I have to admit, the news that Paul Haggis would be replaced by Peter Morgan on writing duties at Bond 23 (because we don’t have a cool/confusing/pretentious title yet) was a little bit of a surprise, but not too much. The producers reportedly also attempted to coax Danny Boyle into directing the film, so I guess they’re trying one rung down on this year’s Oscar-nominees list. I’m not sure if that’s a good sign though. Don’t get me wrong, Morgan is amazing and I eagerly anticipate The Special Relationship (though I think he picked the wrong President), but I’m worried that the movies are creeping toward pretention. I like Casino Royale, it cleared away nearly forty years of rubble the franchise had accumulated – but it seems the producers picker up on the wrong message from its success. The Quantum of Solice didn’t give us back-to-basics Bond as much as it gave us a British Jason Bourne. Still, regardless of my feelings about behind the scenes, I am somewhat excited by the Michael Sheen as Blofeld rumours that are cropping up.
Sheen is a tremendous and relatively unnoticed talent. He seems to be something of a lucky charm to his costars, at least when paired with writer Morgan – with Helen Mirren winning an Oscar for The Queen and Frank Langella receiving a nomination for Frost/Nixon. Even though Dennis Quaid may test the scope of Sheen’s powers, I wouldn’t bet against a potential Oscar upset by Quaid, simply based on his costar’s lucky streak. Unlike most of those rare fantastically understated film and stage performers, Sheen doesn’t seem to hibernate from one awards season to the next – though maybe he should. He made the somewhat dodgy decision to stick with the Underworld franchise after even Kate Beckinsale had bailed out and he’s popping up in the upcoming tween sensation Twilight: New Moon. Perhaps his taste in light fare is improving – he’s going to be the Cheshire Cat in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and, if internet sources are to be believe, may be a young Blofeld in the new Bond movie.
For those readers who don’t recall Ernst Stavro Blofeld so well, I can assure you that you have encountered him, you just may not have known it. A recurring villain in the later Connery films, he also popped up in George Lazenby’s only outing and briefly at the start of a Roger Moore film. He’s been played by several actors – most notably horror maestro Donald Pleasence (Halloween), Telly Savalas (Kojak) and Charles Gray (the narrator from The Rocky Horror Picture Show). He was the man who killed Bond’s wife, but it wasn’t really handled particularly well. However, the biggest impact the character has made on popular culture in recent memory (despite the affinity that masterminds have for stroking cats) was that he provided the inspiration for Austin Powers’ nemesis, Dr. Evil. Given how the impact of the parody character, we think that a rebooted Blofeld would have to be quite different from the bald cat-stroking meglomaniac of the sixties. But not too different. I have faith that the writers can pull it off.
Maybe the rumours about Blofeld appearing are meant to put old fogies like me at ease. Daniel Craig himself promised the return of “submarine bases” and other tropes of the franchise. I’m hesitant to say that those clichés were what I missed when I watched The Quantum of Solice. I’m looking for that rare je ne sais que property that sustained the franchise through a deathly dull Lazenby movie and the excesses of the Moore years. Still, perhaps I’m out of touch. The better half seemed to enjoy it precisely because it wasn’t Bond. So maybe bringing back such an obvious and large part of the Bond heritage as Blofeld is not necessarily a good idea, though I will concede that the character who was so menacing in the books never reached his true potential on screen.
At the very least – even if he isn’t the bald mastermind in the chair – this casting rumour is a great return to a classic Bond tradition. I remember when it used to be a popular hobby of respectable actors to play these villains. Pierce Brosnan faced off against Robert Carlyle, Jonathon Pryce, Sean Bean, Famke Janssen and Sophie Marceau. Roger Moore grappled with Grace Jones, Christopher Lee, Yaphet Kotto and – my favourite – Christopher Walken. Sure, Daniel Craig might have squared off against two highly regarded European actors, but where is the established performer in a dodgy accent making terrible one liners?