WARNING: If you want the above-named Bond movie to be a complete surprise, don’t read on!
There really isn’t anywhere as cool as the James Bond soundstage at Pinewood. Especially today. I’m standing in the bar area of a massive ice hotel, scene of the climax for Bond’s twentieth screen adventure, Die Another Day. Next to me are Paul and Simon. Paul is my old friend from school, a prop and modelmaker who has just made about 200 pieces of ice furniture in six weeks. Simon is Simon Lamont, the art director responsible for this whole set. Shooting starts tomorrow. You can smell the fresh paint.
“It’s never going to look this good again,” remarks Paul. “I know,” says Simon. “It breaks my heart what they’ll do to it.” What they’ll do to it is race cars around it, flood parts of it and eventually blow it up–well, a model of it at any rate. “It will be trashed,” Simon smiles. This multi-million pound set has taken months to build for just such a trashing. Each art director on the Bond is given responsibility for creating a particular scene and this is his baby. He coordinates and manages the construction crews, draftsmen, prop makers, riggers, effects people, set dressers and everyone responsible for putting this together.
Today the floor is clean and white and we’re all wearing white paper overshoes to make sure it stays that way. Around us are blue and white walls, pillars, catwalks, a central bar sculpted in what appears to be ice, towering internally illuminated columns also designed as ice, a restaurant like seating area, upper level booths and various specially moulded doors, both fake with nothing behind and real, leading off set. There are two waterfalls, a revolving ice sculpture fountain and a reception area detailed down to a rack of postcards of the non-existant resort. Outside, through the hotel’s main doors, is a mountain scene. The ice is all perspex and fibreglass. The mountains are a painting in false perspective.
The set is on two levels and Paul and I have just walked down from the top via a wide semicircular slope. This is apparently reinforced with heavy duty steel so that cars can race up it. Overhead, the real major giveaway that we’re on a soundstage is that there’s no ceiling, otherwise it’s like being in a really cool nightclub. Lights poke through above and we can see the corrugated steel roof. We can also see dozens of hoses rigged into the top of the set where hundreds of gallons of water will be pumped in to enhance a laser effect that’s supposed to slice through the hotel’s ice roof.
There are dozens of huge perspex chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, some with icicles hanging from them. Hotel room doors (fake) line the corridors around us. The seating areas are draped with what look like animal skins and the detail continues down to specially made rugs with the villain’s trademark signature–a capital G–on them. I can’t tell you how good I think one of those would look in my living room. The set dressing is completed with obligatory product placements: stacked bottles of Bolinger, Finlandia vodka bottles in ice tables and so on.
Paul snaps a couple of photo’s of me sitting at one of the bar tables before we move on, saying goodbye to Simon, who is probably wondering what I’m doing there at all. The backlot of Pinewood isn’t exactly a public area and most of the media are kept well away, only let in under strictly controlled conditions. The whole thing of just being there in this forbidden zone and on something that will be such a major on-screen event gives me a tremendous buzz.
We walk down a corridor to where they’ve constructed an ice hotel room in detail. We can peer through a gap in the door at the smaller set, which is still quite big. The Bond girl’s bedroom. This part is mounted on a breakaway section and will be lowered into the tank. The whole of the Bond stage is built over a massive tank that goes down well below ground level. You can’t really flood a room as fast as it happens in a movie. Lowering the bedroom into the tank will give the impression that it’s filling up with water.
Honestly, I’d love to see them filming all this but as I say, that starts happening tomorrow and if I wasn’t supposed to be there today, I certainly won’t get in tomorrow. We head out to the back lot where there are crews working on the massive exterior facades for the ice hotel and also the geodesic dome that appears next to it. Between the two is another painting of a mountain scene. I thought it was a sculpture until I looked closely.
A guy on a cherry picker is painting the top of a pale blue column with white ‘snow’ outside the hotel facade. He’s about twenty five feet up and the whole front of the ‘building’ is several hundred yards wide. The exteriors are actually only the bottom two stories of the buildings. Behind us are a number of workshops where they’re building scale models of the upper parts. These will somehow be composited into the final scenes. I see two small scale models, identical, which suggests that the models are going to get blown apart in classic Bond style before the movie finishes.
We move on past dozens of pallets stacked high with big packs of fake snow to another workshop which is full of people wearing white paper suits and several wearing respirators. These are to protect their clothes and lungs from the dust as they rub down a massive scale model of a Russian heavy-lift transport plane–the Anatov An-225; the world’s largest aircraft. It’s been constructed in wood and filled with car filler, now being sanded before painting, detailing with panels, rivets and windows, then moulded in fibreglass from this original, which is around twenty five feet foot long–one-sixth scale, I’m told.
In the same workshop is another model of the Anatov, this one about ten feet long, and another model of the ice hotel, which is at least fifteen feet high and has people working on ladders dressing it. The smell of solvents and chemicals in this area–actually another one of the Pinewood soundstages–is so strong I can barely breath. The doors are open to the air but I’m surprised everyone isn’t just floating off.
Yet another workshop with doors flung wide reveals yet another hive of industry nearby. At the back of the famous Pinewood paddock tank–scene of more great movies than I can begin to remember–more artists are creating iceworks using a combination of moulded perspex filled with crumpled and heat shrunk clear plastic sheet to make the internal refractive/reflective surfaces of frozen water.
Piled on the floor are six foot square moulded perspex sheets of ice hotel doors. Under a bench is a big stack of semi automatic and automatic weapons. Rubber. Real guns are too heavy for actors to carry and run around with so the props people mould most of them. In a corner at the back, surrounded by balls of the clear plastic sheet stuff, rests a new replica of the jet pack from Thunderball. Paul was brought on to make this for a scene where Q’s gadgets are lined up on display. Apparently no one can find the original jetpack so he’s made this new one and the FX people rigged it with whatever fireworks it needed to make it look as if it’s flying.
Money on the Bond really is no object. I ask someone what they’re making and they show me. Breakaway chunks of ice moulded in clear rubber. There are about a dozen drums of this rubber compound stacked up by a workbench. I’m told that’s about five thousand pounds worth. Half the budget of Fate & Fortune. Paul gives me a small chunk, “Break it like this between your fingers.” I do. It crumbles to perfectly realistic yet harmless shards. “Says ‘ice debris’ to me.” Brilliant. Expensive but brilliant.
Around the stages, workshops and cutting rooms, forklift trucks manouevre with pallets and planks, milk floats and golf carts glide along carrying who knows who to who knows where and the whole impression is one of a small town of people working to a common purpose: The Bond. Die Another Day. All this and more just so that you and I can go spend ninety-odd minutes in a darkened theatre. To distract us and show us an alternative view of the world–an unreal one but a beacon in our reality nonethelss–with a tale of heroes and villains. These are our dreams being made.
If you think about it too much, it boggles the mind.