New James Bond Thriller Brings to Life Medieval Italy, MI6 HQ

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It takes a lot of planks and plaster to bring James Bond's adventures to life.

The latest 007 movie, "Quantum of Solace," is being shot amid high security at a sprawling studio complex near London, where vast sound stages have been transformed into a medieval Italian town, a corner of South America and the high-tech headquarters of British intelligence.

Reporters given a backstage tour this week saw star Daniel Craig's stunt double, Ben Cooke, preparing to wreak havoc on an art gallery in Siena, Italy. Nearby, Bond's boss M, played by Judi Dench, sat talking to an assistant in her high-tech office at MI6 headquarters. Crew members worked on another stage lined with elegant colonial-style facades that is standing in for Bolivia.

It's a surreal experience to wander around Pinewood Studios, a 100-acre collection of brick buildings, backlots and cavernous hangars set amid woods and fields a few miles (kilometers) northwest of London.

The studio was founded in the 1930s, modeled on Hollywood's giant moviemaking complexes. Bond thrillers have been shot here ever since the series began with "Dr. No" in 1962. The narrow lanes between the buildings include Goldfinger Avenue and Broccoli Road, after the series' late producer, Albert "Cubby" Broccoli.

The sheer scale of the enterprise is startling. Filming, which began Jan. 3, is taking place on five sound stages, including the vast "007" stage, rebuilt after it was gutted by fire in 2006.

Scores of workers scurry about — adjusting lights and rigging, or sipping cups of tea during lulls in activity.

There are about 500 cast and crew working on the film at Pinewood: 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week. Many are old hands, returning from previous Bond films.

"We have a crew that's all worked together, all know each other," said producer Michael G. Wilson. "It's a good atmosphere."

Despite the bright lights, snaking cables, sawdust and gaffer tape, it's amazing how quickly it all starts to seem real.

The black-and-white "marble" pillars of the Siena art gallery are hollow to the touch, but look like the real Tuscan thing. Walking a warren of dark, narrow tunnels representing Siena's underground cisterns feels genuinely claustrophobic.

The MI6 set — newly built for this film — is a sleek two-story suite of steel-gray furniture and frosted glass offices that puts many corporate headquarters to shame. It has been outfitted with impressive attention to detail, from the real desks and computers down to the chrome coffee pots and weekly newsmagazines laid out on a waiting-room table.

Sets have always been crucial to the success of the Bond films. The series' most famous designer, Ken Adam, created unforgettable, futuristic sets for seven Bond movies, including the vaults of Fort Knox in "Goldfinger" and the villainous Blofeld's volcano lair in "You Only Live Twice." It was Adam who designed Bond's iconic car, a gadget-filled Aston Martin.

The production designer for "Quantum of Solace" is Dennis Gassner, who was nominated for an Academy Award this week for "The Golden Compass."

Wilson said the visual style created by Gassner and director Marc Forster was "a postmodern look at modernism."

"They've found a lot of 70s and 80s architecture that they've gone back to and used in the film," Wilson said.

Once cast and crew move on to shoot in more glamorous locales — including Austria's Lake Constance, Lake Garda in northern Italy, Panama, Chile and Peru — the sets will be dismantled and new ones constructed for a fresh round of filming on their return.

Shooting is due to wrap up this summer, and "Quantum of Solace" is set for release on Nov. 7.