Our review of James Bond Ultimate Edition (Volume 3), published January 1st, 2007, is also available.
You know the name. You know the number. You were expecting someone else?
Pierce Brosnan makes an auspicious debut as 007 in a glorious, entertaining film that will stand proudly in the James Bond saga.
It is one of the cruelties of fate that when Roger Moore finally was eased out of the role and The Living Daylights was set to go that a contractual dispute with NBC prevented Pierce Brosnan from immediately filling the role. Timothy Dalton was a reasonable substitute, but I think that Pierce Brosnan is a far superior actor for the role and I weep at how much better both Dalton films could have been. Brosnan is a combination of the dark intensity of Sean Connery, the smooth agility of Roger Moore, and his own playful humor that adds a nice touch without becoming silly or campy. A recent review of the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair described him as having "inscrutable, cool Euro-jet set charm"—an appropriate label, I think. Bond is as fully a realized, multi-dimensional character here as I have ever seen.
Another notable twist of the cast that GoldenEye took was to break with tradition and place a woman in the role of M—but not just any woman. Dame Judi Dench is an exceptional actress, who can convey such strength of character and command such an aura of authority that she is a perfect choice as M. As with a personal hero of mine, Lady Margaret Thatcher, I think Dame Judi Dench is worthy of the title "Iron Lady."
As remarked on the commentary track, GoldenEye does not have any wilting submissive women, as they all give Bond a hard time, including the sweet but stern Moneypenny (Samantha Bond). In particular, I think the film is immeasurably strengthened in the choices of the actors who most interact with Bond. Izabella Scorupco is as intelligent, self-assured, and fearless as she is delicious, presenting herself as a fully developed, credible "Bond girl" counterpart to 007. As important is to have the henchman of the Bond villain be a strong, menacing danger to our hero—a memorable example being Oddjob (Goldfinger). Here in Goldeneye we are treated to something that we have not seen since Thunderball—a passionate, professional woman who is guaranteed not to fall for 007's charms, instead opposing him every bitter step of the way. Famke Janssen is just fabulous as the sexually aggressive, female playboy who gives 007 a real run for his money, creating a whole new vista of interaction and verbal boxing between herself and Pierce Brosnan.
Enough commentary. I hope you are ready for my usual detailed synopsis?
Nine years ago, 007 and his colleague 006, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) infiltrated a Soviet chemical weapons facility in typical daring fashion, with the object of destroying the deadly stockpile. Things get a bit sticky when an alarm is tripped and hordes of guards start interfering, particularly when 006 is killed by the cold-blooded Col. Ourumov (Gottfried John). James Bond makes his escape (while still accomplishing his objective, naturally) with a truly over the top, mid-air stunt.
The opening credits merit a mention, partly because they are some of the most beautiful and elegant (and meaningful) visuals in a Bond credit sequence, and partly due to the title song, written by Bono and the Edge but performed by the indomitable diva Tina Turner. To me, it has a modern groove but still is reminiscent of the powerful style of Shirley Bassey in Goldfinger.
From the credits we segue into one of the most delightful sequences I have seen in a Bond film. M has apparently sent a psychologist to evaluate her iconoclastic playboy. Bond has his own ideas about what to do with sweet Caroline (Serena Gordon) as he takes her for a mountain spin in his classic Aston Martin. The pleasant drive takes a twist when a fearless and fabulous woman shows up in her gleaming red sports car, and with flirtatious winks, nods, and glances, she and 007 begin their hair-raising motoring competition. When the automotive foreplay is over, Bond completes the seduction of Caroline so as to make sure M gets a, ah, favorable report!
Later, Bond makes his usual night-time casino appearance for some baccarat, again running into his motoring flirt. Yet again making herself quite the alluring object of desire, Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) shares her second passion, baccarat, with 007, but of course she loses a bundle to him! Intrigued both personally and professionally, 007 checks with London and learns that his Russian femme fatale is linked with a shadowy figure named Janus, who heads a massive Russian crime syndicate.
Xenia is also very talented with her thighs, which she uses to fatal effect on a Canadian Navy admiral. The elimination of the Canadian nautical lover gives Xenia the security pass necessary to get her and a helper aboard a French frigate, from which they steal (in broad daylight, and with James being just a few moments too late) a prototype helicopter that is immune to electro-magnetic pulse (EMP).
The action moves to the Space Weapons Control Centre in Severnaya, Russia. Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) is a control operator who bemusedly tolerates the juvenile chauvinist antics of her computer/hacker whiz kid colleague Boris Grishenko (Alan Cumming). As life at Severnaya goes on as usual, now-General Ourumov, commander of the Space Weapons Division and a yummy Xenia (in a leather uniform!), arrive in the stolen helicopter and announce an unscheduled war-simulation test of the GoldenEye weapons system, a satellite-based EMP weapon that can destroy all electronics in its target area. Once the codes and access keys are in Ourumov's hands, Xenia massacres the staff with orgasmic delight and sets one of the GoldenEye weapons to fire on Severnaya, thus covering their tracks. Natalya's ingenuity leaves her unscathed but now at risk from elimination by the Janus syndicate as the only witness to their crime.
Meanwhile, in London, M (Dame Judi Dench) has summoned her Chief of Staff, Bill Tanner (Michael Kitchen, a fine actor last seen in the British political thriller To Play the King) and 007, because in monitoring Russia MI6 (British Intelligence) detected the stolen helicopter amidst the chaos caused by Ourumov and the GoldenEye weapon. In the middle of this scene is one of the most biting Clinton slams I have heard, when Bond asks if the video he is seeing is live. Retorts M, "unlike the American government, we prefer not to get our bad news from CNN."
M and 007 discuss the situation, and after exchanging some very sharp barbed comments, M sends Bond out to find GoldenEye, discover who is behind the theft, what they plan to do with it, and stop them. 007's first stop is to meet with Q (Desmond Llewelyn) and equip himself with the latest gadgets. Q proudly shows off Bond's BMW Z3 Roadster (not an Aston Martin? Heresy!), a leather belt with a 75 foot rappelling cord, a laser watch and a grenade-pen that he demonstrates with a test dummy. "The writing's on the wall?" queries Bond. Q agrees, "along with the rest of him!"
Arriving in St. Petersburg, Bond meets his CIA contact Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker). After amusing pleasantries, Jack tells Bond his best bet to find Janus through a competitor, Valentin Zhukovsky (Robbie Coltrane). Bond pays a visit to the ex-KGB agent, and convinces him with a large pile of money and a small dash of Russian patriotism to set up a meeting with Janus' people. Xenia Onatopp appears for the meeting, but is more interested in throwing Bond around and squeezing him in her deadly thighs. Eventually, Bond gets the upper hand and forces her to lead him to the meeting with Janus himself.
Bond is stunned to learn that Janus is an old friend and comrade, whose rage at the betrayal of his parents by the British government lead to his eventual betrayal. Captured by Janus, Bond awakens to find himself and the similarly kidnapped Natalya in a death trap that he escapes by using his head. Now in the hands of Russian Defense Minister Dimitri Mishkin (Tchéky Karyo), the pair is on the verge of convincing him of Ourumov's treason when the General shows up. Much mayhem and chaos ensues while Bond attempts to escape. Ourumov himself tries to slip away when Natalya falls into his hands, but Bond hijacks a Russian army tank for an unusual car chase through the picturesque streets of St. Petersburg.
Ourumov escapes to the friendly arms of Janus and Xenia aboard an armored train, but Bond is not done yet. Using the tank to stop the train, 007 attempts a rescue, only to once again find himself in a deathtrap, While Natalya is busy finding out Janus' hideout, 007 finds the weak spot so that they can get out just at the last minute. The ever-jovial Jack Wade provides some logistical support for Bond and Natalya (who comes along because she can defuse GoldenEye) as they fly to Janus' lair.
Thus is the stage set for the climactic confrontation of Bond vs. Bond Villain (and Bond Villain's henchman, er, henchwoman). Our hero is placed in great peril, the world is seconds away from disaster, but amidst great deluxe explosions, gunfire, and danger a plenty, James Bond (and his gadgets) save the day, defeat the villain and keep the world safe once again.
The video quality is quite exceptional, and I might even say a hair's breadth better than in Tomorrow Never Dies. Crisp, clean, and colorful, with nary a trace of shimmering or defects from digital enhancement. Blacks are solid, shadow detail excellent, and the colors are well-saturated and stunning without chroma noise or bleeding. Flesh tones are without complaint. Because I am exceptionally picky, only some minor sprinkling of flecks and blemishes prevents a perfect grade.
I cannot be even that picky with the audio component. I only have a front sound stage with present equipment, but I swear on several occasions where things were blowing up that the rain of debris was landing behind me! I also marveled at the James Bond/Xenia Onatopp racing sequence, where the engine noise for each car was exquisitely separated between the channels as they raced side by side. Frequency response is clean and vibrant up and down the spectrum, and your subwoofer may be very tired when this flick is done!
Extras are a nice collection, though a little lighter than some of its colleagues in the first DVD wave. There is a good, informative commentary track with Director Martin Campbell and Producer Michael G. Wilson, a nice "making of" featurette called "The GoldenEye Video Journal," an overview of the Bond series titled "The World of 007," the typical expanded trailer featurette, the theatrical trailers (one slightly matted, the other at proper 2.35:1), twelve TV spots, the Sony PlayStation game "Tomorrow Never Dies" trailer (in 5.1 sound, no less!), and the stunning Tina Turner video "GoldenEye." (On that last point, you may find yourself asking how old she is? and just HOW does she look that darned sexy?)
The disc comes with a nice multi-page, colored insert and the annoying Alpha keepcase. As with all of the Bond SE DVD's, the menus are mobile works of art, with movie sound and images combined into an animated groovy package. I must also commend MGM for giving us a horde of chapter stops (49), allowing all Bond fanatics to zero in on their favorite scenes with a minimum of fuss.
The story fits well in the Bond pantheon, as it recognizes how the landscape of the world has changed with the collapse of the Soviet empire and how in many ways this makes the world a much more fertile ground for using the Double Zero agents. You have the usual collection of foreign locations and grand sets, slam-bang action, amazing effects, and flashes of appropriate humor. My main complaint is with the opening over-the-top escape by Bond, which just seemed so far over the top that my suspension of disbelief shattered entirely. Oh, and I am sure that no one else noticed the horrible reversed-water effect when the lake drains in the final sequence? I guess the budget was getting a bit high.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Alpha keepcase?? Yeeccch! That, and the slightly light extras (compared to some of its colleagues), are the only other criticisms I can make.
This is one disc that will entertain you, give you a nice package of extras to browse, and showcase the visual and audible possibilities of the DVD format. So, even given its special edition price ($35), it deserves its place in your collection.
The name's GoldenEye, Special Edition DVD. Acquitted, I'm sure.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Director Martin Campbell and Producer Michael G. Wilson
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