[WARNING: This post contains HUGE SPOILERS for Spectre!]
Much of the publicity surrounding the hack of Sony's servers has been about their handling of their Spider-Man film franchise and whether or not Sony can make a deal with Marvel Studios to allow Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man to take part in the lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe. Today, however, the studio's other major tentpole - that of James Bond - takes center stage, with newly released emails discussing juicy details about Spectre, the 24th installment in the long-running franchise that just started filming recently.
After the overwhelming critical and commercial success of Skyfall, it's safe to say that there's been a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for the followup, which sees director Sam Mendes return to call the shots. However, the pre-production process didn't go entirely smoothly, with a couple of script revisions (first by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, then Jez Butterworth) taking place before the cameras could begin rolling earlier this month. As it turns out, the screenplay is hardly the only problem facing the team, as Sony is struggling to keep the budget in check.
In emails sent by MGM president Jonathan Glickman (hat tip CNN) as recently as November 2014, he broke down the financial issues plaguing the production and how he was trying to trim the budget so it was more manageable. When Spectre began production, it was announced that Mendes would be working with a larger budget than on Skyfall (which is saying a lot since that film was made for $200 million), but we doubt few would have predicted a James Bond movie would cost in excess of $300 million to produce.
Even if Spectre is able to replicate the billion-dollar gross of Skyfall, it's entirely understandable why Glickman would be so nervous about that enormous price tag. The production budget typically does not include marketing costs (which, for a film such as this, will run very high) and the shooting period for Spectre already is $50 million more than the one for Skyfall. Any way they can trim expenses would help make the economic burden a little easier to bear.
In his messages, Glickman stresses that he's not trying to "nickel and dime" the movie and offers some suggestions for how the team can cut back on costs. These include using fewer train carriages for an action sequence and removing rain from the film's climax. Longtime Bond producer Barbara Broccoli seemed to not be a fan of the ideas, refusing to cut back on the number of carriages in a response.
In addition to an ever-expanding budget, it also appears that the film's main storyline is something that has become a hot talking point with the studio's executives. Several email exchanges are about the Spectre script and the many problems that the third act presents (hat tip Defamer, who also have a copy of the leaked script). Head there for the full details. Scroll down for the meatier bits.
SPOILERS FOR SPECTRE BELOW!
For what it's worth, Sony executives seemed to be quite pleased with the first two acts of the film, which saw Bond embark on a mission assigned to him posthumously by Judi Dench's M. While working on his task, 007 seduces the wife of someone he assassinated (Monica Belluci's character) and attends a meeting of masked terrorists who are led by someone who knows Bond from his past. Meanwhile, the Ralph Fiennes M (who was in place as MI-6's leader at the end of Skyfall) is engaged in a battle with Andrew Scott's character "C" (the head of MI-6's sister agency MI-5) over the future of an intelligence sharing program called Nine Eyes. It's also revealed that MI-5 is merging with MI-6, which forces Bond to face retirement.
From this, we can confirm that what we've heard about the story to date is true. The idea of Bond being asked to step away and MI-6 proving its value in modern society are themes from Skyfall that will carry over into the new film and Bond's past (which played a role in the last installment) will come back to haunt him this time around, making it easy to see how the two flicks are thematically related, as Mendes has said.
Glickman remarks that he is a fan of the "first 100 pages" of the screenplay, but it is here where the problems begin to emerge. The general consensus was that Spectre's finale left much to be desired, which is somewhat surprising considering that the third act is when Christoph Waltz's Heinrich Stockmann - using the alias Franz Oberhauser - meets Bond. (FYI: Apparently, in notes, the execs refer to this character as Blofeld, but the script does not.)
The villain confesses that he is Bond's foster-brother and the head of the terrorist organization SPECTRE. The brother twist is a shock, but the fact that Waltz's character is the man in charge of the titular institution is something that has been assumed since word of his involvement first broke.
According to the executives, Oberhauser isn't a compelling evildoer (and after Javier Bardem's Silva, that would be a major letdown) and the stakes are rather low for the climax of a Bond film (apparently, it's compressing a single document). There's also some alleged confusion over what exactly is happening in the finale, which is also cause for concern. After a strong start, Spectre appears to come apart at the seams when it's supposed to be getting interesting.
It should be noted that in November, Glickman approved of the revised third act, writing that he was "thrilled with the creative changes." What those edits were remain unknown, but at least that's a step in the right direction - even if the budget still has to be streamlined. When audiences finally see the film, the conclusion should be a fascinating point of debate.
Now that the entire narrative for Spectre (in outline form, at least) is available for the world to see, we're in a unique position where a film's arc will be in the court of public opinion about a year before it hits screens. Will the leak cause revisions just for the sake of keeping people guessing?
From where we stand, the thematic material in the film has potential to be an interesting story, so it would be a shame if more rewrites happened. As long as the tricky third act was ironed out, Mendes and his team have earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making a Bond film, so they should be trusted to deliver an entertaining product from here on out.
Spectre will open in theaters on November 6, 2015.
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90.