Musings on Bond at 50: GoldenEye

Posted: 13 October 2012 in entertainment, film
Tags: , , , ,

An old friend is the new enemy. An old enemy is the new friend. James Bond returns to a new world as GoldenEye triumphantly proves wrong those critics who had said 007’s time was over.

I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War, whose boyish charms, though wasted on me, obviously appealed to that young woman I sent out to evaluate you.

GoldenEyeThe release of GoldenEye in November 1995 saw the rebirth of the James Bond franchise after a six year hiatus in a critically acclaimed blaze of glory that silenced various critics who had been endlessly trumpeting that the British agent’s time was done and he would be an embarrassing sexist anachronism in a more liberated post-Cold War world.

The film tackled head-on the changes that had taken place in the world since the release of Licence To Kill as 007 confronted the vast criminal empires that had arisen in the new Russia from the ashes of the old regime following the fall of the Berlin Wall and dissolution of the Soviet Union. Bond’s traditional adversaries may well have met their demise but there was legion of new threats for him to battle in a new world.

With themes of betrayal and revenge, and a rare insight into the past of James Bond as an orphan GoldenEye had originally been conceived with Timothy Dalton’s darker more realistic portrayal of 007 in mind. The actor’s resignation from the role on 11 April 1994 caused surprise as it had been widely expected that he would head up the new production as part of the original three film deal he had signed when accepting the role of Bond for The Living Daylights.

Ever since Dalton’s departure rumours have abounded that he was forced out at the behest of United Artists who wanted a lead actor considered more acceptable to the all-important American market. All parties concerned have continually denied that Dalton was forced out and given that he remains close friends with the Broccoli family such a scenario seems unlikely.

Whatever the truth of the matter the time had finally arrived for Pierce Brosnan to assume the role that had been so cruelly denied him in 1986 due to contractual obligations to Remington Steele. Little surprise was expressed when Brosnan was announced as the new James Bond on 7 June 1994 as many felt that he was owed the chance to play the role after the debacle surrounding The Living Daylights. In many ways taking on the role nearly a decade later was better for Brosnan as he was a more experienced actor in the mid 1990s than he had been in the mid 1980s.

James Bond. Charming, sophisticated secret agent. Shaken, but not stirred.

GoldenEye - Bond and QWith his health deteriorating Cubby Broccoli took a back seat as consulting producer for GoldenEye, entrusting the guiding of his legacy to his daughter Barbara Broccoli and his step-son Michael G Wilson, who had been involved in the series since 1976 and 1972 respectively. Although Cubby died just seven months after the release of GoldenEye he lived long enough to see his heirs revive the series he had originated in 1962.

The biggest innovation of GoldenEye after the arrival of a new James Bond came was casting of acclaimed Shakespearean actress Judi Dench as M – an acknowledgement of Stella Rimington becoming head of MI5 in 1992. For the first time since the 1960s there is tension between Bond and M as it is abundantly clear that the two don’t like each other. Dench delivers the best line in the film when she describes Bond as a “…sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War…”. The writers cleverly placed the thoughts of many people into M’s mouth and then allowed 007 to prove her and the audience wrong through the rest of GoldenEye. Belying her authoritative on-screen character Dench was highly nervous about assuming the role and she and Brosnan bonded over their respective nerves during their scenes together.

Whilst there was a new M for Bond to obey, and a new Miss Moneypenny in the form of Samantha Bond to flirt with, one icon of the old MI6 trinity survived into the new era. To the delight of Brosnan and audiences across the globe Desmond Llewelyn’s Q returned for his fifteenth appearance and his fifth James Bond. Despite the overhaul enacted by Broccoli and Wilson no consideration was ever given to replacing the beloved actor who was 81 at the time of filming. Clearly the role was Llewelyn’s for as long as he wanted it.

The most controversial aspect of 007’s rebirth proved to be the score by Eric Serra. A frequent collaborator with Luc Beeson the French composer was hired when John Barry turned down an invite to return to the series that he had last worked on in 1987. Serra’s modern-sounding experimental soundtrack perfectly suited the look of the new Bond universe yet it was unfairly derided by critics and fans who cited it as being too distant from the traditional Bond sound. More popular was the theme song written by Bono and The Edge of U2 which was performed by Tina Turner and reached number 10 in the UK charts.

We’re both orphans, James. But while your parents had the luxury of dying in a climbing accident, mine survived the British betrayal and Stalin’s execution squads. My father couldn’t let himself or my mother live with the shame. MI6 figured I was too young to remember. And in one of life’s little ironies, the son went to work for the government whose betrayal caused the father to kill himself and his wife.

GoldenEye - 007 and 006Developed by screen writers Michael France, Jeffrey Caine, Kevin Wade, and Bruce Feirstein, GoldenEye was the first film in the series not to take direct inspiration from the books of Ian Fleming, though unintentional echoes of his life and works can be discerned.

During World War II, as part of his work for British Naval Intelligence, Fleming devised “Operation Golden Eye” whose goal was to ensure that Britain would remain in communication with Gibraltar in the event of a Nazi invasion attempt through Spain. Fleming subsequently named his estate in Jamaica “Goldeneye” and it was there that he wrote his fourteen James Bond books. Noel Coward, who lived at the nearby “Firefly” estate, and who was best man at Fleming’s wedding, dubbed Goldeneye “Golden eye, nose and throat”.

From the very first novel Casino Royale Fleming uses the theme of treachery and the “traitor within” and in GoldenEye 007 faces the ultimate traitor: Alec Trevelyan, a fellow 00 agent and once Bond’s friend. Sean Bean who portrays the treacherous 006 screen tested for James Bond and secured the role of the main adversary as compensation. For the first time Bond truly faces a mirror image of himself – a warning sign of where the agent could go if he turned to the side of disorder and chaos. The bone crunching final confrontation between Bond and Trevelyan was inspired by the classic fight scene aboard the Orient Express in From Russia With Love. Except for a brief shot of one of the characters being thrown against a wall Brosnan and Bean performed the entire sequence themselves producing one of the most frenetic action scenes seen in any of the films.

Behind the breathless pace and the shadowy gritty feel of GoldenEye was New Zealand director Martin Campbell who had helmed the critically acclaimed multi-award winning 1986 BBC nuclear conspiracy thriller Edge of Darkness. Pierce Brosnan described Campbell as “warrior-like in his take on the piece” and the director invested the film with a breathless energy and pace of a like not seen since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

What, no small talk? No chit-chat? You know, that’s the problem these days. No one bothers to take the time to give a really sinister interrogation.

GoldenEye - train explosionDespite the grandiose scale of sequences such as the dizzying bungee jump by stuntman Wayne Michaels from the Contra Dam in Switzerland, to the jaw-dropping and explosive tank chase through St Petersburg overseen by Barbara Broccoli, and the expense of recreating a section of the Russian city on the studio backlot, GoldenEye is clearly a Bond adventure operating on tight pursestrings. Nervousness abounded at United Artists over the film’s potential to flop and financial outlay being constrained until 007 had proven himself capable of filling coffers once again. Though the films of the 1980s had been profitable they had not been in the league of the likes of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. Such cutbacks prevented Pierce Brosnan from travelling to St Petersburg for filming due to the expense involved in providing extra security and facilities for the first unit. In the days of Sean Connery and Roger Moore the arrival of Bond at a foreign airport would have involved sumptuous tracking shots of the lead actor walking around the genuine location surrounded by dozens of extras. Here Bond’s arrival in Russia is achieved with a tight shot outside Epsom Racecourse in Surrey! Buildings such as Somerset House in London provided cheaper more easily accessible alternatives to moving the production lock, stock and barrel to Russia.

When the trailer for GoldenEye received standing ovations across the globe EON Productions and United Artists gained confidence over Bond’s future and began planning the eighteenth 007 outing before the seventeenth had been released. Ultimately the resurrection of the world’s most famous secret agent proved a phenomenon. Pierce Brosnan was hailed as the best Bond since Sean Connery and GoldenEye became the most successful entry in the series to date with a $352.2 million box office against a production budget of $58 million.

The promise made at the conclusion of Licence To Kill had been fulfilled: James Bond had returned.

1 From Russia With Love
2 Goldfinger
3 Licence To Kill
4 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
5 GoldenEye
6 The Living Daylights
7 The Spy Who Loved Me
8 Thunderball
9 Dr. No
10 For Your Eyes Only
11 You Only Live Twice
12 Octopussy
13 Moonraker
14 Diamonds Are Forever
15 A View To A Kill
16 Live And Let Die
17 The Man with the Golden Gun


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