Did you know that Eon Productions, the company responsible for producing the James Bond films, takes its name from the phrase “everything or nothing”? This is one of many interesting tidbits planted in Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007, a new documentary premiering today on EPIX that chronicles the creation of the iconic British super spy character by writer Ian Fleming and charts Bond’s roller coaster history to the big screen, as well as his adventures on it.
[I don’t often review documentaries here, so you’ll have to excuse my unfamiliarity with how to structure one of these. Since documentaries are information-based and most of their enjoyment comes from learning about the subject yourself, there’s a danger of giving away so much in a review that you won’t want to watch the film; I’ll err on that side of the line anyway in order to help preserve the viewing experience.]
The early chapters of the movie concern writer Ian Fleming and detail how he crafted the character as an amalgam of people he’d met during his black ops war involvement along with his own personal experiences. He’s a fascinating man, and the creation of Bond really seemed to open things up in his life until, as the film later points out, drinking and the pressure of coming up with increasingly groundbreaking ideas eventually got the better of him. Mostly, though, the film concentrates on producers Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and their partnership to get the film versions of Fleming’s stories translated to a wider audience.
It follows the casting of each of the Bond actors, spending considerable time going through the early days and documenting the wild rise in popularity that the Bond films saw upon release. Sean Connery is the only Bond who doesn’t make an appearance as a talking head here; even George Lazenby, who only played the character once in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, pops up (he’s actually a total badass) to tell the story of how, with no acting experience whatsoever, he tricked the producers into allowing him to play the role.
I’d heard stories about the non-sanctioned Never Say Never Again and how that was made, but it’s never really clicked with me until this documentary presented all the facts. One drunken night, Fleming was tossing ideas around with a man named Kevin McClory, and when Fleming wrote “Thunderball,” McClory sued, claiming that Fleming stole his ideas. The courts awarded McClory the ability to be the sole producer of the film version of Thunderball, as well as remake it years later into Never Say Never Again, luring Connery back to play Bond after he’d already left the character due to a falling out with Saltzman and Broccoli. (It appears that Connery took this role again mainly out of spite for what he considered to be an injustice that the producers renegotiated their contracts for more money without including him in the process.)
Footage from the films are used in sometimes humorous ways, highlighting whatever real-life points are being made. (During a discussion about McClory’s troubles getting back into the U.S., a clip is shown of Bond being detained at customs, etc.) The film moves quickly over the lighthearted Roger Moore years, and it’s interesting to see how similar Dalton’s take on the character is to Daniel Craig’s, though audiences ultimately rejected Dalton’s interpretation after only two attempts because they felt the series was too dark. Interestingly enough, Pierce Brosnan – who hilariously cackles when reminded of the ludicrous plot points of his run on the Bond films post-Goldeneye – was actually cast as Bond before Dalton, and went so far as to have promotional photos taken of him in character, but in a situation similar to Tom Selleck in Indiana Jones, his show “Remington Steele” was renewed on the final day of its option and he was contractually obligated to play the character.
Along the way, we get long interviews with Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, the current Bond producers, and it’s interesting to hear their views about the phenomenon from the inside looking out. It’s clear the Bond property is in good hands with them, and there’s a surprisingly minimal amount of pimping for the new film Skyfall which opens next month, which will actually serve this documentary well in the future as something more than just another piece of promotional material. It’s Bond’s 50th anniversary this year, and for fans of 007, Everything or Nothing is a must-watch not only to get primed for another big screen adventure, but to appreciate the journey the character has taken from the mind of Ian Fleming and through all the hands who have guided him on the way to becoming cinema’s most lasting franchise icon. Until next time…