Bond is Back
When approaching the 24th James Bond movie, Spectre, from Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and Sony Pictures Entertainment, the filmmakers were keen to ensure that the film followed on closely from its predecessor, the $1.1 billion global smash Skyfall.
Released on November 9, 2012 at a production budget of $200 million, Skyfall has made $1,108,561,013 worldwide. Spectre, which was released on November 6, 2015 internationally (and releases on November 27 in South Africa) with a production budget of $245 million has coined $545,259,159 at the box office internationally (at 18/11/15)
Spectre was directed by Sam Mendes, produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, and the screenplay was written by John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth (Story by John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade)
Daniel Craig, of course, is back for his fourth outing as 007, while the characters of Q (played by Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) both return after their reintroduction to the series in Skyfall. The new M (Ralph Fiennes) also returns.
In Spectre, a cryptic message from the past sends James Bond on a rogue mission to Mexico City and eventually Rome, where he meets Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci), the beautiful and forbidden widow of an infamous criminal. Bond infiltrates a secret meeting and uncovers the existence of the sinister organisation known as Spectre.
Meanwhile back in London, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), the new head of the Centre for National Security, questions Bond’s actions and challenges the relevance of MI6, led by M (Ralph Fiennes). Bond covertly enlists Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) to help him seek out Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of his old nemesis Mr White (Jesper Christensen), who may hold the clue to untangling the web of Spectre. As the daughter of an assassin, she understands Bond in a way most others cannot.
As Bond ventures towards the heart of Spectre, he learns of a chilling connection between himself and the enemy he seeks, played by Christoph Waltz.
The chance to explore all these characters’ stories was of vital importance to Sam Mendes, who is back for a second stint in the director’s chair. “It all starts from character with me,” begins the Academy Award-winner, “and I wanted to explore all sorts of different aspects of the characters that I’d left behind in Skyfall. We had populated MI6 with a whole new generation of people — a new M, a new Moneypenny and a new Q. I wanted to let those relationships develop and grow.”
For actor Daniel Craig, the remit for Spectre was even simpler. “We wanted to be better than Skyfall,” he says. “It is as simple as that. We didn’t have a choice; we had to be bigger and better. With Skyfall, we set something in motion and we wanted to go a bit further with it and experiment a bit more.”
Bond was rejuvenated at the end of Skyfall. “He had a sense of new beginnings,” continues Mendes, and this had a profound effect on Spectre. In the new movie, the world’s most famous secret agent is an entirely proactive character, in control of his own destiny. He has a focussed mission from the outset and nothing, and no one, is going to stand in his way.
“Skyfall was an entirely reactive movie as far as Bond was concerned,” explains Mendes. “In the first sequence he was pursuing somebody with all his old focus and drive, but he gets shot before the credits even roll and for the rest of the movie he is one step behind Javier Bardem’s character, Silva. You could even argue that at the end of Skyfall he has failed. He has not kept M alive, and though Silva’s death is a victory for Bond, there are other elements that are failures. Hence, with Spectre, I wanted to give him a chance of redemption.”
EON Productions’ Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, long-serving producers of the franchise, agree. “I think this film is very much about the empowerment of Bond,” says Broccoli, “and with Daniel portraying the character, he does this with such enormous integrity that we really feel what he is going through, emotionally as well as physically.”
Bond’s proactive nature has given the filmmakers plenty of scope in terms of location and narrative ideas. The film sees a cryptic message from the past, which sends 007 on a rogue mission to Mexico City and eventually Rome, where he meets Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci), the widow of an infamous criminal. When overseas, Bond infiltrates a secret meeting and uncovers the existence of a sinister organisation known as Spectre.
This infamous organisation has featured in six previous Bond films — Dr No, From Russia With Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever — introducing a whole host of villains. The latest film, however, sees the organisation reimagined for the 21st century.
“What we’ve got here is a kind of creation myth at play,” says Mendes. “We are not adhering to any previous version of the Spectre story. We are creating our own version. Our film is a way of rediscovering SPECTRE and the super villain, setting him up again for the next generation.”
Craig concurs. “Having Spectre in the film opens up lots of avenues for us to explore,” the actor says. “Having this organisation allows us to be both traditional while also bringing in something very new.”
The filmmakers are also excited by the narrative developments at MI6. Even as Bond learns more about Spectre, he also has to contend with problems closer to home. In London, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), codename C, has been appointed the head of the Centre for National Security, and challenges the relevance of MI6.
“There’s a school of thought in the movie that says when it comes to national security, everything should be centralised, that we should be almost entirely dependent on surveillance and should let drones do our dirty work abroad,” says Mendes. “C questions whether we need to send people out into the field. MI6 is, therefore, at risk; in particular the Double-0 section.”
With MI6 at risk, 007 enlists the help of both Q and Moneypenny, and embarks on a mission that carries him to a host of locations, some of which he has never visited before. Mendes explains, “Given the fact that Bond is much more engaged in his own journey, we were able to play around with much more widespread locations. There is much more variety and a far greater physical and geographical journey in this movie than in Skyfall.”
“We couldn’t really do that in the last movie,” he adds, “because we were very London-based. Yes, there were sequences in Shanghai and Istanbul but the second half of the film took place almost entirely in London and Scotland.”
In Spectre, the filmmakers were able to move a little closer to the Bond films of old. “We could work with a slightly different style from the other Bond films I’ve done,” says Craig. “This film is very individual but also harks back a little to what has gone before in the Bond films of the ’60s and ’70s.”
Mendes says that Spectre recalls the classic Bond films in terms of the cars, the tone, the lighting and even the cut of 007’s suit. “Also, I wanted to get back to some of that old-school glamour that you get from those fantastic, otherworldly locations. I wanted to push it to extremes.”
The filmmakers wanted to immerse Bond in a magnificent festival in a Latin American city. “And it doesn’t get any bigger than Mexico City and the Day of the Dead,” says Mendes.
Indeed, the producers regard the pre-title Day of the Dead sequence as one of their career highlights. “Though we have worked on the James Bond films for more than 35 years, we both felt that the opening sequence to Spectre was something magnificent to behold, and that it sets the tone for an exceptional picture,” says Michael G. Wilson.
“When audiences see these scenes they will be watching good, old-fashioned filmmaking rendered on a gargantuan scale. The Mexico scenes are truly epic.”
Broccoli adds, “The Day of the Dead sequence stands as a reminder of what a James Bond film can achieve. Here we were in the middle of a foreign capital city with thousands of beautifully dressed extras and a world-class stunt team executing jaw-dropping scenes. That is one reason why we feel that Spectre is such a special moment in the James Bond series.”
It doesn’t stop there. The filmmakers wanted to shift environments, from hot to cold, and they went back into the snow for the first time since 2002’s Die Another Day. “We’ve had some amazing sequences set in the snow,” recalls Wilson.
Bond has had six previous adventures amid snowbound landscapes — On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, A View To A Kill, The Living Daylights, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day.
“And we were very conscious of what we’ve done in all these films,” continues Wilson. “That meant we wanted to do something different from being in bobsleighs or using any of the usual winter sports. Hence, we had a different kind of chase, with aeroplanes and 4x4s.”
The filmmakers also wanted to send Bond to one of Europe’s great cities at night. They chose Rome, says Mendes, because of “the history and an atmosphere of darkness and foreboding — particularly if you’re dealing with 1920s and 1930s Fascist architecture. There is something dark and intimidating.”
When developing the romantic aspect of the film, the filmmakers opted to have Bond’s most intimate relationship blossom in North Africa, in Tangier and the Sahara desert. “If you want this incredible immense landscape, this emptiness, then where better than the Sahara?” asks Mendes. “So with all these locations you have these tones that are quite different, and quite extreme.”
And no Bond movie would be complete without scenes set in London. “The challenge was to try and find a way of shooting London that felt fresh and new and yet which was also a continuation of Skyfall,” says Mendes. “We tried to find a way to look at familiar locations and familiar places within London from a different perspective and I think we found some great ways to do that.
“These five locations give you a clue as to why the movie was technically so hard to achieve,” he continues, “and why it was so exhausting, why it took so long to shoot, and why it has taken no prisoners. But what we have is really special, I think.”
Similarly, no Bond film would be complete without a special theme song. The filmmakers were delighted to recruit multi-platinum selling artist Sam Smith who writes the title track, ‘Writing’s On The Wall’, with fellow Grammy Award-winner Jimmy Napes.
This is the first James Bond theme song recorded by a British male solo artist since 1965. Broccoli says, “Sam and Jimmy have written the most inspirational song for Spectre and with Sam’s vocal performance, ‘Writing’s On The Wall’ will surely rank as one of the greatest Bond songs of all time.”
Smith, meanwhile, is honoured to be contributing to the world’s longest-running film franchise. “This is one of the highlights of my career,” he says. “I am honoured that I am singing the Bond theme song. I am so excited to be a part of this iconic British legacy.”
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