IS THE WORLD REALLY READY FOR the 21st James Bond?
Word filtered out recently that the affluent and rather haughty proprietors of the Bond franchise had hired a director, Martin Campbell, and are scratching around for a new star. According to the Bond rumor mill, Pierce Brosnan, who’d weathered four Bonds, had priced himself out of the market (his proposed compensation package would total out north of $40 million). Sony, which inherited the franchise with the acquisition of MGM, understandably favors Clive Owen as his successor.
But does anyone care? London’s Guardian delivered its vote recently, recounting Judi Dench’s quote as M in “Goldeneye” that Bond is “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur”and observing that the public’s “tolerance for snobbery had withered.”
Ian Fleming, the Eton-educated journalist, created the character as his hallucinatory alter-ego, who battled the forces of Spectre and Smersh but occasionally behaved “like an ancient gay dress designer,” in the words of the Guardian.
If the Bond character is a bit passe, part of the blame rests with “Austin Powers’ ” satiric forays, and part, too, with Matt Damon’s “Bourne” thrillers, whose central character is far more accessible to today’s audience.
Then, too, part of the problem rests with creaky scripts. The proprietors of the Bond franchise, Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli (the daughter of Albert, the founder) live in a cocoon of wealth and autonomy. They’ve been free to take the Bond franchise wherever they want, and they’ve managed to take it downhill.
Actually, I was a semi-oblivious spectator to the process during my tenure as a senior vice president at MGM 20 years ago. The treatment for a Bond picture appeared one day and I was informed by business affairs that the film came under my purview. Before I’d even finished reading the material, however, the project had triggered a greenlight along with a cascade of pay-or-play deals, which was just as well since the movie turned out to be “Octopussy,” and I would have had no idea how to deal with either the title or the storyline.
After a series of misfires, Wilson and Broccoli, in the ’90s, started hiring writers who, like Fleming, were former journalists and who managed to reconnect the character with credible heavies. Bruce Feirstein, for example, was brought in to shake, not stir, “Goldeneye,” which shrewdly poked fun at Bond’s elitist idiosyncrasies and served as the first “Bond” vehicle for Campbell, the New Zealand filmmaker. By the time “Die Another Day” was released in 2001, however, this run had ended and even the good-natured Brosnan began to make noises about defecting.
Will another Bond be made? Probably some Sony executive will shortly be receiving a treatment and, before he knows it, a new “Bond” will be speeding down the assembly line. In the view of the Guardian, however, the next film should embrace “a gay Bond, a black Bond, a paraplegic Bond, an obese Bond … Any Bond but James Bond.”
– By Peter Bart, Variety