James Bond 007 is back after virus delay

By: AFP      Published: 09:43 AM, 24 Sep, 2021
James Bond 007 is back after virus delay
A film poster.

The latest James Bond movie gets its world premiere next week, nearly six years after the last film in the storied franchise and an 18-month delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

British royalty and pandemic heroes have been invited to London's Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday to watch "No Time To Die", the 25th instalment of the popular spy saga.

The film is expected to be Daniel Craig's last appearance as 007. Three previously scheduled premieres -- in March and November 2020, and this April -- were all cancelled. 

Craig and co-stars including Rami Malek and Lea Seydoux will join princes Charles and William on the red carpet at the glitzy screening, before the film hits UK cinemas two days later and releases globally October 8.

Healthcare workers and armed forces members will also be present, and have been invited to 10 other premieres across Britain, in recognition of their work combating Covid-19.

"We're incredibly excited to be launching the film in a theatrical release," franchise producer Barbara Broccoli said on the "No Time To Die: The Official James Bond Podcast" released this month.

"The film is a celebration of Bond -- the 25th film and almost 60 years and, most importantly, Daniel Craig's final outing. So we feel it's a big event."

- 'Cinema experience' -

Cinema operators, studios such as MGM -- which owns the 007 movies -- and distributor Universal Pictures are among those hoping the blockbuster release will help lure movie-goers back to auditoriums worldwide.

Cinemas were closed for months during the pandemic in key markets such as Britain and the United States, forcing delays to releases and hitting finances hard.

MGM, bought by online shopping giant Amazon for nearly $9 billion (£7 billion, 8 billion euros) earlier this year, spent a rumoured $250 million on the action-packed film.

The last Bond movie "Spectre" -- released in late 2015 -- set box office records for a 2D film in China, and grossed more than $880 million worldwide, according to movie industry magazines.

"It's very important that people see this film in the cinemas -- it was designed and filmed and produced to be in the cinemas, to be a cinema experience," said fellow Bond producer Michael G. Wilson.

"We really held out against other alternatives like streaming."

Broccoli said the movie, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga ("Beasts of No Nation", "True Detective") and filmed in Norway, Italy and Jamaica, was "a cinematic masterpiece".

- 'Spice it up' -

"No Time To Die" sees Bond drawn out of retirement in Jamaica by his old friend and CIA agent Felix Leiter.

He is asked to embark on a treacherous mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist, according to Universal.

Malek, who won a best actor Oscar for his depiction of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in "Bohemian Rhapsody", plays his adversary Safin.

Lashana Lynch plays a new MI6 spy working alongside an ageing Bond, while Seydoux returns as Madeleine Swann, his love interest in "Spectre".

British actress and writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge ("Fleabag") was involved in the script to help improve the portrayal of women, after repeated claims of misogyny and sexism.

Craig said her addition to the writing team was to "spice it up" but as she was a Bond fan "she wasn't about to take him in a different direction".

Teenage pop star Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O'Connell wrote the movie's theme song, which topped the British charts when it was released early last year.

- 'Ungrateful' -

Craig, 53, has played the suave secret agent in four previous Bond films, starting with "Casino Royale" in 2006, and even starring alongside Queen Elizabeth II, who made a cameo for the opening of the London 2012 Olympics.

On the Bond podcast, he said he landed the part by promising to try to "reinvent" rather than recreate the character.

"What Daniel's brought to the character is sort of unearthing the emotions," Broccoli said of Craig's five-film tenure.

However, he made headlines in 2015 by saying he would "rather slash my wrists" than play 007 again.

In an interview published this week, Craig insisted he was "joking" when he made the comment but acknowledged that it came across as "ungrateful".

"To be completely honest, I was thinking: I don't know if I can do another one of these," he told Britain's Radio Times, noting that he had broken his leg filming "Spectre".

Five things to know about James Bond

"No Time to Die" is the 25th official Bond film, and the franchise retains its status as one of the most popular in the world. 

Here are five things to know about the man with a licence to kill.

- Born on paper - 

James Bond started life on the page, his name taken from the cover of a Jamaican bird-watching book because author Ian Fleming wanted something as mundane as possible.

Fleming was able to draw from some rich real-life experiences, having served in naval intelligence during World War II. 

One of Commander Fleming's key missions was Operation Goldeneye, aimed at sabotaging ties between Spain and Germany -- which later gave him the name for his Jamaican home, and inspired the 1995 movie.

His first novel, "Casino Royale", was released in 1953 and was a huge escapist hit at a time of postwar rations and hardship in Britain.

He went on to write 13 more Bond novels and also penned the hit children's musical "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" for his son.

He died in 1964 at the age of 56, just two years after the first film appeared.

- Big money -

The figures vary, but Bond is clearly one of the most successful film franchises of all time, having spawned 25 official films and enough product placements to make a glossy magazine editor blush.

Industry data site The Numbers places Bond in third place for worldwide box office takings, behind only the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars.

Although it has been running for fewer years than other franchises such as King Kong and Godzilla, it is perhaps the most consistent -- rarely going more than two or three years between instalments.

The longest gap was between Timothy Dalton's last outing "Licence to Kill" in 1989 and the renaissance with Pierce Brosnan's "Goldeneye" in 1995.

Underlining the immense value of the franchise, Amazon this year bought the Bond rights from MGM for a cool $8.45 billion. 

- International agent -

The various Bonds of the past 60 years have included Englishmen Daniel Craig and Roger Moore, Scotsman Sean Connery, George Lazenby from Australia, Timothy Dalton from Wales and Irishman Pierce Brosnan.  

In the novels, Bond is actually the son of a Scottish father and Swiss mother -- both of whom die in a climbing accident when Bond is a boy. 

- Codenames - 

The codename "007" has a specific meaning. 

The "00" designation signifies the agent's licence to kill, while the "7" is his identification within the elite unit of MI6, Britain's external intelligence service.

The M designating Bond's boss comes from the "Missions Department".

Q, who furnishes Bond with all his nifty gadgets, gets his moniker from "quartermaster" -- a military term referring to the person in charge of supplies.

The bad guys also have some nicknames. 

"SPECTRE", the organisation that causes Bond so much trouble, is short for "Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion".

- A famous fan -

One big name who gave Bond an early boost was President John F Kennedy, who cited "From Russia With Love" in his top 10 books. 

Reportedly, it was also the last film he ever watched before leaving for Dallas in November 1963.

Barry, Beatles, Billie: 60 years of Bond tunes

Ever since the twanging guitar of John Barry's theme song first appeared in "Dr No" in 1962, music has been crucial to the James Bond phenomenon.

The songs written for each title sequence have become a way of marking out the evolution of pop music through the past 60 years, from the classics of Shirley Bassey and Paul McCartney to Adele and Billie Eilish.

- Nobody remembers Monty -

Many assume the original theme was written by John Barry, in part because he became so closely associated with the Bond franchise, composing the soundtrack for 11 of the films.

In fact, Barry only arranged and performed the theme tune.

The famous dung-digger-dung-dung line was actually written by theatre composer Monty Norman, developed from an unused Indian-themed score he had written for an adaptation of VS Naipaul's "A House for Mr Biswas".

It was Barry's job to jazz it up, adding the blaring horns that made it so dramatic. 

While Norman was given a one-off payment of just £250, Barry built a Hollywood career that has included five Oscars and classic soundtracks to "Midnight Cowboy", "Out of Africa" and many more.

- Golden girl Shirley Bassey -

Bassey became almost as closely linked to Bond as Barry -- the only singer to deliver three title tracks: "Goldfinger" (1964), "Diamonds are Forever" (1971) and "Moonraker" (1979). 

The first two are considered the most memorable in Bond history, the latter less so -- Bassey later admitted she hated the "Moonraker" song and only did it as a favour to Barry.

"Goldfinger" made her a star, but the recording sessions were gruelling, with Barry insisting that Bassey, then 27, hold the last belting note for seven full seconds. 

"I was holding it and holding it -- I was looking at John Barry and I was going blue in the face and he's going -- hold it just one more second. When it finished, I nearly passed out," she later recalled.

- A new Beatles beginning -

The first Bond film without Barry on the baton was "Live and Let Die" in 1973. 

For this, the producers turned to another famous "B", The Beatles. 

The group's producer George Martin took over composing duties and brought in Paul McCartney and his band Wings for the theme song.

It became another classic and spawned a famous cover by Guns'N'Roses in later years.  

From this point on, the Bond title song became its own mini-industry, without the involvement of the composer.

Big pop tie-ins followed, ranging from the not-so-successful (Lulu's "The Man with the Golden Gun") to classics like Carly Simon's "Nobody Does it Better" and Duran Duran's "A View to a Kill".

- The next generation -

After a few desultory outings during the Pierce Brosnan years, the Bond genre got a shot of adrenaline with Adele's "Skyfall" in 2012, which was the first to win an Oscar for best song.

The following year's "Writing's on the Wall" by Sam Smith also won an Oscar, though it got a more mixed critical reception.

The latest incarnation is pop princess Billie Eilish with "No Time to Die", which she co-wrote with her brother Finneas. 

It already has a thumbs-up from the doyenne of the Bond theme world, with Bassey telling The Big Issue: "She did a good job."