Last week RT paid a visit to the Chilean set of the forthcoming James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. Filming took place at the Residencia of the Paranal Observatory, an astronomical observatory located outside of the port city of Antofagasta. Looking out the window of the plane as it made its descent into Antofagasta, the desert landscape appeared smooth with the occasional ripple of mountains and hills, like crests of waves across the ocean. But it’s not until one actually beholds the Atacama Desert at ground level — a region so arid that it’s been reported that there was no rain for 40 years — that the true majesty and otherworldly nature of the landscape becomes clear.
Although the two-hour bus ride over a largely unpaved, bumpy desert road — cutting through a desolate, lifeless region more befitting Mad Max than 007 — left more than one reporter with a quantum of sore ass, the journey was worth it to see such a place. Between the out-of this-world desert landscape and an awe-inspiring night sky that makes the cosmos appear close enough to touch, this reporter felt like he was the first man to land on Mars.
Or, at the very least, it’s enough to convince even the most passionate NASA supporter that the moon landing and Mars probes were faked. Amidst all this natural grandeur it was easy to forget the even more surreal reason why you were even there to begin with: to hang out with James Bond for the day.
As the bus carrying the group of international journalists approached the road that would take us up to the Paranal Observatory, we drove past a handful of crew members grabbing a shot of silver propeller plane parked by a small roadside hanger. The plane, we would learn, will somehow feature into the action of Quantum of Solace.
Sitting atop Cerro Paranal (at some 8000+ feet above sea level) is the The Very Large Telescope (VLT), which is comprised of four multi-story telescopes that resemble castles inexplicably plunked on a mountaintop somewhere on Tatooine. We got the chance to tour this jaw-dropping scientific achievement, the interior of which resembled a nuclear missile silo or Cape Kennedy launch site as well as the kind of giant lair that James Bond or even Austin Powers — “Engage the ludicrously huge telescope!” — might find themselves embroiled in a climactic battle. That’s why it was all the more shocking to learn that not only are the Bond filmmakers not filming inside or outside of the actual Observatory, but the VLT itself won’t even be seen in the background! It’s something like filming at Mount Rushmore and not wanting to get the actual monument in the shot.
Quantum of Solace is filming solely at the exterior of the Residencia, better known as the ESO Hotel. It is the four-story residence of the assembled scientists of the European Southern Observatory stationed there. Although it has been profiled in TV documentaries, Quantum of Solace marks the first time that this unique location has been used in a feature film. The crew, led by director Marc Forster and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, are not allowed to shoot there at night so as to not disturb the scientists’ work; production must stop promptly at sundown. The exterior of the ESO Hotel will double in the Bond film as an eco-hotel owned and operated by the villainous Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric); the interior will be built back at Pinewood Studios where, as Barbara Broccoli informed RT during dinner, it will be destroyed in true Bond fashion.
The set visit occurred roughly a week after the production had reached the halfway point and after six weeks of filming on location in Panama (Chile and Panama are doubling for Bolivia). The simple action scene we observed being filmed involved star Daniel Craig’s stunt double Ben Cooke sprinting across the hotel’s rooftop in hot pursuit of Greene. Bond dodges gunfire as he tries to capture the villain. We saw four rehearsals of the running scene and then one live take that was preceded by the assistant director’s announcement to the crew, “No gunfire! Only glass smashing!”
On the next page: Learn more about the plot of Quantum of Solace!
During the climactic scene, Bond, with the help of the enigmatic Camille (Olga Kurylenko), has tracked down Greene, a scheming tycoon masquerading as a world-saving environmentalist, to his Bolivian eco-hotel. There he crashes a meeting between Greene and his colleague General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio) in the hopes of foiling their plan to topple the Bolivian government and thus control the country’s precious fresh water supply. If Bond can get Greene then he’s that much closer to unlocking the secrets of Quantum, the shadowy organization responsible for Vesper Lynd’s treachery in 2006’s Casino Royale. (Solace starts almost immediately from where Royale left off.)
Producer Michael G. Wilson revealed that Greene has, “found a way to inhibit the delivery of the water system without people knowing about it. What he wants to do is get control of the distribution system so then he’ll provide the water.”
Bolivia was selected because the filmmakers sought, “a country that had a natural water shortage. The issue of melting glaciers and how are they going to deal with that issue? So we thought that this was a plausible place.” Many Chileans, including government and tourism officials, are dismayed that their nation will be standing in for their longtime enemy, Bolivia. (A local mayor literally crashed the set earlier this week in protest and was promptly arrested.)
For 007 star Craig, locations such as the Chilean desert offer filmgoers old school-style escapism. “When I saw Bond movies as a kid, you were taken somewhere. That was just the nature of them. He was in Rio. He was in New Orleans. He was in Jamaica. As a child I was thinking, where are these places? I want to go to them. And we owe it to that. And coming to South America, which hasn’t been used a great deal in Bond movies, especially Chile and Panama, the essence of the places will be shared onscreen,” Craig said. “I mean just look outside. It genuinely doesn’t exist anywhere else on earth.”
According to Forster, Chile was selected in large part due to its desert landscapes. “The desert for me, that’s why I wanted to put it into the script, it’s like the psychological status of Bond. It brings with it sort of isolation and loneliness. I think what’s going on with Bond, this psychological state that he’s in, is isolation and loneliness,” he informed us in the garden of the Residencia. “There’s a struggle to survive within him, there’s a constant struggle and I think that’s what the desert represents to me. I haven’t seen a Bond [movie] which has been set in the desert or where the desert is the heart of it. So I said, ‘Okay, if I’m doing this film I have to bring something to it that’s my own and tell the story in a way that is my own vision.'” Forster said he hopes to emulate the early Bond films, as well as thrillers from the ’60s and ’70s such as Alan J. Pakula‘s The Parallax View.
It is precisely that unique vision and emphasis on the psychological aspects of the story that won Forster — the director of Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, and The Kite Runner — the job and high praise from his Bond colleagues. “He’s very visual. He has a wonderful visual way of looking at the movie. He has the whole movie in his head and he’s also very well organized. I’ve never seen a director like him,” Wilson said of Forster. “He gave us sheets of paper at the beginning of the film for every set with every camera set-up and notes on what was going to happen. I mean what director does that? Who has the whole movie drawn out for every set and where the camera’s going to be? He was someone who had a variety of ways of making films and had a wonderful way of telling stories and working with actors.”
Likewise, Forster was singled out for praise by his leading lady. “What is very important for him is that everything is natural and real. That’s all that matters to him. He doesn’t like things over the top. Something like over-acting. He likes things simple and touching. The most important is the heart of it. That’s why his movies are always very touching,” said Kurylenko. “He’s very protective. He’s very into the psychology of the character. He’s very calm and he still gets things his way. He knows very well what he wants. He has this precise idea. He just knows what he’s doing.”
Lest he be labeled as an artiste who is merely slumming it in an action flick, Forster insisted that he was a true fan of the genre. “I’ve always loved action films and have always wanted to do one, and after The Kite Runner I felt like I had done the smaller budgeted films and I wanted to do a big film. But I wanted to have control so the first time they offered it to me I said, ‘Bond? I don’t have any control.’ But then when I met with Barbara and Michael … you’re operating within the framework of the Bond world, which has characters that have already been cast like Daniel and Judi Dench and Giancarlo Giannini. But at the same time they gave me complete creative control in trying to put out the story and shooting where I want to shoot.
“I saw it on the Internet, this place. I said, ‘This looks like an interesting place. Let’s check it out.’ It was like this was Bond for me when I came here. The outside of the building is so phenomenal. I thought this would be a good location for the movie. And that’s how it’s been with most of the sets. They gave me free rein.” That said, Forster joked that since Quantum of Solace is the first film he’s made where he won’t have final cut, he could always place blame if the film fails on not having control over the editing process.
On the next page: Forster on Bonding with Paul Haggis!
Forster and Wilson both revealed that an earlier idea for the film was scrapped when Forster came aboard to helm. “Once I signed on to do it we pretty much developed the script from scratch because I felt that it wasn’t the movie I wanted to make and we started with Paul Haggis [the Oscar winner who rewrote Casino Royale] from scratch,” Forster recalled. “And I said to him these are the topics I am interested in this is what I would like to say, what’s important to me. And we developed it from there together. Then Barbara and Michael said they liked where we were going and they liked the script.”
The Writers’ Guild strike, which began just as Quantum of Solace was gearing up for production, did not impact the production as much as the industry trade papers had speculated. “The good thing is that Paul and I and Daniel all worked on the script before the strike happened and got it where we were pretty happy with,” Forster said. “Then we started shooting and the only problems I had with the script we were shooting in April, May and June so as soon as the strike was over we did another polish with someone and it worked out with all this stuff coming up. So I was pretty happy with all the work we’d done in January and February so [there won’t be any need for reshoots].”
Nevertheless, Forster did hire another writer, newcomer Joshua Zetumer, to polish Haggis’ draft. “He’s a very young writer and he only wrote two or three scripts. And I read a script of his that I was very fond of and Barbara and Michael liked it,” the director explained. “There were a couple of polishes and changes that I wanted to do and I felt that he was very well suited and I thought that he would be good for it and that’s why I hired him.”
For Daniel Craig, the challenge is to improve upon the success of his freshman outing as 007, Casino Royale, which is the highest grossing entry in the franchise’s four-decade history. “We’re in a situation where the pressure is now on to make a movie that tops that and that’s what we’ve set out to do. We’ve set out to make something that’s going to be very different. The storyline’s going to have a different thrust, but we’re still going to have to make a successful Bond movie,” Craig said.
“That was one of the reasons for getting Marc involved: to make sure we were still telling a really strong story. This isn’t about me coming in and doing some character study. I’m playing James Bond. This is about creating as much reality in this heightened world as we possibly can so that the audience hopefully gets emotionally involved and gets a better ride out of it. That’s why we got together this group of people so that we can continue what we started with Casino Royale.”
Judging by what RT observed in Chile and from our conversations with the filmmakers and cast, Quantum of Solace is shaping up to be yet another solid Bond movie and a worthy sequel to the acclaimed Casino Royale. The team’s dedication to exploring the emotional and psychological underpinnings of 007, and the otherworldly nature of its locations, suggest that Quantum of Solace could be a unique entry in the James Bond franchise.
But wait, there’s more!
Head on over to our friends at MySpace who have an exclusive video shot while we were in Chile. The guys over at IGN Movies also have done a bang-up job on “The Secrets of Quantum of Solace” which you can find right over here.