Wednesday, August 12, 2015

GoldenEye (1995) | Story

Plot Summary

Coincidences and hunches throw Bond into a case involving a destroyed Soviet satellite station and a ghost from Bond's past.


Before getting into the influences for GoldenEye, let's pause for a moment of silence for The Property of a Lady, what would have been the third Timothy Dalton movie. The 007 Wiki has more details about it if you're curious, but a couple of things are relevant to GoldenEye.

First, it was a financial conflict between the producers and the studio that caused Property to be delayed. Dalton had a three-picture contract (just like Moore had started with) and everything was on track to fulfill it. There was a script, but Broccoli and Family didn't like the way that MGM (who'd bought United Artists) were dividing profits from a distribution deal. It's all very boring to me, but here's the Wikipedia article if you're curious. The point is that figuring all that out took a lot of time, during which Dalton's contract expired and he (as well as screenwriter Richard Maibaum and director John Glen) walked away.

The second thing about Property that's relevant to GoldenEye is that some script elements survived, including the villain's being a former ally of James Bond. Again, the 007 Wiki has specifics. For the most part though, they went with a whole new story and abandoned the idea of using a Fleming title. Instead, they drew inspiration from the name of Fleming's summer house in Jamaica where he wrote the Bond novels. That's a lame inspiration, but a cool name.

In the movie, Goldeneye is the name of the EMP technology the villains are using; presumably named that because the device is circular and gold-colored. I was curious to know if there was any connection between that and the reason Fleming picked the name for his house, but I couldn't find any. Fleming claimed two different inspirations for the name. One was the novel Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers, but the golden eye in that refers to an imaginary peacock that sees horrible and distorted reality, so it's a weird thing to name your house. More convincing is Fleming's explanation that it came from Operation Goldeneye, a WWII mission he planned while working for British Naval Intelligence. I haven't been able to find the source of the operation's name though, so I have no idea how it might connect (or not) to the movie title. In my imagination, I thought that maybe the source of inspiration had something to do with the sun, but I can't find any evidence to back that up. It looks like they just had the name and then created a story around it.

By the time Broccoli and Wilson were finally ready to make the next Bond film, a lot had changed. (And by Broccoli, I really mean Cubby's daughter Barbara now, because she took over for her dad, whose health was deteriorating. He died less than a year after GoldenEye's release.) For one thing, the end of the Cold War had eliminated the Soviets as the easy go-to villains for the series. And with Kevin McClory's still owning the rights to SPECTRE, it would be tough to come up with a new, villainous organization that didn't seem derivative. So they borrowed the traitor idea from the aborted Dalton film and threw in some Russian gangsters (pretty much the new go-to villains for '90s spy movies).

How Is the Book Different?

GoldenEye isn't based on a novel, but it's worth mentioning how much the world had changed since Fleming wrote his series. Not only the collapse of the Soviet Union, but also attitudes towards women. There was a big question about whether Bond was still a relevant character. Wisely, GoldenEye didn't just recognize that, it confronted and commented on it. And it did so in a way that kept the character of Bond intact.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming

I'll get into Brosnan's Bond more tomorrow, but he's not as serious as Dalton's. He's not as nonchalant as Moore either though, because GoldenEye gives an explicit reason for his glibness and it's pretty dark. The script and dialogue acknowledge the grimness of Bond's world and present his casual attitude as a coping mechanism. GoldenEye's admission that Bond has a tough, horrible job is very Fleming, even if the two versions handle it in different ways.

I love that Natalya sees through Bond's humor. She's not one of the most memorable Bond Girls, but she's a good one and perceptive enough that when she tries to get close to Bond, she sees his barriers for what they are. When she calls him on it, his response is, "It's what keeps me alive." She disagrees. "No. It's what keeps you alone."

She and Alec serve similar functions like that. One way that GoldenEye directly matches Fleming is in its major theme about questioning duty. Fleming's Bond is constantly wrestling with whether or not he's in the right job and Alec is all about raising that issue. More on that towards the end of the week, too.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming

As often happens in Bond movies, they part company with Fleming around the tightness of the plot. In GoldenEye, Bond becomes involved in the story through the simple coincidence of his being in Monte Carlo at the same time that Xenia Onatopp is planning to steal the Tiger helicopter. Why is Bond there? Why does he suspect Onatopp enough to look into her activities?

The movie never even tries to answer these questions. Thematically, it fits though. Bond is acting on hunches, which is a point of conflict between him and M. But even though the story proves him right, it does so unconvincingly enough that I can see M's argument. Then again, maybe that's the point: that neither M nor Bond are totally right about which method is best. But even if that's what the movie's trying to achieve, it could have done a stronger job at it.

Cold Open

After three other cold opens where a Double-O dies, GoldenEye does a nice fake-out by pretending to do it again. Of course, casting Sean Bean as 006 kind of gives it away - you just know he'll be back later - but it's a cool effort.

This is my favorite teaser so far. There isn't just one great stunt; there are two. It's starts with Bond's bungee jumping into a Soviet chemical weapons facility and - like On Her Majesty's Secret Service - keeping his face in shadows for a while. He's finally revealed hanging upside down in a bathroom stall, quipping to a guard. It's great.

Then, after 006 is captured and supposedly executed, there's an even better stunt where Bond chases a pilotless aircraft off a cliff on a motorcycle, then freefalls to catch up with the plane, jumps in, and pulls it out of its dive just as it's about to crash into a mountain. And it all ties in to the main story. Just perfect.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. GoldenEye
2. The Spy Who Loved Me
3. Moonraker
4. Thunderball
5. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
6. A View to a Kill
7. Goldfinger
8. The Man with the Golden Gun
9. The Living Daylights
10. Licence to Kill

Movie Series Continuity

Right after the credits, the movie reveals that the teaser sequence took place nine years earlier. That puts it between View to a Kill and The Living Daylights. Robbie Coltrane's Valentin Zukovsky character also suggests a rich history between him and Bond that we've never seen or heard of before. Which raises the question again about whether Brosnan is playing the same person as Moore and Dalton (and Connery and Lazenby before them). And again, there's no good theory that ties the series' continuity together.

I'm sort of working on one that involves brainwashing and false memories, but it's still a long way off. Mostly I haven't decided yet what benefit MI6 would see in such a scheme and why they would occasionally reinstate a Bond whom they'd used before and then moved away from. Or are there sometimes multiple Bonds? Was Brosnan's character operating simultaneously with Dalton's? Did they know about each other?

The Aston Martin DB5 makes a reappearance, driven by Bond in Monte Carlo as he's being evaluated by the world's worst psychologist. More on her later, but she's an intentional throwback to the kind of women who used to appear in Bond movies, while also introducing the idea of "female authority," as Bond puts it, and his reaction to it.

We see the new MI6 headquarters for the first time and it's the actual headquarters of the actual MI6, which had just opened the year before GoldenEye's release.

Bill Tanner makes his third appearance in a Bond movie, the other two being The Man with the Golden Gun and For Your Eyes Only. This is the first time that his friendship with Bond is especially emphasized though. In the novels, the two are best friends at the agency.

There's a new M of course. More on her later, but we learn that she has children.

And finally, we learn that Bond's parents were killed in a climbing accident. That's from the novels, but I think this is the first time the movies acknowledge it. Alec is also an orphan, leading us to wonder if that's an intentional similarity among the the Double-Os. Skyfall of course will explore this further, and it's looking like SPECTRE probably will, too.


snell said...

I suspect that Bond was there as part of security for NATO's debut of the stealth helicopter. It was a light, nothing duty--why else send an official psychologist there for evaluation?--so stumbling across Onatopp was not so much a coincidence as his doing his job. Nothing is the script confirms that, though...

Michael May said...

I love it. That helps a lot, actually.


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