Rare's seminal N64 shooter GoldenEye 007 is coming up to its 25th birthday, and for a whole generation of players, it remains a pivotal experience in their gaming lives – a fact that was playfully acknowledged by Jim Miskell's 2017 'mockumentary' Going For Golden Eye, which focused on the fictional Golden Eye World Championships and the players still utterly obsessed with proving their worth at the FPS classic. Now, Miskell is back with a sequel, Bringing Back Golden Eye, which he admits is a step up from the original.
"Going For Golden Eye was a very low-budget film I made as an amateur which I thought five people would see," he explains to Nintendo Life. "When it took off online and was shown at a few film festivals, it took me by surprise. So I decided to make a proper go of it and hire professionals to make a sequel."
One of those professionals is Dan Guest, who takes over the director's chair for this follow-up (Miskell is acting as writer and producer this time around). "I was actually originally brought onto the sequel as a Sound Recordist way back at the end of 2018, as working in sound is the other half of my business," says Guest. "I immediately saw potential in the project and got very excited about it all, as GoldenEye was a huge part of my life back in the day. After we finished shooting the few scenes I was brought on to record sound for, Jim and I got talking and he mentioned he was looking for someone to take over the directing reins from himself. I offered myself up for the job and the rest, as they say, is history! We both sat down and worked on refining the script together and I used my contacts to start building a big professional crew that could all help bring this great script to life."
In case you're unaware, both films showcase a group of fictional characters who are committed to celebrating Rare's iconic FPS via the aforementioned global championship. The 'hero' of the films – and we use that term very loosely indeed – is the comically misguided Ethan Bellénd, who, at the conclusion of the first movie, loses his title after 19 straight years of victory. Ironically, Dan Bruce – who plays Ethan – admits that he never actually played GoldenEye 007 back in the day.
"As a kid, I had a PlayStation, and I was very much into the console wars of the '90s," he says. "GoldenEye was always this mysterious shooter that I would read about in gaming magazines but never really got a chance to play, as I didn't know anyone with a N64. My first hands-on experience was during shooting of Going For Golden Eye, where I would play it with cast and crew between takes and instantly fell in love with it! I was shocked at how well it holds up today. My only regret is not playing it as a kid, as GoldenEye is my favourite Bond movie – plus it's very rare you get a good movie game!"
Bruce is joined in Bringing Back Golden Eye by Gabe Cagan, who plays Glenn Caroll, the GoldenEye super-fan who is desperately trying to revive the world championships and locate the whereabouts of Ethan, his idol. "He wants to bring this tournament back – but make it bigger than ever, too," Cagan explains. "So he goes on this mission to organise an event, find competitors, raise funds. Oh, and he has a film crew following his every move." Unlike Bruce, Cagan has fond memories of the game from his formative years. "Playing GoldenEye multiplayer with my brothers is one of my earliest gaming memories," he tells us. "It got me hooked on the N64. I was quite young though, and while I liked to think I was good, I probably wasn’t, and spent as much time watching my brother work his way through the single player as I spent actually playing. Let’s just say I came more into my own with Donkey Kong 64…"
After reading the script and seeing all the different industries Ethan tries to enter to further his minuscule fame, I couldn't wait to bring such scenes to life
Given that Ethan is a laughably inept character, you'd think that Bruce would be cagey about retiring to the role, but the opposite is true. "I had so much fun playing Ethan in the first movie I jumped at the chance to reprise the role," he admits. "After reading the script and seeing all the different industries Ethan tries to enter to further his minuscule fame, I couldn't wait to bring such scenes to life. Plus, the film gave me more opportunities as an actor, allowing me to commit to both voice acting for the animated sections as well as some stunt work in the wrestling scene. Also how could I say no to wearing that jacket again?"
Indeed, Ethan is central to the appeal of both films – he even gets to recreate a scene from Star Wars: The Force Awakens in this sequel – which speaks volumes about Bruce's representation of the character. "Ethan is a 'man' who has delusions of grandeur with no discernible skills to actually achieve them," Bruce says. "He's desperate to leave a lasting legacy but ultimately doesn't know what that legacy should be. Throughout Bringing Back Golden Eye, Ethan is dead set on reclaiming his lost glory and is willing to do so by any means necessary." Bruce is happy to admit that the role is one he will cherish for a long time. "I had a really good scene when I could see Dan [Guest] or Josie [1st Assistant Director] trying their hardest not to laugh so they don't ruin the take! My favourite moment is during one scene – I won't spoil it, so you'll have to watch the movie to find out what it is – where I was able to make Jim leave the theatre hall as he was laughing so hard it was picking up on the boom mic! I can only apologise to both sound and the editor for all the extra work that's been caused as a result of this."
Bruce and Cagan are joined by an equally vibrant selection of supporting characters. Returning from the first film are Tom Reynolds (James Daltry), the reigning GoldenEye 007 champion who has fallen on hard times, and Steve Beagle (Bill Blackwood), who is armed with some of the funniest lines in the film – many of which are distinctly adult in nature (Bringing Back Golden Eye isn't one to watch with the kids, put it that way). Joining the assemble for the sequel are fellow title contenders Kelvin (Sebastian Lawrowski) and Sam (Harriet Millsopp), as well as Perfect Dark world champion Todd (Ben Mansbridge), who has essentially entered the competition so he can tell everyone how much better Perfect Dark is compared to GoldenEye – one of the many in-jokes which fans are sure to appreciate.
It's this ability to speak authentically about the subject matter which makes both of these films so unique. While the music and film industries have been parodied many times by Hollywood, video games seem to be a topic which moviemakers struggle to apply humour to (remember Pixels?). Miskell thinks the two Golden Eye films have succeeded because they're packed with instantly recognisable and relatable personalities. "We've created great characters who everyone will see someone they know in," he comments. "From young gaming prodigies, egotistical champions, overbearing parents and passionate fans who will go to great length to defend the games they love, or attack the games they hate. It’s all part of this wonderful gaming community we all love for good and bad! I also think we don’t mock the audience for liking gaming; we celebrate it."
Guest feels that the team behind the films has been successful because it knows its audience. "I think if you’re going to parody anything or make content about something in the mainstream media, it has to be made by fans of that subject and people who know it inside out," he says. "Don’t insult your audience, basically. I wouldn’t have put myself forward to direct this film if I didn’t have a deep connection and love for GoldenEye, and I hope when you watch our film, you can see the love and care we have for this incredibly important game."
I think if you’re going to parody anything or make content about something in the mainstream media, it has to be made by fans of that subject and people who know it inside out
The first film got a lot of support from the original GoldenEye development team, and this time around, more direct input was forthcoming. "We were able to hire Grant Kirkhope, the original composer of GoldenEye, as he loved the first film so much," Miskell explains. "Hearing the actual samples from the original game in our film was absolutely magic. We also have a cameo of one of the original team – which I won’t spoil – who spent a day or two on set with us, entertaining us with GoldenEye stories in the bar until the wee hours; a real 'pinch me' moment for me, personally."
One of the biggest challenges the team faced on Bringing Back Golden Eye wasn't convincing programmers to appear on-screen, but was the fact that during production, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world. "We actually re-shot the end of the film during lockdown when filming restrictions were lifted," Miskell says. "It was expensive and time-consuming to make sure everyone was safe, but was well worth the team effort." Miskell states that the film itself has been pretty much finished for a year, which shows the impact that COVID has had on the production schedule.
For Guest, it was a a fresh challenge having to create a film in such conditions – but working remotely wasn't as big a setback as you might expect. "From my perspective as director, it was a new experience for me in the editing process having to work remotely with our editor due to COVID during the months of 2020. Luckily, our amazing editor, Lucas Roche, had a fantastic setup which allowed us to communicate and screen-share flawlessly for weeks whilst we worked on bringing everything to life. Me and Jim also discussed whether to hold onto the film until GoldenEye’s 25th anniversary next year, but we didn’t want to sit on the film any longer and are so desperate for people to see it, we’ll settle for a release on the 24th anniversary instead and hopefully bring some joy to fans and movie lovers after such testing times."
The final product is just as amusing and witty as the original, and it's satisfying to see characters we're already familiar with grow and evolve (or regress, in Ethan's case). Both Miskell and Guest feel that Kirkhope's score is one of the highlights of the movie, and really adds a level of authenticity. "Having the original composer from the game composing music for this film is absolutely brilliant and surreal," says Guest. "I wanted to capture the magic of GoldenEye’s music to really push that nostalgic feel for the game, and Grant has certainly achieved that and more!"
Other highlights include specially-rendered VFX segments which ape the boxy visual style of GoldenEye itself, and are used to tell key parts of the story in Bringing Back Golden Eye. "They were made by Yoshi Vu, an ex-ILM artist who modded our film's characters into the exact specs of the original game," Miskell explains. "It's surreal and amazing to see! He did such a good job that a modder called Trever Leeming has made a custom version of GoldenEye where you can play as our characters!"
Guest is also particularly pleased with the multiplayer segments which show characters in the movie taking each other down in the game itself – although he admits that this part of the production was a real challenge. "We had a few technical image quality issues in the early days of recording the gameplay so we actually had to go back and re-record each match, making sure everything synced up properly – it was probably the least fun me and Jim ever had playing GoldenEye! But it was all worth it as I think we’ve done a fantastic job of putting it all together to make everything look absolutely seamless." According to Miskell, this part of the film – which called upon over 100 extras and over 50 cast and crew to be on set – took more than three days to pull together. "It was utterly surreal to sit back and watch it all happen in front of my eyes, an experience I’ll never forget."
It would seem that the cast enjoyed the production process just as much. "I loved every second and feel so lucky to have worked with such a brilliant crew," explains Cagan. "It's been one of the most enjoyable and creative experiences of my life," adds Bruce. "I've had so much fun throughout and have made many friends for life through this film. I can't thank everyone enough."
One of the most remarkable elements of Bringing Back Golden Eye is the way it is being distributed. The film is going to launch on YouTube for free, while special features – original tie-in music videos, deleted scenes, commentary, etc – are also expected to be made available at no additional cost. Miskell is open to a physical release if the demand is there (Going For Golden Eye got one), but the focus with this sequel has been raising money for a charity that's very close to Miskell's heart. "I suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder, a mental health condition which has a staggeringly high suicide rate of 10%," he explains. "When I was at rock bottom a few years ago, The Samaritans were there on the end of the phone to offer me support. Instead of selling the film, I’ve set up a JustGiving donation page to donate directly to The Samaritans which will help them do the great work they do."
"I’m so proud of Jim for his decision to release the film for free and to raise money for such an incredible charity," adds Guest. "We could have quite easily sold the film to be streamed online, but if we have an opportunity to give back not just to the fans, but to a great cause, then why not release for free and raise money along the way? All we ask from people who watch our film is to donate what you can. What would you pay to rent or buy a film on a streaming service? £5? £10? Instead of paying that to us, please donate it to our JustGiving page." The fundraiser has already surpassed £5,000, and Miskell has pledged to personally match that amount from his own pocket.
But is Bringing Back Golden Eye the end of the road for the enigmatic Ethan Bellénd? It sounds like Miskell has more plans for the cast of characters he has created (the end credits playfully suggest he will return) – but they might not come to fruition for a while. "I actually wrote a treatment for a standalone Ethan action film, but this is it for now; after three years of work I think I need a break from all things GoldenEye!"
"As Jim says, we need to at least take a break from GoldenEye for a while," adds Guest with a laugh. "We’ve practically lived and breathed it every day for the past few years now. It will be really interesting to see what kind of reception and attention the film gets in the coming months, which will start to give us an idea if there is a demand for more story to be told in this world. For now, me and Jim have plans for new, original feature films which we want to make together, but they say 'never say never', so who knows what could happen in the future for the world of Bringing Back Golden Eye?"
Bringing Back Golden Eye premieres on YouTube today at 19:00 BST. You can watch it here.