The appointment of a creator known best for his TV work to such an iconic cinema job makes the line between the big and small screen so blurred that perhaps it simply doesn’t matter anymore
Why Cary Fukunaga as Bond director will upset many cinema purists
Some of the mystery surrounding the next James Bond film was solved on Thursday when Cary Joji Fukunaga was revealed as the replacement for director Danny Boyle, who left the project last month over dreaded “creative differences.”
Fukunaga, who also directed 2015’s critically acclaimed Beasts of no Nation, starring the hotly-tipped-as-future-Bond Idris Elba, was something of a surprise choice. In fact, his name was nowhere to be seen on most lists of likely contenders to replace Boyle.
In the UK, where betting on anything Bond-related is something of a national sport, bookies had names including ‘71’s Yann Demange, Batman’s Christopher Nolan and former Bond director Sam Mendes among the favourites, but Fukunaga’s name was nowhere to be seen.
So who is Cary Fukunaga?
Fukunaga is a surprise on many levels, but two facts in particular stand out. He’s one of few non-British directors to helm the franchise, though Belgian Mark Forster made a decent job of Quantum of Solace back in 2008. It’ll be interesting to see how an American deals with telling the story of this very British spy. We can only hope the film’s British producers ensure Bond doesn’t trade his trademark shaken, not stirred drink of choice, for a supersized Coke and a Big Mac.
Secondly, Fukunaga is something of a novice when it comes to directing films. He’s best known for his work in TV, including the shows Maniac and True Detective. Successful shows both, but not quite on the same level as a globe-straddling franchise like Bond.
Fukunaga has directed features before – his 2011 adaptation of Jane Eyre was a hit on the festival circuit, and Beasts of No Nation picked up armfuls of awards. Beasts of No Nation, however, while undoubtedly Fukunaga’s biggest film to date, was essentially a TV movie. It was commissioned by Netflix, and although it had the token cinema release required to be considered for an Oscar it was always intended to be viewed at home.
So what does this tell us? Is Bond lowering its expectations? Is Fukunaga’s work on the small screen of such quality that Bond’s producers felt compelled to give him a bigger budget, a bigger screen, and a bigger franchise? Or is the line between the two simply becoming so blurred that it doesn’t matter anymore?
Certainly the arrival of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime has led to a dramatic increase in the quality of what used to be known as “TV movies.” Netflix is a key figure here – Beasts of No Nation was its first attempt at a big-league movie, and it was rewarded with accolades that would traditionally be reserved for big-screen movies alone. The film missed out on the Oscars, but it picked up Golden Globes, BAFTAs and SAG awards in a first for non-cinema movies.
Spielberg: 'Once you commit to a TV format you're a TV movie'
The relationship some of the traditional pillars of the cinema world have with Netflix are a further sign of changing times. Steven Spielberg famously accused the streaming giant of killing indie cinema last year, claiming that the service was essentially keeping indie films out of cinemas by producing them itself for home streaming. The counter-argument, of course, is that at least Netflix is producing these films. Who would have produced them otherwise? Nonetheless, Spielberg remains firm in his disdain, and told the UK’s ITV News in March that Netflix films should not qualify for the Oscars.
“Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” he said. “You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theatres for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”
Batman and Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan, who was among the favourites for the Bond job, seems to agree. He recently apologised to Netlix chief Ted Sarandos, or at least described himself as "undiplomatic," after describing the platform as “mindless” and “bizarre.”
Even the Cannes Film Festival has weighed in. Bong Joon-Ho’s Netflix film Okja attracted boos at its Cannes premiere in 2017 when the Netflix logo appeared on screen, and the film didn’t win any further fans when it was initially played in the wrong aspect ratio for a cinema screen, essentially handing a free pass to the TV vs Cinema critics. Cannes has since slammed a de facto ban on Netflix productions.
Cannes director Thierry Fremaux told Variety earlier this year that Netflix and Amazon do represent “something important,” but added that “in order for a film to become part of history, it must go through theatres, box office, the critics, the passion of cinephiles, awards campaigns, books, directories, filmographies. All this is part of a tradition on which the history of film is based.”
Cinema is threatened by new technologies
It’s a lot to take in, based on the simple naming of a new director of what is at heart a silly film about spies, cars, explosions, beautiful women, and saving the world, again. Bond’s producers may have solved their own short-term dilemma in terms of getting their film into theatres, admittedly not in time for its original December 2019 release, but soon after in February 2020. In the longer term, however, they may just have poured more fuel on the fire of a debate that is set to rage into the foreseeable future.
Like all forms of traditional media, cinema is undeniably threatened by new technologies that are eager to take its place. Vinyl and CDs are essentially already a thing of the past in the wake of iTunes and streaming services. Newspapers are fighting a battle on every front to survive in the face of websites and apps that deliver the same service, immediately and free.
Magazines, once a feature of every waiting room in the world, face a bleak future when every waiting person in the world has a smartphone and access to everything in the world, ever, in their pocket. It’s no surprise that cinema faces a similar dilemma. Bond may have a new director, but in the league of Bond villains, the future may prove to be his most terrifying adversary yet.