The 5th of December 1985 may bring back memories of Broken Wings by Mr.Mister, Rocky VI hitting cinemas and the Dow Jones Industrial Average clipping above the 1500 level for the first time, but it was also the date on which Roger Moore finally hung up his shoulder holster as 007. Although Moore’s A View To A Kill had premiered six months earlier, Sir Roger felt it was time for a younger whippersnapper to take the James Bond reigns.
This practically set the rumour mill on fire, with claims that either Sam Neill or Pierce Brosnan were set to become the new tuxedo-wearing secret agent. However, in a move that arrived almost unexpectedly, classically trained Shakespearean actor Timothy Dalton strode into the role - with a release date pencilled for June 27, 1987. The stakes were high to reinvigorate the James Bond franchise - and the opening scene had to impress as well as set the tone.
The Set Up:
Catching sight of an assassin dispatching a fellow 00-agent to an early grave during a routine training exercise in Gibraltar, and then bearing witness to his theft of a military Series III Land Rover, 007 naturally gives chase. Cue chaos and destruction as Bond jumps onto the canvas roof and knifes his way through to the driver, engaging in a brutal fist fight as the Series III ploughs though everything in the way - at speed - on the roads hugging the cliffs of Gibraltar.
Needless to say, it doesn’t end well for the Land Rover…
Behind the Scenes:
Trial runs of the stunt with the soft-top Series III were filmed in the Mojave desert, with the Land Rover being dropped from a helicopter and a stuntman escaping via parachute from the roof. There was even a plan to land the Series III with a similar system - and it worked…once.
On the second attempt the Land Rover became wrapped in the rather large parachute and tumbled into the sand doing roughly 120mph - possibly the fastest Series Land Rover ever. Sadly, this resulted in the Land Rover being only two feet tall with the chassis and engine buried under the sand. Chances are, it’s still out there, consumed by 30 year’s worth of drift. Luckily, the stuntman returned to earth without harm. Unsurprisingly, it was then decided that a dummy should take the place of real flesh-and-blood.
So, with that plan firmly out the window, the action scene was set in Gibraltar with the Land Rover speeding down tight, single-track roads at close to 60mph. As you can imagine, filming tight corners with a vehicle holding such a high centre of gravity was bound to cause issue - as the below video shows:
While the splendours of Gibraltar were demonstrated, the final jump was actually filmed in Eastborne. Visual special effects supervisor Nick Finalyson explained that due to the giant corrugated steel rain catcher located on the hillside above the port, the explosion couldn’t be filmed on location, as debris from the Land Rover would have damaged the railings.
To accomplish the spectacular end to Timothy Dalton’s introduction as 007, four glassfibre mock-ups were delivered to Beachy Head to catapult off the edge of a 500-foot tall cliff. The attention to detail was mind-boggling - even down to fake nuts on the fake wheels. We imagine it even had an oil leak.
In true British fashion, poor weather prevented filming taking place for several days until the storms passed over. However, this was only the start of filming issues.
With crowds gathered to watch fiery Land Rover mayhem, the first take found the air canon wasn’t powerful enough to launch the mock-up into camera shot. Over the next few days two more prop vehicles met their end with less than successful results. One attempt was ruined when over eager crowds rushed forward to witness the explosion and pushed themselves into camera frame. A further was abandoned when the dummy’s head came off upon exiting the rear of the Land Rover, meaning James Bond was decapitated before the opening credits even began.
Finally, on the last remaining attempt, everything ran smoothly. The crew ended up spending a fortnight filming a segment that lasts mere seconds on film.
The burnt out Land Rovers remained at the base of the cliffs, out of reach of the tides, for over seven months before the wreckages, which by now had become bankable tourist attractions, were towed out to sea by the Royal Navy and controversially dumped in a local fishing ground.
But, that’s another matter, for another time.