“Bond Is Back,” according to the costly campaign heralding the latest 007 novel “Devil May Care,” but that doesn’t mean the tome will be turned into a James Bond movie.
Eon Prods., the U.K.-based shingle behind the 22 pics in the Bond franchise, has passed on the opportunity to pick up the film rights to “Devil” from author Sebastian Faulks.
But Eon’s move doesn’t suddenly leave one of the film world’s most profitable characters available to Hollywood’s franchise-seekers.
Bond’s just not up for grabs. Eon parent Danjaq has controlled the copyrights and trademarks to the franchise for films since the 1950s, locking out anyone else from producing pics featuring the British spy, with the exception of Warner Bros.’ “Never Say Never Again” in 1983. It also has a major role in choosing who distributes the films, which MGM will return to producing after “Quantum of Solace” unspools in November.
Even if producers could acquire the film rights to “Devil,” jointly owned by the Ian Fleming Estate and Faulks, they wouldn’t be able to use the James Bond name, his 007 call sign, the James Bond theme or gun-barrel sequence, for example.
“Devil,” which hit bookshelves in May, was specially commissioned by the estate of 007 creator Fleming to commemorate the late author’s centenary this year. In the U.K., it was backed by a massive launch from publisher Penguin Books that could easily rival a campaign for a summer tentpole pic. In addition to a blast of ads and live events, the publisher even produced a theme song for the title.
“Devil” features all the regular Bond hijinks — including locations around the world, martinis, glamorous women and archvillains — but there’s a key problem.
Eon toppers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson claimed that the book’s 1960s setting made it less desirable as a Bond pic property, at least for now.
“We love the book, but because it is set in the 1960s, we haven’t considered making it in the near future,” Broccoli and Wilson told Daily Variety.
The Cold War-set adventure takes place in 1967 and revolves around the international drug trade that takes Bond to Iran, the Caspian Sea and Russia and features a villain with an oversized monkey’s paw for a hand.
Eon is readying to bow “Quantum of Solace” through Sony’s Columbia Pictures on Nov. 7.
MGM and United Artists distribbed all of the Bond films until 2006, when Columbia released “Casino Royale,” with Daniel Craig suiting up for the first time as Bond. Sony relinquishes distribution rights back to the Lion after “Quantum.”
Only Warner Bros. can claim to having produced another Bond pic in the past — although unofficially and without the other films’ signature elements. In 1983, Kevin McClory produced “Never Say Never Again,” bringing back Sean Connery as James Bond.
Pic was made because McClory owned part of the rights to the story for the 1965 pic “Thunderball,” whose screenplay he co-wrote with Fleming. “Never Say Never Again” rehashed the plot of the film.
In 1997, Sony paid McClory $2 million for his “Thunderball” rights in an attempt to launch its own separate Bond franchise, prompting a lawsuit from MGM, with whom Eon’s Broccoli family had a longstanding deal, before the two sides reached a 1999 settlement under which Sony gave up all claims to the Bond character without Eon’s involvement.
Nevertheless, others have been able to capitalize on Bond off the screen.
Like other long-running franchises, including “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” the Bond character has been featured in a number of books not penned by his creator.
After Fleming’s death in 1964, subsequent James Bond novels were written by Kingsley Amis (under the pseudonym Robert Markham), John Pearson, John Gardner and Raymond Benson.
Charlie Higson has also penned a series of “Young James Bond” novels, which follow the character’s progress from his school days at British public school Eton. The Higson books would appear ripe for cinematic adaptation.
For now, at least, neither the Ian Fleming Estate nor Faulks are giving up hope that “Devil” will eventually make it into theaters, though in a joint statement to Daily Variety, they confirmed, “There have been no discussions about the film rights whatsoever.”