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Martin Campbell Biography


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Birth Name: Martin Campbell
Born: 10/24/1944
Birth Place: Hastings, , NZ


Martin Campbell was born on Oct. 24, 1943, in Hastings, New Zealand. A film fan from childhood, Campbell traveled to London at the age of 23 to pursue a career as a cinematographer. He found work with Tudor Gates, the writer of such classic British genre films as "Danger: Diabolik" (1968) and "The Vampire Lovers" (1970). Gates had begun producing a string of low-budget sex romps under a pseudonym, and hired Campbell as his assistant on one such film, "The Love Box" (1972). Two years later, Gates would produce Campbell's directorial debut, "The Sex Thief" (1974). Campbell would work with Gates to make three more of the titillating exploitation films over the next two years, honing his craft as a director while on the job. Working with miniscule budgets also made him aware of the fine art of producing, leading him to produce two films in the late 1970s: "Black Joy" (1977), which was nominated for the Cannes Film Festival's Palme D'Or award; and "Scum" (1979), a dramatic expose of youth prisons, and the debut feature for a young Ray Winstone.

Campbell's well-developed ability to shoot exciting footage quickly and inexpensively proved to be a much-valued asset in the medium of television. He discovered a knack for directing action while working on episodes of detective and crime series such as "Minder" (ITV, 1979-1994) and "The Professionals" (ITV, 1977-1981), and on miniseries including "Reilly: Ace of Spies" (1983) starring Sam Neill. Campbell's television work culminated in "The Edge of Darkness" (1985), a gripping and gritty dramatic miniseries about a homicide detective investigating the murder of his activist daughter. It was nominated for 11 BAFTA TV awards and won six, including Best Drama Series. On the strength of his success with "The Edge of Darkness," Campbell returned to features, this time with better actors, better budgets, and with content more closely akin to the gripping dramatic work Campbell had been delivering on television. "Criminal Law" (1988) starring Gary Oldman, Kevin Bacon and Tess Harper marked the beginning of this new phase in Campbell's film career and, as a British-American co-production, introduced Campbell to Hollywood.

Campbell's first work in America made the most of his understanding of both television production and crowd-pleasing genre fare. The HBO original film, "Cast a Deadly Spell" (1991) starring Fred Ward as a detective in a world of demons and black magic, was a pulpy crowd-pleaser. Campbell's big screen follow-up "No Escape" (1994), starring Ray Liotta as an inmate in a futuristic prison, however, displayed some of the inventiveness that Campbell had acquired in his scrappy low-budget days, but was nevertheless a disappointing flop. It hardly mattered. By then, Campbell was a known quantity on both sides of the Atlantic and had developed a reputation for being a workman-like yeoman director with a distinct lack of ego befitting his Kiwi heritage. It was that reputation that made him the perfect man for his next job - helming the tightly controlled team effort required to re-launch the dormant James Bond franchise. Though it would be his biggest production to date by several orders of magnitude, Campbell's always cool demeanor and collaborative attitude was just what the aging brand needed.

During the James Bond franchise's six-year retirement following the dismal performance of "License to Kill" (1989), the world changed. The Soviet Union fell, ending the Cold War and robbing Bond of the global menace that fueled the golden age of espionage. Action films had changed as well, eschewing the fantasy of whimsical gadgets and glamorous women that had been Bond's stock and trade for tougher, bloodier thrills. While other directors might have been intimidated by the prospect of reinventing the suave spy - and his long-lived and lucrative franchise - for a more brutal age, Campbell treated the job like any other, assuming that even his most workmanlike performance would be an improvement over the previous outing. It was. Campbell's stripped-down, fast-paced "GoldenEye" (1995) introduced the world to Pierce Brosnan as the man behind the martini, and earned the best box office returns and the finest reviews of any Bond film in years. Though he was too humble to accept it, Martin Campbell was widely credited with rescuing one of the world's greatest heroes.

When "GoldenEye" proved to be one of the most popular Bond films in the series' history, it was only natural for producer Barbara Broccoli to invite Campbell back to repeat his success. Campbell demurred, however, uninterested in treading familiar ground. Instead, he accepted another assignment revitalizing an even older hero - Zorro. Steven Spielberg had initiated the project to bring the legendary Zorro back to the big screen, but scheduling and budget conflicts saw several directors come and go. With Campbell at the helm, "The Mask of Zorro" (1998) became a box office smash and made Antonio Banderas a household name. Now the hot name in action, Campbell followed "The Mask of Zorro" with an original thriller, "Vertical Limit" (2000) starring Scott Glenn and Chris O'Donnell. Despite suffering a fear of heights, Campbell took his crew thousands of feet up the slopes of New Zealand's Mt. Cook - a stand-in for the film's location on K-2 - to film the intense, mountain climbing action. It was the first film Campbell had ever shot in his homeland, and was an unqualified success worldwide.

In 2003, Campbell experienced his first flop. "Beyond Borders" (2003), starring Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen, was a romantic drama about two star-crossed relief workers struggling to make a difference in a war-torn world. Critics found the film shamelessly pretentious and audiences barely found the film at all, returning less than $5,000,000 of the estimated $35,000,000 budget. Though he was loath to repeat previous efforts, Campbell retreated to the relative safety of the "Zorro" brand, directing the 2005 sequel, "The Legend of Zorro." Lightning did not strike twice. Though the film was a modest success in the international market, reviews were dismissive at best. Campbell took a step back to assess his next career move, and to marry his girlfriend, actress Sol Romero, whom he had met while she was an extra on "The Legend of Zorro." Though he had been rattled by the flop that was "Beyond Borders," and by the perceived failure of the seemingly "safe" choice of "The Legend of Zorro," Campbell was initially unconvinced when he was asked to repeat his earlier miracle of resurrecting James Bond.

In the intervening decade since Campbell had returned the brand to relevance with the introduction of Pierce Brosnan as the post-Soviet era 007, the "James Bond" franchise had gone astray once again, falling into a pattern of predictable plots and increasingly ridiculous action. Campbell was asked to help reset Bond once more. To do so, he insisted upon returning Bond to his roots, finding inspiration in the original Bond novel, "Casino Royale." Barbara Broccoli, the longtime producer of the franchise, had only recently won a heated contest against director Quentin Tarantino for the rights to the novel, and took the "Pulp Fiction" director's interest as a motivating challenge to bring a new vitality to the Bond films. Broccoli, Campbell, and their creative team decided to treat "Casino Royale" as the origin story it had been written to be, and had even briefly considered making the film a period piece. One thing was certain, a Bond origin story would require a new, younger actor to step into Bond's shoes. Campbell found that actor in Daniel Craig, and together they would create the most visceral Bond ever.

Despite some initial hesitance at the casting of the brutish Craig as the usually debonair Bond, "Casino Royale" (2006) was a hit with critics and fans alike, all quick to hail Craig as the best Bond since Sean Connery, and "Casino Royale" as perhaps the best entry in the franchise to date. Perhaps it was this successful return to form that convinced Campbell to revisit his very first success, the gritty thriller "The Edge of Darkness." The original six-hour miniseries had been pared down to an intense two-hour feature over almost seven years of development with producer Graham King, but Campbell had remained lukewarm about returning to direct the story throughout that process. When Mel Gibson came aboard to star, however, Campbell opted in. The film received middling reviews and struggled to make a return on its estimated $80,000,000 budget, perhaps being overshadowed by Gibson's bad behavior at the time: a traffic violation for driving while intoxicated that exploded into an anti-Semitic rant that would forever tarnish Gibson's star power.

In 2011, Campbell returned to big-budget action with "Green Lantern" (2011), starring Ryan Reynolds. The adaptation of the long-running D.C. Comics property was an important tentpole for D.C. and Warner Brothers, who had fallen behind their long-time competition, Marvel Comics, in their ability to mine successful films from their deep catalogue of source material. Campbell, who was admittedly not much of a comic book fan, was drawn to the character's psychological underpinnings and to his powers, which draw their strength from the hero's willpower and imagination rather than his physical strength. Unfortunately, "Green Lantern" failed to capitalize on those strengths and was savaged by critics and fans alike. The usually charming Reynolds seemed lost in a mire of confusing, undercooked action. Never one to defend his work, Campbell remained silent in the face of criticism, though he did let it be known that the final cut of the film, which eschewed character development in favor of special effects, was not his own. Bruised by the arduous and ultimately unsatisfying experience of "Green Lantern," Campbell returned to television in 2012, directing the pilot episode of "Last Resort" (ABC, 2012- ), created by Shawn Ryan and starring Andre Braugher as the captain of a U.S. Navy submarine.

By John Crye