Sam Mendes reveals that SPECTRE originally had a different villain

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PLEASE NOTE: This post will be filled with SPOILERS about Spectre, so if you haven’t seen it yet then all I have to offer you today is this hilarious gif from Casino Royale that shows the most hardworking extra in show business doing his thing behind Daniel Craig’s James Bond.

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You sweep that dirty air, Mr. Extra! For the rest of you, scroll on down past the poster below so we can get to the real story. This is also your final SPOILER WARNING!

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So, Spectre... Despite the filmmaker’s public denial, a third act plot twist – which was a surprise to absolutely nobody that had even a modicum of knowledge about the James Bond mythology – revealed that Christoph Waltz’s villain Frans Oberhauser, was in fact the latest incarnation of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the classic Bond big bad and head of SPECTRE in the old movies. Waltz even showed up wearing the classic Nehru suit, stroking a Persian cat and eventually even sporting the eye-scar seen on Donald Pleasance’s version of Blofeld You Only Live Twice.

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As much as I love the classic Bond rogues gallery, I was sort of disappointed in the reveal, especially since it was played up more for the audience than for any true narrative reason. This leaves the whole thing feeling almost tacked on to the primary story of MI6 being shutdown by Andrew Scott’s new head of MI5, Max Denbigh aka C, and his drone program. It is eventually revealed that C is just one of Blofeld’s lackies, but according to director Sam Mendes he was originally planned to be way more prominent.

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Speaking to Empire in a very insightful interview about 18 secrets about Spectre, Mendes reveals that the original plans didn’t include Blofeld, but instead had C setup as the main baddie:

“There was a long period in the script, and this is months before we started, where it actually flipped and it turned out that he was the person who was running the show; the person that Bond had been looking for all along. Blofeld didn’t feature in that version of the story. It was a long time ago. But [C] was a very easy figure to find parallels for in the contemporary political world. And look, not all of them deserve death by Ralph Fiennes from a great height, so please don’t quote me as saying I’m all in favour of killing the head of MI5.

The argument he dramatises makes concrete the argument that it’s better to operate through drones and surveillance and not put men on the ground and not endanger innocent lives, or our own innocent lives. In a sense, he was essential in a world where MI5 and MI6 are no longer accepted as the good guys, but the public has a more ambivalent relationship with the security services. It was essential that we dramatised that aspect of it through a character that wasn’t Bond so we could set Bond and M up as, within that world, the good guys. That’s being very crude about it, but it’s true.

C embodies all the things I most dislike about the security services. The obsessive need for surveillance, the sharing of surveillance between international security organisations, the fact that they are immensely powerful, unelected and almost entirely unknown to us. And the fact that drone warfare is encouraged. M has a very good speech about this, I think, where he says, ‘to kill a man you have to look him in the eye and the licence to kill is also a licence not to kill’, and all the bugs, drones and surveillance in the world can’t make up for that…”

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Personally, I actually felt that there was a lot more potential meat to the MI5 story, especially surrounding the whole debate about these “killer agents” (even if it was only lightly explored and wasn’t very Bond-ian in scope), whereas there was very little to no emotional connection with the Blofeld angle. And as anybody who’s seen BBC’s Sherlock can attest, Andrew Scott makes for one incredible villain when allowed off the leash. Of course, Christoph Waltz’s more laid-back Blofeld is what we got in the end, and Mendes explains why:

“Once we’d gone back to Bond’s childhood in Skyfall, I was fascinated to seek out all the other references to what happened next, and the truth is there are very, very few. He gets brought up by his aunt, and gets sent away during summers, or winters, I can’t remember which holiday it was in Fleming, to spend time with Hannes Oberhauser in the Austrian Alps. It says something very noncommittal like, he was a father figure to me at a time when I happened to need one. That’s it. That was the clue we had and that’s what we took. What if there was a natural child who had been pushed out, cuckoo in the nest by the blue-eyed good-looking talented skier and good climber, and he was a feeble little weakling, doing his homework upstairs. That figure felt like someone whose story I wanted to know.”

“[Blofeld’s low-key reveal is] just so much cooler. I think Christoph is the opposite of the moustache twirler. He’s not someone who’s given to those melodramatic reveals. It seemed appropriate that he would say it in passing, and Bond’s response which is ‘catchy name’ always made me chuckle. One of the things you learn when you do classical theatre is when you have a famous line, it’s often better to throw it away than to deliver it as if it’s a famous line, or to find a way of treating it as part of a scene, or part of a character’s arc rather than a standalone line, a moment.”

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The director also went on to explain why there was all this subterfuge surrounding Blofeld’s reveal, when just about everybody could see it coming.

“It would have been much easier to go, ‘yes, he’s playing Blofeld, just ruin the movie for yourselves, why don’t you? Just get on with it’. Call me an innocent, but I just had to stick it out. You’re watching a detective story, you don’t want to know the name of the murderer. The character doesn’t start off knowing who they’re dealing with, then why should the audience? Had we decided to introduce Blofeld in another way, if he’d arrived in scene one with the name Blofeld, I’d have said ‘Ernst Stavro Blofeld’ in the press conference. But because Bond doesn’t know that at the beginning of the story, I think it’s absolutely wrong that the audience does.

I think you have to preserve some of the secrets of the movie for it to preserve an audience’s enjoyment, and I’m not talking about hardcore Bond fans. I’m talking about the general public, I’m not talking about people who are reading every online review of the trailer, or are in the heart of the debate, as it were. I’m talking about people who know their Bond a bit, and have seen Bond over the years, but I was convinced we did the right thing when we previewed the movie. We previewed it to 200 people, and I said, ‘did you feel cheated? Did you feel you should have been told?’ They said, ‘no, it’s fantastic. The moment we saw the cat, we thought, ooh, it’s coming, and then it came, and the stakes started shifting in the scene’. And then you see, of course, how he got the scar. You see how he lost the eye, how it happened and it’s Bond who’s done it. In a way, it’s a Blofeld creation story, and that was very important to me too, that you didn’t just announce him. Perhaps next time you meet him, he might have shaved his hair off and you’ve got the full package. You never know.”

In a way, I agree with Mendes that Blofeld’s reveal should not have been spoiled prematurely, but it also wasn’t given enough mystery in the movie either. Although I have to wonder, had the Daily Mail not initially broke the rumour of Christoph Waltz’s character a full year ago, would that moment have been a bigger double-take or would it still play out so blah and predictable?

I would also highly recommend you go read the rest of that Empire interview, as Mendes gives a lot of really cool info, like how Spectre’s amazing single take opening shot is actually four separate shots digitally stitched together or how “Q’s DNA wizardry with the Spectre ring can be explained. Honest.”

 

Last Updated: December 3, 2015

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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