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.

Thanks for reading

The Spy who Loved Me. Classic Bond.

With Roger Moore firmly established in the role of 007, and the success of the last two entries; the producers wanted to push on with a third successive movie. The book chosen to be adapted this time was The Spy who Loved Me, but the producers encountered a series of obstacles no one was counting on.

Legal problems, and the end of a partnership.

The first problem the producers encountered was a clause in a contract the producers had signed with Ian Fleming, in which it was expressly forbidden for any of the plot elements in the book to be used in a screenplay; thus the screenwriters would have to come up with an entirely original plot for the script, only being allowed to use the book’s title. That’s how the concept of megalomaniac multimillionaire Sea-biologist Carl Stromberg; who is bent on worldwide destruction by hijacking several Nuclear Submarines, and creating a new underwater world afterwards, was born. But the next problem would delay the release of the next movie for several years.

Harry Saltzman had been having financial difficulties for the last few years. He’d made a series of investments that hadn’t panned out, and was now facing serious debt. To overcome this, he’d used his shares at Eon as collateral; which put the whole company in jeopardy, and it also meant that they couldn’t move forward with the next movie until these legal issues had been resolved.

After years of court battles, the Studio managed to prevail. Broccoli found an Executive Producer , William P. Cartlidge, who was willing to foot Saltzman’s bill, but the title of Producer, from that point on, would solely, and squarely fall on Broccoli’s shoulders; meaning that the eventual success, or failure of the franchise from that moment on was totally dependent on him. Sadly, Saltzman, after having sold his shares, had to give up his Co-producer title, and would never return to the series. One more legal obstacle remained, however.

Producer Kevin McClory, who due to having ownership of the rights to the Thunderball novel, had received a Producer’s credit for that film, sued Eon on the grounds that The Spy who Loved Me’s screenplay closely resembled a script he’d worked on. He lost the case, however, which finally cleared the way for the producers to start work on Pre-production.

A new direction

Guy Hamilton had been offered the movie right after he’d finished filming on The Man with the Golden Gun. Sadly, after all the delays, he lost interest in the project, and had moved on to something else. It was then that Broccoli contacted a former associate of his, and someone who had already successfully directed a Bond movie for them; Lewis Gilbert. You Only Live Twice had been somewhat of a turning point in the James Bond saga, as it was the first time that the series fully embraced the fantastical elements of the character, and further separated the film character from his more-grounded-in-reality, book counterpart. It can be argued that Goldfinger had already started going down that path, with larger-than-life megalomaniac villains bent on world destruction, sophisticated henchmen, and the extended use of gadgetry; but it was thanks to the outlandish plot, gadgetry, and Ken Adams’s work in the design of the villain’s lair inside an extinct volcano, that further helped enhance the concept. The last two Bond movies, though financially successful, had been very low-key in that respect. It was time to throw everything, but the kitchen sink into it, to make Bond the pop culture icon he was always meant to be, and further cement Roger Moore in the role.

Going big

The first thing that Gilbert did was to bring along his frequent collaborator, screenwriter Christopher Wood, to help spice up Richard Maibaum’s draft; adding more humour, and outlandish elements to the plot. He also changed Roger Moore’s dialogue to play to the actor’s strengths. Gilbert felt that the producers had tried to go with a more serious tone for Moore, that didn’t necessarily match with Moore’s personality; trying to make him act more like Sean Connery’s Bond would. The tone in both the story, and the character, was definitely lighter; with some goofy elements thrown in, that somewhat undermined the more serious elements of the plot. This penchant for goofy humour would further undercut the filmmakers efforts in the next entry in the series; Moonraker.

One positive aspect that came out of this re-work of the character was the extensive use of gadgetry, the visit to even more exotic locations, and the building of sets, that were taken to a level never achieved before.

The movie was shot in locations as different as Egypt, Sardinia, Canada, and once again in Pinewood Studios, London; the choice of so disparate locations highlighting the globe-trotting nature of the story. But it was, once again, Ken Adam’s amazing set design that really gave the whole thing that larger-than-life quality the filmmakers were looking for. His was the design of Stromberg’s underwater lair, Atlantis, the Supertanker which Stromberg uses to hijack the nuclear submarines, and the Lotus Esprit car which could transform into a gadget-loaded submarine when needed. Most of these designs were achieved with the help of Visual Effects Supervisor and miniature model wiz, Derek Meddings.

The cast

Another important aspect that the filmmakers paid a lot of attention to was the cast. For the role of the main villain, Carl Stromberg, the producers cast Austrian-German actor Curt Jürgens. Stromberg falls in the category of those Bond villains who rely heavily on their minions to accomplish their goals, like Bloefeld and Goldfinger. The actor definitely lends a threatening presence to the character, and the make up artists even went as far as giving him webbed hands to further enhance the illusion that he’s one with his aquatic environment. But no villain would be complete without a charismatic henchman. The character of the steel-toothed assassin was actually sourced from the novel, in which his alias is actually Terror, and not Jaws, as he would be finally known. At over 7ft tall, American actor Richard Kiel was chosen to portray the role, who ended up being so popular with audiences that he was asked to reprise it for the next movie in the series. The Art department made him a special metal mouth piece that was perfectly molded to fit inside his mouth. The contraption, however, was so uncomfortable to wear that he could only wear it for a few seconds before he started gagging. All the scenes in which he wears the metal-platted teeth were carefully edited with short cuts to overcome this particular situation. For the roles of the main Bond girls the producers went with model Caroline Munro to play the rode of Stromberg’s personal assistant and helicopter pilot, Naomi; and actress Barbara Bach to play the role of Soviet secret agent, Anya Amasova; who would, years later get married to The Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr. The rest of the recurring characters came back.

Dangerous stunts, hot weather, and underwater adventures.

The film starts with a bang, with possibly one of the most dangerous stunts ever performed in a Bond movie. I’m, of course, talking about the scene in which Bond is skiing down a snowy mountain slope, being pursued by Russian agents, and ends the sequence by jumping off a cliff and opening a parachute with the Union flag all over it, in mid-air. The sequence was the brainchild of Lewis Gilbert, who though it would be a neat way of opening up the movie. The tricky thing was finding the right place and conditions to perform the stunt, and someone daring enough to do it. The pre-credit sequence is supposed to take place in the Austrian Alps, but these were difficult peaks to reach during the Winter time, in which most of these mountains would already be snowed in. An experienced skier and mountain climber by the name of Rick Sylvester was contacted, and agreed to do it. He also told the producers that he knew the perfect spot where it could be done. The chosen place was in Canada. Sylvester, along with a small filming crew went to the spot, only to find that the mountain side was heavily snowed in, and the high winds made it too dangerous to jump. A few weeks went by without much luck, to the point in which Broccoli talked to Sylvester to ask him if he’d changed his mind about doing it. Sylvester reiterated that he was just waiting for the right conditions, which did come a few days later; and the stunt was finally filmed from numerous angles, and with 4 different cameras to ensure that it was sufficiently covered on film.

Things didn’t get any better when the crew moved to Egypt to shoot in location. The numerous challenges that some locations presented when it came to filming them, like the Giza Piramids exhibition, along with the stifling heat and dreadful local food; really tried the crew’s patience and endurance. The first problem was fairly easy to solve. Given the inmensity of the Pyramid exhibition, and the impossibility of getting enough artificial illumination to light the whole thing, it was decided that a Matte Painting of the Pyramids would be used as a background plate for the scene. The second problem though, was slightly more difficult to overcome. The crew was so worried about getting sick from food poisoning, and so tired of the hot conditions, that they suggested to Broccoli breezing through the shots as fast as they could, so they could return to England as soon as possible. Having always had a reputation of taking really good care of his cast and crew, Broccoli ordered a refrigerated truck with food shipped from England to be delivered in location. The truck did arrive, only empty. To avoid further delays, Broccoli flew in, went about shopping for ingredients and kitchen implements, and personally cooked a huge vat of Spaghetti Bolognese for his crew. That little gesture earned him the respect of the crew, who re-doubled their efforts to get off-location as swiftly as possible. Among the many striking locations the crew got to shoot in were some abandoned ruins out in the desert, outside of Cairo. This is the spot in which Bond, Anya, and Jaws’s first confrontation takes place, which ends up with Jaws almost crushing the van in which Bond and Anya are trying to run away. The second confrontation, aboard a train, proved to be a trifle more challenging, due to the confined quarters that the train cabin set provided. The crew was more than up to the challenge, as they’ve already done similar train fight sequences in From Russia with Love, and Live and Let Die. The entire interior of the train cabin was recreated in Pinewood Studios, and the fight was exhaustively rehearsed by Stunt Coordinator Bob Simmonds, and actor Richard Kiel. It was actually Bob Simmonds who doubled for Kiel when Bond kicks him out of the window.

As soon as the crew had wrapped in Egypt, they moved on to Sardinia, where the scenes in which Bond and Anya follow the clues to Carl Stromberg’s underwater lair Atlantis, and the submarine/car chase would be filmed. The bulk of the Special Effects and Set Design work kicked in then, which presented the producers with a problem of huge dimensions.

Ken and Derek knock it out of the park.

It had already been discussed during Pre-Production the best way to go about the sequence in which a retrofitted Supertanker swallows and holds inside it three enormous nuclear submarines. At first, the crew went looking for a real tanker, preferably a disused one, that they could use to double as both the interior and exterior of Stromberg’s Supertanker. They knocked on many doors, and finally got Shell to lease them an empty one from their own fleet. Unfortunately, the filmmakers soon discovered that an empty tanker was actually more dangerous to film in than a full one, because of all the gases left inside. That made it completely unsuitable to have electric filming equipment inside as the smallest of sparks could potentially blow the whole thing up. The practical solution was to build practical models of both the Supertanker and Atlantis for the establishing shots, and blow them up later on. The life-size interior of the Supertanker, which not only had to hold all three hijacked nuclear submarines, but Stromberg’s control room, detention cells, and missile silos, was too big to fit into any of the existing sound stages in Pinewood. What remained was to build an entirely new sound stage. Adam proposed building the Supertanker set first, and the rest of the sound stage around it. It was a huge undertaking, and the resulting sound stage was baptized as The 007 Sound Stage.

Once construction on both the set and stage were finished, another problem arose. The set was so huge that it was incredibly difficult to light. On top of that, Claude Renoir, the Cinematographer, had been slowly losing his sight over the years, and was finding it difficult to do his job. It was then that Adam came up with a solution that was controversial, to say the least. He recruited the help of Stanley Kubrick, with whom he’d worked before in Doctor Stangelove (1964), and Barry Lyndon (1975). Kubrick agreed to help him on the condition that no one would find out about it. Adam made sure that no one from the crew was around and upon arriving, Kubrick suggested that it might be a good idea to put up lots of flood lights on the ceiling, and thus allow these set lights to illuminate the set without any additional artificial lighting.

Another important element was the incredible model work done by Derek Meddings. Not only did he build miniature models of all the sets like the Supertanker, and Atlantis, but he was also mainly responsible for the model work in the Lotus Esprit. As many as seven models of the Lotus Esprit were built, in different sizes; to simulate all the different stages the car goes through from the moment ii falls into the sea, to when it becomes a fully formed underwater vehicle with the usual array of gadgets to escape from the bad guys. The bulk of the underwater scenes, and all those establishing shots of both Atlantis, and the Supertanker on the sea were shot in the Bahamas. The waters in the Bahamas are world renowned for being extremely clear, which makes them very useful when shooting underwater scenes. The crew had already gone there a few times before to shoot the underwater sequences for both Thunderball and You Only Live Twice.

Between both Ken Adam and Derek Meddings, they achieved one of the best looking Bond movies when it comes to Set Design, and Visual Effects. The interior of both the Supertanker, and Atlantis look magnificent. As was always the case with his sets, Ken Adam always strived to make them mobile and fully functional. A small crew even went to Japan to take photos of a real life Marine research centre. They brought back hundreds of pictures, with all kinds of exotic fish that would be latter used as background plates for the observation windows.

Meddings’ work on the models is superb, shot in a way that it never gives away the real size of the models. Brilliant examples of this are all the establishing shots for the Supertanker and Atlantis, and their respective explosions later on. So are all the underwater shots for the model Lotus Esprit. A life size mocap of the car was built to be submerged, that had to be moved around underwater by a team of scuba divers. The interior was completely sealed, and only used for close up shots. A remarkable feat of engineering, considering how little screen time it has in the movie.

Financial and critical success

The Spy who Loved Me proved to be wildly successful with both audiences and critics. It’s generally regarded as one of the best Bond movies, and the best in Roger Moore’s run in the role. Little else can be said about it, except for the fact that it made more money at the Box Office than any other Bond movie had ever made before.

Personal thoughts

The Spy who Loved Me is definitely my favourite James Bond movie with Roger Moore playing the titular character. It’s one of the most sophisticated, wity and wildly entertaining movies in the franchise. It has everything going for it; the beautiful Soviet Spy who is Bond’s equal, a madman bent on world domination, an iconic henchman, an outlandish plot, beautiful locations, and lots of gadgets, among them a submarine car!!.

It definitely has some goofy stuff in it; like some of the silly musical cues used to play up the comical elements of the story, but it’s generally speaking a fun romp. A rollercoaster ride of emotions that never lets up; but what is most fondly remembered for is the incredible stunt work, the set design and especially, its over the top, but thoroughly enjoyable action set pieces. One of the aspects of the movie that it’s often overlooked is the soundtrack. In addition to a very memorable theme song sung by Carly Simon, it has one of the most energetic scores to be found in the series outside the ones John Barry composed. Marvin Hamlisch’s score for the movie is a “disco extravaganza”, that often comes up in fan circle conversations, citing it as one of the reasons why the movie has aged so badly. I entirely disagree. I think it fits the movie like a globe, and gives it that unique quality that makes it stand out from the rest as a product of its time.

Sadly there are also some bad things in it. While generally speaking, all the cast does a decent job, with Roger Moore being his usual charming self; the same cannot be said about Barbara Bach. While definitely a beauty, she clearly lacks in the acting department, coming off as stiff and wooden, especially in her line delivery. Curt Jürgens does a serviceable job as Stromberg. He does have a rather laid back attitude about it, but has enough charisma to come off as menacing sometimes. But the absolute standout in the villain camp is Jaws. Richard Kiel does wonders with the role, coming off as menacing, but with a humorous side to him. Some of the funniest scenes are the ones with him in them. No wonder the public wanted him back.

The action set pieces are done to a very high standard, and are amongst the best in the series. The sky jump in the pre-credits sequence, the car chase sequence with ends up in an underwater chase sequence with a submarine car, Bond and the newly rescued nuclear submarines crews trying to break into the Supertanker’s control room, the final showdown between Bond and Jaws aboard Atlantis….Gilbert would try and repeat the same formula for the next movie, and although he succeeded to a certain extent, it doesn’t quite reach the same heights. This, to me, is definitely one the best in the bunch, and a real treat. Nobody does it better.

Thanks for reading.

The Man with the Golden Gun. On the trail of Mr Scaramanga.

After having succesfully jumped the hurdle that was his first appearance as 007, James Bond; Roger Moore was ready, once again, to tackle his next obstacle; trying to top what the creative team at United Artists, and himself had done in Live and Let Die.

Creative exhaustion

“Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were very satisfied with the way the two previous entries had been handled, and the consequent financial success achieved by both of them. Riding on a wave of success, they felt that they had to make the most out of this momentum, and immediately started work on Pre-production for The Man with the Golden Gun.

This was a book that they had tried already to adapt, back when Sean Connery first expressed his desire to quit the role, and the producers were in talks with Roger Moore to take over as 007. That proyect had to be scrapped, however, as the producers’ desire to film the movie in Cambodia ground to a halt because of the political upheaval in the area. Moore also had to abandon the role, as he was already committed to another TV show; The Persuaders (1971-1972).

Both Guy Hamilton, and screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz were asked to come back, and even though Mankiewicz wrote a first draft of the script; he felt he wasn’t giving it his best. He asked the producers to retire from the proyect, as he was suffering from creative exhaustion, and wasn’t able to come up with a satisfying enough script. The producers decided to get in contact with Richard Maibaum, who had successfully written the scripts for the first Bond movies. While in the process of writing, Mankiewicz, Hamilton and the producers were also scouting for locations. The story in the book originally takes place in Jamaica, but as the crew had already filmed there twice for Dr No and Live and Let Die, it was felt that they had to come up with somewhere exotic where they hadn’t filmed before. After watching a French film that had been shot in Iran, and being mesmerized by the magnificent locations; the team flew there to check it out by themselves. None of the locations lived up to the crew’s expectations, and anyway, on their flight back they learned that the Arab-Israeli War had sprang up, mirroring a similar situation when the crew had wanted to shoot The Man with the Golden Gun in Cambodia, before the Civil War started. It seemed that the James Bond crew was out of luck once again. Or were they?

The James Bond Islands

The misshap in Iran ultimately proved to be nothing more than a temporary set back. Hamilton, the eternal innovator, had always been fascinated about the idea of shooting a Bond movie on one of those isolated islands that formed a chain of rugged, and beautiful looking pinnacles off the coast of China. Hamilton had learned about these while thumbing through a traveller’s magazine, and although they couldn’t get any of those actual locations, they found something similar off the coast of Thailand. Permission was granted to the crew to shoot there, but as none of the islands had suitable establishments were the cast and crew could stay in, being the islands compressed mainly of small villages along the coast; the crew had to make do with the village’s brothel, which was the only house big enough to accommodate the whole filming crew, and convert in into a hotel of sorts. This was the least of the cast and crew’s problems, though, as they had to travel to the island chosen to be Scaramanga’s island by boat every day, carrying tons of wardrobe, set decoration building material, props and filming equipment. The crew had to also watch out for changes in the tide, and weather conditions. After filming, the island became a famous tourist destination, and would in time be dubbed as The James Bond Islands. Being fairly close to Hong Kong and Macau, it was decided that the bulk of the movie would be shot there, with interiors, like the sunken Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong harbor, the interior of Scaramanga’s island retreat, and the solar energy laboratory, all faithfully recreated in Pinewood Studios.

A great villain for a great actor

The movie gives us the opportunity to enjoy one of the best Bond villains ever to come out of Ian Fleming’s pages; the assassin Francisco Scaramanga, a.k.a, The Man with the Golden Gun. To find an actor capable of bringing across the menace and sophistication of such an iconic character, the producers went to the most unusual of places; the British Hammer Film Productions. Christopher Lee had made a name for himself portraying Count Dracula in numerous movies for the film production company, and was tired of being type cast in the same role. The part of Scaramanga would give the actor the opportunity to explore, and widen his acting range. He was also, in a way, related to the Bond series in that Ian Fleming and him were cousins, they had a mutual affection for golf, and would often play together many times. He was more than delighted to accept the role after he read the script. Tom Mankiewicz, who ultimately had to come back to do some re-writes on Maibaum’s script, had made several changes to the character from the way he was portrayed in the book. In the book, Scaramanga lacks the air of sophistication given to him by Mankiewicz, and comes across as nothing more than a mere thug for hire who happens to have a penchant for golden plated weaponry. Lee welcomed those changes, as he saw his character as a dark reversal of James Bond; a fact that comes to light during the dinner scene in Scaramanga’s hideout in the third act of the film. Even more unusual, and surprisingly effective was the casting of French painter-turned actor Herve Villechaize as Scaramanga’s pint-size second hand, Nick Nack. The actor turned out to be a lively presence on set, always in good spirits and, according to his fellow cast members; with a voracious appetite for the opposite sex.

On the Bond girls front, the producers turned to two Swedish beauties; Maud Adams and Britt Ekland. Ekland, who plays the part of agent Mary Goodnight, would be later on better known for her marriage with actor Peter Sellers than for her acting career, while Maud Adams, who plays Scaramanga’s lover Andrea Anders, would get the chance to play the enchanting and mysterious Jewl smuggler Octopussy, opposite Roger Moore, in the Bond film of the same name, years later. The role of Scaramanga’s employer, the Chinese Industrialist Hai Fat, was played by famous American-Chinese actor Richard Loo. The role of Bond’s assistant in Hong Kong, Hip, fell to Korean-American actor Soon Tek-Oh. Another surprising bit of re-casting was that of Clifton James reprising his role as Sherriff J.W. Pepper, who just happens to be vacationing in Hong Kong with his wife while Bond is on assignment there. Go figure!!.He came back by popular demand, and participates in one of the most exciting action set pieces in the movie; just like he did in the previous one.

Hardship and Luxury

The producers tried to accommodate the needs of its crew and cast as much as possible, but the isolated location on the island of Khow-Ping-Khan, which the crew was using as Scaramanga’s island, was a tricky location to get to in the best of circumstances. The whole cast and crew was staying on a nearby island where accommodations and means of transportation were limited, to say the least. Shooting in location was divided into the island and back on the mainland on Hong Kong, and a floating casino in Macau. The scenes in which Bond follows Andrea from the floating Casino in Macau to the Hotel Peninsula, in Hong Kong, in which Bond travels on a Hidrofoil for one island to the other, were shot in the same day. It was actually in this hotel where most of the crew stayed for the duration of the shoot in location, being treated with the utmost care by the producers, as a way of making up for the uncomfortable accommodations and shooting conditions on the Scaramanga island.

Spiral jumping cars, more speedboat chases, and other death-defying shenanigans.

The movie, once again, excells in its death-defying, action set pieces. There are not as many car chases, or action set pieces as there had been in the previous movies. In fact, this is one of the few Bond movies that is really restrained in that department, and it takes, for the most part, a very low key approach when it comes to this particular facet of the production. But what little there is, it’s outstanding. First off, we have a speed boat chase through the water markets and houses of the Bangkok area, immediately preceded by a kung fu fight sequence between Bond, Hip and his two nieces against a bunch of Kung Fu fighters in a Temple. The fight sequence was thoroughly rehearsed before hand, presenting little problems; but the speedboat chase sequence had to be carefully planned by the Stunt department, as the nimble boats used by the locals to traverse the river on a daily basis, were too fast, too unstable, and highly unreliable. They were powered by a rotor attached to a pole, which when sunk in the water by the boatman would reach high speeds on a moment’s notice. The peculiar way in which the boats were powered and steered around, also meant that, when bending a corner too fast, the pole with the rotor attached to it, could come out of the water and spin out of control. There was also the added health issue of speed boating around in dirty water, running the risk of falling in and catching all kind of diseases. Not something to be snuffed at.

But the action set piece that is the absolute standout in the movie is the car spiral jump. This jaw-dropping action set piece was performed by W.J. Milligan Jr’s stunt team. “Cubby” Broccoli had heard on the news about a daring car jump stunt performed for a live audience in an auditorium in the US, over a spiralling wooden bridge. It occurs while Bond is chasing after Scaramanga and Nick Nack, and mistakenly takes the wrong turn and ends up in the opposite lane with a river in between. Halfway through, Bond spots a broken-down, rickety, chopped-in-the-middle wooden bridge, with two very steep and short, spiralling ramps on either side. This is the point he chooses to cross over to the other side. The spiraling ramps were designed and constructed to Milligan’s specifications, after careful mathematical calculations were made using a computer model; taking into account mass of the vehicle, weight and speed necessary to achieve the jump. The steering wheel had to be placed in the middle of the car to even out the weight, while a mocap steering wheel, with two dummies seating on both front seats standing in for Moore and Clifton James were put there to perform the stunt. One driver from Milligan’s team was chosen to perform the stunt, who did it to perfection on the first take. It was actually Hamilton who was concerned that the jump looked too perfect, and asked if it could be repeated. Given the dangerous nature of the stunt, Milligan refused.

Another bit of funny business was the scene in which Scaramanga turns his car into a flying machine. Special Effects Supervisor John Stears, a veteran of the Bond movies, was asked to do the required modifications to a real car for close ups, while the shots of the car flying away were achieved using a model car.

Design challenges

For a movie light in action set pieces, it sure had a lot of, at times, overlooked work put into his Props and Set Design. Peter Murton was the man in charge this time around to provide the necessary background glitz to James Bond’s newest adventure. With Peter Lamont as his right hand man, Murton was in charge of designing not only Scaramanga’s entire island hideout and its Solar Energy lab which, by the way, is very reminiscent of Ken Adams’s design for Dr No’s lab from the first movie in the series, but he also was in charge of designing one of the most bizarre and psychedelic sets seen in a Bond movie; Scaramanga’s fun house, which he uses as a target practice arena for would-be assassins who come over the island to kill him. The set was recreated in its entirety in Pinewood Studios, using an assortment of mannequins, mirrors, period-themed areas, like a Western town Saloon, and an Al Capone gallery, and even a life-size wax sculpture of Roger Moore’s Bond himself!!. Another challenging set whose interior had to also be built in Pinewood was that of M’s office inside the capsized, half sunk, and water corrugated Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong harbor. The real life ship was used as a establishing shot, while a mocap of the exterior and an access hatch were built in Pinewood. As the real ship was tilted to one side, so had to be the rest of the set’s interior. Doors, furniture..everything was built on an angle; making for one of the most bizarre sets seen in a Bond movie. One prop that gave the designers a run for their money, and especially Peter Lamont, who was in charge of designing it; was the Golden Gun. Lamont was given instructions to build two models of the Golden Gun; one that was constructed as a whole piece, and other that could be taken apart, and put back together. Lamont took the design to a company they frequently worked with, to have them design a gold-plated lighter. In addition to this, a golden pen for the cannon and cuff links for the trigger completed the design, which was put together by a London-based company that specialized in Jewellery design. Lamont got used to assembling and disassembling the gun so much, that he could do it without looking at it. A trick that was never completely mastered by Christopher Lee himself.

In addition to all the Set and Prop Design, a great deal of miniatures were used, especially for the finale, in which Scaramanga’s entire rock-hidden Solar Lab blows up. For this, the producers recruited the help of Derek Meddings. Meddings had been hired in the previous movie to simulate the explosion of Kananga’s poppy fields at the end of the movie; which was all achieved with the use of miniatures. This time around, the use of miniatures was going to be even more extensive; as he had to, not only, recreate some of Murton’s sets in miniature for the long establishing shots, but also blow them up in the finale. The end result is so seamless, that I didn’t notice the difference between the real set and the miniature set until it was pointed out to me in the Audio commentary.

Struggling to finish

One other problem surfaced when Principal Photography in location for the movie had been completed. Ted Moore, the Cinematographer responsible for lighting most of the previous Bond movies fell ill. Faced with an ever encroaching delivery dead line, and with a good chunk of the movie yet to be filmed in Pinewood, Broccoli and Saltzman got in touch with Oswald Morris’ agent. Morris was a well known Cinematographer by then, with such credits as Fiddler on the Roof (1971), Norman Jewison, and Lolita (1962), Stanley Kubrick. Morris was reluctant to take the job, as he’d done it several times before, and wasn’t comfortable with walking into someone else’s set, taking over, and having to complete the job adhering to someone else’s style. It took him some convincing, especially by Broccoli, but he finally relented, and completed the movie on schedule.

Financial and critical reception

The movie was generally well received on both fronts. Moore was firmly established as 007’s new face and everyone was happy. Or were they?

Personal thoughts

The reason why I asked the question is because, for some reason or another, The Man with the Golden Gun seems to hold the record as the Bond movie most people make fun of. And this is totally undeserved. We also get some of that with Live and Let Die, but with this one, people really like to stick the knife in, and twist. Ok, granted it’s not the most exciting, or groundbreaking of Bond adventures at times, as say; Goldfinger, Thunderball, or Moore’s next Bond movie; The Spy who loved me. But it still has a lot going for it. It’s got a great villain, great locations, amazing action set pieces and stunts, and John Barry is back to compose the soundtrack. What more can you ask for?. Its heart is definitely on the right place. I’ll be the first to admit that there’s some goofy stuff there, we could’ve done without; the return of J.W. Pepper, (funny though Clifton James may be), the kung fu fight scene in the temple, and consequent speedboat chase sequence that’s done for the sake of doing it because of the kung-fu craze prevalent at the time, and an excuse to have an extra action set piece (as brillianty executed as always, I might add), and especially the blow whistle effect used for the car spiral jump scene, which totally undermines the effectiveness of such a wonderful stunt. An inclusion that John Barry has admitted, regrets having done. All that aside, there’s much to be enjoyed here. Moore is clearly in his element, and has some very good dialogue to work with thanks to Tom Mankiewicz’s contributions. Both Bond girls are beautiful, and in the case of Maud Adams, though admittedly inexperienced at the time, has some real meat to her role. Ekland does her best as the silly and clumsy assistant, but is regrettably nothing more than that. As for Herve Villechaize as Nick Nack, he’s a hoot. It’s unusual to have a short person as a sidekick, but I think it works wonders with this setting, and this story. The clear standout here is Christopher Lee. His interactions with Moore are very well written and acted, and Moore really has to step up his game to be on par with him on an acting level on occasion. The final duel is well shot, and very suspenseful. Editing and music play a great part in this, and the conclusion is rather surprising. This one is a minor title in the Bond/Moore movie run, but it’s got a lot of charm, and should be seen without prejudice and an open mind. It’s also the last time that Guy Hamilton directed a Bond movie, which was definitely a loss for most of us. One of the best directors in the series, and a consumate innovator.

Thanks for reading.

Live and Let Die. Here comes Roger.

After Sean Connery’s refusal to come back to the role of James Bond, it was time for producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli to try out an actor who had already been approached even before Sean Connery was cast for Dr No; Roger Moore.

An old friend

Roger Moore was an old acquaintance of Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli’s. He’d been on the run up to play the part of Bond back in 1961 when the producers were casting for the role, and was again approached by them when Sean Connery expressed his desire to abandon the role after You Only Live Twice (1967). The first time around, Moore had to pass up on it, because he was working on The Saint tv show, which run from 1962 to 1969. The second time around he was asked to come back, and the idea was to shoot Ian Fleming’s last 007 novel; The Man with the Golden Gun in Cambodia. That idea had to be scrapped because of the Civil War in the region, and by the time the producers were ready to tackle another proyect, Moore was already engaged in another TV show; The Persuaders (1971-1972). Moore had stayed in contact with both producers over the years, however, as they use to go gamble and socialize in the same casino, and when the time came to cast another actor for the role; Moore was asked once again to come back.

A controversial book

Tom Mankiewicz, who had worked with Richard Maibaum in Diamonds are Forever; was asked to pen the script, and was given the choice of picking which one of the remaining Ian Fleming novels he wanted to adapt next. He immediately jumped at the idea of adapting Live and Live Die. Fleming’s second 007 book was a controversial one. The main villain and henchmen were black, and the way they were portrayed and spoke in the book was the subject of heavy editing when it came to publishing the novel in the US. Nevertheless, the idea of Bond going after an Afroamerican baddie fascinated Mankiewicz, as he thought that the characters and the story would give the film an edge that would differentiate it from any other Bond movie before it. It was also the perfect opportunity to go in a different direction, as there was a different actor coming into the role. Guy Hamilton was once again on the director’s chair and, as he’d always been someone to experiment and try, and come up with unusual and original ideas to try and surprise his audience, he was all in on it.

Assembling the cast

Apart from the recurring cast members like Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewellyn and Lois Maxwell, a very interesting number of actors were cast for this movie, some of whom; like David Hedison as CIA agent Felix Leiter, and Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper, would even reprise their roles in subsequent movies. For the part of the main baddie Mr Big/ Dr Kananga, the producers went with a very interesting choice. Yaphet Kotto was an MGM player who was actually wrapping up on Across 110th Street, Barry Shear (1972), when he got a call from the head of United Artist, David Picker; to participate in the movie as the main villain. Kotto was at first reluctant to accept the role, as he was concerned about the way in which the Black community, and especially his character would be portrayed. He was quickly put at ease when he read the script, and saw that his character was a dark reverse of James Bond. Actually, Kotto took those elements of his character, ( the suave demeanour and intelligence), to heart; in such a way that it would take the actor years to get rid of the habit of trying to behave and live like Bond, much to the detriment of his finances. In turn, Kotto pulls off one of the best villains in the Bond series; a mixture of extreme intelligence, ruthlessness, and sadism; that had been sorely missing from the villains portrayals in the latter movies. A definite return to form on the villain front.

For the part of the main henchman, Tee-Hee; we have actor Julius Harris. Tee-Hee joined a illustrious line-up of henchmen with special “gifts” or peculiarities, like Odd Job, Mr Kitt and Mr Wint, and later on; Jaws and Mayday. His peculiarity was a hook-arm that could cause considerable damage. That, coupled with Julius Harris’s imposing physique; made for one hell of a henchman. His presence, however, was topped by that of actor/choreographer/dancer Geoffrey Holder, who portrays the other “henchman”/ “voodoo doctor”, Baron Samedi, who lends the movie a supernatural element that had never been present in any of the previous movies. Now for the Bond girls. Because of the movie setting in Jamaica, and the impossibility of getting native actresses who could convincingly portray the two main Bond girls in the movie, the producers chose New Yorker Gloria Hendry to portray the role of MI6 liason, and double agent, Rosie Carver. Being such a small part, and in such an important franchise; Carver was worried that she would not get the part after a rather unusual interview with “Cubby” Broccoli. The producer didn’t give her the part right away, and even though she was asked to stay in Jamaica at the expense of the producers until they reached a decision; she decided to reject the generous offer, and move to California to try and get another acting gig, much to the disappointment of her agent. She was actually already lined up for a movie there when she got the call from her agent to catch a plane back to Jamaica, as soon as possible, as she had been given the role. It was a more straightforward affair when it came to casting the actress Jane Seymour. Seymour was an up and coming British TV and Theater actress who was asked to come to “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman’s office for an audition. After just one look, Broccoli was convinced that they had their Solitaire. The Tarot toting, mystical lady portrayed in Fleming’s novel had to have a certain virginal innocence about her. It was argued at the time that Seymour might’ve been too young for the role; but that quality that the actress exuded in spades, was spot on for the role, and exactly what the producers were looking for.

On a funny note, we have New York actor who had to pull off the no mean feat of playing a Lousiana native Sheriff; Sheriff J.W Pepper. His character brings a touch of levity and comic relief to the movie that proved so successful, that he would come back for the following Bond adventure; The Man with the Golden Gun.

Double-deckers, Crocodiles and Speeding boats

The movie was shot in location in Jamaica, New York, New Orléans, and in Pinewood Studios, England. The lavish locations were used to their fullest extent. Guy Hamilton was a director which always looked for the unusual and different in each one of the Bond movies he directed; so scouting for locations was a very important part of this process. He at first thought that they would struggle to find something different , or surprising enough, to dazzle the audience. That turned out not to be the case. Right off the bat, two locations were used for the pre-title sequence that were completely opposite in both tone and feel. They managed to get inside the United Nations while they were not in session, to photograph as much of the interior of it as they could, and recreate it on set in Pinewood later on. It was surprising to find out how they managed to recreate it so faithfully and realistically, though. Apparently, while the crew was there photographing everything, they stumbled upon a set of blueprints of the building that apparently the electricians had been using to do some re-wiring. Needless to say, as Hamilton jokingly remarks on the DVDs Audio commentary, they were more than happy to “pinch” those to design their set. The other setting was New Orléans. Looking for locations in the area, Hamilton was told about the Jazz “Funerals”. This odd costume is apparently a hallmark of the city, in which the whole town gathers to celebrate the passing of a celebrated citizen in a colourful and musical fashion. Those two settings, plus the use of a recreated Jamaican voodoo ceremony in Pinewood, filled with snakes, dancers, torches and the like; help set up the dark, but whimsical tone of the movie right away.

Location shooting in New York involved a car chase in which various highway intersections were closed off for the day, and some exterior shooting in downtown Harlem. Most of the interiors for those buildings would later on be recreated on Pinewood.

Most of the in location shooting was done mostly in and around Jamaica and New Orléans. The standout set piece that takes place in Jamaica in which Bond and Solitaire escape Kananga’s goons on a Double-decker bus, and go under a low bridge shearing off the top half of the bus, had to be thoroughly planned out and rehearsed. An expert British Double-decker bus driver was approached to perform the stunt. A mocap of the low bridge was built on Pinewood Studios, and the top half of the bus was taken off and put back on a sliding mechanism which would allow the top half to slide off when the bus hit the low end of the bridge at the appropriate velocity. After constant and tireless trial and error, the stunt team managed to performed the stunt on the third try. It wasn’t the only dangerous stunt that the bus was used for. The driver had to be able to skid from one side of the road to the other to get rid of the motorcycles that are chasing after it. Despite all the necessary precautions taken to avoid danger; some of the motorcycle riders ended up going off road into the shallow end of the coastal waters and landing on some coral reef. Despite some minor injuries, no major incidents were reported.

Back in New Orleans, two major stunts were in the cards. First off, was a chase sequence in which Bond gets rid of Mr Big’s henchmen in a biplane zooming around a small airfield. For this stunt, Assistant set decorator Peter Lamont, who would later go on to work in many Bond films, was to secure the supply of derelict and beat up planes, which could be used for the stunt team to be crashed into, while pursuing Bond.

The other major action sequence was actually connected to a daring stunt which was actually the brainchild of Guy Hamilton. This set piece was conceived when Guy Hamilton while scouting around for locations, happened upon a Crocodile farm. The owner, Ross Kananga, a professional stunt performer, was actually who screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz named the villain after. After meeting Kananga and having taken a look around the crocodile farm, Hamilton decided that it would be a great idea to build an action set piece around the farm in which Bond is taken by Tee-Hee and his men to the crocodile farm, and left stranded on a little rock in the middle of a crocodile-infested swamp. The way in which Bond escapes the dangerous reptiles by jumping onto their backs and using them as sort of a thrashing and biting bridge, is something to behold. The original idea was for Bond to escape the snake pit situation using his magnetic watch, seen at the beginning of the movie; to bring over a small boat that, unfortunately, happens to be tied up to a nearby tree on the shore. The stunt was performed by Ross Kananga himself, who had to do it a total of five times before he was successful. That sequence, jaw dropping in and of itself, was to be followed by what Mankiewicz described in the script as “the most terrific boat chase scene you’ve ever seen”. That boat chase sequence was another brilliant occurrence by Hamilton after exploring Louisiana’s swampy bayous. The boat chase was brilliantly planned out, and executed by a team of stunt men, performing what was considered at the time the biggest speed boat jump seen on-screen at the time. The idea was for the boat to jump as high up as 80 ft, over a parked police cruiser which was on a small stretch of road in between two river fronts. As was the case with the double-decker bus stunt, this too was exhaustively rehearsed, causing no small amount of on-set accidents. It was one of the most daring stunts seen on a film filled with many, and one that; contrary to the case of Diamonds are Forever, was placed in the latter half of the movie, so it wouldn’t be outstaged by any other stunt seen later on. Running over a stretch of road or a lawn on a, at times, uncontrollable speed boat was no easy task, and one that required careful preparation and skill.

Despite the brilliance of all the action set pieces in the movie up to that point, the finale wasn’t without danger. Real snakes, sharks and compressed air bullets were part of the fun. The scene in which Bond faces off against Baron Samedi, and the latter ends up in a coffin filled with snakes; was a major cause for concern for actor Geoffrey Holder. Holder wasn’t very keen on performing the stunt, and Guy Hamiltin knew this. Fortunately for Hamilton, a member of the Royal family showed up on set, which forced Holder to perform the stunt out of a sense of pride. Here is too where Syd Cain’s set design came to the fore, showing off what he’d learned working with such masters of the craft as Ken Adam. His design for Dr Kananga’s underground hideout are very reminiscent of Ken Adams’s previous designs for some of the Bond movies. This location is also the setting for Bond and Kananga’s final confrontation, in which after being tied up along with Solitaire over a shark-filled pool, being cut up by Kananga, so the dripping blood will attract the hungry predators; Bond manages to escape using his magnetic watch as a buzz saw, and has a final fight to the death with Kananga, in which Bond force-feeds him a compressed air bullet; causing Kananga to explode. The scene in and of itself is ludicrous, and the effect of Kananga exploding as kind of an oversized, inflatable doll, is rather wonky; but makes for one of the most funny moments in the movie.

And, as it’s traditional with all Bond movies written by Tom Mankiewicz, there’s one final showdown between Bond and Kananga aboard a train, which serves as kind of a nice coda to round up the adventure.

Financial and critical success

The movie was a resounding success, and in spite of Roger Moore’s initial misgivings; it was well received both critically and financially. This time around, there was definite proof that there was life for 007 after Sean Connery’s departure.

Personal thoughts

Live and Let Die is a fun romp. As with all Bond movies scripted by Tom Mankiewicz, and directed by Guy Hamilton; it is enormously witty and entertaining. It boasts one of the best and most original villains seen in a Bond movie up until that point, and a definite improvement on the somewhat un-charismatic performances by the previous actors. Dr Kananga/Mr Big is one of the best villains in the series. The clever mixture of intelligence and cruelty, coupled with an all-seeing, all-controlling criminal organization; was something that hadn’t been seen since the times of Spectre and Dr No, Goldfinger or Emilio Largo. He doesn’t reach the levels of brilliance and sadism of Robert Shaw’s Grant in From Russia with Love, but he’s definitely up there with the best. So is Tee-Hee, who unfortunately doesn’t get enough screen time to show off what he can do. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said about the Bond girls this time around. Gloria Hendry doesn’t get enough time to fully develop her character before she’s killed off, and although she does a good job, and looks wonderful on-screen, Jane Seymour doesn’t get to do much, apart from playing the damsel in distress. As for the rest, the action set pieces are imaginative, and brilliantly executed, the title song by Paul McCartney and The Wings is one of the best, George Martin does a very good job taking over from John Barry, who had been the official Bond composer up until that point, and the dialogue is deliciously funny. And that’s the real strength of this movie, and one that allows Roger Moore to shine throughout. Despite his initial misgivings about taking over from Sean Connery, he does a brilliant job. His take on the famous spy is quite different from what Connery had done, and Mankiewicz writes the dialogue for him accordingly. His excellent comedic timing, witty comebacks, and one-liners are some of the best in the series; some even add-lipped by Moore himself. His Bond is definitely more sophisticated and definitely not as rough as Connery’s was. Two different takes from two completely different actors in both style and mannerisms. Overtime, Live and Let Die, along with The Man with the Golden Gun, became the butt of jokes for most people familiar with the series on account of its supposed campyness, and silliness. Things had not yet become as campy as they would later on, and it’s unfair to label this movie as such. On my part I think this is a fun, well written, acted and thoroughly entertaining Bond entry that needs to get more love.

Thanks for reading.

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. End of an epic journey

When the last installment of Peter Jackson’s three-part epic adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s literary masterpiece,The Return of the King, finally came out on Christmas, 2003; the director completed what was thought to be impossible at the time. Not only had he adapted a seemingly unadaptable book to the big screen; the critical and financial appraisal for his work on the saga had gone from strength to strength. The Fellowship of the Ring had already set the bar quite high, but when The Two Towers came out, Jackson did the impossible. He took it another step further, and garnered even more critical and financial acclaim. It was only fitting that the last movie in the Ring saga would be even more spectacular and epic in scale. And Jackson and Co, did not disappoint.

All hands on deck

Jackson and his creative team had already achieved great things, not only for the previous entries, but had also made big waves in the world of Practical and Special Effects with the New Zealand based Weta Workshop and Weta Digital Effects Houses. Theirs had been the groundbreaking creation of a software and Motion Capture technique that had helped bring to life the completely CGI rendered character of Gollum; so succesfully, that his range of emotions and physicality was undistinguishable from those of his live action counterparts. The extensive use of massive miniatures, lovingly dubbed “Big-atures” by the crew; used largely to recreate some of Middle-Earth’s most amazing sites like the Elf cities of Rivendel and Lothlórien, the Mines of Moria, Saruman’s stronghold Isengard, with its numerous underground Orc pits, the fortress of Barad-Dúr, and that of Helm’s Deep, were of great help. These are only just a few examples of Weta’s mastery when it came to bringing the physical and fantastical elements of Middle-Earth to life. But their work load for this movie was going to be even greater. Something they knew coming in, but didn’t make it easy on them either. It was a “All hands on deck” type of situation that forced the crew to come up with imaginative solutions to tricky problems, and being able to resolve these quickly. The scope and size of this movie required a greater number of effects shots that put even more pressure on a crew who was already dealing with a dwindling Post-Production schedule. Once again, massive miniatures and digital extensions were used for the recreation of Minas Tirith. Entire chunks of its numerous streets were built for the actors and crew to work in. These sets were filled with such a level of detail that the cast was amazed at how realistic and lived-in they looked. Most members of the cast, like actor Ian Mackellen liked to get lost strolling around them, taking in all the details. These sets, both miniature and life-size,were built in the same place were the sets for Helm’s Deep had been built; in the same quarry outside of Wellington, and using most of the leftover material salvaged from the Helm’s Deep set; most of its walls and courtyards being re-purposed to be used for the Minas Tirith set. Not the whole of the city could be built life-size, though. Sets like Denethor’s courtroom and the inside of Edora’s Grand Hall were recreated inside of warehouses, big enough to accommodate them. On top of that, most of these sets were built in different sizes to be used as long establishing shots, and to recreate elaborate camera moves in and around them. It is amazing to think that what most audience members took to be CGI recreated cities and landscapes, are mostly miniature sets recreated in such a realistic way that they effectively passed up for the real thing, or a very realistic digital recreation. Miniature sets like those of Minas Morgul, and the stairs of Cirith Umgol, Mount Doom and its entrance, and the Black Gates, are just some of the convincing miniatures, and in some cases; matte paintings and digital extensions used for the movie. One of the biggest action set pieces of the movie, and one that required the most use of visual effects was that of the Battle of the Pelennor Firlds, outside of the gates of Minas Tirith. It was a huge set piece that required the use of every trick in the book; from matte paintings to digital extensions, miniatures, live action footage and digital replication of crowds to double the number of extras seen on-screen. The software used for this latter Visual Effect, named “Massive Crowd”, had already been used to a big extent on The Two Towers for the battle of Helm’s Deep sequences. This time, however, it would be implemented to an even larger extent. Aside from that particular scene, the crew also had to deal with the CGI creation of yet another important character of the story; the slimy giant spider She-lob who has her lair at the top of the Cirith Umgol staircase. Her character was one that was eagerly awaited by fans of the book, and one that was supposed to make an appearance of the previous movie. Due to the restructuring of the plot for all three movies, her presence was delayed to be included in Return of the King. It was, along with the Pelennor Fields battle scene, one of the highlights of the movie. Her design was largely based on that of a New Zealand tunnel spider. Large in size; it was decided early on that the spider would have the physical attributes of most of her real-life counterparts, but with added fantastical elements like large pinzers, a large mouth, enlarged stomach, and a sting. It was a completely CGI rendered creature. In the scenes in which Sean Astin had to interact with it, the special effects team had to build a crude replica of the creature which was basically a little section with the pinzers that were operated by a couple of puppeteers. Jackson and his Visual Conceptual Designer Christian Rivers, long-life arachnophobics, came up with a design that would represent their worst nightmares; and it was actually Rivers who brought a live tunnel spider from his own back garden as a model for the designers and animators to take inspiration from. Another element that gave the She-lob sequence an extra level of creepiness was her underground lair; which was reconstructed as a set in Studio as a series of overlaying tunnel pieces, that could be easily moved around to give the impression that the cave in which She-Lob lived went on forever. The interior of the cave was built and recreated to the smallest detail based on the sketches and drawings done by John Howe and Alan Lee. Even the spider webs were hand-made of a sticky glue-like substance that had to be heated up to 200° to give it a consistent frame. These would be later on glued to the sides of interior set. The special effects crew also brought in a lot of rubber pets like birds, skulls and bones to be spread all over the floor. The floor was also made to be uneven, and in some cases even tilted. All in all, this additions gave the set the desired creepy factor the filmmakers were looking for. Another sequence that gave the Visual Effects renderers at Weta Digital its fair share of headaches, was that of the creation of the Army of the Dead Aragorn uses to fight alongside him in the Battle of Pelennor Fields. It was thought at first to be a blend of actors in makeup and CGI. Their approach at first wasn’t that different to what the artists at ILM ended up doing in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), Gore Verbinski, with Captain Barbossa’s cursed crew. Having seen what the people at ILM were up to, they had to change their ideas mid-stream, and try something different. Their appearance on the movie is more ghost-like, but not radically different from those un-dead pirates seen on the Gore Verbinski film.

An explosive shoot

As per usual, the shoot was a very long and difficult one. Having shot all three movies back to back, it was a Herculean effort for all those involved to keep track of which scenes for which movie had been shot first as, it’s mostly the case, movies are usually shot out of order, in order to accommodate actors’ schedules, location availability, and ever changing weather conditions. This would result in the cast and crew having to make changes on the fly, and find a suitable location in which to shoot scenes indoors when the weather turned bad. Such was the case in which, after only a few days into the shooting, a great flood in the area prevented the crew from shooting the scenes they had planned, and the entire crew had to move into a nearby hotel with a large Squash court where, after asking management for permission, had to rapidly put together a rocky set, which resembled the Cirith Umgol stairs, and shoot a few sequences from The Return of the King. So, it wasn’t unusual for footage, 3 to 4 years apart, to be seemlessly edited together with the help of a skillfull editor or editors as was the case for this movie, ( Jaime Selkirk and Annie Collins doing the honours this time around). The amount of footage coming in every day from all the filming units spread all over the island, made it an almost impossible task to get through it all. It was thanks to Jackson and Fran Walsh, who intimately knew the scenes backwards, and Jackson being able to remember which shot went where, after checking daillies in shooting order, that the editors were able to sift through the footage, and pick the best takes. Most of the battle scenes for The Return of the King proved to be a logistical nightmare due to the large number of horses and horse riders that had to be used in the second and third acts of the movie. A call was put out by the filming crew, looking for all available trained horses and riders around the island to act as extras. The idea proved to be a success. Riders with their horses from horse riding clubs all over the island came to the assigned location; a large field called Twizel, that would double as The Pelennor Fields. Riders in their hundreds congregated, and camped out on this field for the scene in which the Rohirrim cavalry charges against the Orc Army assembled outside the gates of Minas Tirith. The principal actors taking part in these scenes were also trained in horse riding, and some of them like Bernard Lee and Viggo Mortensen got quite good at it, while others like Miranda Otto and David Wenham were so hopeless that they had to resort to a contraption designed by Weta Workshop, which consisted of a wooden barrel with a saddle, on which the actors sat, and a rig that moved the barrel back and forth, giving the illusion, when used off-camera, that the actor, or actress was riding an actual horse. A stunt double was used for the more dangerous scenes. This technique had already been used for the first movie; for the sequence in which Arwen is riding away from the Názgul carrying an injured Frodo on her way to Rivendel. For the third movie, though; Jackson asked Weta Workshop to build a rubber horse which could be used for close-ups, and to give a more realistic feel to the whole thing. This rubber horse was jokingly dubbed “The phony Pony” by the crew. The field on which these riders were going to ride had to be checked every morning, though. The field was filled with hundreds of holes dug up by rabbits and covered by grass, which made it very difficult for a rider at full speed to spot in time before the horse fell through it and broke their legs. Another shooting location, which was ideal for another pivotal scene in the movie, also proved to be challenging. While scouting for locations, the crew had found a large stretch of deserted land which was perfect for the last confrontation between the Army of Gondor led by Aragorn and Sauron’s Army outside the Black Gates. The land happened to be owned by the New Zealand Army and had been used over the years as a shooting range, and to test out explosives. The difficulty resided in that a large amount of mines and explosives that hadn’t gone off during exercises were still buried all over the place. The crew was granted permission to use the land, on the condition that the Army was in charge of clearing up the field of any potential explosive devices before actual filming started. The crew was also given a lecture on what to do in case of running into any of this explosives, and given the sense of discipline that the soldiers brought to the crew; they ended up being used as extras in the Gondor Army, and organising the logistical aspects of moving a large group of extras in a orderly, and military fashion. Another striking location was the Mountainous region known as The Pinnacles, criss-crossed by huge ravines which was used for the Passage of the Dead sequence. It was an eerily beautiful region that had been previously used by Jackson in one of his first movies; Braindead (1992).

The crew was also given permission to shoot at the feet of Mount Rupeuhu, an active volcano; for the scenes in which Frodo and Sam are trying to reach the entrance to Mount Doom. Due to the fact that the volcano itself, and the mountains surrounding it, were considered sacred land by the Maori; the crew couldn’t show any images of the actual volcano and the surrounding volcanos, and these had to be digitally replaced by CGI replicas of Mount Doom.

Critical and financial success

As expected, The Return of the King was a massive hit with both audiences and critics alike. It walked away with a worldwide total of $1,140,444,782, making it the most successful of all three movies, and achieving a record breaking 11 Oscar Awards at the 2004 Oscar ceremony for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, Best Soundtrack, Best Original Song, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects, putting it on par with Ben-Hur (1959), William Wyler, and Titanic (1997), James Cameron, each having been awarded the same number of Oscars.

Extended Edition

As previously stated on my first two reviews with the Extended Editions of those two movies, the Extended Edition of The Return of the King is the way to go. By adding and extending scenes to enhance the richness of the story, and further help to explore Middle-Earth lore, and give an extra layer to already richly developed characters, the experience of watching the movie can only get better. Most of the added scenes left on the cutting room floor for the Theatrical version of the movie, are extended scenes and moments that help to draw the audience more deeply into the story; but there is one particular scene that stands out among the rest, and was sorely missing from the Theatrical cut; Saruman and Wormtongue’s demise in Isengard. The scene was cleverly edited out of the Theatrical cut of the movie, but fully restored into the Extended Edition. This scene plays an important part in the last book, and although it doesn’t play out the same way it does in the book; it does resolve a very important plot hole that wasn’t satisfactorily explained in the version released in cinemas. Jackson does insist that these are not to be thought of as the definitive versions of the movies but, in this case, I strongly disagree. As someone who likes to delve into the sticky subject of whether alternate versions of a movie, like Director’s cuts, Extended cuts, or Ultimate cuts might be necessary or not; or if they simply are nothing more than a shameless cash-grab, in this case I have to side with Peter Jackson. He has had a tendency, as of late, of overinflating the running time in some of his movies (King Kong, The Hobbit trilogy), but is spot on in this instance. The added material makes the movies richer, and give the story the necessary breathing room they need for such an epic tale. It’s just a pity that the same idea applied to The Hobbit trilogy he’d direct a few years later didn’t yield the same results. But then again, that story didn’t need the epic structure this one does. But that’s a story for another day, and one that I’ll be talking about in detail in the future.

Final Thoughts

There’s not much to say here that can add to what I’ve already said on the other two reviews. As I’ve said, when it comes to this trilogy, I tend to judge them as one movie. One movie, that because of the length of its story, happens to be divided into three parts. But when push comes to shove, I would have to say that the third installment is definitely the most epic of the three. Epic in size, story and performances. Such epic showpieces like the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, Frodo and Sam’s confrontation with She-lob, or the amazing finale intercutting between the battle between the Armies of Gondor and Sauron at the Black Gates, and Frodo and Sam’s struggles to reach the top of Mount Doom are among some of the most epic, and breathtaking sequences ever seen on the big screen. With this trilogy as a whole, but this movie in particular, Jackson and Co, achieved something so epic and magical that makes it worth it of all the critical accolades, and financial success it received. Every element of the production is on point; from Screenwriting, Set Design, Makeup, Cinematography,Wardrobe, Soundtrack, Acting and Direction. It’s a superb exercise in epic filming. Something that had never been attempted before. Sure, the Salkinds had done it with Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers two-parter back in 1973, the failed attempt by the Salkinds, once again, to repeat the same feat with Richard Donner, and shoot two Superman movies at the same time in 1978, or when Robert Zemeckis decided to shoot his Back to the Future sequels back to back; but nothing came even close to the scale of what Peter Jackson and his team did with Tolkien’s masterpiece. I would definitely rank these three movies among the best movies of all time. This is what Cinema is all about. Stories and characters larger than life, and amazing world-building to boot. These three fantasy tales demand to be seen back to back, and if possible, in their extended versions. One can never get enough of Tolkien’s wondrous world. One of the best trilogies ever made. Period. Right up there with Back to the Future and Indiana Jones.

Thanks for reading.

Diamonds are Forever. Sean is back

After having switched actors to play the part of James Bond for the previous entry in the series, the producers were concerned that the series was falling out of favour with audiences, and wanted to reignite the spark at the box office. They wanted to go back to the formula that had been so successful for movies like Goldfinger and Thunderball. The problem was finding someone to fill in the shoes of Sean Connery.

Back to basics

Having gone with an unknown, and inexperienced actor like they had for the previous movie, hadn’t really worked out for the producers. It didn’t help the grounded, realistic, and somewhat gritty approach that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had taken. In order to be more faithful to the source material and present a more adult movie, Peter Hunt had kind of walked away from everything that had made the Bond movies so successful; the outlandish plots, larger-than-life, and highly charismatic villains, and the gadgets that got Bond out of any kind of sticky situation over, and over again. The public wasn’t ready for that yet. Martin Campbell would successfully pull it off years later, but the mindset, and the era, were completely different back then. And even though the movie did make money, the producers wanted to go with a safer formula; one that would put them on the number one spot of the box office once again. And for that, they hired the director and writer who had given them the massive success of Goldfinger; Guy Hamilton and Richard Maibaum. Hamilton accepted, because he felt he’d been away from the character and its world long enough that he could bring something new to the table. Richard Maibaum started working right away on a first draft that would be loosely taking elements and characters from Fleming’s book, but coming up with an entirely new villain for the piece. He decided to re-use Goldfinger as a starting point, and so came up with a twin brother for the main villain in that movie who would be Bond’s new archenemy. But there was one missing element that they had to get, in order for it to work out the way it used to; Sean Connery. The heads at United Artists were adamant that they wanted Connery back in the role, whatever the cost. The casting people had been over a few names already, to replace Sean in case he said no. Of all of them, the chosen one was American actor John Gavin. He was a TV and stage actor, who’d had a supporting role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), alongside Janet Leigh. He had the good looks and the presence, and the producers were even willing to give hime an American persona, which would’ve gone against everything Fleming wrote about the character. He was actually already under contract by the time the producers managed to lure Sean back with an offer he couldn’t refuse. In addition to paying him the record-breaking sum of $1.2 million, which was unheard of at the time, UA also agreed to sign him up for a three movie deal in projects that would interest him. In the end, he would only manage to do one of these three movies. Another condition Connery had was to take a look at the script, the first draft of which, he didn’t like very much. Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman decided to hire another screenwriter to re-write Maibaum’s script. They wanted an American writer, but someone who was adept at writing in the English idiom as to not sound too jarring when compared to previous movies. Tom Mankiewicz, the son of legendary Hollywood director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, of Cleopatra (1963), and All About Eve (1950) fame. The result was the seal of approval by Connery after having read Mankiewicz’s first 40-page draft. Mankiewicz was a very young screenwriter who injected a lot of wit and dynamism into the script. After having secured a director, screenwriter, and an experienced leading man who could carry the movie through; it was time to seek out the rest of the crew and cast that would accompany Bond in his next cinematic adventure.

Old friends and new ones

Most of the all guard came back. Trusted people like Production Designer Ken Adam, Director of Photography Ted Moore, and Composer John Barry, were all on board from the very beginning. These were all people whom Hamilton had worked with in Goldfinger, and whom he trusted implicitly. For the newly rewritten script, Cubby Broccoli had come up with an idea that pretty much outlined the entire plot of Mankiewicz’s script. Broccoli had had a dream in which he was being called out by a familiar voice; that of his long-time friend Howard Hughes, and when Broccoli turned around to face him, there was a complete stranger there. The eccentric Texan millionaire was already a recluse at that time, and Broccoli wanted the story to play around with the idea that a Howard Hughes-type, completely made up for the movie, but clearly based around Hughes real-life persona, had been kidnapped, and secreted away atop his own private building; pretty much like Hughes was at the time, for his personal fortune, and unlimited resources to be used for nefarious purposes by a third party posing as him. The person who replaced him was none other than Ernst Stavros Bloefeld. This would make the fourth appearance of the character in the series, played by as many actors. After having being played by Anthony Dawson and voiced by Eric Pohlman in Thunderball, and by Donald Pleasance and Telly Savallas in You Only Live Twice, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service respectively; another familiar face would come into the part; that of known British stage actor Charles Gray. Gray had already played the part of British Secret Service Japanese liason Henderson in You Only Live Twice. His take on the character couldn’t have been more different than that from the previous actors. His Bloefeld, as Mankiewicz so aptly describes him, was a much fussy one, but equally cruel. Mankiewicz had also some very interesting ideas when it came to casting the villain’s henchmen. He thought it would be an amusing idea to have a gay couple of assassins doing Bloefeld’s biding; Mr Wint and Mr Kidd. For the roles, the director went outside the usual channels. Putter Smith was a bass player who’d played alongside Thelonious Monk. It was indeed while he was performing in one of Monk’s shows that he was spotted by Guy Hamilton. Putter had no previous acting experience, and would never act again after. His perfomance as the quirky, but deadly Mr Kidd is quite good, and amusing; considering the lack of experience. For the role of Mr Wint, Hamilton chose American actor Bruce Glover, father to Crispin Glover, of Back to the Future fame. Both actors complement each other brilliantly on-screen, and have some of the most amusing scenes and lines of dialogue in the movie. As the bulk of the movie would be shot in location in Las Vegas, the producers ended up recruiting a lot of actors and artists who either lived, or worked there. That’s why people like stand-up comedian Leonard Barr, and country-western singer Jimmy Dean were cast in prominent roles. The first one as Shady Tree, a full-time stand-up comedian, part-time crook for hire, and Jimmy Dean as “reclusive” millionaire Willard White. American actor Norman Burton was also the fourth actor to be cast in the role of CIA agent Felix Leiter. On the recommendation of screenwriter Mankiewicz, both Jill St. John and Lana Wood were chosen to play the role of this entry’s Bond girls. The first one as Jewel smuggler, Tiffany Case, and Lana Wood as Casino working girl Plenty O’Toole, continuing with a long tradition of funny names given to Bond girls. This time around, though, this fact wouldn’t be exclusive to female characters. Making full use of his penchant for black humour; Mankiewicz gave the name of Morton Slumber to the owner of the funeral parlour where Bond escapes one of the most impossibly tricky snake-pit situations in which the character had found himself in thus far; being locked inside a coffin, and almost burned alive in the parlour’s cremating oven!!. This little character role would be played by American actor David Bauer, in a rather amusing exchange with Bond. The rest of the cast were all pretty much returning members like Bernard Lee as Bond, Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, and Desmond Llewellyn as Q.

Living the American dream

Being set as it was, mainly in the city of Las Vegas, the crew moved early on to the Nevada State, and the city of Los Angeles to shoot everything in, and around the eternal gambling city. The entire crew moved into the Riviera Hotel, and filmed most of the scenes in Las Vegas thanks to the collaboration of long-time friend of Cubby Broccoli; Howard Hughes. It was thanks to him that the crew was able to close down downtown Vegas for the car chase between Bond’s Red Mustang and Las Vegas Police. The scene was a combination of in location and back lot shooting. Universal Studios was the place chosen by the producers to do most of the on- set filming while on the US. It was a three-night shoot in downtown Las Vegas, where the amount of ligts illuminating the Strip was a blessing,on the one hand, as the DP didn’t have to set up any artificial lighting; and on the other hand, the constant mass of crowds was something of a hindrance. This car chase finished with Bond squeezing the Red Mustang through a narrow alley by leaning it on the right side. Unfortunately, due to a mistake of the stuntman doing the flip, the car came out the other side leaning on the left side. By the time the editors realized this, they were already back in England, and couldn’t go back to the States to repeat the stunt. They came up with the solution of doing a flipover,midway through the alley in the Studio in Pinewood, with Jill St. John and Connery riding a mocap of the Mustang mounted on a gimble. The footage was hastily integrated into the footage shot in location, and the end result, though not physically possible; was an agreeable compromise. The Hilton Hotel doubled for Willard Whites’ The White House, whose top part was replaced with a matte painting by the amazing matte artist Albert Whitlock, who’d made a name for himself working for Alfred Hitchcock in movies like The Birds (1963). Other locations were an industrial plant, out in the Nevada desert, which doubled for Willard White’s Space Lab, around which the Moon buggy chase was staged. This would prove to be one of the most difficult action set pieces as the flimsy structure of the moon exploration vehicle coupled with the rough and rocky terrain of the Nevada desert, would force the filmmakers to constantly re-stage and reset these scenes, until they came up with the idea of fitting the lunar vehicle with a sturdier and wider set of tires to keep the vehicle from constantly tipping over. The three-wheeled buggies with which the stuntmen were chasing it, didn’t fare any better. A lack of control, and speeding would cause more than one close call. Other important set pieces in the movie were Bond climbing onto an elevator to access White’s Penthouse, and using a python gun to climb the rest of the way hanging onto a ledge hundreds of metres over the blinking lights of the city. This last part of the climb was recreated on a set in Pinewood, put together by Production Designer Ken Adam, and with a matte painting of the city in the background to give it realism. Another striking looking set was the privately owned hilltop mansion, that was basically built around the mountain, and which served as Willard White’s reclusive site, guarded by Bambi and Thumper. The idea of having two gymnasts be White’s custodians was entirely Guy Hamilton’s. He didn’t want to have another Odd Job-type character play the heavy once again, and thought it would be interesting to turn the idea of having a strong male play the heavy on its head, and change it for two graceful, agile but, at the same time, lethal henchwomen; who give Bond a run for his money. For the scene of the diamonds exchange, the crew had to go on location to a real Casino/Circus that had been running for a few years already. The owner of the place, which was called Circus Circus; allowed the crew to use the location on the condition that he could do a cameo in the movie. One final filming location off the coast of San Diego was an unused oil rig that doubled as Bloefeld’s base of operations. It was a very dangerous location to film around, especially during the finale, in which a serious amount of explosive charges had to be set up to go off on cue with the helicopter attacks. The cast and crew had to travel to and from the oil rig either by boat or helicopter each day, which proved to be something of a nerve-wracking affair for the likes of Tom Mankiewicz. The interiors of the oil rig were recreated on set in Pinewood Studios, as were most of the interiors like Tiffany Case’s apartment in Holland, Bond and Tiffany’s Las Vegas hotel suite, the interior of Bloefeld’s mini submarine; a replica of which was built by the prop department, and used for exterior shots, the complete interior of the small and narrow, glass elevator in which Bond fights Jewel smuggler Peter Franz, was also recreated in Pinewood, and the crown jewel of them all; Willard White’s Penthouse suite. The set was a sprawling, futuristic and elegant design which is among the best ever designed by Adam.

Critical and Financial reception

As expected, the movie was a success. Overtime, though, people have regarded it as one of the silliest, which is understandable to a certain extent; but so are most of the Bond movies, and one of the worst; which is confounding. And I’ll explain why in a second.

Personal thoughts

I hadn’t seen this movie for a long time before I did it for the purposes of this review, and I must say; I had a ton of fun. It’s outlandish, witty, with very funny and very well executed action set pieces, (the the moon buggy chase, the car chase through downtown Las Vegas), memorable characters and scenes ( the scenes in the tacky Las Vegas-style funeral parlour had me in stitches, they were so funny), very well written, and quotable dialogue and one-liners, and Connery seems to be having the time of his life. Maybe because he knew that, for once, he had one over the producers and was getting the money and conditions he wanted to play the role. Plus, this was the last time he would be officially playing the role under the EON/UA banner. He was well into the role by the time he did From Russia with Love, but he seems at his wittiest and most comfortable here. If there is one thing that really stands out above all of the above mentioned, is the script and the dialogue. Mankiewicz was given the freedom to take the basic idea of the novel, and let his imagination fly. Things like having a couple of homosexual henchmen was something that would be frowned upon in this day and age, and for the life of me; I don’t have the slightest idea how they got away with it back then. It was an outrageous concept for the time. And to come up with the idea of calling the owner of a funeral parlour Morton Slumber. Who doesn’t find that funny? It’s not all laughs and giggles, though. Connery toughens up when he needs to. The pre-credit sequence in which he beats the hell out of a bunch of people to get to Bloefeld, how he disposes of him later on, the elevator fight between him, and the Jewel smuggler in a cramped space of broken glass and metal. How well choreographed, executed and shot it is. The use of John Barry’s soundtrack during that scene; which amps up the tension and action in the scene. Somethings that reminds you of a scene out of a Alfred Hitchcock movie. The quips between Bond and Tiffany during their first meeting; the sexual innuendo implicit in Bond’s words. Again, not something you would find in today’s cinematic and social landscape.

All of the cast do a marvellous job. Even Charles Gray does a surprisingly good turn as Bloefeld. He comes off as breezy, not so stiff; but definitely menacing. Jill St. John does what is probably the best performance out of a Bond girl since Honor Blackman in Goldfinger. It does help that she’s given wonderful dialogue to work with. Actually, the movie is peppered with little great performances, and moments from all of the actors. Bruce Glover and Putter Smith do a superb job as Mr Wint and Mr Kidd. They have such good chemistry on-screen, and theirs are the funniest moments in the movie. Everything they say, or do, has a double meaning. The movie is not without its goofy moments, of course. The moon buggy chase and the Mustang spinning through an arrow alley on its side come to mind, but I find those moments of levity and humour necessary to lighten up the movie’s mood. It’s the total opposite of what Peter Hunt did on the previous movie, but then again, Guy Hamilton was someone who was always in for the tongue in cheek stuff. As for why people seem to have a problem with this one, and they usually rank it amongst the worst in the series, is something beyond me. The movie offers exactly what the movie-going audience expects from a Bond movie. All of the above. Plus, Shirley Bassey is back singing one of the most emblematic and recognizable credit’s songs in the series with John Barry in tow offering a dynamic and melodic soundtrack in his best tradition. For those who’ve never seen it, or haven’t for a long time; don’t mind the bad reviews. You’ll have a lot of fun. Sean’s back.

Thanks for reading

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The Journey continues…

After the massive success of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment of Peter Jackson’s intended trilogy based on J.R.R Tolkien’s literary masterpiece, all those involved knew that having set the bar so high, both creatively and artistically, for the first movie; it was up to them to deliver something equal to, if not even better than the first film. The task ahead was daunting, to say the least; even more so when compounded by the fact that the middle chapter of the trilogy had always been, from the outset, the trickiest to adapt.

Upping the ante

Jackson and Co had several facts playing against them. The structure of the book was set out in a way that half the book was devoted to the characters of Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and their attempts to rescue the two hobbits, Merry and Pippin, kidnapped by the Orcs of Isengard in the previous book; and the other half was devoted to the characters of Frodo and Sam on their journey to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring, and their various interactions with several new characters. It was decided from the scripting stage that in order to make both story arcs flow dynamically within a cinematic medium; they would intercut back and forth between all three storylines (Merry and Pippin end up being cut off from Aragorn’s group, and go on their own personal journey with Treebeard and the Ents). That way the action and pace would be smoother. One other difficulty was the creation of Gollum, a totally CGI rendered character that was a complete head-scratcher, the creative heads at Weta Digital didn’t have the faintest idea how to tackle. Motion Capture was in its relative infancy back then, and it forced the Animators to come up with solutions, and the creation of a whole new Digital rendering software from scratch. The increase of the scale of the production in the use of Visual Effects and the number of Production units filming in different locations all over New Zealand and more characters in the story, added to the logistical nightmare that this mammoth production was coming to.

Breaking new ground

Of all these concerns, the one that the production team lost more sleep over was the rendering of Gollum as a tangible, believable CGI character. Fortunately for them, one element came into the picture that would be of great help for all those involved. In the early stages, British actor Andy Serkis was hired to merely voice the character of Gollum in Post-production. His approach to the character, however, was that of a hands-on physical presence on set with which the other actors could interact. He literary threw himself into the role, giving the character, not only his unique and identifiable voice, but also giving it a physicality which the Computer Animators could later on use as a model to bring about the nuances of the character in its CGI form. With the help of a skin suit, he would act out his scenes with the actors, giving them a template on which to base their own performances. Such was the success of Andy’s work on set, and the physicality he brought to the character, that Jackson decided to model the final CGI outlook of Gollum on Serkis’ own physique; something that would come in handy, and pay off much later on towards the latter stages of the story. Serkis would later on re-shoot most of his scenes in a green stage in a Motion Capture suit, so that his movements and facial expressions could be added to those of CGI Gollum. The final result was the most believable, interactive and complete CGI character seen on the big screen to date; a major breakthrough in Visual Effects, and one of the biggest selling points of the whole movie.

Return of the Big-atures

Big-atures was an endearing term that had been coined during production by the crew on the first movie, on account of the huge size of the miniatures used in the movie. This time around, however, the use of these, and their increase in size, would double due to the added sets that had to be recreated for the increasing number of locations and action set pieces. The crown jewel among all these was the miniatures used for the creation of Helm’s Deep. The ancient Rohan fortification was recreated on an abandoned quarry outside of Wellington in two different sizes for both the use of close ups and long distance establishing shots. The biggest one was so massive that the crew could crawl their way in to set up the different shooting equipment. This quarry would also be the site on which a full size portion of the wall was recreated, within which the actors could shoot the elaborate fight scenes. But not all sets built for the production were miniature sets. In addition to the use of the Wellington back lot to recreate most of the interiors of places like the Grand Hall of Rohan’s palace, and the interior of Isengard’s tower, the crew went scouting for locations and found a hill, with a 360 ° view of the valley surrounding it in a rural area of New Zealand’s southern hemisphere. There they proceeded to build the entirety of Rohan’s palace on top of the hill and the town’s cabins and other structures at its feet. The place was also notorious for its high winds, so the construction crew had to make sure that the carefully constructed set would not be blown away, and had to nail it down to the rocky surface without causing any lasting damage to the landscape afterwards, as it was imperative that they left everything the way they’d found it. The whole set was a feat of engineering, and although the interior for all these sets were recreated in Weta’s back lot in Wellington, it was until that point; the biggest set that had been constructed for the production. A fairly large miniature set of Isengard had also been constructed in an open area outside the stage in Wellington for filming miniature background plates of the Orc pits and Founderies underneath it. The miniature could also be flooded for the sequence in which the Ents attack Isengard. Although much of this sequence would be achieved with the use of Visual Effects, the crew tried to do as much in camera as they could.

Pushing the digital boundaries

Given the scale of the production, and the increase in the use of CGI, due to the mounting quantity of action set pieces, the filmmakers came upon a company that had created a software that would multiply the amount of extras seen on-screen. Not only that, but the A.I of said software allowed for each digitally recreated soldier or digital stand-in to have a mind of their own, and being able to perform a series of set action/reaction body movements, and interact not only with other CG recreated counterparts, but with their virtual environment too. The use of stunt doubles for the close-up scenes was still much prevalent, but the use of this software dubbed “Massive”, on account of its ability to produce CGI environments and ”virtual people” on a large scale, proved to be a much needed money-saving tool for the scenes like the battle of Helm’s Deep in which the filmmakers needed to have hundreds upon hundreds of Uruk-Hai and Rohan warriors on-screen. The final result was a seamless blend of Digital and Practical Effects. Another new character that complicated things for the technical crew was Treebeard. The tree-like Wood shepherd was a tricky one to translate from the book. Jackson didn’t want it to come across as goofy-looking, but he also wanted it to be as close to how it was described in the book as possible. After numerous attempts by the Conceptual Designers to come up with a suitable design, they settled upon one design that depicted Treebeard as pretty much a walking, talking tree with some human features etched into its bark. A life size puppet model was constructed onto which the two hobbits, Merry and Pippin could sit and perform their in-camera scenes. It was a cumbersome and uncomfortable task for both actors, as they had to stay on it for hours on end, take after take. Several puppeteers were also needed to operate this massive on-set contraption. To give the whole character more fluidity in its movements, it was decided that his walk would be digitally recreated, as the bouncing and gait of the life-size puppet came off as too unstable and jerky on-screen; something more akin to a stop-motion puppet than anything else. Digital facial replacement was also done to give the character’s face a more life-like quality. Finally, to give it its characteristic booming voice, Jackson asked actor Jonathan Rhys Davies to voice the character in Post-production. To give a wooden-like quality to it, Davies’ voice was tweaked by having the actor recite his lines through wooden tubes and barrels to give it the right feel.

New players come into the story

In addition to those actors and crew members who came back (pretty much all of them); a few new additions were added to the Lord of the Rings family. For the parts of the Rohirrim, two Australian and New Zealander actors were cast; Miranda Otto as Éowyn and Karl Urban as Éomer played the parts of King Théoden’s niece and nephew. American actor Brad Dourif was cast in the role of Wormtongue, the king’s twisted advisor and British actor Bernard Hill for the part of stout and regal king Théoden. For the new Gondorian characters in the piece we got David Wenham as Faramir, Boromir’s brother and son to Denethor, Steward and keeper of the throne of Gondor, who makes a surprising cameo along with Sean Bean’s Boromir in one flashback scene that was added to the DVD Expanded Edition of the movie. Australian actor John Noble makes a lasting first impression as Denethor, paving the way for what we would see a year later in Return of the King. As was the case before with all the other cast members from the previous movie, the newcomers perfectly melded within the ever-growing Lord of the Rings family, creating a lasting friendship bond between all of them after having endured the hardships of such a trying shoot.

In the thick of battle

One of the standout action set pieces of the movie was that of the battle of Helm’s Deep. It was an arduous shoot that went on for several weeks in which the cast and crew worked mostly at night under the incessant downpour of rain produced by huge rain machines hanging from big cranes. In addition to the exhausting shooting in the wee hours of the morning, the cast, and mostly stunt doubles, had to contend with full-on rubber suits for the Uruk-Hai, created by Richard Taylor’s team at Weta Workshop. Temperatures inside the suits were extremely high, which also helped to stave off the freezing temperatures the cast and crew had to endure. The not least important matter of risk to life and limb while the actors and stunt doubles were enacting the fight scenes, was another thing that had to be taken into account. Most nights the cast and stunt doubles would come away with cuts and bruises, to be stitched up and come back again the next morning for another round. Several actors would sustain severe injuries during the shoot; like Viggo Mortensen, who broke one of his toes during a dramatic scene, and Orlando Bloom, who broke a rib when he fell out of his horse, and had to be digitally doubled for the scene in which he jumps onto a horse. Said injuries would prevent both actors from performing the scenes in which they’re chasing after the Uruk-Hai who’ve kidnapped Merry and Pippin, to the best of their abilities. They managed to pull through, though. The second unit would fly them to a remote location, shoot them running across a plain and stop. The arduos and hectic schedule wouldn’t allow for Jackson to be in two places at once, and as he did on the previous movie, he had to supervise the shooting of all the different units all over New Zealand via a satellite monitor feed. It was an all out effort on the part of all those involved, but as it had on the previous movie, the fun didn’t end when the cameras stopped rolling. There was another battle against time to be had in Post-production.

Assembling the jigsaw puzzle

It was known from the very beginning that the middle chapter in the trilogy would present the biggest challenge when it came to editing. The disjointed nature of the story, presenting numerous story threads; each of them necesitating their fair amount of screen time to be properly developed, and the urge to keep the movie’s running time to less than three hours, made it the trickiest one to edit. Jackson had the foresight to predict this, and so he’d hired a different editor for each one of the movies. This time the role fell on Michael Horton. Many of the scenes that Jackson really liked, that better fleshed out the characters, or were a direct call back to events that had happened on the previous movie, had to be lifted. Mostly for pacing reasons. Fortunately, the scenes were rescued for the commissioned DVD Expanded Edition, and re-integrated into the original footage. Most of these scenes were expanded versions of already existing ones, but two of these scenes really come to the forefront. The first one deals with a side plot that has to do with king Théoden’s son that was almost completely disregarded in the Theatrical cut of the movie, and the other one is a flashback scene that takes place in Gondor between Denethor and his two sons Boromir and Faramir, that’s a direct call back to The Followship of the Ring. All the added scenes amount to what I think is a more cohesive whole in which the story, and especially the actors, have more room to breathe. A breath of fresh air, if you pardon the pun, but the best way in my opinion to watch the movie. Jackson’s woes didn’t stop there, though. In addition to supervising editing, he also had to go back and forth between the different Post-production units to make sure that the final product was to his liking, which is pretty much what he had to do on the first movie.

Financial and critical success

The movie was a huge success, making even more money than the first one; which was surprising given that sequels don’t usually outperform the original at the box office. It garnered a worldwide total of $936,689,735. Critical reception was also very good, leading it to be nominated for several Golden Globe and Oscar Awards, winning two for Best Sound Editing, and another one for its groundbreaking Visual Effects.

Final thoughts

The Two Towers is an amazing fantasy movie. To me it’s difficult to talk about which one I consider best, for I see each one of them as part of an amazing whole. They’re so tightly edited together, and have such a flow together as to consider them inseperable. To be viewed back to back. Right from the get go, Jackson had the difficult task of topping what him and his crew had done in the previous movie, but I think he passes the test with flying colors. The movie grabs you by the scruff of the neck from the very beginning and never, ever lets go. The opening sequence of Gandalf fighting the Balrog while they’re plunging to the depths of the Mines of Moria is breathtaking. The perfect clincher. By the nature of the second book, this installment is more action-driven than the first one, but that doesn’t mean that it leaves its characters by the wayside, and forgets completely about them. Quite the opposite. We start to see the toll that carrying the Ring is starting to have on Frodo. We witness Sam’s transformation into what is pretty much a moral and emotional anchor for Frodo.We also have a clearer view of Aragorn’s purpose in the story. The bond between him, Legolas and Gimli is stronger than ever, especially between the last two. Gandalf’s presence here serves more as a narrator and someone to move the story along by moving the characters in place like pieces on a chessboard, than anything else. Merry and Pippin are left with no much else to do, that’s true; but it’s great to see the chemistry between Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd. All the rest of the new cast members perform their roles beautifully; especial mention to Brad Dourif’s Wormtongue and Bernard Hill’s Théoden. Miranda Otto perfectly embodies the fragile, but at the same time, strong willed and corageous Éowyn. Karl Urban’s Éomer has little presence in the story, but what he does, he does very well. All the returning cast members fall back into their roles. It does help their performances that all three movies were shot back to back. But if there’s one actor and character that stands out for the rest is Gollum. Andy Serkis seems to have crawled right out of the pages of J.R.R Tolkien’s book. He’s the perfect Sméagol/Gollum. The voice, the physicality; all beautifully rendered in CGI form by the magicians at Weta Digital. With every passing movie, they were getting better and better at their craft to become one of the top Visual Effects houses in the world; their work ranging from the virtual environments of the planet Pandora in James Cameron’s CGI fest, Avatar (2009), to the Motion Capture marvel that is Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Steven Spielberg (2011).

The action set pieces, like the battle of Helm’s Deep and the Flooding of Isengard look like they’ve been taken directly from the book. Brilliantly planned, choreographed, shot and edited. Thematically is an even darker movie than the first one; which was to be expected. Andrew Lesnie is, once again on point reflecting this aspect of the story in the colour palette chosen for the movie. Even Howard Shore’s score has a more somber tone to it. Not much else to say about it. The Two Towers is a towering achievement, but only the second piece of a magnificent puzzle that is the cinematic adaptation of Lord of the Rings.

To be continued, and thanks for reading.

L.A Confidential. Welcome to Los Angeles.

October 31st, 1997 saw the release of L.A Confidential; Curtis Hanson’s adaptation of James Ellroy’s highly complex and convoluted noir novel about a group of very different police officers in 1950’s Los Angeles, embroiled in a notorious mass murder case. The film was the result of years of prep work by both filmmaker Curtis Hanson, and screenwriter Brian Helgeland, who separately had tried for years to bring the proyect to the big screen. What came out was one of the best noir films the genre had seen since Chinatown (1975), Roman Polanski. Getting there, though, was a rocky road, to say the least.

An unwanted genre

One of the main problems both Hanson and Helgeland faced was convincing any major Studio to invest the necessary capital to produce a movie that was of a genre most producers thought was long dead. On top of that, the movie was a multi-character period piece with a convoluted story that was very tricky to bring to the big screen.

Hanson and Helgeland had already met when, each of them separately were trying to shop the idea around to different Studios, and while they thought it a terrific idea to adapt Ellroy’s novel, they also knew that it would be a daunting task to try and condense Ellroy’s book into any kind of manageable cinematic form. They immediately started working together on the script, until they came up with a first draft that they both were proud of to show to both any potential Studio, and to Ellroy himself, whom they both admired. Surprisingly enough, Ellroy liked the changes they’d made to the book, and that kind of emboldened them to try and sell the idea to Warner Bros. Hanson even had the idea of meeting the producers, actors and crew he wanted to work with in the movie in the Formosa Cafe in LA, a mytical place that would play an important role in the movie he wanted to shoot. Hanson had gathered a nice array of pictures and memorabilia from 1950s Los Angeles, which he used to convey the type of movie, look and story he wanted to tell. It was this sort of improvised pitch, plus his enthusiasm for the proyect, that finally sold the idea to the powers that be at Warner Bros. Another sticky point of the story was that in order for it to be believable and being as it was, a multi-character plot, and not wanting to draw the attention of the audience to any one character, the parts would have to be played by unknown actors. Hanson had done multiple casting sessions, and had come up with three very unlikely actors to play each of them; Russell Crowe as Officer Bud White, Guy Pearce as Lieutenant Ed Exley, and Kevin Spacey as Detective Jack Vincennes. Although Spacey had achieved relative fame with his character roles in movies like Seven (David Fincher),1995, and The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer), 1995; the other two were Australian actors who had little experience, in the case of Crowe; to no experience at all in the US market. The heads of Warner feared that casting unknown actors would make it a tough sell for the box office. Fortunately, Hanson didn’t buckle under the Studio’s pressure and convinced the Studio to stick with his choices. Not all actors were unknowns, however. Hanson knew from the start that he’d have to have some familiar faces in the movie in order to make it more appealing to audiences, but without sacrificing the believability of the story in the process. For this very reason he cast a number of actors who were sufficiently known to the big public like Kim Basinger as First Class Call Girl and Veronika Lake impersonator Lynn Brackett, and Danny de Vito as sleazy tabloid reporter Syd Hudgens. It actually took Basinger some convincing on the part of Hanson to take on the role of Lynn Brackett, as the role would take her away from her family life for a long time. A Best Supporting actress Oscar win for the role in next year’s Oscar ceremony would be quite a hefty price for a part she didn’t want to accept in the first place. For the rest of the main cast, Hanson went with TV actor James Cromwell to play the part of Captain Dudley Smith, and to actor David Strathairn for the role of suave and sophisticated Hollywood entrepreneur, Pierce Patchett.

The pieces start to fall into place

With a pretty good script and a solid, if mostly unknown ensemble of actors; Hanson started looking for the best people to bring his script and vision to the big screen. Costume Designer Ruth Myers, Production Designer Jeannine Oppewall, Editor Peter Honess, and Cinematographer Dante Spinotti, were each given the directive by Hanson to bring out the 1950s period and feel, without making it too obvious and showy, and to give it a grounded and everyday look that would not distract the audience from both the characters and story unfolding on-screen. Needless to say, all of them brought their A game to the project, and made each of the elements they contributed to feel like a part of the story in a seamless way. All of this rounded off by a brilliant score by master Composer Jerry Goldsmith.

Critical and Financial success.

Time made both Hanson and Helgeland right and the movie was heaped with critical and financial praise. It garnered 9 Oscar nominations that year, but being as it was Titanic’s Award-sweeping year, they only took home two Oscars for Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. I’m gonna say right upfront that I’m a big fan of James Cameron’s masterful epic Titanic (1997), but even I can’t deny the fact that, objectively L.A Confidential is a far stronger movie, both storytelling and performance-wise. In all fairness, and this is coming from someone who was rooting for Cameron to win for Best Movie and Director, Hanson should’ve walked away with at least those two accolades.

Personal thoughts

L.A Confidential is a storytelling masterpiece, the likes of which we don’t get very often. It is also a brilliant example of Noir executed to perfection. All the pieces fall perfectly into place. It’s not very often that all actors in a movie are cast to perfection, each giving nuanced and believable performances, without out-staging one another, which is exactly what Hanson wanted to achieve. It’s also one of the best book adaptations ever put to the screen. Both Director and Screenwriter take the best elements from Ellroy’s book, and mash them together without betraying the core spirit of Ellroy’s literary masterpiece. It’s a very complex book to faithfully adapt to the screen, but both Hanson and Helgeland managed to pull it off. There’s of course changes to the book’s narrative and many characters and subplots that are sacrificed, but these are sacrifices that had to be made to trim the story down to cinematic size. Some of these changes are actually very welcome departures from the book, and help to make it more digestible to the audience, and even throw in a surprise or two. When said changes are met with approval by the book’s author, all the more reason to be satisfied. What’s important is that the morally ambiguous nature of many of the characters, and the feel and glamour of the period from the book; are true to the source material. It also helped to launch the careers of three great actors into the mainstream and gave us one of the best movies of the 90s in particular, and of cinema history overall.

This is what happens when the best of the best comes together to make movies. A Masterpiece.

Thanks for reading.