October 29, 2003
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Reviving listless movie scripts

By Gary Arnold

    Martin Campbell directed three very lucrative adventure spectacles during the 1990s: "GoldenEye," which restarted the James Bond franchise with Pierce Brosnan as its leading man; "The Mask of Zorro," a serendipitous swashbuckler that provided Catherine Zeta-Jones with a fetching showcase; and "Terminal Velocity," which lowered the standards of credibility for mountain-climbing cliffhangers by a precipitous margin.
    A New Zealander who emigrated to England in the 1970s to pursue a show-business career, Mr. Campbell also has acquired a troubleshooting reputation in middle age. He reluctantly agreed to get Bond rolling again. He reluctantly agreed to salvage "The Mask of Zorro" for Steven Spielberg's production company after two directors had dropped out. Last year, he also agreed to play fireman for "Beyond Borders," an Oliver Stone project that threatened to collapse after five years of development and Mr. Stone's decision to call it a day.
    "I came in so late," Mr. Campbell reflects during a conversation at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. "Oliver had done all this preparation with the writer, Caspian Tredwell-Owen. As far as I could ascertain, it was a budget dispute with Paramount. As simple as that. I think he also wanted to go to the real places in the story: Ethiopia, Cambodia, Chechnya. As a practical matter, we substituted Namibia, Thailand and Quebec. We were given a figure by the studio, in the low $60 millions. I think Oliver was holding out for about $10 million more, to facilitate a longer story and more extensive location work. The gap wasn't that huge. It was my job to get the script down to size because it was too long and there were reams of dialogue."
    It was Mr. Campbell's hope that the pages of political argumentation could be subordinated to a love story about globe-trotting relief workers, played by Clive Owen and Angelina Jolie, who sustain a fitful romance during a decade of pursuing good works and each other. Curiously, Mr. Stone ended up with Miss Jolie as his leading lady in another large-scale production, a biographical epic about Alexander the Great.
    A hard-knocks apprenticeship seems to have conditioned Martin Campbell for resourcefulness and modesty. Slim and bald, he resembles Patrick Stewart and Ben Kingsley. Initially a camera assistant and then a video cameraman in the London television industry, he was part of Sir Lew Grade's apparatus at ITV before seeking an escape route through soft-core features with titles such as "The Sex Thief" and "Eskimo Nell."
    Waxing nostalgic, Mr. Campbell admits, "I was around for all of Lew's rubbish: 'Raise the Titanic,' 'Capricorn One,' 'Escape From Athena.' The joke going around during 'Titanic' was that it would be cheaper to drain the Atlantic. I ended up producing a couple of films for an American based in London, Elliott Kastner, then caught on as a TV director at the BBC finally. 'Reilly: Ace of Spies' was my first big credit, and then a miniseries called 'Edge of Darkness,' which might not have made it to the States, had a very strong reception. I did a couple of episodes of 'Homicide' for Barry Levinson in Baltimore when I was between features after moving here. I hadn't really worked in England between 'GoldenEye' and 'Beyond Borders.' It made more sense a few years ago to transplant myself from London to Los Angeles. I'm divorced, and my kids live in the South of France with my ex-wife."
    When talked into "GoldenEye," Mr. Campbell began by doubting that the series could be rejuvenated. "I wasn't at all confident about reinventing it," he says. "Old Bond seemed to be past his sell-by date. So I agonized for a while until I said, 'Hold on a minute, this is a series that's been going for over 30 years. They must have got something right.' So, I made only little changes, and it worked. People were ready to embrace Pierce as the new Bond, and they accepted Judi Dench as a new M. The novelty aspects were mostly in the casting. We didn't try to fix anything that wasn't broken."
    According to Mr. Campbell, his rescue mission on behalf of "Beyond Borders" was anticipated by the experience of "Zorro" There was a slight difference: He'd turned down requests to direct the latter on three occasions. In effect, Steven Spielberg, one of the executive producers, wouldn't take no for an answer.
    "It was the same situation," Mr. Campbell says. "Earlier directors had come and gone. I had declined, more than once ... I had started a meeting saying, 'Absolutely not' and ended agreeing to think about it. As I got back to my office, Steven was on the phone. When he flatters you, you start to melt.
    "Later that night, I met with my lawyer and agent and said I'd do it. In the end, I loved the movie, and I'm looking forward to the second one, 'The Legend of Zorro,' which is probably the next thing I'll do. We've got a very strong script from the writers of the 'Alias' TV series that involves such things as statehood for California. We're negotiating with Catherine [Zeta-Jones] now.
    "It's funny: She was the least paid of the principal cast members in the first movie. Now, of course ... there you go. A real success story. I'm pretty confident we'll have the old cast back. We're not rushing into anything. We'll shoot next year for release the following year."

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