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The 007th Minute: a review series

Skyfall

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#1 Jim

Jim

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Posted 17 November 2013 - 03:57 PM

This is the end. Beautiful friend.

 

Hold your breath and…

 

No, don’t. Asphyxiation might be your jolly – not judging (I am a bit) – but you’d be tucked up in dead before you finished this; it has girthbloat. If bidding for oblivion, bore yourself to death reading it. Still, I don’t want your sticky end on my hands (fnarr). The guilt I’ll cope with, via the medium of indifference; it’s that I’ve always found grinding my heel into an upturned face far more satisfying. Or, as I age, paying someone else to do it. It’s murder on the knees.

 

Judi Dench snuff movie Skyfall is where we start. A billion-dollar Bond behemoth, so one little prick on the internet (hi there) isn’t going to burst it. Still, all that tremendous, oddly heartwarming success (albeit having had no stake in the film beyond “going to see it”) does lead me to contemplate blockbusters. Or, more precisely, Blockbusters.

 

For those blessed with ignorance, Blockbusters was a tiffin-time British quiz programme of the 1980s, broadcast via the harlotry of commercial television, aimed at a beteenaged audience. One could tell that because of the prizes, habitually a “programmable” ZX Spectrum (48K “ram”, no less), a box of coloured pencils or a cultural weekend in tropical Cannock (go for the pencils). Doubtless a modern equivalent would have to dole out fake tan, mobile telephones or Tablets. Can’t help feeling tablets in those days were more fun: when one dropped them, it wasn’t the machine that got itself shattered. Halcyon days. If only I could remember them.

 

I’m sure – this is the internet and this is what happens – someone with insufficient life to lead will screech that Blockbusters has been revived on various digital channels, hosted by Walid Jumblatt or Gabriela Sabatini or Your Mum, but it’s the original version that I want to waste your time reading about, the iteration hosted by Bond manqué Bob Holness. That’s Bond manqué, not Bond monkey (insert your brilliant Daniel Cregg is an Ape observation… [here]). 

 

Bob, star of the South African radio production of Moonraker (“Munrikker”), all demento-teeth and avuncular spectacles, would fire down questions from a plinth above which loomed a vast polystyrene God. Most eccentric. The adolescents selected letters –  like this website’s ABC game, but worthwhile - and James Bond would flick one out, along the lines of “What H can you wear on your head and rhymes with cat?” so the viewers – the unemployed, the unemployable, all types of Scouser really – weren’t unduly alienated and could celebrate their communal GCSE. Winning a game inserted one into the Gold Run (both a filthy euphemism and a metaphor for vile capitalist avarice), striving to win two ping-pong bats for one’s “youth club”.  Then it all ended with the underwashed audience performing a hand jive, which gave teenagers something energetic to do with their hands because otherwise they’d be totally at a loss.

 

Of itself, the involvement of the late Mr Holness rips open a field of speculation about shows that could be fronted by other Bonds, but beyond suggesting The “Actor” Pus Binbag in close proximity to The Weakest Link, you’ll be glad I deleted the rest of this pathetic idea. Slightly more on point (slightly), one of the highlights of the show would be one of the juveniles selecting the appropriate letter with “I’d like a P please, Bob”. Oh, how we laughed, so much so that our childhood teatime plates of swan rissole would wobble from our bescabbed knees or off the back of the supine junior boy one used as a pouffe. Back then, one didn’t usually have broadcast into one’s pliant mind relentless pissing references, or at least whenever John Craven’s Newsround wasn’t being deadly serious and telling us that one couldn’t catch AIDS from loo seats, rendering them safe to lick. There was a more sinister variation – “I’d like U please, Bob” – but even in those pre-Yewtree days we all recognised that particular fusion of the traditional and the modern was a bit, y’know, urr. Which was often the answer, oddly enough.

 

So – let’s play Blockbusters!

 

“I’d like a P please, Bob!” (Oh grow up, 007). “Right: what P are things into which you can put your hands and Macau casino chips which, if used, would have clobbered the story of Skyfall completely?”

 

Pockets. Not of resistance: Skyfall as a big ball of billions, it was hard not to be overwhelmed. Might as well lie down in its path, let it snowball over one and roll along with it, embrace its momentum gleefully numb even if mystified about why it was so highly regarded.  However, if Mute Colin Farrell had put that casino chip in his pocket and it had dropped over the edge with the rest of him, rather than amazingly fortuitously leaving it lying around for Bond amazingly fortuitously to somehow work out its amazingly fortuitous significance, where would we have got to? Much depends on Bond finding that chip and hitting on precisely the right conclusion about it. I suppose the argument is that his having spotted Severine he could just have followed her (and isn’t this a bit more likely anyway?). Might have given the fortuitously amazing Berenice a little more to do.

 

A lot of The Bond Identity Skyfall relies on amazing fortune. Too much. I wholly accept that Bonds are not noted for their impermeable plotting. Anyone seeking total narrative coherence, rather than simply an entertaining time, is off their chump, and yet Skyfall’s ludicrous, innit? Bond amazingly fortuitously survives his skyfall (no idea how) and amazingly fortuitously makes it back to London without any visible means of support where amazingly fortuitously in three months or ten years (or however long it is Baldemort whines about) M – for whom bells toll, amazingly fortuitously - has instigated no investigation whatsoever into either 007’s whereabouts or, more competently, those of a man Agent NoName has seen getting into AN AUDI and through a sniperscope and could therefore readily identify. M, whose competence is justifiably questioned, would seemingly prefer to wait on the off-chance that Bond amazingly fortuitously turns up despite having written his obituary and boxed up his stuff (she adopted his alcohol), and amazingly fortuitously Bond bears no grudge despite hearing everything that was going on whilst in Turkey and should really mash M’s head in with that ghastly bulldog that amazingly fortuitously M appears to have inherited from John Hurt’s Control. What’s M been doing in all that time? Plainly her fitness for office should be doubted; made weak by time and fate and shocking complacency, and the booze. At least Bond can dance and drink and screw, ‘cause there’s nothing else to do. Amazingly fortuitously, I’m not going to imagine The Dench M doing any of those things.  Except the drinking, the imagining of which doesn’t take any effort.  SIS going up in smoke twice under M's regime? To lose one building is unfortunate; to lose two is humiliating incompetence. Don't fire her: burn her. Here's a plan: shove the old bag off to Scotland, she usually scuttles there when HQ goes bang; this time, dispatch her with a rogue agent you're not too keen on and then send after them that bloke you secretly released from his cell, to wipe them out. Keep it off the record and see to it that there are no witnesses. Then seize power and split your soul into disconnected fragments and chop yer nose off, or something. No, that sounds too much like a realistic plot.

 

Subsequently, in a flavour of fortuitously-liness labelled “amazing”, Silva is / allows himself to be captured (bit unclear, but he didn’t seem to be making progress towards “getting to M” otherwise), so amazingly fortuitously everyone can forget about the Not-The-Noc-List from that point on and amazingly fortuitously he can muck up Q’s computer in some sort of computer way it’s better not to scrutinise too deeply and amazingly fortuitously Bond cracks the code with a bit of pub-quiz level knowledge about the London Underground but too late because amazingly fortuitously Mr Silva escapes at the optimum moment to amazingly fortuitously encounter a couple of his acolytes carrying his disguise and amazingly fortuitously blows up a bomb that amazingly fortuitously he either a ) had time to plant despite not evidently having a load of explosive “conveniently to hand” or b ) remembered where he had placed n years previously, an explosion that brings down upon Bond a train that amazingly fortuitously happens to be coming along (and in the interests of good taste, amazingly fortuitously happens to be completely empty despite it having been rush-hour two minutes previously).

 

In another corner of this Forest of Absolute Madness, just at the point when the whole purpose of spies and all their silliness / the James Bond series and all its silliness is under direct threat and question, amazingly fortuitously giving the more dull-witted viewer insight into what the previous ninety minutes have patently been about, amazingly fortuitously along comes a ) deeply meaningful poetry and, just in case that passes you by, b ) Silva! and Bond! and guns! to prove that this decrepit pantomime still has merit.

 

‘Mazing.

 

Amazingly fortuitously, Bond’s Q-branch kitted car doesn’t have a tracker in it and amazingly fortuitously the crackpot plan of leaving Bond and M alone is endorsed by Nu-M who amazingly fortuitously seems to consider an incompetent agent appropriate as a PA. Amazingly fortuitously, Skyfall is kitted out with just the right sort of stuff to dispose of multi-goons and a big helicopter gunship, including Sixties icon Sean Connery Albert Finney who amazingly fortuitously happens to still be kicking around the house despite it patently having been abandoned decades previously which amazingly fortuitously is a very clear metaphor for the Bond series having abandoned its roots over time and let itself decay so amazingly fortuitously all the old cack gets blown up and they start again which amazingly fortuitously is the point of the enterprise, acknowledging the past but not afraid to move forward. Amazingly fortuitously Bond escapes drowning (without explanation – again) although amazingly unluckily M gets killed, somehow, and Silva gets himself stabbed in the back a second time (o-ho!) but it’s all OK really because amazingly fortuitously Nu-M has a fresh mission for Bond rather than, say, arresting 007 on the spot – or at least hauling him away ignominiously for scrap - for unsanctioned actions leading directly to his predecessor’s death and amazingly fortuitously this utter, utter nonsense and good fortune made Eon an even more amazing one.

 

Considerably less fortuitously, M is now named Gareth.

 

P also stands for Piffle, then. You’re entirely at liberty to observe that it’s colossal hypocrisy for a piece such as this to accuse something else of incoherence, but then P is also for I know (the P is silent: try that as a lifestyle choice, poppet).

 

“I’d like another P please, Bob!” Ah; the inevitability of time. Getting up so frequently at night used to mean more pleasurable escapades. “So: what P doesn’t really matter?” Plot. Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and pay the money over. Persona, Purpose, Power, Psyche and with a slightly smaller p, patriotism.  These are why the film is rather tremendous – and hilarious in its relentless pumping of these themes until one feels defiled and discarded - even if seeking to impose order on its surface story is a hopeless endeavour. Of course, “trying to find sense in uncertainty” is A BIG THEME so let’s be nice and say that the baffling chaos of the narrative is yet another level of “oh, very clever” among other ideas arising less amazingly fortuitously.

 

Identity figures large, its absence / removal causing conflict – be it personal or physical - and, in the struggle for its resurrection, true value and purpose emerge. It plays out on several riotously chewy levels, applying to Bond, all of the major characters, the Bond series and Britain “herself”. With the struggle between the traditional and modern being identity’s battleground, sometimes express, more interesting when subtle, it’s amazingly fortuitous any sort of story could hang on and propel us towards the statutory concluding explosions. True, some of this search for persona material is text: Bond, his obituary written and his flat sold, is without identity and (literally) washed up, struggling to pass muster. Q has to prove himself to Bond. Ms Harris’s character doesn’t get a name until the last minute. Old M is about to have her persona taken from her and Gareth has his removed, subsumed into The Establishment by the end – at least Bond doesn’t call him “Gary”, thank God – and, albeit it’s abandoned as a plot point, the true identities of the MI6 agents has considerable significance early on.

 

Most amusingly hardwired into this idea is Silva, demanding recognition of his true name and, for all his ostensible “modernity”, loses to Bond because he cannot release his past, be it his childhood island or his Hong Kong trauma, whereas Bond simply uses his to his survival advantage and then, never really caring for it, blows it up. The only prison that can hold Silva is his history (ooh). His devotion to it, his obsession with it, his belief that it gives his crusade purpose and meaning, stays his trigger hand at the end of the film, inactive and uncertain, leading to a newer model creeping up on him to deliver a fatal wound. Britain/China. Silva/Bond. Old Bond films/post -2006 Bond films. Amusing, yes. Subtle: no. In Silva’s past mistreatment by M’s justifiable expediency, Bond sees his future – the man’s name’s even James, for frick’s sake.

 

What Silva does is of no real consequence – who knows / cares what happens to the list of agents – it’s who he is and what he represents that presents the challenge. This is a fair old shift from villains with tighter schemes but, deft one-liners aside, anaemic characterisation (Stromberg, Drax, Kamal Khan, Zorin: them lot). Insofar as “Bond learns from his journey” (yuck) it’s that one doesn’t have to set old and new a-clash; one can actually be both, balanced correctly, the challenge Eon faces every three years or so.

 

Which brings the next level up:  a series struggling for identity and analysing itself, its last effort having been considered by many to have been a fall from Casino Royale’s great height, landing dead in the water. After fifty years, what can the Bond series do? What’s it for? Worn out in going through the usual tests and surely all played out by now; why not stay dead? Abandon the past completely and one risks another round of the reaction to Quantum of Solace, that it’s just too different and not immediately recognisable as a Bond. Drive oneself on legacy alone and it’s just another indistinguishable Bond film cruising complacently on its history, nothing creative save for the accounting.

 

Similar to GoldenEye in its touching on James Bond’s place in a changed world but whilst GoldenEye only toyed with that for about forty minutes of unsure fumbling, and didn’t know what to do with it, beating a swift retreat into the usual routines, this one follows it right through to the end. Skyfall gets by in being an exemplary statement of balanced resurrection, whereas GoldenEye revered the legacy too much and ended up trapping Eon creatively for the decade to follow. GoldenEye is nostalgic, not letting go, surrounding itself with ancient bric-a-brac and tat, in denial. Think on your sins. Skyfall accepts fate, and avoids nostalgic by going elegiac instead. There’s more than one obituary being written, here. Three Craig films in and much has been reworked and refreshed, and we’re ready to move forward again. GoldenEye reinforced the absurd post-colonial anachronism; Skyfall seeks to engineer a more modern mythology. We have to be realistic – this is not 1962 any more. Enough. Enough of “back to Fleming” or “this one’s more in the vein of From Russia with Love”; it’s time to look forward, with pleasure.

 

Still, one cannot ignore the past and the factors that have given you the opportunity to make twenty-three of these films and grasp lots of lovely money. Roll out the DB5, Dench M, Q, Moneypenny, the SIS building. However, in walking this teetering tightrope, one can blow them up or kill them off or remould them to be contemporary, Eon using its past to its advantage of giving us nice little moments without heading into Die Another Day’s blunderbuss of totally purposeless background references, which by comparison look now not so much as celebrating the series but holding it in contempt. Skyfall is the film Die Another Day could have been – the early beats of a dishevelled and discredited Bond getting himself back in order once he’s had a nice shave are weirdly parallel – had Die Another Day not been smugly self-indulgent claptrap, holding up a mirror to James Bond not to stare back bleakly, Craigly, in self-doubt, but in self-love, a two hour winking session in its pathetic juvenile bubble.

 

Some of how Skyfall manifests its nods to the past are huge fun, and testament to witty production design - the new/old/new M office, a traditional environment from which new adventures will emanate (which seems to be the point of the preceding two hours), Q’s flashy computer lab in some sort of ancient sewer, the Conneryesque grey suit (with it being an oddly tight fit presumably another allusion to the constraints of the legacy). Some of it is too arch, with all that guff about exploding pens as unsubtle a rejection of the Brosnan years as GoldenEye’s pre-titles was of Dalt-Ton. Equally, is making John Steed Bond’s superior officer a way of referencing A View to a Kill in all its glory (the “l” is silent)? I do hope so.

 

Nu-Q, Nu-M, Nu-Building Nu-Moneypenny and – once the Aston Martin is blown up, Skyfall burned and his past gone with it, Bond himself – are traditional creatures of the future, embracing but not crushed by the past. Transition is complete. For the film to have started – and persisted - with questions over fitness, age and purpose and for it to end on a positive note is an achievement in the articulation of its ideas. Where the Bonds go next will be most interesting; balancing tradition with fitness for purpose isn’t going to be easy but if Skyfall leaves us with one hope, it’s that the series has taken stock and repositioned itself to embrace the brave new world, rather than ignore it.

 

A world that includes Britain, but it knows not how. In being a bit beaten-up, gnarled by experience, falling back on its history, binge-drunk and searching for contemporary purpose, Bond as representative of Britain has never been more explicit, a statement of how woven into the culture of the nation Bond – the character, the series - has become over 50 years, which of itself is a recognition of the contribution by the Broccolis to the life of the country generally; they have achieved more than just produce light entertainment for profit. Other film series may have been more impactful on technological or artistic development of cinema, Star Wars tends to be the example, but I doubt you’ll find another one so connected to the psyche of a country. New Bond films are big news stories for the British press. No other series of films gets similar coverage. That, rather than the artistic merits of any one individual Bond film, is worth commemorating. At the film’s conclusion, Bond, the series and the flag stand, and face it all together, equals; more than equals – one and the same - British bulldogs singed by what they have been through, but on they go.  

 

Without doubt this is at a more challenging level than the clod-witted superficially patriotic attitude of the Moores and the Brosnans in requiring us to swallow Britain as a major world power with the childish argument of “look, it just is, shurrup; here comes a sex pun to ‘amuse’ you”. All that achieves is a reaction that such a knee-jerk proposition is totally preposterous and fatuously simplistic and reactionary, totally undermining it. Skyfall bothers with a more complicated depiction, accepting that everything isn’t all sunshine and wacky Snooper dogs, raising a chunky question about the point of defending and maintaining a realm when a ) the threat isn’t from other nations that can be attacked back, or even found, and b ) the psychological and physical costs of defending the nation are potentially horrific. Nameless “Not Moneypenny, Honest” is lucky: she gets out. Both Ms, Bond and Silva, the exposed agents and the poor sods in the flag-draped coffins all suffer in their ostensible upholding of – what exactly? Perhaps ultimately it’s better to be loyal to people – Bond to Ronson, Bond to both Ms, Nu-Q to Bond – and human, humane, attributes see you through, when the consequences of not being so loyal or compassionate, being dehumanised (if not voluntarily) leads to big trouble. There’s an ambiguity to the ending, however crowd-pleasing it appears to be, and it’ll be fun to see where the idea gets to, next time around. 

 

The question is enhanced by the choice of locations, which initially looked sparse for a Bond but work splendidly in the idea’s context. Bond moves from a decayed empire in Turkey to a new one in China, fitting into neither particularly well, being seriously injured in the one and resorting to disguise and still struggling in the other. Old colonial days haunt the loss of Hong Kong, bits set in Macau (OK, not one of ours, but still in the Venn diagram of “pathetic fallacy end of eras / decay of power”) and it comes to a head in a place at risk of going if the SNP gets its way. The original idea of filming in India would still have fitted, of course, into “end of Empire” – or at least, end of M-pire (b-bm!).

 

If one takes London to exemplify the persona of Britain (Skyfall and Scotland have a different narrative purpose about facing the past and not being afraid to dismantle it), what we get is a tour around tradition, predominately set in and around grand old buildings, with a splash of modernity but not yet Shanghaied into an alien futurescape, a nation stuck between the fates of Turkey and China and run by self-conscious, self-doubting, introspective committee. The Dench and The Gareth bickering – the conflict of the traditional and the modernist again – presumably is some sort of comment on the uncertainty of government by a coalition of conservative and progressive. The new M is a pivotal representation of such resolution as we get to the exploration of a contemporary national identity: ostensibly traditional surroundings and values but a realistic, undeluded pragmatist about future predicaments to be faced, which brings one back the careful balance struck with the character of Bond himself, and the newly purposeful stewardship of the series after so many, many years.  Ancient yet modern, like using a clapped-out gameshow from thirty years ago as the context for reviewing a minty-fresh film.

 

About which…

 

“What P could be viewed as an unwelcome addition for a film that some would assert takes itself just a smidge too seriously?”. Is it Poetry, Bob? “Not quite: the answer on the card is Pretension, but as the one is evi-Dench of the other, I’ll allow it.”

 

Big of yer. Given what it’s about – the reluctance of an aging ruler to remain in power, finding himself duty bound to – and what we’re told of her refusal to let go, it seems odd for the Dench M to quote Tennyson’s Ulysses; the coherence of the storyline suggests she’d be better off reciting Joyce’s. Taken in the round, ultimately Judi’s passage – an Eton quasi-reference? - is another deft choice: Ulysses concludes not so much with wanting it both ways, which could be an accusation levelled at the film with its stance one step in the past, one in the future, but accepting that as his lot in life and being dutiful in so doing. That is closer to the film’s conclusions about its series, the country, its hero. The original choice of ode

 

There was an old lady called M         

Who once betrayed Mr Bardem

He’s all bent… on revenge

…I think… maybe… dunno…

De dum de dum oh look isn’t that Albert Finney pretending to be Sean Connery? Blimey; what    a total nothing role. Aren’t his Labradors smashing, though? That’s not a euphemis-M.

 

might not have proved as emotionally chunky dictated over Bond thundering along as fast as his little legs will carry him, contemporary unyielding mythical heroism charging about to save the edifices around him. Albeit breaking into verse is a very, very odd thing to do at a parliamentary inquiry, rather than being jarringly out-of-place for a Bond as some have suggested, it’s suitably true to the series’ legacy: recite a poem, death by bullet. Did Tracy Bond die in vain? Or has she lived at all yet? My brain hurts.

 

Other Bond films may have a more superficially amusing time poking fun at themselves as daffy old rubbish and one can understand the criticism that Skyfall can appear glum. Surely the old ways are the best? This one bothers to explore whether that’s completely true. Its conclusions are satisfying ones; not wholesale rejection, but a recognition that they can stifle success if you cling onto them for life. Having resorted to one’s childhood, tipped the nod to the ancient Scottish retainer and applied a Scorched Earth policy, there’s now something worth being resurrected for; lots to do, time to move on, the grand old vessel undergoing deconstruction rather than destruction. The Temeraire fights on. The empire strikes back.

 

Up to the 007th minute we’ve had a groovy new MGM logo that’ll bankrupt them again but we haven’t had a gunbarrel to beckon us in, enraging imbeciles who didn’t appear to grasp the magnificent idea of playing a different type of call to prayer over the start instead. Better not to dawdle; I can only conclude that such persons are beyond rescue. I must lose myself in action, lest I wither in despair. Equally demented is Bond’s searching for a ripped out hard drive by picking up a buggered laptop and looking underneath it, unless this is yet more comment on his questionable fit in a modern-shaped world.

 

As he doesn’t see fit to introduce himself to his lady companion, one might leap to the conclusion that they have already been introduced. It would appear not. Who knows what her name is? She does seem to know the names of a lot of types of car, though. Perhaps she likes a good ride. Still, it is odd and it does make the penultimate little scene of the film very clunky. Not with my meagre power to undo it now, but had Bond jumped into the Land Rover and said something along the lines of “Morning, Moneypenny”, wouldn’t that have raised a warming smile or two? Even if they wanted a big surprise at the end, still don’t get why they don’t reveal the “Eve” bit earlier. Although, oddly for the series by this stage, they don’t bother to name Istanbul, either.

 

Oh, loads of stuff goes flying, including oranges. On the blue/orange-ometer, there’s plenty in the Shanghai foyer (which I suspect is actually in London, I think I recognise it) and a fair old wodge of blue when Judi do bad word. The bike chase is meaty fun, although how Bond’s motorcycle bounces backwards then forwards from a bridge seems to defy both physics and sense. Similarly, it appears that the anniversary homage for this 007th minute is to make me watch Octopussy Redux. Damn them.

 

This is really bugging me now. What is her name? Is it Shortribs or Sheepshanks, or Laceleg?

 

0.06.00 – 0.07.00 Skyfall

 

Rumplestiltskin gets after “them”, and it’s for God’s sake. Two blokes in front of her scatter: it is unclear why unless she’s doing acting at them. That’s slightly unfair but there’s something a bit too declamatory in much of the delivery, although being fairer, Ms Harris is given an awful lot of crude exposition to hurl our way. One hopes this improves next time around, as much for her sake as ours. It probably doesn’t help that in the other secondary female role, Ms Marlohe delivers something utterly devastating.

 

There’s an awful lot of shaky-cam here and… am I a film too late for that? No-one seems to mention it.

 

Right, here comes Bond, running along and jumping down to the flat bed. Are those turn-ups he’s wearing? Hmm. In all other respects the suit looks an inch too tight but it’s also too long? Not sure that helps silence those who would assert that Mr Craig is ickle. The suit does lend itself rather nicely to the Connery gun-pose in the titles, though.

 

Ooh, isn’t he scowly? I wonder why? “Not as tall as some others” actor chasing down a computer disk thing with agents’ names on it and a big, physically impossible scene on a train… it may have just dawned on him that we’ve all seen this before, and it didn’t make any more sense back then. It may also have dawned on him that he’s forgotten his rubber mask and exploding chewing gum. I suspect we don’t really go in for that sort of thing any more.

 

And now Bond’s trying to take a shot with his little gun. Whilst on a train. At a moving target. The man’s an idiot, no wonder he keeps missing. At least Anono-Eve hits something when she fires.

 

The background geography seems… unlikely. Istanbul is huge. I suppose that’s why they technically haven’t said it’s Istanbul. Quite where else it could be is unclear, given those shapely minarets a few moments ago. Although as Cornwall could pass itself off as North Korea, I suppose those were the ancient mosques of Bourton-on-the-Water, weren’t they?

 

It might just be me, but didn’t the immensely verbose Farrell-o-like abandon his gun at the market? I accept this could be a different one, but whilst on the point (and because this happens after the tickery-tocknock gets beyond the end of the minute) – was it just me or did anyone else think that the bullet Bond eventually levers out of himself was the one [Name: classified] shot him off the train with? As an incident, that has significantly more prominence than Bond getting a bit shot up in the digger cab in a few seconds time. Fine, yes, we can all see he gets hit by something, and there’s blood on his shirt when he does that terrifically funny leap into the carriage, and he clutches at his shoulder from time to time – but, still, The Bloody Shot is The Bloody Set-Up for what passes as The Bloody Plot. I know that later on there’s some brief dialogue about hitting a rib or two, but that just seems so offhand as ultimate payoff for the film’s critical incident. It may just be further evidence that whilst great care and attention has been paid to what Skyfall means, what happens is considerably more slapdash. That’s a shame. It’s holding me back from truly embracing it; it’s a distracting blemish. I like it; just don’t yet love it.

 

A blonde lady in a blue top is scowling at her computer. This I suspect is because the monitor is facing the other way. Clot. There’s quite a bit of blue/orange on the monitors; wouldn’t that be terribly difficult to read? Unless it’s a homage to this website’s colour scheme in which case it’s perfectly legible. I think one of them may be posting about what film they saw today. It would appear to be Mission: Impossible.

 

“She’s going out of range”. Hang on, they’ve only been on the train for thirty seconds. Is this all foreshadowing of how inadequate Britain is in coping with “stuff that goes on these days”. Presumably. Tanner looks vexed. He, like I, is trying to work out which school that tie is. Galaxy High (guess). Having seen Mr Kinnear’s Iago, he’s a bit wasted as Basil Exposition in this nonsense, but I suppose it’s precisely because he gets to be Basil Exposition in this nonsense that folks queue up to see his Iago (who, for the avoidance of doubt, is not a talking parrot, God help us).

 

“We’re blind here.” Slightly unfortunate comment given the contemporaneous press reports about Dame Judi’s health but glossing over that really tasteless observation, I do apologise, it’s not as if they were watching, is it? “What’s going on?” You may well ask; you might need to pose that a number of times through the duration of the film.

 

“Get me CCTV, satellite, anything.” Anything? Some more dignified lines? A talking parrot? Slightly more purpose than waiting for 007 to get about halfway through the next set of gymnastic exercises before telling him the next chunk of your best estimate at the story?

 

Meanwhile, Bond is very cross and tropical Cannock’s finest export (Stan Collymore a close second) is getting a big advert. On second thoughts, it might be Brownhills, a town even more revolting than its euphemism. Across a load of cars – what type are they? Do tell – Bond espies Thingy and there’s requisite gunfire and Bond’s still a rotten shot. Why there’s any significance to his inability to hit the target later on is beyond me. If this were the first Bond film you’d seen, you would be wondering how they could juice fifty years out of brave-but-stupid. When you subject yourself to The World is not Enough, you’ll find out that they did.

 

Bond, exasperated, throws away the handgun. A bad workman always blames his tools.

 

It’s now Colin Farrell’s turn to frown, but that’s probably because he’s trying to remember his extensive dialogue scenes later in the film.

 

Righty-ho, we’re not at home to Mr Grumpy (Short) Pants any more, are we? Bond’s only gone and got himself an idea. Up into the cab he clambers, and here comes Secret Squirrel in her Land Rover, which is a handy vehicle for the rough farm tracks of suburban Istanbul. Bond starts to manoeuvre the digger and is about to get shot (not that you’d notice) and…

 

0.07.00

 

“It’s rather hard to explain.” No kidding, lovey.

 

They were VW Beetles, apparently.

 

This nonsensical exercise started back in 1962 2012 in seeking to establish what, if anything, the 007th minute of the Eon Bonds told us about the series. Through shameless contrivance I think I reached a few conclusions, some more credible than others, but I’m a bit stumped with Skyfall. Other than showing us that fifty years on they can still produce highly entertaining outrageousness, this minute alone doesn’t do much – however, it’s only one minute of two-plus hours that speaks volumes, rather admirably. Speaks them in a garbled and slightly irritating manner, granted, but that it says its things at all is the real achievement. Brings me back to Scousers, somehow.

 

Even without contemplating its ideas, there is much to enjoy in Skyfall. The casino scene between Severine and Bond is chillingly magical on both sides, one of the most compellingly sad things in the series, testament to a shift in the producers’ revised outlook, creating roles that are capable of being acted rather than simply filled.

 

Mr Bardem is a hoot in the role of “Alec Trevelyan with a more credible background and a more consistent English accent”, Bond’s brother from an adoptive mother, a mother who seems to take Joan Crawford as the role model, an odd little family coming to grief where Bond’s real one is buried. Fancy that. All this quasi-parenting at the end of a trilogy - what is this: Return of the Judi? Is M the villain? I don’t think so – the decisions she takes in relation to both Silva and Bond’s fates are the appropriate ones at the time. It’s just that history catches up with us all, eventually. Perhaps she just didn’t know when a trigger didn’t need pulling.

 

Interesting reaction – and not just at the Ecuadorian embassy - to the oddly-haired predatory computer hacker sleazebag touching Bond up, a HEAVILY FICTIONAL scene that suggests nothing about nobody, honest. Bond’s response? Well, just goes to show 007 can disarm someone even when he’s tied to a chair. Interpret “disarm” any way you wish.

 

There are some oddities. Bond’s reaction to the death of Severine seems to come in for criticism, even if it is logical insofar as the mindgames between him and Silva play out. Some seem uneasy at Bond letting an innocent die, although the character’s innocence is a dubious given her complicity in a plot to shoot a man in the head with a very big gun. Unlike Agent Fields, a true innocent, Severine was in the game, if not on it any more. I suspect it’s probably something to do with wanting to see more of Ms Marlohe. Really can’t disagree; she can shake my cigarette any time.  

 

What is Albert Finney actually doing in this? Really?

 

And why doesn’t it make any sense?

 

Still, there’s two seconds of Huw Edwards, and 150 minutes of Daniel Craig and he gives tremendously good value, does he not? I assume there are a number of folks who would still regard him as unsuccessful, but they may be mistaking the actor for the character; third film in a row when Bond’s measure of overall success is, at best, “mixed”. Others would latch on to having suddenly leapt from Bond as a newborn to a knackered old crock without adventures in between. The argument reminds me of a rather sharp aphorism Bond quoted about America, to the effect that 007 has progressed from infancy to senility without having passed through a period of maturity. Au contraire; this is the start of his maturity. He has now put away childish things. Normal people usually put them in a box in the loft rather than through the medium of arson, but, well, y’know…

 

What we have had is a re-reboot, a shedding of the skin. It’s time to move on. The dead don't care about vengeance. It's the circle of life.

 

Skyfall? Done.

 

This is the end. Hold your breath and count to ten.

  1. Thunderball
  2. The Spy Who Loved Me
  3. Quantum of Solace
  4. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  5. Casino Royale
  6. Moonraker
  7. Tomorrow Never Dies
  8. Dr No
  9. From Russia with Love
  10. Skyfall

Let’s say that the rest are all at number 11. It’s “kinder”. If pressed to justify the choices, these 10 exemplify what the series can do, the directions it can go, how malleable “James Bond” is and that permits us confidence about it continuing; it is open to these different styles. Where these ten stand are at ten distinct destinations: patently all Bond films but equally patently all different. The other 13 may have better individual moments in them or more outrageous stunts or prettier women or more fiendish villains or, I dunno, shinier watches or more significant carpets but they’re just part of a series doing things these primary ten do. They’re making up the numbers and a Bond series of these ten alone doesn’t miss them.  

 

James Bond will return in 2015. Hand in hand – that’s not your hand, is it? Terribly sorry - we will stand tall, and face it all together. And then pick it apart, until it crumbles. 

 

Jacques Stewart will return in The 007th Chapter. The same, but books. Old jokes; new tricks. If I can be bothered; I’m quite lazy. Science fact.  About which:

 

It little profits that an idle king,

By this still hearth, among these barren crags,

Matched with an agèd wife, I mete and dole

Unequal laws unto a savage race,

That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

 

Ta-ta.



#2 Simon

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Posted 17 November 2013 - 05:57 PM

Jim, a spectacularly succesful view of the series, thus far.

 

By equal measures, insightful and humorous.  I do wonder, I am amazed, as to your dedication to such bearing in mind the limited audience this forum may have.  I feel they are deserving of the widest audience possible, not least the force behind Eon.  (It's no doubt been said before - I am not claiming ownership of this thought)

 

As to this '7th minute' article, a complete rendition of all the amazingly fortuitous moments that for me, made this film wholly less deserving of its accolades and its fortunes.  The casino scene with Craig, Marlohe, and Mendes directing, was The film's standout moment and afforded its gravitas.

 

(Interesting point about Bond not being raked over the coals for losing M prior to the 'with pleasure' remark.  But then as remarked upon earlier, the SIS building was blown up twice in M's career - perhaps accountablity is less of a priority in MI6-land)



#3 SecretAgentFan

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Posted 18 November 2013 - 02:42 PM

Breathtakingly insightful, intelligent and - ah, I lack a third i-word.  But it´s another masterpiece.



#4 Major Tallon

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Posted 19 November 2013 - 03:34 PM

There is much to admire, and not a little to love, in this essay.  Jim points to the narrative flaws in the story, its virtually incredible reliance on happenstance and coincidence (no suggestion of enemy action) to drive things forward, but it's in his analysis of the movie's themes that we find some real nuggets:  SF "avoids nostalgic by going elegiac instead . . .  Three Craig films in and much has been reworked and refreshed, and we're ready to move forward again" . . . a 'recognition that the series' traditions, though not rejected wholesale, "can stifle success if you cling to them for life."  Bravo, Jim, well said.   

 

JIm's larger point is that Bond, no less than Britain itself, is a phenomenon (not just a character) in search of a role.  In this sense, the narrative flaws are much less important than the setup for what lies ahead, a matter about which at this point we can (have to?  need to?) be hopeful.

 

I think Jim's too harsh on the fans who lament the placement of the gunbarrel.  I don't deny that there's a certain frisson that comes with seeing the white dots march across the screen, but to be honest I've never understood why having a gunbarrel at all, let alone its placement, is critical to the enjoyment of a Bond adventure.  Fans who think otherwise may be obsessing too much on this, but I'd hardly call them imbeciles.  As an aside, I must note my utter agreement with another of Jim's observations:  "Ms Marlohe delivers something utterly devastating."  I confess that I didn't fully appreciate her performance on first viewing, but I've come to believe that it's a work of absolute genius.

 

There's much more to this essay, including an analysis of M's role in the story, that needs to be read through several times.  But finally, although this series of essays has reached an end, I'm encouraged to see Jim mulling a similar project for the 007th chapter of the novels.  Did he pick up on my suggestion in a posting on the QOS essay?  I won't flatter myself, but if I provided any small amount of encouragement, I'm pleased to have played a part.  I'll end this before I start looking for a few appropriate lines from Tennyson.



#5 plankattack

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Posted 19 November 2013 - 06:02 PM

Yeah, I'm a little late to the Loving Jim party, but it's entirely deserved.

 

So many observations along the way, some I've wholeheartedly agreed with, and even when I haven't, I've laughed myself senseless. I do believe that these hold so much enjoyment if you share Jim's perspective on the series (as I think I do), but even if you don't there has unarguably been much food for thought. And I for one, was glad to read a spirited defense of QoS, a film which I suspect will age better than so many of its brethren.

 

One small request for the author, before I re-read DAD and search for the David Essex line.....while we slide into withdrawal at the thought of the end of this series, how about taking a crack at CR '67..........ah, the possibilities!!!!!

 

Jim, a big Thank You!



#6 freemo

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Posted 20 November 2013 - 04:51 AM

I've been thinking a bit about the list of ten at the tail end of this piece, the most "distinct destinations". The 80s films (which don't have a representative) are, for all their spetacular set pieces and intricate plotting, looking more and more like a creative plateau, which, fitfull attempts at rejuvination aside, had , based purely on what had come before, a very narrow idea of what a Bond film can be about.

 

There is, of course, one film conspicuous in its absense, particularly since there's at least one overt reference to it in each of the three Craig films. I can see the case for it's omission based on the criteria, though  I think there's more to the film than it's slew of iconic imagery. Though there seems to be a growing consensus that it casts a disproportionatly large shadow, it itself is bizzare and quirky and wonderful and a "distinict destination", even if subsequent entries have rendered its style much less so. One day I'll try to cobble together a more detailed and coherent defence of it.



#7 AMC Hornet

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Posted 20 November 2013 - 05:25 PM

After only a year, another sticky point has just occurred to me:

 

A list of embedded agents (a list which should never have existed) is stolen.

Three months later, their names, cover names and faces start appearing on YouTube, and only then does M order them extracted (too late - d'oh!).

Really? Sure the hard drive was encrypted, but if M was so sure it could never be cracked, she wouldn't have been facing mandatory retirement for losing it. Meanwhile, Silva had probably cracked it the same day he received it, and only took three months planning his revenge (like Kronsteen the chess master, anticipating and preparing for every conceivable counter-move).

Shouldn't MI6 have been recalling its agents before then, rather than waiting until they started getting exposed?

This point goes a long way towards backing up the argument that Judi Dench is playing a different M from her role in the Brosnan Bonds - that M would never have been so slipshod.

Must be all that bourbon...



#8 Dustin

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Posted 22 November 2013 - 05:34 PM

Now on the main page. And absolutely worth the trouble reading it there. See for yourself: http://commanderbond...7th-minute.html







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