“His head seemed to explode. He felt the great roar in his ears, the pounding of blood, then the sensation that his skull was riddled with holes. Fire poured through the holes, from his ears and nostrils, then his mouth. James Bond jerked awake, realizing several things at once. The roar came from two Soviet jets, afterburners guzzling fuel as they passed overhead…”
With these words, John Gardner opened his fifteenth James Bond book: an adaptation of the 1995 film GoldenEye commissioned by EON Productions when the idea of novelizing movies was quite popular. Gardner was the third author to pen novels starring 007, following creator Ian Fleming and Kingsley Amis and taking the British spy to the 1980s and 1990s. He was also commissioned to adapt the 1989 film Licence To Kill, starring Timothy Dalton.
Those who hoped for a grittier and less escapist take on GoldenEye’s story, or for the development of certain moments that would have extended the movie too much, will certainly be pleased with the novelization since Gardner heightens the political and military background which is already present in the plot. Readers who watched the movie will be surprised to see that 007 doesn’t catch a plane in mid-air and that, instead of a beautiful, romantic fade between the kiss of Bond and Natalya and the Caribbean beaches, we are offered with an interesting –and realistic– situation where the couple has to improvise some disguises to escape from St Petersburg to the Caribbean with the aid of Jack Wade. One would say these are creative licenses as a fiction writer can’t just cut from a scene to another as in the movies, but still, Gardner’s resort to doing so was quite imaginative. We are also given some background on the activities of the Archangel chemical facility 007 and 006 infiltrate, its access points and working schedule and some information regarding the past of the film’s leading lady played by Izabella Scorupco.
Context is quite relevant in GoldenEye: the passing of time is strongly echoed throughout the story and –while in the film dates are never specified– the author clearly points out in the novelization that the prologue (“Cowslip” mission) is set in 1986 and the rest of the story in 1995. The confrontation between James Bond and his ally-turned-enemy Alec Trevelyan on an abandoned statue park is loaded of interesting and philosophical remarks not seen in the movie that increase the drama of the situation and Trevelyan’s way of thinking, in lieu with the drastic political changes that took place in the 90s: “James, don’t be so bloody melodramatic. I always took you for a realist. (…) Trust’s disappeared, gone, dropped out of the dictionary. The accountants have taken over, or hadn’t you noticed? Today’s dictator is tomorrow’s diplomat; the bomb thrower and terrorist now catch the Nobel Prize. It’s all money. We’re stuck in the slough of despond which goes under a new name: free-market morality. It’s a morality where your friends come and go as quickly as the next bus in Regent Street or Fifth Avenue”.
References to current events are frequent, such as the Tailhook scandal from 1991 attached to the past of Admiral “Chuck” Farrel and, more prominently, the failed coup against Gorbachev taking place on the same year, mentioned in Xenia Onatopp’s background and brought by Bond during the interrogation with Defense Minister Mishkin.
In tune with John Gardner’s writing style, there is more blood and violence in the novelization than in the film: The top of a character’s head “disappears in a fine red mist” and the dam introduction is preceded by a moment (present in one of the many drafts Gardner received to work with) where Bond takes down two chess-playing guards with shots of lethal Glaser bullets: “This time, Bond fired only once. The second soldier spun to the left, hit the wall and collapsed, leaving a trail of smeared blood behind him. In the silence that followed, two of the chess pieces rolled at his feet.” Director Martin Campbell has repeatedly said that he had to be cautious with the display of violence in GoldenEye to retain a PG-13 rating as per the MPAA standards, therefore there is virtually no blood in the film and a few seconds had to be trimmed down. Excused from these types of restrictions, the second Bond continuation author was free to give us these situations that were so familiar in his novels.
Gardner also linked up GoldenEye to his work: he substitutes James Bond’s classic Walther PPK for the ASP 9mm which he gave him. As Bond and Natalya make love in Puerto Rico as Miles Davies’ Sketches of Spain plays on the stereo, he remembers the tragic events that culminated Seafire, where Flicka von Grusse was savagely beaten, ending up in a comma: “She’s alive, but she may never walk again. We were dealing with a very bad man”, 007 says without revealing her name. Loyal to Fleming’s creation, chapter four includes Bond’s morning exercise routine and his exquisite preferences for breakfast. Just like the movie tries to be loyal to the essence of classic Bond, Gardner also tries to retain these classic moments the knowledgeable Fleming readers can identify well.
The GoldenEye novelization is a motivating read for anyone who wants to expand the events of the movie and particularly the political context that influences it. Before 2020 is over, a re-read for the silver anniversary it’s definitely recommended.