Cody gathers intel on the six year gap between Bonds.
Soon after the release of their sixteenth Bond film, Licence to Kill, in the summer of 1989, Eon Productions began working on the next installment in the series with the intention of keeping the established pattern of a new Bond adventure every two years.
A large ad was placed outside the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, France during the 1990 Cannes Film Festival to announce that Timothy Dalton would return as 007 in the not-yet-titled 17th Bond film, his third turn in the role, with an unspecified 1991 release date.
While Eon and the studio they had a distribution deal with, MGM/UA, wanted to make another Bond movie, they knew that some issues would have to be addressed during the development. Licence to Kill had done decent business at the worldwide box office, but had been the least successful Bond film ever in North America, placing #4 in its opening weekend and dropping out of the top 10 by its third weekend. MGM/UA openly admitted that, while they needed the franchise, it was starting to look a little tired.
Things needed to be shaken up. The series had largely coasted through the '80s, with most of the same crew staying in place throughout the decade and Roger Moore staying in the lead role for too long during the first half of it. There had been a creative risk taken with Licence to Kill having been a more serious and realistic thriller, but the audience hadn't shown up for it.
The series needed some new blood and fresh perspectives behind the scenes, and soon word came out in the trades that John Glen, who had directed all five Bond films of the '80s, and Richard Maibaum, who had co-written thirteen of the sixteen films to date, would not be working on the next movie.
The first writer who was hired to put together some ideas for Bond 17 was Alfonse Ruggiero, who had written several episodes of the Airwolf, Miami Vice, and Wise Guy television shows. Apparently one treatment Ruggiero wrote up featured Bond dealing with drug runners in Mexico, which is hard to believe since that would cover such similar ground to LTK.
Ruggiero wrote another story with Michael G. Wilson that fans are more familiar with, some even have copies of their nineteen page treatment. Synopses of Ruggiero and Wilson's work have been posted on the CommanderBond message board and the now defunct 007Forever.com, and MI6 did a multiple article write-up on it. I have not read the treatment myself, so I'll leave the extensive details to those who have.
It is well known among fans that the treatment dealt with robotics, but the word "robotics" gives some the mistaken impression that it would've been Bond versus Terminator-like cyborgs. That's not really the case. Disney's Imagineers were commissioned to sketch designs for the robots that would be needed for the film, which seem much like the robots that are in use around the world (and out on Mars) today.
The most troublesome robots in the story are used in a chemical weapons factory in Scotland and a power plant in China. Someone has implanted microchips in them that allow them to manipulate the robots to cause explosions in these locations. In the case of the power plant, the explosion leads to a devastating radiation leak.
Bond's investigation of the case leads him to Hong Kong, where he ends up with two separate female allies over the course of the story; American cat burglar Connie Webb and Chinese secret agent Mi Wai.
The villain turns out to be Sir Henry Ching, the Chinese/British head of an electronics empire who has computer chips in weapons systems around the globe. From his office, he could render every nation's military technology useless. He demands that the British withdraw from Hong Kong, he threatens to make a Royal Navy submarine fire missiles on Shanghai, his drive is to get revenge on China for the government's assassination of his warlord father.
There are many elements in the treatment that went on to be used in films during Pierce Brosnan's term as James Bond. A skiing/avalanche scene ended up in The World Is Not Enough, he teamed up with a female Chinese secret agent in Tomorrow Never Dies, his gadget-loaded car was pitted against a henchman's gadget-loaded car in Die Another Day, etc.
The henchman is one of my favorite things about the treatment. His name is Rodin and he is involved with scenes that I really want to see in a Bond movie someday, particularly the sequence wherein he wipes out the guards of an office complex. He wears a helmet with a heads-up display on the inside of the faceplate and has a gun mounted on a gimbal on his hip that automatically aims itself and can even target victims through walls. What online gamers use cheats to do, he can do in real life.
The tone of the treatment reads similar to Licence to Kill, just with more, bigger action and a hi-tech bent. It seems good overall, though if handled incorrectly some scenes could resemble lesser moments of the Moore era. The robotics angle only gets out of hand in one scene, where it is revealed that Sir Henry Ching's mistress Nan is indeed a cyborg with superhuman strength. I would've wanted that written out before the movie was filmed.
William Davies and William Osborne, writers of the 1988 Arnold Schwarzenegger/Danny DeVito movie Twins, were hired to turn Ruggiero and Wilson's treatment into a screenplay, and ended up writing two drafts of it.
Meanwhile, Eon started looking for directors. One rumored contender was John Landis, who had gone on to direct movies including Animal House, Blues Brothers, and An American Werewolf in London since writing a rejected draft of The Spy Who Loved Me. Another director who the producers considered was Ted Kotcheff, director of First Blood, Uncommon Valor, and Weekend at Bernie's.
Eventually, development got far enough along that Variety was able to report the news that Bond 17 would begin filming in early 1991 and be released later in the year. John Byrum, director of comedies Harry and Walter Go to New York and the NC-17 Inserts, was in talks to direct. Husband and wife writing team Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, who had written American Graffiti, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Howard the Duck for George Lucas, would get the screenplay into shooting shape.
The screenplay for the '91 project never did get finished, as the big problem that would delay the next Bond film until 1995 hit in late 1990.
It was business and legal issues that would keep James Bond off the screen for six years. Pathe Communications, a company run by a man named Giancarlo Parretti, was looking to buy MGM for $1.3 billion dollars. To help finance his buyout, Paretti was offering the Bond television rights to networks around the globe, giving them long term rights to air the movies on their stations for very low prices. When Bond producer Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli got word of Paretti's "when MGM is mine, Bond is yours" promises, he filed a lawsuit to block Parretti from making the sales. In November 1990, one month after the filing, Parretti officially became the owner of MGM/UA. When a court threw out Broccoli's lawsuit in early '91, he filed again.
Five months into the MGM/Pathe merger, the company was facing bankruptcy. The proceedings were halted at the last moment when a deal was made with the company's creditors. Credit Lyonnais agreed to help the troubled studio out with a $145 million loan, but only in the case that Parretti step down as chairman. Parretti remained the majority shareholder, but was removed from the board in June of '91.
Broccoli's lawsuit against MGM-Pathe continued throughout 1991 and into 1992, so of course no progress was made on the next Bond film during that time. Eon wasn't going to make a new movie while suing their distributor.
Concurrent to the lawsuit, Broccoli put his company Danjaq up for sale for around $200 million. Eon Productions is a subsidiary of Danjaq, which is the company that Broccoli and former partner Harry Saltzman formed when they bought the film rights to Ian Fleming's Bond novels. Saltzman had sold his stake in the companies to Broccoli in 1975, giving him total control. Whoever purchased Danjaq would earn the right to make the Bond movies. The most notable interested party was Joel Silver, the producer behind such films as Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Road House, Predator, Commando, Action Jackson, 48 Hrs., the list goes on. Silver was said to be considering buying Danjaq in early 1992, with his idea being to cast Mel Gibson as James Bond. In the end, Danjaq was not sold.
The lawsuit against MGM-Pathe was not settled until December of 1992, when the case reached a conclusion that was satisfying to Broccoli/Danjaq/Eon. Everyone involved looked forward to getting back to work on the next Bond film. There were more changes at MGM as the company's debt continued to mount, and by the end of 1993 Pathe was out of the picture.
With so much time having passed, and a satisfactory script never having been completed for the lost 1991 film anyway, it was decided that a new writer with new ideas would be brought on to the revived Bond 17. Michael France, a writer on the soon-to-be-released Sylvester Stallone film Cliffhanger, was hired to write the script in early 1993.
MGM let Variety know that a search was on to find "an important director to give it a different look", someone who could revitalize the series and boost the box office. A top contender in 1993 was Michael Caton-Jones of Memphis Belle, Doc Hollywood, and This Boy's Life.
Somewhere along the line there was even the possibility that Bond 17 could be a Cliffhanger reunion. In addition to Michael France writing the script, Cliffhanger director Renny Harlin has said he was offered the job to direct the film but turned it down because Timothy Dalton was still meant to play Bond and he didn't like Dalton's portrayal of the character.
While France worked on Bond 17, two more writers were hired to develop ideas for future Bond films. One of those writers was John Cork, screenwriter on the 1990 drama The Long Walk Home and a member of the Ian Fleming Foundation who was said to have had an impressive idea for a Bond movie. His name never has appeared as a writer on one, but he has gone on to produce the DVD special features for the films and has written books on the history of the series. The other writer who was hired was Richard Smith, who co-wrote the 1989 Sylvester Stallone film Lock Up. Lock Up remains the last writing credit on his filmography.
In the Variety article announcing the hiring of Cork and Smith, Danjaq spokesman Charles Juroe confirmed that the next film was being put together with Dalton in mind as Bond. "Dalton is the Bond of record." The producers wanted to keep Dalton on to fulfill his initial three film contract, even though it had technically expired. That idea was met with opposition from United Artists president John Calley.
Calley had been the head of production at Warner Bros. when Kevin McClory produced his Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again there, and now that he was at UA and able to work with the official Bond series, he made getting the new Bond movie together a top priority. But he did not want Timothy Dalton in it. Calley's Bond casting suggestions included Hugh Grant, Ralph Fiennes, Liam Neeson, and Pierce Brosnan.
Dalton was the Bond of record, Eon wanted him in the next film, he kept the press updated throughout the development, but on April 11, 1994, Timothy Dalton officially announced that he would not be returning as James Bond. He said it was entirely his decision, that he wanted to move on to new challenges as an actor, but some fans suspect that he only bowed out because the studio was pressuring the producers to recast.
Michael France turned in his first draft of Bond 17 in January of 1994, and production on the film was pushed back further as more writers were brought on to do revisions, some of which were required because James Cameron's True Lies came out and had some similarities to France's ideas. The aim was now for a 1995 release.
Bond 17 eventually found its director in Martin Campbell, who was known for directing the miniseries Edge of Darkness, half of the episodes of the Reilly: Ace of Spies miniseries, and had the sci-fi action film No Escape in theatres in 1994.
As the project continued down the road to finally getting filmed, Eon's search for a new Bond ended with a man who was on John Calley's wish list, the man who had almost been Bond in 1987 instead of Dalton, the contender who had been the obvious choice in the eyes of the public throughout the '80s and had kept his "possible Bond" image alive in ad campaigns for Diet Coke and Lark cigarettes. Pierce Brosnan was signed to play James Bond, 007.
Thanks to CommanderBond, MI6, 007Forever, Variety, Klast, 007Today, and Our Man from Bond Street.