In 1962, film title designer Maurice Binder conceived and shot the first 007 opening sequence, which opened with the now-iconic image of James Bond stepping into the gun barrel and taking a lethal shot. Binder's work is instantly recognizable to both Bond fans and casual moviegoers alike, but Daniel Kleinman, who stepped into the role of franchise title designer after GoldenEye, says the master isn't fully appreciated even to this day. "I think he's underrated," says Kleinman. "People love his work, but what one has to remember is that he invented a kind of visual language that is immediately recognizable as Bond, secret agents, excitement, and sexiness. If you see a silhouette of a girl with flames keyed into it, everyone in the world knows what that image is. He invented it."
Kleinman, who helmed the title sequence for the most recent Bond adventure Skyfall, entered the crosshairs of Bond producers after helming a Binder-inspired music video for Glady Knight's "Licence to Kill." He was an obvious choice to take over the role when Binder passed away before the making of Pierce Brosnan's first outing. From an early age, Kleinman was enamored by Binder's work — he recalls his 14-year-old self being quite taken by the shadowy women on display in the early films ("I wish that had been a bit slower") — and that respect made taking on responsibilities for the franchise all the more difficult.
"It's always a tricky balance when you're dealing with something that's a language and a heritage that everybody loves and knows and is familiar with," says Kleinman. "One can't throw the baby out with the bathwater. You have to have certain elements that I think, to make it feel like a James Bond film, have to be there." Even today, Kleinman's strives to to find the essence of Binder's work and extrapolate upon it. "It's a fine balance between the old and the new. It is a very subtle thing to put your finger on, but it's a source of lavishness and excitement. An almost psychedelic sort of thing, a graphic thing, sexy, tongue-in-cheek — all those things balanced. Guns, girls, all those elements."
While the iconography established by Binder is key, Kleinman also looks to the legend's innovation behind the camera. "He was quite fascinated with modern techniques and technology. I think he used the laser when lasers were first invented. He used it in a title sequence. He used florescent paints. All sorts of mad experiments that made it seem different and fresh."
Kleinman begins work on his title sequences before the film's accompanying theme song has been recorded or even written. Instead of taking cues from the mood of the music, the director first tears through the script for inspiration. "It takes about six to nine months," says Kleinman. "I read [an early draft of the script] and come up with thoughts. I don't want to just create a jumble of images that mean nothing. It has to have a certain relevance." In the case of Skyfall, Kleinman created "loads of sketches" for director Sam Mendes and producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, who left it to his discretion on how to hold the attention of the audience.
"One of the toughest things about the sequence is to try and not over complicate it," says Kleinman. "It's a long sequence, four minutes." Along with keeping the focus sharp, Kleinman also battles with a history of Bond title knockoffs. "The language that Maurice invented and that I've tried to riff on and take forward, has been ripped off effectively by millions. You see it in book covers, magazine covers, other movies, TV series — all of these things have taken from that language. And a lot of them don't do it very well, and they look cheesy."
For Skyfall, Kleinman wanted to utilize star Daniel Craig and take him through an impressionistic journey through the film's events, capitalizing on the image of Bond sinking in the opening and carrying it throughout the sequence. The director notes the use of bullet holes in the sequence as an example of his goals: "Instead of making them realistic, I tried to make them look like paper that was torn open. It became more like a graphic thing than a literal thing."
Achieving the fluid effects took a tremendous amount of time and effort, Kleinman bringing his concept to all on his own before handing it off to his team of artists. "I work out the ideas and the sequence of events and transitions — what I want to happen in it. Then I physically edit a storyboard, so it becomes a little cartoon of the sequence," says Kleinman. "The effects are so complicated it takes an enormous amount of people to create the actual visuals. They create liquids, elements of blood and liquid, a lot of it is computer animated."
CG is heavily employed in the making of a modern Bond title sequence, but the effects heavy treatment still requires Kleinman to shoot a great deal of footage. "A lot of it is physical, real elements. The guns… I built a tunnel for a recurring element of the sequence." Kleinman points to the underwater photography as the most demanding aspect of the shoot. He recalls directing the women who had to submerge themselves for the sequence. "[I would say,] 'Would you mind taking your clothes off and jump in the pool?' Weirdly, I'm a little bit prudish. I find it slightly embarrassing! But they know what they're up for. It's very professional."
If the underwater material was the most complicated, then the footage with 007 himself was the most intimidating for Kleinman. "I had to film him do the walk for the gun barrel," says Kleinman. "Finding oneself directing Daniel Craig doing the gun barrel for James Bond… that's a heavy responsibility [laughs]. It's an image everyone in the world knows. You think, 'I can't screw this up.'
Kleinman has a passion for crafting the Bond title sequences and he hopes they never go out of fashion. He sees them as, not just a memorial to the work of Maurice Binder, but works of art that we rarely see today. "It's tricky. It's like B-films, the support feature. Something from another era. Perhaps title sequences aren't thought of as art pieces in their right anymore."
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Sony Pictures]
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Casino Royale starts at the beginning as James Bond (Craig) takes his first baby steps as a Double O agent. His first assignment is to track down a terrorist cell in Madagascar but he’s a bit of a loose cannon and things quickly go awry. Bond’s superior M (Judi Dench) is soon regretting giving the arrogant Bond the promotion. Nonetheless Agent 007 takes it upon himself to follow a lead to the Bahamas and discovers that all nefarious dealings point to Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) a nasty fellow who has money ties to terrorist organizations. Le Chiffre is planning to raise money in a high-stakes poker game at the Le Casino Royale in Montenegro—and Bond gets in to beat him at his own game. Along with a hefty bankroll M also sends the beguiling accountant Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) to keep Bond in check. They are skeptical of each other at first but as the danger escalates it becomes apparent there is a growing attraction—and affection—between them. Natch. Can these two crazy kids make it work immersed in the cutthroat world of international intrigue? Well this is Bond after all—and we know how he ends up. Craig absolutely gets it. Whatever doubts people may have had when Craig was first announced as the new Bond are washed away in the first few minutes of the film. Sure if Casino Royale was anything like the last few Bond movies then maybe the understated Craig wouldn’t have fit in as well. But this is a different Bond. The British actor plays him not as the icon we’ve come to know but as a flawed man warts and all who flies by the seat of his pants isn’t necessarily refined and yes can even fall in love. Craig also raises the acting bar. His brief scenes with the impeccable Dench for example simmer and pop unlike anything we’ve seen before in a Bond film. Danish film star Mikkelsen (Pusher) is quite effective as the main baddie with a particularly gruesome physical malady while the always good Jeffrey Wright (Syriana) shows up as CIA Agent Felix Leiter. The one weak link unfortunately is Green (The Dreamers). She certainly looks the part of a “Bond girl ” but her Vesper is supposed to be whip-smart able to engage in witty banter with 007 and the French actress can’t quite pull it off. Craig needs more of a challenge. Too bad Judi Dench isn’t 30 years younger; she would have been perfect. Casino Royale the first book in the Ian Fleming series is basic Bond 101. Director Martin Campbell--who helmed Goldeneye Pierce Brosnan’s first and probably best foray into the franchise--strips it of all the far-fetched gadgets (save for a few new-fangled PDAs) and over-the-top action sequences leaving just good clean action devoid of any invisible cars armored Russian tanks and the such. Oh wait Bond does use a bulldozer at one point but that comes briefly in the middle of a rather extensive and hair-raising foot chase. It just proves action can be just as riveting without having to completely suspend your disbelief. Casino Royale is also rare in that it shows how Bond became THE James Bond the one we’ve seen in countless movies over the years in the stylish tuxes drinking the martinis driving the Aston-Martins and bedding all the beautiful women. Casino Royale breathes new life into the franchise and one can only hope they can keep up the good work without once again lapsing into the ridiculous.
In the late 19th century Dr. Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) a misunderstood monster hunter is summoned to Transylvania to ferret out Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and kill him once and for all. When Van Helsing gets to the small village where the vampire was last spotted he discovers he also must contend with Dracula's three seriously twisted vampire brides Dracula's angry henchman/werewolf--and a lovely gypsy princess named Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) who is hell-bent on eradicating Dracula and his bloodsucking kind for slaughtering her entire family. Oh and let's not forget Frankenstein's Monster (Shuler Hensley) who holds the key to Dracula's evil master plan--something about releasing his minions of unborn bat-like children from their goo-filled cocoons so they can wreck havoc on the world. Yuck. Sounds like our resident monster stomper and his sword-swinging gal pal have their work cut out for them. If Van Helsing does manage to kill all his monster foes does that mean he's out of a job?
Jackman has the whole antihero thing down pat. He adequately embodies the younger more virile Van Helsing dishing out as much pain and torture as he can on the undead--but the Aussie actor isn't given nearly as much meat to chew on as he did say delving into the complicated Wolverine in X-Men. Instead the monster hunter is relegated to carrying big weapons wearing a big hat and muttering something about having bad dreams to a past he can't remember. Same goes for Beckinsale. The British actress was oh-so-cool on the other side of the fence playing the chic vampire Selene in Underworld cutting her way through a myriad of werewolves. As Van Helsing's heavily accented female counterpart Anna however she just runs around with her sword blurting out such pathetic dialogue such as "Dracula took everything away from me and now I'm alone in the world" while Roxburgh's Dracula--who can't hold a candle to other far more charismatic Draculas before him--wails about being so very alone as his luscious brides hang upside down in front of him. Give me a break. At least Australian actor David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings) provides much-needed comic relief as Van Helsing's sidekick Carl a Catholic friar who doesn't much like playing hero.
With the requisite dark mood and tone action sequences and snazzy CGI-creations including the winged vampire brides and formidable werewolves you can see exactly where writer/director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) spent Van Helsing's nearly $150 million budget. But even all the bells and whistles can't tie together the film's vacuous nonsensical mumbo jumbo as Sommers attempts to bring classic movie monsters together in the same movie. Maybe in a tongue-in-cheek Abbott and Costello movie it could work but as a serious action-packed thriller clearly Dracula Frankenstein and the Wolf Man do not need to meet. On top of that Sommers steals from other movies as well such as recent films Underworld (the whole vampire vs. werewolf conflict) and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (Van Helsing defeats a rather familiar-looking Mr. Hyde at one point). Whatever originality there is in the film leaves you either scratching your head--Dracula has kids?--or rolling your eyes--Anna needs to kill Dracula so her nine-generations of family can reunite in Heaven? Please.
A truck carrying hazardous materials accidentally drops one of its containers into a small lake contaminating it and its delicate ecosystem. Trouble arises when the wacky town entomologist feeds his collection of exotic spiders contaminated crickets which act as a sort of spider "steroid." The result is a horde of giant hairy spiders that prey on the town's unsuspecting inhabitants. Sheriff Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer) doesn't believe her son Mike (Scott Terra) when he tries to warn her about what's going on but blames his "media-induced paranoid delusional nightmare" on too much boob-tube watching. Then when mining engineer Chris McCormick's (David Arquette) aunt gets spun--literally--into one of the spider's webs he enlists the help of Sheriff Parker and paranoid radio announcer Harlan Griffin (Doug E. Doug) to fight off the eight-legged freaks. Armed only with rakes ski poles and chainsaws the townspeople fight off the spiders in a losing battle before Chris comes up with a master plan that will blow the arachnids to smithereens.
Prankster Arquette (See Spot Run) tones down his funnyman routine in Eight Legged Freaks and takes on the role of the humble hero. It's refreshing to see Arquette playing a more subdued character with less of a slapstick edge although I half expected him to start yelling at people to "dial straight down the center." As the sheriff Wuhrer (Berserker) plays her dual role well as a headstrong single mother of two and the town leader. Sure she looks a little too hot to be a chief law enforcement officer but maybe some sheriffs really do look like that in small-town America. While the laughs may not have been coming from Arquette there were enough to be had thanks to Doug whose most memorable role to date has to be Sanka Coffie from the 1993 comedy Cool Runnings. His radio announcer in this film believes the government is conspiratorial and that the spiders are the alien invasion he has been warning people about for decades. Doug delivers some of the movie's funniest lines.
New Zealander Ellory Elkayem (Larger Than Life) wrote and directed Eight Legged Freaks a sort of homage to mid-1950s B-movie sci-fi thrillers like Tarantula or Earth vs. the Spider. But while these cult films were funny merely by accident--Tarantula director Jack Arnold probably wasn't being intentionally campy--Eight Legged Freaks at times seems to try too hard. Packing in one joke after another takes away from the spiders' scariness making them seem more like a practical joke than a potentially annihilating threat. The special effects are extremely slick however and the spiders are well done with techniques approaching those in the 1997 sci-fi actioner Starship Troopers (but none of the gigantic CGI spiders are as scary as the real-life tarantulas caged up in terrariums at the start of the movie). Although at 99 minutes the film moves quickly the final scene in which the townspeople are being chased through a labyrinth of mining tunnels drags on a bit too long.
Randolph Smiley (Robin Williams) is on top of his game--he's the eponymous star of the highest rated kid's TV show Rainbow Randolph has his own Times Square billboard and makes lots of money. Until that is he gets caught taking bribes from stage parents. Suddenly he becomes the social pariah of the millennium and of course gets canned. Losing Rainbow Randolph however leaves the network in a bind. Now they have to find a squeaky-clean replacement pronto. Enter Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton) and his alter-ego Smoochy an abnormally large fuschia rhino who sings children's songs about kicking drug habits and stepdads who aren't mean but simply adjusting. With his naivete unwavering ethics and unflagging ambition to make the world a better place he becomes the new number one show. Sheldon soon learns however how cutthroat children's entertainment can be as the powers that be try to corrupt his ideals. Meanwhile a homeless Randolph makes it his number-one priority to destroy the bastard who stole his life. Who's going to get Smoochy first the corrupt businessmen or crazy Rainbow Randy? Stay tuned...
When you hear the Smoochy cast list--Williams Danny DeVito Jon Stewart Catherine Keener--you automatically think mondo laughs. Added to the list is Norton who may not be known for his comedic talents but certainly adds credibility to the movie especially given that he rarely picks bad scripts. Luckily no one disappoints. Norton plays the straight guy with aplomb and shines brilliantly when singing his sappy yet lesson-filled songs. Keener whom we haven't seen since her Oscar-nominated turn in Being John Malkovich is also a standout as the jaded development VP who falls for Sheldon's sweet manner. She has an uncanny way of delivering lines that bite to the bone. And then there's Williams--as always he has extraordinary moments of sheer hilarity in the film. This isn't one of those films where the comedian has to attempt to act or simply be reined in by the director (as some have done) to give a good performance. Director DeVito (who also plays the greedy agent) is wise enough to simply turn the camera on the comedian and let him go. Just wish we could have seen more of him.
Ever wonder what it would be like to kill Barney? We're betting DeVito thought about it quite often--and things never turn out good for that purple dinosaur. The premise of Smoochy is one of the funnier ones in recent memory and seems to follow the dark comedic path DeVito has chosen in his other directorial efforts including War of the Roses and Throw Momma From the Train. Unfortunately Smoochy doesn't quite hold up to its hype (or its trailers) because basically it focuses on the wrong character. It's got some great moments granted especially when Smoochy is on his show. But instead of being about Randy's obsession to do away with his replacement the film chooses to follow Mopes and deal with the dirty business of making a kid's show which appears to involve the Mob (whatever). Smoochy would have been a lot funnier if Randolph could have finally succeeded in his quest instead of getting all sappy.