Respect, admiration, and envy were all in attendance at the DGA in Hollywood this morning during the screening of Skyfall, the newest film in the Bond franchise. These qualities were brought out of the audience after being sincerely blown away by what might be the best Bond film ever, and afterwards listening to the director, producers, and lead actor share their insights about working on the film. It seemed everyone wanted to know, “how did you make such an old dog of a film franchise so alive and relevant?”
First of all, I promise I am not going to spoil the movie for you, so this is a “non-spoiler” alert. I really dislike reviews that take you so far into the film there seems to be no point in seeing it. I am, however, going to tell you that if you are a Bond fan, it is absolutely worth seeing, and share a few interesting things I heard at the Q and A after the film. I will also tell you my opinion of what I heard in light of having just viewed the film: I think it is possibly the first Bond film Oscar worthy for directing, writing, and acting, which means of course producing as well. Here’s why I think that might be.
At the Q and A, Sam Mendes shared that he is always impressed by the “orgy of nostalgia” that comes from the audience’s reaction to a certain reveal in the film (and no I am not going to tell you where or when it happens). He was not slighting the audience’s reaction. He, too, is a Bond fan, and grew up seeing all the films post 1970-something in the theatres, like I did. Despite loving the films growing up, he admitted he had not considered directing a Bond film previously because it was a bit of a genre. It wasn’t until he was approached at a cocktail party by Daniel Craig and flat out asked. Impressed by the dramatic possibilities laid out in the two prior films starring Craig, and Craig’s continued involvement, he agreed. Their previous collaboration on Road to Perdition, might have had something to do with it as well.
Nostalgia plays a big part in Skyfall. Bond’s past is, as in Casino Royale, brought up in both humorous and serious contexts, all of which work to great effect. When asked how he dealt with the burden of the old tropes, Mendes stated it was a matter of making the “familiar strange and the strange familiar,” a quote that harkens back to the poet Novalis when referring to the essence of Romanticism. I find this rather intriguing. Is Bond, after all, a romantic figure? The ladies in the film certainly seem to think so. Having seen Daniel Craig in person, I can tell you, he suits the part well in this regard – he’s a big, handsome fellow with the expression of a wounded circus animal – you can’t help but pity and fear him.
Someone in the audience mentioned how interesting it was that the series seems to keep resetting itself. James Bond has been, after all, working for her Majesty’s Secret Service since the Cold War. Fifty years have passed since he was first “recruited.” Yet as an audience, we forgive this slight in reality in favor of the comfort of familiarity. Being that our current zeitgeist is all about change, it makes sense we (as a group) might ogle our beginnings now and then.
I thought there was a distinct theme of “returning to the beginning” in this film, which may account for it’s title, Skyfall. I can’t tell you what it refers to without ruining another reveal but suffice it to say, it is not only referring to Bond falling from the sky. It refers to something far more significant.
Speaking of falling, the stunts in this film are remarkable and Craig diligently performs all his own. Mendes mentioned that despite being a concern for the production as a whole, Craig’s risk taking did rally the crew, who – knowing the stakes were high – focused in when Craig was performing them. Producer Michael G. Wilson chimed in that as little CGI as possible was used, which only makes those action sequences more impressive. When a lead actor is putting his life on the line for a film, especially a film that is solely for entertainment, it belies a deep respect for the audience, in my opinion. Some might find it foolish, or a sign of the lead actors pride, but ultimately, it is a symbol of his dedication to our having a bit of escape.
And escape is what all Bond films have in common. They take us away from our own dithering into a world of fantasy, of adventure. We become Bond, and as Bond, take the paradox of our humanity with us into this altered universe. We are ready to attack, but do not leave behind our sense of humor. We are bold when the moment requires, yet unable to shake the limits of our physicality. We are loved, yet we struggle to love.
Every action film, I believe, tries to take us into that realm of escape and insight. Few hit the mark better than the film released for the 50th anniversary of the Bond franchise, Skyfall.