No limits. No fears. No substitutes! GOLDENEYE, the James Bond film that brought a new wave of Bondmania to the world and marked a new generation of Bond fans, celebrates a quarter-century of its release today.
It's 1990 and despite the poor results of LICENCE TO KILL in the US box office, EON Productions goes ahead with the 17th James Bond film adventure, the third starring Timothy Dalton as James Bond. It is announced for a Summer 1991 release. A legal dispute between MGM/UA and Giancarlo Paretti, which involved an unauthorized sale of the television rights of the James Bond movies, stalled its production.
Once the legal dust was settled, changes on the screenwriting team caused many delays to the release of Bond 17. In April 1993, Michael France is hired to pen the movie. Between August 1993 and April 1994, France delivers two drafts. The story involves 007 visiting Moscow and the Caribbean to investigate assassinations ordered by the KGB. He faces off an MI6 traitor: Augustus Trevelyan, once agent 006, his friend and mentor.
Unable to commit to do more than one James Bond film after the big hiatus, Timothy Dalton resigns to the role of 007 on April 11, 1994. EON Productions goes after the actor who was originally considered to play Bond in 1987, only to be turned down due to contractual obligations with the TV series REMINGTON STEELE: Pierce Brosnan. On June 8, 1994, at 12.30 pm, Brosnan is unveiled as the the fifth James Bond actor to star in Bond 17, which was later titled GOLDENEYE.
Retaining the essence of Michael France’s draft, screenwriters Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein are hired to make major changes to the script. Kevin Wade also collaborated for a week in the project. Feirstein toned down the political backdrop of France’s script and added new characters such as Boris Grishenko, Valentin Zukovsky, and General Ourumov. Trevelyan was made younger and renamed Alec.
The most important change that Feirstein made to the script, however, was turning M, the leader of MI6, into a woman. The character, loosely based on Stella Rimington –the real-life head of MI5 – was ultimately played by Judi Dench, who would reprise the role until 2012’s SKYFALL, with Daniel Craig as 007.
Some of Michael France’s discarded ideas would be reworked into Pierce Brosnan’s third James Bond film, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, such as 007 infiltrating a nuclear facility in Khazakstan or avoiding buzz-saw-wielding helicopters.
Fascinated by the quality of the futurist action movie NO ESCAPE from 1994 and BBC’s miniseries EDGE OF DARKNESS from 1985, MGM/UA and producers Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli agreed that Martin Campbell was the right choice to direct GOLDENEYE.
Campbell watched the first 16 James Bond movies on tape and felt that he had to take the Sean Connery era as a reference. While the world had changed in the 1990s, 007 should retain his essence and still be the ladies’ man he always was, wearing a tailored suit, a tuxedo and having his “shaken, not stirred” trademark Vodka Martini.
Moviegoers and filmmakers frequently wondered if James Bond had a place in the 1990s and could compete with the likes of action heroes portrayed by Mel Gibson or Bruce Willis, but Campbell insisted that 007 had something none of them could offer: a window for the exotic life, which was far from the life these blue-collar heroes experienced.
Unable to use the 007 Stage at Pinewood or any other film studio that could house the production, GOLDENEYE’s production designer Peter Lamont finds a disused Rolls Royce factory and aerodrome in Leavesden, Hertfordshire. He turns the abandoned place into a film studio, practically from scratch.
Leavesden doubled for many of the interiors seen in the movie: the Arkhangel chemical facility, the interior of the Casino de Monte-Carlo, the Severnaya installation, the spa of the Grand Hotel Europe, the Military Archives in St Petersburg and the villain’s hi-tech base in Cuba, among others.
When the producers realized they would have to go through a lot of red tape to shoot the tank chase sequence over the streets of St. Petersburg, Lamont made a verbatim replica of the streets in the Leavesden backlot. This way, the producers saved over one million dollars of the film’s budget.
Production of GOLDENEYE began on January 16, 1995, shooting the scene where James Bond breaks into Valentin Zukovsky’s St. Petersburg nightclub. Six days later, the full cast of the film was introduced to the world press during an event held at Leavesden studios.
On January 29, 1995, production moved to Puerto Rico to shoot the Caribbean scenes of the movie. Bond is seen driving the BMW Z3 in these moments, and the design of the car was kept under wraps. However, a few paparazzis managed to get a few shots of Brosnan behind the wheels of the vehicle.
On 15 February 1995, production moved to the film’s second major location: Monaco, Monte-Carlo. By the end of the month, Pierce Brosnan and Famke Janssen shot scenes in the harbour. At the same time, the second unit worked on the chase between 007’s Aston Martin DB5 and Xenia’s Ferrari 355 in the South of France.
The last time 007 had driven his famous Aston Martin DB5 was in 1965’s THUNDERBALL, starring Sean Connery as James Bond. This way, Pierce Brosnan was shown as a spiritual heir of the first onscreen Bond, someone he admired profoundly: One month after arriving to London from his native Ireland in 1964, the first movie 11-year-old Pierce Brosnan saw was GOLDFINGER. He was fascinated by Connery’s self-assurance as 007 and he admits that, deep inside, that headed him into acting.
Pierce Brosnan would have another connection to 007: in 1981, his late wife Cassandra Harris played Lisl opposite Roger Moore’s James Bond in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. While shooting the movie in Greece, producer Albert R. Broccoli first eyed Brosnan as a future Bond.
Taking into account the huge impact of the opening stunt of 1977’s THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, director Martin Campbell decided to open the film with two spectacular stunts that would defy Bond’s life: 007 bungee-jumps over a 640 ft dam in the Soviet Union in order to infiltrate an illegal weapons facility. The scene was shot in March 1995 on the Verzasca Dam in Switzerland. Stuntman Wayne Michaels performed the risky jump.
Escaping from the plant, the scene that closes the pre-credits sequence has Bond jumping over a cliff with a motorcycle and catching a plane in mid-air, stabilizing it and using it to fly away. The scene was shot on the Swiss Alps. French stuntman Jacques “Zoo” Malnuit performed the bike jump, while legendary stunt performer B.J. Worth went after the falling PC6 plane. The rest of the scene was completed with model-scale work and front-screen projection.
Between March and May 1995, the following scenes were shot: the chemical weapons facility confrontation, the sauna fight between Bond and Xenia, and Bond’s arrival to the St. Petersburg airport, shot near the Epsom Racecourse in England.
Production of GOLDENEYE finished on June 1, 1995. That day, Roger Moore visited the set at Leavesden to greet Pierce Brosnan. Moore’s son Christian worked on the film as a director assistant. Brosnan’s son Christopher also worked on the film as an assistant. And he also doubled for his father: when the star’s hand was injured due to a domestic accident, Christopher doubled for 007’s hand pulling the brakes of the DB5.
By July 1995, a teaser trailer for GOLDENEYE premiered worldwide. The reaction for Bond’s return was positive and the filmmakers breathed easily: the world did want to have James Bond back in action, unlike what many critics predicted.
This trailer wasn’t only popular for Pierce Brosnan’s 007 breaking the fourth wall asking the attendees if they were “expecting someone else”, but for the innovative techno arrangement of the James Bond Theme, performed by Starr Parodi and Jeff Fair, who also made the jingle for the 1994 United Artists logo that opens the movie. Due to many letters fans sent to MGM Music, the 2002 compilation THE BEST OF BOND... JAMES BOND featured the Parodi/Fair version of the Bond Theme. The album achieved Gold Record status because of this track.
After writing the main title song for GOLDENEYE, lyricists Bono and The Edge tried to convince Tina Turner to perform it. Turner was initially unsure of the demo Bono sent her, but he finally convinced her. In September 1995, the singer recorded her version of the song. The “GoldenEye” music video, directed by Jake Scott, premiered on MTV on October 26, 1995. When the single was released, on November 7, it reached the Top 5 in many countries across Europe.
The film soundtrack, by Eric Serra, departed from the traditional Bond sound upon request of MGM/UA Music’s Marsha Gleeman, who felt that, considering John Barry’s absence, a different approach should be taken for this new Bond. Serra embraced the style of LÉON: THE PROFESSIONAL, one of his early works. The soundtrack had a mixed reception: most traditional 007 fans didn’t like it, but it sold very well to younger audiences and Serra’s particular fans.
One major change, however, was made to the music: when Serra’s original take for the film’s tank chase feelt too cheesy and lacked dramatism to achieve the desired tension, noted composer John Altman was approached to record a symphonic version of the James Bond Theme, which Altman did only under the condition that Serra approved his involvement.
GOLDENEYE opened in the United States on November 17, 1995, earning over $26 million in the opening weekend. Wordwide, it was the third most successful movie grossing $356 million, slightly below TOY STORY and DIE HARD: WITH A VENGEANCE. Inflation-adjusted to 2011, the film grossed more than another 10 James Bond movies.
The movie did not only immortalize Pierce Brosnan as the James Bond of the 1990s and the new millennium, but also served as the launching platform for many actors that are widely known today, namely Sean Bean, Robbie Coltrane, Famke Janssen and Alan Cumming, some of which would join the LORD OF THE RINGS, X-MEN and HARRY POTTER cinematic franchises.
Just like in the 1960s, the image of James Bond filled the stores again with multiple toys: model cars, Walther PPK replicas, lunch boxes and many other collectable items. In 1997, the film was reappraised with the release of Nintendo 64’s video game adaptation, still considered one of the most successful products in the video gaming history.
Twenty-five years after its release, GOLDENEYE is still highly-regarded by James Bond fans worldwide. The face of Pierce Brosnan, in tux and holding a silenced Walther PPK, became a staple of the 1990s culture along with the muscle-bound body of Arnold Schwarzenegger carrying machine guns. In the same way many James Bond fans said in 1995 that GOLDFINGER turned them into James Bond fans and that Sean Connery was their James Bond, others proudly affirm that GOLDENEYE led them straight into the universe created by Ian Fleming, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman – and that James Bond is none other than Pierce Brosnan for them.
Shortly after the release of the film, Brosnan observed: “Friends of mine brought their children to watch GoldenEye and it was really wonderful to see the joy in their faces. They've never seen it, it's their first James Bond movie”.