Return of the Director?
The recent announcement that Sam Mendes will be returning to the Bond series to take the helm of Bond 24 has pleased many fans and cinema go-ers alike. However, this isn’t anything new within the British spy franchise, as directors such as John Glen, Guy Hamilton and Terence Young took control of back to back productions regularly. It is only recently that directors have come and gone from Bond quicker than he can draw his Walther PPK.
There are clear advantages of a director remaining in control of a sequence of films. The director is ultimately the drive and the vision which guides and steers the film from storyboard and script to the final edited piece which pulls in the punters and money at the box office. By retaining that creative drive, the end product is undoubtedly much stronger. To illustrate my point let’s not take cinema classics, instead let’s consider a mediocre series of films…Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Trilogy. Despite the clunky sequel, and the sometimes preposterous third, the heart, warmth and slick cool that emblazed the first film was retained throughout. The same gloss and style charmed its way into the hearts of viewers in all three films and while admittedly it has its detractors, the series remain undoubtedly Soderbergh’s and fun to watch.
If we broaden out the list of successfully retained directors within a series or franchise, it is easy to rattle off some argument winning examples from the top of your head…Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, George Lucas’s Star Wars (albeit the original three), Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfathers even J.J. Abrams lens flare fests in Star Trek all work because the directors stick around to finish the job. However, to really confirm the point that a retained director makes for a better sequence of films I’m going to take a series of films with a pottered sequences of directors. The Bourne Identity burst onto screens and changed the way the viewing public saw a spy film, Jason Bourne became the thinking man’s spy. Matt Damon, dazed and confused, fought his way across Europe to try to discover who he was and why he was able to beat seven shades of whoop ass out of adversaries without even breaking a sweat. When he jumped into a car for the obligatory action movie car chase he checked a map, rather than blithely romping around a city instantly knowing a route. It was a breath of fresh air. Yet, the Bourne series really didn’t hit its stride until Paul Greengrass took over for the Bourne Supremacy. Now, this is not to say that director Dough Liman did a bad job with Identity, it’s just that Greengrass gave Bourne a darker deeper depth, the film was more coherent and driven. What followed was a successful third film where Greengrass was retained as the captain of the ship. But when the director announced he wouldn’t return for any further Bourne outings, the franchise not only lost its heart and soul, but its principal actor. Luckily Damon and Greengrass presented us with Jason Bourne in everything other than name in Green Zone proving that sometimes a creative pairing knows best.
A director brings so much to a film. Musical partners, script writers, actors, vision and style…it is essentially their baby crafted and modelled in the likeness that they had set out in their head. To have someone jump in on any subsequent film and put their stamp on it changes the whole complexion of the characters and story. Returning to the individually enjoyable but juddery and clunky Bond series of the late 1990’s early 2000’s is proof of this. Each film was a complete different take on Bond as a central character. While often the face stayed the same, we were treated to running jumping Bond, witty sarky Bond and deep dark melancholy Bond and they all looked familiarly like Pierce Brosnan but there was no consistency.
However, perhaps a change is a good thing. The most notable example is the change of direction that James Cameron brought to the Alien franchise with Aliens, being equally if not more enjoyable than Ridley Scott’s original fright fest. What about the changing director’s who tackled John McClane and the Die Hard sequence? Arguably Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2 was all filler and fluff and didn’t have the panache of John McTiernan’s first epic but it was still enjoyable. As was Die Hard 4…honestly…it was enjoyable…it was…trust me.
Equally we can look to films that retained their director and perhaps did so at their cost. The Wachowski Siblings really did ruin The Matrix with over complicated verbose grandeur, having let the success of the first spoil The Matrix Rerun and The Matrix Rescue Me from this Boredom. George Lucas, one of the beacons of why directors should be kept on board really didn’t hit the nail on the head with Star Wars 1,2,3. And don’t even get me started on Michael Bay’s corruption of what was a fun, explosion riddled Transformers film with 2 horrible caricatures of the original.
So as Sam Mendes saddles up to the driving seat of Bond 24, are we pleased? Should a director continue in a franchise?