The road to 'No Time To Die': How 'Spectre' summoned the ghosts of James Bond's past

Sam Mendes returned to direct Spectre (MGM/EON/Sony Pictures)
Sam Mendes returned to direct Spectre (MGM/EON/Sony Pictures)

Love it or hate it, Spectre walks over the graves of the previous Daniel Craig outings to bring the franchise’s original Big Bad back to life.

The film restores the gun-barrel ident to the very beginning for the first time since Die Another Day, but also adds a literary epigraph — “The dead are alive” — portending a story that retroactively turns the Craig era into one extended story arc.

After causing an international incident in Mexico, Bond is grounded by M (Ralph Fiennes). With the future of MI6 up in the air, 007 goes rogue to investigate a seemingly omniscient crime syndicate and discovers a connection with its leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz).

The opening of Bond movie 'Spectre' was presented as a single take. (Credit: Sony)
The opening of Bond movie 'Spectre' was presented as a single take. (Credit: Sony)

Despite initial reservations, Skyfall director Sam Mendes was coaxed back to direct Bond 24 by Craig and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. He admitted that every idea he’d ever had about Bond had gone into the previous film.

Read more: Looking back at Casino Royale

Read more: Looking back at Quantum of Solace

Read more: Looking back at Skyfall

At this stage, both he and Craig were hoping to make a sequel in the vein of Live And Let Die, the first Bond film they saw at the cinema. However, the film also resurrects Blofeld and SPECTRE — Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion in old testament Bond — but just “Spectre” here. Furthermore, it pushes towards what looked like a logical ending point for this version of Bond at the time.

Like Quantum Of Solace, Broccoli and Wilson wanted Spectre to have a summer release date to capitalise on its predecessor’s success but agreed to a November 2015 release date to accommodate Mendes. Due to a troubled production, the film’s completion still came right down to the wire.

“The author of all your pain”

Christoph Waltz as Blofeld in Spectre (Credit: MGM/Columbia)
Christoph Waltz as Blofeld in Spectre (Credit: MGM/Columbia)

Originally introduced in the Ian Fleming novel Thunderball, Blofeld and SPECTRE hadn’t officially appeared in the series since 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, and screenwriter Kevin McClory successfully sued Fleming for his uncredited contribution to that novel.

EON and MGM adapted Thunderball as part of a 10-year option on those rights with McClory and spent a lot of time after trying to block him from making “unofficial” Bond films – only 1983’s Never Say Never Again, a belated return for Sean Connery, made it to screens.

Read more: Actors who could be the next James Bond

In 2013, the studio regained all rights from McClory’s estate. Before Mendes officially signed on, Skyfall screenwriter John Logan wrote a treatment for what would have been a two-part story, shot back-to-back, as had proven successful for other franchises at the time. This was the first Bond film since The World Is Not Enough that didn’t begin with screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade on board.

Logan’s Bond 24 and 25 would have involved 007 clashing with Blofeld in Central Africa. When Mendes joined the production, he agreed that reinventing Blofeld would require distance from Austin Powers’ Dr Evil. At one time, they considered gender-flipping the character, with Tilda Swinton in mind. They also considered a female henchman in the vein of Jaws or Oddjob, but both characters were male in the end.

Spectre (MGM/Eon/Sony Pictures)
Spectre (MGM/Eon/Sony Pictures)

Continuing Skyfall’s exploration of Bond’s childhood, the film eventually reimagined Blofeld as James’ deranged foster brother. Ironically, this is much like a similar reveal in the third Austin Powers movie. Plus, his scheme is obfuscated by the decision to play his identity as a twist when the title of the film is a dead giveaway.

The plot also revisits Mr White, (Jesper Christensen) who was supposed to be killed off in an alternate ending for Quantum Of Solace. He’s the key not only to bringing other Craig-era rogues under Spectre’s umbrella but also for introducing his daughter Dr Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). Bond falling in love again and leaving MI6 behind was another early idea that made it through to the finished film.

Logan eventually departed the project due to his commitment to TV’s Penny Dreadful. Enter Purvis and Wade, along with Skyfall script doctor Jez Butterworth, who got the script ready for shooting.

Final cut

Spectre (MGM/Eon/Sony Pictures)
Spectre (MGM/Eon/Sony Pictures)

A major incident was the cyber-attack on Spectre’s distributor Sony. Along with several confidential emails about the film’s budget, (which was moving towards $300 million) early drafts of the script were also leaked online.

Nevertheless, principal photography began in December 2014, just 11 months before release, with filming locations including Mexico City, Rome, Morocco, Austria, Italy, and the UK. Where Skyfall had been the first completely digital Bond film, Mendes shot on 35mm film for Spectre.

Read more: The best James Bond films, according to its biggest fans

But it proved a logistically challenging shoot. In February, Craig sprained his knee during a fight scene with Dave Bautista’s classically strong and silent henchman, Hinx. The star soldiered on rather than shut down production for six months to recover and underwent knee surgery during a two-week break in April.

To the film’s credit, there are some graceful acknowledgements of the character’s advancing years in deference to Craig’s injury. Still, the gruelling shoot continued until July 2015, wrapping just three months before its UK premiere.

Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) and James Bond (Daniel Craig) share a vodka martini in Spectre. (MGM/Eon/Sony Pictures)
Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) and James Bond (Daniel Craig) share a vodka martini in Spectre. (MGM/Eon/Sony Pictures)

Ultimately, the final cut of Spectre was completed just days before its first screening, with minor cuts to avoid a 15 certificate from the BBFC. Meanwhile, Radiohead’s title song was judged to be too melancholy and Sam Smith’s grandiose dirge Writing’s On The Wall was selected instead.

Spectre got a slightly cooler reception than Skyfall, but then it’s not as big a crowd-pleaser. Perhaps sensing the cinematic universes proliferating around it, the film piles a lot on its plate and it’s fair to say the Moore era tone gets a bit lost in the mix of Connery-era revivals and convoluted exposition.

Over his 15-year tenure as the Bond of record, Daniel Craig has completely transformed James Bond. Understandably exhausted after Spectre, he made some much-publicised comments that he would rather slit his wrists than play Bond again and he obviously regrets that now.

Happily, he’s come back for one more mission, and it’s for No Time To Die to both wrap up his story and send him off in style.

No Time To Die is in cinemas now. Watch Lashana Lynch talk about her character Nomi.