The original James Bond films – creating quality
If you ever want to watch something long-form and very interesting, I recommend the series of documentaries about the making of James Bond films. Ive watched all the films and these documentaries are a great way to revisit them in a different kind of way. Ive watched most of them and they are very good. Below is the Moonraker one.
Ive heard people express their sincere opinion that Moonraker is total rubbish. To which I was very sincerely shocked. IMO Great soundtrack great cast, great special effects, great themes – great everything! I really do like Moonraker. Always have. Here are some of my personal opinions as to why in my opinion the Bond films like Moonraker were so successful and so brilliant.
When you watch the documentaries it stands out that these were artistic commercial endeavors that were going to succeed or fail based on many factors – success was by no means guaranteed. I think I always took it for granted that those old Bond films were always going to be successful, but they were cinematic effort like any other movie and subject to the same chances of success or failure – unless something quality was in the making of the film that tipped the balance of fate in favour of a successful outcome. In short why do films or any endeavour succeed or fail?
Innovation seems very present in Moonraker for example developing filming techniques to keep running the film and rewinding and filming over again to kind of create several image tracks on the one film roll, which made for some excellent space combat scenes. Again Ive been told how crap the space scenes were, but I totally dont see that – I find them breathtaking. rewinding a piece of film through a cinecamera 96 times to get a result – thats the kind of obsessive passion that results in quality. Set construction staff that dont normally work on weekends deciding to not only work on weekends but get their family members to work too to achieve deadlines. Esprit de Corp comes to mind. Clearly you have a lot of smart people putting in a lot of effort. It seems that the ethos was un-hierarchical when it came to ideas generation – meaning that if the most peripheral staff member had an idea they could express it and if it was good it might be in the film.
Unstructured: In Live and Let Die The greatest speed boat chase you ever saw and nothing much else written on the screenplay for that scene. Lots of risk taking. In every way – choosing not to use expensive special effects companies but to do the special effects themselves for example, is a huge risk but affords economy and control. Stunt men and actors and staff in general taking physical risks – of their own accord, to achieve outcomes – like the waterfall boat dangling helicopter situation in the Moonraker documentary.
The right kind of characters: Roger Moore is really a cool guy who brought a sense of humor to his interpretation on James Bond. I like how Richard Kiel – Jaws was portrayed – for example not entirely a bad sort of bad guy and his romance with the ballerina at the end.
It seems like the team were operating effectively and bringing all the elements together to make a great film. The filming locations were all over the World as well as in Pinewood Studios and a studio in France for example. Looks like location scouting involved unstructured action such as seeing a sign on a crocodile farm saying ‘Tresspassers will be Eaten” and including that area and that sign in one of the movies, or that huge waterfall where they tried flying a hang glider but it got in a downdraft and crashed into the trees, or the boat that was supposed to go over the waterfall but got stuck so one of the team got in a helicopter and was dropped onto the boat to try and dislodge it. One thing stands out – everyone was taking physical risks – and actually in one of the documentaries a stunt man was extremely badly injured when his leg collected a solid post as he traveled past it on the exterior wall of a speeding train.
I get the notion the team were actively involved in and personally engaged in the making of the film, something like the sentiment ‘ok we have to make a awesome film, its a largely blank canvass, how are we going to do this?’ and then do it, with minimal directions. I could be wrong about that but I dont think so, for example, one of the bad guy actors was asked what weapon do you want? and he said well I dont want a gun, how about a claw? and so he got to have a claw – that kind of thing can be very very effective and powerful for franchising team members into the whole shebang and getting them personally emotively invested in the outcome and also bringing in some ideas that dont necessarily originate from one or two brains only. Of course a director needs to have veto over all creative ideas – to say yay or nay, and that is where the legendary Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli (What a great name!) probably did his best work – in creating the conditions for a project to really pop. These guys were innovating and pioneering the Bond film genre – it hadnt been done before and they were making the films as they went in many ways, and relying on creativity and ingenuity to bring about the right results.
Contrast with modern movies: I reckon there are parallels between old and new Bond and Star Wars movies. I reckon the older were better than the newer. I think the main difference is the newer are following an established genre while introducing new themes. The newer movies are also super well funded and excellently staffed with professionals from the script writing team to the special effects team and so forth. I wonder though if the thing missing from the newer productions is that actual newness ironically of the older films in terms of newness of genre and rawness and creative freedom. Like how Roger Moore basically says in the Live and Let Die documentary that the reason he became James Bond is because he used to gamble in a casino at a table opposite some big spenders, one of whom was Cubby Broccoli! Seems like the informality and improvisation of the older projects was what made them the hugely successful and legendary movies that they are known as to this day.