Jun 18, 2009
Could Blofeld Come Back?
No, I'm not speaking medically. I don't mean could James Bond's greatest foe come back from being dropped down a smokestack, or smashed into the side of an oil rig in a Bathosub. I don't even mean can the character legally return in EON's James Bond series following the decades-long custody battles with Kevin McClory. I mean would audiences accept Ernst Stavro Blofeld in a modern, Daniel Craig Bond movie? A rumor run by Aintitcool this week had Frost/Nixon co-star Michael Sheen slated to fill the shoes of Donald Pleasence, Telly Savalas, Charles Gray and others. Since that rumor apparently originated in a British tabloid (the first of billions, I'm sure, that we'll see over the next two years pertaining to Bond 23) and since the producers have only just hired writers and no script even exists yet, I put very little stock in it. Casting is still a long, long way off on this movie. I wouldn't even mention such a rumor here if it hadn't gotten me thinking about the possibility of bringing Blofeld into the New World of Daniel Craig's James Bond.
I think it would be a great choice to bring him back… and I'd think it must have occurred to Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson as well. Because The Dark Knight proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that audiences like villains, and they're nostalgic for the classic ones. I'm not saying that Blofeld is on the level of the the Joker in the public psyche, but he certainly is the classic Bond villain, and filmgoers are hungry for that. Of course, the thing that sustains Blofeld most is also the biggest obstacle to overcome in bringing him back:
That's right, Dr. Evil. Sadly, a whole generation now knows that look as Dr. Evil's look, and not Blofeld's. You don't want them laughing at your villain, obviously. But I think the way to overcome the Dr. Evil Factor is to embrace it. Go with the Donald Pleasence look, with the white cat* (you have to!), and make him so bad that you can't even laugh at Austin Powers anymore. Really give him the full Joker treatment. Make him a direct Osama bin Laden analogue. An evil, psychotic terrorist bastard who Bond has to take down. Of course, on top of all that, make him charming, too. He is, after all, a Bond villain. But the Blofeld of Ian Fleming's You Only Live Twice is a downright psychopath, who's whole plot is making people commit suicide because he "collects" death! Not to mention the fact that he dresses up like a samurai! That guy's seriously screwed up. Use it!
I think it would be huge. If they bring back a white-cat-stroking villain and make him scary, people will flock to that movie. It will be the biggest Craig movie yet. I can already here the cheers in the theater the first time a trailer ran showing hands stroking a fluffy Persian. True, the Blofeld iconography has been co-opted by popular culture over the years as ludicrous shorthand for villainy. But precisely because it's such an archetype, I think audiences would love to see it in its own context again, treated seriously.
Done right, the Bond producers could even subtly use the Dr. Evil assumptions to really mess with the audience and totally subvert their expectations. Go all out! When I discussed this idea with a friend, he suggested that they could extend the facial scarring. Blofeld could be bald because of horrible burns, further adding to his grudge against the world. I think people would really respond to that.
Furthermore, it would be great to do what Fleming did and plan a filmic Blofeld Trilogy. A recurring villain worked wonderfully in the Sixties, but now things are more serialized and people expect conclusions. So plan from the start an arc that will see Blofeld make trouble for three installments and then come to a definitive end with a really satisfying comeuppance! (Like, maybe, getting dumped down a smokestack after promising Daniel Craig that they could "do a deal" and if Bond put him down, he'd buy him a delicatessen... in stainless steel! Or maybe something different.) In a best-case scenario, they could actually use the darkest elements from Fleming's You Only Live Twice that never made it into the movie of that name in the final film of the trilogy. A mano-a-mano confrontation along those lines between 007 and his arch-nemesis would be truly satisfying.
So who could play this Jokerized Blofeld? It would need to be a stroke of brilliant casting similar to Heath Ledger. I think both Christopher Nolan and the Bond producers are both (clearly) on the right track in plucking their villains from the ranks of well-respected indie film heave-hitters. The tabloids have already trotted out Al Pacino and now Sheen. The latter's more inspired than the former, but I don't think either's right. I'm sure the fanboys would go for Michael Clark Duncan, but he's not right either. Neither is Samuel L. Jackson (definitely not!), although I'm sure he'd feel differently. And, please, keep Nicholas Cage and John Travolta far away! It's easy to think of actors who have no business playing Blofeld. But who could?
Maybe Michael Chiklis? He could be pretty damn imposing on The Sheild. It might work better to have a little more star weight, though–maybe. On the other hand, Ledger wasn't really that big a star before his death. You don't want someone like Pacino or Anthony Hopkins who will overshadow the role with their own personae... I'm sure Jackie Earl Haley could do the part justice, but that's not a very original idea after Watchmen, and he lacks the height and the bulk to make the part physically imposing enough. Gary Oldman could definitely pull it off and make it creepy, but he doesn't feel quite right either. Not outside-the-box enough. Javier Bardem would probably do an excellent job. But he's not my top choice. No, my top choice would be Forrest Whitaker. My girlfriend suggested him, and it was a eureka moment for me. I thought, that's perfect! He can be charming and he can be creepy and he can be scary all at once. Anyone who played Idi Amin can handle Ernst Stavro Blofeld!
So this isn't news. It's not a rumor. (Although I wouldn't be surprised if it became one; I think an opinion expressed on a blog qualifies as a checked fact for some of those tabloids!) It's purely my opinion. It's my nomination. I'm launching that campaign right here, right now: Forrest Whitaker for Blofeld in Bond 23! And I'm salivating at the possibilities. I think it would be amazing.