Thursday 24 May 2012

BlogalongaBond / GoldenEye:
When Sexist, Misogynist Dinosaurs
Ruled The Earth

Four years between Quantum Of Solace and Skyfall might seem like an inordinately long time to wait for fresh Bondery, but for some of us it's the blink of an eye compared to the aeon for which Eon Productions left Bond fans hanging between 1989 and 1995. During those long and desolate years, the entire world experienced cataclysmic change: communism in eastern Europe came crashing down; Timothy Dalton got bored and wandered off, and I discovered all sorts of things about girls.

Two of those things had a direct impact on the direction of the James Bond films, while the third just made me realise what a load of rubbish all that "Oh, James"ing was. Nobody's ever said that to me in the throes of passion, no matter how many times I've asked. Nevertheless, I maintained my 007 devotion throughout and spilled all sorts of excited juices in the run-up to the release of GoldenEye. I didn't really know much about this Brosnan guy but he certainly looked like he knew how to... uh... stand on some stairs.
The capacity for moody but inappropriately-attired banister-reclining aside, it turned out that Pierce Brendan Brosnan made a pretty good James Bond, even though it felt like he'd been genetically engineered to please everyone. Consisting of precisely 44% rugged Connery, 39% cheesy Moore, 6% funny-accented Lazenby and 11% ruthless Dalton, James the fifth effortlessly ascended the throne of Bond from the moment he hurled himself off a bloody great dam, challenging The Spy Who Loved Me for the title of most jaw-clattering pre-title sequence.

And if Brosnan appeared to have been grown in a petri dish to be everyone's ideal Bond, then the script was constructed with equally precise cold, mathematical precision. As undeniably enjoyable and exciting as GoldenEye may be, somewhere lurking beneath the surface is the clinical stench of Bond-by-numbers that's been mercifully absent since Roger Moore hung up his corset. That Brosnan and director Martin Campbell managed to make such an entertaining film is to their credit, but there are a few too many throwbacks to the Moore years for my liking. Clumsy cyclists, laboured sight gags in Q's lab and shit one-liners accompanied by over-animated eyebrows all feel like a massive step back after the majestic Age Of The Dalton.
At the same time as it rifles through a back catalogue of James Bond's Greatest Hits, GoldenEye's script also appears to be some kind of sixth-form dissertation on the cultural history of 007. Almost every character gets to have a pop at Bond's failings, as if the writers had ploughed through every BlogalongaBond post before starting work on the film. And while it's superficially clever scripting in terms of addressing the series' place in '90s action cinema, it feels forced and a little tiresome seventeen years down the line.

Lines like Alec Trevelyan's smart-arsed observations on the psychological reasons for Bond's liver-crippling martini habit and Natalya's remarkably presumptious judgement on what keeps him alone (she's known him for about 48 hours) might appear to offer the character some depth, but in truth they only pay lip service to the complexity that Licence To Kill so effortlessly conveyed. Once all the pouting and new-age self-assessment are out of the way it's not long before Brosnan's eyebrows are re-activated and he's carefully timing dreadful kiss-off lines like "She always did enjoy a good squeeze".

The least clanging attempt at all this self-referential navel-gazing is the one in which Brosnan is almost acted out of his Brioni suit by the untouchable Dame Judi Dench as M. Significantly wearing a Nehru-esque outfit with a mandarin collar that almost dares us not to think of Dr. No or Blofeld, M ostensibly takes Bond down a peg or two but actually gives a much more interesting insight into her own character, ensuring that we - and he - know that she's quite prepared to send him to his death if the mission calls for it. Sadly DJD's hard work is almost entirely undone by the script's insistence that she softens up and asks 007 to "come back alive" like a damp-gusseted schoolgirl, and all those withering put-downs are suddenly and tragically cancelled out.
Brosnasaurus Rex: sexy, misogynist dinosaur

So GoldenEye remains a curiosity. Turning Bond back into a superhuman in an OTT adventure ensured the brand regained its unique place in a world full of fallible, blubbing action heroes like Martin Riggs and John McClane, and consequently provided the series' most successful reboot up to this point. Had it failed to do so, who knows if we'd still be eagerly awaiting Episode XXIII in 2012? Deep down though, the script feels like it's aimed at the lowest common denominator, and while that worked to some extent it also quietly swept everything from six years before under the carpet, and to me that seems a shame.

The pre-title sequence
After six years with his feet up watching Trisha, James Bond had to come back with something pretty goddamn amazing, and he had to do it fast. Hence, exactly sixty seconds into the film, he leaps off Switzerland's 720-foot high (though extended higher with VFX) Verzasca Dam with little more than some knicker elastic tied to his ankles. It's an applause-worthy return for 007, though it's a shame Brosnan's first full-face shot is hanging upside down in a men's shitter. Still, the rest of the sequence is crowd-pleasingly brilliant, mixing subtle comedy (the squeaky trolley) with balls-out, jaw-dropping stunts. Although why Bond didn't shout "Must dash, I've got a plane to catch!" as he drove off the cliff is a mystery.
BONUS BONDFACT: The force on stuntman Wayne Michaels when he performed the jump was so great that his trousers disintegrated, according to this still from the GoldenEye Video Journal:

The titles
Maurice Binder came up with a great idea for the Bond film title sequences in 1965, then repeated it with minor variations for 24 years, creating an amorphous blob of writhing naked totty and wibbly effects that was well past its best by 1989. Fortunately Daniel Kleinman, having directed the Licence To Kill music video, was given the chance to reinvent the formula with GoldenEye, and he works wonders with his not-particularly-subtle (but plot-relevant) fall-of-communism iconography. Oh, and writhing naked totty and wibbly effects. It's actually the least brilliant of Kleinman's Bond title sequences but it's such a stylistic leap it would be an insult not to include it in GoldenEye's Amazing Things list. Want more D-Kleinz?

The score
'The GoldenEye Overture'

OK, I'm just going to put this out there: the score for GoldenEye is amazing. No, Éric Serra's largely electronic contribution isn't "traditional" Bond music, and yes, when it's rubbs it's rubbs, but it's massively atmospheric and incredibly bold, and when he does swap the synths for the orchestra he's perfectly capable of producing swooning, romantic themes. It's just that there aren't any, you know, tunes as such. If you really can't bear the sound of a set of saucepans bouncing around inside a zero-gravity squash court, John Altman's bits during the St Petersburg tank sequence (requested by shit-scared producers after hearing Serra's submission) are just as great in an old-fashioned way. Having said all of that, Serra's end credits song, 'The Experience Of Love', is so excruciatingly awful that my ears try to detach themselves from my head whenever they hear it.

Ксения Сергеевна Онатопп
Part Thunderball's Fiona Volpe, part Never Say Never Again's Fatima Blush, no parts A View To A Kill's May Day (thank Christ), GoldenEye's delightfully mentile erotophonophiliac Xenia Sergeyevna Onatopp is a Bond Girl for the ages. Possibly inspired by The Living Daylights' brief mention of Ula Yokhfov, a KGB assassin who strangled victims with her thighs, Xenia achieves sexual arousal from the faces P-Broz pulls when clamped between her vice-like femora. But then, don't we all?

The best Bond fight scene for 33 years
Somewhere in the middle of GoldenEye's final showdown between Bond and Trevelyan sit 45 seconds of some of the most ferocious fisticuffs we've seen 007 involved in since the rumble on the Orient Express in From Russia With Love. In fact, the fight - set inside a claustrophobic room somewhere in the inner workings of Trevelyan's massive satellite dish thingy - is a direct homage to the earlier film, even down to Brosnan mimicking Connery shielding his torso and face with his arms and getting roundly walloped in the guts for his trouble. 

And finally: I'm not sure if it's a cause for celebration or commiseration, but the references to Little James - which some may say were beneath Timothy Dalton - are back...

Bond and Xenia are playing cards in a Monte Carlo casino.

It appears we share the same passions... three, anyway.

I count two: motoring and baccarat.

Bond loses the hand.

I hope the third is where your real talent lies.

One rises to meet a challenge.

BlogalongaBond will return with Tomorrow Never Dies

What the hell is BlogalongaBond? I'll tell you.
Further BlogalongaBondareading here


  1. Why do you explain double entendres in block capitals? You are either insulting the cognoscente or patronising the remainder. Either way it must rile every reader.

    I'm very pleased to read that the old style dialogue is back. Remember this?

    Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
    Plenty O'Toole: Hi, I'm Plenty.
    James Bond: But of course you are.
    Plenty O'Toole: Plenty O'Toole.
    James Bond: Named after your father perhaps?

  2. For God's sake, Tony, I explained it to you back in August on the Live And Let Die post:
    "The expectation of a double entendre's joke to be subtle and 'hidden' is then subverted by the most simple and blunt explanation. That is, by its very nature, funny. Doing it in huge upper case letters therefore heightens the subversion, making it a little bit funnier."

    Got it this time?

  3. Sadly I do not find upper case risible. How can you subvert something that has no subterfuge in the first place? It is like neutering a eunuch.
    You made a FUNNY DOUBLE-ATTENDRE but it was funny 'peculiar' not 'funny ha ha'.

    1. Surely a "double-attendre" would be something that you have to wait for twice as long as you expect?

      And no, it doesn't rile me.

  4. I always find it a shame that the producers/writers make an attempt to erase Dalton from the series by setting the opening sequence in 1986 and having "9 years later" show up after the credit sequence. ( He didn't deserve that. Goldeneye is a good romp though!

  5. Another great write up - are you me from the future writing these, because our opinions are so similar? I, too, love the final fight (another former BBFC casualty) and Eric Serra's score is totally fitting for the film. I adore John Barry's Bond scores but couldn't see something like that working in this film.

    The one thing that would have make this film better is if Dalton had returned. One can only have fever dreams about how awesome it would have been - I'd have loved to see him in that final brawl with Alec, head-butting the shit out of him. Still, love the film as it is.

  6. I don't know if you missed it or if you just chose not to mention it, but "True Lies" really put the willies up the Bond people. It came out in summer 94 but presumably the script etc. was circulating around the industry for a while and looked like a dead cert for blockbuster success (which it was). So successful, in fact, that in combination with the happy historical relationship between Arnie and Jim Cameron, that rumours of "sequel" and "franchise" started coming along. WHAT? Bond in limbo, and some new big-budget slightly campy spy action thriller thing has thrilled the world?!
    I think this is why they pulled out all the stops on GoldenEye, which has a superb first hour (it nukes the fridge when Bond cuts his way through 4 inches of steel on Trevelyan's armoured train using a laser IN HIS WATCH). The dam bungee jump was surely designed for the teaser trailer (an early example of the teaser?) but it worked in the film too. The pre-credits sequence genuinely got an ovation when I saw it, not at any special event but just a regular screening at Fulham Road Odeon. Does Brosnan look at the camera and wink during his freefall into the plummeting plane?

    and was Alan Cumming's retention of a Scots accent in a Russian role meant to be a pisstake of Connery's behaviour with accents (most obviously The Hunt For Red October, but else)?


  7. Hmmm, Bonds hair in this is far to bouffant and it's constant irritation ruined this film for me. That and Pierce playing him far too smugly. Like a petulant grown up Harry Potter who whispers too much......And as for that French twat clanging about on the soundtrack!!!!!!

  8. Brosnan's first Bond movie and also the first Bond movie I watched in full in a cinema. A lot of people consider this his best Bond but I prefer his later movies when he had grown into the role. This was his first film and he seems a little unsure of himself, in later movies he had more of a swagger.
    Having said that it's a good film and was a massive hit when it came out, which gave the series the boost it needed to continue into the 21st century.