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 19: THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999)
APTED CHOICE Watch the gunbarrel sequence that launches the last Bond film of the 20th Century. As Pierce Brosnan walks that familiar blank circle of infinite promise, David Arnold scores our hero’s signature theme with a shiny techno edge. It’s the sound of smoothly grinding metal, suggesting a reborn franchise nearing the Millennium as a perfectly callibrated piece of screen machinery. The truth was a little different. Crippled by a troubled production and a script that seemed to exist in a state of quantum flux, Tomorrow Never Dies had ultimately dismayed its makers: too much clatter, they thought, too many blazing, remorseless machine guns. They were determined to redress the balance with Bond’s nineteenth adventure, arming their new movie with heart and emotional muscle. Key to this mission was the choice of Michael Apted as director, perhaps the most left-field pick of helmer in Bond history. There was nothing on his showreel that suggested an affinity for the traditional glitter and poison of Fleming’s world. Apted had made a name for himself as a socially-minded documentary maker with the 7 Up series; the closest he had strayed to Bond territory were such grounded, low-key thrillers as Gorky Park and Extreme Measures. “What was I doing directing a Bond film?” he recalls asking, intimidated by both the practical demands of a top-flight action franchise and his instinctive shiver at the scale of the phenomenon he was now entrusted with. He was especially unnerved by the crowds watching the shoot in Bilbao – in that moment, he said, the idea of the audience become tangible and terrifying to him. But Apted had a rep for conjuring the best from his female leads in such fare as The Coal Miner’s Daughter and Gorillas In The Mist. And, crucially, The World Is Not Enough would showcase the franchise’s first true supervillainess, in a tale that would satisfy its star’s craving for “complexity and depth.” “Michael, give me stuff to do,” begged Brosnan, forever wary of Bond’s descent into Action Mannequin mode. “Give me scenes to play.”
MOURNING BECOMES ELEKTRA Ian Fleming’s heroines were often wounded creatures. Elektra King, the treacherous oil heiress at the heart of The World Is Not Enough, is the ultimate “bird with a broken wing”. She’s scarred both physically and psychologically – kidnapped as a teenager by the terrorist Renard, she fell in love with her abductor while developing serious daddy issues over her tycoon father’s refusal to pay the ransom. Bond accuses her of Stockholm Syndrome but Elektra accuses him of using her as bait in a ploy to snare Renard. These are unusually layered character beats for a Bond villain – we certainly never glimpsed Hugo Drax on the psychiatrist’s couch, rationalising his space shuttle obsession as some deep-rooted phallic insecurity. Elektra’s scheme to contaminate the Bosphorous and force everyone to use her oil may be torn straight from the Goldfinger textbook but French cinema star Sophie Marceau makes this splintered beauty one of the more intriguing propositions in the pantheon of Bond villainy.
GOODBYE, QThe World Is Not Enough proves a swansong for MI6’s tweedy sorcerer. Arming 007 since 1963, Desmond Llewellyn’s familiar note of sweet exasperation provided a crucial cord of continuity between all five Bond eras – and earned a place in the national heart, his fussy but unshakably boyish gadget demos as welcome as Christmas. “You’re not retiring any time soon, are you?” asks Bond, as he meets Q’s new assistant (John Cleese, playing it like Basil Fawlty with an advanced engineering degree). We share 007’s clear concern – Llewellyn was a snowy 85 now, but so embedded in the Bond myth that the thought of his absence was as inconceivable as the ravens fleeing the Tower of London. “I’ve always tried to teach you two things,” says the cantankerous tech-master. “First, never let them see you bleed.” And the second? “Always have an escape plan.” Perhaps you hear the screenwriters trying just a little too hard here: Q’s certainly never traded in that kind of Sandhurst wisdom. But no matter. Accompanied by a sombre musical cue, Q’s final, wordless descent out of shot is a supremely poignant moment. Llewellyn died in a car crash less than a month after the London premiere.
TALES FROM THE RIVERBANKThe World Is Not Enough is frontloaded with one of the franchise’s most genuinely adrenalising action sequences. Launching Q’s prototype jet-boat like a sleek grey dart, Bond smashes into the cold Thames and sets off in pursuit of Cigar Girl’s Sunseeker, racing past Parliament, slicing past wharves, skimming backstreets, crashing through a fish market, ploughing into a restaurant and executing an immaculate 360 degree barrel roll before hurtling into the oh so topical shadow of the Millennium Dome. Brosnan even finds time to slyly adjust his tie. Underwater. For a British audience there’s a palpably patriotic rush in seeing Bond bring widescreen action beats to home shores, a victory lap for the dying days of Cool Britannia.
“RENARD’S BEHIND THIS” For all that SPECTRE claimed the cause of terror in their immortal acronym, Renard is the first true terrorist villain that Bond has faced. It’s a choice of foe that riffs on the real world’s infamous Carlos the Jackal, the celebriterrorist finally captured in 1997 and so absorbed by pop-culture that his mug adorns the cover of Black Grape’s It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah. Renard is sold to us as an anarchist – “His only goal is chaos” – and, in a cool but ultimately wasted touch, a bullet worming through his medulla oblonga has annihilated his senses, leaving him impervious to pain. “You cannot kill me,” he states, ashen and almost vampiric. “I am already dead.” Equally intriguingly, he’s clearly maddened by Elektra’s talk of Bond being a good lover ( sexual jealousy is an untapped but potent motivation for any aspiring maniac confronted by Her Majesty’s leading ladyslayer). As Renard, Robert Carlyle brings the residual heat of his recent starmaking turns in Trainspotting and The Full Monty but he struggles to summon the baleful charisma the role demands. Yes, there’s the faintest ghost of Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld in his scar-cracked face, but too often “the world’s greatest terrorist” resembles nothing so much as a disenfranchised nightclub bouncer.
THE VULNERABLE BOND There’s a hole blown in the side of MI6 HQ and it feels like an impossible wound at the very heart of our hero’s world. We’ve witnessed 007 experiencing moments of vulnerability before, of course – cradling his slain bride in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or stumbling, half-broken, from the centrifuge in Moonraker – but The World Is Not Enough goes out of its way to bruise and humanise Bond. He caps the traditionally triumphant pre-titles by smashing into the Millennium Dome, then plummets, tumbling, clinging to dear life before his injured silhouette limps into the opening credits. When we next see him he’s nursing a bandaged arm and attending a sombre Scottish funeral. It’s as if Kryptonite and consequences have finally infiltrated this suave superman’s life. Bond’s vulnerability isn’t just physical in this movie – his licence to kill clearly takes a cut of his soul, too. The ultimate consequence of his calling comes when he despatches Elektra, just as she teases him with the words “James! You can’t kill me! Not in cold blood!” But he does, because he needs to, and because he won’t allow it to touch him. It’s the closest the big screen Bond has come to that stark, numbed line in Fleming’s original novel of Casino Royale: “The bitch is dead now.” No wonder the screenwriters toyed with using it.
TRIV AND LET DIE:
As Fleming tells us in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, “The World Is Not Enough” is Bond’s ancestral motto.
Peter Jackson and Joe Dante were early contenders to direct this film.
It took six weeks to shoot the Thames boat chase sequence – and endless permissions. The Counter-terrorist Unit was particularly interested in the nature of the explosions around the Dome.
Long-forgotten topical gag: one of the wheel-clampers soaked by Bond’s boat is Ray Brown, briefly notorious star of reality TV show The Clampers.
Christmas Jones’ look recalls PlayStation icon Lara Croft, then at the height of her popularity.
The legendary Scott Walker recorded an end credits song, but it was ultimately dropped.