Tuesday, December 9, 2014

GoldenEye [1995]

Welcome back, fellow Bond fans.  It's been a while, huh?  Over a year -- a friggin' YEAR!!! -- since I last reviewed a Bond movie.  Somebody should take away my Licence to Blog.

Lamentable though the gap may have been, its placement is at least somewhat resonant: when last we spoke of the series, we discussed Licence to Kill, and today we're back to business with GoldenEye.  It's worth bearing in mind that there was a significant gap between the releases of those two films: six years, in fact.  And during those six years, the fate of the Bond franchise was very much in doubt, not as much due to the somewhat-underwhelming box-office receipts for Licence to Kill as due to various legal wranglings undertaken by enemies of the Bond films.

Things obviously worked out for the best in the end, but no Bond fan should forget that those years very nearly saw the demise of the series.  So, in a way, the fact that this blog went (except for a few reviews of Ian Fleming biopics and an overview of the ridiculous animated spinoff series James Bond Jr) dormant for some fifteen months . . . well, that's merely the tiniest reflection of what the agony of 1990-1994 was like for a Bond aficionado.

Let's try to return ourselves to 1995.  The last time we'd seen a Bond film, it was the oppressive Licence to Kill, starring the dour Timothy Dalton as a sourpuss of a double-0 agent.  The world had shrugged at his latest adventure, and the consensus was clear: if the next 007 didn't get the job done, that might spell the end of the series.  The stakes had never been so high for James Bond, and in that sense, one might reasonably make the argument that with the sole exception of the first one (Dr. No), this was and is THE most crucial Bond movie of them all.
  
  


Today, we know how it turned out: Pierce Brosnan was immediately accepted by audiences worldwide, and the movie turned into a significant hit.  The series stepped out of the shadow of extinction, and earned the right of continuance.

Let's turn our attention now to the movie itself and ask another question: is it any good?

(1)  Bond ... James Bond

Odds are that if you're reading this blog, you already know a bit about Pierce Brosnan's history with the Bond series.  In the event that this is not the case, here's a brief recap: he had been hired to take over the role for The Living Daylights, only to have the rug pulled out from under him when NBC unexpectedly renewed his contract for Remington Steele and rendered him unavailable for double-oh service.  Timothy Dalton got the call instead, but when Dalton's era ended, the Bond producers decided Brosnan was still their best option, and he got the gig again, this time for real.
  
  

It feels to me as if Brosnan has radically declined in popularity during the Daniel Craig era.  I can't claim to not be a part of that; these days, he is easily my least favorite of all of 007s.  This is not to say I dislike him; I don't.  I blame his movies for that moreso than I blame him.

Either way, I think his performance in GoldenEye is the best he gave as Bond, and we should not undervalue it.  Remember, folks: this film was crucial to the continuance of the Bond series, and that meant that Brosnan's performance was crucial.  If it had failed to click with audiences, would the series have continued?  It's impossible to say for sure, but my gut tells me that it would not have.

With that in mind, I think I would have to characterize Brosnan's performance as a rousing success.  You might or might not think it works in 2014.  It unquestionably worked in 1995.  Brosnan straddles the line between comedy and pathos like a champ, and while he arguably goes too far in either direction at times, I think it is nevertheless a very complete performance.  It works for GoldenEye, and gave most Bond fans what they wanted at that time.
  
Brosnan has numerous good scenes, but I'd like to mention a few of my favorites:
  
  
I failed to screencap the scene I'm about to discuss, so this substitute will have to suffice.
   
  
During the casino scene in which he meets Xenia for the first time that does not involve a car chase, Brosnan is note-perfect at playing the scene for comedy without descending into parody.  Xenia gives him her last name, which, of course, is "Onatopp."  "Onatopp?" Bond asks, trying very hard to not sound incredulous.  "Onatopp," Xenia confirms.  Brosnan lets his eyes convey the fact to the audience that he knows how ridiculous such a name is; but he does not engage in any wink-for-the-camera sort of hugger-mugger, which keeps the moment from veering into the sort of territory Austin Powers would visit so capably a couple of years later.  This is crucial.  Brosnan's Bond is inviting fans of the series to laugh with the series rather than at it; Brosnan is saying to us, "Well, this is a bit silly isn't it?  No reason not to keep right on doing it, though, is there?  Right, let's go!"
  
That approach is an implicit apology for the Timothy Dalton years, and while I'm a Dalton fan and feel that those years do not need to be apologized for, there can be no doubt that in 1995 I would have been in a minority in feeling that way.  In 1995, a return to form was needed, and moments like that "Onatopp?" one show why Brosnan was extremely well-suited to do just that.  Maybe we've forgotten it a bit in the intervening years; but in 1995, Pierce Brosnan was exactly what we wanted and needed.
  
  
 
 
One of the film's standout scenes is the one in M's office, when she calls him a misogynist relic of the Cold War.  Brosnan plays this scene extremely well, and permits Judi Dench's M to dominate the interaction.  And yet, Brosnan manages to not come across as being intimidated or humiliated by M; that was not the intent of the scene, and Dench does not play it that way, either.  But if Brosnan had shown a bit more weakness, it might have come across that way despite everyone's intentions.  Instead, Brosnan's Bond seems as if he already knows what M is telling him, and is sympathetic toward M for pointing them out; but that he is also unlikely to change his approach just because M has called him out on it.  The end result: Brosnan's Bond is saying, "Well, yes, perhaps that's all true; but it's who I am, and at the end of the day, you wouldn't really want me to change any more than I would ever want to change."  There's a twinkle in Dench's eye that indicates she agrees, and judging from the box-office receipts, so did the rest of the ticket-purchasing world.
  
  
  
  
A crucial test: can you, as James Bond, still be suave despite being stuck inside a horrible little car driven by Joe Don Baker?  Brosnan pulls this off better than perhaps any other Bond could have done, in my opinion.
  
  
  
  
"No more foreplay," says Bond during a steamy confrontation with Xenia.  This is a line that could easily have gone very, very wrong; but Brosnan knocks it out of the park, and creates one of Bond's most iconic moments.
  
Next up: a great reaction moment when Bond is hiding behind a column, arming an explosive device.  There's a big squib hit on the column, which simulates enemies firing on him; Brosnan merely moves his head an iota, never losing focus on the device he's arming.  Another instantly iconic moment.
  
  


 
 
What, then, are the negatives of Brosnan's performance?  Well . . . to be honest, there aren't very many.  I'm going to churlishly dock him a point simply because he doesn't have the deep, resonant voice of a Connery, Dalton, or (especially) Moore.
  
Apart from that...?  I suppose you could argue that he occasionally tries to go for introspection that isn't earned, or that he occasionally tries to make Bond's physical exertions (running, being in pain, etc.) look a bit more realistic than the material can bear.  Those are perhaps his weakest qualities as Bond, and if you consider them to be problems then they are problems which will only become more pronounced over the course of his next three films.
  
Here, though, they are only mildly problematic, if at all.  Honestly, there's just not much here that Brosnan doesn't do really, really well.
  
Points awarded: 006/007
 

(2)  SPECTRE


Main Villain:  The movie's big bad, of course, is former 006 Alec Trevelyan, whom Bond thought had died years ago.  He's played by Sean Bean, who is probably best-known these days as either Boromir from The Fellowship of the Ring or Ned Stark from Game of Thrones.  His most important quality as GoldenEye's villain is that he very plausibly plays a character who we can view as a warped version of Bond himself.

The series had played with that subtext before, and would do so again; but here, it is literalized somewhat by having Tevelyan be a former Double-Oh agent.




Bean does well with this; he simply feels right in the role.  And that's good, because the screenplay is quite a bit too shallow to actually make Trevelyan work as a character.  To the extent Trevelyan does work, it's thanks to Bean's performance.  If he had had better material, we'd probably think of the former 006 as one of the best villains of the entire series; as is, he's mid-level.

Points awarded (Main Villain):  004/007
 
Henchmen:  The film's most notable henchman is actually a henchwoman, but since the word "henchwoman" is unwieldly and arguably does not even exist, let's all agree to simply refer to Xenia as a henchman.




I really wanted to use a screencap of Xenia getting off -- literally -- on delivering machine-gun death to the staff at Severnaya.  But the moment didn't really screencap all that well, so we do not have it.

In fact, most of Famke Janssen's more strenuous moments tend to not work in still-image form.  The deal with her character is, she can only have an orgasm by inflicting pain on others.  Or something like that.  The movie doesn't exactly spell it out, thank God.  But I believe that is the idea, and you'll be disappointed in me to learn that this sailed right over my head in 1995.  I just thought Xenia was a weirdo.  Nope; she's a weirdo, alright, but specifically a weirdo who orgasms via external stimulation such as crushing a man to death with her thighs, or murdering multiple people simultaneously.

This is potentially ludicrous stuff, and it is very much to the credit of Janssen and director Martin Campbell that they manage to keep Xenia grounded enough to allow the character to actually work.  The movie as a whole tilts just far enough toward the ludicrous that she doesn't seem out of place; and simultaneously, Janssen's performance is realistic enough that it fits within the structure of GoldenEye's relatively grounded approach.

Janssen was a relatively obscure actor in 1995, and it would not have been surprising at all if she -- like many Bond girls (and Bond henchmen) before her -- had slid from this straight into being otherwise obscure.  Instead, she has been working steadily ever since, and thanks to major roles in the X-Men and Taken movies, her GoldenEye credit represents merely one of her big hits.  So kudos to you, Famke Janssen; I've been enjoying your work ever since that one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation you did, and without your considerable talent, there's no way Xenia Onatopp would work.

And now, let's all be frightened/stimulated:


Let's all take a moment to pity for Famke Janssen, who had to spend what must have been entirely too much time with her face buried in this man's chest hair.

I honestly do not know how actor Billy J. Mitchell managed not to have a raging erection for the duration of this scene's filming.  For all I know, he did have a boner the whole time.

If so, well, who among us can blame him?


Xenia is not the movie's only henchman.  There is also a Soviet general named Ourumov, who either works for Tevelyan or employs Trevelyan as a henchman, depending on how you look at it.  Ourumov is a perfectly acceptable subordinate character, and he's played well by Gottfried John.




This brings us to Boris.




Boris might get my vote if there was a poll for Worst Bond Character of All Time.  There probably IS somebody worse; perhaps research could clarify this.  But that's not the point.  The point is this: when I look at, or think about, Boris, all other shitty Bond characters are driven from my mind.  Except for Sheriff J.W. Pepper, who is perpetually in my brain, and who is King Lear in comparison to Boris.

"I am invincible!" cries Boris on a few occasions.  No, jackass; hemorrhoidal is what you are.

Some of the blame here must go to Alan Cumming, but to be honest, I'm reluctant to actually give it to him.  I get the feeling that all he did was deliver what director Martin Campbell and the producers wanted from him.  They wanted a pasty, perverted, annoying nerd, and by God, Alan Cumming delivered.  Should we hold it against him?  I say no.  We should hold it against it his bosses.

Points awarded (Henchmen):  004/007.  Major points off for Boris, who is wretched.  If it were just Xenia and Ourumov, I'd have given this sub-category a 006.  But it isn't just them, and as a result, I'm docking two points; I wanted to dock three.  Am I not generous, Klytus?
 
Total points awarded (S.P.E.C.T.R.E.):  004/007  

(3)  The Bond Girls
 
Main Bond Girl:  In relaunching the Bond series, the producers must have felt that it was incumbent upon them to somehow continue the march toward non-misogyny that the series had begun during the Dalton era.  Whether or not one feels that such a march was needed -- and I'm of two minds about it, myself -- it cannot be doubted that such a march was begun.

The public failed to respond to it, though, so the producers had a quandary on their hands: how to continue it but still skew toward the elements of aesthetic female beauty (how was that?) which were the hallmark of the series during its first few decades?

The approach they settled on was was to make the lead female protagonist be someone whose need to be rescued gave Bond something to do, but who also was highly competent in her own right and -- most importantly -- was actually shown to be that.  We're told that Stacy Sutton in A View to a Kill is highly competent; but we never actually see it, and we certainly don't see it outside the influence of Bond, so the character comes across as weak (and that's before we take the performance of Tanya Roberts into account).




So, to prevent something like that from happening in this movie, we meet Natalya before Bond does, and we get to know her as someone who is highly competent both professionally (as a crack computer programmer and technician) and personally (as someone who is capable of calling Boris out for his bullshit).  Then, further, she is wily enough to evade being killed alongside all of her comrades at Severnaya, and is strong enough to get to safety afterwards.  At no point does she become a shrinking violet; later on, she even manages to call Bond out on his own bullshit.

In some ways, she is the movie's most well-rounded character, and I think she's arguably one of the best Bond girls of the entire series.




Natalya is played by Izabelle Scorupco, who has not had the career that she probably ought to have had.  Her performance in GoldenEye isn't Oscar-worthy or anything like that, but she's certainly good enough that it seems like it ought to have gotten her a lot more work.  Especially considering how gorgeous she is.  But it didn't happen, and that's a bit of a shame.

Points awarded (Main Bond Girl):  006/007.  I think the argument can be made that GoldenEye and Natalya represent the start of a new approach to the Bond girl, one that has remained in place ever since.  That's a good thing.

Secondary Bond Girls:  There really aren't many, are there?  Bond only sleeps with the one woman in this movie, so far as we know, so there aren't many opportunities for there to be secondary Bond girls.  I suppose we can sort-of count the woman who goes for a ride with Bond early on to give him a psych eval, or whatever she's doing.  There's an intimation that 007 ends up fucking her so as to earn himself a passing score.  The way the actress plays the role, she seems scared to death the whole time, and the end result is that it makes Bond seem like a bit of an asshole to be using her in that way.  There almost an element of "she's asking for this"-type judgment in the scene, and that makes me a wee bit uncomfortable.

It isn't a major element, but it's enough to bear mention.

The film's only truly notable secondary Bond girl is, of course, Xenia Onatopp, who gets to be both that and a henchman.  It's true that Bond never actually has sex with her, but we've established long ago on this blog that he need not in order for a character to be considered a Bond girl.  So, for our purposes, she's in.

Xenia . . . I mean, what can you say?  You can say that you feel bad for Famke Janssen for having to roll around in that one dude's chest hair. I mentioned that earlier, but it bears repeating.




  
Apart from that, you've got to admire the idea of the franchise making sex a thing that is literally so dangerous Bond can't engage in it.  Xenia Onatopp is the idea of Safe Sex made metaphor, and it works pretty well in that regard.
 
Points awarded (Secondary Bond Girls):  004/007.  Feels too low; probably ought to be a point higher, but I'm keeping it as is.

Total points awarded (The Bond Girls):  005/007
 
(4)  "Oh, James..."

Action/Stunts:  There is a lot to admire here, in terms of the action.  The pre-credits sequence includes a phenomenal bungee dive from the top of a dam.  It doesn't screencap particularly well, but let's have a look anyways:





The only problem with this sequence is that the stuntman looks nothing like Pierce Brosnan.  Not a problem in and of itself; the problem is that the stuntie is shown a bit too closely in the moments leading up to the stunt.  Was there a reason why Brosnan couldn't be seen running along the top of the dam prior to the jump?  As is, it kind of doesn't work at all.

But that's got nothing to do with the stunt itself, and the stunt is tremendous.

Another tremendous moment for the stuntfolk comes when Bond rides his motorcycle off a cliff to try and chase down a plane:







The way this was achieved was, Sumbitch #1 drove a plane off a cliff, and then Sumbitch #2 drove a motorcycle off the same cliff moments after Sumbitch #1 went over.  Sumbitch #3 filmed the whole thing.

There is no mistaking how badass this looks in motion.  The sequence is marred by the fact that there is no way to practically film the conclusion of the scene: Bond catching up with the plane and taking over its controls just in time to avoid crashing.  For that, you've got to get special effects involved, and for my tastes, special effects usually lessen the impact of action scenes in Bond movies.  They certainly do this one.  It's not the fault of the effects work, and certainly not of the stuntwork; it's a problem with the concept of the scene itself.

Elsewhere, we get some strong stunt driving.  This begins in the scene in which Bond and Xenia race about the streets of Monte Carlo, and later reaches its apex in the tank chase through the streets of St. Petersburg.


Bond is seeking a means of escape, and what to his wondering eye does appear...?

A motherfucking tank.  DAMN RIGHT.



Sumbitch #1 is back in action again, driving a tank right through a wall.  No effects involved (except, one imagines, for a somewhat-weaker-than-normal wall standing in for a real one).

   



  
  
  
Just having a tank in a chase scene is sufficient, probably; and it gets to do all sorts of fun things like drive through a Perrier truck, and demolish a tunnel, and smoosh some cars.  At one point, it crashes through a statue's base and ends up with the top of the statue riding along atop the tank.  Great stuff.

But there's even more than tank-related fun going on in the tank-chase sequence thanks to the cars attempting to flee and/or subdue the tank.  In one sequence, a jeep full of Russian soldiers explodes and goes flying into the river, and the stuntmen -- who are riding along in the back of it -- go scattering into the air like some little kid's action figures:








I mean, good lord, are you kidding me?  That looks remarkably unsafe.  I suspect -- and hope -- that the production mounted this stunt in such a fashion as to ensure everyone's safety.  But looking at it, it has a feel of randomness to it, and in the world of stunts, randomness equals danger.  It looks fantastic, though; no doubt about that.

I'm just as impressed by a small moment that comes when Ourumov's car drives across a bridge whilst trying to escape from the tank.  The car clips a pedestrian, and the stuntie playing the pedestrian turns a somersault, goes flying sideways off the bridge, and turns another half-somersault before landing in the water.  I have no clue how any of this was done.  Maybe you can figure it out, using my directional-arrow-enhanced screencaps:










Two other moments bear singling out, although I failed to screencap either one: the scene in which Jack Wade's plane comes swooping down and lands on the road right in front of Bond's BMW, which is stupendous stunt driving AND flying at the same time; and the climactic fistfight between Bond and Trevelyan, which is high-energy, bruising stuff that (seemingly) mostly features Brosnan and Bean doing their own stuntwork.

Now, before I end this sub-category, I have one complaint: there are a LOT of guys who get shot and go leaping backward into the air in this movie.  I mean, a LOT of them.




It'd make for a good drinking game, honestly.

One further complaint: there are times -- such as the moment when Bond is running along the top of the dam -- when the stunt doubling looks absolutely nothing like Pierce Brosnan.  Here is a moment which is an especially bad offender in that regard:


Cut from this...

...to this.  Is that Jerry Seinfeld?


Points awarded (Action/Stunts): 005/007.  Gosh, a lot of guys sure do leap backward when they get shot.  I'm docking a point for that, and an additional point for the occasional inefficacy of effects in terms of resolving the action scenes.  The stunts themselves would get a 006 at least, probably a 007; but the action scenes do not live on stuntwork alone, and a couple of them are mildly let down by other elements.

Editing:  Longtime readers of this blog will know that I sometimes struggle when trying to assess the quality of the films editing.  Such is the case this time around.  I noticed nothing spectacular, and I noticed nothing problematic.  So, with that in mind, I award a bit of a default score.

Points awarded (Editing):  004/007

Costumes/Makeup:  Similarly, I didn't pay much attention to the wardrobe, hair, makeup, etc.  The only place I really took note of the costumes were in these two scenes:


I can only assume that Jack Wade is meant to be wearing THE tackiest outfit that could still be considered business-professional.  Is that tie made of burlap?  I should have gotten a full-body screencap of this getup, but I could not bear to go back and hunt for one, so we're stuck with this.

You see distressingly little of it, but Natalya's swimwear in this scene is marvelous. 


Points awarded (Costumes/Makeup): 004/007

Locations:  I mean, you can't go wrong with Monte Carlo, I guess.





St. Petersburg, Russia looks pretty cool, too:




Puerto Rico also gets some good attention:





Points awarded (Locations):  005/007.  Some lovely locales, but they don't feel fully-realized in some way that I can't quite explain even to myself.

Overall points awarded ("Oh, James..."):  004.50/007
 
(5)  Q Branch
   

Bond's Allies:  For GoldenEye, the biggest development along the line of Bond's allies is unquestionably the new M.  The character is played by a woman for the first time in series history, and seeing as how I was around for the change, I can speak to this somewhat: people thought it was kind of a big deal.  I seem to recall there being a sort of general "why would they do that?" vibe in the air.




For all but the most senseless of Bond fans, that cannot have lasted longer than about ten seconds into Judi Dench's first scene.  She is fantastic, and while nostalgia dictates that Bernard Lee be my favorite M, the objective side of me knows the truth: Judi Dench is the best M in series history.  We discussed her big scene with Bond earlier, and it is basically the entirety of Dench's role in the movie.  But it helps to establish the having-our-cake-and-eating-it-too approach that characterizes the film's game-plan, and Dench is as important to making that work as Brosnan is.




No gender-change was in the offing for the role of Moneypenny.  (Wouldn't that be something...?)  Caroline Bliss is replaced in the role by the aptly-named Samantha Bond, and her take on the character is maybe even flirtier and bolder than Lois Maxwell's was.  She gets very little screen time here, but she makes a very strong impression in the limited time available to her.

There is also a Q scene, of course, and Desmond Llewelyn has very good chemistry with Brosnan.  Keeping an old pro like Llewelyn around to help smooth out the transition may seem like a mere grace note, but let's not take it too lightly; I think that the continuity Llewelyn provided as Q was a significant aid to audiences in their ability to accept Brosnan as Bond.  And also, probably, to help assuage any serious complaints about there being a female M now; after all, if you've still got the same old Q you know and love, you've still, to some extent, got the same old series you know and love.

Another notable ally initially presents as an adversary: Valentin Zukovsky, played by Robbie Coltrane.




It's always nice to see Coltrane, who is fun but also a bit menacing, and who does a very passable Russian accent.  He doesn't have a ton to do here, but you buy everything he does have.

This leaves us with one character to consider: Jack Wade.

Jack Wade is the worst.  Jesus Christ, why not just bring back J.W. Pepper and claim he'd become a CIA agent?  Even more sensible: why not introduce a new Felix Leiter?  Preferably one not played by Joe Don Baker.  We even have to endure peeking inside his boxers for a look at a tattoo.


You're welcome.


Now, let me be clear: I don't think Baker is bad in the role.  I think it's a bad role.  As with Alan Cumming, I get the feeling that Baker is doing exactly what the filmmakers wanted him to do.  As such, he does it capably.  My contention is that they should have wanted something else.

Points awarded (Bond's Allies):  005/007.  Major points for the new M and Moneypenny, but Jack Wade sucks, and I'm docking this category two points for it.

DirectionGoldenEye was directed Martin Campbell, who was not a particularly notable helmsman at that time in terms of Hollywood work.  He was known more for his work on British television, and especially for Edge of Darkness.

He made a few choices on GoldenEye that I would consider to be suspect: namely, Jack Wade and Boris.  And Bond's psych evaluator, to a lesser degree.  (I'm choosing to blame Campbell for this rather than the producers, which is probably a faulty choice; but since I don't have a category for production decision of that nature, he gets saddles with them whether it's fair and accurate or not.)

Apart from that, he does terrific work here.  He directs Brosnan to a very successful performance, and he keeps the tone light enough to not feel oppressive but realistic enough to not feel like mere fluff.  With the exception of John Glen's work on The Living Daylights, this was at the time of its release maybe the most consistent directorial effort seen on a Bond film since Peter Hunt's On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Campbell also brought a strong visual sense, so why not let's look at some screencaps that show it off a bit?


Campbell was especially good at framing Pierce Brosnan's face in dramatic ways.


Also, pretty good at making pointing a gun look interesting.






Points awarded (Direction): 005/007.  Probably a little lower than is deserved, but Campbell may have a chance to earn more points down the line a ways...

Cinematography:  I didn't do a particularly good job of paying attention to the cinematography, which comes courtesy of director of photography Phil Meheux (pronounced the same as Peter Mayhew's last name).  But looking back over my screencaps, I think his talent for mood and tone is in evidence already.  Let's toss in a few other examples:






Is that some Shatner lighting on Brosnan?


Points awarded (Cinematography): 005/007.  There are a few times when it feels a bit flat; to be honest, this could be the DVD transfer as much as anything else.  It's definitely good work, though.

Art Direction:  Peter Lamont designed the sets and whatnot, and while there is nothing here that is going to rival the best of Ken Adam's work, the sets certainly work in the movie's favor.  I only took a few illustrative screencaps, but here they come:


I think this was a practical location and not a set, but so what?


If there is ever a James Bond theme park and it doesn't have a series of Turkish baths like this one, I will complain to somebody about it.


This graveyard for old Communist-era statues is a great idea, and Lamont makes it look just seedy enough to be realistic.



One other thing to point out: in order to make the reinforced train Trevelyan and company use to get out of St. Petersburg, Lamont evidently built over an existing train.  The result is something that is worthy of Blaine the Mono:
  
  
I know at least one reader of this blog will get that reference.  Those of you who don't, Blaine appears in The Waste Lands, book three of Stephen King's series The Dark Tower.  Blaine is a pain.

With Blaine in mind, this image of a flaming, bullet-headed train gives me the creeps.  King associations aside, it's a terrific-looking train, and we evidently have Peter Lamont to thank for that.


Points awarded (Art Direction): 004/007

Special Effects:  This movie was released during an era in which CGI had not yet become the be-all/end-all of effects that is mostly is today, and so what we have in GoldenEye is a showcase for the model-work of Derk Meddings, whose miniatures are just phenomenal.

Let's have a look at a few:






Even knowing they are miniatures, those scenes all look real to my eyes.  I could -- and probably should -- have taken many more screencaps to make my point, but I think these get the point across.  Odds are, they don't even look all that impressive to you.

And that, my friends, is kind of the point.

Apart from Meddings' work, there is also a bevy of excellent explosions, including this one when Bond and Natalya are escaping not-Blaine the train:



Those are "oh fuck!" faces if I've ever seen them, and you kind of feel bad for Brosnan and Scorupco.  But the scene benefits mightily from our ability to see that it is actually them in these moments.  I get why this sort of thing isn't done with main-cast actors more often; but I think the degree to which it makes the movie more believable makes it worth doing.




The only negatives, in my opinion, are slightly dodgy effects work on the GoldenEye satellite and on putting Pierce Brosnan into that plane when Bond goes driving off the cliff in the opening scene:
  
  

But even this doesn't look too bad, to be honest.


Points awarded (Special Effects): 006/007.  A 007 wouldn't be out or order, but I'm taking the conservative approach.

Gadgets:  I don't have much to say about the movie in this regard, but let's not let that make you think there's nothing to be said at all.  There is lots of gadgetry in this one, ranging from exploding pens to Batman-esque belt-buckle grappling-hooks to . . . well, just to a general pervasiveness of technology in the plot at large.  And of course, the cornucopia of gadgets in Q's office.

Points awarded (Gadgets):  004/007.  Nothing stands out to me, but that also means nothing stands out to me in the negative.

Opening-Title Sequence:  The long-time creator of (most of) the Bond title sequences, Maurice Binder, died in 1991, which meant that the Bond series was in need of replacing the curator of one its most beloved components.  They hired Daniel Kleinman for the job, and he's been there (with one film excepted) ever since.

He more or less just took over exactly where Binder left off: i.e., hiring a bunch of models to get their tits out and then throwing imagery that related vaguely to the plot while they danced about.










In the interests of prurience, I did not screencap any of the more nipple-centric moments, but trust me when I tell you: they are there.


Points awarded (Opening-Title Sequence): 004/007.  I would not characterize this as being one of the all-time best opening-credit sequences, but it is very solid, and the familiarity of approach was yet another factor that undoubtedly helped to keep fans positive about the film they were seeing.

Overall points awarded (Q Branch):  004.71/007
 
(6)  Mission Briefing

There is a concerted effort on the part of the screenplay to do two things simultaneously: (1) go a bit meta with the examination of What Bond Means and (2) return the series to the adventurousness of 007s past without quite going full-on Moore with the comedy.  In other words, the goal was for the audience to be able to have fun but still take the movie seriously.

I think the most pertinent question about GoldenEye is: does it succeed at that goal? 

Considered merely as Movie #17 of (so far) 24, this can probably be answered with a "sort of."  I think the strain shows.  I think the strain showed even in 1995, to be honest.  There are too many heavy-handed lines of dialogue; too much faux-meaningful psychology.  "That's what keeps you alone," and so forth.  Not that it's bad; it isn't.  It just doesn't all fit together in a cohesive whole. 

But it gets close.  And considered as the movie that had to earn Bond the right to continue to exist...?  I think it can be argued that the movie was almost exactly what the world wanted from a Bond film circa 1995, and while you have to give a lot of the credit for that to people like Martin Campbell and Pierce Brosnan and Judi Dench, you'd be a fool to not give a lot of the praise to the screenwriters.
  
There were three of them: Michael France (who wrote a few superhero movies later but has since passed away), Jeffrey Caine (whose new movie Exodus: Gods and Kings comes out this very week), and Bruce Feirstein (who worked on the next two Bonds and has also written quite a few Bond video games).
  
Before we move on, a note about the film's title: it's GoldenEye, not GoldeneyeHere's the reason for that.

Points awarded: 004/007.  In considering these films, I do my best to assess their effectiveness both as timeless pieces of art AND as artifacts of the era in which they were produced.  Neither way is the wrong way to judge them; which means that it is entirely appropriate to look at the movie(s) through the critical equivalent of bifocals. As such, I think giving the film middle-of-the-road numbers in this area is probably appropriate.

(07)  The Music

Title Song:  If you'll indulge me for a bit, let me tell you a story.  In college, I worked and traveled with a women's volleyball team.  Yes, that is exactly as hot as it sounds (i.e., pretty damn hot), but I have precisely zero hot stories to share about it.  (I write about James Bond, but I damn sure ain't James Bond.)

Anyways, one of the assistant coaches was a dude, and he and I got along really well and became friends for a couple of years until he moved away and we lost touch.  One of the things we (sorry) bonded over was James Bond movies.  We were both big fans, and we were on a road trip to some tournament when GoldenEye came out.  I can recall having long conversations -- which induced all manner of eye rolling from everyone else on the bus -- about the various Bond movies, and speculation about what the new one was going to be like.  We were both pretty excited about it, partially because there hadn't been a new one in so damn long.

We typically shared a hotel room on these trips, and at some point one day we were flipping around on television and stumbled across what I remember as being the world premiere of the video for the theme song from GoldenEye.  We, not quite able to believe the luck of our timing, sat there watching, enrapt, silent, reverent.

The verdict?

Instant classic.  We might have even high-fived, I don't know for sure.  (We'll return to this anecdote in a bit and complete it, by the way.)




Time has lessened my appreciation of the song a bit.  I still like it, but I can't honestly say it's one of my favorites.  I almost always think of seeing that video in a hotel room with my friend Orlando, the two of us probably with our mouths hanging open in rapt glee.  Good memory; classic memory.  Good song, too, but maybe not quite the classic we initially felt it to be.

Then again, if you put it in the upper echelons of the Bond-music canon, you won't get any argument from me.  It's sleek, it's slinky, Tina Turner is in great voice, and Bono's lyrics are weird enough to be redolent of mid-nineties Bono.  What's not to like?

Points awarded (Title Song):  004/007

End Credits Song:  Continuing the then-recent series trend of having an end-credits, GoldenEye features a song from composer Eric Serra called "The Experience of Love."


This image means one of two things: either the song was released as a single in France, or this is fan art.


I don't by any means hate the song, but neither do I like it particularly.  It's a sort of meditative dirge of a tune, and it's the wrong note on which to end GoldenEye.  This is especially true when you consider the extent to which the franchise was trying to course-correct.  Ending the film on a glum note like "The Experience of Love" was a risky move, especially given that there was really no compelling story reason to do so.  The movie feels as if it wants to end in some triumphant brass playing the Bond theme; instead, you've got a sad-sack moaning about how "the experience of loving / will take all your pain away."

...the fuck outta here with that shit...

Points Awarded (End Credits Song): 001/007 -- The song itself is maybe a 002, but it creates an odd and inappropriate tone for the end of the movie; where it should be somehow celebratory, it feels defeated.  It could have been disastrous.

The Score:  And at last we come to it: the score by Eric Serra.




There are people who hold this score in high regard.  I am not one of them.  I find it difficult to listen to when I do my listen-throughs of the Bond CDs.  There are a few decent cues, but there is also a lot of stuff that sounds like cats walking across keyboards and making random noises and inserting odd samples.

To be blunt, this was a terrible direction for the Bond series to go musically.  I can only assume that the producers tried to coax John Barry into returning, and he turned them down, but waited until the last minute to do it, so that Eric Serra was literally the only film composer left in the world who was available for the job.

Thing is, as it appears in the movie itself, it's not that bad a score.  I still don't think it's a particularly good one, but it must be said that Serra's approach creates an aural identity that is unlike that of any other Bond film.  It's got this sort of weird, vaguely industrial, vaguely Soviet feel to it that . . . well, to be honest, I think it actually works fairly well for the movie.  Could a different, more traditional approach, have worked better?  Yes, I think so, no doubt about it.

But . . . still, I don't think it wounds the movie as much as I always think it does when I'm listening to the soundtrack on its own.

Points awarded (The Score): 002/007 -- I suppose the argument can be made that it works pretty well for the movie.  But I don't like most of it at all, and am therefore going to allow a bit of my own bias to creep in here.  Is that fair?  Probably not.  But it's also not fair that John Barry lived until 2011 but somehow did not score a James Bond film after 1987.  If my math checks out, that's 24 years in which he could have been writing Bond music but wasn't.  So if I blame Eric Serra for that in the form of deducting points from this category, well, that's just how it's gonna be.

Total points awarded (The Music):  002.33/007



Double-0 Rating for GoldenEye:  004.36/007.  If this is one of your favorite Bond movies, I understand where you're coming from, and apologize for my various complaints.  But hey, why would this change your opinion at all?  It shouldn't!  This is just me giving you mine.

And, to be honest, I expected to be much more negative than I ended up being.  My memory was that a lot of the movie didn't work, but I think it was just Jack Wade and Boris crowding the rest of the movie out; the really, the rest of the movie works pretty well.  With the exception of the score, this has basically everything you would want from a Bond movie in it.

Returning to the anecdote about me and my friend on the volleyball road-trip, we determined while on that trip that the first thing we were doing when we got back was going to the theatre to see GoldenEye.  It premiered while we were out of town, and we got back on . . . probably on Sunday, I would imagine.

We literally got off the bus, put our luggage in the team locker room, and then got in a car and went to the the theatre.

And I'm pretty sure there were some more high-fives once the movie was over.

Good times.  That's what James Bond is all about, in some ways.  Good times, and memories of good times.

And in this particular case, the good times resultant from GoldenEye were enough that the series went from being on the brink of extinction to being able to celebrate a 50th anniversary by having the Queen of England meet James, and then by having the then-recent movie become the most successful of the entire series.

None of that happens with GoldenEye being the movie it is.  So, let's see where it stacks up against the other movies.  The tally so far:

006.21 -- From Russia With Love
005.94 -- Goldfinger
005.58 -- The Living Daylights
004.69 -- Dr. No
004.65 -- Moonraker
004.36 -- GoldenEye
004.24 -- Live and Let Die
001.30 -- Never Say Never Again
001.02 -- James Bond Jr
   
And now, as always: leftover screencaps...







Did I use this screencap already?  Can't remember; don't care.






Thank Gates your monitor doesn't alert you to email with a message of this size anymore.







What in the hell is going on on this computer screen?!?






You Only Blog Twice will return in . . . Tomorrow Never Dies.