The visual impact of GoldenEye

GoldenEye's poster

GoldenEye’s poster


By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer
The gunbarrel opens on a plane that flies over a dam leaving the audience with a breath-taking visual of the landscape. We see a mysterious man running across the dam. More close ups shots follow of the man adjusting a bungee cord.

He jumps. There’s silence as he plunges more than 640 feet.

We are on Arkhangelsk, USSR. The man is trying to gain access to a chemical facility.

We see lots of close-up and detail shots of this man’s blue eyes as well as more takes of his silhouette as he sneaks into the complex’s bathroom.

His face is revealed upside down while greeting a Russian soldier sitting on the toilette right before punching the living daylights out of him. Meet Bond, James Bond.

After a six-and-a-half-year gap in the series, GoldenEye brought James Bond back to the big screen. There were new faces, starting with the secret agent himself, played by Pierce Brosnan in the first of his four Bond films.

GoldenEye also brought to the series a visual impact missing in the five films directed by John Glen, whose basic TV style was one of the few cons of his time in the Bond director chair, in spite of succeeding in bringing the spy back to Earth after the slapstick-ish Moonraker.

Many were responsible for the visual impact of the 1995 film: Director Martin Campbell and his team included cinematographer Phil Méheux, editor Terry Rawlings, second unit director Ian Sharp and, of course, veteran production designer Peter Lamont.

GoldenEye’s visuals feature a lot of ethereal blue skies in the Monaco scenes, a warm orange palette during the beach scenes in Cuba (shot in Puerto Rico), colder blues in the snowy Severnaya and a lot of chiaroscuro techniques in the Statue Park scene where Alec Trevelyan is revealed as the movie’s villain.

Méheux does a superb team work with Rawlings, who provided beautiful editing techniques, particularly the transition between the kiss of Bond and Natalya on the Cuban beach fading into the hearth’s fire and a traveling pan to the couple on the bed inside a cottage.

No less impressive is the thrilling plane crash scene, and the subsequent reveal of Xenia Onatopp’s silhouette rappelling down against the sunlight reflected of an unconscious Bond’s forehead in the jungle.

More brilliant editing by Rawlings can be seen during the film’s many action sequences: the shootout in the St Petersburg Military Archives, i.e. the Russian soldier falling through a glass after being gunned down by a runaway Bond, or the secret agent and his girl Natalya running avoiding the bullets from Ourumov’s troops; or the fight between 007 and Xenia on the hotel’s spa, particularly the way Bond’s quick reflexes work by grabbing the girl and throwing her against the wall before the “foreplay” starts.

Another more explicit fist-fight scene, where Bond has his ultimate showdown with the treacherous Trevelyan inside the giant antenna, not only features a sharp editing that harkens back to 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Bond vs Che Che) and 1963’s From Russia with Love (Bond vs Red Grant), but also reworks the Méheux’s chiaroscuro previously seen in the statue park and the nerve gas facility.

The GoldenEye director of photography is equally skilled in choosing unusual and dramatic shots during quick moments: the supine take of Brosnan being frisked by Alec guards, the zoom-in on Bond’s desperate eyes while trying to level off the plane falling through the cliff or the reflection of the Tiger missiles on them later, or the fast shot of the severely wounded Trevelyan right before the whole antenna structure falls over him, a resort he also used effectively in The Mask of Zorro (1998) and The Legend of Zorro (2005), both directed by Martin Campbell.

Of course none of this could have been done with success if it wasn’t by the perfect tandem ofCampbell and Ian Sharp. Both the dialogue scenes and the action scenes shot by the second unit are joined together in a very effective way. The action scenes in GoldenEye from the bungee jump to the spy vs spy battle above the antenna dish look tidy and planned with intelligence, in a way every action scene has its reason to be in each particular moment.

Last but not least, we owe must credit Peter Lamont the materialization of each one of the locations described in the tale from Michael France, Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein. The interiors like the bottling-room of the Arkhangelsk facility, the Severnaya Space Weapons Center and Janus’ Base computer rooms, all of them built on the Leavesden Studios from scratch, just like the statue park with sculptures by Brian Muir and the recreation of the streets of St Petersburg, when the production was unable to shot the epic tank chase on location in Russia.

The remaining bits of the visual impact of the first Bond film of the 1990s is given by designer Daniel Kleinman, hired after his work on Gladys Knight music video for Licence to Kill. He took the freedom of giving a traditional element like the opening gunbarrel shot a sleek and dynamic digital look and he made history with the film’s opening credits: red, purple and gold are seen while lingerie-clad women destroy soviet icons and statues in synchrony with Tina Turner’s powerful main title song.

GoldenEye breathed fire into the Bond series putting a big step on a new era not only in a historical way, but also in a very sharp graphic and gorgeous way.

Nicolas Suszczyk is editor of The GoldenEye Dossier.

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4 Responses

  1. In my opinion Goldeneye is not just Brosnan’s best it is one of the best films of the series. Great visual style and direction from Martin Campbell as you say. I remember when Die Another Day was released (surely the worst film of the series?) Brosnan and co justified the cgi in interviews as Bond movies had to move with the times. Well call me old fashioned but I’d rather watch the visual style of Goldfiner or OHMSS or Octopussy or Goldeneye than the tsunamis and invisible cars that sadly marred Brosnan’s departure from the series.

  2. good comment by steve powell the invisible car in ‘die another day’
    is very lazy film making. in my opinion. however I like this ‘goldeneye’
    review by Nicolas suszczyck.
    even if i’am a goldeneye fan. the bond film breathed new life into
    the franchise pierce brosnan as a new bond is what the series needed
    after a five year gap.
    martin Campbell’s directing skill’s truly put ‘goldeneye’ in the forefront
    as a new bond film, I believe goldeye was brosnan’s best first outing
    as james bond.
    the only problem I had with ‘goldeneye’ was the opening pre-credit
    sequence. with the aeroplane going-over the cliff and bond
    trying to catch-up with it.
    and him do catching-it wasn’t very plausible to me.
    however still love the film. it was pierce brosnan’s shining hour
    as james bond.

  3. Excellent summary sir ! Pretty much agreed with everything you said.

  4. Thanks a lot for the positive comments guys. GoldenEye is my passion, the film that made me enjoy the Bond movies. It will always have a special place in my heart among the 23 Bond films and the ones to come.

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