Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bond @ 50: GoldenEye

Little did I know when watching the film Licence to Kill that waiting to watch a new Bond film would be a long time coming. In fact, little did I realize that while watching the film that I was watching the final film of my favourite Bond Timothy Dalton. I think it was pretty much assumed that every other year or so a new Bond film would be released. Unfortunately I only started to get back into Bond with Dalton’s first film, The Living Daylights, and I was saddened to see things go so quiet so quickly. After I saw Licence to Kill in July of 1989 (one of the best summer movie years), I eagerly awaited news on the next film. I waited and waited and waited. It probably wasn’t until 1991 when I watched Timothy Dalton be interviewed on a local TV program about The Rocketeer. At the end of it, he was asked about when we would see Bond again. His response was that there was legal trouble and once that got resolved, we would see a new film. So I started once again to wait and wait and wait……

The legal issue stemmed from MGM/UA being sold to Pathe Communications. The Parent company of Eon, Danjag sued because Pathe was going to run films in other countries without Danjag’s approval. This led to a lack of a film for 6 years. What is interesting is that 6 years does not seem like a very long time but in fact, the entire world had changed.
The 17th film of the Bond franchise was released in 1995. It was called Goldeneye. It needed to introduce the world to a new James Bond. Unlike the first time they needed to introduce a new Bond for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969 this process literally was the least of their worries. In fact this may have been the easiest introduction of a new Bond of all time. One of the casualties of the ongoing legal battle between Pathe and Danjag was that Timothy Dalton bowed out of doing a third Bond film. As I mentioned above, he was my favourite but he may not have been a popular Bond for the masses. When it was announced that the new Bond would be Pierce Brosnan it was like we were re-introduced to an old friend. Brosnan had been announced as Bond before. He was going to take over after Roger Moore had left. The problem was that NBC wouldn’t let him out of his contract on his TV series Remington Steele. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Pierce took over the role after Roger Moore left. He could have been the longest serving Bond as I don’t see him leaving especially being so much younger than he was when he actually took on the role or it could have been very different. His wife Cassandra Harris was diagnosed with cancer and sadly passed away in 1991. Of course none of this matters as he wasn’t able to take the role when it was originally offered to him.

The only other actor to return from the pre-legal battle was Desmond Llewelyn as Q. Moneypenny was re-cast for a second time with Samantha Bond taking on the role. Perhaps most interesting was that M was recast, this time to a woman. She was the one and only Judi Dench. This piece of casting is very significnt because it plays into a larger part of the film and Bond’s place in history.
As I mentioned above, casting Pierce Brosnan as Bond was a piece of cake and there wasn’t much to worry about but since Licence to Kill the world itself had changed significantly. Both politically and globally, the mentality of the world was very different. The Cold War was over. Russia was a very different place and there was no longer a Soviet Union. Communism was gone in Europe and the landscape of Europe was completely different. Countries had changed shapes and names since 1989. The world’s political climate was very different. On top of that, women’s place in the world had changed. Women were being recognized more and more for equality and more prominent positions with governments and big organizations. Such as M now being a woman. The major problem with Bond from the very beginning of the franchise is that he is extremely sexist. He is a womanizer and uses women as he would use a cigarette; only to discard them when finished with them. As an audience from the 1960s, it was fashionable and popular. How would an audience from 1995 handle it? Bringing Bond back with Goldeneye in 1995 was not exactly a sure thing.

Goldeneye is interesting. It’s a film that wants to tell us the franchise has moved with the times even if its main character hasn’t changed at all. Regardless of all I said above with how the world has changed, the film starts out in Russia. It is set during the time of the Soviet Union. Bond and his fellow agent 006, Alec Trevelyan, are on a mission to blow up a base. Like I mentioned this takes place while the Soviet Union still existed. 006 is murdered by Colonel Ourumov. 006 was played by Sean Bean and such an actor of his stature would not have only appeared in the pre-credits sequence. In fact, he turns out to be a double agent and heads up a crime syndicate in Russia. Sean Bean is a wonderful choice for this role. He is sort of the alter-ego of Bond. He is attractive, physical, and rugged. He could have been a good James Bond. Unfortuantely they would never cast someone who had too rugged of looks and blonde hair to play Bond…..oh, wait!
Ultimately what happens is that this syndicate takes control of this super-secret weapon Goldeneye. There are two satellites. One that destroys its command centre in Russia and the other one will be used to eliminate London. Goldeneye is a direct link to Ian Fleming. The film itself is the first to not have any plot pieces based on one of the original Fleming books or short stories. Yet the title is based off of Fleming’s estate in Jamaica called Goldeneye plus the name for the home is based on  a mission that Fleming monitored in Spain after the Spanish Civil War called Operation Goldeneye.

The film is going alright until we meet up with Bond again in London. This is the same kind of complaint I have with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They seem to once again hit us over the head with how much has changed since the last film. I understand why they do it but I think it could be handled more subtly than how it is presented in this film. In the scene where M is talking to Bond in her office, she calls him a dinosaur, a relic from the Cold War. Really? Why is he even around anymore then? Moneypenny tells Bond that the way he is speaking to her could be considered sexual harassment. What is this, an after school special? The dialogue is so poor in these scenes. I still cringe when I watch it.  I am sure other people enjoy it but not me. The same could be said about a lot of other dialogue throughout this film.

We can’t get through a sentence in any scene with a Russian without being reminded about the Cold War being over. We also have a fair share of double entendres. Now, there isn’t much different there but these are not very good. For example, the scene with Bond and Onatopp in the casino. It is really sophomoric and not very good. I love a good double entendre but I always get the feeling they are trying too hard in this film.
I remember sitting in the theatre on premiere night. I was grabbing onto my theatre seat pretty tightly listening to people’s reaction to the film. I wanted people to like it so much, I didn’t want Bond not to be relevant in the 1990s. I don’t know why I didn’t just try to enjoy it on my own. Unfortunately it is a classic trait of an obsessive fan. I remember people mocking the bit at the beginning where Bond is free-falling to catch a plane. Apart from the stilted dialogue, especially scenes where Alec is constantly summing up Bond by using clich├ęs such as “I might as well ask you if all those vodka martinis ever silence the screams of all the men you've killed... or if you find forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women for all the dead ones you failed to protect.” Or “Did you ever ask why? Why we toppled all those dictators, undermined all those regimes, only to come home: "Well done, good job, but sorry, old boy, everything you risked your life and limb for has changed." Goldeneye is a fairly enjoyable film. I am a big, big fan of the 2006 release of Casino Royale which is also directed by Martin Campbell same as this film. I personally believe Casino Royale is the film that Goldeneye wanted to be. It’s a fresh start to a new era, something I think Goldeneye wanted to be yet being faithful to the Bond franchise, which I will be honest to say that Casino Royale isn’t. The problem with Goldeneye in this respect is that it is mired by things it feels it needs to accomplish. In fact I would say this is an issue with all of the Brosnan-era films. These set-pieces are in every film throughout the franchise up to this point but they feel more prominent in these films. The obligatory Moneypenny sequence, the obligatory Q sequence and even the M sequence. Like I said, I know they are in every film but they always seem to be a hurdle to telling the stories in these films. This is why when neither Q nor Moneypenny came back in Casino Royale, I was happy.

One of the things that changed drastically when Goldeneye was released was how far CG technology advanced since Licence to Kill. This is seen in the Gun barrel sequence as it is computer-generated. The gun barrel is no longer flat. It has more texture to it and is 3-dimensional. It looks great. Since Licence to Kill, Maurice Binder passed away. He did all but two of the opening credits to the Bond films to that point. Daniel Kleinman took up the mantle and created a sequence that was in the same vein as Maurice Binder’s style but doing more to echo parts of the story within the sequence. It looks great and is a triumph. I have always liked his work.
One thing I have been talking about is the different ways that Bond gets introduced in the films when a new actor takes over.  In Goldeneye, we know it’s Bond from the beginning of the film as he is running to enter a base and does this amazing bungee jump from a dam. The whole time his face is in shadows. It isn’t until a Russian soldier is sitting on the toilet reading a paper do we see an upside down James Bond punch this soldier in the face. The Brosnan era begins!

There are a lot of great actors in this film. I already mentioned Judi Dench, Sean Bean, and Samantha Bond. This film also has Famke Janssen as Onatopp who is the “Oddjob” of the film. She is the henchman who has some special skill used as a weapon. She can suffocate people by putting her legs around them and squeezing. Izabella Scorupco is Natalya Simonova; Bond’s love interest. She survives Goldeneye destroying the command center that she was working in. Another survivor is Boris (who is invincible!) played by Alan Cumming. I really like Alan in everything he does yet I am not a big fan of the character Boris. We get Joe Don Baker as Jack Wade. He’s sort of a poor man’s Felix Leiter. I like the character but I think the casting is strange since Baker appeared as Brad Whitaker in The Living Daylights just two films before. It’s a lot like Charles Gray appearing as Henderson in You Only Live Twice and Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever. We even get Minnie Driver and Michael Kitchen! My favourite though is Robbie Coltrane appearing for the first time as Valentin Zukovsky. I adore Robbie Coltrane and love everything he is in. I think he is a wonderful inclusion to the cast and his scenes are among my favourite in this film.
The action is pretty cool. The tank chase in St Petersburg is awesome! It’s a great scene with a lot of destruction and fun to it. What I thought was lazy was the amount of machine gun battles took place in the film. It’s not the first time Bond used a machine gun but when he does I feel he degrades himself to the realm of any other “action hero” and I feel the character is so much better than that. The end of the film takes place in an underground complex with a huge satellite dish that is hidden under a gigantic lake. This whole sequence is a great Bond-villain hideout as it harks back to the days of big spacious Ken Adam sets and hideout masquerading as pieces of nature such as the volcano in You Only Live Twice. This is the final film that Derek Meddings worked on. He had been doing model effects for Bond films for many years. All of the satellite sequences looked real but they were model effects. That was the work of Derek Meddings. I have a tremendous soft spot for Derek as he did all the models for the 1960s Gerry Anderson Supermarionation series such as Thunderbirds or The Secret Service. He passed away in 1995. It was a tremendous loss.

The film ends with Alec falling from the tower on the gigantic satellite to the saucer. After a ridiculous high fall that only the Tenth Doctor in Doctor Who could survive but at the end as the tower on the satellite blows up and is falling down on Alec, he is still alive as it comes down on him. I am sure every bone was broken but the fact he was conscious at all is a bit silly to me.
Goldeneye is nowhere near my favourite Bond film. This is mainly for the reasons I cited above but it may also be because I have seen it so many times. It felt like it was on all the cable movie channels very often and I saw it a lot. It also felt like none of the other films were shown on television that much at the time but that may also have been me not catching them. Granted the old films were still mainly cropping up at an irregular basis on ABC. Also the music is not very strong at all. The music was composed by Eric Serra after John Barry turned down the offer to return. The music is weak and odd. I personally feel that Bond needs a full orchestra score and that isn’t what we got. This is an OK start to the Brosnan era but if I am going to pick a Brosnan Bond film to watch I will pick Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough or even Die Another Day over Goldeneye any day.

Finally, can I just say, I love all the new DVD/Blu Ray covers for the Bond films? Goldeneye is at the top of this article but they are not overly produced and very simple. I love this approach!

Next week: The next Bond film I am going to look at is the first Daniel Craig film Casino Royale. I love this film! For DVD reviews I am still going through Blu Ray bliss as I am watching the first 6 series of Poirot. I am also going to review Series 2 of the new Upstairs Downstairs. As usual, a ton is going on!

Have a great week!

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2 comments:

Michael Fett said...

Well going from License to Kill to Goldeneye was kind of disappointing. In my opinion we were introduced to a new side of Bond that we had not seen before in License to Kill that I would of loved to seen explored more. An agent willing to go rogue against M's orders to correct injustices or to get the job done. I loved it. We were introduced to a Bond that we wouldn't see comeback until Daniel Craig took over. In my opinion it was what made Casino Royale great and Quantum of Solace good with the exception of certain scenes like the car chase in the beginning the filming techniques used made it hard to tell what was going on and who was doing what. Instead we were brought a cross between the comedic Saint and Connery. While entertaining to watch and a better Bond than Moore he could get too carried away at times. That is what Goldeneye did in my opinion come out with a big bang, over the top, do everything they could try to do to say James Bond was back with a vengeance. While to the general audience it accomplished that to me I cringed at alot of the scenes and in my head I was saying this is not Bond. At least he didn't have the line This never happened to the other guy. Fortunately for Bond fans Tomorrow Never Dies the next film in the franchise is one of the best in the series.

Greg said...

Yeah Goldeneye is alright but not the classic that I would have liked it to be. To me, it is almost like the people making the films came back too frantic and they needed time to settle back down and they did so with Tomorrow Never Dies. That being said, I think Pierce was the right choice for the franchise at the time.