If you're a fan of British pop culture — pop culture in general, really — and you find yourself with the opportunity to travel back in time, you might want to consider October 5th, 1962.
It was on that date, 50 years ago, that an upstart band from Liverpool called The Beatles released its first single, "Love Me Do," and a low-budget spy film called Dr. No hit theatres — the first movie based on English author Ian Fleming's secret agent James Bond.
Both did relatively well. "Love Me Do' peaked at a respectable number 17 on the UK Singles Chart, and United Artists was happy enough with Dr. No — which starred a 32-year-old Scot named Sean Connery as Bond, a.k.a. 007 — to move forward with what it hoped would be a four-film franchise.
Fifty years later, you need only look to the Opening Ceremonies of the recent London Summer Olympics to see the impact those two properties made in the long run. Designed as a trip through England's most important contributions to modern civilization, the spectacle's worst-kept secret was a short film in which the sixth — and current — 007, actor Daniel Craig, rolls into Buckingham Palace to meet Her Majesty the Queen of England (yes, the real Queen) and whisk her off to Olympic Stadium in a helicopter. And closing out the massively ambitious show? Why it's Sir Paul McCartney, singing one of the most recognizable songs in history, The Beatles’ "Hey Jude."
Too bad McCartney didn't sing "Live and Let Die," the theme song he wrote and performed for the eighth Bond movie in 1973. But he'd already covered that ground two months earlier when he serenaded the Queen with 'Live and Let Die" at her Diamond Jubilee Concert.
Next month, Skyfall, the franchises 23rd entry (it’s the longest-running franchise in movie history) hits theatres with Craig in his third turn as Bond, following the acclaimed reboot Casino Royale (2006) and the much less acclaimed follow-up Quantum of Solace (2008).
"In being lucky enough to be given the chance to do a third one it was my intention to make the best Bond movie that we possibly could, and Bond with a capital B," says Craig, dressed in a dark grey suit and sporting a brush cut at a press conference in London at the start of shooting.
And, although the filmmakers have revealed little about Skyfall's plot, aside from the fact it has nothing to do with the past two movies, we can assure you there will be a scenery-chewing villain (a platinum-blond Javier Bardem), beautiful but deadly Bond Girls (Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe), fancy cars (classic Aston Martin DB5), sweet gadgets (a gun that only fires when pressed against Bond's palm), and a massive threat that only 007 can neutralize (the secret identities of all MI6 agents fall into enemy hands).
But it's not as simplistic as all that, says the film's director Sam Mendes, who's usually behind the camera for psyche-plumbing character pieces like American Beauty and Revolutionary Road. "The character that Ian Fleming created over a number of novels was incredibly complex and I think that we sometimes forget that in the cliché of Bond — which is, you know, the international playboy and someone who's never troubled and never breaks a sweat — that actually what he created was a very conflicted character," insists Mendes, addressing the press in Istanbul halfway through the film's shoot.
Mendes confirms that Skyfall's plot isn't taken from any particular Fleming story, but says it does draw something important from Fleming's last few Bond books — what the author referred to as 007's "acidy" demeanour. "Which is a combination of boredom, depression, difficulty with what he's chosen to do for a living, which is to kill. And that makes him a much more interesting character," says Mendes. "And those things are explored in this movie because Daniel is an actor who is capable of exploring them, and because I'm interested in exploring them, too."
Part of that exploration meant killing off Bond, at least for appearances. Shot off a moving train by a sniper while he's engaged in a hand-to-hand struggle with a bad guy, Bond falls to the water below, seemingly drowned. He only resurfaces — so to speak — when necessary, entering the office of MI6 head honcho M (Judi Dench) with the words, "007 reporting for duty." When she asks, "Where the hell have you been," the reply from her laconic agent is simply, "Enjoying death."
It would be an exaggeration to call Skyfall the Bond movie that almost didn't get made; it's simply impossible to imagine the franchise coming to an end. But the film did go through a long suspension in 2010 as MGM Studios dealt with serious financial problems that eventually led to bankruptcy in December of that year. After a restructuring of the company, filming started up in late 2011 with stops in London, Istanbul, Shanghai and the Scottish Highlands.
However, Craig says he and Mendes — who worked together on the 2002 gangster pic Road to Perdition — spent that 2010 downtime secretly collaborating.
"Strangely enough, we weren't supposed to talk to each other because MGM hadn't done the deal, and they weren't supposed to be making the movie, and all sorts of legal ramifications that were [waves his hand] whatever. We did. You couldn't shut us up, we were very excited about it," Craig says sheepishly, afraid he's revealing too much.
The men re-read Fleming's books at the same time, says Craig, 'and we started emailing each other, saying, 'What about this? What about this?' And that's how it kind of snowballed, really."
"The funny thing," adds Mendes, "is that the MGM delay, because of the financial issues, allowed us time to think about the story more than might have otherwise been the case, and to talk about it. And, in that time, I think Daniel was able to articulate the areas he thought the character could go, which is very informative for me."
And if nothing else, we can be confident the film will feature its share of eye candy. When asked whether he spends much of the movie with his shirt off, Craig grins awkwardly and says, "That's the gig."
Marni Weisz is the editor of Cineplex Magazine.
Miss Moneypenny and James Bond
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