2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall…
MISSION 17: GOLDENEYE (1995)
NO LIMITS. NO FEARS. NO SUBSTITUTES “You know the name. You know the number” asserted the cocksure teaser poster to GoldenEye, summoning all the alpha arrogance of the James Bond brand. It was an essential show of bravado. By 1995 007 was staring down an enemy greater than the united might of SPECTRE and SMERSH – cultural irrelevance. It had been six years since the cruel, underperforming Licence To Kill, a lifetime for a perfectly callibrated franchise machine accustomed to box office strikes on a strict two-year basis. The filmmakers had been locked in a legal brawl with a financially bruised MGM and while the early ‘90s saw murmurs of a new Bond adventure – a more SF-tinged escapade, it seems, implausibly pitting Dalton’s grounded man-of-action against hi-tech robots – the once world-owning franchise seemed closer than ever to sputtering into obsolescence. Cubby Broccoli for one feared that Bond’s iconic stock was in freefall. He filed suit against MGM after the studio attempted to flog the films at giveaway prices to foreign TV and video markets. You can understand the old showman’s alarm – Fleming’s hero traded in gilt-edged dreams, not bargain basement offers. By ’95 the superspy not only needed to reclaim his place in pop culture – he had to rebuild his own wounded brand. The world knew the name, the world knew the number. Crucially, did it still care?
“I WATCHED YOU FROM THE SHADOWS AS A CHILD” “When it came around again, I didn’t think twice,” declared Pierce Brosnan, the fifth actor to earn the cinematic licence to kill. “It was unfinished business.” In ‘86 he had famously surrendered the role to Dalton over a contractual wrangle and while there was no shortage of pretender Bonds touted by the tabloids – everyone from Mel Gibson to Liam Neeson and Hugh Grant – Brosnan’s appointment felt ordained, inevitable, a people’s choice. Revealed to the world’s press on 7th June 1994, the Irish-born, mannequin-handsome actor spoke of a lifelong enchantment with Bond’s impossible universe, the first star of the franchise to have experienced its dream-shaping impact as a kid: “When I was 11 I came to London with a bottle of water in one hand and my rosary in the other, and the first movie I saw was Goldfinger. I looked up at the big screen for the first time and I saw a naked lady and a cool man who could get out of any situation. I was captivated, magicked, blown away.” Look closely and you can see the ghost of that bedazzled little boy in Brosnan’s Bond. It’s there in his grin as he guns a gleaming Aston Martin around the hairpin roads of Monaco; it echoes in his twinkle as he moves through the glamourchase of Monte Carlo, more naturally at home in a tuxedo than Dalton ever was, dusting his entendres with irony in that soft Irish brogue. He’s playing James Bond, but he’s also playing at being James Bond. And yet there’s more to Brosnan than dimple-loaded charm-bursts and breathy innuendo. He vowed to make Bond “human and real and accessible”, and GoldenEye makes it a mission to finally prise at the character’s shadows. “How can you be so cold?” asks Natalya, confronted by 007’s emotional armour. “It’s what keeps me alive,” answers Bond, an admission that feels as much a wound as a weapon.
JUMP! It’s the breathcatching stunt that declares Bond’s inimitable return to the big screen – a freefall bungee jump into the granite vastness of the Arkangel chemical weapons facility. As GoldenEye opens a black-clad 007 executes a graceful descent into its seemingly infinite maw, in peril of being smashed to pulp by its blind grey walls. Switzerland’s virtually vertical Locarno dam delivered the eye-popping visual while Wayne Michaels doubled for Brosnan on the daredevil leap, a 700 ft plummet that was nailed in one take and set a new world record (Michaels recalls that he glimpsed an Italian crane driver make the sign of the cross before he jumped). A showcase for the Bond tradition of muscular, risk-calculating stuntwork in an increasingly digital age, this leap launches the seventeenth Bond adventure in high, audacious style.
FAMKE FATALE From Thunderball’s Fiona Volpe to A View To A Kill’s May Day, the Bad Bond Girl is an infrequent but familiar player in the franchise. GoldenEye’s Xenia Onatopp takes the trope to memorable new extremes. Clamping a monstrous cigar between her teeth in a manner to make Freud blush, she just about steals the movie – sex-fighting with Bond in a sauna, writhing ferally on top of a doomed admiral and panting orgasmically as she unleashes round after round of machine-gun fire as if on some knicker-dampening kill-spree. She’s brought to the screen by Dutch ex-model Famke Janssen, who declared “I’ve deliberately gone to Cruella de Vil glam extremes and made her one sick bitch. I can’t play housewives or girlfriend parts because of the way I look. So I’ve become the ultimate villainess instead.”
NEW WORLD DISORDER “The map had changed,” said director Martin Campbell, acknowledging that 007’s resurrection was occurring in a radically transformed world. “Russia had changed, the whole political spectrum had changed – Bond has adapted.” The decades-long powerplay between East and West had been the inescapable background hum of Bond’s big screen career but in his absence from active duty the Cold War had finally defrosted. New title designer Danny Kleinman’s astonishing credits form the franchise’s belated response to the fall of the USSR – golden girls writhe against broiling, blood-red clouds as sinister, skyscraping supermodels take pick-axes to Soviet icons. Statues of Lenin and Marx topple like abandoned ideology. It feels like the final triumph of moneyed Western decadence, communism crushed beneath the power of the stiletto heel, collectivism assassinated by glamour. By the time Bond re-enters history the New World Order of 1989 has soured – crime has filled the vacuum left by the old orthodoxy and broken effigies of socialist heroes now decorate a junkyard, looming spectrally in the night. Tellingly, the villainous Alec Trevelyan wields a Cold War weapon, an electro-magnetic pulse that targets Britain’s financial district. It may be a new world but Bond is still battling old ghosts.
“JAMES, YOU’RE INCORRIGIBLE!” Was there still a place for James Bond in the ‘90s? Smartly, GoldenEye places this burning question centrestage. And then souses it with gasoline, just for good measure. Judi Dench’s new M denounces Bond as “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War”, and these words feel like a pre-emptive strike, as if the film itself is finding a voice for its potential critics. She’s not alone. “You know, this sort of behaviour could qualify as sexual harassment,” reproaches Samantha Bond’s Moneypenny, whose flirtation with 007 is notably flintier than her predecessors’. Elsewhere the movie jabs slyly at our hero’s rep: “James Bond, charming, sophisticated secret agent, shaken but not stirred,” ribs Zukovsky, triggering laughter from his men. Bond’s old fashioned sense of obligation to Queen and country finds him branded “Her Majesty’s loyal terrier” while the treacherous 006 pointedly says “I might as well ask you if all those vodka martinis ever silence the screams of the men you’ve killed.” It’s as if every last character in the film is a critic, articulating some simmering agenda against its protagonist. But timing was on Bond’s side. Far from a cobwebbed relic he returned to ‘90s Britain as a conquering hero, a reclaimed icon for the age of Britpop (notably, a model in the title song’s promo video wraps herself in a Union Jack, anticipating New Labour’s Cool Britannia and a flag-draped Geri Halliwell). This was a land where the monochrome shark-gaze of Michael Caine in his ‘60s prime conferred instant cred on the covers of men’s monthlies, where Easy Listening compilations conjured a notion of tight-suited bachelor cool soundtracked by the majestic swoon of John Barry. Even Bond’s unreconstructed sexual politics seemed in synch with the times. The beery rise of Loaded magazine had seen the emergence of the New Lad – Bond’s strikingly uncharacteristic “Buy me a pint!” feels like a nod to this phenomenon – and a pseudo-ironic backlash against the button-down ‘80s saw the return of pin-up culture and an unashamed celebration of the Carry On mindset. “I like a woman who enjoys pulling rank,” declares Bond, trading a rapidfire volley of double entendres with Xenia – and the smart, knowing ‘90s audience is smirking too. For all that the film playfully pricks its own mythology, James Bond is hugely at home in 1995, the reissued Goldfinger score in his CD player, an underdressed Jo Guest in his arms.
TRIV AND LET DIE
Director Martin Campbell spotted Famke Janssen in the rushes of Clive Barker’s Lord Of Illusions.
For the city-smashing tank chase production designer Peter Lamont recreated St Petersburg on the backlot of Leavesden studios. It took 175 workmen over six weeks to create two acres of makebelieve Russia.
Sean Bean was in contention for the role of Bond himself.
After GoldenEye’s release the Locarno dam was leased by a commercial bungee jump operator for particularly brave thrill-seekers.
Goldeneye was the name of Ian Fleming’s bolthole in Jamaica, the home where he wrote the Bond novels. It’s also the name of a 1989 Fleming bio-pic that starred Charles Dance as Bond’s creator.
GoldenEye sees the first mention of the Internet in the Bond films. And email. And the word geek.