02 January 2008

Guest: Bond, James Bond (1995-1997)

1995 - GoldenEye - Six years later. Most of the original Bond pioneers have either died or moved on to other projects. It’s now up to a younger group to restart the series with a new actor, a new director, and an entirely original script with little-to-no direct lift from any of Fleming’s novels.

How to pull it off: go back to square one. Quick and mean.

As customary when introducing a new Bond, his face isn’t revealed until the last possible second, and shortly thereafter, the camera doesn’t stop moving, the edits don’t stop coming, and the film quickly builds momentum until the hip, deeply detailed images of women doin stuff cause a kind of cathartic release upon the realization that Bond… is back. And damn is he cool.

The movie has a keen sense of danger and fun, throwing Bond into sudden situations and matching the breakneck pace and style of, yep, Dr. No, with much more backbone. Bond at the offset seems to be very much on his own, at odds with an agency that doesn’t know what to do with him. It’s a nice bit of subtle continuity carried over from Licence to Kill; Bond has to work to reclaim the status he once had.

Of course, the intelligence of the script isn’t bottomless. There are moments of shameless exposition, i.e. explanation of electromagnetic pulse yes yes we all know what it is GET ON WITH IT. And it takes some effort to forgive the rare moments where the villains keep the heroes alive.

What holds it all together is the attention given to the smallest elements, and not treating the viewers like brainless apes. One specific moment stands out in my mind: Bond and Natalya are running through a library, dodging bursts of gunfire and looking for an escape route. They find a brief reprieve and 007 takes the opportunity to rip off his belt and ready his grappling line. He doesn’t explain what it is, nor does he attempt to deflect the look she’s giving him with a glib remark; he simply smirks and says “Trust me.” Epitome of cool.

There are only two directors who have the ability to make the camera completely disappear. Martin Campbell is the one of them, making a series of static shots look interesting and putting together the film like a symphony. He appears to get Bond, the first time a director has since Terence Young. Not only does Campbell has excellent control of the medium, but he avoids sinking into the haphazard ‘let’s shoot the action handheld and hope the shakiness covers our tracks’ nonsense that seems to be popular nowadays. I would expect nothing less from the man who made Vertical Limit watchable.

GoldenEye is an asset to the franchise. After three attempts to reinvent the series, it is finally done correctly.

"This time, Mr. Bond, the pleasure will be all mine.” (7.5/10)
d. Martin Campbell

1997 - Tomorrow Never Dies - And then this happens.

“Well, we brought the series back once more. Now what?”

“Let’s screw it up again!”


No… it’s no GoldenEye, and Roger Spottiswoode is no Martin Campbell, insomuch that every shot is evidence of his vast under-qualification of directing job. He shoots as many angles as possible, explosions in slow-motion of course, and glues it together in the editing room, displaying a narrative but not a love for the material. Do we really need to see ten million different shots of Bond ripping a giant poster just because you filmed it that way? Thanks?

Far too much time is spent reminding us that Bond is cooler than anyone. This was well-established in the last film, yet we are treated to “He can drive a car by remote! He can be charming! He can get M on his side! He can make a cuckold of the military!” not to mention a sad waste of an opening sequence. “Seriously, Admiral, let’s be rational about this-” “NO THAT’S RIDICULOUS M LET’S CHARGE AHEAD FULL SPEED!!!” *Bond does something good* “OH NO EGG IS SURE ON MY FACE I’M NOT LEARNING FROM THIS THOUGH!!”

And Bond doesn’t really behave much like a super-spy, opting to disregard his suave skill and instead barreling into the enemy lair and showing all the cards immediately, endangering the lives of every inept supporting character around him. Jonathan Pryce then eats loads of scenery for breakfast, creates a stupid looking show that nobody would ever take seriously, and decides to be 100% sadistic with no hint of charisma, something that his character would surely possess if he were that high up in the social chain. Oh well, someone had to act like they wanted to be there. I sure didn’t.

“He’s my new anchorman.” (5.0/10)
d. Roger Spottiswoode

[Addendum: Commentary tracks have become this: "Here’s why I think my image of Bond works, blah blah blah blah, my entry is so good, I didn’t shoot this in slow-motion but made it that way in the editing room by blurring each frame, and it looks excellent." I fear for my sanity.
A note to DVD producers: If you can’t get the editor/assistant director/director of photography/any kind of producer in the same room as the director/writer/any of the stars, don’t bother recording an audio track specifically for them. "Here’s why I lit this scene this way" gets old really, really fast, and I don’t want to slice my wrists watching your film, unless your film is Waking Life.]