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Friday, November 17, 2006

James Bond or James Brand?

Boy, they just don't make move matinee idols like they used to. For that matter, they don't make movies like they used to. If you ever want to know why so many movies are so bad, you simply must read William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade, in which he predicts with pinpoint accuracy exactly when and why the movies of the future will be so awful.

Writing in the late 1970's Goldman (who penned such classics as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) laments the fate of real movies as studio control is gradually ceded by movie makers to their lawyers, agents and accountants. He recounts how in the future, the actual movie won't count for anything - it's the deal that matters.

Which picture makes money and which stars make money will drive production, driving down the quality and number of original movies. Instead, he argues, we'll see more sequels. More re-telling of the same stories, because research and receipts will dictate what kind of motion pictures will make the most money.

"There will be no more movies," he sighs, "only deals."

Keep in mind that Goldman wrote this decades ago, when the notion (let alone production) of sequels was relatively rare. Goldman's prediction was dead on. In the last few decades, it's been difficult to avoid sequels. Any movie that does reasonably well is assured of its sequel. Whether you're Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwartzenegger, a movie just ain't a movie unless there's a number at the end of its title.

Which brings us to James Bond.

Among the world's great debates is the question of who was the best actor to ever play the role. Most agree that Sean Connery was the ultimate Bond, although Roger Moore gets high marks, as well. In the latter day, politically-correct world (where M is actually female), the emasculated Pierce Brosnan gets votes (Sorry. He's just too effeminate for me. But that's another story).

The big story with the latest, blonde Bond isn't the plot. Or the new guy. Believe it or not, it's the product placement in the movie. No fewer than eight major brands have ponied up over $100 million in placement fees just to be featured as part of the Bond mystique.

What, exactly, do any of these brands hope to gain? Do they really think that the shadow of a once-great movie icon can pimp product simply through their products' on-screen cameo appearances? Even better, do they really think that there's anyone left on the planet who even wants to emulate James Bond?

Face it, if you tried any of the hi-jinx our man from the British Secret Service performs, the best you'd get is a stern reprimand from that old bat in your Human Resources department. Maybe with a few months of sensitivity training thrown in. So as far as mimicking matinee idols go, I don't see Sony or anyone else moving truckloads of product here.

In fact, all I see are gullible manufacturers paying mega-bucks and getting nothing in return. It's like Goldman said. There are no more movies. Just deals. And show business is, after all, a business.

Only these days, it's a money-losing proposition.

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