FOR YOUR EYES ONLY
The Bond museum built inside a villain’s lair
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.