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Press hacks doubt Sam Mendes will deliver what the fans want

12-Jan-2011 • Skyfall

Sam Mendes may have problems directing new James Bond movie and could have to battle for his 'vision' if past Bond films are a guide, says Tim Robey of The Telegraph.

It's a full year since Sam Mendes was first put in the frame as a potential Bond director, in which time MGM’s financial woes derailed the production schedule, allowing 007’s more possessive fans to forget their immediate beef and prematurely mourn the whole franchise.

Now it’s back on, but they’re still not happy about the (reconfirmed) Mendes appointment. “It’ll be all middlebrow and safe!” seems to be the standard assumption. The Bond they want is gleeful, sly and viscerally over-the-top, qualities it’s fair to say haven’t been much in evidence in Mendes’s movies to date.

Bond, though, is simply not a director’s franchise. Fans on message boards love to rail against the last one, Quantum of Solace, and throw a lot of blame at Marc Forster, the Swiss helmer of Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland and other literary Oscar-bait, whose face-value credentials for the job were every bit as elusive as those of Mendes.

The argument goes that you need a real action-director’s pair of hands, and that Martin Campbell, who rebooted the series twice with GoldenEye and Casino Royale, is the right type of guy. Directors with artistic pretensions tackle Bond at their peril and everyone else’s.

Because their names carry unexpected pedigree for the task of a mass-market blockbuster, Forster, and now Mendes, become convenient stooges for what’s actually a producer’s logistical nightmare – and responsibility.

It’s about marshalling an army of second unit/assistant directors, stunt co-ordinators and effects technicians. In the Brosnan years, people such as Roger Spottiswoode and Michael Apted may have had the helm, but most of the standout set-pieces were famously masterminded by Vic Armstrong and his team.

Sure, directors of Bond movies have their work cut out to get the actors and story into shape, but they have less autonomy to foist any particular vision of their own on to the screen than in most other franchises this side of Police Academy. You could pick apart the auteur theory on the evidence of editor-turned-director John Glen, who directed the last three Roger Moore instalments, then made the terrific first Timothy Dalton one, The Living Daylights, and then followed it up with surely the nadir of the entire series, Licence To Kill.

This proves my point: who directs a Bond movie has almost nothing to do with how good it is. (A further dent in the just-use-Martin-Campbell argument is available to anyone who’s actually tried to watch GoldenEye lately, Famke Janssen’s ace villainess honourably excepted.)

So imagining that Mendes will somehow attempt to turn Bond into Revolutionary Road II or The Cherry Orchard: Dawn Inferno is a mug’s game. He won’t be allowed.

Whether his instalment is praised or pilloried will be down to the entire creative team, the script, the editing, effects, production design, score, and the harmony of all those elements, as it always is – and, as usual, it'll be mainly the producers', not Mendes's, concern to foster that harmony.

Oh, and the casting. Rumours are abroad that Simon Russell Beale is currently being considered for a role. He’d love to be a baddie. I’d love him to be a baddie. The petition starts here.

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