He and I were two peas in a pod. HE loved James Bond films. I loved James Bond films. HE loved comic books. I loved comic books. HE loved King Kong and the films of Ray Harryhausen. I loved King Kong and the films of Ray Harryhausen. HE loved…
Well…I’m sure you get the point.
I first came to know him many years ago when I was a teenaged movie geek and he published a slick James Bond fanzine. To say the least, I was downright thrilled to buy his wonderful labor of love. It happened when the owner of my favorite comic book shop offered me something that caused my heart to skip a beat! There it was. A magazine entirely devoted to James Bond. A great color photo from an early Bond film graced the cover. Of course, I snapped it up faster than you could say Goldfinger! The fanzine was so cool it inspired me to send the publisher a letter of praise. Could you believe he actually wrote back?! Before you know it, he invited me to write some articles for his great publication. And as it turned out, those James Bond critiques were among the first pieces I ever got published. It didn’t matter that no one got paid; I just loved the experience.
Fortunately, over more years than I care to count, he and I remained long-distance friends. But the distance meant that we didn’t always keep in touch. As a result, I was naturally shocked and dismayed when I saw his name on a media website. Why did I react in such a manner? Well…it was an obituary.
My friend had apparently died at the relatively young age of 51. You may be familiar with him and not even know it. He was screenwriter Michael France.
Michael wrote a number of scripts before he finally hit paydirt with Cliffhanger in 1993. It turned out to be one of Sylvester Stallone’s few solid hits besides the Rocky and Rambo films. Whatever you may think of Cliffhanger, it is, at the very least, a genuinely suspenseful film. And that was Michael’s strong suit. His trademark, if you will. He excelled at writing action packed, suspenseful screenplays. And with that in mind, he made me green with envy just a few years later. He always said he would eventually write a James Bond film. Who knew he would actually achieve his goal? And so soon? Michael France wrote GoldenEye in 1995, Pierce Brosnan’s first turn as Agent 007! But that’s not all. In 1999, he contributed some uncredited work to Brosnan’s third Bond film, The World Is Not Enough. Clearly, at least where my friend Michael France was concerned, once a Bond fan, always a Bond fan!
The 2003 version of the Hulk is very definitely an unfairly maligned film. Michael’s script offered a truly fascinating look at the world of the jolly green giant. In any case, it’s certainly action-packed. The problems with the 2004 version of The Punisher are entirely unrelated to Michael’s efforts. One gets the feeling that it was produced by people who never read a Punisher comic book! Finally, we come to the 2005 film version of the Fantastic Four. Michael’s script was absolutely spot-on! He truly captured the heart and soul of the comic book. Unfortunately, as we all know, the casting of Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon) was problematic. They were presented as men in their mid-thirties, while their comic book counterparts had always been world weary, seen-it-all types who were clearly middle-aged. Be that as it may, this fact certainly has nothing to do with the scriptwriting efforts of Michael France. And after all is said and done, Fantastic Four is a very entertaining film.
Unfortunately, Michael never penned another film. Severe health problems finally took their toll. He eventually succumbed to complications related to diabetes. An insidious disease, to be sure. But he never gave up or lost his spirit. He also never lost his love of King Kong, James Bond, comic books, and space operas! Much like myself, he remained a lifelong movie geek! So, let’s all raise a glass to a very talented writer who gave us a lot of joy. And while you’re at it, why not pull your DVD of GoldenEye off the shelf? I’m sure Michael France, wherever he may be, would appreciate it. And then, when the movie is over and you have a free moment, a generous contribution to a preferred diabetes charity would be the perfect gesture. Of course, it’s too late to help Michael, but it may well be a godsend for someone else.
So how ’bout it? A good deed always makes one feel all warm and fuzzy inside…
Blair Kramer is a widely published writer for various publications, including “Velocity: Chicago,” “A Guide to Art in Chicago,” “Comic Book Collector Magazine,” “American Metal Magazine,” and the “Jewish American Historical Society.” He also dabbles in screenplays and comic books. There are only two things in his life that he loves more than good movies. They are his wife and family.