Countdown to Skyfall – A History of the James Bond Franchise”, a look at the unofficial Bond films and more.
To be continued…
James Bond will return