Tuesday, October 30, 2012

GoldenEye - Dir. Martin Campbell (The Bond Project #17)

GoldenEye (1995)
Dir: Martin Campbell

Rebirth of Bond
Jay Maronde
                First and foremost, I should mention that this was the first Bond film I ever saw. I distinctly remember when my father took myself and my brothers to the movies opening week because he wanted to see the new Bond. The people at the theater tried to give him shit that he was taking three children to a PG-13 movie, but if you’ve ever met my Dad clearly you can understand why this wasn’t going to stop him at all. Now, a big part of the reason that he was so insistent upon us seeing this film is that it had been six years since the last film and there had been a lot of talk at the time that there would be no more Bond films. Fortunately, GoldenEye easily became the most profitable Bond since Moonraker, and effectively rendered Licence to Kill’s poor box office performance a nullity.
                The reasons for the many years between Bonds are always convoluted, but GoldenEye ‘s longest-ever-delay also had some of the craziest reasons ever. First, MGM had sold the broadcast rights to the entire Bond Canon to a company that wanted to broadcast them on TV. At the time this was a huge copyright issue and lawsuits ensued fast and furiously. For some time the Eon Productions team was intent on never making another Bond film unless they had control of these lucrative re-broadcasting rights (yes, I’m fully aware that the SPIKE network generally shows the entire Canon during these recent few Thanksgiving holidays, and I have no explanations for you as to why other than money—but in the early 1990s this was not going to happen without a fight). Second, there were no more Fleming novels to make films from, and as such GoldenEye is the first film ever that draws nothing from the works of Fleming (other than the Bond character himself). Further, after the script was finally delivered it required substantial rewriting as apparently it bore numerous similarities to True Lies, which was also being made and released around the same time. And even further, while all of these legal and creative issues were delaying the project, the U.S.S.R. was dismantled, and the Berlin Wall fell; as such the standard James Bond enemy of Russia wasn’t the best enemy anymore. Finally, while all of this bickering was going on, Timmy Dalton and numerous other Bond standards quit their roles making this the first James Bond to replace Bond, M, and Moneypenny all in the same movie.
                So again the producers were searching for a new Bond. Luckily for them they had already decided two films previous that they had wanted to give the role to Pierce Brosnan, who at the time was unfortunately unavailable due to contractual obligations to the Remington Steele television series. So while numerous actors were again auditioned (including again Mel Gibson) the producers eventually went with Brosnan, and personally I think it was a wonderful choice. Brosnan is a great Bond. He’s got the Roger Moore suave, Lazenby’s youthful looks, Dalton’s willingness to do his own stunts, and Connery’s grittiness. For me he just looks the role maybe the most of all the Bonds. Also new to this film was the casting of Dame Judi Dench as M, and she is fantastic (many early reviews of the new film Skyfall have critics clamoring that she deserves an Oscar for her performance). Dench is the first female to portray the MI6 chief and while initially there was much talk about how Bond would look taking orders from a lady, Dench’s outstanding performance quickly removed all doubts as she’s far more imposing and leader-like than Hilary Clinton (who is the only person I can even think to compare her character with).
                The film also featured two fantastic Bond girls: not only the lovely and very-much-come-hither Izabella Scorupco as James Bond’s Russian computer programmer Ally Natalya, but also the fantastically gorgeous and very sexually aggressive Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp—the extremely memorable henchwoman who literally copulates men to death. Now the name On-a-Topp is a fantastic Bond girl name, like tops up there with Plenty O’Toole and Holly Goodhead, but Janssen (who later becomes Jean MF Grey in the X-Men movies) is easily at the peak of her youthful beauty. She’s stunningly gorgeous and easily one of the best looking Bond girls to ever grace the screen with any Bond. Her performance in this role is stunning, moaning orgasmic as she murders people all over the world—she is so convincing as a henchwoman that it is remarkable.
                The casting in this film isn’t the only thing that makes it awesome, as this particular Bond has some record-breaking stunts (many of which Brosnan preformed himself) including the tallest bungee jump ever performed, and the most scale models ever used in a Bond film.  There is also a fantastic tank chase through the streets of St. Petersburg. I should mention first that the producers were so pleased with the stuntman who performed the record-breaking bungee jump that they gave him a cameo later in the film as one of the helicopter pilots whom Xenia kills. The other helicopter pilot is actually the other stuntman who performed the stunt in the beginning where Bond defies the law of physics and jumps into a falling plane (the stunt was actually performed in real life, and no laws of physics were actually broken—as while all objects fall at the same rate, a human will fall faster than a plane whose propeller is running in reverse, which is how the footage was actually achieved). These two amazing stunts right at the beginning of this film definitely let the viewer know that this new Bond film is going to be action-packed and utterly fantastic. The other stunt I would like to mention is the wonderful tank chase through the city as Bond is pursuing the kidnapped Natalya in a stolen Russian tank. Brosnan is actually in the tank for all these scenes, which adds tremendously to the realism of the film even though the tank was modified so that a professional was covertly driving from a hidden location. My favorite part of the chase (which is almost always cut from the TV version) involves Bond driving said tank directly through a Perrier tractor trailer truck and smashing millions of cans of Perrier everywhere (in real life the company paid to have every single can recovered from the streets of St Petersburg so as to avoid any chance of crafty Russians being able to bootleg their product).
                Also of note about this film is the Car—not necessarily for the car itself, because it has a very small role in the film and never uses any of the cool gadgets that Q branch has installed—but instead because the deal struck between EON and BMW is always recognized and the world’s most successful product placement deal ever. The James Bond edition of the Z3 in this film sold out in less than 24 hours. Several Z3’s were used to ferry journalists from the Premiere at NYC’s Radio City Music Hall to the after party at the MOMA (also of note: this is one of two Bond films to not have its world premiere in London, and the only one to premiere in NYC (San Francisco hosted the premiere of A View To a Kill)). While this car may not be the most “James Bond” of all of Bond’s cars it is clearly a very recognizable symbol of this movie.
                Before I close I feel I should mention that I really like the title song GoldenEye, sung by Tina Turner and written by Bono and The Edge. Personally I hate U2, and loath Bono (I could go either way on The Edge) but the song is great it really recalls to mind the great Shirley Bassey Bond anthems of earlier films.  And while it is only a small part of the film, I feel like the song really envelops the viewer into this new world of Bond. This entire film is wonderful. It’s gritty at points, sweet at points, extremely interesting, and beautifully filmed with wonderful locations. Brosnan’s transition into the role of new Bond was more than successful and the continuing viability of the Bond franchise may be attributable in part to his performance. 

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