Spielberg on James Bond: Maybe He’d Shake the Franchise, Not Stir It. April 01 2014, 0 Comments

By Adam Zanzie - Editor of the Take2 Guide to Steven Spielberg

The first time Steven Spielberg expressed interest in directing a James Bond film was in the early 1970’s, as a follow-up to his theatrical feature-film debut The Sugarland Express. At the time, producer Albert R. Broccoli was reluctant to give the young and inexperienced director such an assignment, but by the early 90’s, when Spielberg expressed interest again, Broccoli quipped, “Now I can’t afford you!”

Today, with Sam Mendes already in pre-production for the 24th Bond film, how do you imagine the 25th installment would turn out if, say, Spielberg were hired to direct it, thus fulfilling one of the earliest wishes of his career?

Spielberg would, of course get to work once again with franchise-regular Daniel Craig, who previously collaborated with the director on Munich in 2005 and The Adventures of Tintin in 2011. 

I then try to imagine how a filmmaker as infatuated with visceral storytelling as Spielberg could possibly tackle the Bond franchise, which is less concerned with emotion and story than it is with pure exercises in action-movie style. Even Spielberg’s own Indiana Jones flicks, which are certainly full of action, still maintain a sense of emotion and character development.

To achieve this, I wonder if Spielberg would have to do away with the usual 007 formula: Bond gets involved in an incomprehensible disaster plot and battles a super-villain while romancing an attractive Bond girl. Though such simplicity is what makes the Bond film unique, Spielberg is hardly a filmmaker who limits himself to such formulas. Spielberg tends to favor complex themes and complicated heroes. What’s more, he tends to prefer family men as opposed to lusty bachelors for his heroes; after all, by the end of the fourth film, Indiana Jones had already taken up a wife.

Thus I suspect Spielberg would like James Bond to be a more domesticated figure. Perhaps he would live out a double life, raising a family at home while secretly working for MI6 elsewhere in the world. Perhaps the film would address post-9/11 issues, as Munich and War of the Worlds did. Perhaps the Bond villain would be played by an actor Spielberg has previously worked with, such as Ben Kingsley, Ciaran Hinds, David Thewlis, Colin Farrell or—here’s a neat idea—Benedict Cumberbatch.

There could be a subplot about Bond wishing he had more time to be with his wife and raise his son. The wife would know nothing about Bond’s life as a secret agent and would assume he is in some other type of business. The son, perhaps a pacifist like Upham in Saving Private Ryan, might feel betrayed when he finds out that his father kills for a living.

Location-wise, the film could take place in England as well as places Spielberg has never filmed before, such as the streets of Iraq the frozen wastelands of Greenland.

He would bring back many of his usual technical collaborators: Michael Kahn, Janusz Kaminski, Ben Burtt. 

But who would compose the film’s music? Most of Spielberg’s films have had their music composed by John Williams, but somehow I doubt he’d be interested in composing a theme for an already enormously-popular and still-thriving franchise. He might consider working with Thomas Newman, who composed the music for Skyfall

Other contributors I worked with on the Take2 Guide to Steven Spielberg have ideas of their own—and, amusingly, they’re not too far away from my own. 

“Spielberg's input,” Andrew L. Urban from Urban Cinefile writes, “perhaps, into the screenplay for Bond No 25 is the discovery of a 12 year old son Bond didn't know he had - a boy with an uncanny ability to communicate with animals ... Which turns out to be key in identifying and locating a master criminal planning to dominate the world.”

Cinema Directives Tom Hyland’s idea is a similar one: “As Spielberg loves old-fashioned values and has quite often featured a young child in one of his films, how about Bond doing his work and instead of hanging around with beautiful women, he goes home to his adoring young nephew. Bond reminds the young man to wait a few years before using guns, but in the end, he also tells him that crime never pays.”

Graeme Clark, a regular contributor to The Spinning Image, believes the prospect of directing a Bond film is right up Spielberg’s alley: “Sam Mendes showed with Skyfall that just because a director takes on a multi-million dollar franchise it doesn't mean that his style should be lost in the process. Before that, Bond movies were very much producer-led, with a selection of talent who could be used by the brand to create blockbusters very much in the fashion of what had gone before, yet Mendes combined both the corporate and the individual, something Steven Spielberg could achieve very well on past evidence of his own franchises. Would he make it an identifiably Spielbergian work in the way Quentin Tarantino wanted to make an entry in the series his own? I think he could; he has proved himself in that area. Rather that than remaking West Side Story.”

Roderick Heath, from Ferdy On Films, while sure that a Spielberg-directed Bond picture would have remarkable action sequences, echoes my uncertainty as to how Spielberg would address the problem of character.

“We can only imagine at this point what Spielberg's take on 007 will be,” he writes, “although considering that the Indiana Jones films were in part homages to the classic Bond films, it's not so hard to picture. What I expect from Spielberg is great action, certainly—I see Spielberg's gift for creating action sequences lending the series a formal discipline and sense of spectacle that's deserted it in recent years. The Bond films have been moving closer to standard-issue Bourne-era action fare of late, whereas I see Spielberg bringing back some of the high-flying stunt work and ingeniously composed and sustained thrills and spills.

“He might even lend his installment a strong dash of Catch Me If You Can's sense of retro chic and stylized jet-setter glamour, as a nod to the Bond series' roots in the pop-art '60s. What's harder to predict is how Spielberg will approach Bond's character, as aspects of the Bond mystique seem intriguingly at odds with Spielberg's familiar worldview. Bond, rootless, sensually voracious, eternally cool in dealing out death and destruction, is definitely not one of Spielberg's usual suburban heroes. But Spielberg knows his way around darker thriller stuff too, as Minority Report proved, and he might gaze just a little bit harder to see the human behind Bond's omnicompetent mask.

“At least, as far as the iconic character permits.”