Thursday, December 04, 2014

SPECTRE: We've been expecting you

For a supposed secret agent, 007 has been living firmly in the spotlight for the last 52 years of his film career. Through 23 'official' films we have gladly suspended disbelief as the world's most successful, enduring and - let's just agree on this now - coolest movie character has introduced himself as "Bond, James Bond", Notably, not one of those he's confronted has replied "Yeah, I know. I've seen your poster."

But let's avoid letting daylight in on magic: ever since Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli and Harry S. Saltzman formed Eon Productions in 1961 to make Dr. No, everything to do with Bond as a cinematic 'product' has been a slick, well-oiled operation.

Today's efficient, if brief, launch event of the 24th film - to be called SPECTRE - was a perfect example of the power of the Bond brand, and the efficient process to get the films up and running.

It has become standard operating procedure for Eon - now run by Barbara Broccoli and her half-brother Michael G. Wilson - to launch the new Bond film with a press conference, setting the clock ticking on its eventual release ten months later (October 23 in the UK, November 6 in the US and elsewhere), with seven months' photography starting immediately (next Monday, in SPECTRE's case), and with editing and post-production finalised according to a schedule as sharp as Bond's perfectly cut Brioni suits.

So, what do we actually know about SPECTRE from today's press event? Well, not a lot. Just enough to whet the appetite without knowing much more. Daniel Craig will return for his fourth outing as 007; Ralph Fiennes will make his full debut as the new 'M'; Naomie Harris returns to play the decidedly unsecretarial Eve Moneypenny, along with Ben Whishaw as the geeky Q, and Rory Kinnear as Tanner.

To no-one’s surprise, and everyone’s delight, Cristoph Waltz will apparently play a character called Oberhauser. Curiously, in Bond's back story, the Austrian ski instructor Hans Oberhauser was his mentor and a sort of father figure at Fettes School...until he mysteriously disappeared. Inevitably such ambiguity has led to rumours than this is a cover for Waltz reprising the character of Bond's ultimate villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Naming the film after Bond's traditional nemesis organisation doesn't help quell the speculation, either. But after Blofelds past (Telly Savalas, Charles Gray and Donald Pleasance) have been so brilliantly lampooned, especially by Mike Myers in the Austin Powers films (something Craig has willingly acknowledged), Waltz as a bald, cat-stroking, Nehru-suited Blofeld might be a credibility stretch, even for a Bond film.

There were other surprises in Sam Mendes' fleeting press launch this morning at Pinewood Studios. First, he unveiled the "non-human" star of SPECTRE - the new Aston Martin DB10. Most new cars' 'reveal' moments occur at motor shows, but such is the strength of Bond's association with the marque, today's unveiling at the SPECTRE launch was an inspired piece of product placement.

Mendes also introduced cast members who weren't on the horizon of the Bond rumour sites, including Irish actor Andrew Scott - hitherto the brilliantly unhinged Moriarty to Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes; the splendidly vampish Italian actress Monica Bellucci; and rising French star Léa Seydoux, who already has a number of major titles under her 29-year-old belt, including Inglourious Basterds (opposite Waltz), Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and a Palme d'Or-winning appearance in the acclaimed Blue Is the Warmest Colour.

Behind the camera, SPECTRE will have Skyfall writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, along with John Logan, linking up with Mendes, who turned Skyfall into a modern classic in the Bond series. Dutch-Swedish cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema - fresh from Christopher Nolan's Interstellar takes over from Skyfall's Roger Deakins.

As much as this morning's SPECTRE press conference went some way to satisfy Bond fans' excitement about the 24th film, plenty of gaps were quite deliberately left open, especially the plot. Even piecing together bits of information, such as known filming locations (sets have been seen being constructed in Obertilliach in Austria, while Mendes confirmed shoots in London, Rome, Mexico City and Tangier, as well as on the 007 soundstage of Pinewood Studios in the UK) gives us little more than scraps of circumstantial information..

From a story point of view, Daniel Craig has, himself, suggested in an interview with MI6 Confidential magazine that "If Blofeld turned up again, it wouldn't be a bad thing", but also hinted that the page is attractively blank - the 24th film doesn't need to complete a story arc from Skyfall in the way Quantum Of Solace kind of completed the Casino Royale story.

"The world's weird," Craig said, "and there's plenty we can start mining and taking out." Perhaps they might like to start with cybersecurity: online wags have suggested that a hack of the computer network of Sony Pictures, which distributes the Bond films, was possibly carried out by North Korea in retaliation of an as yet-to-be-released Sony film, The Interview. Surely that's a mission for 007, right there?

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