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.
*The cat, of course, was an invention of the filmmakers (or possibly of Kevin McClory's, depending on whose story you believe), and not mentioned in Fleming's novels.


David said...

Interesting idea...and we could talk for hours about why Blofeld couldn’t come back (not yet – we still have to tidy up the Quantum Group).

But as for a new Blofeld, who would you cast? I think he has to be European. Jurgen Prochnow is possibly too old and become somewhat of a parody of himself (Beerfest). I like the idea of Vincent Cassel (maybe if he played it like Brotherhood of the Wolf).

Of course, as an Australian, I am going to say Eric Bana (but maybe it’s too soon after his turn as Nero in Star Trek).

But here are my two dark horse picks. Daniel Day Lewis and Viggo Mortenson.

And yes, I consider your blog a reliable source for news...so your opinion is fact!

Tanner said...

All interesting ideas, David! Day-Lewis would be great (as would Timothy Dalton, for that matter--if we could manage to get past the weird meta aspects of that casting), though luring him to Bond would probably be a challenge! Cassel's a good idea too, but maybe a little slight for Blofeld. No offense to your great nation, but I wasn't really too impressed with Bana in Star Trek.

I feel like the ability to pull off silky and evil at the same time trumps European or skin color for a good Blofeld, so I'm going to stick with Whitaker--although I'd certainly be ecstatic if they managed to get Day Lewis!

As for if/how/why Blofeld could come back, I think it would be easy enough for Quantum to be revealed to be a front for SPECTRE--or even to do away with SPECTRE and just have Blofeld as the head of Quantum.

Since we're in a whole new timeline with Craig, I suppose that technically any villain could reappear, but it really wouldn't feel right with Goldfinger or Dr. No. I think despite the reboot, only Blofeld and Jaws would feel right, since they recurred before. Jaws, of course, wouldn't work at all with the Craig Bond though.

So would Blofeld come back in the same old plots? That's an interesting thing to ponder. I don't think anyone wants to see yet another remake of Thunderball--and that's beyond unlikely for other reasons, anyway. Of course OHMSS is rather more important to Bond's relationship with Blofeld. I think that they could either work the Tracy marriage into a whole other storyline, so as not to repeat themselves, or else go ahead and do a remake. As much as I love OHMSS (it's my favorite Bond), I actually wouldn't mind that. But I don't think they're going to go in the remake direction anyway, and probably for the better. I would LOVE to see the story elements of Fleming's YOLT used in a final Blofeld encounter, though, since virtually none of them made it into Roald Dahl's screenplay! Of course before you can get to that point, Bond needs a very personal reason to want revenge...

kassy said...

Finding out that Quantum is a front for Spectre and that Blofeld caused some horrible thing to have happened to Vesper that we aren't aware of yet could be cause for some nasty revenge.

With the Craig films being cautious about which, when, and how they re-introduce the classic Bond elements, I think it could be done. My choice would be Cassel, the new Blofeld doesn't have to be the same build as the old does he?

Tanner said...

Very true, Kassy! Excellent point about revenge for Vesper. No, I don't think that the new Blofeld would need to be built like any of the old ones; the desire that Blofeld have some bulk is just my own opinion again. The only original Blofeld who was really physically imposing was Savalas. He changes physical appearance radically between Fleming's books ('cause that's the kind of cautious supercriminal he is), but in Thunderball I think he's described as fairly formidable. By YOLT he's a whisp. I'd just like to see someone who appears to be an imposing match for Craig's Bond on screen. Dominic Green certainly wasn't!

Unknown said...

I like the idea of Blofeld coming back and being not only a criminal mastermind but a man of action, as at the end of the novel YOLT and in the film OHMSS. That whole chase then bobsled fight at the end was the way it should be with an ultimate villain. I don't have any suggestions on casting, but I do think Chiklis could pull it off. Not sure a black actor works for me as Blofeld, but if they want to bring back the real Mr. Big from LALD, the novel, certainly Whittaker would be the best choice.

WebRatt said...

Leave Blofeld in the past.Too many Bond fans weren't even born yet, to accept this concept.And the only thing movie goers are going to think is Dr.Evil of Austin Powers.And that alone,can hurt the Bond film.

Dixon said...

"...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."

You're so right, and I couldn't agree more. I'm dying for Blofeld to return, particularly during the Daniel Craig era, such that his character can be reimagined and presented in just this way. Blofeld should be a terrifying yet mesmerizing figure. Done properly, audiences would go mad for this sort of thing, and it could be historic. Blofeld is Bond's quintessential arch-nemesis, he must return! Now is the time.

Anonymous said...

uh god. I'm all for Blofeld's return. But not at all like he was in the past. Leave that where it is. The Blofeld of today should be as he was described in the books. Crew cut hair and a slightly thicker body. He should be more business then plotting disasters. SPECTRE was about money and he ran a group of 12 men like they were his employees. Each had to contribute and answer to him. He should be introduced as a tough and dangerous board room hammer. And then as Bond begins to crumble away the facade of the organization he should become more and more desperate and destructive in his fighting and his dealing with his own people. His appearance should change as it did in the books.
I wouldn't be apposed to the cat. But I don't want him even touching the thing. I want it to be something his lover keeps as a pet. And it bothers him in certain scenes. I would be a good hint to the past but a small one. And that should be the only connection to the past.

Done and Done.

Unknown said...

In the novel "Thunderball", we are told that Blofeld's organisation went through a number of name changes before he settled on the acronym SPECTRE. I can't see any reason - other than the legal complications which have tied up the return of Blofeld for decades - why "Quantum" couldn't turn out to be the front or prototype for SPECTRE, with Blofeld revealed as its head. If Bond can be "re-booted", why not his adversaries?

GotchaLookin said...

South Africa's actor Arnold Vosloo (IMDb Profile for Arnold Vosloo) would be the best next Ernst Stavro Blofeld. FIRST - His native accent is Afrikaans which can be very Germanic sounding. SECOND - He can cast a terrific evil presence on the screen as shown by his tour-de-force performance in "THE MUMMY" (1999). THIRD - Arnold Vosloo is not a slacker at 6 foot 2 inches: He is fit enough to take on a Daniel Craig in a one-on-one confrontation. FOURTH - Arnold is naturally bald - key to portraying Blofeld in a trilogy redux. With a mere 6-year difference in age between Craig (younger) and Vosloo (older), the tension between the two characters of Bond and Blofeld will be thick.