20 Years of GoldenEye

One of the most highly rated Bond films celebrates it's 20th Anniversary

With the latest Bond film, Spectre, fully in production for release later this year, it recently dawned on me that one of the most highly praised in the series will be celebrating its 20th anniversary. Not long after Spectre hits cinemas here on October 23, November 24 will mark the day GoldenEye brought Bond back from the dead in 1995.

Most Bond films have 1-3 years between them, but GoldenEye was the result of a six-year hiatus. It’s predecessor, Licence to Kill (1989), was a disappointment both critically and financially, but this was not the reason for the extended period of downtime. In May 1990, pre-production started on what would be Timothy Dalton’s third outing as Bond, and a poster was even displayed at the Cannes Film Festival. Unfortunately, with a script ready and possible directors being discussed, a legal battle between MGM/UA and the owners of the Bond film rights, Danjaq, pushed the project into development hell.

In 1990 MGM/UA was purchased by the French-Italian broadcasting group Pathé. It’s CEO Giancarlo Parretti hoped to sell off the distribution rights of the studio’s catalogue in order to finance the buyout with advanced payments. Included were the international broadcasting rights to the 007 library at cut-rate prices, forcing Danjaq to sue. They claimed this violated the distribution agreements they had made with United Artists in 1962. By 1992 the lawsuits were settled and a year later MGM announced the seventeenth Bond film. With a screenplay completed in January 1994, Dalton had second thoughts about returning and announced he would be stepping down. Only two months later, Pierce Brosnan was cast as the legendary spy. Originally he was to take over from Roger Moore, but was contracted to star in Remington Steele and so had to turn it down in 1986.

Along with a new Bond, a new M was cast in the form of Judi Dench. For the first time a woman would be Bond’s superior. This is thought to have been inspired by Stella Rimington becoming head of MI5 in 1992. The aptly named Samantha Bond appeared as Miss Moneypenny and series legend Desmond Llewelyn returned to play Q. At the helm was the relatively unknown Martin Campbell, he would later return to reboot the series a second time for Daniel Craig’s first, Casino Royale in 2006.

Scripted by Bruce Feirstein and Jeffrey Caine with a story by Michael France, GoldenEye was unique in that it’s main villain was a rogue agent and close friend of Bond. This small element made for an interesting exploration into Bond’s psyche as the mission becomes more personal. Portraying the devious Alec Trevelyan was Sheffield’s own Sean Bean, albeit with a more sophisticated accent. He was assisted by an international cast made up of Famke Janssen and Izabella Scorupco as the beautiful Bonds girls, plus Gottfried John, Alan Cumming and Robbie Coltrane as additional villains and allies.

Principal photography commenced on January 16th, but with veteran Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli’s health deteriorating, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson took over most of the duties with ‘Cubby’ taking a backseat as consulting producer. To start, they had to deal with the issue of the Bond stage at Pinewood already reserved for First Knight. The solution was to convert an old Rolls Royce factory at the Leavesden Aerodrome in Hertfordshire into a brand new studio (most will now know it as the home of Harry Potter). It was a move that proved to be ideal because, as the producers later said, Pinewood would have been too small.

The Cold War was always a staple of the Bond series, and a catalyst for the character’s very existence, but with it’s end in 1991 it was clear this Bond would be of a different breed. He would need to be brought into the nineties to face new enemies with new threats. Many thought Bond couldn’t survive in the post-Soviet Union world and that he had become an icon of the past. Fortunately, these doubts were unfounded and GoldenEye was released to critical acclaim, becoming the highest-grossing in the series.

There will always be speculation over what the 17th in the series could have been if released earlier with Dalton wearing the tuxedo for a third time, but maybe the franchise benefitted from the troubled production. By the end of the 80s, James Bond was becoming stale, and with big budget action franchises such as Die Hard and Lethal Weapon ruling the box office, it gave the producers the opportunity to take a step back and approach from a new angle. This also allowed audiences to miss the character and make his return all the more special.

As a huge fan of the James Bond films, GoldenEye will always have a special place in my heart. Although my parents let me watch the earlier films when I was younger, it wasn’t until I saw GoldenEye at the age of eight that I actually understood the concept and the world. Alongside the successful N64 video game based on the film, it ignited my love for the character and since then I have had a healthy obsession for all things Bond. At least once a year I watch GoldenEye and if it’s ever on television I find it hard to turn over.

With audiences anticipating Spectre at the end of the year, maybe it will have a similar impact on eight-year-olds and draw more people into the James Bond fan club. I for one cannot wait for the first few notes of Monty Norman’s theme and another roller-coaster of a ride that will surely follow, but whether it can knock GoldenEye off my top spot remains to be seen.

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