The UK’s main ITV channel has been continuing with its short summer season of Daniel Craig Bond films and, as Spectre is rolled out as part of this, the JBIFC takes the opportunity to look back on Craig’s fourth 007 adventure as Ian Fleming’s secret agent.
After principal photography commenced on Monday, 8th December, 2014, production on the film lasted (00) seven months. Released in autumn, 2015, after an impressive Royal world premiere held at the Royal Albert Hall in central London, the 24th 007 movie once again broke box-office records in the UK and generated an estimated $880m worldwide, becoming SONY’s highest grossing film of 2015. As with Skyfall, Sam Mendes had helmed the movie, rising to the huge creative challenges once again. As he commented in 2015: ‘Working on a Bond movie is not really a job; it’s a way of life’.
The JBIFC offers seven bullet-points on some of the known and perhaps less well-known aspects of the creation of the 24th EON Bond movie.
007 and Counting…
001: After the release of Skyfall, which broke many box-office records in a truly stunning way, the EON producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson realised this would be a hard act to follow and were naturally very keen to woo director Sam Mendes back and reassemble his team. Conversations about this had actually taken place during production of Skyfall. However, Mendes had eventually ruled himself out from Bond 24, citing his theatre and TV commitments, and also feeling that he had ‘cashed in’ all his creative chips and thrown everything he could into Bond 23.
002: In February, 2013, Mendes announced that he had made the ‘very difficult decision’ not to direct the new movie. Then, dramatically, in May, 2013, rumours emerged (true, as it turned out) that the director was back in discussions with the EON producers.
Shortly after, in an official press release issued to the media on 11th July, 2013, EON Productions and MGM/SONY confirmed that Sam Mendes was returning for Bond 24. A deal that suited Mendes, and took account of his other creative projects, had been struck.
It was also clear that EON could now breathe easily again, reassured that the new entry in the franchise was in a safe pair of hands again.
003: A special press call for Bond 24 was held live from the 007 sound-stage at Pinewood Studios on 4th December, 2014, where a clearly-elated Mendes announced the film’s new title (Spectre) which, he said, he did not ‘have to go into details about’ for James Bond fans ‘for obvious reasons’. With EON producer Barbara Broccoli standing at his side, Mendes made some key cast announcements and introductions, and also unveiled to an excited media the brand new Aston Martin DB10, which he called ‘a thing of beauty’. He said the car had been specially developed for the new movie by the Aston Martin company.
004: As with the late producer Cubby Broccoli, who had worked in the funeral industry and had created something of an in-joke ‘tradition’ in the James Bond movies concerning the theme of death and funerals (see Dr. No, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, Moonraker and so on), Spectre tapped into and exploited this suitably ‘Bondian’ and macabre topic.
Both Mendes and Craig were big admirers of Ian Fleming’s novel Live and Let Die and the voodoo elements, and both had also seen Roger Moore’s debut 007 film as youngsters, finding parts of the 1973 movie truly frightening. Mendes, as a kind of homage to this, used the haunting but beautiful ‘Day of the Dead’ celebrations in Mexico City as the eye-catching backdrop for the spectacular action sequences set in the pre-credits to Spectre. Even Bond’s top-hat and skeleton outfit is arguably a nice tribute to the ghostly Baron Samedi from LALD.
005: Even before production had begun, co-writer John Logan had dropped plenty of hints that he was keen to re-introduce Ernst Stavro Blofeld to the franchise.
Moreover, in November, 2013, MGM announced they had purchased all the remaining story rights to the character and his SP.E.C.T.R.E. organisation from the late Kevin McClory’s estate (McClory had died in 2006).
Sam Mendes thus had the good fortune to enjoy EON’s new ownership rights to Ian Fleming’s Blofeld and the criminal SP.E.C.T.R.E. network; on the other hand, he also realized this had to be handled with care. He did not want to fall into the trap of merely copying previous incarnations – he wanted a ‘fresh take’ on the character. He also wanted to bring Blofeld back but without audiences immediately knowing what was really happening. Having Blofeld in shadow was also part of this teasing of the audience, something that had been done in the early Bond movies.
006: The acclaimed Oscar-winning Christoph Waltz was thus cast as ‘Franz Oberhauser’ (Blofeld). Intriguingly, earlier versions of the script (for obvious security reasons) had the character named as ‘Heinrich Stockman’ and even ‘Ernst Serban’.
Waltz made a very good job during production of keeping the ‘Blofeld secret’ absolutely under lock-and-key and enjoyed teasing the press, regularly denying he was Blofeld. Waltz had been enthusiastic about joining the production and felt Craig’s Bond had taken 007 in fascinating new artistic and creative directions.
He was also pleased to be working with Mendes, as they were both, he noted, ‘theatre animals’. Interestingly, in later interviews, Waltz said his German-Austrian interpretation of Blofeld had been partly inspired by the German actor Gert Frobe’s interpretation of Auric Goldfinger. However, Waltz also said he had been personally dissatisfied about his role as Blofeld. It would seem that, in No Time To Die, he has now been given the opportunity to address this and have another bite at the Blofeld cherry (so to speak).
007: Mendes has always taken the view that, with a 007 movie, a director has a ‘unique opportunity’ with the first 10 minutes of the movie in the sense that the audience is open to be entertained and dazzled: and for Spectre he wanted to also do something ‘with a different rhythm’. Indeed, critics of the movie were especially impressed with the pre-credits sequence to Spectre.
Significantly, during the actual production of the movie, EON co-producer Michael G. Wilson had told the UK’s film magazine Empire at the time that he felt that ‘it is maybe the biggest sequence we’ve done’, while Daniel Craig, speaking to the UK’s Mirror newspaper when he was still filming in Mexico, commented: ‘It’s one of the biggest opening sequences I think the Bond franchise has ever done’.
Speaking live on stage at a BAFTA: A Life in Pictures interview, conducted in November, 2015, Mendes spoke in some detail about the challenges of the Spectre pre-credits sequence, which included a hotel rooftop sequence with Craig and some breath-taking helicopter footage shot over the famous Zocalo Square in Mexico City. He said coordinating 2,000 or so people gave him ‘a real high’ as a director when it went well. He was also especially proud of the continuous single-take style footage used in the first few moments (a technical feat he re-used again in his recent war movie 1917).
Did You Know?
In another nod to the Bond franchise’s regular dalliance with the topic of death, there was, of course, a brief return for Judi Dench’s deceased ‘M’ in Spectre, and also a funeral in Italy for Marco Sciara, where Bond also encounters his widow. But an early draft of the story treatment for Spectre contained another death-related scene: originally, there was to be a scene set in the real-life Highgate Cemetery in north London where, next to the late M’s grave, Bond converses with Moneypenny, asking her to secretly work with him against orders.