Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Skyfall (in wide release) vs. Lincoln (in limited release) in the weekend movie preview.

Skyfall is the 23rd James Bond film, and the third to feature Daniel Craig as super spy 007. Craig began his run with the 2006 release Casino Royale, having taken over from Pierce Brosnan. After finishing up work on Die Another Day, Brosnan was unsure if he would return a fifth time as he feared he would begin to be compared to Roger Moore's older turn as Bond, which had proved unpopular with some fans. Despite this, the public were still supportive of him playing Bond again and negotiations began early 2004 for Brosnan to reprise the role. But by the middle of that year, amid rumors that MGM/EON had hinted they were looking for a younger actor to play Bond (something they denied at the time), Brosnan announced he wasn't coming back. Rumors continued to persist until February 2005, when the star publicly announced he was finished with the character. The search for a new James Bond was on. While many names were bandied about, including Eric Bana, James Purefoy and Clive Owen (who clashed over contract details), it was Daniel Craig who was triumphant. In comparison to others mentioned, Craig was something of an unknown, having made his name on stage, rather than screen, though he had had a number of prominent roles before coming to Bond, including the first Tomb Raider movie, Road to Perdition and Layer Cake, the flick  rumored to have been an influence on him getting the Bond gig. EON officially announced the actor as the new James Bond in October 2005, and while public support wasn't overwhelming, each of the previous Bond players voiced their approval.

Casino Royale was announced as the new James Bond film. The rights to the picture were secured by EON in 1999, during an exchange made by MGM and Sony - MGM giving up their right to Spider-Man for Sony giving them Casino Royale. Robert Wade and Neal Purvis would script, with contributions from Paul Haggis. The decision was made to reboot the entire franchise, which would see James Bond gaining his 00 status in a pre-credits sequence. Out went many of the gadgets for which the series had become famous, and in came a darker, gritter, more realistic Bond, having more in common with Jason Bourne than Brosnan's effects-heavy Die Another Day. Martin Campbell, who had directed Pierce Brosnan's debut in Goldeneye, was selected to direct another new Bond (Curiously, post-Pulp Fiction Quentin Tarantino had expressed an interest in directing an adaptation of Casino Royale, and talked about shooting in black and white and setting the picture in the 50s, though he never actually entered into talks with EON). Daniel Craig continued to receive criticism from all sides throughout the production, but silenced many of the naysayers when the first action-packed footage was unveiled. By the time of the film's release in November 2006, the public were more than ready for a new James Bond. Reviews were strong and despite having to settle for a second place debut behind the animated Happy Feet, Casino Royale opened incredibly well, making $40M over its first weekend. It dropped less than 25% in weekend two, securing another $30M. By the end of its 18 week domestic run, it had made more than $167M, along with a staggering $426M from the international market. Bond was back.

Deciding to strike while the iron was hot, Producer Michael G. Wilson announced that the next James Bond film, which would come to be known as Quantum of Solace, had been in pre-production since July 2006, almost four months before Casino Royale had even opened. The plot this time around would be an original, rather than an adaptation of one of Fleming's stories, and would pick up moments after Casino Royale had ended (though it was later revealed that that had not been the original plan). Purvis and Wade would again script, with Paul Haggis rewriting a month after the duo had turned in their completed screenplay. Marc Forster seemed an odd choice for director, having never handled action sequences before, not to mention not being a fan of the Bond series until seeing Casino Royale (he stated at the time that had he not seen Royale, he would not have taken the job on at all). Along with Wilson and Haggis, Forster rewrote the script from scratch, barely finishing before the 2007-2008 writer's strike began. This led to problems while filming as any screenplay changes couldn't be done by a writer (Craig mentioned in 2011 that he and Forster had attempted to rewrite some sequences but "a writer he was not"). The script problems would continue to hamper the film and when the strike ended while production was still ongoing, Forster hired Joshua Zetumer, who had turned in a spec script that he liked. Zetumer was set to work incorporating some of his own ideas into the Quantum screenplay but the director remained unhappy, resulting in the dialogue being rewritten on an almost daily basis. While a very haphazard method of shooting, Quantum of Solace was eventually finished and set to debut in late October 2008. While not quite as big of a hit with critics (64% plays Casino's 95%), it opened much stronger than its predecessor, taking $67M over its first weekend. Yet, in spite of that great start, it would end up making barely more than Casino Royale by the end of its theatrical run ($168.3M). Internationally there wasn't a great deal to separate the two films either, with Quantum taking $417M. But given the film's $200M production budget and $586M return (excluding any ancillary business), neither MGM or EON were too concerned, and set to work on the third Daniel Craig James Bond picture.

Shortly after the release of Quantum of Solace, it was announced that Sam Mendes would direct  the 23rd James Bond film, with work beginning immediately. Peter Morgan, writer of Frost/Nixon and The Queen, came aboard to script, and it was assumed a late 2010 release date would be on the cards. However, production came to a grinding halt only a short time later when MGM hit severe financial difficulties, which resulted in them looking for a buyer. In December 2010 the studio filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and quickly set about re-structuring its finances. By December 20th, MGM had emerged from the brink and a day later, Bond 23 was back on track. In the interim, Peter Morgan had exited the project and Casino/Quantum writer's Neil Purvis and Robert Wade returned, with assistance from John Logan. Despite reports at the time, Sam Mendes confirmed he was still set to direct the picture, and had been employed in a consulting capacity while the film was on hold. The budget would also be reigned back to $150M, after Quantum's $200M costs. In January 2011, a release date was set for November of the following year, with shooting set to commence on the still-untitled film late 2011.  A Serbian news article in August mentioned that the picture would be called Carte Blanche, and was actually an adaptation of the recent Jeffrey Deaver Bond book of the same name, but this story was quickly shot down by EON. Shortly after, rumors began to circulate that Skyfall was to be the title on account that Sony/MGM had begun registering combinations of the name in website domain purchases, but all concerned remained silent on the issue. At a press conference held in November to mark the commencement of shooting, Barabra Broccoli confirmed that Skyfall was indeed the title. Along with a returning Daniel Craig and Judi Dench, Javier Bardem would take on the role of Raoul Silva, the picture's main villain. Also joining the cast would be Ralph Fiennes, who some speculated would be revealed as the true villain of the piece in the course of the movie. Ben Wishaw and Naomie Harris also joined the project, with the former being confirmed as the new 'Q'. To give the picture a distinctive look, Mendes hired legendary Coen Brother's cinematographer, Roger Deakins, with whom he had worked on Revolutionary Road.

The story this time around would not be a continuation of the one which began in Casino Royale (and ran through Quantum of Solace), instead Skyfall would be a stand alone adventure. It would see 007's loyalty to M severely tested when the past returns to haunt her. After MI6 comes under attack, Bond must find and destroy the threat, no matter what that entails or how close to home it takes him. Skyfall, as with all Bond films, would shoot in a number of global locations, beginning with venues in and around London, before moving to Turkey (which replaced an aborted India-based shoot), Shanghai and Glencoe, along with the 007 stage at Pinewood. In all, Skyfall shot for 133 days and entered a tight post-production period around the middle of 2012. The first teaser debuted as shooting was coming to an end, and was made up of one minute and twenty two seconds of tightly edited footage, highlighting not only a number of action sequences but Deakins' sumptuous visuals. A number of video blogs followed, as did a full length trailer and further footage as the release date loomed closer. Thomas Newman would replace David Arnold on composing duties, due to having worked with Sam Mendes on a number of previous films (Arnold denied he had been replaced because of commitments to the Olympics opening ceremony . To mark 50 Years of James Bond, the official Skyfall theme was released, having been co-written and performed by Adele. The film premiered in London on 23rd October 2012 and opened officially a few days later, to great acclaim and incredible box office. In the United Kingdom, it had the second biggest weekend in history, and made more money in the first seven days than any other film. In all, over its first weekend in 26 markets, Skyfall made over $80M and was just getting started. By the end of weekend two, it was up to a staggering $287M, which is already more than any of the Brosnan Bond films made during their entire international runs. Skyfall opens this weekend at 3,400 locations and may yet become the first film in the series to make $200M on the domestic market. James Bond has returned.

Out in a limited capacity this weekend is Steven Spielberg's long-awaited Lincoln biopic, whose origins stem back to the turn of the century. When author Doris Kearns Goodwin was consulting for the director in 1999, she mentioned she was writing a book about Lincoln, to be entitled Team of Rivals. Spielberg moved immediately to secure the rights to produce a film based on it, with Dreamworks completing a deal in 2001. He set Gladiator scribe John Logan to produce a script, which centred around Lincoln's friendship with former slave and one of the leaders of the abolitionist movement, Frederick Douglass. Paul Webb was then hired to rewrite Logan's screenplay with a view to shooting in 2006, but Spielberg was still unhappy with it. However, the director had at least found his Lincoln in the guise of Liam Neeson, with whom he had worked on Schindler's List. Scripting duties now fell to Tony Kushner, who had written Munich and won a Pulitzer prize for Angels in America. Feeling completely daunted by the project, Kushner decided to focus on a four month period in the president's life (Neeson had mentioned that Webb's script covered Lincoln's entire life), but that still ran to a 500 page draft. By 2008 Spielberg was ready to announce Lincoln as his next film, and location scouting commenced in early 2009. But a deal over distribution held up filming - the director had developed the picture with Paramount but wanted Touchstone to distribute the picture as part of a new deal. However, he was at that point unable to pay off Paramount for their help and so Lincoln was put on hold again. In the interim, Spielberg shot The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn and War Horse (such was the extensive post-production period on Tintin that the film opened within a month of War Horse despite being shot almost two years earlier). The script continued to be a headache for Kushner, and by February 2009, he had narrowed the story down further, to cover the two months when Lincoln was preoccupied with adopting the 13th Amendment. Finally, with other commitments now out the way, Spielberg announced Lincoln would be the next film he directed.

Having been on board since January 2005, and completed extensive research on all aspects of the president's life, Liam Neeson deemed himself now too old to play the role and bowed out mid-2010. He was replaced in November by Oscar winner and method actor extraordinaire, Daniel Day-Lewis, who would completely immerse himself in the role to such a degree that producer Kathleen Kennedy "got chills thinking that Lincoln was sitting in front of her". Alongside Lewis, Spielberg cast Sally Field as First Lady Mary Lincoln, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as their eldest son, Robert, and Tommy Lee Jones as abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. Tim-Blake Nelson would also feature, as would James Spader and Hal Holbrook, who had won an Emmy portraying Lincoln in 1976. With cast and budget (said to be around $50M) in place, filming began on October 17th 2011 and shot for just over two months. A release date of November 9th 2012 was also put in place. Apart from a few production stills, little was seen or heard of Lincoln, until September 2012, when the first and only domestic trailer was unveiled during a live Google hangout session held with the director and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. As expected, early reviews are very strong, with Day-Lewis' portrayal of the 16th President coming in for particular praise (and early award buzz). Opening at 11 locations this weekend, Lincoln expands wide next frame. Is The Master's per screen average record about to be broken?

John Gosling

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