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When Bond Battled Bond at the 1983 Box Office

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In January 1976, film producer Kevin McClory took out a full-page ad in Variety that made an audacious claim. A new James Bond movie, James Bond of the Secret Service, was about to enter production under the supervision of Paradise Films.

It was not to star Roger Moore, the current Bond who had appeared in two films and was due for several more; nowhere did the ad mention EON, the longstanding production company of all the Bond films. It was as though someone were daring the Bond caretakers to take notice of a bootleg 007 project.

The ad was a calculated move taken by McClory, who had no involvement with EON but believed he had the legal right to make a Bond film as a result of events that had happened well over a decade prior. McClory’s aim was to write his own chapter in Bond history, with his secret weapon being the man who had originated the role onscreen and whose presence still loomed large over the franchise.

Although the ad didn’t mention it, McClory’s plan was to restore Sean Connery behind the wheel of the Aston Martin, an ambition that would eventually decide once and for all which Bond moviegoers preferred.

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Against the wishes of Bond creator Ian Fleming, Connery had been cast as the secret agent in 1962’s Dr. No. Projecting an air of charming menace, Connery’s performance was an immediate hit, winning over the author and kicking off one of the most durable Hollywood film franchises in history.

There would be four more films—From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), and You Only Live Twice (1967)—before the actor, bored with taking second place to the series’ increasing fetish for gadgets, left. EON recast with George Lazenby for one film, 1969's On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, before enticing Connery back for one last appearance in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. Earning $1.2 million, Connery felt Diamonds helped excise the character from his career while adding to the funds of his charitable efforts.

That film was, as far as Connery was concerned, the end. But in 1975, McClory approached Connery with an intriguing story: In the early 1960s, McClory and Fleming had sat down to hash out potential story ideas for the burgeoning Bond film franchise. Fleming eventually used some of those ideas for the novel Thunderball, which was adapted into a 1965 Connery vehicle.

McClory argued in court that certain rights to Thunderball were owed to him; in an effort to get that film made, EON agreed, but mandated that McClory not attempt to use any of the elements of the story he helped conceive for a 10-year period. Thunderball was produced, and McClory was silent—for exactly 10 years.

When he was legally able, he began to pursue his rogue Bond project. Legally, it could only be a loose remake of Thunderball, but that was of little consequence. McClory knew the plot was secondary to a return by Connery to the role that had made him famous.

Connery was surprisingly open to the idea. For one, he understood his name above a Bond marquee meant at least as much as Moore was earning: a reported $4 million per picture. For another, he wouldn’t have to deal with Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, the producer of the Bond films and a man with whom he had had numerous business disagreements during his first tenure as the spy.

Still, Connery didn’t fully commit to a return. Instead, he worked with McClory and writer Len Deighton on a script under titles like Warhead and James Bond of the Secret Service. When pressed for details, McClory told press his revamped version of Thunderball would feature mechanical sharks and an assault on Wall Street via the New York sewer system, with Orson Welles as the villain. His Bond, he said, would be like “Star Wars underwater.”

When EON got wind of their efforts, the latitude they had displayed 10 years prior had evaporated. Bond was now firmly a pop culture cash machine, and they took to the courts to resist McClory’s efforts. In joint action with distributor United Artists and the Fleming estate, EON successfully scared off Paramount, which was collaborating with McClory on the project.

As the 1970s came to a close, Connery was showing signs of becoming frustrated by the legal wrangling.

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McClory’s salvation came in the form of Jack Schwartzman, a onetime tax attorney who wasn’t cowed by the litigation surrounding the project. So long as they colored inside the lines, sticking to the elements found in the Thunderball narrative, Schwartzman didn’t see any problem. He obtained the film rights from McClory, who was tired of the fighting and remained only loosely involved with the project; Connery was signed for a robust $5 million, with profit participation adding to his reward later on. Broccoli dropped most of his legal assault after Schwartzman promised him a share of the movie's grosses and to delay release by several months in order to avoid competing head-to-head with EON's Octopussy.

Never Say Never Again—a title suggested by Connery’s amused wife—began shooting in the fall of 1982 at London’s Elstree Studios, just a few miles down the road from where Roger Moore was shooting his Bond entry, Octopussy. The two reportedly had dinner together and compared shooting schedules; Moore would later say he never had a chance to catch Connery’s return onscreen.

Despite Connery’s early enthusiasm, script troubles and philosophical disagreements with director Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) made for a stressful production. While promoting its release, Connery told press, “There was so much incompetence, ineptitude, and dissention” during the making of the film that “it could have disintegrated.”

While it wasn’t everything Connery had hoped for, Never Say Never Again performed very admirably when it opened in theaters October 7, 1983. The film grossed $55.4 million domestically, making it the 14th most successful film of the year. But the inevitable comparison to Moore’s Octopussy, which opened four months earlier, colored perception: Moore’s entry made $67.9 million, putting it in sixth place for the year.

Moore would play Bond just once more before retiring from the role in 1985. Connery made an unlikely return in 2005, lending his voice to a Bond video game. It would be as far as he was willing to go. Producers of 2012’s Skyfall didn’t even bother asking him about their idea to have him play a supporting role in the film as the Bond family’s onetime groundskeeper.

Schwartzman wouldn’t give up so easily. Insisting he somehow had the right to deliver another bootleg Bond in the 1980s, he tried to coerce Connery into a follow-up.

Connery was unmoved. “I’d be too old,” he told press in 1984.

But at 53, a reporter observed, he was three years younger than Moore. “He’s also too old,” Connery said.

Additional Sources:
Sean Connery, by Michael Feeney Callan

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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