Back to the Future Part III. Coming full circle.

WARNING!!: Spoilers ahead!!

With Back to the Future part II being a hit at the box office, even if it hadn’t managed to capture the people’s imagination as much as its predecessor had, or being universally praised by the critics, for that matter; the responsibility was on the filmmakers to finish off the trilogy in a way that it would win back the hearts of those fans the sequel had lost. Doing that proved to be easier than expected, as the final entry in the series went back to familiar territory and tropes, even if it took place in a totally new time period.

The journey concludes

The movie picks up where part II left off, with the DeLorean time machine being hit by a bolt of lightning, sending “Doc” accidentally back in time to the year 1885. Immediately after, a letter is delivered to Marty by a Postman who claims they’ve had the letter for 70 years with precise instructions to be delivered to him at this exact location and this exact time. In the letter, “Doc” explains that the bolt of lightning sent him back to 1885, that he’s been living there for a while, and that he’s happy. Marty runs back to find 1955’s “Doc”, moments after his older self has been sent back to 1985. “Doc” is shocked to find him there and passes out. Marty takes him to the house, and when ”Doc” wakes up, he gives him the letter where everything is explained; he tells Marty that he hid the DeLorean for Marty to find in an old mine, with instructions to his 1955 ”counterpart” on how to repair it, and once it’s done, for Marty to go back to 1985 and don’t go back for him. While unearthing the DeLorean from the mine, Marty discovers a tombstone with ”Doc,s” name on it. They discover that ”Doc” was shot in the back for an outlaw by the name of Bufford ”Mad Dog” Tannen. Marty decides to go back to 1885 and rescue Doc, but upon arriving he accidentally rips the car’s fuel line. He finds Doc, tells him about the tombstone, and also about the fuel line. Doc tells him that without any fuel to feed the combustion engine, the car won’t be able to reach 88mph to break the time barrier. Together they try to find a way to make the time vehicle reach 88mph, which presents itself in the form of a steam locomotive. With a solution at hand, now it’s only a matter of waiting for the next train to come to town. But as fate would have it, things won’t be as easy as that, as Doc has unexpectedly fallen in love with the new local school teacher, and Bufford Tannen is bent-on putting a bullet in ”Doc’s” back before the week is out….

A new family member

The whole of the cast were more than happy to continue playing the characters for the third movie, but now with a few added twists; Lea Thompson and Michael J. Fox himself played Maggie and Seamus McFly, the first McFlys to settle in America, fresh off the boat from Ireland. Both sporting a rather dodgy Irish accent, they have fun with the roles, with Fox once again demonstrating his wide acting range and excellent comedic timing playing more than one character in the same movie.

With the two previous movies having had Marty and his family as the main focus, it was time to give ”Doc” his dues. The filmmakers had, what I think was the rather nice idea of having ”Doc” Brown fall in love for the first time in his life, and with a like-minded spirit in the form of local school teacher Clara Clayton. For this role, the filmmakers only ever had one actress in mind; Mary Steenburgen. Gale has admitted on interviews that had she rejected the role, they would’ve been at a loss as who to cast. Luckily for them, she said yes; mainly because her children were great fans of the first movie, and begged her to accept the role. Her casting proved to be serendipitous as she and Lloyd had previously worked together, and had fantastic chemistry. Her and ”Doc’s” love story is one of the best and most touching things in the movie. Thomas F. Wilson has a blast as the dangerous, but buffoony Bufford Tannen. Of all the characters he played throughout the trilogy, this surely had to be the one he had the most fun with. His lines of dialogue, and especially his delivery are spot on, and hilariously funny. James Tolkan makes another appearance, this time as Sheriff Strickland, and this time with a long hairpiece. A few interesting cameos are sprinkled throughout the movie, like Director of Photography Dean Cundey, who fittingly plays the cameraman who takes the picture of ”Doc” and Marty standing right next to the newly constructed clock that will be placed on top of the yet to be finished Hill Valley courthouse. Other interesting cameos are those of Rock band ZZ Top, who were also among Zemeckis’s favourite bands, and play the song ”Doubleback” for the final credits. They play the parts of the local country band who, with their long hair and beards, didn’t need any additional makeup to fit right in. When they were asked to write a song for the movie, they immediately accepted as they were huge fans of Back to the Future. In fact, they had so much fun on set, they even mingled with the local bands and performed with them on stage in between takes. They also play a westernized variation of their title song that doesn’t sound half bad.

Getting back on the proverbial horse

With Principal Photography for part II already wrapped, the filmmakers didn’t have time to rest on their laurels, and immediately had to start working on the third and last film. A four-week break period for both cast and crew after wrapping on part II ensued, and then everybody would have to saddle up, get back on the horse, and ride the final home stretch. The analogy is more than appropriate given the location where the final part of their massive back to back shoot would take place; an old Western town on the outskirts of Sonora, California, which had been used over the years for multiple Western movies and TV shows. The crew took over the entire town, and stayed there for the duration of the shoot. It was a happy time for everybody, as they got to experience something that most of them had never experienced before, and the atmosphere was clearly more relaxed. Relaxed to everybody but the filmmakers.

The filmmakers still had to deliver part II in Theaters in time, while working on part III. That meant that Bob Gale had to stay in Burbank, California, with Arthur Schmidt and Harry Keramidas supervising the final cut and sound mix on part II, while Zemeckis was on set in Sonora shooting part III. It was a hectic and exhausting schedule that lasted for the better part of five weeks, with Zemeckis shooting from early in the morning to late in the evening, driving to the local airport, jumping on a jet, flying to Burbank, grabbing some dinner before going into the editing room, stay there until late at night, back to the hotel to catch a few hours of sleep, going back to the airport in the early hours of the day, and flying back to Sonora to repeat the process all over again. Because of this extremely busy schedule, Zemeckis has always lamented the fact that he just didn’t have enough time to sit down with part II in the editing room, and that’s why, still to this day, he considers BTTF part II one of his rougher movies from an editorial standpoint. Had he had the TV satellite connection technology that Peter Jackson would take full advantage of years later for his back to back shoot of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which allowed Jackson to supervise several shooting units all over New Zealand, while being able to supervise the editing and sound mixing process of the different movies being done in London, things might’ve turned out different for part II. As it stands, I think part II is a very solid movie in its own right, and it was a massive achievement what the Bobs managed to pull off given the tools they had at their disposal at the time, and further testament to the Bobs resilience and commitment to get the very best versions of their work out there. The Bobs had always been great admirers of the Western genre, so it was kind of inevitable that going back in time to the Old West would be a path they choose to go down to when dealing with time travel.

The filmmakers took full advantage of the landscape and vistas in and around the western town, even going as far as building a brand new Drive-in right in the middle of Monument Valley for the scene in which Marty travels back to the year 1885. This was, in fact the one time that Zemeckis lamented the fact not to have chosen to shoot in scope, as it would have greatly benefited the picture to show off the landscapes and vistas in as wide a format as possible. Zemeckis had at first chosen to shoot in 1.85.1, because the first movie didn’t really have any great vistas to speak of, to show off, so they decided to keep a low visual profile, also to save money. Alas, in the interest of keeping a consistent look throughout all three movies, he decided to stick with the 1.85.1 aspect ratio, or open matted as it is commonly known in the industry. They also used a running steam locomotive that was part of the local museum’s exhibit for the final action set piece of the movie in which Marty and ”Doc” hijack the steam locomotive to push the DeLorean, so it can reach 88mph and jump into the future. So it was that the local steam engine locomotive 131, with a little help from the Art department, became locomotive number 3. It was an extremely difficult and laborious sequence to shoot, with the use of multiple stunt doubles for the actors and lots of visual trickery to make it look like the train was steaming ahead, when in reality most of the shots were done in reverse with the DeLorean being pushed by a vehicle backwards when Michael J. Fox was inside the actual vehicle. All of this was done for insurance purposes, even if some of the actors like Christopher Lloyd were overly entuthiastic about doing some of their own stunts. He actually, along with Mary Steenburgen, proved to be one of the members from the cast to be the quickest to adapt to life in the Old West. He already was a good horse rider, but proved to be equally adept at shooting a rifle. His steampunk-like designed scope rifle, is one of the most detailed and eye-catching props of the entire movie. Steenburgen was already quite good at riding a horse by the time she came on set, as she’d frequently practiced it as a child, and was really comfortable around steam engines, as her father had worked as a train conductor for many years. She enjoyed all the challenges that the action set pieces provided, and like Christopher Lloyd, tried to do as many of her own stunts as she could. Thomas Wilson, on the other hand, hard though he tried, could never quite master horse riding. The actor had a very hard time at it, but through his enthusiasm and hard work, and especially his brilliant performance as Bufford Tannen, he sells the illusion. Michael J. Fox also practiced hard with his shooting and quickly learned how to handle a gun. The actor, in numerous interviews over the years, has often bemoaned the fact that he learned numerous skills for all these movies like riding a skateboard, playing the guitar, riding a horse and shooting, only to forget them all years later. Michael J. Fox’s time while working on these pictures, while enjoyable, was also a trying one. On the first movie, he’d had to keep a very busy shooting schedule while jumping back and forth between the TV series Family Ties, and whatever spare time he could spend on the Universal backlot to deliver the movie on time, but it also proved to be a life-changing period for him shooting the sequels as he’d got married, had a child, and his father had passed away, all in the midst of shooting. To achieve the effect in which the locomotive runs off the unfinished bridge, and crashes at the bottom of the ravine, they used a large model, built a set of rails and an unfinished miniature bridge for the radio controlled locomotive to ride over. The effect is so well done, you can’t really tell whether it’s a real train or not. That’s how far the ILM crew would go to make things look as real as they possibly could. A real feat in engeneering and craftsmanship. There was one last big trick the ILM guys had up their sleeve; the steam locomotive turned into a hoverconverted time machine. The Special Effects crew actually built the main body of the locomotive to life size, and with as much detail in the inside, but especially on the outside, as they could muster for close ups. For the long establishing shots of the locomotive/time machine taking flight, the Visual effects crew took over, creating a blend of old school techniques and state-of-the-art visual effects that match to perfection.

The Music

In addition to enlisting ZZ Top to write the song, Alan Silvestri came back to finish off the trilogy in grand fashion. He truly does cap off the series on a high note, with a Western score in the best tradition of Elmer Bernstein and Ennio Morricone. The homages are evident throughout, but he gives the music his own personal voice without being too referential. It’s his best score for the entire trilogy, and among his best ever composed scores overall.

The man behind the one-sheet

There are many things iconic about the Back to the Future trilogy, but chief among them is the magnificent poster artwork by Drew Struzan. Struzan was already a big name in the Industry by the time he was considered to design and draw the poster for the first Back to the Future movie. Many designs were tried, one more elaborate than the one before, but the filmmakers always kept going back to the idea that they wanted to keep the design as simple as possible. Struzan has never been exactly sure who to credit for coming up for the final design, it might have been Bob Gale, as he was the one who suggested to have an image of Marty McFly looking at his watch in disbelief, while coming out of the DeLorean, with a set trail of flames in the background. It was so simple, but it described the main concept behind the movie so well, the producers immediately took a liking to it. Due to the little time that Michael J. Fox had to spare while being on the set of the first movie, Struzan resorted to having to draw Fox using some photos the on-set photographer had taken of Fox posing. The low level of detail on the pictures was so bad that Struzan ended up modeling Fox’s character on the one-sheet after him. Things got considerably better for the sequels, with Struzan getting both Fox and Lloyd to pose for him while he drew them. Struzan thought it would be a neat idea to use the numerical motive of having as many people on the one-sheet, as to match the sequel’s number; so part II had both Marty and ”Doc”, while in part III, Steenburgen got to be part of the equation as she had a very important role in the story. For part III, Struzan himself went to the Sonora set, to have the actors pose for him for the poster, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that Michael J. Fox was a long-time admirer of his work. Unfortunately, Steenburgen wasn’t available to pose for him on the day, but agreed to do it later on, all by herself. To avoid having to draw the poster all over again, he simply cut out her part of the drawing and fitted her in the main one-sheet. Struzan would go on to do stellar work for George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and many other famous directors, but his work for the Back to the Future trilogy will always remain a watermark when it comes to movie-poster excellence.

Critical and Financial reception

As had been the case six months before, part III was eagerly awaited by fans all over the world. There were lines of people around the block at the cinemas, two days in advance to be the first fortunate ones to see the last chapter. The level of hype surrounding the whole affair was electric, and unlike on the previous movie, people were not disappointed. The movie was universally loved by both fans and critics, even those who had been so negative about part II. Strangely enough, and in spite of the level of anticipation, the movie made less money than part II, which in turn had already fallen short of making the same amount of money at the box office as the first movie. So, how good is part III, and more importantly, does it still hold up?

Personal thoughts

The movie is very enjoyable, and it’s a fitting closing chapter to the trilogy. Unfortunately for me, it fails to deliver the same level of excitement that part II did. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a very solid and entertaining movie in its own right, but it suffers from sequel fatigue. Or rather, a lack of fresh ideas brought to the table. It does sort of feel, in a way, as a retread of the first movie, but in the Old West instead of the 1950s. Now is Doc having to deal with problems of the heart this time around, just like Marty had on the first movie, they have to get creative and come up with a plan to go back to 1985, just like on the first movie, devising a plan to harness the energy from a bolt of lightning to travel through time, they now have to use a locomotive to get up to 88mph to achieve the same result, and just as in the first movie, their plan is fraught with mishaps. It does tend to get a bit repetitive, just like Return of the Jedi, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were kind of retreads of Star Wars, George Lucas (1977), and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg (1981). That doesn’t mean that, like those films, they’re not highly entertaining movies; because they are. Very much so. Just like part III is. The dynamic between the characters is great, the production values are top notch, and some of the dialogue and situations, even though they are constant reminders of the first movie, are cleverly turned around to try and make them feel fresh, while at the same time having a sense of familiarity to them. The scene in which Clara comes over to ”Doc’s” barn to visit him, and Marty and Doc hastily have to cover up the time machine, after they’ve been going over the plan of stealing the locomotive, and using it to push the DeLorean with a carefully constructed model, is the exact reverse of the same scene that takes place between Marty, ”Doc”, and Lorraine in the first movie. Only now the roles are switched around, and is Marty acting ackwardly around ”Doc”, while the couple is unable to keep their eyes off each other. All the actors are clearly having fun with their respective roles with Lea Thompson and Michael J. Fox doing hilariously funny turns as Marty’s Irish ancestors. The scene in which baby William, Marty’s great-grandfather pees on him is priceless, or Marty’s Moonwalking dance in the Saloon; these are the kind of comedic moments that keep the movie alive and all of these scenes having been cleverly set up on the previous movie. Mary Steenburgen is a welcome addition to the cast, given the character of Clara both a naivety and toughness that are endearing, but who really excells here is Thomas Wilson as Bufford Tannen, in his best, to me, role in the trilogy. And he had many. His turn as ”Mad Dog” Tannen manages to be both funny, but menacing at the same time. He steals the scenes he’s in.

What few action set pieces there are, are brilliant, but the locomotive hijack sequence at the end of the movie, and its heart-pounding rhythm, which climaxes on the locomotive crashing at the bottom of the ravine, is perfectly staged, shot and edited, just like the clock tower sequence on the first movie was.

Alan Silvestri delivers his best soundtrack for the entire trilogy, with ZZ Top’s track ”Doubleback” rounding things off nicely, even if their song doesn’t quite have the same impact as ”Power of Love”, and ”Back in time”did. The last scene in the movie with the now hoverconverted locomotive time machine flying towards camera is the perfect way to finish the trilogy, acting as a mirror to the first Back to the Future final scene, coming indeed full circle. So, as you can see, and in spite of a few nitpicks, the movie has plenty of things to enjoy, and will have you leaving with a big smile on your face. Overall as individual movies, the Back to the Future flicks are top-notch entertainment, but as a trilogy, they are the best examples on how to set up and execute the perfect movie trilogy, even if they were never intended to be that in the first place. If you’ve never seen Back to the Future, and it’s hard to believe you’ve escaped its mediatic influence all these years, you owe it to yourself to do it at least once in your life. My personal recommendation is that they are seen back to back, as you’ll get the most enjoyment out of them that way. They are perfectly scripted and shot to fit into one another, and you can’t possibly watch one, without wanting to watch the rest. I’m clearly being bias here, as the first movie happens to be my favourite movie of all time, and the trilogy as a whole, takes the top spot, nudging the original Star Wars trilogy off the top spot by the tiniest of margins. These are movies that I constantly revisit, at least twice a year, and sometimes even more. They’re that great. Can’t say enough good things about them. They have a very special place in my heart, and I can wholeheartedly recommend these any time of the week, or the day. So, sit back, enjoy, and let yourself be transported back in time with the most amazing time travel movies ever made.

Thanks for reading.

Back to the Future Part II. A clever sequel.

WARNING!!: Spoilers ahead!!

When Back to the Future proved to be a worldwide success, the powers that be at Universal wanted to push for a sequel. Even though Zemeckis and Gale were quite proud of the way the movie had turned out in the end, they weren’t that eager to jump back into Marry McFly’s world just yet. But, as things go in Hollywood, they were soon put between a rock and a hard place when they were told by Sheinberg that a sequel would happen regardless of whether they were involved in it or not. The Bobs were faced with a conundrum; do we pass on it, and risk having the sequel not live up to fans expectations? Or do we get involved, and try to make the best out of it? The question answered itself as they both realized that they didn’t want to have their characters and universe touched by someone else, and risk losing their hard-earned fanbase. All that remained to be seen was whether they could count their cast and crew in to come back to Hill Valley once again.

A rocky start

The filmmakers agreed to do the movie on the condition that all the cast members from the previous movie agreed to come back. They all immediately agreed to come back, minus one. Crispin Glover had been a bane to Zemeckis’s existence on the previous shoot because of his on-set antics and strange acting methods. Glover had to constantly be refrained from going over board with some of his crazy suggestions but did, in the end, deliver a memorable performance. One that was intrinsically linked with the movie’s success. The actor had always voiced his disatisfaction with the way he’d been treated during the shoot, and was going to play hardball this time around. Depending on what account you listen to, he was either asking for too much money to come back as George McFly, or according to Glover himself, he was offered less than his fellow cast members. The end result was the same; neither party could come to terms, and so negotiations fell through. The Bobs were now faced with the problem of having to write a sequel without counting on George McFly.

Inception

The Bobs had never seriously considered doing a follow-up to their movie, and the finale in which “Doc” Brown, Marty and Jennifer fly off into the future was always meant to be a joke. The Bobs have always stated that, had they known they were going to do a sequel, they would’ve never put Jennifer in the car with Doc and Marty, as they now were at a loss as to what to do with her. Anyhow, with Zemeckis busy shooting Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), it was entirely up to Gale to write a first draft of the script. In this early incarnation, “Doc” and Marty, after having come back from the future to an alternative 1985 in which Biff Tannen reigns supreme, and finding out about the Sports Almanac, they travel to 1967 instead of 1955, in which Lorraine is a flower child and George, now a Proffesor, is cleverly written out of the story as he’s said to be off giving a lecture in another state. When Zemeckis came back from London and read the script, he suggested to Gale the novel idea of re-visiting the first movie from a different perspective, as it was something that had never been done before, and was easily conceivable since they were using time travel. That’s how the story for the sequel was gestated. The movie picks up exactly where the previous one left off. Marty has returned to a new and improved 1985, in which his family is happier and he has the car of his dreams. Soon thereafter, “Doc” shows up in the time machine and tells Marty that they have to go “back to the future”, as something has to be done about his children. With Jennifer, who’d come to visit Marty, in tow, they shoot off into the future, to the year 2015. Here “Doc” explains to Marty that a robbery is gonna take place this very night in which his son is gonna be involved, and arrested afterwards. Marty has to go to an 80s themed Café, where he is to replace his son, who’s physically identical to him, and face off Griff Tannen’s gang, Biff Tannen’s grandson, and reject his proposal of taking part in the robbery. A subsequent scuffle involving hoverboards takes place, and as a consequence, the timeline is restored. Shortly after, Marty enters an antique store and buys a Sports Almanac that will tell him the results of all major sporting events from 1950 to the year 2000. “Doc” finds out about this, and after admonishing Marty on the misuse of time travel for financial gain, throws the Almanac away. In the meantime, Biff Tannen has overheard the entire conversation, takes the Almanac, steals the time machine while “Doc” and Marty are distracted picking up Jennifer, who’s mistakenly being confused by the police as the Jennifer of the future, and taken to Marty and Jennifer’s future residence in Hilldale, and goes back to the year 1955 to give the Almanac to his younger self. Unbeknownst to them, “Doc” and Marty travel back to 1985, only to find that the timeline has been seriously altered. Biff is the richest man on this alternative 1985, has married Lorraine, George has been killed, Marty’s siblings Linda and Dave haven fallen in hard times, and “Doc” has been institutionalized. Marty gets Biff to tell him about the Sports Almanac, and the exact date in which Biff gave it to his younger self, which just so happens to be November 12, 1955; the exact day in which Marty travels back to 1985. Now it’s up to both Marty and “Doc” to recover the Almanac without being spotted by either of their 1955 counterparts, thus further altering the timeline.

As confusing as it may seem at first glance, the script is fairly straightforward and cleverly uses all the tricks in the “time travel” book to create a compelling rollercoaster ride of a movie. Another problem that arose from this first draft was the length of it. After restoring the timeline, the DeLorean, with “Doc” in it, is hit by a bolt of lightning transporting him back to the Old West, in the year 1885, forcing Marty to once again, go back in time and rescue his friend. As soon as Sid Sheinberg read the script, he saw that there was enough material in this mammoth of a draft to make two sequels instead of just one. This was something that neither of the Bobs had had in mind when they were first approached about making a sequel, but decided to run with it, as both filmmakers were fans of the Western genre, and had always wanted to make one. With this new development, they also had to tell the cast and crew that they might be in for a bit more that they had signed for. The cast and crew, having had such a wonderful experience shooting the first movie, decided to go all in too, and so it was decided by all those concerned that it might be quicker and cheaper to shoot both movies back to back. Being something that is quite common practice nowadays with many sequels and sagas being shot back to back like The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 & 2 (2010-2011), and Pirates of the Caribbean: Death Man’s Chest, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2006-2007), to name just a few; it wasn’t done that often back in the day with Alexander and Ilya Salkind being pioneers in this practice with their epic two-part adaptation of Alexander Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (1973-1974), with a later aborted attempt to do the same with Superman: The Movie, and Superman II. The shoot proved to be a gruelling experience for the cast and crew due to the lengthier shooting schedule, but ultimately an enjoyable one, even if some of those involved wouldn’t necessarily agree to that statement.

Replacing Crispin

Having being unable to reach an agreement with Crispin Glover to reprise his role as George McFly, it was time for the filmmakers to get creative. In the new draft, they had written George McFly off the main body of the story as much as they could but, having chosen to go down the route of re-visiting the first movie in the film’s third act, they had to find an actor who had enough of a physical of resemblance, and who was good at copying Glover’s mannerisms. They found such actor in Jeffrey Weisman. Weisman was an up-and -coming actor who was making a name for himself as an imitator. The filmmakers thought they had struck gold with him, and inmediately hired him. Weisman was at first delighted to be working on the Back to the Future sequel, as he thought this move would further his acting career but, what everyone neglected to tell him was that he would be sparingly used at best, always in heavy makeup to obscure his features, as to make him look more like Glover, or shot out of focus to hide the fact that Glover wasn’t in the movie. The filmmakers wanted to be as faithful to the story’s continuity as possible, and wanted the main audience to feel that Glover was still in the movie. That meant no promotion tours for Weissman afterwards, and no spotlight on him as an actor. The actor inmediately felt the pressure of filling such big shoes as soon as he came on set. He didn’t feel particularly welcomed by any of the cast and crew, and was constantly reminded that he was there to act as a stand-in more than anything else. It also didn’t help that the actor had to be in facial prostethics most of the time, that gave his face a weird and deformed appearance. There was a funny incident in which the actor run into some of the cast members who were shooting Dick Tracy, Warren Beatty (1990), next door. They too were all in heavy facial prosthetics, but nevertheless kept on staring at Weissman, as if he were a member of their cast, but with even more extreme makeup on. For the Future scenes, in which the actor had to wear old age makeup and being hung upside down on a especially designed floating harness, on the excuse that old George had thrown his back, would end up causing the actor excruciating back pain as a result of being upside down for long periods of time. Most of the crew and cast think, and this was later confirmed by Bob Gale on subsequent interviews, that they felt Glover had being such a pain in the neck to deal with, that they decided to have his character upside down for those sequences as punishment. Lea Thompson never felt entirely comfortable with Weissman being there, as she’d got on famously with Glover on the previous movie, and admitted to having had a cold and distant attitude towards the actor. The controversy would not end there, however, as the crew had used molds of Glover’s face from his old-age makeup from the previous movie to use as a guideline for Weissman’s facial prosthetics. This, along with other rumors that the filmmakers were using some of the footage from the previous movie to intercut into the sequel, came to Glover’s attention, who decided to sue the Studio for using his likeness without his consent. He wound up winning the claim, and his win paved the way from preventing Studios from doing the same to other actors in the future. Glover was further helped by private confidences a disgruntled Weissman had made to the actor over the phone complaining about the cold treatment he’d received from most of the crew, and his agent’s inability to negotiate a better salary for him. These declarations would later come back to haunt Weissman, as he’d been expressly told not to get in contact with Glover under any circumstances, digging himself a deeper and bigger hole for his acting career in the future, as no Studio would want to hire him on account of his indiscretions. The overall experience ended up being a bittersweet one for the actor, but has since made his peace with it.

The Future

Of all the things Zemeckis had to deal with in the sequel, the one thing he disliked the most was designing the Hill Valley of the future. The filmmaker wasn’t very fond of movies taking place in the future, with a few exceptions, as he thought that no one could ever accurately predict how things were gonna look like. This time around, Zemeckis decided no to re-hire Lawrence G. Paul as Production Designer for two reasons. First he thought that Larry Paul, who had been instrumental in bringing about the design of the dark dystopia future of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), would feel tempted once again to repeat the same concept for Back to the Future part II, and Zemeckis and Gale had a vision for a user-friendly and brighter looking future; and second, even though they’d managed to work well together on the previous movie, they had had disagreements in the way Zemeckis wanted the product placement side of things when designing 1955 Hill Valley, to be handled. Zemeckis feared that they would come to heads once again for the sequel, as this movie, in particular the scenes taking place in the future, would have even heavier product placement than the previous movie from companies like Pepsi, Mattel, AT&T, and Black&Decker. Zemeckis decided to hire Rick Carter, with whom he’d previously worked on an episode of the Amazing Stories TV show. They had got on very well back then, and they had also coincided with Christopher Lloyd on that episode, so there was already an element of familiarity there. Rick Carter would stay on for Back to the Future part III, when the one sequel ended up being two. The idea was to get away from a vision of the future represented in films like Brazil, Terry Gilliam (1985), in which technology was cumbersome, constantly broke down, and didn’t seem to work properly most of the time, and the use of recognizable brands in the market was essential to bring that across. The filmmakers came up with a few nifty ideas for the future like the self-lacing shoes, self-drying clothing, hoverboards, and the most iconic of them all, and one that people are still waiting for to be realized; flying cars. While many of the filmmakers’s predictions for the Future have since come to pass like flat widescreen TVs, and thumb-printing technology, other more eagerly awaited ones like hoverboards, flying cars, and self-lacing shoes, are yet to become a reality. This last prediction, the self-lacing shoes, was the one invention producer Steven Spielberg apparently laments not becoming a reality. One prop especially designed for the scenes taking place in the future would end up causing no short amount of headaches to the crew; the Hoverboard.

On a TV special about the Making of Back to the Future and its sequel, Zemeckis jokingly said that the hoverboards they were using in the movie were real, but not yet available for purchase in your local toy store. To everyone’s surprise, it wasn’t long before parents started calling the Studio inquiring after the fabled hoverboards. Some people just can’t take a joke, I suppose.

Pushing technical boundaries

A variety of techniques were used throughout the movie, like motion controlled cameras, miniatures, wires, processed shots on stage, blue screen, models, and the grand daddy of them all; the Vista Glide motion controlled camera. This groundbreaking piece of technology was the brainchild of Visual Effects Supervisor Ken Ralston. Zemeckis and Ralston had already worked together on Who framed Roger Rabbit?, and were already pushing the boundaries of what could be achieved on camera back then, but this time around, they were taking it one step further. The idea of using this camera came about as a result of having the characters interact with past and future versions of themselves in all the different timelines the movie would visit. It was a painstakingly slow and difficult process, in which everything on the scene had to remain exactly the same with props glued or nailed down, so they wouldn’t move and with actors having to hit their marks precisely. A clear example of the use of this technology is the scene of the McFlys having dinner together in their future residence in Hilldale. We have Michael J. Fox playing three characters in the scene; Marty McFly Sr, Marty McFly Jr, and Marty’s daughter, Marlene. The original intent of that scene, as shown on the Bluray’s deleted scenes section, was to have it shown as one unbroken master shot, in which Fox interacts with each one of the different characters he plays. That would have called for Fox to play each segment of the scene, with stand-ins to take his place as the other characters, getting out of his old Marty makeup, dressing up as Marlene, and going back in until the scene was finished, in the meantime making sure that nothing on the set was moved or disturbed. The final result is seamless, and the technology makes the most out of it in scenes when the same actor playing two different characters has to interact with themselves. This proved to be the real novelty when it came to visual effects, as the crew had already nailed the best way to show time travel on-screen, having already tested all the necessary techniques on the previous movie. Still, as they’d done before, they used three DeLorean cars conveniently dressed and updated for the sequel; one which was the so-called ”Hero car”, which had the most detail in both the interior and exterior, and was generally used for close ups, another one, from which pieces could be removed from to allow for the placement of shooting equipment inside and outside, which was used generally for processed shots in the sound stage, and another one which was basically an empty shell, with nothing in it, and used generally for dangerous manouvres and stunts. As it now didn’t need plutonium to generate a nuclear reaction to travel through time, and in the spirit of a more user-friendly future, the time machine’s nuclear reactor has been conveniently switched for a new reactor dubbed Mr Fusion, which uses garbage as a means of generating nuclear energy. It also had undergone a hover conversion after ” Doc’s” journey to the future, which now allows it to fly everywhere, with all four wheels bending inwards. All these changes had to be implemented to the cars, in ones more so than in others. A fiber glass life size replica of the time vehicle was built to be used for those shots in which the DeLorean can be seen floating down to land. It was constructed with that material for it to be light enough so a crane could elevate it or lower it easily. For those establishing shots in which the car can be seen flying around at a distance, it was thought best to use models which were shot with motion controlled cameras.

Re-designing the Present, the Past, and the Future.

As it had previously been done on the first movie, the movie was shot in reverse order as the timelines appear in the movie, with the scenes taking place in 1955 being shot first, the Alternative 1985 being shot next, and finally the scenes that take place in the future. This wide array of different time periods really gave newly recruited British Costume Designer Johanna Johnston a run for her money. She was able to rescue most of the clothes and dresses that had been used for the 1955 scenes on the first Back to the Future movie, that had been kept in storage, minus a replica of the dress that Lea Thompson had worn for the Enchantment Under the Sea dance scene. Luckily for Johnston, Thompson still had the dress she had used in that scene at home. Both her and Carter really let their imaginations fly with the scenes taking place in the future, with Johnston coming up with some outrageous designs like especially designed footwear for which she partnered up with Nike and wearing two ties at the same time, which luckily hasn’t caught on, and Carter infusing the architecture of the buildings, the massive use of publicity through holographic displays, and signage, with a clear Japanese influence; as Carter thought at the time that Japan would have a huge influence in Western culture in the future. But where both Johnston and Carter really went to town was in the design of the Alternative 1985. Both were instructed by Zemeckis to go as much overboard as they could, and amp up the tacky element up to eleven. They defaced the 1985 set, adding as much grime, graffiti and dirty signage to it as they could. They even re-converted the courthouse building into a casino, with the top half of it extending far up into the sky via a matte painting, and lots of biker gangs riding all over the place. They also wanted to introduce the idea that Hill Valley High had been destroyed in a fire, which can be seen as an added scene with incomplete visual effects showing the derelict building in the bluray’s bonus features. They finally decided to do away with that particular scene, and the school burning down is mentioned by Strickland when Marty runs into him. The wardrobe choices for the actors in this particular time period were a mixture of Las Vegas style wear, and the worst of the 70s, with lots of jewelry, flare pants, hideous looking suits, and an outrageously large chest piece that Lea Thompson had to wear to give the impression she had larger breast implants. The makeup artists also went back to applying extra layers of facial prosthetics to make some of the actor’s look exceedingly old and unhealthy, as Lorraine as taken to drinking again in this time period. A bit over the top, if you ask me, and the only technical element throughout the whole trilogy that never really sat well with me. Old-age makeup back in those days wasn’t a fine-tuned craft to say the least. That minor complaint aside, the design team in the movie did an excellent job with all the time periods, with Carter lovingly recreating all the sets that Larry Paul had built for the first movie with all the street furniture, signage, and especially the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, all re-created to a tee.

Financial and Critical reception

The movie, even though it slightly fell off what the previous one had made at the box office, was still a financial success by Universal standards, in a year that was choked full of big blockbusters like Batman, Indiana Jones and the last Crusade and The Abyss. On the critical front though, the opinions were definitely more mixed, with critics divided between those who thought the idea of re-visiting the first movie from a different perspective was a novel one, and those who didn’t like the darker tone and apparently confusing plot. So what do I think about the first sequel to my most beloved movie of all time?

Personal thoughts

I think it’s quite simply brilliant. It doesn’t reach the heights that the first movie did, but it doesn’t really need to. I think that had the Bobs gone with Gale’s first idea of going back to the 60s, interesting change of pace though it may have been, they would’ve delivered a more run-of-the-mill sequel, like indeed the last entry in the series is. Going with this approach, on the other hand, gave the filmmakers the opportunity to offer the fans more or less the same, but with a different twist. It provided the filmmakers the opportunity, once again, to play with the ”time travel rule book” for all its worth, allowing for ample opportunities to set things up that would pay off later. These little nuggets of information are cleverly spread out throughout the movie, which makes the movie even more enjoyable on subsequent repeated viewings. It’s a very clever sequel. There’s no other way to put it. It takes every possible advantage of its plot, taking the audience on an exciting and emotional roller coaster ride. Some people complain about the darker turn the story takes halfway through, but all great middle chapters in a trilogy tend to do this and they, most often than not, take a beating by the critics. People had similar misgivings about The Empire Strikes Back, Irvin Kershner (1980), back in the day, labelling it as too dark, and also finishing on a downer; with the bad guys having essentially won. Overtime however, people started to realize what a great piece of moviemaking that film really was, and nowadays is widely considered the best Star Wars movie ever made, far surpassing everything that came before and after. I’m not saying that Back to the Future part II is in the same league, as the first movie’s achievements are clearly superior, but it is definitely one of the better second installments that I’ve ever seen on a cinematic saga. Zemeckis and Gale were put in an impossible situation by the Studio and came out rather unscathed for the most part. They did the best they could to try and honor the fandom, delivering at the same time a product that general audiences would like. Most people have come around, and have now a newfound respect for the movie. Is it perfect? Not really, but it’s a perfect sequel, and to me at least, it delivers on spades. There are a few minor quibbles I have with it, mostly of a technical nature. The old-age makeup, for instance, has never really worked for me; in any of the movies. It always looked too unnatural and over-the-top to me, and although the special and visual effects still hold up pretty well nowadays, some of the blue screen shots definitely needed more work. The scene inside the long tunnel in which Marty is trying to run away from Biff on the hoverboard after he’s recovered the Sports Almanac, comes to mine. But these are minor nitpicks that don’t really detract from the overall experience. Alan Silvestri does sort of a copy and paste this time around re-using most of the themes from the previous movie, but nevertheless, coming up with some very dark and interesting cues for the scenes taking place in Alternate 1985. He’d get his chance to really spread his creative wings for the next entry, which was going to take place in the Old West, which would give him a unique platform to be creative in a totally different time period, delivering what is to me, the best of the three soundtracks he composed for the trilogy. The movie’s got a funny and very well written script, and all the actors are on the top of their game, slipping back into the roles as if the cameras had kept on rolling right after the end of the first movie. There are some notable absences, like Claudia Welles, who was unable to reprise her role due to her family situation at the time, and Crispin Glover, whose absence is felt the most as his character was an integral part of the success of the first movie. But then again, had he agreed to come back, we could be looking at a totally different picture. Instead we have Elisabeth Sue replacing Welles, who does a fine job but it’s out of the picture for most of the running time, as the filmmakers, as mentioned before, didn’t really know what to do with her, and Jeffrey Weissman, who due to his perfunctory function in the story and very bad makeup was cleverly kept out of focus most of the time. A really tough break for him, I think. As for the rest of the cast, they are their usual terrific selves, but to me, who really becomes the standout performer in the movie is Thomas F. Wilson. Goofy old-age makeup aside, his different turns as Biff’s grandson Griff, mild-mannered Biff from 1985, old, hunched-over and bitter 2015 Biff, his 1955 younger counterpart, and especially the all-powerful, mean Biff from Alternate 1985, demonstrate an impressive dramatic range, topped off by his brilliant performance as Bufford “Mad Dog” Tannen in the next entry in the series. Other minor players from the previous movie make their appearance too, like James Tolkan as Principal Strickland, in a funny turn as a shotgun-totting nutcase in Alternative 1985. Regrettably, Wendy Jo Sperber was pregnant at the time, and could not appear on the film, but Marc McClure, who played her brother Dave McFly, did make an appearance on the film as a down-on-his-luck drunkard, whose brief scene of his encounter with Marty outside Biff’s casino, ended up on the cutting room floor. Gale justified the scene not being included as audiences would understandably want to know what had become of Marty’s sister Linda, and since Sperber couldn’t make it, it was better to eliminate that side plot altogether. Another complaint that people seemed to have at the time was the fact that the movie ended in sort of a downer, with “Doc” accidentally being transported to the year 1885 after having successfully recovered the Sports Almanac, and restoring the timeline. I’ve never really had an issue with that, much in the same way that I never had an issue with The Empire Strikes Back’s ending. It’s the middle chapter. It’s supposed to end in a cliffhanger to keep you hooked. Plus there’s a nice coda at the end, in which Marty goes back to find 1955s “Doc” right after the bolt of lightning has struck the DeLorean, and Marty has successfully been sent back to 1985. The title card “To be Continued”, makes it pretty clear that the story is not over yet, and that there are yet more adventures to come. To top it all off, there’s a teaser trailer for Back to the Future part III right after. Something that the filmmakers probably did to address any complaints that the people may have had about the story not having a satisfactory ending. I think it was a brilliant way of ending the movie, as it keeps you wanting to go back for more. I myself always watch these back to back, whenever I have the chance, so this three-story-arc structure makes it the perfect trilogy to watch in one seating. Can’t really say that about many trilogies, except perhaps for The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson (2001-2003), and the Star Wars Original trilogy (1977-1983). It’s a very fun film to watch, highly entertaining, the pace never lets up, and it’s a very clever way to continue the story. Highly recommended.

Thanks for reading.

Back to the Future. Lightning in a bottle.

WARNING!!: Spoilers ahead

Back to the Future, and to a lesser extent its two sequels, are a perfect example of what happens in the cinematic medium when all the creative stars align. Robert Zemeckis was an up-and-coming filmmaker who’d been taken under Steven Spielberg’s wing. Along with his friend, co-writer and producer Bob Gale, Zemeckis had written, produced and directed two movies for the big screen, and written another one for Spielberg. Even though Zemeckis proved time and again that he was a talented filmmaker, his two movies I Wanna Hold your Hand (1978), and Used Cars (1980), had flopped at the box office. The fact that the one movie he and Gale had written for Spielberg, 1941 (1979), had been Spielberg’s one financial failure, for a director who was usually a safe bet when it came to making money at the box office, didn’t help restore the Studios’ faith in Zemeckis’s ability to produce a money-maker, either. This is why when in the early 1980s Bob Gale came up with the concept for Back to the Future, they both had a hard time trying to sell the idea to the Studios. But, as fate would have it, things would turn around in ways neither Zemeckis nor Gale could’ve ever imagined.

Inception

One day on a visit to his parents home, Bob Gale found himself going through some old stuff in their garage, and came upon some very interesting information about his father. Apparently, in his high school years, Gale’s father had been elected president of his graduating class. This was something that Gale was completely unaware of, and prompted the question of whether Gale would have been friends with his own father, had they gone to High School together. This is how the idea of teenager Marty McFly going back in time, meeting his parents, and his mother accidentally falling in love with him, came about. Upon returning, Gale told Zemeckis about his idea and he loved it. They immediately started working on a first draft, and when they were done, they presented the idea to Spielberg, who also loved it and wanted to produce it. Zemeckis was concerned about his track record at the box office though, and didn’t want to embroil Spielberg in another one of his failed projects. Spielberg was quite understanding about it, and Zemeckis and Gale started doing the rounds through all the Studios, trying to sell the picture. Lots of doors got slammed on their faces, on the grounds that the script was too quaint and sweet, with Studios pushing for more outrageous and raunchy teenage comedies at the time like Porky’s (1981), until someone suggested to them they take the idea to Disney. Disney flat out rejected the concept for the opposite reason. They thought the idea of a teenager traveling back in time, and his future mother falling in love with him was too outrageous a concept for a Studio with family-friendly content in mind. Being unable to convince a Studio to back the script, Zemeckis decided to take Twentieth Century Fox’s offer to direct Romancing the Stone, with Michael Douglas’ backing as a producer and actor. The movie proved to be a huge success at the box office, and all of a sudden, every major Studio in Hollywood was interested in Back to the Future. It was then that Zemeckis and Gale, out of loyalty for Spielberg, went back to him and Universal Studios to produce the movie. Syd Sheinberg, the head of Universal at the time, was very interested in the movie, but didn’t like the title of the movie at all, on the grounds that it would be confusing to audiences as to what it meant. He even went as far as to suggest they change the title for Space Man from Pluto. Out of desperation, Gale and Zemeckis turned to Spielberg for help, who decided to send a note to Sheinberg, congratulating him on his wit, and that everybody had had a good laugh about it. Whether out of embarrassment, or pride, Sheinberg didn’t mention it ever again, the whole thing was forgotten, and the original title remained. With the movie finally given the go-ahead, everything was set to be smooth sailing, but one more obstacle remained that would put the movie in jeopardy.

The right man for the job

From the early stages of production, Zemeckis and Gale were dead set on getting Michael J. Fox for the role of Marty McFly. The actor, who had been increasingly gaining popularity as Alex Keaton in the popular TV show Family Ties, had the required comedic timing that the filmmakers were looking for, and that was precisely the rubb. The sitcom’s proverbial title proved to be rather significant in that due to Fox’s ever growing popularity, and that his role in the TV show had increased due to one of the main actresses being out of it because of maternity leave, Fox was contractually tied to the show for as long as the season would last; something that conflicted with Zemeckis’s shooting schedule. Zemeckis had been given the mandate by Universal to deliver the movie on a certain date, and pressed for time as the whole crew was, he decided to cast a wider net, and try to find an actor that would be a suitable replacement for Fox. All the while, Fox had his hands full, and was completely unaware that Zemeckis and Gale were interested in him for the role, as Gary David Goldberg, the writer and producer of the show, had hidden this fact from him. Spielberg and Zemeckis had approached Goldberg about their interest in Fox, and given him a copy of the script for him to read. As soon as Goldberg read the script, he knew that Fox would want to do it with his eyes closed, and Goldberg didn’t want to risk losing his star.

Many actors like John Cryer, Ben Stiller, C. Thomas Howell and Eric Stolz were screen tested for the role, but only Howell and Stolz ended up as runner ups. In the end, the role went to Eric Stolz, whom Sheinberg preferred due to his wider dramatic range, which he’d amply demonstrated on his starring role of Rocky, the adolescent who suffers from a congenitive facial deformity, in the yet-to-be-released, Peter Bogdanovich’s movie Mask (1985). Zemeckis wasn’t sure that Stolz was the right fit for the role, but given how pressed he was for time, and quite confident about his abilities as a filmmaker, he thought he could make it work. Sadly, that wasn’t to be the case.

Casting the ensemble

As for the rest of the cast, this proved to be less of a challenge. For the role of Marty’s parents, George and Lorraine McFly, the filmmakers chose actors Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson, for the role of Marty’s archnemesis Biff Tannen they went with actor Thomas F.Wilson, actors Marc McClure, who’d played the role of Jimmy Olsen in Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (1978), and Wendie Jo Sperber to play the roles of Marty’s siblings, Dave and Linda McFly respectively. The two actors had been frequent players in Zemeckis’s two previous movies, having landed roles in both I wanna Hold your Hand (1978), and Used Cars (1980). New York stage actor James Tolkan was sought out by the filmmakers to play the role of Marty’s School Principal Strickland, and the best and trickiest bit of casting went to Christopher Lloyd as Professor “Doc” Emmett Brown, friend of Marty’s and inventor of the Delorean time machine.

The main challenge that Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson and Thomas Wilson had to face was to play older versions of themselves in 1985, having to endure countless hours of prosthetic makeup, and altering their body language and their voices to appear older. Funnily enough, Lea Thompson ended up being more comfortable in the skin of forty-something Lorraine McFly, with all the makeup on, than playing her younger self. She’s said to have had a real hard time identifying with a teenager from the 50s, but through immersing herself in the time period by reading magazine from the era, and surrounding herself with props and memorabilia from the 50s, she managed to pull it off. Crispin Glover and Thomas Wilson didn’t have such problems, easily sliding into their respective roles for both time periods. Glover proved to be something of a headache for Zemeckis on set coming up with weird ideas and acting methods to achieve George Mcfly’s unique mannerisms. Zemeckis would have to tell the actor to dial down some of his efforts for risk of coming off as too wacky, and off-kilter. Despite the numerous on-set shaenanigans, Crispin delivered what is probably one of the most memorable performances in the entire series. But one of the clear standouts of the movie was Christopher Lloyd’s turn as wacky inventor “Doc” Emmett Brown. The actor had been sent the script, but being immersed as he was in his stage work, the actor didn’t even get to read it until weeks later at his agent’s insistence. Once he did, he found the story to be really interesting and the script very well written. He agreed to come to Los Angeles to screen test for the role, and both Zemeckis and Gale were blown away by his performance. The character had been brilliantly written by the Bobs, as both Zemeckis and Gale were affectionately known on the set, but it was really Lloyd who brought it to life, coming out with the lightning-fast way of talking, and the character’s wacky outlook, a mixture of composer Leopold Stokowski and Albert Einstein. The character fit Lloyd like a glove, as if he’d been indeed born to play him.

Other bit characters in the movie were played by Billy Zane, J.J Cohen and Casey Siemaszko who play Match, Skinhead and 3-D respectively, all three members of Biff Tannen’s gang. Harry Waters Jr was to play the role of Marvin Berry, lead singer of the fictional musical band The Starlighters, who play on The Enchantment Under The Sea school dance, and fictional cousin to famous musician Chuck Berry, resulting in one of the funniest gags of the entire movie. Claudia Wells as Marty’s love interest, Jennifer Parker, who had been considered from the very beginning by the Bobs, but had to bow out due to been unavailable at the time, as she’d been picked to star in a pilot for a new TV show. When eventually the pilot was dropped by the network, and the Bobs were forced to change the actress who was chosen to play the role of Jennifer Parker, due to the height difference between her and Michael J. Fox, who was going to replace Stolz after all, she was called back again. And that takes us to our next chapter.

Casting mayhem

The casting of Eric Stolz wound up being a bad decision in the long run, as five weeks into Principal Photography, Zemeckis realized after checking the dailies, that they weren’t getting that comedic touch they needed for the movie. A decision had to be made, and a hard one at that. Zemeckis consulted on Spielberg to get a second opinion before they went to Sheinberg’s office. Spielberg agreed that it was the right call to withdraw Stolz from the picture, and that he would back him up in front of Sheinberg. As Sheinberg had previously agreed that the role of Marty could be recast if things didn’t work out with Stolz, Spielberg went once again to visit Gary David Goldberg and try to work out a deal so Michael J. Fox could be in the movie. Goldberg accepted to pass the script on the Fox on the condition that if the actor accepted to play the part, the TV show Family Ties had to take precedence. Spielberg and Zemeckis accepted Goldberg’s conditions, and Golderberg called Fox into his office to talk. Fox was somewhat apprehensive going in as he imagined Goldberg had asked him to come in for a different reason. He was pleasantly surprised when Goldberg presented to him Gale and Zemeckis’s script, and explained to him the conditions under which he’d be taking on the job. Without giving it a second thought, Fox accepted the role right away. Fox was already aware of the Steven Spielberg produced movie when he stumbled upon some crew members scouting for locations is Pasadena where he was shooting Teen Wolf, Rod Daniel (1985), during a production break of Family Ties, and thought it would be cool to participate in a movie like that. With everything right in the universe again, Zemeckis and Gale were left with the difficult and ackward task of having to tell their current lead man that his services would no longer be required. To say that the news didn’t sit well with Stolz would be an understatement. He actually took it pretty hard. It also didn’t help that Zemeckis and Gale hadn’t been the only ones who’d noticed that something wasn’t quite clicking with Stolz. Lea Thompson, who was very good friends with the actor, and had in fact worked with him previously, has come forward ever since declaring that even though Stolz was a very gifted actor, his sensibilities for the role, and lack of comedic timing, didn’t match Zemeckis’s requirements for this movie in particular. Lloyd also struggled to connect with the actor as did most of the crew. The actor would refuse to come out of his trailer during his downtime, didn’t interact with the rest of the cast and crew and pretty much kept to himself. He also refused to be called by his actual name while on-set, which was kind of irritating to his fellow actors and the crew. Nevertheless the actor, as previously agreed, received his full salary.

Zemeckis and Gale had kept hidden the behind-the-scenes mayhem from the cast and crew as much as they could, but the time had come to make a public announcement, and so Zemeckis got his cast and crew together before the day’s work started, and gave the news of Soltz leaving and Fox coming in. Even though the cast and crew was pretty much aware that something was afoot with regards to Stolz, the changeover wasn’t all that seamless at first with Lea Thompson expressing concern that a sitcom actor with little previous experience on the big screen could pull it off. She was rapidly convinced of the opposite though, and has since apologized for looking down on a genre, the sitcom, after having worked on it years later, as being extremely hard.

Figuring out time travel

The Bobs knew they had a very good idea in their hands, but they also knew that it needed polishing. On one of their very first drafts, Gale and Zemeckis had envisioned their protagonist traveling back in time through the use of a time capsule that had to be transported to a nuclear test site in order to harness the energy resulting from a nuclear explosion for the time vehicle to go back in time. It was soon obvious to all those involved, especially the Studio, that this would be much too complicated, time-consuming, and expensive to achieve. Actually, the very first sequence of the movie, as written for Eric Stolz, involved Marty causing the sprinklers system in the whole building to go off, to escape detention and being able to attend his band audition for the school dance. The whole nuclear test site concept would be teased by having Marty and his fellow classmates watch a video about the dangers of nuclear power while serving detention. There was even an outrageous concept of sticking Marty into a fridge and through the power of a nuclear explosion, send him back in time. An idea that would not go to waste, and show up years later at the beginning of Steven Spielberg’s much derided fourth Indiana Jones installment, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Once Stolz was out of the picture, and since those scenes hadn’t been shot yet, the filmmakers were forced to come up with a whole new, and cheaper concept to send Marty back in time. They say that neccesity is the mother of creativity, and so that’s how the whole idea of making the time machine a moving vehicle came about. It was actually Zemeckis’s idea to make the time machine into a car, and what better car to meet the requirements of both filmmakers than a DeLorean. The ill-fated engineering brainchild of John DeLorean had been a financial blunder from day one. The poor manufacturing quality of the vehicle, plus a decrease in the sales of motorized vehicles in the last few years, had driven DeLorean to try and keep his floundering financial empire afloat by dubious means. Arrested for his involvement with drug trafficking, the motor tycoon would be later exonerated of all charges, but would never be able to make his unusual car model a success. The Bobs didn’t really care about any of this, and just thought that the car looked cool, with its futuristic design that resembled in many respects the design of the spaceships seen in comic books from the 50s. Cool it did look, but it would give the special effects crews who worked on it more than their fair amount of problems on-set, with it constantly breaking down, or not working properly, in addition to being an extremely uncomfortable car to work with and drive. But these little technical mishaps were still far off in the future, and the Bobs immediately hired the best concept artists to start working on the final design of the time vehicle. The first man to be hired by Production Designer Lawrence G. Paul was Ron Cobb. Larry Paul had ample experience designing futuristic vehicles, as he’d previously worked on Ridley Scott’s Sci-fi masterpiece, Blade Runner (1982). Cobb was a well known conceptual designer, best known for his work on Conan the Barbarian, John Millius (1982). Cobb came up with the first concept, with all the weird machine parts hapzardly cobbled together and hanging from the car’s main body. Would be later refined by the likes of Andrew Probert and Michael Scheffe, who further streamlined and polished the design, with Special Effects Supervisor Kevin Pike and his crew in charge of assembling the final design. Gale had a pretty concise idea of how he wanted time travel to be represented in the movie. He wanted it to be instantaneous, but also wanted the conceptual designers at ILM to come up with some flashy and visually interesting ways of showing it on-screen. That’s how Ken Ralston and Wes Takahashi from ILM came up with the idea of sparks and lighting coming out of the car as it traverses the space time-continuum. It was also Takahashi’s idea to make some of the elements on the body work glow. The resulting design; one of the most iconic vehicles in movie’s history. With the filmmakers locking on a design, the whole end sequence with Marty going back to 1985 using a nuclear test site was re-written into the now legendary clock tower sequence and the bolt of lightning that will send Marty back to his own time.

Pain is momentary, Glory is forever.

With this motto in mind is how Michael J. Fox got through one of the most gruelling shoots of his entire career. The actor knew that this was his one chance to make it big on the silver screen, and so he was commited to it one hundred percent from day one. His commitment at the time with Family Ties made it very tricky for the actor in terms of schedule, though. He was on the Family Ties set from the early hours of the morning till late afternoon, when someone from the Studio would pick him up, drive him to the Back to the Future set, he’d then shoot until 4 o’clock in the morning, be driven back to his house to get a few hours sleep, and be up at 8 o’clock the next morning to get back to the Family Ties set. All in all, the actor would grab four hours straight of sleep in between, an experience that would result in Fox declaring afterwards that he was so tired and confused at that time, that he thought he’d delivered a bad performance. On top of all that, Fox would have to go shoot during weekends at the Universal backlot, as it was the only time of the week where Zemeckis could get him the whole day to shoot daytime sequences. Fox wasn’t the only one to feel the rigors of an ever demanding shooting schedule. Having mostly wasted five weeks worth of shooting time with Eric Stolz, the crew was also asked to put in the extra work and reset and re-shoot most of the scenes that had been shot with Stolz. Marty’s recasting also had caused some unfortunate decisions to be made. As Claudia Wells had been unavailable at the time due to her TV commitments, the role had been given to actress Melora Hardin, who unfortunately never got to shoot a single scene. The actress was about the same size as Stolz, but a few inches taller than Fox. Many people on the crew thought that this would not look good on-screen to have the girlfriend of the leading man to be taller than him. It was taking to a vote, and it fell on Gale to inform the actress of their collective decision to recast the role. On the other hand, Welles series pilot fell through, and she was again available. Being roughly the same height as Fox it was a lucky coincidence that she was finally going to play the role she apparently was fated to play.

The role of Marty McFly also demanded that Fox display a set of skills that would also take extra time out of the actor’s schedule, like riding a skateboard, or playing the guitar. Coaches were brought in to teach Fox how to ride a skateboard and play the guitar. Fox would have to constantly practice both skills in what little spare time he had left, but proved to be up to the task on both fronts. Being as resourceful and eager to learn as he was, Fox quickly got quite good at using a skateboard, even though a double would be used for the most hairy stunts, and already knew his way around a guitar having played in bands when he was younger. Paul Hanson, his guitar instructor, was so impressed with Fox’s progress, that he declared that the actor could’ve made a good musician had he chosen to follow a different career path. Fox learned to finger-synch playing the guitar to a proficient level, and had also to learn to lip-synch to a dubbed recording of the song Johnny B. Goode by singer Mark Campbell. He also had to come up with a choreography on stage for when Marty plays the guitar on stage during the Enchantment under the Sea dance, and starts imitating the style of different artists from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Along with choreographer Brad Jeffries, they came up with a routine that was the result of much improvisation. The actor, in fact, was much into lip-adding to his dialogue due to his experience on TV. With Fox coming onboard for the movie, it also added to the performances of the rest of the cast who finally found in Fox that missing magical touch that was lacking with Stolz. With everyone in the cast gelling so well, things seems to be going smothly.

Coming up with the look

It was the Bobs original idea to shoot Back to the Future on location, and they had indeed already been scouting for a suitable location for the movie when it dawned on them that taking an existing location and having to change the whole outlook of a town, changing signage and facades of storefronts to accommodate a different time period, not to say anything about having to move heavy and costly shooting equipment hundreds of miles away, would be too cumbersome and expensive an endeavor for a movie with such a small budget. It was decided, in the interest of economizing as much as possible, and out of convinience, to use Universal’s back lot. The filmmakers decided to push the 1950s scenes forward in the schedule, as it would be then easier later on for the art directors to change the pristine looking 1955 fictional Californian town of Hill Valley into its derelict, modernized 1985 counterpart. Larry Paul did tons of research and was able to enlist the help of several companies which had been around from the 50s like Texaco, to provide him with vintage signage and props from that time period to give the fictional town a more realistic and lived-in look. That, along with the use of vintage cars, and the wardrobe provided by Costume Designer Deborah L. Scott, who was able to find the most exquisite designs from that time, gave the film such a picture-perfect look that many members of the audience who were born or had lived in that era, felt themselves being transported back to the 50s.

The Music

Music proved to be a very important part of what’s made Back to the Future such a memorable movie. In this day and age in which people seem to have found a new appreciation for the 80s, it’s iconography, and especially its music, it’s no surprise that the music from the film has resiliently stood the test of time. Zemeckis and Gale were massive fans of the group Huey Lewis and the News, and wanted the group the compose a couple songs for the movie, to not only better help market the movie and appeal to younger audiences, but to compose songs that would be thematically and emotionally linked to the movie’s plot. Lewis was somewhat hesitant to take on the job, as he thought he wouldn’t be the right fit to compose music for a movie. Once the Bobs pitched him the concept however, he was sufficiently intrigued to want to give it a try. Zemeckis even wanted to take it one step further, trying to convince Lewis to make a cameo on the movie. Ironically enough, Lewis plays the role of the juror who rejects Marty’s band during the Battle of the Band’s audition for being too loud!!. His choice of wardrobe and hairstyle was the complete opposite of Lewis’s public persona. The band ended up composing two songs for the movie; The Power of Love and Back in Time, which have been become part of the film’s music iconography, and one of the few examples of an artist or group composing songs for a movie that become instantly recognizable and immediately associated with the movie they’re attached too. There’s another one clear example in Queen and the songs they composed for the movie Highlander, Russell Mulcahy (1986) . One important element that helps bring to life Back to the Future’s story is Alan Silvestri’s score. Silvestri had previously worked with Zemeckis on Romancing the Stone, a score which, funnily enough, Spielberg didn’t like at all. Zemeckis knew he didn’t have a big budget to work with, or great vistas to show off on the big screen. By anyone’s standards, Back to the Future was a low key, quirky Sci-fi comedy. Not the kind of material that lends itself to great, epic, sweeping orchestral scores. Nonetheless, that’s exactly what Zemeckis wanted for his time travel romp, and his one mandate to Silvestri was to make it sound big. On that directive, Silvestri started working on the score, for which he brought in a large orchestra. Silvestri had already some temp music ready to cut the action scenes, and as fate would have it, Spielberg happen to walk into the Studio one day while Arthur Schmidt and Harry Keramidas were editing to Silvestri’s music, and said to Zemeckis that that’s the kind of composer Zemeckis needed for his picture. To Spielberg’s surprise, Zemeckis told him that that was Silvestri’s music that he’d composed especially for the film. Another element that was completely made up for the film was the fictional band The Starlighters and its vocalist, Marvin Berry played by Harry Waters Jr. The fictional cousin of Rock ‘n’ Roll icon Chuck Berry, is one of the highlights of the movie, and his unfortunate running into Biff’s gang causes Marty McFly to get on stage, and give 1950s teenagers a taste of Rock ‘n’ Roll, a few years ahead of its time. The actor was a trained singer who’d already been performing for a few years in musicals when he was cast in the role. Unlike Michael J. Fox, whom many people at the time thought was really singing, he does all his singing for real, proving his talent singing Earth Angel.

Racing against the clock

With Principal Photography already wrapped, and ILM still working on the intricate visual effects, an assembly cut of the movie had already been finalized. For the purposes of having a rough cut of the movie available as soon as possible, and to keep ahead of the schedule, trying to make up for the time lost with Stolz, the filmmakers decided to hire two editors to work on the movie; Arthur Schmidt and Harry Keramidas. There were two major action set pieces that required a great deal more attention than any other sequence in the movie. These were the sequence that takes place in the Twin Pine Mall parking lot in which the time machine is unveiled, and Marty travels back in time for the first time, and the second one is the clock tower sequence in which Marty attempts to go back to 1985 making use of a lightning bolt that’s gonna strike the clock tower at midnight. Schmidt worked on the first sequence, while Keramidas concentrated his efforts on the second one. The rest of the footage was divided between the two of them to be worked on at different times, while mainly trying to focus on the visual effects-heavy sequences. This assembly cut was the one that the Studio rolled out and decided to do a preview screening with in a Theater in San José, California. With unfinished visual effects, several trimms still surely to be made, and an audience totally unaware of what they were in for, the movie was screened, with several members of the crew in amongst the audience. The large chunks of exposition at the beginning of the movie, and the scene in which ”Doc” Brown’s dog, Einstein, disappears with the time vehicle, put the audience slightly off, but once Marty traveled back in time and the audience realized where it was that the filmmakers were going with this, they were having the time of their lives, and when the now flying time machine came hurtling towards the screen at the end of the picture, the audience erupted in applause. The filmmakers, but above all the producers, could see that the movie was going to be a smash hit. Zemeckis and Gale were still slightly cautious, as their two first movies, Used Cars and I wanna hold your Hand, had too had successful screen tests before failing miserably at the box office. The movie was supposed to come out in August, but seeing the potential to make a larger profit during the height of Summer, Sheinberg wanted to push for a fourth of July weekend release date. Zemeckis explained to Sheinberg that in order to accommodate such a rushed release date, they would have to hire more special effects people to get the movie out in time. Sheinberg agreed to this, and immediately started writing cheques. The already exhausted post-production crew ended up working seven days a week, but warts and all, managed to get the movie out.

Financial and Critical success.

As predicted by Sheinberg, the movie was a massive financial success, with its box office intake growing week by week, with every weekend proving to be more successful than the weekend before. The film was universally praised for its tight script, endearing characters, and very clever mix of comedy and science fiction. Unlike the rest of his fellow cast members, Michael J. Fox was unable to do any promotional tours for the movie, as he was shooting a made-for-TV Family Ties movie in London. It was actually Fox’s agent who called him up to inform a disbelieving Fox of the worldwide success Back to the Future was turning out to be. The movie grossed an estimated $388.8 million on a budget of $19 million. It was nominated for four Academy Awards for Best Screenplay, Best Sound, Best Screenplay, and Best Sound Editing, for which it won.

Personal thoughts

Back to the Future is a truly iconic film. A brilliant piece of screenwriting, the kind of screenwriting people in the business talk about when it comes to learning how to write a good, concise script. It’s also a masterpiece in editing and pacing. Everything that can be expected from top notch cinematic entertainment. It’s a movie that from the very beginning, without you knowing it, feeds you lots of information and sets lots of plot points up that will be paid off later on. The first sequence of the movie is a brilliant example of, a) setting up what the movie is gonna be about ( the ticking clocks), b) gives you information about the person who lives in this house we’re seeing, through paper clips on the wall, portraits of famous scientists, his working mechanical inventions, c) there’s one image that shows a small figure of a man hanging from a clock, which clearly foreshadows something that’s gonna happen later on in the movie, d) the TV news broadcast informs you about the stolen plutonium that’s gonna play a crucial role later on in the movie, and e) we know that the owner of the house has stolen the plutonium when the tracking shot ends on the case of plutonium hidden under the table, and we also know that this person has been away from some time when we see the way the dog foot has been accumulating for days on the food tray. And this is just one of several brilliant uses of visual storytelling that Zemeckis uses to deliver information to his audience. He also doesn’t take his audience for granted. He calls attention to certain elements in the scene, but not in an obvious way. It gives the right amount of information so that you can work out the details of the plot without giving it away. The acting is brilliant and spot on, and I’m so glad that Zemeckis stuck to his guns and kept on pushing for Fox to play Marty. When you see the movie there’s no one else who could have played the role as well as he does. He’s brilliant at reacting at things, and his comedic timing is spot on, afforded by his years of experience working on TV, where actors really have to think on their feet, and improvise a lot. He proved to be the perfect complement for Christopher Lloyd, who delivers what is probably his most recognizable role as the wacky scientist ”Doc” Emmet Brown, who really has to deliver, not just one, but two takes on the same character in two totally different time periods. He delivers in spades on both fronts, ensuring his place for posterity as one of the most universally recognized characters in movie history. It really is a pity that he didn’t get at least nominated for an Oscar for his performance on this movie. His scenes with Crispin Glover and Lêa Thompson are comedy gold. The three of them really bring the best out of each other. Especially brilliant is Crispin Glover. His on-set antics and strange acting methods might’ve driven Zemeckis over the hill, but he really does come through with the goods. It’s a pity things couldn’t be worked out for him to appear on the sequels. Thomas Wilson really does a superb job as the school bully Biff Tannen, and he’d get the chance to stretch his acting muscles for the sequels even more. As for the rest, Alan Silvestri is his usual energetic, imaginative self, the Production Design with the 50s setting, and the design of the iconic DMC-12 DeLorean time machine are things that are forever etched in the imagination of cinema goers. One of the few truly rare cases in which a group of talented artists manage to catch lightning in a bottle. Pure cinematic entertainment at its best.

Thanks for reading.

The Exorcist. The movie that shocked a generation.

The story of how a movie that almost never came to be, became one of the most iconic Horror movies of the 70s is a fascinating one in itself. The answer can be found in the fact that it was done at a time in which the Hollywood industry was changing drastically with a new focus on low-budgeted, small independent movies, with predominantly gritty plots and characters. A new wave of young filmmakers was coming up, re-shapping the industry in the process. It was a creative renaissance in Hollywood that brought new, daring and outrageous ideas to the table. It was in this new state of affairs that a young unemployed screenwriter named William Peter Blatty, mostly known for writing comedy for the likes of filmmakers like Blake Edwards, started working on a non-fiction account of a real life event that had taken place near the Washington area where Blatty used to live as a teenager, that wound up turning into a novel. But how he got there was a long, winding road.

Inception

The real life event on which Blatty based his text was an exorcism that had taken place in Maryland in 1949. Blatty got wind of it while studying at Georgetown University. The local press had published an article about a family living in Maryland, whose young son had undergone inexplicable behavioural changes that could not be medically explained. After months trying every possible solution, they sought out the help of the Catholic Church, who after visiting the boy, authorized an exorcism. Gruesome details about the case came filtering to the students at Georgetown University, and immediately peaked Blatty’s interest, not the least of them that, apparently, the two priests who had performed the exorcism were lodging at the University at the time. Blatty stored this information away to be used in the future.

Years later, and having worked in Hollywood for a while, Blatty found himself currently unemployed. Out of boredom, and in an attempt to try his hand at published writing, he went back to his teenage years, and started research on the Maryland exorcism. He read every book available on the subject, and even sought out the Jesuit priest who had performed the ritual. Bound by a vow a secrecy though, the priest could not reveal the names of those involved, but agreed to talk Blatty through the ritual. Being unable to verify any of his findings, Blatty decided to change the names of the characters, and transformed his non-fiction account into a work of fiction, found a publisher, and published his book to great acclaim. But he didn’t want to just stop there. Confident that Hollywood might show an interest on his work being adapted to the big screen, he started working on the first draft of a screenplay. It was this first draft that he shopped around to the big studios, in the hope that it would get picked up by a daring one. Unfortunately, the idea was rejected by almost all the studios he visited, who found the material too gruesome and shocking to be seen on the big screen. The story of young and innocent Regan McNeill who gets possessed by an evil spirit, and the uphill battle that her soon-to-be-divorced mother, and actress Chris McNeill, with the help of two Jesuit priests must face to expell the demon out of her daughter, after all medical explanations for her shocking mental and physical transformation have been ruled out, wasn’t anyone’s idea of a feel-good movie that would clean up at the box office. Enter William Friedkin and Warner Bros.

A documentarian’s look

From the outset Blatty was determined to get a filmmaker who could give his work the feel of a real life documentary. He’d set his sights on one filmmaker in particular who fit the bill; William Friedkin. Friedkin was a filmmaker who’d started his career as a documentary filmmaker, and his grounded and gritty looking approach was just what Blatty needed for the movie. Friedkin was at the time in the middle of his promotional tour for The French Connection (1971), which would end up winning 5 Academy Awards that year, chief among them, one for Best Picture and another for Best Director. It was actually the clout that Friedkin got after this success, that allowed him to take on The Exorcist, and convince Warner Bros to finance it. Blatty sent Friedkin a copy of his novel, and of his screenplay. When Friedkin finally got a chance to sit down to read it, he loved it. He wanted to get involved with it right away, but wasn’t so enamoured with Blatty’s approach of it on screenplay form. In an attempt to try and cram in as much of the narrative of the novel as possible, without being untrue to the source material, Blatty tried to condense the first third of the book using every conceivable camera and editing trick in the book, resulting in a technical script that was in Friedkin’s words, and I quote; “too flashy”, which was the opposite of what this kind of story called for. Friedkin re-read the novel, highlighting passages of it he thought could be adapted for the screen. It was on these terms that Blatty started re-writing the script.

Casting

Having convinced Warner Bros to finance the film, it was hard for Friedkin to convince them that he didn’t really want any big stars for the movie. The Studio came up with a few names, and Friedkin was obliged to follow up on their suggestions. Audrey Hepburn, Jane Fonda and Anne Bancroft were the three leading ladies that the Studio wanted to have screen tested for the role. Fonda flat out rejected the role, and Hepburn, who was living in Italy at the time, accepted on the condition that the movie be shot in Rome. Seeing the impracticality in that, Friedkin discarded the idea. Another actress however came to Friedkin, who’d read the script, and was very interested in the role; Ellen Burstyn. Burstyn heavily lobbied to get the role, as she explained to Friedkin that she loved the script and the role of the mother in it. Friedkin screen tested her with Linda Blair, the fourteen-year old young actress who landed the role of Regan, and was convinced.

Linda Blair was a curious case in that she was part of an agency that, when the casting process had started, hadn’t been considered for the role. It was in fact her mother who took her to the casting session without really knowing what the movie was going to be about. It was quite shocking for the very young and innocent Blair when she was given a very blasphemous line of dialogue to read, and was at a loss afterwards as to how she was going to explain to her mother what it was that the role implied. Not too concerned, as it turned out, as she was given the role shortly afterwards after having tested a few scenes with Ellen Burstyn. The two actresses seemed to hit it off right away, and it was on this very emotional mother-daughter-like connection that Friedkin successfully built the movie around. As for the two actors who were to portray the roles of the two Jesuit priests who’d end up performing the exorcism, it was clear for Friedkin from the beginning that he wanted Swedish actor Max von Sydow for the role of Father Lankaster Merrin. His election was based on the fact that the actor had regularly played roles for Ingmar Bergman which were, in Friedkin’s words, “mature beyond his young age”. Sydow would also have to be aged accordingly by the makeup artists to fit the age of his character in the book. The role of the second priest, Father Damien Karras, was something more of a head-scratcher. Friedkin was adamant about having an unknown actor play the role, so that the stardom quality of the actor who was to portray him would not ultimately eclipse the emotional depth of such a conflicted character. It was this unique quality to Father Karras’s character that had Friedkin think outside the box, and look for a suitable actor in the most unlikely of places. This is how he came to Jason Miller, a stage actor and playwright, who’d recently achieved great success with his play That Championship season. Friedkin went to see the play, and was impressed by the aura of failed human faith the play had to it, and very much wanted to meet the author. After a first meeting that didn’t go too well, Friedkin went back to the Studio’s idea of hiring a known actor for the role, with Paul Newman seriously being considered at one time. It was only after Miller had read the novel that he started to understand Friedkin’s choice. Having expressed his doubts to Friedkin at first, Miller was now utterly convinced that he was the absolute best choice for the role and got in contact with the director again. Friedkin agreed to test him for the role, and saw that in spite of the actor’s limited on-screen experience, the camera, in Friedkin’s own words; “loved him”. Another important piece of casting was that of actor Lee J. Cobb, who would interpret one of the most significant characters in the movie; Lt. Kinderman. The character was so successful that even actor Peter Falk would take inspiration from him to model his Lt. Colombo from the famous TV show, after him.

Friedkin and Blatty also sought out the advise of real Jesuit priests to ground the movie even more in reality such as Reverend Thomas Bermingham, and Father William O’Malley, who plays Father Karras’s best friend, Father Dyer.

All the tricks in the bag

Although most of the movie was shot on location in Georgetown in Washington DC, most of the interiors were shot on a sound stage in New York in which the interior of the McNeill’s residence was recreated, as the filmmakers found the rooms of the house they had rented in Georgetown to double up for the house, were too small. They would also have to build a completely fake third floor facade with a window, which was supposed to be Regan’s bedroom window, facing the now famous steep flight of steps opposite the street as described in the book. These steps would later be known as the ”Hitchcock steps”. Over the years, and after the massive success of the movie, these steps and the house next to it, have become a very popular tourist attraction.

To recreate the gruesome and heart-stopping special effects seen in the movie, the filmmakers used every trick in the book. With the help of makeup artist Dick Smith, in charge of Regan’s striking transformation and of aging Max von Sydow, and practical effects wizard Marcel Vercoutere, with un-credited help by Rick Baker, the filmmakers pulled all the stops, from rigging the bed to shake and move up and down, furniture to slide and crash against the walls, and occasionally actors, to build another bedroom set on hydraulic levers to be tilted sideways, and even go as far as using huge air conditioner units to refrigerate the set overnight, with the actors shooting scenes for only short intervals before having to leave the freezing set. Smith did lots of makeup tests to find the right balance between supernatural and physical depravity. Early makeup tests were deemed too over-the-top by Friedkin, who still wanted the movie to retain a somehow grounded sense of reality without going too far into the supernatural realm. He argued that the facial scars that Regan would gradually exhibit throughout the movie should be seen as self inflicted more than due to supernatural causes. There was also the matter of how much Friedkin could get away with by having a young actress perform extremely demanding physical scenes for hours on end. Union regulations wouldn’t allow for it, so it was decided that a double would step in for scenes that Blair couldn’t shoot on account of her age, or the time necessary to perform them. The filmmakers also tried all kinds of tricks to alter Blair’s voice electronically, which ultimately convinced Friedkin that the right way to go about it was to find someone who had a distinct voice to dubb her. This is how they found Mercedes McCambridge, a talented stage, radio and screen performer, who lent her unique voice-over talents as a possesed Regan.

The shoot wasn’t without its fair share of weird occurrences on set, and deaths among the crew members, that only added to the dark legend behind the movie. Several members of the crew or people related to them, died in strange circumstances, and one weekend when the cast and crew were away, the set burned down for no apparent reason. The fire department who investigated the incident couldn’t find any electrical problem, or outside element which could’ve started the fire.

After the main unit had finished filming in Georgetown, they had to move to Northern Irak to film the movie’s prologue, which presented one major problem.

Diplomatic relations between the US and the Middle East weren’t great even back then, so the producers had to come up with a solution that would allow Friedkin to travel to Irak to finish filming. It was decided that since the UK had good relations with the Iraqui government at the time, the producers would hire a British crew to go there with Friedkin. Once there they found the perfect spot to shoot in an archeological dig on the outskirts of Mosul. Shooting conditions weren’t comfortable though, due to extremely high temperatures that would allow them to only shoot for a short period of time in the first hours of the morning before the sun came up, the crew would then retire to their tents to seek shelter from the blazing sun, and come back out in late afternoon to shoot the rest. Being unable to shoot for long periods of time meant that the shooting schedule extended for three weeks, exacerbated by the fact that the figure of the Pazuzu demon that had been built by the Art department on the US weeks back and shipped to Irak, had somehow got lost in transit, which meant a longer stay in the country.

Music

At first Warner had hired the famous film composer Lalo Schiffrin to compose the music for the film, but after just one recording session, Friedkin threw the recorded tapes out the window in a fit of rage, considering Schiffrin’s score over-dramatic, and started looking out for incidental pieces of music that could better represent the mood and tone of the movie. It was then when someone recommended to him Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield. After listening to it, he fell in love with the music and started working on getting the rights. With additional classical compositions and incidental music by Jack Nitszche, Friedkin had stumbled upon the perfect soundtrack for his film.

Critical and financial reception

Against all odds, the movie was a massive box office and critical success, with queues of spectators outside theaters going around the corner for hours on end, to get tickets to the next show, which forced theater owners to extend the number of screenings per day to accommodate the massive amount of people who wanted to see the movie. It was an event the likes of which wouldn’t be seen again until the arrival of Star Wars a few years later. The shock factor also played an important role in how the movie performed with people leaving showings mid-screening in disgust and utter horror. The producers played on this shock factor for all its worth as part of the movie’s marketing campaign, by even placing ambulances outside the cinemas. The movie was warmly received by most critics, with film critics like Roger Ebert giving it top marks.

In 2000 the movie was subject to a worlwide re-release in theaters tauting a “Director’s cut” with never-before-seen footage and digitally remastered image and sound. So, how does this “Director’s cut” fare?

Theatrical cut vs Director’s cut

First of all, the so-called “Director’s cut” is not actually Friedkin’s preferred version of the movie, but rather a compromise he made for William Peter Blatty, who was never entirely satisfied with Friedkin’s Theatrical cut.

The first cut of the movie run at 140 min, and was the version of the movie that Blatty liked best, as he thought it most faithfully represented his ideas from the book, and what he wanted the audience to take away from it. In spite of that, it was very clear to Friedkin from the very beginning that the movie needed further trimming to make it flow better, streamline some of the side plots, and eliminate all scenes and lines of dialogue which were in his opinion redundant, as Friedkin entirely trusted his audience to understand the meaning of the movie without unnecessary exposition, or added scenes that only served to pad out the running time. Since Warner wanted to re-release the movie in theaters, Friedkin saw this as the perfect opportunity to make peace with Blatty, and try and re-insert as much of the discarded scenes as possible. Unfortunately, due to the poor conditions in which some of the footage had been kept, the editors could only recoup about ten minutes worth of lost footage that was actually usable. The new cut of the movie run up now to about 132 min against the 122 min of the Theatrical cut. So this was a somewhat-in-the-middle compromise in the part of Friedkin towards Blatty, and the perfect excuse to present the classic to a whole new generation. So, what do I think of this new cut?

I think the Theatrical cut is the better cut, hands down. The movie opens up with two new shots of both the outside of the McNeill’s house, where most of the action in the movie is gonna take place, and fades on to an image of the Virgin Mary statue in the local Church that, according to Friedkin on his Audio Commentary for the film, signifies the two places in the story which are gonna be assaulted by the demon. That sort of makes sense with what’s coming later. So does the scene in which Chris takes Regan to the doctor for the first time to undergo physical tests, in which we witness the first signs of Regan developing a strange behaviour. This missing scene from the original cut better explains the scene in which, after the incident with Regan in the party, after giving her a bath and putting her back to bed, Regan asks her mother what’s wrong with her, to which Chris answers her to just do what the doctor said, and take her pills. It made sense to put that scene back in, as it correlates with what happens on this latter scene. As for the rest, which would be the now famous scene of Regan crawling backwards down the stairs on all fours, crab-like, the small exchange between Father Karras and Father Merrin on the stairs after their first showdown with the possessed Regan, about the meaning and sense of it all, and especially the cheesy exchange between Father Dyer and Lt. Kinderman at the very end of the movie, don’t really move the story along in any way, shape or form, and I can see why Friedkin wanted to cut them out of the movie in the first place. The first scene plays on the shock factor, the second one only expresses out-loud something that was already implicit in the story, and the third one is a useless coda that’s supposed to leave the audience in good spirits after all the horror and carnage they’ve been subjected to for over two hours. Funnily enough, this last scene was the one that Blatty was more sorry to see cut out of the original version of the movie. A scene that’s played out exactly like in the book, but confirms the theory that, what works on paper, doesn’t necessarily translate well into images.

So, while the added scenes don’t detract too much from the sheer intensity of an already powerful movie to begin with, they don’t bring anything really new to the table; except perhaps for the aforementioned scene of the first medical tests.

Book vs Movie

The story is equally satisfying in both mediums, with the book, as usuallly is the case, having a slight edge on the film. That being said, Blatty does a magnificent job of condensing the main themes and plot points found in the novel, disregarding those side plots that, interesting though they may be in the book, get in the way of telling an organically fluid story and don’t really do anything to advance the plot. Subplots like the one involving the sacrileges at the local church, Karl’s personal story, or a more leisurely approach to the way Lt Kinderman investigates Dennings’s murder, are streamlined, or altogether eliminated to improve the pacing. Both the movie and the book can be enjoyed as perfect companion pieces to one another, with the book delving more deeply into some side characters, and paying more attention to some subplots.

Personal thoughts

The Exorcist is an emotionally exhausting, disturbing, and highly powerful example of the horror genre being given the care and nuance movies of this genre are rarely afforded. It delves into such profound themes as the loss of faith, guilt, regret, evil, but with an underlying theme of the power of faith and the human spirit against the forces of evil in both body and spirit. It’s magnificently written, directed and acted, with a very gritty and realistic look only movies from the 70s were capable of. The characters are fallible, riddled by guilt, and on the brink of giving up. Everything from the choice of locations, the music, and the way is shot, with no fancy camera flourishes, right in your face, and straightforward, makes this movie, along with The Omen (1976) Richard Donner, one of the best examples of a horror movie being taken seriously. It is a slow burner, it’s true, but that makes it more effective in that when we come to the final act of the movie, the tension and suspense has been ramped up to such a level, it makes the ending, and thus the end of the journey, all the more impactful. It’s not gonna be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you can get over the blasphemy and the graphic and emotional violence of it all, it is a journey worth taking.

Thanks for reading.

Licence to Kill. Out for Revenge.

After the success at the box office of The Living Daylights, the producers had the ambition to take the character to an even more exotic location where the character, up until that moment had never been before; China.

As it happened, the location proved to be too much of a risk at the time, and there were also other economic concerns that forced the filmmakers to take more of a low profile approach. The budget for the last movies had been steadily increasing for the last few titles, and in a move to try and keep costs down, it was decided that the crew would move to a place where costs could be kept to a minimum, while trying at the same time to maintain the same level of high production values the series was known for. The place of choice was Mexico City, and their famous Estudios Churubusco. It would also allow the filmmakers to film the bulk of the movie between the US, more specifically Florida, and then take a short trip across the border to shoot the rest of the movie in Mexico. Not only was Mexico a country that had never been visited by the production crew; the opening scene in Goldfinger had been filmed in Pinewood, but it also afforded the writers to tackle an issue that was on the headlines of every major newspaper around the globe; drug trafficking in Latinoamerica. It was also a daring move in that it would send Bond’s character on a personal vendetta, foregoing his usual emotional detachment and professionalism. The end result being one move ahead of its time.

Inception

When the idea of setting the new Bond film in China came to naught, the writers turned to the headlines for inspiration. The fight against drug trafficking, Latinoamerican drug lords, and corrupt oficials was the bread and butter of the main news agencies back then, and a very relevant, hot topic. Writers Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson immediately started working on a story that would pit James Bond, not against a rogue Russian criminal organization, or a madman bent on world domination, but against a Colombian drug lord by the name of Franz Sanchez, who after being captured by Bond’s friend and CIA collaborator Felix Leiter, on the day of his wedding, escapes police custody, and exacts revenge on Leiter, leaving the American agent on the brink of death and seriously mutilated, and killing his newly wed wife. Against official orders by the British goverment, Bond goes after Sanchez, having his licence to kill revoked in the process. In true Yojimbo fashion, Bond infiltrates Sanchez’s criminal organization, and starts sowing the seeds of doubt in the drug lord’s mind, and pitting him against the rest of his organization with the help of CIA pilot Pam Bouvier, and Sanchez’s girlfriend Lupe Lamora.

As you can see, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill, gadget-filled, Bond escapade; choosing to go down a totally different and darker path. Bond’s motivations in this occasion are revenge, pure and simple. In a way the writers and Timothy Dalton are doing here what Daniel Craig would be so lauded for years later in Casino Royale. Dalton and the writers had already made headway into turning Bond into a harder edged, more cold blooded character on the previous movie. Here they touch on his emotional side, giving us a more nuanced and deeper delve into his psyche. Emotionally unrestrained this time around, and pretty much left to his own devices, the character is hurt, feels and bleeds like never before. His outlook after his final confrontation with Sanchez, the ripped clothes and bloodied face, is not the guise in which we usually find the famous British spy, who normally seems unfazed by the dangerous circumstances surrounding his profession.

Unfortunately, one thing happened that put one more obstacle in the way of the production’s schedule. Right about the same time production on the movie started, a strike broke out on the Writers Guild Association that prevented Richard Maibaum from finishing writing the script with Wilson. With the production already on its way, and an ever encroaching release date on the horizon, Wilson was forced to finish writing the script on his own, and do further re-writes as the movie went underway.

Casting

For the part of the villain Barbara Broccoli came up with a very interesting choice; American actor Robert Davi. Davi researched the role thoroughly, trying to find out as much as he could about drug lords, the way they behaved, and lived. He got into the role so much that he even stayed in character whenever he’d go out with the rest of the cast, playing the part so well that the owners of restaurants and other public establishments really did take him for a real drug lord. Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro was cast as his henchman Dario. The actor was relatively unknown back then, but equally excited to be part of a Bond film. He became good friends with Davi, and they would hang out a lot off-set. He took the role so seriously that he even slashed one of Dalton’s fingers during a crucial scene. American stage, cinema and TV actor Anthony Zerbe took on the role of Milton Krest, the man in charge of smuggling Sanchez’s drugs by sea. Krest was a character from a short Bond story titled The Hildebrand rarity. In fact, Wilson and Maibaum took many elements not only from this short story, but from a crucial moment that takes place in Bond’s second literary outing; Live and Let Die. The passage depicts the maiming of Felix Leiter by the piece’s villain by hoisting him over a trap door, which when opened reveals itself to be connected to a shark tank. The sharks in the tank eat up Leiter’s left leg and arm, leaving him permanently mutilated. Other element taken from the short story The Hildebrandt rarity was the use of a whip made out of a sting ray tail, which in this case Sanchez uses to punish Lupe with when she runs away. For the Bond girls the producers recruited the talents of two American ex-models, namely Carey Lovell in the part of CIA pilot Pam Bouvier, and Talisa Soto as Sanchez’s girlfriend Lupe Lamora. Famous Las Vegas performer Wayne Newton steps in for the part of Professor Butcher, and the son of a known actor in the series, Pedro Armendáriz; Pedro Armendáriz Jr plays the part of corrupt President elect Hector Lopez. Pedro Armendáriz Jr’s father played the part of Bond’s contact and head of the Secret Service in Istambul Kerim Bey on From Russia with Love (1963). Armendáriz sadly was diagnosed with Cancer and committed suicide shortly after From Russia with Love’s shoot had been completed. The rest of the cast came back with Robert Brown as M, Caroline Bliss as Ms Moneypenny, and Desmond Llewellyn as Q, who fondly remembered this movie as the one he got to spend the most time on location. One other crucial piece of casting was that of David Hedison as Felix Leiter, reprising the role he’d already played on Live and Let Die (1973), being one of the few actors to act on more than one Bond movie, and play the role of Felix Leiter twice.

Keeping a low profile

Production Designer Peter Lamont was unsure at first about the feasibility and cost saving nature of moving an entire UK based filming crew to a country famous for its high crime rate, difficult filming conditions, and appalling air pollution levels. He was ultimately convinced by producer Cubby Broccoli that this was the right move, and the whole crew moved there to start scouting for locations. The air pollution levels would prove to be the biggest cause for concern for two senior members of the crew that ended up having serious health repercussions. Cubby Broccoli found the conditions unbearable, and had to return home and give up supervising the shoot as he’d always done since Dr No (1962). It also proved to be near fatal to Peter Lamont as he had to be rushed to a private hospital for a check up, and was diagnosed with a very serious heart condition. Fortunately, after a short period under treatment, Lamont was able to resume filming.

As soon as the crew got to the Churubusco Studios they saw the bad state of disrepair and maintenance the sound stages were in. It would take a large crew, and many working hours to get them back into some sort of workable shape. Fortunately for the British crew, the Mexican crew proved to be more than up to the task, and quickly got things up and running. There was also the problem of supplying building materials for the sets, which the crew had to be always careful enough not be overcharged for. For this they had to rely on Mexican crew members who could speak English and act as a go-between between the English crew and the suppliers.

Fortunately, with very little money, the help of a hard-working local construction crew, and the use of some stunning locations provided by both friends of the producers, as was the case with Villa Arabesque, the di Portanova state in Acapulco, which serves as Sanchez’s house, and Mexico City itself. The di Portanovas were good friends of the Broccolis, and allowed the crew to use their holiday residence which had a swimming pool for every room, an underground dining area and discotheque, and a funicular monorail that took the residents all the way up the mountain, or all the way down to the nearby Las Brisas beach. Everything was built with white marble, which proved to be quite a challenge for Cinematographer Alec Mills to light. Other stunning locations were those of the main Post Office in Mexico City, which serves as Sanchez’s personal bank on the fictional city of Isthtmus. The Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico serves as the hotel “El Presidente” in the movie. But the weirdest of locations must be that of the Otomi Ceremonial Center, up in the mountains in Toluca. This remote and secluded location was pointed out to the crew by the locals while scouting for locations in and around Mexico City. It was apparently sort of a monument built to the memory of the local Indias by a former President. It had been abandoned since then, but the crew was able to use it for Proffesor Butcher’s Olimpatec Meditation Center which serves as Sanchez’s cover for his underground drug-manufacturing labs. The crew was also able to build a fake underground entrance using a foreground miniature of a platform that rose up in the air allowing a helicopter to land underground. The platform was built to resemble the floor and design of the Meditation Center’s main courtyard.

All in all, and with the exception of a few hiccups encountered along the way, the shoot was able to carry on more or less undisturbed. Some problems, though, proved to be more of the supernatural kind.

Air, Water, Fire and Ghosts

As per usual, the movie was a showcase of amazing stunt work and special effects. Between the many action set pieces, we have two airborne stunts that, once again, required the unique talents of skydivers B.J Worth and his partner Jake Lombard, who take over for the scene in which Bond fishes Sanchez’s plane out of the sky by lowering over it, attached to a helicopter’s winch cable, and tying said cable to the plane’s tail. It was a very dangerous stunt that was tirelessly rehearsed on a mocap airplane placed on a gimble on land, before going up in the air to do it for real. Being as enthusiastic as he was about doing as many of his stunts as he could, Dalton insisted on doing all the shots with the mocap, much to the horror of Broccoli, who insisted Lombard perform the stunt himself. The aerial stunt, however, was performed by Jake Lombard himself, with close-ups of Dalton being taken from the footage shot on the plane mocap. Another piece of amazing stunt work was the scene in which Bond, being pursued by Krest’s frogmen after he jumps into the water, is forced to make a hasty, improvised escape by shooting a harpoon to the base of a seaplane taxing overhead, grabbing on to the harpoon, waterskiing behind it while dodging Krest’s henchmen bullets, jumping onto the plane mid-air after it takes off, getting rid of both pilot and co-pilot, and flying away with a $5 million bounty. The scene was achieved with the combined efforts of Ramón Bravo, who took care of the underwater photography unit, barefoot ski expert David Reinhart doubling Dalton for the waterskiing sequence, and B.J Worth’s team and Corkey Fornoff to take care of the aerial unit.

But the action set piece that takes the cake here is the amazing truck chasing sequence that ends the movie. Barbara Broccoli who, along with his stepbrother Michael G. Wilson had been getting more and more involved in the movies, first as a casting director, and also in this picture coordinating the truck chase sequence. It was a mammoth action set piece that took several weeks to shoot, on a solitary stretch of a twisty abandoned road in Mexicali, called the Rumorosa. It was a very dangerous stretch of road, which had a very disturbing history behind it. Apparently, the authorities had abandoned it years ago, and diverted the main road because of the high number of strange car accidents that had occurred there over the years. The local legend went that a minivan filled with nuns had died after a fatal car crash on this particular stretch of road, with a bunch of unexplained crashes, and weird occurrences happening on the exact same area the following years. While shooting there, the crew were witness to strange incidents like trucks turning on by themselves, crashing against rock faces, and all sorts of mishaps with electronic equipment and such, which added to the already stressful and difficult weather conditions, with extremely hot temperatures, and air pressure variations that proved difficult for the aerial unit to shoot the flying sequences. Almost all the special effects units were present for the sequence; with largely Chris Corbould taking care of special effects regarding explosions and such with the tankers, second Unit Photography team headed by Arthur Wooster shooting the bulk of the sequence, Paul Weston as Stunt Coordinator with Simon Crane doubling for Timothy Dalton for the very dangerous stunt of Bond jumping from the plane onto the truck, Rémy Julienne, who got in touch with, and had Kenworth alter several of their signature trucks with different rigs for specific stunts; one truck that could be used to do wheelies, another one specially rigged to stand on its side, and do a side wheelie, and another one that had a hidden compartment behind the driver’s seat with a back seat driver doing all the driving for the most delicate driving stunts, and John Richardson and his team on hand for the model work of the plane and flaming truck flying off the ravine. The crew had a few close calls, with equipment mysteriously exploding in the middle of the night, Corkey Fornoff in a woman’s dress and wig to double Carey Lovell for the aerial sequences being flown off-course due to the ever changing air pressure conditions, landing in the middle of a field, and being detained by the local authorities…but no incident was more freakish than that being captured by the on-set crew on camera. For the final sequence in which Sanchez, doused on gasoline, is lit on fire by Bond using the lighter given to him by Leiter and his wife, the crew captured a huge flame hand coming out of the resulting explosion. It’s a disturbing image, that strangely enough, cannot be seen on the film itself, but only as a still image captured on the day.

Financial and critical success

Even though the movie enjoyed fairly healthy financial success in the UK, and throughout Europe, it did not perform as well as expected in the US market. It did get mostly positive reviews across the board, with critics praising its more adult and grittier tone, phenomenal stunt work, and a very grounded and solid performance by Timothy Dalton. Unfortunately this was the Summer of 89, which was packed with sequels and blockbusters galore, with Tim Burton’s Batman, Back to the Future Part II, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade leading the way at the box office, which left little room for the latest, and grittiest Bond offering to date. It also didn’t help that the movie was rated 15 in the UK, and several violent scenes had to be trimmed in the US to give it a more favourable rating. In spite of that, and contrary to public belief, the producers were ready to get on with the franchise with Dalton as their leading man. Unfortunately, numerous failed script attempts to bring Dalton back, and the financial and rights issues in which MGM was entangled, would prevent Broccoli and Co to make another Bond movie for another six years, by which time Dalton was ready to give up the mantle.

Personal thoughts

Licence to Kill is a terrific Bond movie, but it is a very different one too; much in the same way Casino Royale would be years later. It takes the character out of his comfort zone, giving him emotional free reign, and showing a darker side to him, that not even Connery had the opportunity to explore during his tenure. Dalton is definitely more settled and comfortable in the role this time around, rising to the challenge. Everything about it works to perfection. With a darker Bond, we also get a more violent and sadistic villain to play with. Robert Davi is clearly having fun with the role, giving the audience something unique when it comes to the typical Bond villain. He’s no megalomaniac who wants to rule the world, but rather become a worlwide cocaine baron, with his fingers in every pie. As for the rest of the cast, they do a good job; with Carey Lovell getting to be more of a resourceful aid to Bond than a sexual conquest. In fact, as with the previous movie, Bond’s sex life is kept to a minimum; focusing more on the action, and less on the women. The stunt work, and special effects, as per usual, is astounding. Due to Broccoli’s refusal to allow John Barry to compose the movie’s title song, the producers settled on American Composer Michael Kamen to compose the soundtrack. It has that “Lethal Weapon” sound to it, that is so characteristic of the composer, but that works very well on this occasion. It sets the right tone, and it’s a wonderful companion for the action scenes.

It’s a pity that Dalton never got the chance to make a third movie. Had he had the chance to continue, he’d probably be more fondly remembered. As is, he played a terrific Bond. More in tune with the character as presented in Ian Fleming’s literary work. A trait that would sadly not be further expanded upon until the release of Casino Royale. If you’ve never given it a chance, please do.

Thanks for reading.

The Living Daylights. A harder edged Bond.

The time had finally come for Roger Moore to abandon the role of 007, and let someone else take up the mantle. The actor had been complaining for the last three movies that he was way too old to play the part, but had always been persuaded at the last minute to come back. It didn’t come as a shock that the producers had already planned for this eventuality, and had tested a few actors who, in their opinion, fit the bill. Two of these three actors would end up as front runners for the role, but only one of them would walk away with the price.

The Pierce Brosnan/Timothy Dalton conundrum.

Back when Roger Moore was working on his fifth Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only, there was one actor who had caught the attention of the producers; Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan was an up and coming Irish born actor who, at the time, was married to Australian actress Cassandra Harris, who played the part of Countess Lisl on the movie alongside Moore. Brosnan had driven down to Corfu with their children for the weekend to visit Cassandra on the set. Broccoli was so impressed by the actor’s looks that they all got invited for dinner. Brosnan had been a fan of the series from a very young age, and did everything in his power to impress Broccoli that night, doing, and I quote; “His best James Bond impression”. This did not go unnoticed by Broccoli, and years later, when the time was coming to find a replacement for Moore, he was asked to come back and test for the role. Brosnan’s partner for that casting session was Maryam d’Abo, who had already been cast ahead of time for the role of Kara Milovy on the next movie. The scene they had to play together was that of the meeting between Bond and Tatiana Romanova on From Russia with Love. That was actually the producer’s go-to scene when testing potential new actors for the role. Brosnan passed the test with flying colours, demonstrating he had the required charm and presence, to convincingly play the role. There was one problem, though. Brosnan was working on the American TV show Remington Steel at the time. The show hadn’t been very successful, and was actually on the verge of being cancelled when Brosnan received the call. Brosnan came back to the UK, did the casting session, and had actually even signed the contract, but the TV showrunners had the legal right to recall Brosnan if the show’s viewing figures improved, and more episodes were to be filmed. Funnily enough, the fact that Brosnan had been seriously considered for the role reached the press, which in turn boosted the audience’s interest on the show again, and meant that due to his contractual obligations Brosnan wasn’t allowed to take on the role. In the meantime, another actor who had been tested for the role years ago came to the fore. Timothy Dalton was a well known Welsh Stage and TV actor who had been considered to take over the part back when Sean Connery had refused to come back. Wisely enough, I think, the actor refused to do it on the grounds of being too young to play the role credibly. A few years had gone by, and he was asked again to come back. A more seasoned actor by then, Dalton was fresh off a TV show and had to rush into the role without much prep time. Right up until the last moment, everyone believed, including the other actors who had already been cast, that it was Brosnan, and not Dalton, who was taking on the role. Strangely enough, Maryam d,Abo ended up testing with three different actors who were up for the role of James Bond; the two aaforementioned, and New Zealand born actor Sam Neill. Both Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were very impressed with Neill’s casting sessions, and were willing to give him a chance. It was ultimately “Cubby” Broccoli’s decision, who had the last word, to cast an English actor in the role. With Dalton thus cast as James Bond, it was up to him to catch up on an already up and running production schedule.

Casting the principles, and working out the story.

Pre-production work on the last movie was well on its way by the time the casting of a new actor for the role of 007 had been resolved. All the principal players like Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbé in the role of KGB General Georgi Koskov, German Actor Andreas Wisniewski in the role of Koskov’s henchman Necros, American actor Joe Don Baker as Arms dealer Brad Whitaker; funnily enough, Baker would be one of the few actors to play two roles in different Bond movies; the actor would come back years later to play the role of CIA agent Jack Wade on both Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies, British actor John Rhys Davies as KGB General Pushkin; Davies was already a well established British actor who was better known for his role as Sallah, the Egyptian Archelogical digger on Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg, but would reach worldwide fame when he was cast as the Dwarf Gimli on Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and British actor Art Malik as Afghan Resistance leader Kamran Shah. Strangely enough, Malik would sort of reprise his role here on James Cameron’s True Lies, but this time around playing the bad guy, Islamic terrorist Salim Abu Aziz.

Other bit players came back to reprise their roles like British actor Robert Brown as M, Geoffrey Keen as Minister of Defense Sir Frederick Gray, Walter Gotell as KGB General Gogol, and Desmond Llewellyn as Q. A few changes were made for some of the recurring roles in the series, so British actress Caroline Bliss took over as Miss Moneypenny from Lois Maxwell, and American actor John Terry took over from David Hedison for the role of Felix Leiter.

Another role that was cast well in advance was that of British actress Maryam d’Abo as Cellist Kara Milovy. She came highly recommended from Barbara Broccoli, who at this time had a huge say in who would be cast for what role.

The screenwriters had long since been running out of original material from Ian Fleming to be used as inspiration for the movies, but there were still a handful of short stories that Ian Fleming had written at the beginning of his writing career to be adapted into TV shows when there was still no interest for his James Bond stories to be adapted to the big screen. One such story was The Living Daylights, which was published as a compilatation along with the short story Octopussy. The short story takes Bond to East Germany, where he’s on Sniper duty, assigned to help protect an infiltrated British agent cross over safely over the border into West Germany. Over the course of several nights he sees a concert group playing on an open air stage near the border, and can’t help but notice a beautiful Cellist playing among them. When the moment comes for the British agent to cross over, Bond notices that the Sniper assigned by the Russians to kill the agent is indeed the Cellist. Bond doesn’t shoot her, instead shooting at her rifle, and taking her out of the game. The British agent is safely over the border, but Bond recognizes that in all likelihood, the mission will be considered a failure, as he failed to eliminate his target, but will be more than happy if M ends up firing him because of the incident. As you can see, the short story became the building blocks onto which screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson based their screenplay. They changed a few things around, and with the help of filmmaker John Glen, they came up with a few nice ideas and action set pieces, like Bond and Kara crossing the Austrian border mounted on a Cello case, and one of the best pre-credits sequences in the series; the NATO exercise-turned chase sequence on Gibraltar. They also had to alter the script to make it play to Dalton’s strengths. The actor wanted to play the role in a more straightforward and dry manner, devoiding the character of the humour that had been a main feature during the Moore era, to be more faithful to the character as was described in the books.

Shooting starts

The movie was shot in Gibraltar, Austria,Vienna, Morocco, the US, and in Pinewood Studios, England. More than ever, the filmmakers wanted to go all in and try and cram in as many action set pieces as they could in the movie. First off was the amazing pre-credits sequence with Bond first jumping off a plane, landing on Gibraltar and jumping on the roof of a jeep that the baddie who’s just killed a 00 agent is using to escape. Once again stunt Skydiver B.J Worth and his partner Jake Lombard were in charge of the aerial stunt sequences; the first of them being the jump from a Military cargo plane over the Rock of Gibraltar. What ensues right after is one of the best shot, edge-of-your-seat chase sequences ever seen on a Bond movie. The sequence was achieved through a mixture of stunt driving; with none other than film editor Peter Davies driving the jeep for the stunt sequence in which Dalton himself was hanging on to the roof of the vehicle, processed shots back in Pinewood, and miniatures for the end of the scene in which the jeep crashes off a cliff wall, and blows up in mid-air, not before Bond opens up his parachute, and shoots off the back of the jeep. Visual Effects Supervisor John Richardson and his team tried to do as much of the action in camera as they could, even going as far as flying to the US, to the Mojave desert in California, to shoot the aerial scenes for the jeep crashing off the cliff, and blowing up in mid-air with stuntmen hanging on to the roof of the vehicle. After several days of test footage and rehearsals, they decided to go back to the drawing board and do it all as a mix of miniatures and live action, with the jeep being shot off a head beach on top of a cliff to the water below using an air cannon, and a dummy being parachuted off the back of the jeep before blowing the vehicle via remote-controlled explosive charges. It was actually the close collaboration between Production Designer Peter Lamont and Special Effects Supervisor John Richardson, that helped achieve most of the amazing tricks seen on-screen. The scene in which Koskov is transported to West Germany through a gas pipe line, and then flown off the country via a military aircraft was a feat of ingenuity. The filmmakers used a mixture of real locations in Vienna for the establishing shots, the scenes inside the opera house and the border, and combined them with Pinewood sets for the back alley of Saunders’ safe house in Vienna, the interior of the Pipe line engine room, and a mocap and miniature of a jet plane, with the background being substituted by a transparency of the West German skyline.

The next big action set piece is that of Bond and Kara trying to get over the Austrian border with first a tricked-out Aston Martin, and later on the back of a Cello case sliding down a snowy slope. Sounds too wacky? That’s because it is. And almost all of it was done for real on location. But were the freezing conditions of the frozen-over Austrian lake where the cast and crew were shooting these scenes that presented the most challenging obstacle, with frozen props and equipment that had to be constantly re-heated. The most striking stunt was that of the Aston Martin shooting up a steep ramp and coming up and down the other side to finally crash into a bank of snow. The car was proyected over the ramp using rockets, but kept crashing into the cardboard boxes and not jumping over the other side. They finally got it to work after several attempts. The Cello case skiing chase stunt was actually Glen’s idea, who really pushed for it to be included in the movie, even though Wilson and Broccoli said it couldn’t be done. Glen found a Cello case while on a recording session, opened it up, and demonstrated that two people could actually fit on top of it when opened. Needless to say, Richardson and his team had to fit small ski paddles under it to make it go faster and steadier downhill. He also set up a steering mechanism at the back consisting of a small handle that when steered could make the Cello case contraption go in the right direction. Lots of small exploding charges cleverly concealed under the snow were buried all along the sides of the track the Cello was to follow, to simulate the bullet and explosion hits of the guns of the Russian soldiers pursuing them. But what impresses the most is the magnificent set building, model and Special Effects work done by the crew in Morocco, where the majority of the action in the third and final act takes place, with Morocco doubling up for Afghanistan. The crew worked in and around Morocco, having to go to the Royal Family to be granted permission to use both the sets, and gain access to vehicles and weapons for the battle scenes in the latter half of the movie. Once the required permits were granted, the crew was welcomed with open arms, and granted all kinds of access to whatever they needed. The main set of the Russian Army Airbase was built on an existing and working airstrip outside of Morocco. The crew had to build their sets around the existing ones, they could use the runway for some scenes, but always taking into account that a number of planes would land on it throughout the day. On the other side of the airfield the crew constructed a model replica of the C-130 Hercules aircraft that Bond uses to escape, for the scenes in which Bond and Kara eject and parachute their way out the back of it, when the aircraft rapidly starts losing fuel, and it’s about to crash against a mountain. The scene was achieved through a mixture of miniatures, with a miniature jeep coming out the back of the plane, the miniature plane crashing against a mountain, and a transition shot of Bond driving the jeep through a stone wall, getting rid of the landing skids by the side of the jeep in the process, and driving through, all done within camera on location. The result being so seamless, you can’t really tell the difference; it is so well done. So is the scene of Bond throwing a bomb out the plane and over a bridge where the Afghan freedom fighters are being pursued by the Russian Army, to destroy the bridge and cut off their pursuit. The crew found a bridge on location that went over a river bed. Unfortunately, neither the bridge nor the river were tall and deep enough for what the filmmakers were looking to do. Thus Michael Lamont, under the supervision of his brother Peter, built a foreground miniature of the bridge, and a deeper river bed, for it to be destroyed later on when the bridge snaps in two with the Russian Army on top of it. It’s amazing model work, that seamlessly passes up for the real thing.

Most of the battles scenes were shot for real on the Moroccon airfield set, with lots of on-site surgeries performed while filming, due to the amount of accidents and mishaps happening with the stuntmen. The most amazing set piece was yet to come, though; with the incredible sequence where Bond and Necros fight to the death hanging out the back of the Hercules aircraft on a huge net, with the incredibly strong winds buffeting the net backwards and forwards. The bulk of the scene was shot using aerial footage shot, once again over the Mojave desert in California, using a real C-130 plane, with B.J Worth, Simon Crane and Jake Lombard doubling up for Bond and Necros. It was a very difficult stunt to perform. The stuntmen had to be strapped to the back of the aircraft most of the time, had an emergency parachute under their clothes in case they fell off the plane; which happened quite often, and another Skydiver strapped to be back of the plane as well, at the ready; in case either of the stuntmen fell off and couldn’t open their parachute. The rest of the stunt and close ups with the principal actors were done in Pinewood Studios, where the interior of the C-130 was recreated, and with the help of wind machines and a polley system shaking the net in all directions, the sequence was finished.

The shoot was also kind of a walk down Memory Lane for director John Glen, as he was going back to shoot in Vienna, where his filming career had started, working under the wing of Carol Reed on The Third Man. A few scenes for The Living Daylights were shot in the very same spots were most of the action occurs on The Third Man; the amusement park of Prater Park.

Another striking locations were those of Stonor Park in Oxfordshire, UK; which doubles up for the Hanley Safe house, and the Forbes Museum in Tangier, Morocco; which doubles up as Brad Whitaker’s War Museum. The first location was loaned to the crew by the owners on the condition that the property would suffer no structural damage. And to a point, they did deliver on their promise. Most of the house’s interiors were recreated in Pinewood, but the outside windows had to be replaced for the Necros attack scene in which they blow up. As for the Forbes house, the crew was impressed by the collection of miniature tin soldiers and model recreations of famous battles on display throughout the house, and decided to take advantage of this, and integrate it into the plot. To show off even more of Whitaker’s egotistical personality, the filmmakers decided to make a mold of Joe Don Baker’s face to build a series of wax statues of historical military leaders with his face.

The shoot also proved to be very hard, not only for the rushed shooting schedule, but also due to the harsh weather conditions in Morocco. Dalton was very keen on doing most of his stunts, with the filmmakers having to stop him from wanting to do too many of them for fear of injury. Maryam d’Abo, on the other hand, had to even take Cello lessons from a professional Cellist, and riding lessons to convincingly perform her stunts.

Financial and critical success.

The movie was a financial success, the audience gave Dalton their blessing, and most of the critics too, even though most of them considered the movie to be a rather mundane affair when it came to its story, with uninteresting villains, and a way too serious performance by Dalton.

Personal thoughts

While I may agree on most of the points made by the reviewers at the time, I must say that I find The Living Daylights one of the better Bond movies, and a highly underrated one. It may be because ever since I saw it for the first time I always found it to be very entertaining and flashy, or that my nostalgia is playing tricks on me, but as I’ve recently rewatched it for the purposes of this review, I’m hard pressed to change my opinion about it.

First off, Dalton delivers a very credible and solid performance. Gone is the wacky, goofy humour of the Moore era; one of the weakest aspects of that particular era, and something that won’t be missed, at least by me, and in is Ian Fleming’s hard-edged, cold MI-6 agent. Admittedly it’s not one hundred percent the Bond from the books, there’s still some outlandish elements left over from the previous entries as to soften the changes made to the character for hardcore fans of the filmic Bond, but they’re definitely less so. The most blatantly example of this would be the gadget-filled Aston Martin chase sequence, and the Cello case chase down the snowy mountain, but the rest of the action set pieces have a definitively more grounded feel to them. Dalton definitely run out of movies to prove what he could do with the character, but even so, what he did here, and on the next movie, is not dissimilar to what Daniel Craig did years later, and for which he would be so critically lauded.

As for the rest of the cast, I must mostly agree. They all do a fine job, even though most of them deliver “by-the-numbers” performances. Nothing really remarkable about any of them, except perhaps for Andreas Wisniewski, who shows glimmers of a mean streak, that the other two main villains played by Jeroen Krabbé and Joe Don Baker are sorely lacking. But the main drag to the movie is Maryam d’Abo, who comes off as annoying and useless, even when the writers struggle to come up with things for her to do.

All the blandness out of the way, the movie is still fantastically entertaining, with brilliant set pieces; really the standout element of the movie along with Dalton’s performance, an energetic, but at the same time beautiful score by John Barry; probably his best in the series, with an equally great main title song by Norwegian Pop group A-Ha, and amazing production values. Everyone from Peter Lamont, John Richardson and the stuntmen do an amazing job; topped off by John Glen’s direction, in which is possibly his best-directed Bond movie along with For Your Eyes Only and Licence to Kill, which as you’ll read on my next review, takes Bond to new, exciting and unexplored places.

Thanks for reading.

A View to a Kill. Roger Moore’s swan song.

After the lackluster critical reception, but smashing box office results of Octopussy, the producers immediately wanted to push on with another Bond movie, despite clear indications that Moore was thinking about retiring, and letting someone else take up the mantle of 007. As he put it; ” When you run out of villains that Bond can plausibly beat, it’s time to quit”, or something along those lines. Anyhow, the powers that be at United Artist, and the charm of ”Cubby” Broccoli convinced Moore to stay on for one last hurrah.

Going through the motions

At this point, from a purely technical standpoint, the James Bond series was a well-oiled machine. All the cogs were in perfect shape and working in unison to turn out the best possible final product. From a financial standpoint, they were also steaming ahead, with each movie increasingly more expensive, and difficult to make than the one before. So, what could they possibly change to spice things up? To breathe new life into the series, and stopping it from becoming stagnant? Without wanting to sound too pessimistic, nothing really changed that much. Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, as they had done before, took the title from an Ian Fleming short story; From a View to a Kill was slightly changed to A View to a Kill. They didn’t use any of the plot points of the story, instead coming up with a completely original story, just like they had done on Octopussy. They decided to centre the story around Max Zorin, a Computer microchip Industrialist who wants to corner the market by provoking an earthquake on the world centre for the fabrication of computer chips on Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Califirnia; by detonating a bomb under the San Andreas fault that will flood the entire state. Reminds you of Lex Luthor’s scheme on Superman: The Movie (1978), Richard Donner, doesn’t it?. Granted, they do try to give the villain an interesting backstory; making him the product of genetic experimentation during Worl War II.

As for the rest, Glen got his old technical crew back. Production Designer Peter Lamont, Cinematographer Alan Hume, Special Effects Supervisor John Richardson, and the best group of stuntmen in the business. With a script, and a team in place, the filmmakers set about casting.

An interesting cast

There is one thing where the filmmakers went outside the norm. They had always been good at coming up with interesting casting choices. For the main villain they settled on New York born, and Academy Award winning actor Christopher Walken. His portrayal of the psychotic and sadistic Max Zorin still remains to this day one of the highlights of the movie. Even more daring was the casting of the actress who was to play her main henchwoman; Mayday. Model and Pop singer Grace Jones was making a name for herself in the Industry by landing roles on such movies as Conan the Destroyer (1984), Richard Fleischer; alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger. Jones had a reputation of being extremely difficult to work with, always showing late on set, and having a very prickly personality. That being said, once on the role, she threw herself into it; insisting on performing most of her stunts herself, and collaborating with a clothes designer and the film’s Costume Designer, Emma Porteous, to come up with her own look. Her charisma on-screen rivaled that of Richard Kiel as Jaws for The Spy who Loved Me and Moonraker. French actor Patrick Bauchau played the part of Scarpine, Zorin’s second henchman. Even Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren, who was dating Grace Jones at the time, landed a small part on the movie. Other interesting casting choices were those of Fiona Fullerton as KGB agent Pola Ivanova, Walter Gotell reprising his role as General Gogol, and British actor David Yip, who plays the role of CIA agent Chuck Lee. Yip was somewhat hesitant to take on the role as he had limited big screen experience, and would have to put on an American accent for the role. For the role of the main Bond girl, the producers turned to American actress Tanya Roberts, who’d risen to fame on both TV and the big screen, landing roles on Charlie’s Angels (1976-1981), and films like The Beastmaster (1982), Don Coscarelli, to play the part of geologist Stacey Sutton. As for the rest of the players, they all came back, but sadly this would be the last time that Lois Maxwell played the role of Miss Moneypenny. Just like in the case of Roger Moore, it was felt that she was too old to play the role, and her part would be re-cast in the next movie. One nice addition was that of Patrick McNee, who plays Bond’s assistant Sir Godfrey Tibbet. McNee had known Moore for many years, as they’d come up in the business together, and would end up working side by side on different lots in Elstree Studios on The Avengers (1961-69), and The Saint (1962-69). He’d end up getting top billing, even though he only appears for a very short period of the movie.

Doing the impossible

It was a well known fact in the Industry the penchant that the Bond crew had to dream up and execute the most daring stunts. This time it was no different, starting with the opening pre-credits sequence. The sequence in which Bond recovers a microchip from a fallen 00 agent in Siberia, only to be discovered by Russian Army soldiers, and having to ski and snowboard his way to safety, was one that required the talents of numerous stuntmen and Special Effects people. German Olympic Champion Skiier, Cameraman and Stunt Coordinator Wily Bogner, came back to the fold. He was in charge of planning, coordinating, and shooting the sequence, which was originally gonna be shot in Scotland. Due to changing weather conditions, the sequence was moved to the Austrian Alps for most of the skiing scenes, and Glacier Lake, in Iceland, for the remainder of the sequence in which Bond is chased down by a helicopter. The skiing sequence culminates with Bond using one of the front paddles of a blown-up snowmobile to snowboard his way to a mini submarine disguised as a moving glacier. It was actually Bogner who came up with the idea, with John Glen, ill-advisedly, adding the Beach Boys song on top of it for comic effect, thus ruining the effectiveness of such a well executed stunt. The explosion of the Russian Army helicopter against a glacier was achieved using a model, of which the filmmakers ended up using three, as the previous two had crashed in the water, and blown up on take off, respectively. The exterior of the glacier/submarine was an actual moving vehicle with the exterior being made of polysterene to make it look like ice. It was a one-man vehicle, with very little space, no radio communication inside due to the extremely noisy engine and no ventilation , which forced the driver to open up the top hatch from time to time to take a break from the noise, and the engine fumes. All the close ups of Moore on the snowy landscape were shot back in Pinewood, as were the comfy interior of the mini-submarine. It’s one of those sequences that seemlessly comes together thanks to the magic of editing.

Another standout sequence that would give both the stuntmen and Production people their fair share of headaches was that of Mayday’s escape jumping from the top of the Eiffel Tower, and landing on a boat, while Bond pursues her on land driving a taxi through the crowded streets of Paris against oncoming traffic. The stunt was a combination of the talents of professional skydiver B.J Worth, who did the jump from the Eiffel Tower and the landing on the boat, and Rémy Julienne who performed the stunt driving scenes, with the top half of the car being smashed to pieces at one point, and being slashed in two at another, after an oncoming car smashes into the rear half of the taxi. Both stuntmen had worked on previous Bond movies, with Worth being responsible for the skydiving pre-credits sequence on Moonraker, and the pulse-pounding aerial stunt at the end of Octopussy, with Bond fighting off Gobinda on top a plane in mid air; and Julienne having being responsible for the stunt driving sequences in both For Your Eyes Only, and Octopussy. Securing the permits to both jump from the Eiffel Tower, and drive around the streets of Paris would prove to be the more challenging aspect of it all. And it almost all went terribly wrong when an over-entuthiastic stuntman did the jump after B.J Worth himself had done the stunt himself the previous day. Worth performed the stunt in two parts; first jumping off a helicopter to shoot the scene in which Mayday lands on top of a boat navigating down the Seine, and then jumping off the Tower. As the base of the tower goes outwards, he had to jump off the tower far enough from it, and opening the parachute at the right moment, as to not get entangled at the base of it. The crew built a short ramp from which Worth could jump to give him enough distance from the tower. The jump was successful, but the stuntman who was supposed to be Worth’s backup man was disappointed that he wouldn’t get to do the jump. The next morning, without anyone knowing about it, he got to the top of the tower and jumped, just as the crew were making their way up the tower to film for the day. The French authorities were fuming over the incident, and almost revoked the crew’s permission to shoot more scenes in Paris, especially considering they’d been reluctant to do it in the first place, as a couple of tourists had done the same thing a few days before the stunt team had done the jump themselves. Fortunately, the crew managed to come to an agreement with the Parisian authorities, and promised no further disruptions. The chase sequence required a series of stunts like driving down some stairs and jumping over a ramp, over a bus, and landing safely on the road on the other side. The stunt was carefully rehearsed by Julienne and his team on an airfield, before they could do it for real.

Another important action sequence was the one in which Bond has to overcome a rigged horse riding obstacle course while being pursued by a group of riders who are trying to knock him off his horse. The stunt was performed on the grounds of Chateau de Chantilly, which doubled as Zorin’s estate. The 16th Century palace was the perfect place to stage the Thoroughbred auction scenes, as it had a magnificent building with horse stables, dedicated entirely to horse breeding. Apparently, the Duke who had it built wanted to be reincarnated into a donkey. For this action set piece, the crew drew from the local talent to find stuntmen who had horse riding skills.

On a side note, the Rolls Royce in which Bond arrives at Zorin’s estate belonged to “Cubby” Broccoli himself. Not so the one that ends up sleeping at the bottom of a lake, after Mayday renders Bond unconscious, puts him inside the car, and pushes it inside the lake.

For the movie’s finale on top of the Golden Gate Bridge the crew was given permission by the Bridge authorities, which was outside City Hall’s legislation, to go to the top, and spend a short period of time shooting some scenes with the stunt doubles, and background plates to be used later on the Studio. The Mayor of San Francisco at the time was very keen on the crew shooting a Bond movie in the Bay area, and granted all kinds of permissions and facilities to the crew, even going as far as allowing John Richardson and his team to set up a system of pipes and propane tanks on top of City Hall to simulate a fire for the scene in which Bond and Stacey go down the fire escape ladder while the roof of the building is on flames. Which sadly is related to something that happened in real life.

Tragedy strikes

Before the crew started working on the movie, the 007 stage in Pinewood burned to the ground. At the time it was being used to shoot Ridley Scott’s latest movie, Legend. This presented Production Designer Peter Lamont with a conundrum, as they had to use that set to build the mine set where most of the action takes place in the third act. Lamont had been told by the original sound stage builder, that after the rubble had been cleared, the stage could be rebuilt in three months. Lamont went to “Cubby” with this proposal, and surprisingly enough, he accepted. This also meant that the shooting schedule would have to be reshuffled to allow time for the sound stage and the set to be rebuilt. Construction on the mine set started before the roof was up on the new sound stage. Lamont accommodated as many of the sets as he could in the remainder, smaller sound stages like the interior of the City Hall (with the hall, the Mayor’s office, the Records room, and the elevator shaft), some of the interiors of Zorin’s estate, and Zorin’s oil pumping station which was built on a tank to recreate the scene in which Bond almost gets sliced to pieces by a propeller. The scene in which the propeller appears to be sucking Bond into the pipe was achieved by having the propeller rotate slowly, adding air bubbles and light bulbs to make it look like it was going at great speed. The City Hall set with its complete Hall and elevator shaft were set on fire by John Richardson and his team in one of the most hair-raising sequences in the movie. There were a series of flame bursts that could be controlled at any time, but still gave some cause for concern to some of the crew members; especially Roger Moore and Tanya Roberts, who had to work closer to the flames. The chase sequence in which Bond and Stacy steal a fire engine truck to escape the police was shot over a period of four weeks, having to close down several road sections in San Francisco for short periods of time as to disrupt traffic as less as possible. The sequence finishes with the fire engine truck jumping over an elevating bridge to the other side, which was done by real, as always by Rémy Julienne and his stunt driving team. The outside of the mine and the entrance was shot on location at the Amberley Chalk Pits Museum in West Sussex, England.

Construction on the new 007 Sound stage was finally finished, and in the inauguration celebration was re-named the Albert R. Broccoli 007 Stage, in honour of Albert Broccoli’s long standing relationship with Pinewood over the years. With that out of the way, and the last sets built, it was time to shoot the last sequences in the movie. The set was immense with built-in railway tracks for the mine carts, and a series of wooden huts, stairs, and corridors. A series of tipped water tanks were situated all around the set for the sequence in which the mine is flooded, which was actually achieved with a mixture of live footage and miniatures. For the sequence in which a series of underground explosive charges drain a lake, the crew travelled to the West Country; filmed a boat standing on a lake at high tide, and did the same thing with the lake at low tide; giving the illusion that the lake was completely dried up. What was left to shoot was the all important action set piece on top of the Golden Gate. The sequence in which Zorin’s airship gets tangled on the top of the bridge was a fairly laborious process. Almost every technique in the book was used, with the crew travelling to San Francisco before Pre-production started, to film footage of a publicity Fuji blimp flying over the Golden Gate bridge. That, added to the scenes that had been shot on the actual top of the bridge using stunt doubles, the background plates that had been shot there too, using Vistavision cameras, the use of miniatures of both the bridge and the blimp for establishing shots, and a section of the top of the bridge, and the underside of the blimp that had been built life size on the back lot at Pinewood for the close ups of Moore and Walken fighting, allowed the filmmakers through the magic of editing to achieve what still holds up today as one of the most amazing action set pieces seen on a Bond movie.

Financial and critical reception

The movie, once again, did excellent numbers at the box office but, just like in the case of Octopussy, received mixed reviews at best. So, how does, in my opinion, Roger Moore’s last outing as 007 fare compared to the previous one?

Final thoughts

As a matter of fact, it fares much better than Octopussy, but still rather disappointing when compared with everything that had come before. Moore is clearly out of his depth, and out of the appropriate age range, to play the part convincingly anymore. As you can clearly see by my babbling on about the craftmanship behind the movie, it’s the one element that saves the movie from falling into the pits of mediocrity. It’s a very well done movie, with amazing stunts and action set pieces, which came as no surprise at this point in the series. Christopher Walken provides an interesting villain, but not enough is made of his background story, being stuck with very generic dialogue. Moore’s age and his sexual encounters with his much younger leading ladies, make these scenes cringeworthy. He does the best he can with the action scenes, but you can clearly see that it’s a stuntman doing the brunt of the work, with Moore only being used for close-ups and some of the less hazardous action scenes. Tanya Roberts, a stunning-looking lady, it must be said, isn’t given the best of dialogue to work with, but her performance is rather underwhelming, especially when compared to Grace Jones’s performance, who oozes character and charisma. The best scenes are probably those between Moore and McNee. There’s a natural banter between them in those scenes usually difficult to replicate on-screen. As with all the Bond movies, the locations are stunning; be it Paris, Iceland, the Austrian Alps, England, and especially San Francisco. Alan Hume’s beautiful Cinematography makes the most of all of these; I’m especially partial to his soft lighting for the more intimate love scenes. John Barry provides yet another amazing score, with a main theme by Duran Duran which had the distinction at the time of being the only Bond song to reach the number one spot in the charts. My favourite Bond song, by the way. Not much else to say about it, really, except that given how old Moore was at the time, the crew did their best to make him look good. If you can live with the goofy humour, which pops up now and then, and have a healthy amount of suspension of disbelief; it’s definitely an enjoyable movie. Moore wasn’t clearly satisfied with the end result, and may have resented the fact that the producers weren’t willing to let him go easily, but he does his best with it, and is his usual charming self. As Swan songs go, this one isn’t half bad, but it could’ve been better. Fortunately, on the next Bond movie the character would be given a much needed revamp.

Thanks for reading.

Octopussy. From India with Love.

After successfully breaking records at the box office with For Your Eyes Only, John Glenn had the utmost confidence on the part of ” Cubby” Broccoli to tackle the next Bond movie. A project that would face a few hiccups along the way. One of them being the possibility that Moore could abandon the role because of his age, and the other was a long-gestating project by Kevin McClory of remaking the novel Thunderball, to which he still had the rights, into an un-official Bond movie titled Never Say Never Again, with Bond played, once again, by Sean Connery of all people. A movie which would come out the very same year as Octopussy.

The return of Roger Moore ?

Roger Moore’s multi-picture deal with the Studio had already expired. It was expected of him to come back for the next one, but Moore wasn’t blind to the fact that he was getting a tad too old for the role. In the meantime, and in anticipation of Moore refusing to come back, screen tests were done with American actor James Brolin to take over. Surprisingly enough, Swedish actress Maud Adams, who’d previously played a Bond girl on The Man with the Golden Gun, was asked by Broccoli to come in to screen test against Brolin. Broccoli didn’t want an American actor playing the role of 007, and so ultimately, a deal between the Studio and Moore was worked out, and he stepped into the shoes of 007 once again.

Inception

As was the case with the previous Bond movie, the screenwriters took the title from one of Ian Fleming’s short stories, but little else. The crew had already scouted in India for possible locations for the previous movies, but had never managed to integrate it into the story. Going on from an original story by Scottish author George McDonald Fraser, better known for his Flashman novels, some of them taking place in India, and later on developed and re-written by both Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, they had now found a way to successfully integrate India into the story with both the main villain, Prince Kamal Khan, and the misterious Jewel smuggler known as Octopussy, both having their homes, and bases of operation there.

Casting

With Roger Moore set to come back as 007, so did the rest of the usual players like Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, and Desmond Llewellyn as Q. British actor Robert Brown, who’d previously played a Naval officer on The Spy who Loved Me, and who was an old acquaintance of Roger Moore’s, with whom he’d worked on the Ivanhoe TV show (1958-59), was to replace the late Bernard Lee as M.

A surprising twist in the series’ history saw Maud Adams returning to play a Bond girl; none other that the title’s protagonist; Octopussy. Just like it had happened before with Brit Eckland on The Man with the Golden Gun, Adams was to share screen time with another Swedish actress; Kristina Wayborn in the role of Octopussy’s right hand lady, Magda. In fact, a large number of beautiful actresses from all over the world were cast to play Octopussy’s band of female accomplices. For the roles of the main villains, Broccoli cast an old friend of his, French actor Louis Jordan, to play the role of Prince Kamal Khan. For the part of his faithful henchman Gobinda, the producers went with Indian actor Kabir Bedi. Bedi was better known for his role in the Sandokan TV show (1976). For the role of the other archvillain, Russian General Orlov, the producers went with British actor Steven Berkoff. Berkoff was a well known Stage and Big Screen actor who had worked with the likes of Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange (1971), and Barry Lyndon (1975). It was actually Dana Broccoli who suggested him for the role after seeing him on a play. German Actor Walter Gotell returned to play the role of General Gogol. Gotell had been a mainstay in the series playing the part of General Gogol since The Spy who Loved Me (1977). Another interesting addition to the series was that of famous Indian tennis player Vijay Amritraj, who plays the part of Vijay, Bond’s MI6 man on India.

A good old team

Having been content with the way things had run so smoothly for the previous movie, John Glenn was determined to keep the same crew he’d had for For Your Eyes Only. And so it was that Production Designer Peter Lamont, Second Unit Director Arthur Wooster, Cinematographer Alan Hume, and the usual stunt team with people like Martin Grace, Paul Weston, Richard Graydon, and Rémy Julienne, all came back. Unfortunately, Derek Meddings couldn’t, and so he was replaced by John Richardson, who would step up to the role for the next 007 entries.

Bumpy stunts

The film is filled with amazing stunts; starting with the amazing pre-credits sequence in which Bond blows up a military air base using a one-man mini-jet. John Richardson was in charge of Special Effects this time around, replacing Derek Meddings. The mini-jet Acrostar belonged, and was piloted by Corkey Fornof, who flew the prototype plane for the big aerial sequences which were shot in the US by an aerial unit. The Southamerican military base was shot on an airfield outside London, with the hangar being replaced by a foreground miniature for the difficult sequence in which Bond flies through the closing hangar doors vertically, and comes out the other door, all the while being chased by an air missile, which ultimately destroys the base. For the shots in which Bond flies through the inside of the hangar, the mini-jet was attached with a pole to a Corvette, whose top side had been completely taken off. The pole was constructed in a way that could bank the small plane from one side to the other, if needed. It was actually Richardson himself who drove the Corvette with the small plane attached to it, through the Hangar; with the pole being concealed by the plane’s right wing, and the car underneath by a myriad of extras running around, vehicles, and props. Rémy Julienne and his stunt drive team were called upon once again for two crucial sequences; the three-wheel Indian taxi chase through the Indian marketplace and Bond’s desperate car chase to get to the train, and the American Military Air Base in East Germany. First off, Peter Lamont and his team modified and built six of these Indian three-wheel taxis, and shipped them off to India. It was then up to Julienne and hist team to perform the incredible stunt driving around an exceedingly crowded marketplace in which would always show up double the extras the crew had asked for. Another interesting action set piece was that of Bond being chased through the jungle by Kamal Khan’s hunting party. Everything from close encounters with tigers, spiders, leeches, and even jumping from tree to tree using vines, Tarzan-like; happens in this set piece. The actual jungle where the action takes place was the Maharana Bagwat Singh palace’s garden. He was the maximum authority in the area, and it was thanks mostly to him that the cast and crew got all the collaboration and support they needed from the local authorities. A stuffed Tiger in the Maharana’s collection caught John Glenn’s eye during a dinner invitation to the crew at the Maharana’s palace, and he asked his host if he could borrow it for the jungle chase sequence. The Maharana agreed. The cast, and most of the crew were guests’s at the Maharana’s palace, which was, at the time, being converted into a luxurious hotel. It was also thanks to him that the crew was provided access to a floating palace in the middle of a lake, outside the city, which served as Octopussy’s floating palace/fortress. It is on this location that one of the most dangerous fight sequences takes place between Kamal Khan’s men and Bond, with one of the henchmen wielding a jo jo-like buzz saw that he can flip around to shredd his victims to pieces. The stuntman who performed this stunt, took a nasty fall from a balcony onto a bed downstairs when he decided to remove some of the safety struts holding the balustrade together. The stuntman broke his left arm, but insisted nevertheless in finishing the fight scene. Striking too was Kamal Khan’s mountain top fortress, that happened to be The Monzoon Palace, place of residence of the Princess of Mewar, during the Monzoon season.

One stunt, however, almost resulted in a career-ending accident. For the sequence in which Bond jumps from a moving car on rails, driving alongside a moving train, hanging on for dear life, and almost falling over the side while trying to get to Octopussy’s compartment, the crew moved to Nene Valley railway, in Peterborough, England. The wide variety of tracks available allowed the crew to plan out, and shoot the sequence in relative safety. Unfortunately, when it comes to running on top of a train, or hanging off the side of one going at speed, accidents do happen from time to time. One of such accidents happened when Martin Grace, who was doubling for Moore for the dangerous stunt, was hit by a metal pole by the side of the tracks, when the filmmakers went off the pre-programmed railway they were supposed to be filming on. Second Unit Director, Arthur Wooster, who was in charge of shooting the sequence, was witness to the whole thing. Grace was immediately taken to hospital, having broken his hip and several ribs. Paul Weston filled in for Grace to finish the sequence, and although he made a full recovery, it took Grace a long time to do so. The close ups of Moore and Bedi for that sequence were shot at Pinewood, to where the train carts were transported, suspended over the ground by huge cranes, and a revolving platform,with mocap rails put on it, placed under it to simulate the train moving. The wheels of the carts were electronically moved by Richardson and his team to further sell the illusion that the train was moving. For the scenes in which Gobinda is trying to hit Bond while he’s holding on to the undercarriage, an electrical cable run underneath Kabir Bedi’s sleeve connected to a 12 V battery, so the sword’s blade would produce sparks everytime it touched metal.

Another amazing piece of stunt work is the one that has Bond jump from a horse onto Kamal Khan’s plane, before taking off, try to hang onto it, and fight off Gobinda, while trying to rescue Octopussy. The stunt was performed by famous skydivers B.J Worth, and Jake Lombard; who had been responsible for Moonraker’s amazing pre-credits sequence. Worth put a safety railing on the sides of the plane’s roof, so they could better hold on to it, while performing the stunt in mid air. All the aerial footage for this sequence was shot in the US, after which the plane was transported to the UK, to the back lot at Pinewood Studios, to be used for the close ups of Bond and Gobinda fighting on top of it.

Return of the gadgets

After having Bond resort to his own devises on the previous movie, it was time for the gadgets to come back in full force. Not abused, however, to the extent they had been on The Spy who Loved Me and Moonraker, the movie mostly retained the grounded and realistic tone of the previous entry. Gadgets like the fountain pen filled with acid, that Bond uses to escape from his room at Kamal Khan’s palace, the homing device detecting watch, and the crocodile/submarine Bond uses to infiltrate Octopussy’s island, are but a few of the reminders that 007’s world is something special.

Financial and Critical success

The movie, as per usual, was a smash hit. Unfortunately, from a critical standpoint, it didn’t fare as well as the previous movies had. And I’ll tell you why in a moment.

Personal thoughts

I hadn’t seen this movie in years, and I must say, age hasn’t improved it. As with all Bond movies, I tend to be forgiving of many of their shortcomings, but this one has several elements in it that just irk me.

First off, and this is the least of its problems, Moore was really starting to show his age. As I previously stated on my review of For Your Eyes Only, neither the Costume Design nor his pairing with vastly younger leading ladies is doing Moore any favours. On top of that, and this IS a problem, the goofy humour is back in full force. It’s not that it wasn’t present during the previous movie, but it was way more subdued. It also does the movie a diservice in scenes like the one in which Bond arrives in New Delhi, and identifies Vijray by way of a flute rendition of the Bond theme, and don’t get me started on the cheap jump scare Bond uses when, having disguised himself as a corpse shrouded in a sheet inside Kamal’s cold storage room, he’s about to be tossed out of the truck he’s being transported on with the rest of the corpses to be rid of, or the silly Tarzan yell that all but undercuts the highly dramatic hunt-through-the-jungle scene. These were John Glenn’s ideas, apparently. As openly admitted by him on the Audio Commentary. Bond disguising himself as a knife thrower with a horrendously red shirt, or a clown when he arrives at the American Military Air Base, can be somewhat justified, as he’s trying to avoid detection from both the baddies and the authorities. The plot, although not as indecipherable as many would let you believe, is unnecessarily convoluted. Enough with the nitpicking, though. Now for the good stuff.

The stunt work and special effects are top notch, so is the Production Design and Cinematography. Peter Lamont and Alan Hume are probably the best representatives of their generation in their respective fields since Ken Adam, and Ted Moore. Clearly understandable in the case of Peter Lamont, as he grew up artistically under Ken Adam’s wing, while Hume soft-filtered cinematography is a thing of beauty. The leading ladies in all the Bond movies lensed by him, especially benefitted from this. It is ultimately the great production values, and professionalism of the crew, that really rescues the movie from being a run-of-the-mill spy actioner. John Barry is back scoring the movies, providing another great Bond score. The title song All Time High sung by Rita Coolidge provides a beautiful Love Theme for the movie. Despite his age, Moore still brings charm and charisma to the role, but the age factor really lets him down in some of the action scenes. I did enjoy it, though. I always do. But Roger, as proved in A View to a Kill, stayed for one too many more Bond movies.

Thanks for reading.

For Your Eyes Only. Back down to Earth.

After having reached the dizzying heights of Outer Space with the previous movie, it was time to give Bond a makeover, and ground the character in reality once more. Bring him back down to Earth, so to speak. It was felt by both the filmmakers, and producers, that the character had strayed too far from the source material, and become over-reliant on gadgetry to accomplish his missions. With a new director, who was familiar with both the mythos, and history of the character on-screen, it was time to give it a more subdued, but equally dangerous threat to deal with, without losing any of the glamour and style the character had acquired over the years.

A new director

John Glenn was a familiar face for all the Bond aficionados, as he’d been associated with the Bond movies as far back as on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). It was actually the director of that movie, Peter Hunt, who had recruited him to helm Second Unit directing duties on that movie for the brilliant skiing action sequences. From then on, he’d worked on and off on the Bond movies, and had moved up from Second Unit Director to Editing. Glenn had a clear understanding of the material, and had the experience to back him up. That didn’t make the prospect of helming his first Bond movie any less of a daunting task.

When “Cubby” Broccoli offered him the job, he accepted on the condition that he’d have a say of who he wanted to work with in the crew. Fortunately for Broccoli, he didn’t go too far away from home, as most of the people he’d end up picking were frequent collaborators in the Bond family. People like Peter Lamont, who’d been recently promoted from Set Decorator to Production Designer, Visual Effects Supervisor Derek Meddings, and screenwriter Richard Maibaum, who this time around would be working with Executive Producer Michael G. Wilson on the script. He also got to choose who would be directing Second Unit. For this he went with Arthur Whooster, who was an experienced Director of Documentaries. With this team around him, they set about working on the next movie.

Back to basics

The filmmakers wanted to take Bond into another direction, but didn’t want to deviate too much from its origins, and thought it would be a good idea to go back to basics, to the novels, and draw from there. At this point in time, the screenwriters had pretty much done away with most of Ian Fleming’s novels. Almost all of them had been adapted to the big screen in one way or another. For Your Eyes Only was a collection of 4 short stories from which the screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G Wilson decided to take elements from two of them; from For Your Eyes Only the took the murder of the Havelocks, and based their hell-bent on revenge daughter Melina on their daughter on the book, Judy; who also avenges her parents’ murder with a bow and arrow; but the story they took more elements from was Risico, in which Bond goes to Italy to stop a drug-smuggling operation. In the story, Bond is also duped by Kristatos into believing that it’s really another smuggler by the name of Colombo, who is really in charge of the drug-smuggling operation, when is the other way around. As per usual, a few locations, names and events are moved around, or altogether altered; and there are even a few references by other Fleming novels already adapted to the big screen; like the original ending of Live and Let Die, in which Bond and his companion are tied to a boat and dragged over coral reef to make them bleed, and entice the sharks to eat them. The two writers mashed all these elements together, and built a story that was ultimately a blend of Roger Moore’s first outings as 007, and his last two outlandish romps. The result; one of the most grounded Bond movies in years, but not without its fair share of thrills. The plot revolves around the loss of a valuable piece of decoding equipment by the British Secret Service, known as the A.T.A.C, when the boat that carries it is sunk to the bottom of the Aegean sea by an underwater mine. Immediately after, a British marine archeologist Lord Havelock, who secretly works for the British government to try and locate the wreckage, and his wife, are assasinated by a Cuban hitman in front of their daughter Melina. Bond is tasked with locating the hitman, and bringing him in for interrogation, to find out who hired him. Unfortunately, it all goes awry; Melina gets to him before Bond, and they have to leave in a hurry. Following some clues, Bond ends up in Cortina D’Ampezzo, where the local Secret Service liason puts him in touch with a man named Kristatos, who may put Bond on the right track, or not…

International cast

For the cast we have British stage actor Julian Glover to play the role of Aristotle Kristatos, Israeli Actor, Comedian and Singer,Topol, from Fiddler on the Roof (1971), Norman Jewison fame, to play the role of Greek smuggler Milos Columbo, British actor Michael Gothard to play the role of Kristatos’ right hand man Emile Locque, American Actress and Ice Skater Lynn Holly Johnson as Bibi Dahl, Australian actress and, at the time married to Bond-to-be Pierce Brosnan, Cassandra Harris, to play the role of Countess Lisl; and most importantly, French Actress and Model Carole Bouquet to play the role of Melina Havelock. The casting process was a fairly straightforward one, as per usual when it came to casting for the Bond movies. In the case of Topol, it was actually “Cubby’s” wife, Dana Broccoli, who gave him the idea of hiring him after running into him in a party. Carole Bouquet had a fairly substantial career by the time she came to the filmmakers’ notice, having worked for the likes of filmmaker Luis Buñuel in the acclaimed That Obscure Object of Desire (1977). John Glenn was mostly impressed by, not only her natural beauty, but her striking looking blue eyes; which he intended to tie in with the movie’s title.

As for the rest of the cast, all came back except for Bernard Lee, who died while preparing to participate in the movie. That’s why they came up with the line that M was on leave during the movie, and Chief of Stuff Bill Tanner and Sir Frederick Gray, played by James Villiers and Geoffrey Keen, respectively, are there.

Stunt-driven movie

The movie is famous for the sheer amount of stunts performed in it. Right off the bat, on the pre-credits sequence that opens the movie, we have one of the most daring stunts with Bond climbing his way from the back to the front seat of a radio-controlled helicopter, while the helicopter is zooming around the Industrial area of London. The sequence is a mixture of on-location and on-set filming, with Moore shooting his close ups in a mocap of the helicopter against green screen on Pinewood, while his stunt double Martin Grace, performed the stunt on location. A foreground miniature of the building that Bond goes through had to be built by Derek Meddings, while a life-size replica of the helicopter was built to be used for the scenes in which it flies through the building, that could be radio-controlled by the crew. But, one of the funniest, but most difficult to shoot, was the chase sequence that takes place in Spain (the small Madrid village was actually recreated in a small and twisty village in Greece), in which Bond is trying to escape Locque’s goons in a mini car. The stunt is a showcase of precise driving, and was coordinated by French Stunt Driver Rémy Julienne, and his team. His talents would be called upon once again for the adrenaline-inducing sequence in which Bond is chased by motorcycles down the snowed slopes of the Northern Italian Sky resort of Cortina D’Ampezzo. The sequence was achieved with the combined efforts of Julienne, and professional German Skiier, Cameraman, and Bond veteran, Willy Bogner. Bogner had worked in a Bond movie for the first time on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, planning and executing, along with Second Unit Director at the time, John Glen, the groundbreaking skiing sequences. He’d come back to do the skiing sequences on The Spy who Loved Me, too. Every time he was asked to come back, he had to dream up more and more elaborate action set pieces, but had always managed to deliver. This time was no different. The whole sequence that takes Bond from being pursued by mountain motorcycles down skiing slopes, and ending up jumping onto a Bobsleigh run, was heavily storyboarded, planned out, and executed to perfection. So was another one of the most vertigo-inducing action set pieces of the movie; that of Bond climbing a rock pinnacle atop which sits Kristatos’ hideout. The sequence came with its fair share of problems apart from the difficulty of the stunt itself. The striking location where the sequence was shot is a series of pinnacles atop which sit a series of monasteries from the Bizantine period in a region called Meteora, in Greece. The crew wanted to use the location of the rocky natural fortress and its monastery to shoot the sequence, and actually asked, and was granted permission by the Archbishop to do so. Unfortunately, whatever amount of money was paid to the Church didn’t reach the monks living in the Monastery, and they did all they could to disrupt the shoot; like hanging their laundry outside all the windows and putting up banners. In the end, the crew managed to shoot the scenes they needed on the next pinnacle over, leaving the monks well alone. As for the Monastery itself, it was painstakingly recreated at Pinewood Studios, using building materials from the period from an old Monastery soon to be demolished. The climbing stunt was performed by professional climber Rick Sylvester. Sylvester had previously worked on The Spy who Loved Me, performing the skii jump at the end of the pre-credits sequence. This time around, he was given the difficult task of letting go on purpose. The stunt involved Bond being kicked off, after having reached the top of the mountain, and slowly trying to make his way up while one of Kristatos’ men gets rid of all of Bond safe lines to the mountain. The difficulty was not so much the sheer drop itself, but the jolt the climber would receive when reaching the end of the rope, that could result in serious injury. It was actually Derek Meddings, who built a sort of brake system using sacks as counterweight to try and, slow down the fall.

Danger underwater

Another key sequence in the movie is the scene in which Bond and Melina have to go down to the wreckage of the St George in a mini submarine to try and recover the A.T.A.C. It was a very difficult sequence to shoot, for two reasons; Carol Bouquet couldn’t do any diving because of a medical condition, and the difficulty of making it look like the sequence had been actually shot underwater. The underwater unit was headed by Al Giddings in the Bahamas, in which a Greek temple that had been built on Pinewood and shipped over to location, was placed on the sea floor, along with a life-size piece of the St George’s hull with a hole in it caused by the underwater mine, which Bond and Melina use as an entrance. The rest of the ship’s interior was recreated in a water tank on Pinewood. The close ups of Bond and Melina diving were achieved using an earlier technique of dry for wet in which the actors were shot in slow motion, with fans blowing their hair to simulate the effect of being underwater. The air bubbles were added by Derek Meddings later on in Post-production. All of the Deep dive equipment used in the movie existed for real. Production Designer Peter Lamont got in touch with the company that manufactured it, and the crew got to build models of most of it following the company’s specifications. Some pieces of equipment like with the diving suits and gear, they went with the real thing; others, like the bulky dive suit, or the one-man manned mini-submarine that Kristatos’ men try to kill Bond and Melina with, had to be built, as they would later on be smashed and blown up by the crew. Martin Grace doubled Roger Moore once more for the dangerous scene in which Bond and Melina are tied up to Kristatos’ boat and dragged underwater over coral reef.

Financial and Critical Reception.

For Your Eyes Only was a smash hit with both critics and audiences. It demonstrated that there was life after Space, and people got to see a more down to Earth and human character.

Personal thoughs

And what do I think about For Your Eyes Only? It’s definitely among the better Roger Moore movies. It doesn’t reach the levels of sheer wit and outlandishness that the previous ones had, but it doesn’t need to. The story is fairly straightforward, with no frills, but with a solid cast ensemble, and good performances all round. But the real star of the movie, as was the norm, are the stunts. As time wore on, the stunt people became bolder and bolder, but the level of professionalism went hand in hand. People like stuntmen Martin Grace, Bob Simmons, Rémy Julianne, and Willy Bogner always brought their A game to these movies, and it shows. That, coupled with Peter Lamont’s simple, but very effective Production Design, and Derek Meddings, and his amazing model, and in-camera work, make them the real stars of the movie. So much so, that even Roger Moore sometimes takes a back seat while we’re admiring the beautiful craftsmanship behind this movie. On a side note, I actually happen to enjoy what is generally regarded as one of the most bizarre, and out of place scores in a Bond movie. Bill Conti, who came highly recommended by John Barry, who was otherwise engaged, and unable to write the soundrack; comes up with what I think is one of the most energetic and fun soundtracks in the series. It’s, in my opinion, on par with what Marvin Hamlisch had done a few years earlier. You wanna listen to a weird soundtrack? Check out Eric Serra’s score for Goldeneye. Now, that’s an oddball.

This entry is one of the best in the series overall, in my book. It walks away from the campiness and outright silliness that marred Moonraker somewhat. Not that there isn’t any humour. But it’s less prevalent. The movie is played fairly straight, it’s got breathtaking locations (Cortina D’Ampezzo and Corfu had never looked this good on film), amazing stunts and action set pieces, an interesting villain, and a drop-dead gorgeous Bond girl in Carole Bouquet, easily one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the screen. It’s also one of the best looking movies in the series. Alan Hume does a wonderful job with the Cinematography, with its smoky ambient light, and soft lightning for the most intimate scenes, and bold and crisp colors for the scenes that take place in Italy and Greece. One thing that was definitely beginning to show was Roger Moore’s age. Even though he plays the role with his usual grace, wit, and charm; the producers did him no favours with either his wardrobe, or his leading lady. It’s negligible in the case of Cassandra Harris, but plainly obvious the age gap in the case of Carole Bouquet. He does save the day, however, through sheer charisma; but it was obvious that he was getting too long in the tooth to play the role convincingly. John Glenn also did try to give his Bond a harder edge, something that Moore wasn’t completely on board with; in scenes like the one in which after Bond shoots the windshield of the car in which Locque is trying to run away, the car ends up hanging on the edge of a cliff, and Bond kicks it over. Despite Moore’s misgivings, it was the right way to go, as that is exactly the way the character of Bond would react. As I said, remarkable stunt work and charisma saved the day, and he’ll always be my preferred Bond, regardless.

Thanks for reading.

Moonraker. Bond goes into Outer Space.

The Spy who Loved Me had been wildly popular with audiences. ”Cubby” Broccoli had been very successful in ushering Bond into a new era, and as now sole producer of the Bond franchise, had achieved more financial success at the Box Office than never before. The filmmakers wanted to ride on that wave of success, and had already planned for For Your Eyes Only to be the next Bond movie. One thing happened, however, that would momentarily derail those plans; Star Wars. George Lucas’s massive Space Opera Box Office hit had everyone in a Sci-fi craze, and Broccoli, being wise to this, wanted to cash in on that craze, and turned his attention to Ian Fleming’s third James Bond novel; Moonraker. The plot in that book, however, of former British War hero, Industrialist, and founder of the Moonraker missile program Hugo Drax, who is secretly developing a missile to destroy London, was a bit on the low key side for Broccoli. Like with the previous entry; he wanted something larger and outlandish, which he knew the public would respond well to. That’s how, with the help of screenwriter Christopher Wood, who this time around would pen the script all by himself; Broccoli turned the original story on its head, keeping only the name of the villain, and turning him into a Space program Industrialist, who has secretly built a Space Station orbiting Earth, from which he plans to launch a series of Space capsules filled with a toxin that will render all life on Earth, but those of the plants and animals, sterile; only for Earth to be re-populated at a later date by a select chosen few, who Drax deem worthy. The concept, as described, is not disimilar to what Gilbert and Co, had done with The Spy who Loved Me; only this time it would be Outer Space instead of the Sea. An outrageous concept that, in time, would ruffle a few feathers between some of the fan base; and one not easily achieved at the time.

A Change of Scenery

Due to a change in tax policies in the UK at the time, Broccoli had to seek out sound stages in other countries, large enough to fit in the next Bond movie. France was the chosen final destination, due in large part, to Ken Adam’s contacts in that country’s industry. Moonraker ended up occupying all three major Studios available, which didn’t make them very popular with the Industry there. During a promotion tour of The Spy who Loved Me in Brazil, ”Cubby” Broccoli had fallen in love with the country, and its culture, and was adamant that scenes from the next Bond movie should be shot there. In anticipation to this, Lewis Gilbert went there with a small crew to film a documentary about the Carnival. The footage could be used later on for the scenes of Bond in Brazil. Another location that Broccoli was taken with were the Iguazú waterfalls, which was another location that he thought would be great for the movie. In between Paris, California, Guatemala, Brazil and Venice, the crew went pretty much all around the world to get the most exotic locations. Now, it was only a matter of making them all fit into a movie for which they didn’t yet have a script for.

Daring stunts.

As the script started to develop, a number of action set pieces had to be retrofitted into it as these were things that people like Production Manager Michael G. Wilson would come up with in the day. Wilson had been playing for a while with the idea of opening the movie with a pre-credits sequence aerial stunt that would dazzle audiences. The idea was to have Bond thrown from a plane in mid-air, without a parachute, have him chase after the baddie, wrestle the baddie’s parachute off him, put it on himself, and open it up before crash landing. There was such a person in B.J Worth, a professional Sky diver, who could perform the stunt safely. Shooting it, though; was a whole different story. The problem was finding a camera that could carry enough film, with an anamorphic Panavision lense, light enough to be carried by the Cameraman on a helmet. If the camera was too heavy, the G force generated by the freefall could break the stuntman’s neck, when they opened up the parachute. After looking all over for such a camera, Wilson was lucky enough to find one in a shop in Paris. It was an experimental Panavision Anamorphic camera with a plastic lens that had never been used. This was fitted into a titanium-framed built helmet, light enough to film the stunt safely. It took more than 80 jumps to get the stunt in camera, for an opening pre-credits sequence that is barely 3 min long. To have time to prepare and rehearse this, Second Unit Director John Glenn, and a small crew started working on it three months before Principal Photography started. Another standout action sequence was that intended to be filmed around the Iguazú waterfalls. The stunt involved Bond jumping from a Speedboat that was about to fall over the edge of the waterfall, by turning the top half of the Speedboat’s roof into a Hand-glide. The stuntman would then have to fly over the edge of the waterfall, glide over the jungle and safely land on a clearing. Easier said than done. Due to the downdrafts created by the water and wind, and the fact that the stuntman would have to fly over an area which was in the border of three countries that were not in friendly terms with one another, it meant that there was no way of knowing where the pilot of the Hand-glide would actually land. The stunt was safely performed, but the downdraft from the waterfall forced the pilot to go in another direction, which meant that the crew could not film any footage of the stuntman gliding over the falls. The previous part of the stunt, however, proved to be the trickiest. The idea was to film the speedboat going over the edge of the waterfall in location, for real. The crew let go of the boat, but it got stuck on a large rock, right on the edge of the waterfall. Special Effects technician, John Richardson, who would later on gain a more prominent role in the Special Effects Unit for subsequent Bond movies, offered to fly over the site with a helicopter, strap himself to it, have the helicopter lower him over the speedboat, and try and push it over the edge. It would no budge, though and, after several attempts, had to desist. Needless to say that when the crew came back the next morning, the boat had already disappeared.

Casting

The casting for the actor who would play the villain was pretty straightforward. As the movie this time around was a Co-production, it was decided early on for a French actor to be cast as the main villain; Hugo Drax. The actor chosen was Michael Lonsdale. Lonsdale, like Curt Jürgens before him, could speak perfect English. This would save the editors the trouble of having to dubb the actor’s voices later on in Post-production, like they’ve had to do in the past with actors like Ursula Andress, Gert Fröbe and Adolfo Celi. Along with him was cast French actress Corinne Cléry as Corinne Dufour, a helicopter pilot for Drax Industries who pays a high price for helping Bond in his investigation, in one of the most bizarrely terrifying sequences in the movie. The next bit of casting was due to a chance meeting between Director Lewis Gilbert and American actress Lois Chiles on a plane. As fate would have it, they happened to be assigned seats next to each other, and being as he was, still involved in the casting process for Moonraker, Gilbert was looking for an American actress who could be Bond’s equal on-screen, as CIA agent, Holly Goodhead; very much in the same way they had done with Barbara Bach’s character on The Spy who Loved Me. Chiles was somewhat hesitant to take on the role, as she had just finished shooting a movie, and was ready to go back home with her family. Hearing Gilbert talk about the movie, and her role in it, convinced her that this was too much of a coincidence and opportunity to pass up, and accepted. Other important roles fell on Emily Bolton, who plays Manuela, Bond’s liason in Brazil, Geoffrey Keen and Walter Gotel who reprise their roles as Sir Frederick Gray and General Gogol, respectively, from the previous movie. For the roles of henchmen, two actors were chosen. Both familiar faces in the James Bond camp. The first one was Toshirō Shuga, Michael G. Wilson’s Aikido instructor, who plays the part of Chang, Drax’s bodyguard and Assistant. The other was an actor who returned by popular demand; American actor Richard Kiel as Jaws. The rest of the usual suspects, like Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewellyn and Bernard Lee returned to reprise their roles as Miss Moneypenny, Q, and M, respectively. Sadly, this would be the last time Bernard Lee played the role of M. He’d die some time after, when he was getting ready to participate in the next movie.

Problems with the Union

One of the problems the British crew faced when they came to work in France was the Head of the Union representing the French crew, which was hired as a requisite for being granted permission to use the French sound stages. Ken Adam, and the rest of the crew soon found out that the French had a totally different way of working, and the Head of the Union was adamant in that they would not be made to work on weekends. This was a huge problem, as the Production team was dealing with an ever-encroaching release date, and they would not be able to deliver the movie in time, if they didn’t work seven days a week. It was thanks mainly to Ken Adam’s magnificent designs that the French crew ended up working overtime to get the job done in time. Most of the biggest sets from the movie were done in those French sound stages, like Drax’s control room and Amazonian base of operations inside a Mayan temple, the Venice laboratory where the toxin is manufactured, the Centrifuge Chamber where Bond has a nasty encounter with excessive G Force, but the crew also took advantage of some locations in Venice, like a Glass Museum, for which all the exhibits were removed and replaced by breakaway glass props, transported all the way from the UK, for the scene in which Bond faces-off against Chang, the Venetian channels for the Gondola chase, a real cable car in Brazil, for the nail-biting sequence in which Bond is fighting off Jaws while hanging on for dear life, and as I said before, they also took advantage of the outstandingly beautiful natural landscape in and around the Iguazú waterfalls, which double as the jungle in which Drax’s secret Space Launch Station is situated, even though the Mayan temple location was filmed separately in Guatemala.

Back in Pinewood

Even though the crew ended up using all the biggest French sound stages in their entirety, there were still some parts of the Production for which they still had to go back to Pinewood Studios to shoot; these were most of the miniature and Special Effects scenes. An entire sound stage was devoted to recreating the interior of Drax’s Space Station, especially rigged with hundreds of wires to simulate the Cero G scenes in which hundreds of actors and extras float around the Station when artificial gravity is turned off. It was also appropriate, as the set had to be destroyed later on during the Space battle between the US astronauts and Drax’s forces. In was also in Pinewood where Derek Meddings shot the Outer Space sequences with all the Space Shuttles, the Space Station, and the background plates for some of the live action used in the Space battle, as well as the scenes of the Space Station blowing up.

The filmmakers have gone to seek the expertise of the big Effects Houses to begin with, but the amount of money they were demanding to do these was so high that, they ended up resorting to miniatures and high exposure photography opticals. The way to go about this was to shoot all of the elements separately. They would photograph a miniature Space Shuttle coming into the frame, on a black velvet background with painted stars to simulate Space. All the stars on that Shuttle’s trajectory would then have to be blotted out, so they wouldn’t superimpose on the image of the shuttle. They would then wind back the film, shoot another element, and repeat the process all over again. The problem with doing this is that the crew risked over-exposing the film too much, and degrading it. This process ended up being repeated a total of over 80 times, to get all of the elements in camera. It was a very slow, painstaking, and time-consuming technique that, fortunately paid off. The movie was nominated for an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Not only did Meddings have to be ingenious with the Outer Space elements, but also with the scenes in which the Shuttles take off. To simulate the exhaust coming off the back of the Shuttles, he used a hollowed out miniature replica of a Shuttle, filled it up with salt, and use high speed photography to shoot it.

Astounding set pieces

The movie is filled to the brim with outstanding action set pieces, among them; a Gondola chase through the Venetian canals in which Bond’s Gondola transforms into a speedboat capable of navigating at 60mph. It then rises out of the water, and transforms itself into car, driving around St Mark’s Square, through a pack of unbelieving tourists. It took the Special Effects people a few tries to get the stunt right, as they soon found out that when a motor was retrofitted into a Gondola, the sheer burst of speed on the slender boat would make it capsize. It also took Roger Moore five suits, and as many tries for the scene in which the underside of the Gondola inflates, and comes out of the lagoon. Another particularly dangerous stunt was that of Bond, Goodhead, and Jaws fighting on top of a swinging cable car over the dizzying hights of Rio de Janeiro. The stunt was a mixture of processed Studio shots and in location shooting, all achieved with the use of Vistavision lenses for the background plates, resulting in some mesmerizing aerial shots of Rio de Janeiro. The stunt wasn’t almost done. The crew had negotiated with whom they thought were the owners of the cable car to use it for the stunt. Turns out, the crew had been negotiating with the owners’ sons instead. When the man found out what the cable car was going to be used for, he refused to let them film there, for fear that after seeing what happens on the movie, people wouldn’t think it was safe, and he’d end up ruined. Luckily, an agreement was reached and the poor man’s business did not suffer for it. Though it may look like it, the last scene in which the cable car crashes against the building was achieved with an on-set replica constructed to the last detail.

Critical and Financial success.

Moonraker opened to good reviews, and great numbers at the box office, making it the highest grossing James Bond movie until Goldeneye (1995), Martin Campbell, came along. It has admittedly not aged very well within certain fan circles, due in part to its campy humour, and its over-the-top plot.

Personal Thoughts

I hadn’t seen this movie in years, but I always had fond memories of it from the very first time I saw it. I’m not blind to its faults, though. There is a healthy amount of campiness and silly humour that doesn’t do it any favours. Things like the Gondola chase (admittedly very well executed), are taking way too far. That bloody pidgeon double take!!. But the general tone of it, and its outlandish Sci-fi elements, do it for me. Even when the story is basically a copy and paste of The Spy Who Loved Me, in Space.

To me the absolute standout here are Ken Adam’s Set Design, and Derek Meddings elaborate Visual Effects. Whatever qualms you may have with the movie, these two elements are outstanding. That, and the brilliantly executed action set pieces and stunt work. Always a hallmark of the James Bond franchise. Among these are the excellent pre-credits sequence with the sky diving stunt, the centrifuge scene in which Bond escapes by using a dart gun attached to his wrist, and activated by his nerve system, the cable car fight sequence, and the whole of the third act in Space onboard and outside Drax’s Space Station. This latter sequence is a showcase of miniature and optical wizardry. Visual Effects for the Bond movies had gotten increasingly sophisticated since Dr No, and the ones used here are in a league of their own. They may look dated now, but at the time, these were state-of-the-art. As for the rest of the movie, the story, as I said, is somewhat generic and repetitive, the acting is fine (Lois Chiles doing a far better job than Barbara Bach did, giving her character a sassiness in her delivery that was sorely lacking from Bach’s performance), Michael Lonsdale does basically a repeat of what Curt Jürgens did on The Spy who Loved Me. At one point, he even appears to be wearing Donald Pleasance’s outfit for You Only Live Twice, minus the cat. Richard Kiel’s Jaws makes a reappearance, and has a more prominent role this time around. Although I don’t know how I feel about his love story with the petite blond. I think it detracts from the story, and dumbs it down ever further. Roger Moore comes through oozing charm and charisma, as per usual, and we’re once again treated to another wonderful John Barry score; after a short hiatus on the previous movie. It’s undoubtedly one of his best efforts. Sweeping, epic and romantic, all at the same time. The Love Theme, with that wonderfully sung by Shirley Bassey main credits song, ”Moonraker”, with lyrics by Hal David, and the cues that go when the Space Shuttles rendezvous at the Space Station have a majesty to them that only someone like Barry can deliver. Goofy humour aside, a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief is needed to enjoy this one. But, then again, it’s a Bond movie. Fantasy and escapism are to be expected. For what it is, a very entertaining watch.

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