By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood November 3, 2011 at 11:01AM
So what have we learned after Thursday's press conference in London about Bond 23? Bill Desowitz, who is writing a book about the Bond films, parses the available 007 intelligence.
Well, it is indeed called Skyfall, and, like Quantum of Solace, its meaning is directly tied to the emotional context of the story. In this case, presumably a Chicken Little metaphor since it's all about the crucible between Daniel Craig's Bond and Judi Dench's M, when MI6 is attacked and Bond is forced to dig up her troubled past to destroy the threat.
Just the kind of dramatic underpinning to draw Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) to the Bond franchise along with a classy cast that includes Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, and Albert Finney. But then this is no ordinary Bond film in honor of next year's 50th anniversary of the franchise (it opens Nov. 9, 2012 in North America). It's Craig's first fully formed portrayal of 007 after enduring his grueling rite of passage, and the film likely to define his legacy as Bond. So far, he's clearly shown a grittier and more grounded Bond -- the antithesis of the effortless Sean Connery. So it'll be interesting to observe how much Craig's Bond has matured since 2008's Quantum of Solace (the longest break between films for a Bond actor), and to what degree he's cultivated an instinct for espionage.
Speaking of Connery, on this very date 50 years ago, the wild Scot, who moved like a panther on the prowl, was announced as James Bond for Dr. No. So it's very fitting that they not only held the press conference today but have also commenced shooting Skyfallin London.
But then the dirty little secret about Mendes is that he was actually approached after American Beauty to direct Die Another Day. He told me years ago that he was very flattered but that it just wasn't the right fit. How ironic that Mendes wound up directing Craig in Road to Perdition and has now found his way to Bond through the more appropriate Skyfall. Incidentally, Craig and Mendes both became fans of the franchise with Roger Moore's Live and Let Die.
Meanwhile, a few other details have been confirmed today: Bardem plays the new baddie, and Berenice Marlohe appears as the latest Bond girl (seductively named Severin). However, Naomie Harris portrays a field agent named Eve, not M's assistant, Miss Moneypenny.
Still, according to Mendes, there are "lots of surprises," so we'll just have to wait and see if arch rival Blofeld makes his rumored return and what shocking revelation screenwriter Peter Morgan offered before departing that remains the seed of the story. Perhaps that's why they were mum today about the identities of Fiennes and Finney (still unconfirmed as M's superior).
But Mendes did confirm that he has no intention of excising the Bondian action, which takes 007 to Istanbul, Shanghai, and Scotland (his ancestral home as well as Connery country). In fact, Mendes said he's looking forward to mixing action with drama and working closely with second unit director Alexander Witt. One Bond insider even divulged that Mendes has already displayed a better facility for action than Quantum's Marc Forster.
Yet Mendes and producer Michael Wilson both suggested today that Skyfall is its own story rather than a direct continuation of Casino Royale and Quantum. But that doesn't necessarily mean they can't follow the trail to the top of the SPECTRE-like Quantum terrorist organization.
In fact, when I first interviewed Craig for Casino Royale, we speculated about the return of Blofeld. He agreed that a more realistic Blofeld or someone like him would be fun to play with: "I think if he's done right, as in the early Bonds. It's not that he's mad for the sake of power: the madness is a psychosis for anybody who's got that much power -- that craziness. He's one of the great movie villains."
And Craig has always emphasized the crucial importance of M, the maternal figure who reluctantly gives Bond his license to kill and then has to guide him through his rite of passage. "But we have this opportunity that is genuinely one almost of love," Craig told me. "That where ever he is, in spite of everything, no matter how alone in the world he is, she's there for him. And that, in a way, gives him the strength… And we have her struggle a bit, which is very interesting."
Looks like Bond gets to return the favor in Skyfall.