Members of the cast and crew responsible for one of the best action hits of the 90s…
Released 25 years ago this week, GoldenEye is up to this date considered a modern James Bond classic. For those who lived their childhood in the 1990s, watching it on the big screen or even in VHS, Laserdisc or TV, it had the same effect that Goldfinger or Thunderball produced in senior 007 fans.
Grossing over 356 million dollars worldwide, the film was an instant box-office hit, particularly in the United States where the critics also praised the spectacle offered by director Martin Campbell and the new star playing Ian Fleming’s secret agent 007, Pierce Brosnan. Now, let’s take a look at the members of the cast and crew who are directly responsible for bringing Bond back to life in the 90s (no particular order).
He is perhaps who deserves the biggest credit for GoldenEye’s success. Campbell had just directed the dystopian actioneer No Escape in 1994 and was already very popular in the UK thanks to the TV miniseries Edge of Darkness in 1985. Those were the two productions that led him straight to become the man who would replace John Glen, who had directed the five Bond films of the 1980s (three with Roger Moore, two with Timothy Dalton). The New-Zealand born filmmaker reminded us why James Bond is best viewed on a big screen after the character had been artistically limited by Glen’s films, which were quite interesting plot-wise but lacked the polish and visual impact of a Bond film.
Campbell rewatched the first 16 films on tape and decided that the 60s Bond era, starring the late Sean Connery, was the one he should base GoldenEye on. He felt Roger Moore leaned too much into comedy, while Timothy Dalton didn’t lighten up enough. He also took special attention to detail, hiring professionals that would make this film big and impacting for a new generation of moviegoers. A movie that would not also retain the best elements of the Bond folklore but would also compete with other action movies like True Lies, Clear And Present Danger and the Die Hard sequels. The action and humour have a clear nod to these productions, but the exoticism of locations like Monte Carlo, St Petersburg or the Caribbean and places like a paradisiac beach or a high-stakes baccarat table are Bond’s exclusive trademark.
Campbell could combine both styles while also taking the best of the cast and crew members and pushing them to the limits. He also makes the women of the film look impossibly beautiful and GoldenEye features the first proper sex scene in the series, as Xenia Onatopp terminates Admiral Farrel by crushing him with her legs during lovemaking: the shots of Famke Janssen in black stockings and red lips playing with her pray as a ferocious tiger were the ultimate fantasy of the hot-blooded heterosexuals Ian Fleming wrote his novels for – a testimony that Martin Campbell’s beginnings on the erotic industry with movies like Eskimo Nell and The Sex Thief weren’t wasted! Campbell’s directorial talent was valued a lot by producers Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, who hired him to introduce Daniel Craig’s rebooted 007 in the first official adaptation of Casino Royale, released in 2006.
Nominated for an Academy Award in 1982 for Chariots of Fire and known for the sci-fi thriller Blade Runner, Rawlings collaborated with director Campbell in No Escape and was a key ingredient of GoldenEye’s success. On the cutting-room floor, while listening to jazz or Vivaldi CDs, he edited the film in a way that was frenetic or relaxing according to the film’s needs: as Natalya Simonova, the film’s leading lady, realizes that the space weapon that gives its name to the film is set to detonate on the very place she is in in a few seconds, Rawlings gives us exasperating quick shots of Natalya’s face registering the tension and the digital face of the wall-screen counting down to the doom.
Equally, when Natalya shares a romantic kiss with James Bond on a Caribbean beach near Cuba, their kiss fades into the fire of a hearth where they are later sharing a bed, symbolizing the liberated passion between the two protagonists. The film’s many action sequences, from the opening assault to a nerve gas facility in the Soviet Union to an escape from St Petersburg’s Military Archives followed by a tank chase and a confrontation between the hero and the villain on a platform suspended 300 meters above the ground are all marked by an intense, immersive pace delivered by this professional. Rawlings, who died in April 2019, didn’t return for another Bond film, but his efforts have certainly not been ignored by millions of Bond fans who still enjoy GoldenEye at this time and age.
Campell’s DP of choice (he worked with him in every major big-screen production except for Vertical Limit, Green Lantern and The Foreigner) gave GoldenEye a special vibrance. The colours speak for every scene in the movie: the claustrophobic feeling of an interrogation room in St Petersburg or a chemical warfare facility in the USSR are echoed by chiaroscuro techniques and a lot of grey and desaturated greens, while in the Monaco harbour the sea’s intense blue contrasts nicely with the bright white of the anchored yachts. During the scenes in Cuba, the vegetation is deep green and the skies during sunset are bright orange.
Méheux is also responsible –in many occasions under Campbell’s directives– of many artistic shots that graced the film: the iris of the iconic gunbarrel sequence opening into a Pilatus plane that flies over a huge dam, guiding the viewer to the first establishing shot of GoldenEye; a supine shot as Bond is frisked by Janus’ guards on the antagonist’s Cuban base, a perfect zoom-in at the eyes of 007 as he discovers his enigmatic enemy is none other than his former colleague and friend agent 006, a shot of the eyes of a semi-unconscious Bond who has the villainous Xenia Onatopp abseiling down of a helicopter reflected, and many more. The close-ups and extreme close-ups are also remarkable, particularly during the casino scene where we can appreciate the hands of Bond and Xenia dealing the cards or her reactions as they seduce each other. Along with Campbell, Méheux returned for Casino Royale, providing another memorable contribution for the franchise.
Everybody talks about GoldenEye’s action sequences, but many seem to forget the man behind them. Crane has been a member of the James Bond stunt team since 1987’s The Living Daylights and was promoted to stunt coordinator for GoldenEye. The action in this film looks extremely realistic: every jab hurts, the bullets coming out of Bond’s AK-47 made the Russian soldiers fly through windows, and the destruction of St. Petersburg by a T55 tank never felt so shockingly real.
Under Campbell’s instructions, Crane devised ways in which Brosnan’s Bond could kill enemies in a fast, economic way as a trained professional would: a simple towel was enough for the new 007 to incapacitate an attacking sailor who slowly tried to come after the secret agent’s head with a baseball bat in the Manticore yacht. Every stunt action in the film and minor fight scene or shootout seems choreographed with extreme detail.
Not a new face for the Bond franchise as he has been working in the series since 1964’s Goldfinger, acting as a production designer between 1981 with For Your Eyes Only to 2006 with Casino Royale (except for Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997), but Lamont is certainly a remarkable GoldenEye hero. No film studio was big enough to house the production, and the 007 Stage at Pinewood was already occupied by First Knight. He found an abandoned lot at Leavesden, in Hertfordshire, England. The place has been an aerodrome during World War II and then became a Rolls Royce factory.
Lamont turned it into a film studio basically from scratch, building the actor’s dress rooms, administrative offices and the sets for the movie. Only the bathrooms were fairly usable. Leavesden Studio served for all purposes and doubled for many interiors seen in the film, such as the villain’s hi-tech base in Cuba, Valentin Zukovsky’s nightclub, the chemical weapons plant and the MI6 office. When shooting the tank chase in St Petersburg required a lot of negotiations in Russian and cutting through red tape, Lamont made a verbatim replica of the city’s streets in the Leavesden backlot to shoot most of the tank action. 007 Magazine editor Graham Rye, who was invited to the shooting of those scenes, declared that “you could be forgiven for believing you were in Russia” if you were transported from your bed and wake on this street.
Lamont helped the producers save at least one million of their precious budget, but that’s not all. His talent made each location feel as it should feel: if we are in the mid-1990s and computer technology is a key weapon used by the villain to hurt the British economy, his base should be surrounded of all type of computers and digital visuals: a huge wall monitor provided by Pioneer, lots of desktop PCs, an improvised e-mail interface that (back in the day when few people were experienced with this revolutionary communication tool) resembles a modern chat conversation, and digital palm readers.
The interior of Alec Trevelyan’s hideout, a disused ICBM train, has all the technological requirements this villain needs in one carriage but its dining room has furnishings and wallpapers that would have been the envy of Czar Nicholas. But if the enemies are so advanced in terms of technology, the British Secret Service couldn’t stand far behind: the new MI6, led for the first time by the female M played by Judi Dench, is also equipped with computers, fax machines, electronic dossiers, a situation room that provides satellite imagery over Russia, and furniture that looks much more in tune with the 90s than the naval feeling of the old Admiral Messervy’s room.
No-one should be surprised at the grandeur of Lamont’s work, but it certainly feels better in GoldenEye than in most of the other Bond movies he worked, partially thanks to the budget increase and the vision of Campbell and Méheux that makes it stand out more than in the Glen films.
Controversial, you say? Well, indeed. For many, one of GoldenEye’s weakest points is the soundtrack by Luc Besson’s movie composer of choice. However, his music was a key element in giving the film a special mood. The timpanis and synthesizers contribute to generating a metallic, industrial feeling that is far from the horns and guitars of John Barry, but this is exactly what the people behind the movie wanted. According to author Jon Burlingame, Marsha Gleeman from MGM/UA Music felt that, with Barry unavailable to score GoldenEye, they should try something different and appeal to current generations with the sound of the film. This is where Serra, who scored Nikita and Léon: The Professional, came into the play.
Serra’s music accentuated the sombre feeling of the post-Cold War days in Russia along with the dominion of technology in our lives and the use of space weapons to create havoc on Earth. But his more traditional take on the music could also generate the feeling of melancholy, poignancy, romance and finesse: this is what his recurring string music (tracks “We Share The Same Passions”, “The Severnaya Suite”, “That’s What Keeps You Alone” and “For Ever, James” in the album) evocates depending on the scene. Serra also performed the film’s end title song, “The Experience of Love”, based on the music he first wrote for Léon: The Professional with lyrics by the late Rupert Hine. The lyrics aren’t exactly what you expect from a Bond song, but it does fit with the film’s romantic ending and the music is really beautiful.
A good film needs a good script, and while the late Michael France deserves a big recognition for the genesis of GoldenEye’s story, it is New Jersey-born screenwriter and author Bruce Feirstein who deserves the credit for making the 17th Bond film so enjoyable and appealing to younger audiences. Feirstein is that man who knew how to put the B in Bond in the verge of the new millennium. He made us feel that we were watching James Bond in a James Bond film, not just a James Bond film where James Bond takes part in.
France conceived a script where the escapism wouldn’t go as far as Moonraker and the seriousness as far as Licence To Kill, while also trying to bring new challenges for 007. This way, his enemy was a former colleague and almost a mentor for him who bore the number 006 betrayed the British and conspired against them under diplomatic immunity by the new Russian government. The action scenes were clever but at the same time too expensive to execute. After the collaboration of Jeffrey Caine and Kevin Wade, Feirstein came in and made some interesting changes that made the pacing of the film faster and more exciting.
He toned down the political aspect of the original story and brought new characters into the play: computer hacker Boris Grishenko, who despite his goofiness is essential to concrete the villain’s plan; ex-KGB agent and current arms dealer Valentin Zukovsky, a former enemy Bond has to deal with again; and Xenia Onatopp, who had already preexisted in France’s script but Feirstein emphasized her sex appeal by having her killing people during lovemaking, the reason why the character’s surname was changed from Labyakova to Onatopp. He also suggested the new M should be a lady, considering that Stella Rimington had been appointed as the Head of MI5 one year before the film’s release.
Feirstein’s premise to GoldenEye was that “the world changed, but Bond didn’t”. This way, he didn’t alter any of 007’s well-known traits except smoking. He would still be a womanizer, although this time the women he came across had vital importance in the film’s plot. He would still be employed at MI6 and regarded as one of the Service’s best operatives, although the new M would brand him as a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” and “a relic of the Cold War”. People like Valentin Zukovsky, Jack Wade and Alec Trevelyan would laugh at his old fashioned patriotic codes and ethics, but he would still prove that we still needed men like him into the new world order.
Feirstein would later write Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough, plus the Bond video games 007 Everything or Nothing and From Russia With Love for Electronic Arts, plus Blood Stone and the 2010 remake of GoldenEye 007 for Activision.
In every James Bond film, James Bond is the most important character of all. None of the formula elements can work if he’s not there or if he doesn’t have a commanding presence in the story. And similarly, if the actor playing Bond wasn’t good enough and he didn’t have a connection to the viewer, all the effort would be lost. Pierce Brosnan was originally signed in to play 007 in 1986 before his Remington Steele contractual obligations terminated his chance to become the fourth Bond. However, he was the first option considered by the producers once Timothy Dalton left the series, unable to return for more than just one film. Thankfully, this time, Brosnan had no compromises and on June 8, 1994, he was announced as the fifth Bond actor.
The Irish-born star mixed the best elements of his predecessors: Sean Connery’s self-assurance, Roger Moore’s humoristic traits and elegance, and the emotional qualities provided by George Lazenby’s and Timothy Dalton’s Bonds in their short appearances. At the same time, Brosnan could also deliver some introspection into the secret agent’s psychology suffered by the strain of his singular profession. He could look dashing on a Brioni dinner jacket or a three-piece business suit, but also lethal on a close-quarters-fight and avoiding thousands of bullets after him. Without explicitly falling in love for her, he could generate a romantic attachment with GoldenEye’s leading lady that felt genuine. Just like it happened to Connery and Moore before him, Brosnan didn’t just appeal to a couple of fans, but to entire generations of men who dreamed to be like him and women who dreamed to be seduced by him.
The posters of the film featured him in the classic tux, holding the famous Walther PPK handgun and sporting a comma of black hair falling above the right eyebrow – echoing Ian Fleming’s description of the character in his first novel, 1953’s Casino Royale. Without doubt, having a man that looks, kills and seduces like James Bond should do taking the lead in a James Bond film guaranteed half of GoldenEye’s success.
There are many more people among the cast and the crew who deserve the credit for rejuvenating James Bond with this movie: Daniel Kleinman provided an unforgettable and relevant main title sequence artistically representing the fall of Eastern communism, Lindy Hemming’s costumes are fitting for the character’s personalities and moods. The teaser trailer directed by Joe Nimziki is fabulous with that techno-influenced James Bond Theme arrangement by Starr Parodi and Jeff Fair. The poster campaign by Bemis Balkind would have compelled you to pay an IMAX 4D ticket for this movie if it had been released today, and let’s not forget the supporting cast: Gottfried John, Tcheky Karyo, Joe Don Baker, Robbie Coltrane… far from the Oscar radar but really impressive in their roles. GoldenEye is indeed one of the Bond few movies where all the supporting cast leaves a lasting presence in the minds of the viewer.
Last but not least, the stunt performers shouldn’t be ignored, from Wayne Michaels who jumped 195 meters off from that dam to Tracey Eddon who was propelled from an ejector seat at Q’s Lab and sustained a lot of injuries or Gary Powell, who drove that T55 tank at full speed and to this day reflects it wasn’t something easy to do. And they all risk their lives frequently just to cheer us up!