FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

The Bond mu­seum built in­side a vil­lain’s lair

Esquire Middle East - - IN THIS ISSUE THE FEATURES - BY JOSH SIMS PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY CHRISTOPH NOSIG AND KRISTO­PHER GRUNERT

VIEW TO A THRILL The ski des­ti­na­tion that’s added show busi­ness to its snow busi­ness.

A TOURIST SITE THAT’S 3,040M AT

THE TOP of a snow-capped Aus­trian moun­tain, ac­ces­si­ble only by ca­ble­car, might not sound like a recipe for prof­itabil­ity. But then, when it comes with the name Bond, James Bond, at­tached, per­haps it’s a dif­fer­ent story. At least, that was Jakob Falkner’s be­lief.

He’s the CEO of Berg­bah­nen

Sölden, one of Europe’s big­gest ca­ble­car man­u­fac­tur­ers/op­er­a­tors, and it was he who was ap­proached by

Eon Pro­duc­tions, mak­ers of the Bond movies, when they wanted to shoot some scenes for 2015’s Spec­tre.

The pro­duc­tion crew duly turned up, used Falkner’s moun­tain-top restau­rant to dou­ble as the min­i­mal­is­tic ‘klinik’ — where Bond avoids psy­cho-anal­y­sis and health smooth­ies in favour of a fight — and spent a few weeks in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity film­ing the movie’s key chase scene. Cue Bond in a plane pur­su­ing a con­voy of Land Rovers along Alpine passes and through pine forests, dis­pens­ing with the wings and skid­ding right through a chalet. As you do.

In­deed, for a cou­ple of months all was well in Sölden. It was boom times for lo­cal busi­nesses, which do rea­son­ably well year round — with skiers in the win­ter, and with hik­ers and moun­tain bik­ers in the sum­mer — but which had never known any­thing quite like this. And that got Falkner think­ing. What hap­pens when the pro­duc­tion crew packs up and goes home? What if, rather than this peace­ful lit­tle Aus­trian vil­lage re­turn­ing to nor­mal, its moun­tain­top struc­ture could be con­verted into what would be the most ex­otic of per­ma­nent homages to Bond? And on a moun­tain — a very cold moun­tain — that would be a hour-plus drive from Inns­bruck air­port at that. Yes, it was a crazy pro­posal.

“The film­ing was just such a big thing for us here in Sölden,” says Falkner. “But the idea of do­ing an in­stal­la­tion — not just a few props, but some­thing spe­cial — seemed a way of bring­ing to­gether a great movie brand and what is a spec­tac­u­lar lo­ca­tion. I’m a big Bond fan. I could see the po­ten­tial.”

But could Eon? Af­ter all, given that Bond has a global com­mu­nity of what might po­litely be dubbed en­thu­si­asts, Eon is no stranger to peo­ple ap­proach­ing it with hare-brained ideas to ride on the se­cret agent’s be­spoke coat-tails. Surely they would, like all the oth­ers, de­cline Falkner’s of­fer. Re­mark­ably, Falkner per­suaded the pro­duc­ers to get on board.

“I re­mem­ber when Sam Mendes [Spec­tre’s direc­tor] and the other guys were all here film­ing back in 2001, and that’s when it all felt very real,” says Falkner. “That’s when I said to my­self ‘we have to do some­thing to keep all this go­ing’. And I was soon on a plane to Lon­don to meet with Bar­bara Broc­coli and Michael Wil­son [Bond film pro­duc­ers]. It was a long process from then, and nat­u­rally they were cau­tious, be­cause it’s their duty to pro­tect what is, af­ter all, an in­cred­i­ble brand. But I think they saw that, done

prop­erly, this could be re­ally good for the brand.”

More than that, Eon wanted to go for it in a big way. Rather than sim­ply give a sec­tion of the restau­rant build­ing over to some kind of dis­play, it backed the idea to build an ad­di­tional, ded­i­cated struc­ture, right into the moun­tain­side. It wanted, in ef­fect, to build a Bond-vil­lain lair, for real. It even rec­om­mended Neal Cal­low — the art direc­tor on the last five Bond movies, hav­ing started with Casino Royale in 2004 and work­ing on ‘Bond 25’ now — to de­velop the con­cept of the in­stal­la­tion. 007 El­e­ments, as the site would be called, would turn out to be a se­ries of seven in­ter­link­ing cham­bers, each of­fer­ing some­thing of a Bon­dian ex­pe­ri­ence, rather than an­other Bond mu­seum.

“It was, in many ways, a nuts idea,” ad­mits Cal­low, whose first Bond job,

poor boy, saw him be­ing sent to the Ba­hamas for six months. “We de­liv­ered the var­i­ous ideas of the pro­posal in stages, and at each Eon could ap­prove or not ap­prove the whole thing, and still they went with it. It was a risky thing for them to get in­volved with. We all agreed we never wanted it to be some kind of theme park. It had to be dis­tinct from the kind of thing Marvel or DC might do. The most amaz­ing thing about the whole project was that it was such a Bond-like lo­ca­tion — on top of the moun­tain, in the snow.”

Ah yes, about that. For that we turn to Hans Ober­moser, the man with some­thing of the Bond vil­lain name, the ac­claimed ar­chi­tect of the decade-old restau­rant at the top of the moun­tain and the man charged with de­sign­ing the build­ing for 007 El­e­ments too. “Well, yes, my first re­ac­tion to the whole idea was ‘can we re­ally do this at 3,000m?’” says Ober­moser. “We knew we had to build some­thing that would work in the set­ting, that would show vis­i­tors the panorama, that would cap­ture the at­mos­phere that the film­ing of Bond cre­ated in Sölden. And when you con­sider all that, to be hon­est, we had big doubts as to whether to take the project on. The whole thing seemed kind of im­pos­si­ble in a Bond-like way in it­self.”

There was the in­stal­la­tion’s planned sit­u­a­tion, for one — all the con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als, all the equip­ment and per­son­nel would have to be moved up there to do the build­ing, and do that some­times in ter­ri­ble weather. “And it only has to snow a lit­tle overnight and you’re spend­ing most of your time clear­ing roads,” Ober­moser notes, “so it could only hap­pen if the lo­cal firms were pre­pared to work ef­fec­tively around the clock”. Then there’s the fact that the project kept grow­ing. It started out as 500sqm, and then it needed to be 1,500sqm, as three rooms be­came seven. “And then,” Ober­moser adds ca­su­ally, “there’s the is­sue of build­ing on per­mafrost.”

Didn’t we men­tion that? Walk around 007 El­e­ments and, at this al­ti­tude, you no­tice a dis­tinct nip in the air, even dur­ing sum­mer. Many vis­i­tors dur­ing win­ter will be wear­ing ski-suits, and that’s just as well, be­cause the in­stal­la­tion is un­heated. And with good rea­son. Per­mafrost is, in ef­fect, a gath­er­ing of small rocks held to­gether by ice. There’s no solid foun­da­tion. If there’s a marked in­crease in tem­per­a­ture, you lose sta­bil­ity. “So, um, it’s very, very dif­fi­cult to build on,” laughs Ober­moser.

In fact, the 007 El­e­ments build­ing cuts into the moun­tain­side in part for drama’s sake, but also be­cause even if the weather gets warmer the core tem­per­a­ture within the moun­tain tends to stay con­sis­tently low. All the same, the sin­gle-level build­ing has been de­signed so that it can shift, say, 10 to 20cm in any di­rec­tion and hold its in­tegrity. “We were con­cerned that, if we had a sum­mer like we’ve just had, year af­ter year, we might have a prob­lem, so in the long term it’s down to the ef­fects of cli­mate change. In 10 years the whole thing could look very dif­fer­ent — you might need stairs be­tween the var­i­ous rooms,” Ober­moser jokes. “But, se­ri­ously though, it’s very safe, other­wise I wouldn’t go up there.”

In­side and out, the build­ing alone is worth the visit. While Ober­moser and Cal­low watched a lot of Bond films, with par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion paid to the late Ken Adams’ in­cred­i­ble fu­tur­is­tic pro­duc­tion de­signs for the likes of Goldfin­ger (1964), Thunderball (1965),

You Only Live Twice (1967),

Di­a­monds are For­ever (1971) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), their de­sign — all bare con­crete, iron and glass — has a hard aus­ter­ity to it that, Ober­moser sug­gests, suits the Bond char­ac­ter as he’s been por­trayed of late. The lack of heat­ing, of course, only adds to this chilly mood. “I have to say that I wasn’t a big Bond fan be­fore tak­ing on this project,” he says. “But I am now. Its de­sign is just so pow­er­ful. The ar­chi­tec­ture and the con­tent works so well to­gether. So we had to at least try to match that in this in­stal­la­tion.”

The re­sult is cer­tainly im­pres­sive, leav­ing vis­i­tors if not more knowl­edge­able about the James Bond uni­verse, then at least with a deep feel­ing as to what the con­tem­po­rary Bond world is like. “That was the other big chal­lenge,” ex­plains Cal­low, who has de­signed other ex­pe­ri­en­tial sites, in­clud­ing a theme park for a Malaysian con­sor­tium. “Eon loves

to think big, and Bond, as a brand, has al­ways been at the cut­ting-edge of tech, of ar­chi­tec­ture, and so 007 El­e­ments had to be at the cut­ting-edge of ex­hi­bi­tion de­sign. That had its own tech­ni­cal prob­lems — we have live VR, pro­jec­tions, mul­ti­me­dia ev­ery­thing, and all of that had to work in a sub-zero en­vi­ron­ment too, which meant even in­su­lat­ing all the ca­bling. Just get­ting the phys­i­cal thing to­gether was tough.

“But, more than that, we knew it had to be im­mer­sive,” adds Cal­low. “Look at theme-park de­sign now and that’s what it’s about. Peo­ple don’t want to wait in a queue for a ride.

They re­ally want to en­ter a world. Ex­pe­ri­ences are some­thing you can say you’ve had, you can share on so­cial me­dia; there’s an el­e­ment of one­up­man­ship about them. That’s what 007 El­e­ments had to of­fer.”

So, yes, there are Spec­tre props (Cal­low notes how they had to fight the temp­ta­tion sim­ply to raid the ex­ten­sive, 66-year-old Bond archive), but there’s also a chance for vis­i­tors to ‘x-ray’ their arm, in­ter­act with an ex­plo­sive watch, use ro­bots to scan a Jaguar C-X75 or a VFX in­ter­face to demon­strate all the movie’s post­pro­duc­tion work. Stunts are ex­plained in de­tail, spe­cial ef­fects stripped down to com­po­nent parts, and vis­tas of­fer the moun­tain­side sud­denly re­vealed as you move from one area to an­other. It’s an hour-long snap­shot of the Bond movie-mak­ing process. “In many ways there’s an over­lap be­tween 007 El­e­ments and the process of film de­sign, when you’re us­ing props, scenery, ar­chi­tec­ture — the very drama of the place — to tell the story,” adds Cal­low.

“You have to as­sume Eon get ap­proached to do ex­hi­bi­tions and the like all the time, but it was clear they’d only do some­thing if it was re­ally dif­fer­ent,” Falkner adds. “And I think that’s what we’ve done. It will sur­prise some peo­ple, but the whole point of it is that it’s not just an­other Bond mu­seum-style ex­hi­bi­tion with lots of posters and things to read.” As for whether it will get enough vis­i­tors, Falkner is con­vinced. “Mil­lions of peo­ple come to the Ty­rol every year it’s a very touris­tic part of the Alps,” he says. “Plenty of those will make a day trip of it. I do over­hear peo­ple say­ing ‘well, I’m here be­cause my hus­band wanted to come’. But even they seem

to leave im­pressed. And, of course, true Bond fans will make a spe­cial trip of it.”

But are those on the de­cline, as

Bond faces com­pe­ti­tion from the likes of not just Ja­son Bourne and Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble’s Ethan Hunt, but su­per­heroes; as gad­get-laden es­pi­onage, not to men­tion un-pc at­ti­tudes, risk look­ing hack­neyed; as the world of Bond even starts to look in­creas­ingly nos­tal­gic for a place Bri­tain no longer has with cer­tainty at the world’s top ta­ble?

On the con­trary. Cal­low ar­gues that the very fact that 007 El­e­ments has been built is a tes­ta­ment to the en­dur­ing ap­peal of Ian Flem­ing’s char­ac­ter. “I think Bond is in a re­ally good place now,” he says. “Bond has al­ways had to live in the real world. That’s what’s hard to pull off — you can’t step over the line into sci-fi. Ev­ery­thing has to be be­liev­able. Big, but be­liev­able. But he al­ways has to be rel­e­vant too. And that’s what’s great about the char­ac­ter: peo­ple are in­ter­ested in Bond be­cause he, and the movies about him, can move with the times. I don’t think any­one would have backed a project quite as crazy as

007 El­e­ments if he couldn’t.”

“There’s an over­lap be­tween 007 El­e­ments and the process of film de­sign, when you’re us­ing the very drama of the place to tell the story”

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY The brief­ing room ties the ex­pe­ri­ence’s lo­ca­tion with scenes from 2015’s Spec­tre.

NO­BODY DOES IT BET­TER: Jo­hann Ober­moser, Jakob Falkner, Neal Cal­low

COLD FIN­GERS Gloves are rec­om­mended for the un­heated space oc­cu­pied by 007 El­e­ments.

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