Commentary: 'Quantum' shares Fleming title, but not story<br />

1960s 'Thunderball' court fight set stage for such Bond disconnects

"Quantum" quotes: I've never been particularly good at following the intricate plot twists and turns of Bond films, but I must confess that after seeing "Quantum of Solace," distributed domestically by Sony, I was at a greater loss than usual at understanding the story.

Afterward, walking through Westwood to dinner with my wife, I observed that I couldn't say much about who was doing what to whom, though I'd certainly enjoyed being along for the ride -- both literally, with the film's gripping car-chase opening set piece, and figuratively. Marjorie, who's usually able to explain movie plot points I've missed or slept through, confided that she, too, hadn't found much story to grasp. At this point -- and I'm really not making this up -- we passed two guys on the street who'd also just left the screening and were saying to each other precisely the same thing: "Quantum" is a string of hyper-edited action sequences, with little or no story to hold them together.

What's particularly ironic about this lack of story is that "Quantum" is based on an Ian Fleming short story, which I read recently, thinking it would help me follow the movie's plot. It's in a collection of nine short stories by Fleming, also including "Octopussy," "The Living Daylights," "From a View to a Kill" and "For Your Eyes Only," all of which have been turned into Bond movies. Four other Fleming shorts have not yet become films -- "The Property of a Lady," "007 in New York," "Risico" and "The Hildebrand Rarity" -- but presumably, in time, they'll all become grist for the Bond movie mill.

Understandably, the short-story collection, published by Penguin Books in paperback as "Quantum of Solace: The Complete James Bond Short Stories," features "Quantum" on its front cover. It has been many years since I read Fleming's Bond novels, and not having read his short stories, I welcomed the opportunity to catch up with "Quantum."

As it turns out, "Quantum" the movie has absolutely nothing to do with "Quantum" the short story, aside from Bond being a character in both. The short story is a quick, pleasant read. It's set in Jamaica, which Fleming loved so much he built himself a winter home there called GoldenEye.

In the short story, Bond has been invited to dinner with the Governor and has suffered through an evening with Canadian millionaire Harvey Miller and his English wife. After the Millers have gone home, Bond and the Governor are still socially obliged to spend an hour or so talking over cognac and cigars. Although their conversation is strained at first, Bond becomes interested when the Governor tells him a story prompted by Bond having said earlier that if he ever got married, it would be to an "air hostess."

The Governor's story is about a man named Philip Masters, whom he'd met in the British Colonial Service and who had married a flight attendant, as we now call them. As the story unfolds, we learn about Masters' unsatisfying career and how his marriage went bad. It's at that point that the Governor tells Bond he has a theory that almost anything can be overcome in a marriage, other than "the death of common humanity," as was the case with Masters. He explains that he calls this "the Law of the Quantum of Solace."

Bond replies that he understands it to mean the "amount of comfort" between two people, and he adds that "all love and friendship is based, in the end, on that." Indeed, when "the Quantum of Solace stands at zero, (you must) get away to save yourself." The Governor proceeds to tell Bond how Masters ultimately paid his wife back quite cruelly for cheating on him.

Fleming provides a great twist to end the story, but please skip over the rest of this paragraph if you don't want to know what it is. The Governor says that Masters' wife, left penniless when he divorced her, wound up marrying a Canadian millionaire named Harvey Miller and is the very same Mrs. Miller whom Bond had just met and found so boring over dinner!

While it's a great story, "Quantum" didn't offer much in the way of story line for a Bond movie. There's no action, no car chases, no dead bodies, no spies at work, no global terrorists, etc. In the end, what producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson and director Marc Forster wound up doing was taking the title and giving the film's villainous organization the name Quantum. By so doing, they were able to say the movie's based on Ian Fleming's "Quantum of Solace," a valuable marketing line because Fleming is one of only a handful of authors whose names actually mean anything to moviegoers. All told, his Bond books have sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.

From all indications, the Sony- and MGM-financed "Quantum" will enjoy blockbuster business this weekend, opening domestically today at about 3,400 theaters. A weekend haul of $50 million-plus seems a safe bet. Earlier this week, Fandango.com reported that online purchases of "Quantum" tickets accounted for 20% of the week's advance ticket sales and were outpacing advance sales for "Casino Royale" in 2006. "Casino" opened Nov. 17, 2006, to $40.8 million at 3,434 theaters ($11,890 per theater).

"Casino" wound up grossing $167.4 million domestically and nearly $427 million internationally, for a worldwide cume of more than $594 million. "Quantum" should do even better, already having taken in $200 million in early international release in about 60 territories. Given "Quantum's" lean running time of 105 minutes, it will benefit from an extra showing daily compared with "Casino," which ran a bloated 144 minutes.

Other encouraging research, according to Fandango, which sells tickets to more than 15,000 domestic screens, shows that of 1,000 "Quantum" ticket buyers polled, 93% plan to see the movie opening weekend, and 78% are more interested in it because of the edgier Bond played by Daniel Craig. Moreover, 61% said they don't miss the amusing one-liners delivered routinely by previous Bonds (Craig has only one, by my count, in "Quantum"), nor do they miss the elaborate gadgetry on which Bond always could rely courtesy of Q (who's missing from the streamlined "Quantum," along with Miss Moneypenny and the classic gun-barrel opening with its “James Bond Theme”).



Fleming, who would’ve turned 100 in May, died of a massive heart attack in 1964, at only 56. While Bond lives on as a movie hero and keeps Fleming's name alive, it's little known that there was considerable controversy before Fleming's death over the rights to make movies about Bond and, in particular, over Fleming’s 1961 novel "Thunderball."

These subjects are the focus of a fascinating book I found recently while shopping called "The Battle for Bond" by Robert Sellers, published by Tomahawk Press of Sheffield, England (www.tomahawkpress.com).

It's a fascinating read that tells in great detail the complex story of how producer Kevin McClory set out during the late '50s to obtain rights to make the first motion picture based on a James Bond novel. After a few years of struggling, McClory thought he'd achieved his goal, only to find in 1960 that London-based Eon Prods. and producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli already were making the first Bond film for United Artists, which had obtained rights to four Bond novels. McClory learned, Sellers writes, that they were "contemplating making 'Dr. No' (as the first film), but would prefer to go with 'Thunderball.'"

"Thunderball," though, was complicated in terms of rights because Fleming had written it after extensive work by McClory and others on his team, including British screenwriter Jack Whittingham, to develop an original screenplay called "Thunderball." McClory went to court in England, claiming that Fleming had used story elements from Whittingham's "Thunderball" screenplay in writing his novel.

In Chapter 21 of his book, Sellers writes about "The Court Case That Killed Ian Fleming." The trial began Nov. 20, 1963, a month after the British release of the second of Eon's Bond films, "From Russia With Love," which remains my favorite Bond all these years later. Sellers asks, "Could McClory prove that his copyright in the 'Thunderball' film scripts (several drafts of the screenplay had been written) had been infringed by Fleming's novel?"

As things turned out, he didn't need to prove it because after nine days of trial, Fleming and his associate Ivar Bryce, with whom McClory originally was partnered in the production company seeking to bring Bond to the screen, agreed to a settlement with McClory. The settlement brought McClory a payment believed to be 50,000 pounds (a huge sum at the time) in damages, as well as legal costs believed to total 17,500 pounds.

It also gave McClory, according to Sellers, "all the copyright in the film scripts and the exclusive right to reproduce any part of the novel in films and for the purpose of making such films to make scripts." McClory also was given "the exclusive right to use the character James Bond as a character in any such scripts or film of 'Thunderball.'"

The settlement let Fleming retain ownership of the novel "Thunderball," but his publishers had to add this line to the title page of all future editions of the book: "Based on a screen treatment by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and the author."

The settlement, and the rights it gave McClory, ultimately led to production of the 1983 film "Never Say Never Again," in which Sean Connery returned as James Bond. "Never" was produced by Jack Schwartzman, executive produced by McClory and directed by Irvin Kershner. Its screenplay was by Lorenzo Semple Jr., and its story was credited to McClory, Whittingham and Fleming. There also were uncredited contributions to the screenplay by Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement.

"Never" grossed $55.4 million domestically via Warner Bros., making it the ninth-biggest Bond film to date. Presumably, "Quantum" will eclipse "Casino" to become the biggest Bond, and "Never" will slip to 10th place.

The strain of the trial on Fleming, who already had a serious heart condition, proved considerable. Nine months after the court proceedings, he suffered his fatal heart attack. Before his death, Fleming, according to Sellers, "witnessed the popularity of the first two 007 movies ('Dr. No' and 'From Russia With Love'). But he never lived to see his creation become a cinematic phenomenon and cultural icon thanks to the unprecedented success of, ironically enough, the story that had caused him much of those health problems in the first place -- 'Thunderball.'"

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