Autumn 1999 (7.3)
Agent 007 Movie Scenes Shot in Baku
by Jean Patterson
A spy has been lurking around in Baku, but his identity is no secret to movie fans. Britain's famous Agent 007, James Bond-as portrayed by actor Pierce Brosnan-paid a visit to Azerbaijan this past spring to film the 19th installment of the Bond series: "The World is Not Enough."
James Bond's high-tech BMW Z8 creates a stir in Baku.
Since the movie's plot revolves around the struggle to control the world's oil supply, Azerbaijan proved to be an ideal setting. The movie, which will premiere in November 1999, marks the 37th year that Bond movies have been playing throughout the world.
When Baku cinematographer Ali Hoomani first heard about the Bond movie and its oil-related theme, he immediately contacted Pinewood Studios in London to suggest Azerbaijan, the site of the world's first great oil boom, as an intriguing location. The movie's producers agreed and appointed Ali as producer for the Azerbaijan segment of the movie.
The movie's villain, Renard, played by British actor Robert Carlyle, is an international terrorist who schemes to seize the Caspian oil supply. Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), the beautiful daughter of a wealthy oil baron, takes over the family business after her father is murdered. Before long, she needs James Bond to come to her rescue.
Sophie Marceau plays the latest "Bond girl" - Elektra King, a modern oil baron's daughter.
Baku is no stranger to oil plots. The most serious real-life threat came in 1942, when Adolf Hitler plotted to capture Baku, convinced that if he succeeded, Germany would win the war. Hitler had even identified the date of attack-September 25, 1942. At that time Baku was the cradle of the Soviet oil industry and was producing 72 percent of the oil that the Soviets were using in the war effort. Fortunately, the defeat of the German army at Stalingrad shattered Hitler's dream.
Several spectacular action sequences in the movie are set in the oil fields in Baku and at Oil Rocks (Neft Dashlari), an oil town built up on miles and miles of wooden piers in the shallow waters of the Caspian.
Azerbaijan Cinema near the Natavan Statue.
Oil Rocks was the world's first offshore drilling operation; this year marks its 50th anniversary. Some scenes for the spy thriller were shot in European locales such as the River Thames (London), the Eilean Donan Castle (Scottish Highlands), the Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao, Spain), the French Alps and the Bosphorus Straits (Istanbul).
On Location in Baku
The one-week shoot in Azerbaijan took place in early April 1999. Both Brosnan and his co-star Sophie Marceau flew to Baku on private jets. Even though very few Baku residents knew the two celebrities were in town, security was very tight throughout their stay-a typical precaution when famous stars are on location any place in the world. For instance, they booked rooms at three hotels, but only stayed at one. Both stars had round-the-clock personal bodyguards.
Another important character in the movie is Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane), a Russian Mafia boss. Even though Zukovsky still limps from the time that Bond shot him in the knee during the Cold War, this time they work together as partners. In one scene, Zukovsky is seen with Bond in a casino that is supposedly located in Azerbaijan-despite the fact that all casinos in Azerbaijan have been closed down since last year.
Azerbaijan Cinema owner Michael Hoomani, actress Sophie Marceau (Elektra King), actor Pierce Brosnan (James Bond), Azerbaijan-segment producer of Bond film
Bond's "supercar", a BMW Z8, was also flown to Baku. Reaching speeds of up to 155 miles per hour, this sportscar can go from 0 to 60 miles an hour in less than 5 seconds, thanks to a 5.0 liter V8 engine with 400 horsepower. The car is featured in a high-speed chase through Bibi-Heybat oilfields and part of Baku. The car, not yet on the market, will go on sale in 2000.
At a press conference at Azerbaijan Cinema hosted by Ali Hoomani and the Cinema Union of Azerbaijan, the film's director, Michael Apted, talked about the cast and filming crew's experience in Azerbaijan. "We came here and fell in love with Baku, the oil fields and the great oil rigs in the Caspian." According to a Web site for James Bond fans, the glass that Brosnan drank from at the press conference is now up for sale for $50.
Special effects contribute considerably to the "Azerbaijan-ness" of the movie. In a ski sequence, Bond and Elektra get into trouble with Renard and his henchmen in the Caucasus Mountains, near an oil pipeline. They are chased by men on "paraskis", a cross between a parachute, helicopter and a snowmobile. An avalanche complicates matters further. These scenes were actually filmed in Chamonix, a resort in the French Alps, rather than in Azerbaijan. In order to replicate the tall peaks of the Caucasus, a 100 sq ft set was built with taller mountains painted in the background.
In another spectacular stunt scene, it appears as if the Oil Rocks offshore oil platform is being sliced in half by two helicopters holding a giant circular chain saw between them. (This technique is actually based on reality, as helicopters are used in Canada and Scandinavia to cut trees in remote areas.) Bond makes a narrow escape as the oil platform splits in two and explodes. Obviously, the filmmakers couldn't actually do this at Oil Rocks, so they built a smaller scale model at the studios in London.
"The World is Not Enough" is scheduled for release in the U.S. in November 1999. It will be available throughout most of Europe and Asia in December 1999 and January 2000.
For more information, visit the James Bond Web site at: jamesbond.com, where text is available in English, German, French, Japanese, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.
Wondering where you can watch the latest Bond flick in Baku? To experience the full special effects of the movie, your best bet is the newly restored Azerbaijan Cinema, Baku's first-ever multiplex movie theater. The renovation was carried out by the Hoomani Brothers-Ali and Mike-Azerbaijanis from Iran who have established businesses in Europe. Both brothers were educated in the U.S. Their cinema project represents one of the first major foreign investments in Baku outside of the oil sector. The brothers first caught the movie "bug" while growing up in Iran, as their father owned several cinemas in Tehran and was the main distributor for Paramount.
Azerbaijan Cinema is located in Fountain Square just behind Natavan's statue. The new air-conditioned theater complex includes three separate screens plus a cine-club bar located inside the largest hall. The bar is separated from the public seating area by non-reflective security glass. The theaters are equipped with the latest THX and Dolby digital surround sound system. One of the halls is equipped with a laser projector. In case of power outages, the complex has its own power generator. The comfortable reclining seats were imported from the U.S.
The Cineplex has exclusive distribution rights with major American film companies such as Paramount, Disney, Universal, Columbia and Fox.
Interior of Azerbaijan Cinema, complete with recliner seating and Dolby surround sound.
Thanks to the efforts of the Hoomanis, Baku now has a world-class theater complex. The latest international box-office hits are now available and reasonably priced for their target of youth and students. Once a week, the latest English-language films are featured.
Besides restoring the theater and being involved with producing the Azerbaijan segment of the most recent Bond film, Ali is in the process of producing a new film, "Ali and Nino," a Romeo-and-Juliet plot about an Azerbaijani youth who falls in love with a Georgian girl. Azerbaijani screenwriter Rustam Ibrahimbeyov is also involved with this film, which will be in English and targeting an international audience. Rustam wrote the screenplay for "Burnt by the Sun" [directed by Nikita Mikhalkov] which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1995 [see AI 3.2, Summer 1995].
For more information about Azerbaijan's film industry this century, see the issue "Cinema: Can it Be Revived?" [AI 5.3, Autumn 1997]
From Azerbaijan International (7.3) Autumn 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1998. All rights reserved.
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