The news that a full third of the budget for the next James Bond movie will be raised through product placement deals is either a masterstroke of financial planning by producers when it comes to dealing with the realities of getting an expensive movie made when your studio is emerging from bankruptcy or a horrible reminder of the cost of making movies in this culturally insipid, consumer society. Me? I think it’s kind of spectacular and oddly tragic.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: Any James Bond movie is the perfect product placement movie, so it’s completely unsurprising that producers for the new installment have raised $45 million by selling placement already. Set in, ostensibly, the real world but featuring larger than life characters who are both stylish and impossibly hot, Bond movies are already complete wish fulfillment engines that have sold product whether intentionally or otherwise (Who hasn’t learned on some level that it’s cool to order martinis shaked, not stirred? Or wanted one of the many cars that Bond has driven – and, usually, destroyed – in the service of her majesty?). For any manufacturer, the idea of being able to literally buy into that would be impossible to resist, and it’s a smart move for the producers to capitalize on that the way that they have.
That said, I both worry and hope what this actually means for the content of the movie. Will dialogue be constantly interrupted with namedropping of brands, will shots be framed so that we see logos on walls, identifying product so that there’s no possibility that the viewer could leave the movie without feeling like they’ve just been watching a two hour commercial? There’s been a recent, entirely unwelcome, trend in television shows for any scene set in a car to feature dialogue explaining why this particular model is better than other cars – usually based around GPS or hands-free calling, weirdly enough – and the idea of James Bond explaining to his latest love interest that his favorite feature on the latest Jaguar isn’t the rocket-launcher or ejector seat but the way it helps him parallel park with intelligent sensors all around the body just fills me with dread.
That’s the other worry: What does filling Bond’s world with so many brands do to Bond? Maybe I’m overreacting, but is there a possibility that it devalues the character by making him seem less exclusive, less choosy and less likely to be a tastemaker? Call me a snob, but any James Bond who finds himself extolling the virtues of Coke Zero isn’t a Bond I’d put my trust in. There really is a short-term gain of the sheer awkwardness and comedic value of watching Daniel Craig not frown his way to infinity as he’s forced to deliver lines about the value of a particular brand of clothing, footwear or miniature helicopter, but is whatever that bump ends up doing worth what could happen to the audience’s belief in the character as a tastemaker in the first place?
Such worries, of course, might end up being selfish, of course. Without the product placement money, perhaps the movie would never get made, and if the short-term audience bump makes the movie a massive hit, maybe that means the budget for the follow-up can be reached without selling out. But, nonetheless, Bond should stand for more than just selling product, and I hope that whatever way the producers earned their placement money remembers that simple fact, when it comes to making the actual movie.
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