James Bond
Ultimate Edition 2-Disc DVD Set

Starring: Pierce Brosnan
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: 16.99
Certificate: 12
Available 17 July 2006

The Cold War is over, but its legacy lives on in GoldenEye, a Soviet satellite-control device that could cripple the computer systems of an entire nation. When the device is stolen from a remote outpost, James Bond must travel to Cuba, Monte Carlo, Switzerland and even Russia, where he crosses paths with an old friend - and some old enemies...

This is the film that brought Bond back to the cinema after a gap of six years. In view of the franchise's prolonged hiatus, and the relative lack of financial success experienced by Licence to Kill, a change of artistic direction was almost inevitable, though it is open to debate whether this was for the better.

One aspect that Albert R "Cubby" Broccoli went on record as wishing to emphasise during this comeback was that Bond should never become a "superhero". It's ironic, then, that this movie should depict a freefalling Bond managing to catch up with a plummeting plane and a chase sequence in which 007 causes devastation with a tank in St Petersburg without even getting dusty.

The movie also exhibits an awkwardly cautious attitude, betraying backstage fears that the movie-going public of the '90s might find Bond a bit old hat. Thus we are unsubtly reminded that the Cold War is over (despite the fact that the movie series had never really relied upon the Russians as bad guys anyway) and that 007 is a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur", a relic of that bygone age. At least these lines are delivered by an actor of the calibre of Dame Judi Dench as the new M, one of the film's undisputed masterstrokes of casting. Having acknowledged the character's shortcomings, GoldenEye then proceeds to have Bond be as much of a womaniser as before. This attempt to please all of the people all of the time leads to a slightly wishy-washy feeling.

Similarly, Brosnan appears to be attempting to cover all bases rather than establish a characterisation of his own, amalgamating the harder edge of Dalton and Connery with the suave sophistication of Moore. He makes a decent enough debut performance, but he would not consolidate his position as a true action hero until 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies.

The supporting cast is generally excellent, including Michael Kitchen as Bill Tanner, a character who was a mainstay of Fleming's novels. Samantha Bond's Moneypenny holds her own against Bond, though her line, "As far as I can remember, James, you've never had me," is too in-your-face. Leading lady Izabella Scorupco enjoys the chance to make an essential contribution to the plot as computer programmer Natalya Simonova, while future X-Men star Famke Janssen is wonderfully wicked as another X-woman, the fetishistic assassin Xenia Onatopp. Amusing cameos are played by Joe Don Baker as Jack Wade, a kind of anti-establishment Felix Leiter, and Robbie Coltrane as Valentin Zukovsky, both of whom would make welcome returns in subsequent Brosnan films. Sean Bean is okay as Alec Trevelyan, though the home-counties accent sounds strange coming from a Yorkshireman's lips. (Compare this with his usual accent during the press event presented on disc 2, during which he says "ta" to all the reporters!)

Unfortunately, the identity of the main villain, who is effectively set up as a corrupt version of 007, was spoiled by the movie's pre-publicity. The concept of Janus, a scarred villain who plots revenge against Britain for that country's actions during the Second World War, owes something to Drax in Ian Fleming's novel Moonraker.

On balance, though, this is a swish production with a stylish script - barring the aforementioned imperfections and a hidden satellite dish, which owes far too much to You Only Live Twice. Of course, the Bond series has often repeated itself, but rehashing Blofeld's famous volcano base is something that the creative team should have known they couldn't get away with.

Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein's screenplay is surprisingly high on plot development rather than action, an aspect that is underscored by the music of Eric Serra, who is extremely good at generating mood but proves to be less successful at the traditional style of Bond action themes. However, the production does boast one of the series' best-ever title sequences, in terms of both relevance to the plot and sheer eroticism. This comes courtesy of Daniel Kleinman, who makes his debut here following the passing of Maurice Binder.

Owing to the wealth of contemporary behind-the-scenes and promotional material that is available for use among the special features, none of the Brosnan DVDs include retrospective documentaries of the type we have seen accompanying the previous Bond movies. This means that we get precious little historical information, such as details of the legal dispute that kept the franchise on hold for so long (though the second audio commentary on Licence to Kill covers some of this ground).

However, we do get two featurettes, GoldenEye Video Journal and Promotional Featurette, as well as the 1995 World of 007 documentary, hosted by Elizabeth Hurley (in what is practically a dress rehearsal for her role in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery), the music video to Tina Turner's powerful title song and no fewer than 14 theatrical and TV trailers. That's before we even take into account the 90 minutes' worth of new-to-DVD material, including four deleted scenes, with introductions by director Martin Campbell; location, stunt and special effects footage in On Location with Peter Lamont, Driven To Bond, Anatomy Of A Stunt: Tank Versus Perrier and Making it in Small Pictures; and Building a Better Bond, a featurette devised to entice the cinema industry before pre-production had even begun.

GoldenEye is a flawed but well-polished piece, worth keeping an eye out for.

Richard McGinlay

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