The film is located precisely on the cusp
between fantasy and near reality.
For the first time in a Bond film
there is even something that could be called emotion.
- Alexander Walker in the Evening Standard (November 1995)
Film: 1995 (#17)
Nine years ago, Bond and 006, Alec Trevelyan, trash a chemical weapons facility in the USSR. Alec is apparently caught and shot by one Major Ourumov; Bond, assuming 006 is dead, short-fuses one of his bombs and gets away. Cut to 1995. The USSR doesn't exist, the world has changed, and Bond is being evaluated for continued viability. Meanwhile, Ourumov (now General) is in league with the mysterious Janus to steal the Goldeneye weapon system - an orbital EMP device - from the Severnaya test facility. Other than the traitorous hacker Boris, one person from the facility survives: Natalya Simonova, who gets captured by Janus - Alec Trevelyan, angry at the British government for a perceived betrayal of his parents and angry at Bond for, he believes, leaving him to die. Bond and Natalya escape and find Alec's duplicate Goldeneye control setup in Cuba, where he intends to EMP London back into the Stone Age, but not before stealing a boatload of money electronically. The usual explosions and destruction ensue as Bond, with considerable help from Natalya, saves the day.
Book vs. Film
With this film, we retire the "Book vs. Film" section until the Craig era. In case you are keeping score, here are the bits of original Fleming that, at this point, had not been used in any way in the films:
- The original plot of Moonraker and its heroine Gala
- most of the original plot of Casino Royale (remedied in 2006);
- the original plot of The Spy Who Loved Me (expressly forbidden by Fleming);
- crucial elements of You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, and The Man With The Golden Gun, none of which are any great loss;
- the plot of the short story "From a View to a Kill," which again is no great loss;
- the short stories "Quantum of Solace" and "007 in New York" - for remarks on both of these see Quantum of Solace.
When you take it all in summation, including the films we haven't discussed yet, the only serious omission from Fleming is that the real Moonraker has never been filmed. Apart from that, Fleming has been pretty thoroughly mined. There have been complaints about the lack of fidelity to Fleming, but really, the films have managed to steal all of his good bits and many of the bits that are not so good, so I find these complaints groundless.
It is not true, though, that Goldeneye takes absolutely nothing from Fleming. "Goldeneye" was the name of Fleming's estate in Jamaica. It is now a hotel.
My favorite. A charming bastard through and through, until such time as he has to be cold and ruthless, at which point he can change gears instantaneously. Cynical about his employers but not to the point of letting it affect how he does his job. Some feel he is too likeable, but I say likeable is a fault in Bond only if it makes him appear ineffective (e.g. Moore). Those of you who want a return to a Bond who is basically an asshole will have to wait for Craig.
Incidentally, if you discount Lazenby due to limited sample size, you'll notice that Bonds have alternated between the basically likeable ones and the basically asshole ones. What this hopefully means is that after Craig stops doing them, we'll get a Bond whom you might want to actually have a drink or a dinner-table conversation with again.
I admit readily to being biased. For example, rewatching the pre-credits sequence, I realize I read Bond's coldness here (toward Alec) as professionalism; he's on a job and not interested in verbal byplay. If Timothy Dalton pulled the same attitude in the same scene, I would probably have read it as wooden acting.
It probably doesn't hurt - and I ask that it be admitted into evidence, Your Honor - that I find Brosnan to be drop-dead sexy, which is not something I can really say of any other Bond. Lazenby was a very good-looking man, and Craig has a certain attractive intensity, but Brosnan is on a very short list of men I could imagine myself going to bed with. Maybe this shouldn't make a difference, but it does.
You're going to be tired of my praising this film by the time you finish this page, I'm sure, but nonetheless, it contains two of the best female characters in the films.
Natalya (Izabella Scorupco) is fully capable from beginning to end (her only real mistake is not realizing Boris is in on it) - in fact, she is the most capable Bond woman ever written who is not a fellow operative (thus ruling out Pam Bouvier and Wai Lin, and Anya Amasova, not to mention Jinx). Not only that, she is essential to the plot. Bond would not have been able to make the link from the missile train to the Cuba sequence without her; she buys necessary time by sabotaging the satellite; and in the St. Petersburg sequence, it's her that Mishkin believes, not Bond - not that it does either of them any good.
She also gives Bond verbal what-for the whole way through, usually when he richly deserves it. Her speech on the beach is a little long and fairly unnecessary, but the rest is nearly flawless.
Xenia (Famke Janssen) is a villainess whose script is finally unafraid to admit to serious kinkiness - what Fiona Volpe could have been if the script didn't chicken out, and what Fatima Blush came close to being, but now in the hands of a much better actress, one who is not scared to go fully outré and do it well. The only two problems with Xenia are her sudden and rather unsatisfying death, and that she is frequently far more interesting that the two theoretical main villains.
"Who is that?"
"The next girl."
This is when Barbara Broccoli's influence begins to be felt. (See below.) This is a new kind of script. Bond tries to be patronizing to both women and doesn't get away with it - a sign of the new way of writing women. As soon as he gets shot down, he stops and takes them both seriously - a sign of the new way of writing Bond.
This is not to say that the film is entirely repentant. For the entire Brosnan run, the job of unfunny, unsubtle single entendres will be given to ... Moneypenny. As an example, when Bond is first forced to deal with Xenia's last name, he just gives it a raised eyebrow; it is Moneypenny, later, who makes the bad joke.
The poor performance of Licence to Kill wasn't the only reason for the six-year gap, although it seems certain some of that time was spent rethinking the franchise.
Throughout the '80s, ailing MGM/UA was the topic of constant takeover speculation, with the Bond catalog an important factor (it being one of the few consistently profitable properties the studio had). In 1989 the rumors came true: Kirk Kerkorian sold MGM/UA to Qintex, an Australian broadcaster, which then almost immediately sought a merger with Pathé. Giancarlo Peretti, then the boss of Pathé, wanted to license international television rights to the Bond back catalog. He did not consult with EON/Danjaq on this, probably because he knew that Danjaq wouldn't have consented or at the very least would have demanded he ask licensees for more than he was planning. Broccoli felt Peretti was having a fire sale, essentially paying Pathé's merger costs from the proceeds of picking EON's pocket. Danjaq also maintained their permission was required before the sale of any Bond rights.
Danjaq sued. Despite looking very clear-cut to my latter-day eyes, apparently the case was considered very risky for Danjaq at the time. Broccoli was warned of a less than fifty percent chance of succeeding, and costs between three and four million dollars. Broccoli, though in very poor health at this point, proceeded anyway. The suit took three years to resolve in Danjaq's favor.
In August 1993 Timothy Dalton told the Daily Mail that the next film had a writer - Michael France - and that shooting would likely begin early in 1994. At that point, everyone was still assuming Dalton would fulfill his contract and do a third film. But in April 1994, Dalton announced that enough time had elapsed that he felt he should not reprise the part. Although the usual search was conducted, those in the know confirmed that EON was just going through the motions. The Broccolis wanted Brosnan, and no one else was being given a serious look-in.
I say "the Broccolis" above because Albert Broccoli was in no condition to be actively involved in this film, and he knew it. As had been pending for some years, he passed the reins to his daughter Barbara and his stepson Michael Wilson. From here on, the two step-siblings would be the face of EON, and would share the producer credit.
France's script, basically written for Dalton, was given an overhaul by both Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein, who shared the screenplay credit, and some work by Kevin Wade, who got no credit but reportedly donated his surname to Joe Don Baker's character.
Martin Campbell, at the time mostly known for directing various BBC television series, was brought in to direct. This leads some sources to list this film as the first Bond with a non-British director, which is technically true - he was born in New Zealand - but he moved to the UK in 1966 and his entire film career has been British-based.
The music is officially credited to Eric Serra, but John Altman and David Arch did the symphonic bits, and the title music was produced by Nellee Hooper (known at the time as a Bjork and Madonna producer). Maurice Binder, like Richard Maibaum, had died in 1991; the titles are done by Daniel Kleinman.
The film is dedicated to Derek Meddings, long-time effects supervisor and miniatures specialist. Goldeneye contained a significant amount of his model work. Meddings died of cancer shortly after production on the film ended.
Given the amount of fuss about EON having deserted Pinewood for Licence to Kill, it is ironic that this film was not shot at Pinewood because they couldn't get enough space there! Instead, EON converted an old Rolls-Royce aircraft engine factory at Leavesden Aerodrome in Hertfordshire. They built six stages there for their exclusive use. (This studio would later be bought by a Malaysian consortium and named Millennium Studios ... unfortunately, by Tomorrow Never Dies it was unavailable again, because it was booked almost entirely by one George Lucas, who was filming Star Wars prequels there ....)
The total rethink of Bond - with absolutely no continuity of casting or significant crew except the use of the Remy Julienne team and Desmond Llewellyn as Q - was a success. The US admission was 29 million - not only reversing the slide but the best since You Only Live Twice. It was a good ending for Albert Broccoli. On 27 June 1996, "Cubby" Broccoli died, at age 87. He had never been well enough to visit the Goldeneye production, but he had followed it closely, and reportedly was content that he had safeguarded the franchise's future.
This film moves surprisingly fast for having only one really big damn-the-torpedoes action sequence (the Russian escape and tank chase). It's an oddly talky Bond film, and quite a lot of time is given to the psychology of Bond, why he even exists, and whether he is still relevant.
It was a very smart decision to play up the six-year gap between films, turning it into a reflection on the collapse of the USSR and the changes in the world. It was maybe not so smart to put in as much introspection as the script did, particularly not on the part of Alec Trevelyan. I can't tell whether he is played badly by Sean Bean, badly written, or both. Also, frankly, most of the story's plot holes hinge on what he did in that time gap and what actually happened at the Arkhangel facility. Was Ourumov's shooting him a set-up? Was it a defection arranged in advance? That would certainly explain why he was so annoyed at Bond giving him three minutes on one timer instead of the expected six - must have messed up his getaway something fierce. But it still doesn't quite ring true. (His money plot also doesn't make a lot of sense, but we won't go there.)
The other villains are far more interesting - Gottfried John as Ourumov, reinventing the good Russian/bad Russian game against Tchéky Karyo's excellent defense minister Mishkin; Alan Cumming, barely recognizable at this early stage, as the hacker Boris (who is more amoral than evil, and is rewarded for this by a relatively kind and gentle death); and especially Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp, about whom see my remarks above.
And then there's Robbie Coltrane as Zukovsky, whom I don't consider a villain but who is really entertaining to watch. Coltrane liked playing Zukovsky so much that he requested the character be brought back (and got his wish).
We get a new Moneypenny, one who plays the flirting game but in a much more blunt and aware manner; and a new M - and thereby hangs a tale. Let us always remember that Lois Maxwell floated the idea of being cast as M, and was told that a female head of MI6 was simply not believable. Cut to 1996, when the head of MI5 was actually a woman, Dame Stella Rimmington. Irony of ironies - but it makes possible the casting of Judi Dench. Michael Kitchen comes in as a Bill Tanner entirely more appropriate than the one in For Your Eyes Only. Felix Leiter is (at least for the nonce) written out in favor of the wonderful Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker), the only man in the universe who can get away with calling Bond "Jimbo."
"They say in London, April's a spring month."
"Oh, yeah? And what are you, the weatherman?"
Despite being such a frequent story element throughout the past films, this is the first Bond film to have significant action (that is, aside from briefing sequences and such) inside Russia, and the first Bond film to actually shoot on location there - although much of the St. Petersburg material was done on soundstages.
Speaking of which, you may find it amusing that none of the principal roles which are supposed to be Russian or ex-Soviet are actually played by Russians. (Janssen is from the Netherlands; Scorupco is from Poland; Coltrane and Cumming are both Scots; Tchéky Karyo is French; Gottfried John is German.)
Bond is off the cigarettes again, and this is directly attributable to Brosnan: "I don't give a damn about everyone's perception of the character. I think smoking causes cancer therefore he doesn't smoke." Do remember that Cassandra Harris died of cancer in 1991, and Brosnan was already active in anti-cancer charities by this point.
Yes, astronomy geeks, that is the Arecibo radiotelescope in Puerto Rico doubling for Trevelyan's Cuba transmitter. Yes, casting geeks, that is Minnie Driver as Zukovsky's girlfriend who can't sing (and she is indeed doing the singing).
I don't expect Bond to make complete sense in the real world, but I do expect at least basic fidelity to the laws of physics. While I suspend disbelief readily, his ability to catch up with the diving plane in the pre-credits sequence - and I mean just being able to get to the cabin, never mind whether he could pull the plane out of its nosedive in time - pulls me out of the film in an unpleasant way. It just isn't possible. I also don't like an explosion in space making a noise, nor the grafted-on electrical noises and visual effects of an electromagnetic pulse (wouldn't everything just stop sort of boringly?), but those don't hit me the way the plane stunt does.
This is the first car placement in a Bond movie that actually sounds like an advertisement. Sure, other car models were always called out by name, but nothing more than that. Unfortunately, this "now Q will break for a car commercial" trend continues for at least two more films - and then they do something worse. (You may notice, by the by, that the BMW is barely used despite the talk-up. The BMW deal wasn't final until very late in the shooting.)
I love Bond's pause and wince when he has to say the name "Onatopp" to M. I also love Natalya's and Ourumov's facial reactions in the tank chase - her smiling at Bond's behavior, and Ourumov eyepopping and hitting the bottle.
Outright nitpicks: "Walther," as in the gun, is supposed to be pronounced "Valter." But I shouldn't pick on Zukovsky, since other Bond characters have done it too .... If Bond has a 34 waist (the belt Q gives him), I'm a monkey's uncle .... I also hope Q slipped Bond another exploding pen offscreen, since the first one got kinda used up.
One wonders what the people who got upset at Zorin's machinegunning spree in A View To a Kill thought of Xenia's, where she gets all hot and bothered by it.
Ourumov certainly doesn't know what to make of it - another excellent reaction shot.
By the by, I am using the spelling of Ourumov that appears on M's briefing slide. If you have freeze capability, reading that slide is interesting: it says that Ourumov was "rehabilitated by Gorbachev in 1987" after the Arkhangel mess, and that "In spite of being given command of SPACE DIVISION by Gorbachev OURUMOV is believed to have been behind the Gorbachev coup but the inquiry was dropped after the suicide of a co-conspirator." Gotta love invisible detail.
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