Bond Films Have Some of the Best Stunts Ever Filmed
While stunt work in Hollywood is in decline because of the over-use of computer graphic imagery, which makes everything easy to fake, the James Bond films are famous for doing real stunt work on an epic scale. No matter how you slice it, seeing a real stunt will always trump a phony computer-generated piece of fluff. The recent Bond films have featured some very good stunts, such as the plane jump in "Quantum of Solace," but very few films in history have topped the epic stunts of the James Bond films of the 1970s.
The stuntwork in James Bond films always was good, and those films also used whatever tricks were available. Even some of the best stunts, such as Sean Connery flying "Little Nellie" in "You Only Live Twice," are marred by weak effects. However, when stunts in a Bond film work, they can change the entire tone of the film from mundane to epic.
Herewith, the top five stunts in the James Bond film franchise.
1. Roger Moore Skis off of a MountainMany fans consider "The Spy Who Loved Me" the pinnacle of Roger Moore's tenure as James Bond. The film had a terrific theme song by Marvin Hamlisch sung in winning style by Carly Simon, it introduced the epic villain "Jaws" who was so popular that he was brought back in the subsequent film "Moonraker," and it had perhaps the best title sequence of the entire Bond series.
Even with all those stellar aspects, the real jewel in the crown for "The Spy Who Loved Me" was at the conclusion of the teaser sequence that opened the film. Bond is being pursued by bad guys on skis, and he has nowhere to escape: the mountain down which he is skiing ends in a cliff. He then goes soaring off the cliff, presumably to his doom - until a parachute opens and saves him.
Second-Unit director John Glen, who would later direct Bond films in his own right, headed off to Mount Asgard in Canada to film this scene in July 1976. Under the coordination of Bond stunt coordinator Willy Bogner, stuntman Rick Sylvester was paid $30,000 to perform the stunt. With all related expenses, costs for filming that one brief scene came to $500,000, an epic amount in the 1970s.
Sylvester was chosen because, five years earlier, he had invented the stunt by skiing off El Capitan and parachuting to safety. To film the sequence for "The Spy Who Loved Me," they had to fly by helicopter to Mount Asgard's summit. Despite the fact that they had multiple cameras in operation, all but one malfunctioned, but that was enough.
Sylvester almost did not survive the jump. You can see in the film's final footage that after he releases his skis and opens his parachute, Sylvester almost gets hit by one of his skis. It easily could have tangled in the parachute cords and caused major problems, but instead it fell safely aside and Sylvester landed safely. The scene is enhanced for many fans due to the fact that the parachute is a Union Jack, underscoring the fact that Bond is a British spy.
2. Jumping a Hornet Across a River
In "The Man with the Golden Gun" (1974), one of the centerpieces of action was a car chase across Bangkok, Thailand. This being a James Bond film, it couldn't be just any car chase, but had to include crazy feats that no sane driver ever would attempt. The highpoint of the chase scene is when James Bond, played by Roger Moore, has to drive across a river without any bridge in sight. Naturally, he manages this in the most unexpected and thrilling way possible.
The stunt had been designed by John McHenry in Buffalo, New York as a way to test vehicle automation software. It was part of a touring carnival before being adopted for "The Man with the Golden Gun."
"Bumps" Willard performed the dangerous stunt, which involved Bond driving his car up a twisting ramp-like structure, flying across the river, and then landing on a similar twisting structure. To everyone's astonishment (and relief), the stunt was planned out so perfectly and performed with such precision that it worked on the first take. It happened so fast that the stunt had to be shown in slow motion in the film, to the accompaniment of a corny slide whistle added by John Barry.
3. Crane Chase in "Casino Royale"
Pierce Brosnan had retired as James Bond, and it was time to introduce the next actor to fill the role, Daniel Craig. What better way than to stage an epic chase through busy city streets, culminating in a do-or-die decision at a construction site. Leaping through the air, Bond lands on a crane just below. It is a breathtakingly authentic stunt that was as dangerous as any performed for the series, and set the continuation of the series off on the right foot. It also proves that thrilling stunts are still possible in the age of CGI.
4. James Bond Flies Through the AirJames Bond has to escape from the bad guys, and he has a car waiting for him outside. The only problem is, how does he get to it? In one of the most ingenious stunts in the entire James Bond series, Sean Connery dons a jet pack and flies up and over a wall, gently descending to the pretty girl attending his tricked-up Aston Martin.
The Bell Jet Pack was a very real device, and worked pretty much as shown. This was one of its few appearances in films, and it was a good one. The stunt also introduced the idea of James Bond dabbling in science fiction that was followed through to fine effect in "Moonraker."
5. Driving a Tank Through City StreetsThe scene that most people remember from "Goldeneye" was the tank stunt. While it doesn't get a lot of notoriety, the shots of Pierce Brosnan as James Bond driving a tank through city streets was a highlight of his first outing as James Bond.
The scene took six weeks to film, and was done on location in St. Petersburg, with additional footage shot on a British sound stage. The actual tank was a Soviet T54/55 which the East England Military Museum was kind enough to loan for filming. The tank actually was driven through St. Petersburg, which must have startled some residents, with special tracks fitted to prevent it from destroying the pavement. Pierce Brosnan didn't actually drive the tank, but part of the stunt's charm is that it appears as if he did.
The real fun of the scene, though, is that it realizes a fantasy that many people have - that of simply getting a tank and wreaking havoc with it.