Is there a market for a used Bond?

IS THE WORLD REALLY READY FOR the 21st James Bond?

Word filtered out recently that the affluent and rather haughty proprietors of the Bond franchise had hired a director, Martin Campbell, and are scratching around for a new star. According to the Bond rumor mill, Pierce Brosnan, who’d weathered four Bonds, had priced himself out of the market (his proposed compensation package would total out north of $40 million). Sony, which inherited the franchise with the acquisition of MGM, understandably favors Clive Owen as his successor.

But does anyone care? London’s Guardian delivered its vote recently, recounting Judi Dench’s quote as M in “Goldeneye” that Bond is “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur”and observing that the public’s “tolerance for snobbery had withered.”

Ian Fleming, the Eton-educated journalist, created the character as his hallucinatory alter-ego, who battled the forces of Spectre and Smersh but occasionally behaved “like an ancient gay dress designer,” in the words of the Guardian.

If the Bond character is a bit passe, part of the blame rests with “Austin Powers’ ” satiric forays, and part, too, with Matt Damon’s “Bourne” thrillers, whose central character is far more accessible to today’s audience.

Then, too, part of the problem rests with creaky scripts. The proprietors of the Bond franchise, Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli (the daughter of Albert, the founder) live in a cocoon of wealth and autonomy. They’ve been free to take the Bond franchise wherever they want, and they’ve managed to take it downhill.

Actually, I was a semi-oblivious spectator to the process during my tenure as a senior vice president at MGM 20 years ago. The treatment for a Bond picture appeared one day and I was informed by business affairs that the film came under my purview. Before I’d even finished reading the material, however, the project had triggered a greenlight along with a cascade of pay-or-play deals, which was just as well since the movie turned out to be “Octopussy,” and I would have had no idea how to deal with either the title or the storyline.

After a series of misfires, Wilson and Broccoli, in the ’90s, started hiring writers who, like Fleming, were former journalists and who managed to reconnect the character with credible heavies. Bruce Feirstein, for example, was brought in to shake, not stir, “Goldeneye,” which shrewdly poked fun at Bond’s elitist idiosyncrasies and served as the first “Bond” vehicle for Campbell, the New Zealand filmmaker. By the time “Die Another Day” was released in 2001, however, this run had ended and even the good-natured Brosnan began to make noises about defecting.

Will another Bond be made? Probably some Sony executive will shortly be receiving a treatment and, before he knows it, a new “Bond” will be speeding down the assembly line. In the view of the Guardian, however, the next film should embrace “a gay Bond, a black Bond, a paraplegic Bond, an obese Bond … Any Bond but James Bond.”

* * *

The ‘Million Dollar’ question

Imagine if reviewers of “Million Dollar Baby” had begun their critiques by saying, “This is a movie about an older guy who naughtily decides to euthanize his girlfriend?”

This is the suggestion of a diatribe in the Los Angeles Times by media critic Tim Rutten, who feels that film reviewers copped out on the Clint Eastwood film. Euthanasia is a hot topic, he argues, and critics should have confronted it.

A cardinal rule of film criticism, of course, is to avoid giving away the surprise ending, and the key scene in “Million Dollar Baby” is the decision to do the deed. Yet, according to Rutten, reviewers are more concerned with commerce than criticism; if they reveal that a film ends on a moral hot button, ticket buyers may stay away and the studios will be angry.

I think Rutten is reaching. We look to film critics to tell us about cinematic values, not moral values. As it is, a few pundits of the hard right, like the ubiquitous Rush Limbaugh, managed to deliver rants about euthanasia.

To Michael Medved, the buffoonish gabber on talk radio, Eastwood’s ending combined with the supposed Oscar snub of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” “illustrates Hollywood’s profound, almost pathological, discomfort with the traditional religiosity embraced by most of its mass audience.”

As Maureen Dowd reminds us in the New York Times, this means that Shakespeare, too, is out, since Cleopatra kills herself with an assist from two asps, Brutus ends it all by running onto a sword held by his servant Strato and Lear’s daughter, Goneril, does herself in as does Lady Macbeth.

Rutten never gets around to saying how he feels about assisted suicide, but he does admonish film critics for their “misperception of responsibility.”

I’d argue that the public gets enough admonitions about values from the White House — we don’t need our film critics to chime in.

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