Jan 6, 2010

Update: More On Mendes And Bond

Other trades have approached yesterday's Hollywood Reporter story about American Beauty director Sam Mendes' involvement with the next Daniel Craig James Bond movie from different angles.  Variety rather characteristically framed the news in the wider context of MGM's serious financial troubles.  "The long-running drama surrounding MGM's future took an odd turn Tuesday with rumors sweeping through the town about Sam Mendes directing next James Bond film," said the trade.  "The beleaguered studio refused to confirm reports about Mendes being in talks for the 23rd Bond pic. MGM also denied other reports that pre-production had been halted after producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli told Total Film magazine that the uncertainty surrounding the Lion's ownership had left the project's timeline 'a little up in the air what with the situation at MGM, so we have to be flexible.'"

While it's easy for spy fans to think of Bond 23 is the be all end all in this story, Variety reminds us that ultimately 007 is but one very lucrative piece in a much larger puzzle. "The Bond franchise is a major piece of MGM's assets, which include a 4,000-title library, the logo, the United Artists operations, rights to the Pink Panther franchise and half-ownership in the upcoming Hobbit films. The package, which could be sold piecemeal, is expected to fetch somewhere between $1.5 billion and $2 billion and the first bids are expected to be submitted by mid-January. The beleaguered studio has left open the door to continue operating as a standalone entity or forming some kind of strategic partnership if MGM's 140 debtholders agree to do so, possibly through a prepackaged bankruptcy."  Yes, they like using the word "beleaguered" in conjunction with MGM, and why not?  It's sadly apt. 

Maverick entertainment blogger Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood appears to have the inside track on the whole matter.  She asserts that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson's EON Productions are close to hiring Mendes as a "consultant" on Bond 23, not a director.  But ultimately, the distinction is just a matter of semantics.  According to Finke's sources (who are usually quite reliable), she explains that "once EON hires a director on their Bond films, it triggers a first payment from MGM. Well, given that MGM is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and EON may have the right to take Bond elsewhere, it stands to reason that the producers wouldn't want to do anything right away that further complicates ownership of Bond #23."  Makes sense.  Mendes could develop Bond 23 as a consultant throughout pre-production, and then come aboard officially as director once the MGM situation is resolved.  Finke also reveals that she hears "Craig is 'insisting' on Mendes' hiring because the actor was stung by criticism of the last Bond film."  (The two, of course, previously worked together on The Road to Perdition.)  Really?  Craig is insisting?  I didn't think Bond actors ever had enough clout with the producers to insist and get away with it.  I guess Brosnan should have "insisted" on hiring Quentin Tarantino instead of just talking about it all the time!  Of course, Mendes is a deservedly respected director, so it's easy to see his appeal to Broccoli and Wilson as well. 

Personally, I'll be a bit sad if the next Bond movie is released without the MGM logo.  Even though 007 started off as a United Artists property and only became associated with MGM when MGM and UA merged in the early Eighties (I believe Octopussy was the first Bond film to carry the famous roaring lion logo), the studio and the character seem inseparable to me now.  But that's a purely nostalgic point of view.  The franchise might well be better off not shackled to a perpetually sinking ship.  There's no doubt that Broccoli and Wilson are guarding their interests closely, and will proceed in whatever direction they deem best for the franchise.  I only hope that MGM's financial situation doesn't end up delaying the next Bond film the way a similar situation ended up causing a six year gap between Licence To Kill and GoldenEye in the Nineties!

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