Stevan Riley | 98 mins | download (HD) | 1.78:1 | UK / English | 12
To mark the 50th anniversary of the James Bond film series last year, the producers commissioned this special documentary looking back at the entire phenomenon. If you missed it when it was shown exclusively at Odeon cinemas (in the UK; it was on TV in the US), it’s been out on DVD for a few weeks (in the UK; nothing in the US) and comes to Sky Movies Premiere from tomorrow (at 12:15pm and 10:30pm; continues twice a day thereafter). It’s sometimes called Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007, not that you’ll see that title on screen or on the DVD cover; and not that it’s very accurate, actually, because many (perhaps all) of these stories have been told before. But I’ll come to that.
Overall, experienced documentary-maker Stevan Riley has put together an engaging work. Eschewing intrusive, dogmatic voiceover narration, Riley instead tells the story through interviews (both new talking-head pieces and archive-drawn audio), illustrative clips, behind-the-scenes photos and film snippets, and music. The latter elements are taken almost exclusively from the Bond franchise itself — one of the film’s early contentions is that the Bond novels were a mixture of autobiography and fantasy for creator Ian Fleming, so (as Riley has said in interviews) clips from the films seemed an appropriate way to cover his back story.
Although ostensibly a history of the film series, Riley begins the story with Fleming’s wartime career and the birth of the Bond novels, then covers early attempts to get Bond on screen. Depth here means it actually takes quite a while to get to the entry of ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the producers who finally brought Bond to the big screen in the still-running series this documentary is meant to be about! Some have accused the film of being “the producers’ story”, as if that were a bad thing. It’s a behind-the-scenes tale, and with only a handful of people steering the series during its lifetime, naturally the throughline falls to them. Besides, cataloguing the changing roster of leading men is a story that’s readily and widely available, what with the on-screen action being (as it were) the ‘public face’ of the series.
With just over an hour-and-a-half to cover 60 years of history, the film’s biggest problem is length. There’s little time for nuance, instead offering a whistle-stop overview of the main events, highlighting key aspects here and there. Inevitably a lot of important things get short shrift — there’s hardly any detail on the birth of the iconic title sequences, for instance, or the series’ distinctive musical style. It’s both a blessing and a curse that detailed featurettes on elements such as these can be found on the series’ DVD and Blu-ray releases. A blessing, because the casual fan wishing to know more can look there for the detail they seek; a curse, because many fans will already have seen all of those featurettes (and they are numerous, including at least one dedicated thirty-minute-plus making-of per film) and find little new in Riley’s effort.
But there was never going to be time in a single feature to cover that much fine detail, so we must allow Riley some leeway. It’s also not his fault that Sean Connery refused to be interviewed, or that other key players are no longer with us and so can only be represented by occasionally familiar archive interviews, plus second-hand recollections (sometimes, third-hand) of friends and relations. This is, perhaps, most keenly felt in the film’s discussion of Kevin McClory, the man who claimed he had some rights to make competing Bond films (Broccoli and Saltzman brought him in to the fold to make Thunderball, which he did own rights to and so being where his claims stemmed from; he was the man who later made Never Say Never Again, and continued to fight for filmmaking rights up until his death). Here he’s very much painted as the villain, not only as a constant thorn in the side of the series’ guardian-angel producers, but also it all but says he conned Fleming, and quite heavily implies the first Thunderball court cases contributed significantly (or even wholly) to Fleming’s death. Is that true? It might be. McClory isn’t here to defend himself, but then his friends and relatives who do pop up don’t seem to try too hard to justify him either.
The one section I would call a major disappointment is the coverage given to the Brosnan era. Dalton and Craig are equally brushed past, but the key tenants — why Dalton’s films floundered and how Craig, despite initial doubts, led a glorious rebirth — are covered. There’s surely much more to say about Brosnan, however. DVD was emerging as a dominant format around the time his Bond incumbency happened, meaning the special features on his films were put together as the movies came out. That’s great for on-the-ground as-it-happened making-of material, but naturally offers zero retrospective opinion, something all the previous films’ discs benefit from. Unfortunately, the Brosnan section here does little to redress the balance. You get the feeling there’s an awful lot going unsaid, particularly about Die Another Day and the way Brosnan was unceremoniously dropped in its wake. The fact the former leading man can’t even remember which way round Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough happened suggests something too… but I’m not sure what, because it’s never explored.
As a dyed-in-the-wool Bond fan, I was left wanting a bit more from Everything or Nothing; especially as someone who grew up during the Brosnan era, I feel there’s more to be told about that time. But for newer or casual fans, or those seeking a nostalgia-tinged flick through the highs (and the odd low) of the most enduring series in film history, it succeeds admirably. It’s just a shame they didn’t include it in the Bond 50 Blu-ray set — it would’ve been most welcome on the otherwise-pathetic bonus disc. But that’s a quibble for another day.
Everything or Nothing comes to Sky Movies Premiere from tomorrow, Friday 15th February, and plays twice daily until Thursday 21st February.