After years of MGM bankruptcy-induced delays, the twenty-third entry in the longest-running franchise in cinema history, Ian Fleming's James Bond series, finally starts shooting today. And while we've known for a while that Academy Award-winner Sam Mendes is directing -- perhaps the most prestigious name to take on a film in the series to date -- and that Daniel Craig would return for his third go-round (along with franchise veteran Dame Judi Dench, playing M for the seventh time), official details of the project have been thin on the ground.
Oh, sure, there's been plenty of rumors, about the title, about location, some unofficial casting reports. But for the most part, things have been kept pretty much under wraps by Sony and Eon. Until this morning, where the start of filming was celebrated by a press conference in London, where most of the reported details have been set in stone.
Not much was revealed to those who haven't been paying attention, but probably the biggest confirmation is that of the title: the film, as strongly suggested by some website registrations, is entitled "Skyfall," a name unrelated to any Ian Fleming book or story, for the first time in Craig's tenure -- a title that apparently "has emotional context which will be revealed in the film," according to producer Michael Wilson. And most of the reported cast have been confirmed: joining Craig and Dench in the film are Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, French newcomer Berenice Malohe, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw and Albert Finney (still unconfirmed, at least until the press release arrives; Helen McCrory and the returning Rory Kinnear).
Bardem, a Bond fan since childhood, confirmed he'll be playing the villain, but hinted at a degree of complexity in the character, telling the assembled press "Who told you a villain is a bad person? For me, it's an honour to be at this table for many reasons. It will be fun to do." Malohe, meanwhile, will be what she described as a "glamorous, enigmatic character called Severin," while Harris, who was reported by Baz Bamigboye, who's been on top of the film's casting from the start, to be playing franchise favorite Moneypenny, said she's playing a field agent named Eve, and suggested she's been training up for some heavy action sequences. Does that mean the Moneypenny reports were wrong? Or is there a reveal being kept under wraps here? Mendes does, after all, promise a host of surprises on the project.
Lips were being kept sealed on the nature of the characters played by Fiennes, Whishaw and Finney, although the latter was said by Bamigboye last week to be playing a senior civil servant, and superior to Dench's M. Mendes teased that the names are being kept under wraps because franchise fans might recognize the characters, which lends a little fuel to the fire to rumors that Fiennes might play long-time adversary Blofeld (which we sincerely doubt), and that Whishaw is playing gadget-meister Q (which is more plausible). Contrary to rumors that freshly-minted megastar Adele would be singing the theme, producers said that no one is currently in mind, meaning there's plenty of room for our pick Anna Calvi to get involved.
Despite ludicrous British tabloid rumors that Mendes had stripped down the action to aim for an Oscar with the film, it seems that they'll be, in the words of Wilson, "plenty of action." The director said that it won't just be set-pieces for the sake of set-pieces, however; "The action is part of the main body of the film. Every decision is mine. The action needs to co-exist with the drama." Filming is taking place in Shanghai, Istanbul and the Scottish highlands, as well as Whitehall in London (where the press conference was held), and traditional home to the series Pinewood Studios.
The biggest surprise of the conference was that, despite the loose ends left at the end of disappointing last film "Quantum of Solace," which continued directly with the story of its predecessor, "Casino Royale," the film will be its own stand-alone story, with the director saying "It's its own story. It doesn't connect with the last two films." So, Bond will have to wait for another installment to vanquish the secret organization QUANTUM, and we can't say we're too sorry about that.
All in all, the pieces are in place for the most eagerly anticipated Bond film since, well "Casino Royale," but this one certainly trumps that in terms of its cast. The great Roger Deakins is lensing the film, excitingly, and production begins today. "Skyfall" hits theaters in Europe on October 26th, 2012, with a U.S. release following on November 9th.