Sold in Bondage

23rd November 1995 at 00:00
The Learning Zone: A Day in the Life of Goldeneye, Age range: GCSE and A-level media studies, BBC2, Wednesday, 5.30am, November 29. Three free study guides are available, "A Background to Bond", "Examining the Pre-production and Production Process" and "The Marketing of a Classic Genre to a New Audience". Film Education, 41-42 Berners Street, London W1P 3AA

Watching Dr No today, young viewers must wonder what all the fuss was about when the James Bond film was released in 1962. But they hadn't had years of watching true-Brits like Kenneth More and Richard Todd give lessons in discreet and upright heroics. Pitiless killer that he was, Sean Connery's James Bond blew away their faded gallantries with the first shot from his Beretta automatic. A new kind of hero had arrived.

Since that momentous debut, Bond has several times been remodelled to fit changing fashions and beliefs. In GoldenEye, the latest Bond film, Pierce Brosnan plays a Bond for the Nineties, doing battle on the streets of St Petersburg not with his traditional enemies the Russians, but with the Russian Mafia instead.

It's an extraordinary sight, one unthinkable even 10 years ago. But, as this media studies programme, A Day in the Life of GoldenEye, shows, the secret agent film is no different from that of any other genre - to succeed, it has to adapt its core conventions to current cultural conditions.

These, according to GoldenEye's director of Photography Phil Meheux, dictate that Bond retains his fondness for a slug of vodka, though cigarettes are definitely out. Happily, Bond's strong streak of insubordination endures. In an age of increasing conformity, it seems audiences relish more than ever their hero's contempt for dull authority. Indeed, the scorn is even greater in this film than before, for Bond's new boss is a woman. More's the pity, that the programme lacks comment on this development.

Risk avoidance demands that any changes to the standard format are closely considered. As the programme underlines, much careful planning goes into the making of such an intimidatingly expensive commodity. Every attempt is made to maximise efficiency, whilst trying to maintain the high-production values that have long typified Bond films.

To save money, an enormous, mock-Russian train engine is transported to the appropriate location by road rather than rail. Denied permission to deploy tanks in St Petersburg, the crew use them on sets carefully built to match those of the Russian city. More especially, each spectacular stunt is meticulously story-boarded long in advance of the actual shoot.

By way of illustration, the programme focuses on one such stunt and the graphic preparation that precedes it. Teachers will appreciate being shown several crucial images that are then spliced with the scene as eventually shot. They will also approve of the stress placed on the cardinal virtues of competent film-making: patience, imagination, and an endless longing for perfection.

All of which are apparent in the programme's finale, an impressive tank-train collision from which Bond and his beautiful companion make the requisite hair's-breadth escape.

It is an episode entirely typical of the form, and students will love it. But not so much that they will miss the point. As with nearly all genre items, the main strength of the Bond movies lies in their essential sameness. And if critics condemn such repetition as cliche, the producers care not a jot, as more of the same from Bond means massive returns.

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