Road to… The man From U.N.C.L.E.

Last weekend, Warner Bros. Pictures released Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram‘s adaptation of the television series The man From U.N.C.L.E..

The original series featured 105 episodes between 1964 and 1968 as a collaboration between creator Norman Felton and You Only Live Twice‘s Ian Fleming, creator of lead character Napoleon Solo. Other contributing writers were Robert Towne, Sherman Yellen and Harlan Ellison. The pilot episode featured character Ilya Kuryakin, who drew positive reception from audiences, prompting Felton to make him the second lead rather than April Dancer. Solo and Kuryakin would star in the series as two spies working for United Network Command Law Enforcement, Section Two – Operations and Enforcement. Solo was Number One and Kuryakin was Number Two. The third and final regular was Alexander Waverly, Number One of Section One. It wasn’t so much The man From U.N.C.L.E. as The men From U.N.C.L.E.. U.N.C.L.E. was founded by the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from mutual fear of T.H.R.U.S.H. Producer Sam Wolfe created U.N.C.L.E.’s hierarchy, and designed it as a global agency recruiting agents from anywhere.

The series’ pilot was feature length. W.A.S.P. took the place of T.H.R.U.S.H., and Allison took the place of Waverly. Kuryakin has a brief role, which would be upgraded to major for the rest of the series. The original version was edited to an hour, titled The Vulcan Affair (Wolfe). Due to the unseen feature-length edition, The Vulcan Affair was released theatrically as To Trap a Spy. The success of this lead to other feature-length stories from the show being released theatrically…

Clyde Ware and Joseph Calverri‘s The Double Affair also had additional scenes, which was included in the cinematic version, The spy With my Face. The United Kingdom release was titled Mr. Solo, and not marketed as part of the series. It remained in British cinemas for two months, which elevated the series to top ratings on ITV Granada.

Season two premièred with the two-part Alexander the Greater Affair (Dean Hargrove). These two episodes were released theatrically as a single feature, One spy too Many, which not only added a romantic subplot that were more sexual than what was seen in the series, but also removed elements from the television broadcast to compensate. Sydney Morning Herald’s Richard Neville described One spy too Many as “a slick and imaginative production, it is nothing more than a celluloid comic strip”.

Another second season two-parter, The Bridge of Lions Affair (Howard Rodman, Wolfe and Henry Slesar) was also released theatrically as One of our Spies is Missing. This was adapted from a tie-in novel, Slesar’s The Bridge of Lions. This involved scenes being rearranged to accommodate the run time, as well as new scenes being filmed to add substance.

Season three featured another two-parter, The Concrete Overcoat Affair (Peter Allan Fields). Unlike previous theatrical releases of episodes, less changes were made to the televised version. The music was carried-over, and no new scenes were added. Some scenes were re-edited to include longer versions than seen in the original episodes. The theatrical title was The spy in the Green Hat.

Another third season two-parter, The Five Daughters Affair (Norman Hudis), was released theatrically as The Karate Killers. Like The Concrete Overcoat Affair/The spy in the Green Hat, minimal changes were made, though these did include musical changes, and scenes were trimmed rather than extended, but still made more graphic than the broadcast edition.

Season four’s final two-part episode, The Prince of Darkness Affair (Hargrove), was released theatrically as The Helicopter Spies. Like The Concrete Overcoat Affair/The spy in the Green Hat and The Karate Killers/The Five Daughters Affair, little changes were made. Scenes remained generally the same apart from being longer to include more mature material, and few scenes were added. But music was changed as before. Alternate cuts were used, involving different camera angles and higher quality stock footage of the rocket launch. Of all the theatrical releases of television episodes, The Helicopter Spies resembled its original television edition the closest.

The final two episodes, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair (Hudis), were released theatrically as How to Steal the World. This was the only theatrical edition to not feature Jerry Goldsmith’s theme music.

The television series was cancelled during its fourth season. Its popularity had lead to imitators, which caused the original show to experiment with different styles that regular audiences felt tested their loyalty. Ratings dropped, and National Broadcasting Company cancelled The man From U.N.C.L.E..

After the cancellation, the series’ cast would reunite in a television feature, The Return of the man From U.N.C.L.E.: the Fiteen-Years-Later Affair (Michael Sloan). This was instead broadcast on Columbia Broadcasting System, guest starring The Avengers‘ Patrick Macnee and featuring a tribute to Ian Fleming with a George Lazenby character driving an Aston Martin DB5 identified as J.B., the initials of Fleming’s most popular character, James Bond. (Lazenby portrayed Bond in the adaptation of Fleming’s On her Majesty’s Secret Service (Richard Maibaum and Simon Raven), and Bond drives the Aston Martin DB5 in the adaptations of Goldfinger (Maibaum and Paul Dehn), Thunderball (Maibaum and John Hopkins) and Skyfall (Neal PurvisJohn Logan and Robert Wade) and the theatrical features GoldenEye (Michael FranceJeffrey CaineKevin Wade and Bruce Feirstein) and Tomorrow Never Dies (Feirstein). It also appears in the adaptation of Casino Royale (Purvis, Wade and Paul Haggis).) The television feature establishes that T.H.R.U.S.H. is disestablished, with their leader incarcerated. Kuryakin resigned after a mission in-which an innocent was killed and now designs fashion. Solo was dismissed, and sells computers, until he’s contacted through the radio pen he kept for sentimental reasons and assigned to capture T.H.R.U.S.H.’s escaped leader. Solo and Kuryakin are separated for the majority, working as a back-door pilot to a potential new series that wasn’t commissioned.

In 1993, producer John Davis optioned theatrical film rights to Warner Bros. Pictures and Felton. Over the next twenty years, Davis claims, he commissioned twelve to fourteen screenplays from such screenwriters as Jim ThomasJohn ThomasJohn RequaGlenn Ficarra and Scott Z. Burns. Burns’ screenplay was selected by director Stephen Soderbergh, slated to begin production in March 2012. Warner Bros. Pictures line producers wanted a budget beneath USD60, 000, 000, a budget Soderbergh felt wouldn’t meet the required period, props and locations. In November 2011, Soderbergh departed. It was eventually directed by Guy Ritchie. Armie Hammer was signed as Kuryakin with Tom Cruise set to be Solo. Cruise dropped-out to work on Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie), adapted from the fourth season of Mission: Impossible, which began as one of The man From U.N.C.L.E.‘s imitators. Cruise was replaced with Henry Cavill. Hugh Grant was cast as Waverly. Production began in September 2013 in London and Italy. Principal photography began on 9th September 2013, utilising locations from across Europe and with a final budget of USD75, 000, 000. Ritchie’s collaborator David Allcock said of Ritchie’s process:

“He’s quite intuitive and tends to constantly rewrite stuff, which he does even when they’re shooting. He’ll rewrite things in the morning if they’re shooting that day, working with the actors if something doesn’t feel right.”

Originally scheduled for release on the 16th – 18th January 2015 weekend, Warner Bros. Pictures moved release on 12th August 2014 to the 14th – 16th August 2015 weekend. Goldsmith’s original score was replaced with Daniel Pemberton. It opened to USD13, 421, 036 at third in the box office, directly beneath Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, which had opened three weekends prior. In the United Kindgom, it opened with GBP1, 448, 298 to fourth position, also directly beneath Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, which opened in the same weekend as its North American release. In the Russian box office, the Cold War theme is considered by analysts to have helped its performance, as it opened with RUB201, 036, 611 at number one, instead directly above Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, which was only in its second week. Metacritic scored The man From U.N.C.L.E. at 55, “mixed or average reviews”. Rotten Tomatoes aggregated its reviews to 66%, and said “The man from U.N.C.L.E. tries to distract from an unremarkable story with charismatic stars and fizzy set pieces, adding up to an uneven action thriller with just enough style to overcome its lack of substance”. The North American under-performance was compared with Straight Outta Compton (Jonathan Hermann and Andrea Berloff) having a better marketing campaign, as well as Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation having already provided enough espionage until Purvis/Wade/Logan’s Spectre, the first Bond after Skyfall. The liberal use of the original series as a property was also thought to have been too limiting to the target audience for having little brand recognition.

The man From U.N.C.L.E. was written by Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram, based on the television series by Ian Fleming and Norman Felton.

The road to… Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

This weekend was the opening of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, but the franchise began 17th September 1996 as a television series on Columbia Broadcasting System.

Inspired by the film Topkapi, the series followed the cases of the Impossible Missions Force, a division of the Central Intelligence Agency, that would complete the tasks no one else had been able to. Episodes used minimal dialogue, music to create suspense, and involved a team of people – in this case the Impossible Missions Force – to complete a task to exact timing – all elements borrowed from Topkapi.

Creator Bruce Geller vetoed any character development to keep a focus on the missions themselves. He felt that having characters not change and work as plot devices would say more about the characters than if they were elements of the narrative. In each episode, they’re only seen together in what The Complete “Mission: Impossible” Dossier author Patrick J. White called the Apartment Scene: at the end of the first act, the Impossible Missions Force would meet in the Leader’s apartment for debriefing. The set was designed to have a grey tone, despite being videotaped in colour. Here, characters would mention what they’d do during the execution of their plan, but in vague terms so as to tease the audience. This would help establish the equipment that would be used, and the roles of guest characters. It’s here that Jim Phelps would sum-up the deadline for mission completion, as well as take any questions from characters so as it fill potential plot holes.

Another decision taken to minimise character development was to not explain absences. Characters were never killed or released from duty, yet any actors departing the series would be unexplained, with their character just not appearing in future episodes with no acknowledgement of it.

In season five, producer Bruce Lansbury decided to scale back the budget, and moved the setting to be internalised within the United States of America, fighting an enemy known as “The Syndicate”, who were described as outside the reaches of “conventional law enforcement”. Such methods as manipulating targets into removing each other were replaced with obtaining evidence against them and tricking confessions using recording devices. These changes may have altered the methods by which the Impossible Missions Force tackled The Syndicate, but each episode still maintained – generally – the formula from previous seasons.

The final episode, Edward J. Lasko‘s Imitation, brought the count to 171 – the most episodes for an English-language espionage series until 24: day 8, 7:00 p.m – 8:00 p.m (by Chip Johannessen and Patrick Harbinson).

In the 1980s, the series was revived for another shot. The 1988 Writers Guild of America Strike prompted American Broadcasting Company to find written, but unproduced, scripts. This lead to the production of a new Mission: Impossible series, shot in Australia, which was twenty per cent cheaper than Hollywood. The only character to carry-over was Phelps. Everyone else was new. Though the plots were updated, American Broadcasting Company were worried that some episodes would need remaking due to lack of new material. The strike was resolved quickly enough for only four episodes to be modernisations of original stories. It’s for this reason that the new series is considered a continuation of the previous. Although the series wasn’t a success, the Australian tax credit was low enough for it to still generate a high profit margin, and it lasted for two seasons, when it was cancelled for low ratings due to a new time slot.

While the formula was still used, the scale was pushed more than before. One character was killed-off – as Geller was unable to veto the decision by being dead – and posthumously disavowed, the first for the Mission: Impossible franchise. Some of the gadgets used were also much closer to science fiction than the hard science of the original run, with the Impossible Missions Force now being a global force rather than a small operation. Some original cast members made appearances, but as new characters.

As a continuation of the new series, the premise was created that Phelps’ former protege is killed in action, prompting him to be called out of retirement to form a new Impossible Missions Force and, in the first episode, track-down the killer.

One fan of the show was actor Tom Cruise, who’d recently set-up his own production company, Cruise/Wagner Productions. Paramount Pictures owned the rights to the series, and had been trying to make a feature for a long time but hadn’t found the right treatment. As a producer, Cruise persuaded them to give him $70, 000, 000 to make Mission: Impossible. After several drafts of a story and screenplay by David Koepp and Robert Towne, production began and Mission: Impossible became a feature, disconnected from television continuity. Infamously, original cast members reacted harshly to this version. Phelps actor Peter Graves disliked the treatment of Jon Voight’s version of the character – the only one carried-over series used for the feature – who’s revealed to be a traitor in the final twist. Original cast member Martin Landau also considered it not true to what Mission: Impossible is – getting in and out without leaving a trace, not a generic action-adventure. With the widest release of any feature yet given, the highest-grossing opening Wednesday, and sixteen days and two weekends at the top of the box office, Mission: Impossible grossed five times its final $80M budget with $457M, prompting Paramount Pictures to greenlit a sequel.

Only Towne returned for Mission: Impossible II, which had 1.5 times Mission: Impossible‘s budget of $125, 000, 000, this time only grossing four times its budget, but still grossing higher than previously at $546, 000, 000, making it the highest-grossing of the franchise so far with a profit margin of 4. Its opening weekend grossed $57, 845, 279, making it not only number one at the box office – where it would stay for three more weekends – but the highest grossing domestic opening weekend of 2000, and the highest grossing worldwide opening weekend of 2000, with $546.4 approx. This once again lead Paramount Pictures to greenlighting a threequel.

Mission: Impossible III went through six years of development through three directors. Cruise had been watching Alias, and approached J. J. Abrams about writing and directing. Abrams brought with him his team of Alias writers – Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. This had the highest budget yet – $150, 000, 000. But it had the lowest profit margin so far, only returning two times that budget with £357, 000, 000. It spent fourteen days and two weekends at number one in the box office, despite an opening weekend of $47.7M. But Mission: Impossible III was still profitable, and that lead to a third sequel.

Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec were hired as screenwriters after Abrams declined to return due to other commitments. Due to the underperformance of Mission: Impossible III, the budget was reduced to $145, 000, 000. But the total worldwide lifetime gross of $694M and foreign gross of $485M – the two highest for the spy genre – generated a profit margin of nearly five times that amount, a return to performance for the franchise. It remained at number one in the box office for fifteen days and four weekends, the first of which grossed $12M – the highest-grossing opening weekend for a limited release. With a domestic gross of $209M, it became the highest-grossing domestic spy feature. Its second domestic weekend grossed $29M, a drop of .5%, the lowest second-weekend drop for a spy feature.

These numbers were enough for Paramount Pictures to begin production on another Mission: Impossible feature, which is how Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation was greenlit. This shares Mission: Impossible III‘s high production budget of $150M, and is still playing worldwide. On 14th November 2013, Coming Soon first announced it as “Mission: Impossible 5“, with Drew Pearce screenwriting and Cruise and Abrams producing. The original release date was scheduled for 25th December. In a 15th November interview with Music Television to promote The World’s End, actor Simon Pegg confirmed he was to reprise the Benji Dunn role – his third appearance in the series, after Mission: Impossible III and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. On 9th May 2014, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Will Staples was rewriting Pearce‘s screenplay. He was replaced by director Christopher McQuarrie, with story credited to Pearce. In a 22nd May 2014 Yahoo! interview, Jeremy Renner also confirmed he’d been cast, reprising the William Brandt role, who first appeared in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. A week later, at the 29th May 2014 premiere of Edge of Tomorrow, Cruise told a Telegraph reporter that “Mission: Impossible 5” was to shoot in London. On 7th August, KTV also reported that Vienna was another location. After The Hollywood Reporter reported Alec Baldwin was in-talks with Paramount casting, on 9th July, Coming Soon reported Rebecca Ferguson had been cast as the female lead. On 16th August, McQuarrie tweeted that series regular Ving Rhames would return to the role of Luther Stickell. On 21st August, principal photography began, with initial set photographs released via Coming Soon, confirming that Baldwin had been cast. The following day, 22nd August, Express released more set photographs showing Cruise and Ferguson hanging from Vienna Opera House, confirming Vienna as a location. Principal photography continued through 26th August, with more scenes in Vienna, via more set photographs released by Daily Mail. On 28th August, Morocco World News reported the closing of Marrakesh Highway by National Company of Highways of Morocco. After one-and-a-half weeks of shooting, the crew departed Vienna on 31st August, which was revealed by Xinhuanet. More set photographs from Daily Mail showed them arriving in Rabat the same day. On 3rd September, Marrakesh Highway was used to shoot a chase sequence in the F80 BMW M3, which was broken by BMW Blog. On 4th September, Morocco World News again reported the closing of the stadium of Marrakech for more scenes. On 5th September, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Sean Harris was in negotiations for the antagonist role. On 26th September, Daily Mirror posted photographs of the same F80 BMW M3 being driven by Cruise in Kasbah of the Udayas. On 28th September, Daily Mail posted more set photographs of the crew arriving in London. On 2nd October, Variety reported that Simon McBurney was in negotiations to be Ferguson’s character’s boss. A week later on 6th October, actor Zhang Jingchu was spotted in London. Variety also reported this to be due to having been cast in a role important to a plot twist. The following day, 7th October, BMW Blog posted photographs of multiple damaged F80 BMW M3s being transported into London. On 11th October, the crew were spotted during an aerial scene using a helicopter in Monaco in more set photographs released by Daily Mail. Master Herald reported Ferguson had also been seen there. In yet more Daily Mail set photographs posted 3rd November, Cruise was seen at RAF Wittering atop a grounded aeroplane. Cruise was at times suspended from an Airbus A400M Atlas, rather than using a stunt double. On 8th November, Daily Echo reported that more scenes used Fawley Power Station. The 25th December release date was brought-forward on 26th January to 31st July. PR Newswire reporter on 13th February that Paramount Pictures were to remaster Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation for IMAX. According to Hollywood Reporter on 20th February, production was halted for McQuarrie and Cruise to work on the ending. Deadline reported on 5th March that Paramount Pictures has partnered with Lotte for South Korean distribution for release on Thursday 30th March. McQuarrie tweeted on 12th March that principal photography had wrapped. On 22nd May, Paramount Pictures debuted the first footage during a basketball tournament, which revealed the Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation title, advertising the full trailer debut the following day, 23rd May, and revealing that The Syndicate would be the target.

A second trailer was released 3rd June.

On 4th June, Entertain This posted an interview with Cruise where he revealed Fawley Power Station’s scene was underwater, where he held his breath for over a minute using training from Kirk Krack for a single long take. Hollywood Reporter reported on 22nd July that Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation was to be released in Dolby Cinema – combining Dolby Vision with Dolby Atmos audio. The South Korean opening night on Thursday 30th July grossed $4M. The domestic opening night on 31st July grossed $20.3M. The full opening weekend is projected to gross $40-50M.