The James Bond character has always found an audience in every iteration. But none really reached the heights that Craig's version did when Eon Productions chose to make the character with a serious tone. Starting with 2006's Casino Royale, Craig's films became some of the first to be box office juggernauts. To the point his third outing, 2012's Skyfall, became the first to break the billion dollar barrier at the box office with the mired 2015 follow-up Spectre still made north of $900 million. Even being one of the first major films back in theaters as the COVID-19 pandemic has seemingly been winding down, Craig's recent and final time as the character in No Time to Die managed to make over $770 million. Though, the character's creator Ian Fleming could have told you that and, as confirmed today, he was way ahead of the curve in that regard.
Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novels that inspired the movies are quite different from their cinematic iterations. From the beginning they were written with a serious spy tone, inspired by Fleming's time working for MI6. Yet, Connery and Moore's era preferred humor and goofy gadgets over anything else so the audience could enjoy the rush of being an international man of mystery. It probably makes sense then to know Fleming had almost no involvement in the films. However, that didn't mean he didn't try. In fact, back in 1956 he actually wrote a 150-page treatment for his novel Moonraker once year after it was published and six years before the first Bond film came out. This script was purchased by a collector in 2015 and new report (via The Observer) has revealed some new details from this lost piece of film history.
Most recognize the title Moonraker belonging to the 1979 film that had very little to do with the original novel it was based on. The film itself was made in a response to the Star Wars craze that began in 1977 when A New Hope came out, ultimately leading to a film adaptation that was only Moonraker in title only. It was so different from the book it was based on that a novelization had to be written, especially given the entire third act of the film featured Bond traveling into space to stop villain Hugo Drax. The science fiction element was not present in the original book and this explains why Fleming's script is so fascinating. Fleming expert Jon Gilbert spoke in the new Observer article about this:
“This is the very first screenplay written by Fleming imagining Bond for the big screen. It is his only attempt at a film script, so it’s hugely important.”
In the new report on the script's contents, Fleming sought to create a truly grounded take on his character. While several new characters not seen in the final film are present, an interesting point is Bond’s flirty secretary Miss Moneypenny is not featured while Bond's M is more of a normal government bureaucrat (something Judi Dench and then Ralph Fiennes tried to do with their on-screen iterations of the character). Obviously, the biggest difference is that the film never goes to space and features action that is more grounded (pardon the pun).
It is actually fascinating that Fleming wasn't involved more given his actual spy background before becoming an author, but then again, as the space-faring final act of the 1979 film showed, realism was not the headlining motivation in making the early Bond films. Stay tuned!