21 Mar 2013

Virgin Atlantic, updated - still red hot

Casino Royale
The pin-up girl, called the Scarlet Lady, carrying the Union Jack is seen on every Virgin aircraft. 
Mi6-hq.com reported in late 2011 that Virgin Atlantic would once again be flying Bond in Skyfall. I thought it appropriate to look at the airline's previous engagements with the Bond series and I have now updated the post to include Skyfall. Virgin has featured in all three of Craig's film. Casino Royale 2006, marked the change not only from Brosnan as Bond, but also from British Airways as Bond's choice of airline (featured in Die another day and GoldenEye).
Virgin's Airbus A340-600 seen in the background
Even though Bond never flies with Virgin in the film, several airplanes and a Virgin Atlantic catering truck can be seen during the action at Miami airport. The airplanes featured in the film are all the biggest and longest in the Virgin fleet. All the scenes were filmed at Prague International airport doubling for Miami, something that becomes obvious when, at one point, a plane from Czech airlines (CSA) is seen in the background. This airline does not fly to Miami.
Virgin's Boeing 747-400
Sir Richard Branson, the founder and owner of Virgin even has a cameo in the film. Branson is being searched by a security guard when the terrorist enters the airport, watched by Bond. Since British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have been bitter rivals for many years, both the Virgin airplanes and Sir Richard himself were edited out of the in-flight movies shown on board of all British Airways flights. No hard feelings eh?
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Quantum of solace
Bond and Mathis are flying to Bolivia in pursuit of Dominic Greene. They have chosen the upper class at Virgin Atlantic, which can be described as other airlines first class sections. The upper class features a bar and other amenities like seats converting to fully flat beds. The overhead compartments indicates that they are supposed to be flying on a Boeing 747.
Bond is spending most of his time in the bar during the flight. A flight attendant is behind the bar with a Virgin name tag visible. He is serving Bond Vespers made from Smirnoff black, Gordon's gin (for the UK market) and Lillet Blanc. The bottles, among others like Bacardi and J&B can be seen in the bar. Bond drinks at least six Vespers instead of sleeping and still manages to look more alert than Mathis upon their arrival in La Paz. It must be the suit...
                             "Six of them..."
                                       -Flight attendant to Mathis-

The logo is visible behind Bond in the cabin but a Virgin airplane is never seen in the film. Quantum qualifies as one of the worst films in the series (together with Die another day and Diamonds are forever), due to the poor story, extreme cutting, lack of dialogue and too much action. It is a pity that a scene with a Virgin airplane in-flight or filmed landing in Bolivia (similar to the scene in Die another day) didn't appear in the film.
Upper class at the Boeing 747-400
Since Virgin does not fly to any destinations in South America (a factual error in the film), it is possible that Bond and Mathis have changed airline in the USA or the Caribbean. But of course in the world of Bond, Virgin flies everywhere.
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Skyfall
Virgin Atlantic has a very brief encounter with Bond in Skyfall which only includes the presence of some Virgin Atlantic signs at Shanghai Airport. It is probably meant to look like check-in counters but upon closer inspection it's just signs with the logotype. They are only visible for a second in the background to the left of the 'arrivals exit'. Bond is posing as a chauffeur in order to blend in with the crowd when Patrice arrives. The reason why they didn't use real check-in counters is due to the fact that the airport scene was filmed at the Royal Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire that doubled for Shanghai airport.
Patrice is arriving in Shanghai on EWA flight 226. This can refer to 'EVA air', an airline based in Taiwan and the second largest Taiwanese airline. It would make sense since the action is taking place close to Taiwan.  But since the 'EVA air' flight number should have been EVA not EWA, it is more likely that the flight number has no relevance.

A 747 from EVA air, a likely choice when flying to Shanghai
An airline that actually used the abbreviation EWA was the Australian airline 'East West Airlines'. This was a domestic airline that ceased operations in the early 1990's. The fact that no airline uses this abbreviation today can be the reason why they choose to have it in the film.






Virgin Atlantic did a Bond style commercial in 2011, well worth watching:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Hbib-A6NpW8

and another one celebrating their 25th anniversary. Both are excellent and funny commercials:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cM4EOeJzHA

14 Mar 2013

The Venice hotel - Prague National Museum


In Casino Royale Bond is enjoying his retirement together with Vesper. They have bought a boat and presumably sailed from Montenegro to Venice where they have made their first stop. They have checked in to a hotel conveniently located in the very heart of Venice with their hotel suite overlooking the St. Mark's Square. Vesper who has arranged a meeting with Mr Gettler is leaving the hotel and Bond is following her down to the lobby. She tells Bond that she is going to the bank, but in reality she is going to hand Bond's poker winnings over to Gettler. As she leaves the hotel, she knows she is going to her death.
The hotel lobby scenes were filmed at the Czech National Museum in Prague. The entrance hall of the museum was transformed to a hotel lobby but because of the beautiful interior, not much was needed to be done in terms of production design. A front desk and a red carpet were put in, and the right feeling was created with a lot of extras making it look like a busy hotel.   
A wall and a fictional elevator was put in where there in fact is a hallway and Bond is escorting Vesper down to the hotel lobby from here. The entrance hall is just down to the left of the pillars. 



"-Mr Mendel, I'm having trouble accessing the funds in my account.
 -It was wired to the account number your company gave us Mr Bond. It appears the funds are withdrawn as we speak!"
                                      -Bond to Mr Mendel-



Bond is running down the stairs while talking to Mr Mendel
The main stairway hall can also be found in the museum, just after the lobby. I this scene a member of the "hotel staff" is walking past Bond with some dry cleaning. Even the stairway hall didn't need much of redecorating for the short scene.
Between the stairs on the ground floor you see the main entrance hall where the lobby was created.
The main stairway hall is beautiful and makes the museum well worth a visit when in Prague. However, the national museum is currently under construction and the entire building is closed until further notice. The access has been cut off not only to the main stairway but also to the entrance hall.

The first stairs Bond is running down can be found just above the main stairway hall. During Mr Stock's and my visit everything was still exactly like in the film. Hopefully, nothing will be changed during the extensive renovation.
Prague is one of the most beautiful capitols in Europe and the city's historic centre is a World Heritage site. The neoclassical Czech National Museum is one of many grandiose buildings that can be found throughout the city. It is located at one end of Wenceslas Square in the New Town (Nové Město) of Prague.


7 Mar 2013

Macau


In Skyfall, Bond follows the lead from Patrice (our Swedish pride Ola Rapace) to China. After killing him off in Shanghai, Bond finds a casino chip in Patrice's case, from the Floating Dragon Casino in Macau. This is the payment for the murder he has committed in Shanghai just before Bond throws him out the window. The case has supposedly been handed to Patrice by Severine at the Shanghai airport, but this scene was cut from the finished film. Bond goes to the casino in Macau to cash the chip, hoping to come across Severine's employer.

In the establishing shot over Macau and in the following scenes the filmmakers make it look like something from the time of the opium war. This portrayal as an old Chinese city is highly inaccurate since Macau in reality is Asia's response to Las Vegas with grand casinos and neon lights. Like Hong Kong, Macau is a Special Administrative Region of China, but until 1999 it was a Portuguese colony and gambling was  made legal under Portuguese rule. For decades Macau has been heavily dependent on the casino business and the revenue is higher than the revenue from entire Las Vegas.

The skyline used in the film is not real and it is very hard to identify anything from the top picture. Since none of the scenes in the film were shot on location in Macau, the establishing shot is most likely something that was made via computer. What idea production designer Gassner had when he created Macau is not known to me. Most likely they felt that Macau would be more exotic portrayed like something from the colonial era. It is a shame, because Macau is an amazing city with almost 500 years of Portuguese influence in architecture and some of the real parts would certainly have been exotic enough for the film. Although it would have been harder to get away with the interior design in Bond's hotel suite and in the casino if the modern "Vegas-style" Macau had been portrayed for real.


Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Bond on the big screen, Skyfall is filled with references from Bond's past, and the location of Macau is undoubtedly a reference to The man with the golden gun, in which Bond visits the then Portuguese colony for the first time. In both films Bond is following the lead of an assassin to Macau, the first of course being Scaramanga and now Patrice in Skyfall. On both occasions Bond is also visiting a floating casino.

The real skyline of Macau and one of the three bridges that connects the Macau peninsula with Taipa

The Portuguese settled in Macau in the mid 16th century and rented it from the Chinese empire as a trading port. At first it was administered by the Portuguese under Chinese authority but in 1887 they established it as a colony under the Portuguese empire. Macau was handed back to China in 1999, and was the last remaining European colony in China. Under the policy 'one country - two systems', Macau still maintains a high degree of autonomy with their own currency, police force, legal system and immigration policy, even though China is responsible for the territory's defence and foreign affairs.

Apart from that, Portuguese is still an official language (besides Chinese) and remains from Portugal can still be found all over the city.

A city in China or in southern Portugal?
I have been to Macau on four different occasions and each time is a renewed pleasure. The city has a lot of nice streets, several beautiful squares and many remains from the colonial era. With Portuguese street names and buildings that look like something straight from Portugal you sometimes get the feeling of southern Europe when strolling around town. Alongside Hong Kong, Macau is definitely one of the coolest cities in Asia, and a must visit. If you explore the city properly you will agree that this is an experience beyond the ordinary. A trip to Portugal's last colony in Asia will be worth your wile. With the jet hydrofoil it takes you an hour to get to Hong Kong, the same trip that Bond made in The man with the golden gun 1974.

Bond's hotel in Macau in the film 
The fictitious casino Floating Dragon 
Sadly, neither Bond's hotel or he casino from the film are real and Macau does not look at all like in the film.

3 Mar 2013

The tears of Allah

















In Never say never again, SPECTRE manages to steal two nuclear missiles from NATO and Largo, who is in charge of the operation, hides one of the missiles in an underwater cave in North Africa. Bond and Domino join the US Navy on a submarine and they tail Largo to a bay somewhere in Africa but they still don't know where Largo has hidden the missile or where he is going.
To remember the location of the bomb, Largo has given Domino a pendant where a small diamond marks a location, with the inscription "the tears of Allah". Claiming it is the most valuable thing he has ever possessed, except her, he doesn't reveal the secret to Domino and it is not until on board the submarine that Bond understands that the diamond must mark a place.




    Your pendant. Give it to me!

On board the American submarine, Bond is looking at some charts together with Leiter and Domino over the area where Largo has anchored his yacht. This chart is accurate and makes it possible to identify the coastline. Bond claims that the diamond's location on the map is right where the oil fields start. Largo's plan for the bomb is not made completely clear, but then again, it is Never we are talking about and a few question marks regarding the story are not surprising.
Google map over the coastline in Eritrea. © Google
The bay where Largo has anchored can be found in a very unexpected place, namely in Eritrea in northeast Africa. Domino has earlier explained to Bond that they were heading for North Africa where Largo's home (Palmyra) is located. As I have covered earlier, the action taking place at Palmyra, were actually shot in the south of France, and naturally the film team was never anywhere near Eritrea. The rest of the scenes in North Africa were shot in Spain, as credited in the end titles.

Why this particular coastline was chosen is unknown.
Maps © Google
For various reasons I have not yet visited Eritrea and I have not planned a trip within a very foreseeable future.