A brief tale of James Bond directors - Macleans.ca

A brief tale of James Bond directors


We interrupt your regularly-scheduled Rob Ford news to mention that Sam Mendes is back in contention to direct the next James Bond movie. If he signs on, it will make him the fifth director to do more than one Bond film, and the fourth to do two in a row.

The Bond movies have always been tightly producer-controlled movies, first by Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli, later by Broccoli alone after buying out Saltzman’s share of the franchise, and now by Broccoli’s family. But they are such big productions, and so complicated to make, that directors can’t just be traffic managers; even directors with no distinctive personalities of their own often wind up bringing some distinctive touches to Bond films. Guy Hamilton, who directed four Bond movies, was a former assistant to Carol Reed who directed a lot of movies without ever displaying a personality, but his Bond movies are all, for better or for worse, distinctly his, right down to the fact that all four of them have the same ending (Bond has won and is going on a trip with the girl, but a bad guy pops up for one final fight).

Mendes’s success with Skyfall may have marked him as the perfect director for the franchise in the Craig era: an Oscar-winning prestige director who can satisfy the demanding star and bring the movies into a new era of filmmaking, but not so much of an auteur that he would try to write the scripts himself. It’s a bit like the thinking behind the hiring of Lewis Gilbert to direct You Only Live Twice in 1967: Gilbert was a representative of a new era of British filmmaking, thanks to movies like Alfie, but he was not a director who would insist on making a movie completely his own (which is why the really big-name British directors of the era were probably never seriously considered). This would have been one of the problems with hiring Christopher Nolan, who was rumoured to be in talks recently; he would naturally want to write the script or at least rewrite it. Plus Nolan would be the only director in the world who can make the Craig Bonds more sexless than they already are.

If he does come back, this will also fit with a Bond tradition whereby the director of the last film is usually asked back for the next one. Terence Young, the director of the first two movies, was asked back for Goldfinger, but declined (he then returned for Thunderball, but, bored with the franchise, he apparently left a lot of the post-production to others). When Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton returned for Diamonds Are Forever, he then became the Bond house director for the next few films. Hamilton pulled out of The Spy Who Loved Me and was replaced by Gilbert, who did two in a row. And then in the ’80s, all five official Bond movies were directed by the series’ former editor John Glen.

In some of those cases, the producers were using directors who were not in the front rank, but were easier to work with on these projects than a front-rank director would be; that was the case with Young, who had a less-than-great career beyond Bond, and that may have hurt the franchise in the ’80s, since Glen was no one’s idea of an exciting director. Today, the star and the studio have more say over the choice of director, and so the job would probably be off-limits to a promoted editor or second-unit director. But Mendes may become the Bond house director for an era when directors have more power.

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