VOLCANO ROCKET BASE

Entry Source: The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin


Fortress of Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence) in You Only Live Twice. Hidden inside the cone of an extinct Japanese volcano, it harbors the formidable Intruder rocket that is systematically robbing the US and Soviet space programs of their manned space capsules. Its features include not only the rocket-firing platform but also a heliport; a steel curtain that covers the entire cone of the volcano and is camouflaged as a crater lake from the outside; a monorail that transports personnel and equipment throughout the complex; numerous elevators and cranes; and a labyrinth of stairways and catwalks that ring the fortress.

The film’s production designer, Ken Adam, designed and built the base as a full-size set on the Pinewood Studios lot at a cost of $1 million. Remembered Adam, “It was the first time that I had to build something that big. One of the problems on the Bond films is that if these big sets were written completely into the original screenplays, we could probably get away with building part of the sets full-size and faking the rest with models and matte paintings. But since we know only at the time of construction that the big finale or the big shoot-out takes place in the set, and nothing else, I’ve got to go for full size. We then work out the action as we go along. On You Only Live Twice, I designed the volcano rocket base and then [director] Lewis Gilbert and [screenwriter] Roald Dahl came along and helped plan the actual movements within the set.

“Since, by the time we made You Only Live Twice, we had a liberal budget for the set, our main problem was logistics. You can’t afford to make any mistakes on a set of this size, especially when you’re using an enormous amount of structural steel. You have to consult with structural engineers, who calculate your stress factors. And you can’t keep changing your mind like you often do on an interior set. We had to create accurate models, and these had to be followed to a T. And when you work with steel, it has to be ordered three months ahead of time.”[1]

In January 1967, the Los Angeles Times published a few of the project’s more interesting statistics. In constructing the volcano rocket base at Pinewood, Adam’s team used 200 miles of tubular steel, more than 700 tons of structural steel, 200 tons of plasterwork, 8,000 railway ties for the set’s working monorail, and more than 250,000 square yards of canvas to protect the set from the elements. Two hundred and fifty men worked on the project, and on May 11, 1966, the first of the steel foundations was completed. The finished set was visible from the main London-Oxford highway some three miles away.[2]

“Such a set,” said Adam, “represents both a dream and a nightmare in moviemaking. The nightmare comes from suddenly realizing that you have designed something that has never been done before in films, and that it is bigger than any set ever used before. Many times I woke up in the middle of the night wondering whether the whole thing would work. Sometimes the best possible construction engineers can’t solve your problems. They may be qualified to build an Empire State Building or an Eiffel Tower—buildings that follow normal construction techniques—but we had to construct a set for which there were no precedents.

“But this type of set is also a designer’s dream. To be given the mandate to plan such a complicated structure is a challenge no artist could resist. And seeing your drawings and ideas taking shape and becoming reality in steel, concrete, and plaster is like watching your own child grow into Superman.”[3]

Adam, a veteran of many films in the Bond series, would go on to design the equally enormous supertanker interior—the so-called “Jonah Set”—for The Spy Who Loved Me.


[1] Ken Adam, interview by Steven Jay Rubin, London, June 17, 1977.

[2] “007’s Rocket Pad Out of This World,” Los Angeles Times, January 15, 1967.

[3] Adam, interview by Steven Jay Rubin.