Film discussion

James Bond – The Road to Bond 25, Part Twenty-Five: Everything or Nothing (2012)

2012 was a year for celebration in the UK: London hosted the 30th Summer Olympics; the Queen reached her Diamond Jubilee; and the James Bond series hit the landmark age of 50.  With EON having proven far from impressive at marketing and promotion in recent years, little was expected from them, beyond the hope that they would get that year’s 23rd Bond film right.  In the event, activities outside of the film itself were mixed.  The Bond 50 Blu-ray box set was a qualified positive: superbly restored films and a decent promotional tour featuring Roger Moore couldn’t hide a general lack of new bonus features, with most of the films still leaning on Patrick Macnee-narrated, standard definition documentaries from the 1990s.  The video game released that year, 007 Legends, was an abysmal Call of Duty clone, released, effectively, as an incomplete game, with a final mission to be downloadable after the release of Skyfall.

EON also commissioned a celebratory documentary to commentate the Golden Anniversary.  Seemingly a slam dunk, the release was then fluffed by getting a timely release on Hulu in the United States, but not reaching British shores until a DVD only (no Blu-ray) release the following January – thus missing the anniversary – and the build-up to the new film – entirely.  For the US market, though, the release arrived on 5th October 2012: 50 years to the day from the release of Dr No.  From documentarian Steven Riley, probably best known for University Boat Race film Blue Blood, Everything or Nothing is notable for the sheer breadth of talent committing to the project.  Most importantly, five of the six Bond actors appear for interview, with only Sean Connery not participating (though he does appear in archive interviews).  Connery had taken part in a South Bank Show special on the Bond series in 2008, but has not involved himself in anything EON-related since leaving the official series in 1971.

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Beginning with the voice of Daniel Craig, as he explains what the series meant to him as a child, we move straight to Christopher Lee, Scaramanga in 1974’s The Man With Golden Gun, as he talks of his memories of author Ian Fleming, a man he knew well.  Lee is able to contextualise how Fleming’s experiences in and around World War II, and working in espionage, shaped the creation of the James Bond character.  Though, far from seeing front line action, it appears that Fleming spent most of his time in back office duties: thus, James Bond was something of an analogue for the adventures he wished he’d had.  In having Lee and others with a direct link to the character’s creator, this documentary was the last real opportunity to make such a film before too many of those present for the formative years of the series passed away.  Since this film’s release in 2012, we’ve lost – amongst others – Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Ken Adam (Production Designer), director Lewis Gilbert, as well as David Picker (one-time Head of United Artists).  All are involved here, making this – regardless of the quality of the end result – a film for which we can be immensely grateful.

From these opening scenes, the film moves through a potted history of the cinematic James Bond series, from the earliest meeting of Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli, the forming of EON productions, and the key decisions shaping the early entries in the series.  A mixture of talking head-style interviews, intercut with historic footage of interviews, as well as shots from all of the films in the series is the style chosen.  It lacks any real inventiveness in design, but this is more than compensated for by the fact that the film has gone out of its way to ensure the Ian Fleming Foundation is represented, with daughter Lucy Fleming present.  Harry Saltzman is represented by family, including his son Steven, and daughter Hilary.  Given Saltzman left the series in the mid-1970s and that the Fleming Foundation acts entirely independently of the EON series (overseeing the continuation novels), it’s clear EON have taken an inclusive approach, rather than simply focus on their own successes.

Archive footage as featured in Everything or Nothing

In tone, the film is content to cover both the good and the bad.  Sean Connery’s feud with producers is covered – though it pulls its punches in terms of apportioning blame over the financial disputes involved.  George Lazenby turns up to talk about his still-bizarre-decision to leave the series after one entry (though, sadly, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service director Peter Hunt passed away in 2002).  Most impressively, the Kevin McClory situation is addressed openly, with his friend Judy Geeson, still probably best known for the 1970s version of Poldark, talking engagingly about the degree of obsession that plagued McClory, after Thunderball, as he sought to establish a rival series.  This allows for the film to address Never Say Never Again directly, as Barbara Broccoli – without ever addressing McClory negatively – pointed out that having Sean Connery on-board was only part of the puzzle, and not enough to make a rival product work.  Without stating it directly, there is a tribute in this to the work of so many in creating a series of so many recognisable tropes.  With EON owning that film now, this section of the documentary is accompanied by shots from the rival product.

Such an officially sanctioned work will always have to walk a fine line.  As every Bond film is someone’s favourite, the producers can’t be seen to knock entries the audience might enjoy, yet it would be very bland were it not to address some of the poorer work from a series that has always had highs and lows.  In this regard, the film balances its tone very well.  Without doubt, the funniest part of the film is Pierce Brosnan laughing almost uncontrollably at the memory of being told, on the set of Die Another Day, that his job that day would be to simulate kite-surfing a tsunami.  As he struggles to remember which of his films he did in which order – after GoldenEye, for which he clearly retains a fondness – it’s clear that he feels disappointment at the way his run unfolded; something he’s good natured about ten years on from his final film.

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If there is one criticism to be had, it’s that Everything or Nothing falls down the cracks between TV and film; unnecessarily so, given it had its debut on a US streaming network.  At 98 minutes, nothing can be focused on for long: the work to establish the series, and ensure it was made on location, and in colour; the cold war between Connery and the producers; the split between Broccoli and Saltzman, and the subsequent pressure on The Spy Who Loved Me; the decades of litigation from Kevin McClory and attempts to establish a rival series; the six year gap between 1989 and 1995 and the successful return of the series; and the historic decision to reboot the series.  All of these could make a film in itself.  At very least these topics all needed more that the few minutes they are granted.

This makes the film less appealing to big fans of the series, as the detail offered falls below that already known to most.  The remedy would have been either a much longer film – as 98 minutes to cover 50 years is somewhat skinny – or to break it down into a six to eight part series.  It could still have made its debut on the 50th anniversary, or have been timed to finish on that date.  Either way, what we got was historic in getting everyone available (except Connery) to take part, and it serves as a very decent history for the casual viewer. More depth and detail would have been appreciated, that’s all. Perhaps a middle ground where a TV show was adapted and abridged into a shorter film version may have been an idea.

So, the James Bond series had reached its half-century.  Time and again the series had faced competition from other franchises, as well as periodic complaints that it was outdated, and led by a character with no place in the modern world.  Though Daniel Craig was very respected in the role, a poor reaction to his 2008 entry, followed by a four-year gap, and the acceleration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – which was producing a couple of films a year by 2011 – left James Bond needing, once again, to punch out a statement of intent.  As the oldest active film franchise in the World, entry number 23 would need to be something truly special.  The series was about to welcome Academy Award winner Sam Mendes.

The Road to Bond 25 will return with Skyfall (2012).

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