MGM may die, but there'll always be a James Bond.
The studio, target of a potential takeover, co-sponsored a closeout show at the Cannes Film Festival last week with spectacular fireworks and Cole Porter songs. On a floating stage in the Cannes bay, Alanis Morissette, Natalie Cole and others serenaded the crowds with songs from "De-Lovely," MGM's soon-to-be-released film about Cole Porter.
The show also included well-known scores from MGM movies past, including the themes from James Bond films, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and "Shaft." But the show signaled other things, too: the likely demise of the studio that made "Gone with the Wind," "Mutiny on the Bounty" and "Ben-Hur."
A group led by Sony Corp. is considering a $5 billion purchase. Talks are ongoing, but the acquisition of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would give Sony the biggest film library in the world, consisting of more than 4,100 properties that include every Bond film (except "Never Say Never Again," which was not produced by MGM), as well as the "Rocky" and "Pink Panther" franchises.
Although Ted Turner, who bought MGM and its library years ago, resold the studio to MGM's majority owner Kirk Kerkorian, he retained many of the old goodies, including "Gone With the Wind." Nonetheless, MGM owns its more modern hits, including "Shaft" and such big-hitters as "The Silence of the Lambs," "Rain Man," "The Graduate," "West Side Story," "Annie Hall" and, through its United Artists division, "Bowling for Columbine."
But if MGM seemed to be serenading its own oblivion, there was nothing to alarm Bond -- whom you could almost imagine watching attentively among the champagne-sipping onlookers on the beach.
Bond flicks still make up the most successful franchise in history. Sony would not only be able to reap the DVD, television and video-on-demand profits of past MGM films, but it would also have the right to make sequels.
Add to that the intriguing change of guard: Pierce Brosnan is considered too long in the tooth to be chasing hot women and evil global dominators. It's time, yet again, for a new leading man. This kind of star search has always been a publicity jackpot for the Bond empire, which passed the leading role baton from Sean Connery to George Lazenby, then back to Connery. After that, Bond was played by Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and most recently Brosnan.
With candidates such as Hugh Jackman, Colin Farrell, Clive Owen, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom being the subject of feverish speculation, this can only add star luster to the continuing legend. A new generation of fans is always out there for the taking. The 21st Bond film is slated for 2005. And the British super-agent is ready for his next mission, long after Leo the Lion will have delivered his final roar.