Thursday, 29 July 2010

..."this never happened to that other fella" - the special visual effects of ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE

One of the most under rated of all the James Bond movies, OHMSS is one of the best and has a firm fan following to prove it.  With Connery's temporary departure from the 'franchise' (Jesus I hate that term) - and not a moment too soon as he was a constant thorn in the side of the producers and as everyone knows despised the fame that Broccoli and Saltzman had created for him.  The radical casting of Aussie model George Lazenby was a brave move, and I think, a good one.  Lazenby, despite his lack of experience and a certain degree of overnight star arrogance was actually a pretty darned good 007.  He had great screen presence and carried himself extremely well in the many violent action sequences - far more so than Sean or Roger and their respective stunt doubles ever did.  Don't get me wrong, I liked Connery in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and thought Moore was great in LIVE AND LET DIE and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.  Dalton was a good Bond but had two extremely weak films in the series.  Brosnan was pretty good especially in GOLDENEYE, though as far as Daniel Craig goes... you can keep him!  The worst of the Bonds by a country mile in my book.  Even Peter Sellers was better in the old spoof CASINO ROYALE!! Craig far too much resembles a camp commandant in a 'Colditz' story to ever be convincing as the popular British Ian Fleming creation.

OHMSS was a big disappointment for United Artists, though not for any fault of the film or it's makers.  The populace just weren't ready for a new Bond.  The film is a solid, well directed action packed roller coaster ride, with the only real faults being the interminable entire first reel of totally unnecessary 'shoe leather' exposition that in all truthfulness should have been dropped entirely.  Just get to the Piz Gloria and get on with the central plot guys!

Peter Hunt was a superb cutter, with decades of experience in the editing room.  He was, as many state, the key employee who made the 007 films what they were with an editing style and quick cutting never seen before.  Hunt knew his stuff and put together a rip roaring movie.  Hunt's former assistant John Glen edited OHMSS with style and panache and would go on to direct some five 007 shows in the eighties.  It's a mystery as to why Hunt wasn't given any further Bond projects to direct as he was one of the strongest helmsmen.

OHMSS is a complete package - wonderful John Barry score, possibly his very finest Bond score, with the 'Flight to Blofelds hideout'  track being as near to sublime perfection as a movie score could ever be.  The Willy Bogner ski acrobatics are worth the price of admission alone, and when one sees the out takes on the special edition dvd of these you can see why.  Diana Rigg made a great Tracy and Telly Savalas made a terrific Blofeld - infinitely more frightening than the laughable Gert Frobe, Charles Gray and Adolfo Celi master villains.  Not to forget the shock ending - virtually unthinkable in popularist escapism but Hunt pulled it off...... beautifully.

The special effects of OHMSS are among the best of the era - certainly a vast improvement over the feeble visual effects of THUNDERBALL and even worse still YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and feature outstanding front projection by Charles Staffell for the incredible bobsled chase set pieces, dynamite physical effects by John Stears form the epic assault sequences, largely invisible matte shots by Cliff Culley and flawless miniatures for the avalanche.

So let's take a look back at ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE.....

Special Effects Supervisor - John Stears
Matte Artist and Optical effects - Cliff Culley
Optical and Matte Cameraman - Roy Field
Visual Effects Unit Cameramen - Robin Browne and Martin Shorthall
Special Effects Fabricator - Bert Luxford
Front Projection - Charles Staffell

The first matte shot in the film, and a most peculiar one at that.  Very strange perspective that just doesn't work.
A Cliff Culley optical effect that nobody ever notices - the painted hotel front and it's 'casino' neon sign reflected in the hotel pool is flawless.

An entire action sequence with Lazenby crawling about in the winch gear of the cable car is all wall to wall matte painting.

More of the same - I really like the sequence as directed by Hunt and the matte paintings by Cliff Cully are wonderful.

I don't think an actual set was ever built for this sequence as every cut is a painted matte or optical.
Some of Cully's best work in my opinion.

The thrilling ski chase sequence with one of two quick cuts of 007 hanging on the edge of the cliff and a painted village way down below.  The safety wire is clearly visible on Lazenby in this shot.

An ambitious yet curiously unconvincing composite with Campbell hanging outside window.  The Culley painting is fine but the dupe or rear projection plate of Campbell simply doesn't blend well at all and stands out like a sore thumb.

A second closer matte comp of the same scene.

Cliff Culley's rather nice original matte painting which appears to have been painted squeezed for later optical conversion to anamorphic for some odd reason.  I thought that method had gone out of fashion in the late fifties at Fox and MGM? This glass painting is one of just four of Culley's Bond mattes known to still exist and hangs in the offices of Eon Productions, London.
The avalanche... one of the best scenes in the picture and a sequence that United Artists really loved.  According to Culley..."it was a very small set up, the trees weren't that much more than a foot and a half tall and the snow was bags of salt".  The miniature is totally convincing thanks to the superb optical addition of the fleeing Lazenby and Rigg on skis while the raging torrent of snow nearly envelopes them.  The shot was made on the small matte stage at Pinewood, a stage that was to become Cliff's base of operations later when he established his own effects company Westbury Optical and Design in the late seventies.  Roy Field a long time cameraman and partner with Culley at Pinewood shot the avalanche with Robin Browne who himself would contribute optical effects to other Bond pictures such as YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE title sequence, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME mattes and composites and MOONRAKER's extensive first generation opticals and multiple superimpositions in all of the space sequences.

Another view of the avalanche with a moving split screen bringing the miniature wall of snow almost on top of the two stars represented here by animation.  The background mountains are a real location plate.

Matte painter and optical effects man Cliff Culley being interviewed with his glass painting visible in the background.  Culley started out in the Pinewood matte department in 1946 and worked under the headship of esteemed British special effects veteran Bill Warrington.  Culley would work along side Les Bowie and a young Albert Whitlock on many Rank films such as SO LONG AT THE FAIR, THE CARD,  ROMEO AND JULIET and many more.  Culley trained several young matte artists over the years such as Charles Stoneham in the 1960's on films such as KHARTOUM and THE INTELLIGENCE MEN and later Steven Archer in the mid seventies on films such as THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN.  Archer would move on to work in stop motion animation with Ray Harryhausen in CLASH OF THE TITANS and animated again for Derek Meddings on KRULL.   Also trained under Culley were Leigh Took on WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS and the television version of THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII in the eighties and Steve Begg on HARDWARE and THE STRAUSS DYNASTY.  Ironically it is Begg who has assumed the mantle of miniatures special effects supervisor on some of the later Bond films such as CASINO ROYALE.

Veteran British effects cameraman and 2nd Unit cinematographer Robin Browne who started as a clapper-loader on SINK THE BISMARK and worked his way up to first cameraman on and many other shows.  His specialty is optical effects, aerial cinematography and miniature photography on films as diverse as CATCH 22, KING KONG LIVES and THE SECRET GARDEN.

In this happy group portrait of Oscar and Bafta winning Pinewood effects men there are four Bond effects veterans standing in centre frame  - John Stears, Charles Staffell, Roy Field and Derek Meddings The other faces are (back row) Kit West and Brian Johnson - (front row) George Gibbs and Richard Conway
Two time Oscar winner John Stears and one of just a few ever to win on a Bond picture (THUNDERBALL - totally undeserved btw)Stears would often work with matte artist Cliff Culley on a number of films such as CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.  Stears himself started out as a matte painter in the British film industry though mainly concentrated on mechanical effects, explosions and models for the most part of his careerStears was reputedly the highest paid special effects consultant in the British film industry in the latter part of his career.

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