James Bond Review: Goldeneye (dir. by Martin Campbell)


After License to Kill, there was darkness.

The Bond Franchise would hit the longest lull in the series history, a break of about 6 years before Goldeneye came into fruition. I remember seeing the poster for Goldeneye in a subway station and the shock of both finding out there was finally a Bond film and that they managed to pick one of my favorite Bond choices at the time in Pierce Brosnan.

Albert “Cubby” Broccoli was upset with the response of License to Kill after its release. In the process, he decided to try something new and perhaps go with a different writer / director pairing. John Glen did a number of the Bond films leading up to this, and like a change in coaching, Broccoli may have felt it wasn’t going where it should. MGM, who was in the process of dying (and let’s face it, MGM was like that for some time), were in a deal that would allow the new owners to publish the Bond movies on TV without any consent or control from EON Productions. It was basically a fight to hold on to the ownership of the entire Bond Library, from what I’m finding. I could be wrong there, but it’s how I read into it.

Additionally, Dalton was supposed to do a third Bond film, but the issues between MGM and EON lasted so long that he eventually decided to bow out. Brosnan was approached to play Bond right after Moore finished A View to A Kill, but was unable to do so due to the success of Remington Steele. It was only after License to Kill (and Dalton’s departure) that the offer came back again and this time he jumped right on it.

One of the challenges for Goldeneye was to come up with a story for Bond. With the Cold War ending around the beginning of the decade, they couldn’t use General Gogol and the other angles that worked well in previous 007 files. The story that was made was seemingly tailored to work around that. Goldeneye deals with a joint mission with James and Alex Trevelyan (Sean Bean), who is also 006. During the mission, 006 is believed killed and Bond is able to both complete the job and escape. Bond later discovers that Trevelyan is alive and is behind a plot to fire an orbital EMP that would let him rob all of the banks in London via an electronic transfer. The film concentrates on how Bond doesn’t exactly fit in, considering that so much has changed around him.

One thing that Goldeneye really failed at was the music. Instead of the traditional Orchestra like tones from John Barry, they went with The Professional’s Eric Serra. The music was a mixture of electronic sounds and beats, a major departure from everything that Bond fans up until that point knew. For a number of Bond fans, the music just didn’t work for the film in any way (or only marginally made sense). This would be later rectified in Tomorrow Never Dies and a composer change. Here’s a bit of trivia: The end song of Goldeneye, “The Experience of Love” is actually a song made for The Professional, and an instrumental version of that song can be heard in that film’s soundtrack. Not the first time that’s happened musically – A James Horner track for James Cameron’s Aliens can be heard in the movie Die Hard – but it is a first for a Bond film, as far as I can tell.

Martin Campbell took over the directing for Goldeneye. While he doesn’t have a perfect track record (see Green Lantern and The Legend of Zorro), he was able to pull an action film together. He did so well with Goldeneye that he was actually brought on to film Casino Royale, possibly because both films were different kinds of reboots.

Another notable difference in Goldeneye is the introduction of Dame Judi Dench as “M”. It marks the first time that M is played by a woman. Her candor towards James is that he is “a relic of the Cold War” and a “misogynist dinosaur”. The chemistry between Brosnan and Dench is a bit rough when compared to her work with Daniel Craig, but the change also lends to an interesting dynamic. For someone who is considered a ladies man, here 007 is having to answer to a woman. Not terrible by any means, but it’s a shake up in the scheme of things. A younger Moneypenny (Samantha Bond) is also introduced, whose attitude is similar to M’s, but not as venomous. Desmond Llewelyn returns as Q, providing Bond with a BMW, outfitted with all of the regular gear. Although an Aston Martin DB5 was used in the beginning of the movie, it’s not the same car that Bond uses for the rest of the film. Where Moore was a Lotus driver and Dalton an Aston Martin one, Brosnan would be found behind BMW’s for the span of his 007 career.

For the Bond girls, two are better than one, and for Goldeneye we were given Izabella Scorupco as Natalia Simonova, a programmer with knowledge of how to stop the Goldeneye and a witness to the attack and theft of the device. The other is Xenia Onatopp, a former Soviet helicopter pilot and assassin, played by X-Men’s Famke Janssen. Jansen’s character is a bit cliche in that she kills with her thighs, but one has to wonder if that was just a carry over from what EON had to work with in previous films.

I thought Sean Bean was a great choice for a Bond Villain. At the time, he was young and dynamic, so  his character was able to hold his own with Bond in the fighting scenes and had a great plan with what he wanted to do with Goldeneye. I wouldn’t mind seeing more Bond guys be of the actual fighting type, rather than ones who let their henchmen do it for them. Speaking of henchmen, Alan Cumming’s hacker was more funny than fearsome to me, providing a comic relief to the film. Robbie Coltrane also adds a bit of humor as a contact of Bond’s that leads him to Trevelyan.

Goldeneye is also the first Bond movie to have it’s very own console based video game, and the impact of that game as a first person console shooter was huge at the time. We leave you with Tina Turner’s theme to the movie, with the assistance of Bono and the Edge. Tomorrow, we take on Tomorrow Never Dies.

Review: The Walking Dead S3E04 “Killer Within”


“No more kids stuff. People are gonna die. I’m gonna die. Mom. There’s no way you can ever be ready for it.” — Rick Grimes

[spoilers within]

This third season of The Walking Dead has been hitting 3 for 3 when it came to quality episodes. The surprising part is that the season is three episodes in. Last week we had an episode where Rick and the prison group never appeared. It was a well-done introduction for the new characters that will have a major impact on the series. With tonight’s episode, aptly named “Killer Within”, we return to Rick and the prison as they start to settle in their new safe haven (as safe as any place can be in a zombie apocalyptic world).

Tonight’s episode begins with a mysterious individual who seems to be up to no good within the confines of the prison fences. We see this person (all we see is that he’s dressed like a prisoner) using the carcass of a deer (or was it a wolf) t lure zombies into the prison and also taking an axe to the chains and lock that kept the gate secured. It’s an ominous beginning to an episode that would see a major reshuffling of the show’s cast of characters. To say that tonight’s episode was shocking would be an understatement. It was full of what fans and critics had been saying last season lacked. It had action pretty much through half the episode’s running time not to mention even the quieter scenes in the beginning of the prison segment and back at Woodbury led to something instead of just filling up airtime.

The mystery of the  “killer within” of the episode’s title was kept a secret until pretty much close to the end of the episode. It was quite surprising to finally find out who it was who had opened up the gates to the prison and turned on the prison alarm which was ringing the dinner bell to zombies within the prison and those still outside the fences. There’s some leaps of logic that someone watching tonight’s episode would need to get past as to how this “killer” was able to survive so long since episode two without being noticed, but the positives of tonight’s episode outweighed any failures in logic that one noticed.

With tonight’s episode we got to see how much Rick and Carl has changed since the end of the second season and this season. What exactly happened to the group during the 7-8 months they had been out in the Georgia wilds trying to survive day-to-day until they happened upon the prison. The writers have been very silent about whether there would be some flashback sequences that showed how the group survived the Fall and Winter. All we’ve seen this season was how those months out in the wilds had turned the group into a well-oiled survival machine that had one leader and everyone with a role they’d accepted and played. The fact that the group suffered no casualties during the time-off between season 2 and the start of season 3 showed that maybe being on the move was the best thing. They’ve just moved into the prison and started cleaning the place up and now two (maybe three) of their group has died.

One of the things which stood out the most with tonight’s episode is how much Carl has come to be just like his father this season. Last season, Carl had become a joke to the audience with is penchant to avoid his adult handlers and go off running into danger. His behavior and actions even led to the group losing one of their own late in season 2. Carl before this season was almost as if the writers had no idea how to write up a child character in a zombie apocalyptic world. One moment Carl was this helpless and naive child then the next he would act and talk tough like Rick or Shane. Both sides of Carl last season didn’t ring true, but we saw hints of changes to the character in the last two episodes. We see the result of the change in the show’s leadership and mission statement for season 3. Chandler Riggs has improved as an actor which goes to show that good writing will bring out the best in even the least experienced performer. While we find out who the killer within was the episode’s title could easily mean the arrival of a harder Carl who could be on the dark path to turning out to be a killer.

As for Rick, we see another instance where he seems to have left his idealism behind and accepted the fact that ruthless pragmatism was the new golden rule of this zombie apocalyptic world. He looks at strangers not with an open-mind or whether these new people would become helpful members of his group. No, Rick has taken an insular view of the world. If you’re not part of his group then you’re a danger waiting to happen whether that suspicion has credence or not. This mindset has kept his group alive since they left the farm after season 2 but it has also made him harder, colder and more ruthless to those in the outside looking in and, more importantly, even to some within his group.

Will tonight’s events finally become the final straw that breks Rick both emotionally and mentally or will it galvanize him even more to protecting his own and damn to everyone else. This Ricktatorship has suffered it’s first casualties and it should open up a whole new world of storylines moving forward. Idealistic Rick became a frustrating character to root for in the second season, but there’s also the danger of a despot Rick this season becoming too much on the other side of the personality spectrum. It will be up to Mazzara and his talented group of writers to balance Rick as a character where he still has some sense of the white hat sheriff’s deputy, but at the same time also knowing that he cannot let that very idealism endanger him and his people.

As an audience we’ve come to expect a season to spread out how much action and tense moments a drama series has the length of a season, but the writers of this series seem to be making up for all the “go nowhere” episodes of season two with a vengeance. I’ve been saying since the beginning of this season that we’re finally seeing the series’ take on the narrative style of it’s newest showrunner in Glen Mazzara who came up writing some of the best episodes of the FX cop drama The Shield over seven seasons. He and his writers seem to understandthat in a world as savage and cruel as the one in The Walking Dead having episodes where nothing happens outside of character debating and philosophizing about the nature of civilization and humanity wouldn’t make for very dramatic tv. the question that comes up now is whether the show will be able to sustain this streak of very good episodes over the length of season three.

NOTES

  • Tonight’s episode was directed by Guy Ferland and written by series newcomer Sang Kyu Kim.
  • Some levity involving Glenn and Maggie didn’t last the episode which looks to be the most nihilistic of the series to date.
  • Michonne may not be as chatty as Andrea this season, but she’s made her words count when she has spoken. Also very observant of not just her surroundings but her situation.
  • We come across a situation regarding strangers and their fate. Last season the group, especially Rick, would’ve debated all episode long and maybe into the next one about how to deal with the strangers. Another sign that this season has become a sort of reset for the series with Rick (with some help from Daryl) deciding not to change the agreement he has with the surviving prisoners.
  • Look between Rick and Lori before all hell broke loose looked like things may be thawing between the two.
  • Good to see the writers not making Hershel go through a bout of self-pity. He even made good use of the crutches when things got real stressful.
  • This now marks the third stressful and action-packed episode inside the prison. Writers have definitely taken to heart about the lack of action and tension that plagued Season 2.
  • Carl has definitely become a mini-badass like his father.
  • It had to happen and the sequence leading up to T-Dog finally getting bit was handled quite well. There was no mysterious zombie suddenly popping out of nowhere to chomp down on his shoulder. When he moved to close the gate one could see just before the scene switched away a zombie come into the frame and move up towards T-Dog who had his back turned.
  • Part of me thinks that disagreeing with Rick’s decisions is like people saying “NO” to Jack Bauer. It’s a sure way to get yourself killed either by Rick or some other way.
  • This season really hasn’t made Andrea a sympathetic character. I’m wondering if the writers have a new role for her in contrasts to how she was in the comics. I can definitely see her turning on the group and joining the Governor.
  • The Governor definitely has a way with him when it comes to getting his way. Andrea seems to be buying what he’s been selling her and even Merle seems off his game around him.
  • It’ll be quite a turn of events if this season we end up getting Merle rejoining the group as a helpful member while Andrea becomes the Judas.
  • We learn that the Governor’s first name is Phillip and that he has a young daughter. We also get to see him channel his inner James Bond villain with a scene of him doing practice golf swings at the zombies beyond Woodbury’s walls.
  • Carl’s reaction when Maggie told Lori to take her pant’s off was classic.
  • T-Dog went out a hero and his final scene was a nice shout out to a similar throat-rip scene from Day of the Dead (the original one).
  • We finally find out the answer to whether Andrew the prisoner who Rick left locked in the prison yard with the zombies died or lived.
  • Sarah Wayne Callies performance as Lori in tonight’s episode was some of her best to date.
  • For all the talk on Twitter about zombie babies I like to remind people that the best zombie baby ever comes courtesy of Peter Jackson.
  • We hear the shot but we never truly saw Lori die by Carl’s hand. Here’s to hoping the writers are not trying to pull a fast one on the audience.
  • Carl definitely turned a corner in tonight’s episode. This season we’ve seen that Carl’s become more useful and mindful that his past behavior had some fatal consequences. It’s not until tonight that we see Carl lose that final vestiges of his childhood behind and become the child-soldier Rick and his group need him to be.
  • For all his cold distancing from Lori we see that Rick still loved Lori in the end. Talk about heart-wrenching scene from Andrew Lincoln.
  • I have to give it up to Sarah Wayne Callies, Chandler Riggs, Lauren Cohan and Andrew Lincoln for bringing their A-game and more for tonight’s episode.
  • The monologue towards the end that really got to this hardened horror fan: “You’re gonna be fine, you’re gonna beat this world. You are smart, and you are strong, and you are so brave. You promise me you’ll always do what’s right. It’s so easy to do the wrong thing in this world. You promise me you’ll always do what’s right. It’s so easy to do the wrong thing in this world. So, if it feels wrong, don’t do it. Alright? If it feels easy, don’t do it, don’t let the world spoil you. You’re so good. My sweet boy. The best thing I ever did. I love you.” — Lori Grimes
  • Zombie Kill Count for tonight’s episode: 32.

VGM Entry 61: The RPG generation


VGM Entry 61: The RPG generation
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

The Super Nintendo RPG/Adventure legacy didn’t come over night. But ActRaiser (Enix, 1990), Final Fantasy IV (Square, 1991), and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Nintendo, 1991) did not necessarily set the stage, either. RPGs had been huge in Japan for quite some time. The Super Nintendo provided both the capacity to carry them and the consistency to focus costs on a single product (imagine the amount of time and resources which must have went into porting PC RPGs to a half-dozen different systems). This didn’t inspire computer gaming companies to switch gears–Nihon Falcom continued to pump out their titles for the PC-9801 all the way up to 1996, slowly switching to Windows with only one Super Famicom title, Ys V: Ushinawareta Suna no Miyako Kefin (1995), to show for themselves in between. But other publishers saw RPGs as a more viable option now, and Capcom, Taito, and Nintendo hopped on the bandwagon while Square and Enix picked up the pace. (Konami held off producing RPGs until the Playstation era.)

The fact that these types of games did not start to appear in abundance on the SNES until 1992 might have been a simple consequence of developers spending most of 1991 making them. 1992 to 1995 were the glory days of SNES fantasy gaming, and perhaps the crowning era in the history of video game music.

Capcom’s first big RPG was Breath of Fire (1993), credited to a long list of composers including Yasuaki Fujita (Mega Man 3), Mari Yamaguchi (Mega Man 5), Minae Fujii (Mega Man 4), Yoko Shimomura (Gargoyle’s Quest, Street Fighter II), and Tatsuya Nishimura. Thankfully track by track authorship is actually available, and we can see that Yasuaki ‘Bun Bun’ Fujita did the grand bulk of the composing, with Mari Yamaguchi contributing five songs and the other three chipping in a song each.

Here’s a track list for the compilation:

(0:00) The Dragon Warrior
(1:24) Fate
(2:54) Starting the Journey ~Breath of Fire~
(4:11) Deep Forest
(5:18) Battling
(6:02) Sand Palace
(7:07) Dejection
(8:05) Fishing

As a series, Breath of Fire was not really all that well noted for its contributions to video game music. I don’t want to blow off the rest of the games here and now before revisiting them, but I distinctly remember playing through most of them with the radio on (I never actually played Breath of Fire V). The original Breath of Fire was definitely more of an exception than than the rule. The soundtrack is peppered with memorable, moody numbers. It’s most famous song, at least in so far as it was carried on in future installments, is Mari Yamaguchi’s overworld theme, “Starting the Journey”. But it is Yasuaki Fujita’s bleaker contributions that really make the game stand out from the crowd. “Deep Forest” and “Dejection” could both easily pass for ending credits themes to some complex plotline defying the good versus evil stereotype–the sort of RPG we all crave but rarely find outside of the Suikoden series. They’re both delightfully dark and finite, screaming “it’s over, but did you really win?”

Of course neither of them are actually credits music, and Breath of Fire was never known for its plot. The series had an incredible knack for being simultaneously completely forgettable and quite fun to play–perhaps a consequence of actually challenging combat (at least, in comparison to the vast majority of turn-based RPGs.) When it came to music, the original was the only one that actually made a lasting impression on me when I played it.

Lufia & the Fortress of Doom, composed by Yasunori Shiono, was another series starter in 1993. There were actually only two Lufia titles in the 90s, and I suspect the later handheld releases came as an afterthought. Taito were prolific producers with a history in the gaming industry dating all the way back to 1973, but they had always shied away from the RPG market. With the cooperation of newly-established developers Neverland Co., Lufia would be their first attempt.

As for the history of Neverland, something on Wikipedia is clearly wrong. It claims Lufia‘s developer was founded on May 7th, 1993, and it claims the game was released on June 25th, 1993. But while Neverland certainly must have had an earlier origin, Lufia does appear to be their first of very few titles. In that regard, the Lufia series was kind of unique. I won’t pretend to know what goes on behind the scenes in the gaming industry (my dream of directing RPGs has always been a total fantasy), but I have to imagine when a producer develops their own game there’s a fairly more intimate degree of interaction between the two sides. Square and Nintendo as of 1993 nearly always developed their own games. The wildcards in the world of non-PC RPGs almost always went through Enix (the most famous developers being Quintet and Chunsoft). Neverland-Taito then seems like a pretty unique pairing–an independent developer working with a producer that had never marketed an RPG.

Lufia & the Fortress of Doom was in every manner a rough draft–a sort of prototype for Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals, which was infinitely better and one of the best RPGs in the history of the SNES. Unlike Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest (from what I gather), Breath of Fire, Seiken Densetsu, Quintet’s unofficial ‘Soul Blazer Trilogy’, and Zelda really, the Lufia series was both plot-centric and cumulative, taking place in the same world with a continuous history and related/reoccurring characters. As if in collusion with the rest of the development team’s maturation, Yasunori Shiono’s compositions improved substantially in the second title, but we will get to that later.

Good adventure/RPG music was not limited to the Super Nintendo. The Game Boy was a musical instrument par excellence, with by far the most aesthetically pleasing tones of any system on the market lacking diverse instrument sampling. (I hope that’s a suitable delineation for a technical subject of which I still know absolutely nothing.) The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is far and wide my favorite score in the Zelda series. It might have nothing on Ryuji Sasai’s work on Final Fantasy Legend III, but Link’s Awakening brings the Game Boy to life in a really beautiful way. Indeed, its only real fault is a failure to employ his three-dimensional stereo effects. The game’s crowning jewel, Tal Tal Heights, appears early in this compilation (0:30), but the whole score merits attention.

Koji Kondo surprisingly had nothing to do with it. Link’s Awakening was a joint effort between Kazumi Totaka, Minako Hamano, and Kozue Ishikawa, all of whom I’ve yet to mention. Kazumi Totaka actually had a pretty long history with Nintendo, providing music for the sort of games you might expect to hear Soyo Oka on (Mario Paint, Wave Race 64, most notably Animal Crossing, which I do hope I remember to feature if I ever get that far). Minako Hamano was responsible for roughly half of the Super Metroid soundtrack, though her name rapidly fades from the pages of history, and Kozue Ishikawa is a virtual unknown. But this motley crew managed to piece together one of the quintessential scores of the Game Boy, and in doing so earn themselves a place in video game music history.