Daniel Craig updated 007 bang with his James Bond debut in 2006 Casino Royalebut it was a big gamble for the world’s oldest spy franchise.
Curiously, the mixed fortunes of the previous installment set the wheels in motion in the biggest reboot yet.
Less the first Bond movie of the 21st century and more like a hangover from what came before, 2002 die another day was the commercially successful but critically maligned final outing for Pierce Brosnan’s 007.
As moonraker before that, the film was a box office success, but its brand of expensive camp and visual effects-driven spectacle was not sustainable for future films.
In the shadow of Austin Powers and Jason Bourne, MGM wanted to keep Bond fresh (a young Bond series “like Smallvillewas hinted at at one point) and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson felt it was time for a change.
Initially, that involved parting ways with Halle Berry die another day character Jinx in his own spy thriller, written by series regulars Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, and launching a “Winter Olympics” franchise alternating alongside the Bond films.
Meanwhile, Broccoli and Wilson also planned to take the 21st Bond film back to basics with a new take on Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, 1953. Casino Royale.
Yet to be officially adapted due to rights deals predating the Bond franchise itself, screen rights to the novel had reverted to Eon in 1999 following an MGM deal with Columbia Pictures for the participation of the first in Spider Man.
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Apparently Quentin Tarantino approached Brosnan and Eon (some reports say it was Columbia he started, before the rights went to Eon) with a radically different take on the 1950s. Casino Royale that he wanted to shoot in black and white, but the producers didn’t bite.
After the curse of MGM jinx holder and told Eon to focus on Bond 21 instead, the producers decided to tell an origin story, launching the franchise in a new direction rather than modernizing Casino Royale for the existing version.
After deciding to replace Brosnan (who probably also wanted a big pay raise), producers began testing new Bonds, but Broccoli had his sights set on an actor early on.
Cards on the table
In 2004, Daniel Craig was best known for TV shows Our friends from the North and a more recent breakout role as an unnamed mobster in Matthew Vaughn Layer cake.
He didn’t consider himself obvious material for Bond, but Eon wooed him while they were polishing the script. After a polish and rewrite of the third act by Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis, they won Craig over, and he duly signed on as the sixth actor to play Bond on film.
French actor Eva Green won the pivotal role of Vesper Lynd, Mads Mikkelsen was cast in Le Cipher and Jeffrey Wright became the latest actor to play Bond’s CIA ally Felix Leiter.
The only returning cast member in this one was Dame Judi Dench as M, and her rapport with Craig’s Bond became key to the emotional arc of her first three outings.
Not everything has changed behind the scenes either. Having ushered in the Brosnan era, golden eye director Martin Campbell jumped at the chance to go even further by rebooting the series, putting as much into character and drama as stunts and action.
Composer David Arnold also turned things around, retaining the iconic Monty Norman theme in his score until the very end of the film.
In keeping with the script, the traditional theme song is more about Bond’s perspective for a change, and Arnold has cast Chris Cornell to co-write and perform. You know my name. Coupled with a stunning B&W opening sequence (as Tarantino suggested!) and Daniel Kleinman’s stunning opening tracks, the song ushered in the new era.
With a budget of $150 million, the film was shot largely in Prague, with production designer Peter Lamont creating sets to dub for London, Miami and Montenegro in its ninth and final Bond outing. There were also shoots in Venice, the UK and the Bahamas, with paparazzi besieging the shoot amid sustained negative media coverage ahead of the release.
Long before the arrival of Benoit Blanc, it was at loggerheads for Craig as soon as his casting was confirmed. Even in the mainstream media, there was a fixation on the vocal minority screaming that the star was too ugly, too blond or otherwise bad for Bond. To his credit, Craig held his head high and worked his back to prove them all wrong.
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Indeed, his influence on the direction of the series, from his physical presence to his acting approach, cannot be overstated.
As a result, the most iconic scene comes not during a crash-bang-wallop fight scene but afterwards, with Bond comforting a fully clothed Vesper under a running shower. While the script called for them to be in their underwear, Craig insisted that they be fully clothed. The scene is better off.
In the context of the love story, the film contains many of the elements we’ve come to expect from Bond.
True, the theme doesn’t play to the end, and there’s no Q or Moneypenny, and the Aston Martin crashes into the Guinness Book of World Records when Bond rolls it over a field seven times – but the film is also a more faithful adaptation of Fleming than anything we’ve seen in a long time. Heck, even the grimacing genital torture scene got there.
Rather than throwing away the formula, he updates it wherever he can, which is key to his success: Casino Royale was a bet that paid off – and far exceeded die another day‘s total box office – going in the completely opposite direction.
no time to die hits theaters September 30. Watch a trailer below.