Quantum Revisited

Bond

As you all know the new Bond film, Skyfall, is in production at the moment. I loved the first Craig film – a reasonably faithful adaptation of Casino Royal. It had several of my favorite action set pieces in a Bond film. It took a franchise that had become stale decades earlier and made it compelling. Many compared it to the Bourne films which clearly were an influence. However what made Royal so great was what it did differently from Bourne. It was more a revisioning of the classic aspects of Connery’s Bond from the 60’s as well as many aspects of Ian Flemming’s own life and failings as a spy during and immediately after WWII.

The sequel was a grave disappointment to many people, myself included. I must confess that I liked it far better upon a second viewing in my home theatre system. (See the Kulturblog discussion here) The action was aping Bourne far more than before but was so frenetic that one couldn’t follow what was going on. The witty dialog of Royal was gone. There were many scenes which were best described as “cockamamie” — perhaps better suited for Roger Moore than Craig. (For example the overly flammable hotel in the desert)

I was worried that the franchise would experience a rapid fall off from a good start. Much as what happened with Peirce Brosnan’s Bond. Ironically also given a great start by the same director: Martin Campbell. A director who seems able to only do his best work with Bond as Green Lantern and most of his other films attest. (Although I have to confess I did like the first Zoro as a guilty pleasure)

An interview with Craig linked to on Twitter and a few other places has made me rethink Quantum of Solace though.


Q: It seems that the script is sometimes an after-thought on huge productions.

A: ‘Yes and you swear that you’ll never get involved with s*** like that, and it happens. On “Quantum”, we were f*****. We had the bare bones of a script and then there was a writers’ strike and there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it. I say to myself, “Never again”, but who knows? There was me trying to rewrite scenes — and a writer I am not.’

Q: You had to rewrite scenes yourself?

A: ‘Me and the director [Marc Forster] were the ones allowed to do it. The rules were that you couldn’t employ anyone as a writer, but the actor and director could work on scenes together. We were stuffed. We got away with it, but only just. It was never meant to be as much of a sequel as it was, but it ended up being a sequel, starting where the last one finished.’

This actually explains a lot. The part of Quantum that was most disappointing was how poor the banter was – especially the seduction of the female intelligence agent in Bolivia. (Strawberry Fields – their attempt to engage in witty misogyny of character the way Ian Flemming used to do. You might remember the character from Goldfinger whose name surprisingly got by the height of Hollywood censorship: Pussy Galore)   In fact all the dialog was very stilted compared to the previous film. However if it was all written on the fly by Craig and the director, Marc Forester, then that moves the film from being a disappointing to a fascinating failure.

I’ve not seen everything Forester has done but he’s definitely done some great films. (I loved Finding Neverland) I still don’t think that justifies the way the action pieces were filmed or edited. And it definitely doesn’t excuse that horrible boat chase. However apparently the original story was a stand alone. It was made a strong sequel to Royal on the fly. I actually think that part worked great as did the ending.

Fortunately both Craig and Sam Mendes have been working long and carefully on the next film. They apparently both love the same aspects of the Bond mythos.

Q: Did you have anything to do with getting Sam Mendes on board as director?

A: ‘I did, yes, I did. He’s English, he’s Cambridge-educated, he’s smart. He’s lived with Bond all his life, he grew up with Bond the way I did. We grew up at exactly the same time, and I said to him, “We have to do this together, we have exactly the same reference points, we both like the same Bond movies and we both like the same bits in the same Bond movies we like.” We sat down and we just rabbited for hours about “Live and Let Die” or “From Russia with Love”, and talked about little scenes that we knew from them. That’s how we started talking about it. That’s what we tried to instill in the script. He’s been working his arse off to tie all these things together so they make sense – in a Bond way.’

I’m not quite sure what to make of referring to Live and Let Die. It is admittedly by far the best of the Moore films. But it’s still not great and is embarrassingly racist in some ways. It’s also the beginning of what I call the camping self-referential Bond.  From Russian with Love though is unarguably one of the best of the Bond films (other than an embarrassing girl on girl gypsy fight clearly there for titillation)

Mendes can be a fantastic director. He does tend to have a strong cynical view about life that is off putting to me. I find he’s his best when there are moments of hope and beauty in his films behind the cynicism. (Best illustrated in both Road to Perdition and American Beauty) He’s at his worse (IMO) when he doesn’t have that as in Jarhead or Revolutionary Road.

How will he handle Bond? I think a lot of us want to know. There’s a lot in Road to Perdition that suggests he’ll do great. I’ve read other interviews that suggests the suave and charming Bond will be emphasized more in this film. Also a certain level of cynicism is necessary for Bond. That’s what Moore lacked and what Craig brought well. So I think he’ll do great.

The big question is whether the second unit team will be more tamed so we don’t end up with the problems of Quantum of Solace. (As I said, not a bad film and arguably still better than the vast majority of Bond “episodes.” But very disappointing compared with what we expected.)

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22 thoughts on “Quantum Revisited

  1. Interesting comments by Craig. I didn’t know that the writer’s strike was part of the problem, but it all makes sense now.

    Live and Let Die was Roger Moore’s first Bond film. I think you must mean “campy” not “camping” when you describe it, which is correct, because that was Moore’s signature style in playing Bond with a bit of a wink, which got a bit out of control later on. It’s not a racist movie, it was made during the “blaxploitation” era of the 70s, so it has a lot of those stereotypical hallmarks, but that’s a stylistic choice, not racism. A lot of great black actors are featured in that film, and they wouldn’t have participated in a racist movie. It’s the first Bond film where Bond has a black love interest. That’s a racial breakthrough that you have to give the movie some credit for.

    It’s a great bond movie because it’s one of the few that is set in and immerses itself in the culture of its setting (in this case, Lousiana and the Caribbean) rather than jumping all over the world.

  2. Let’s put it a different way – it comes off as somewhat racist now. i.e. the idea that every black all over the city is involved in the conspiracy and is a criminal. Seriously watch it again. It’s pretty uncomfortable. Even the interracial angle is played up in a discomforting way. I know it’s a period of its time so I’m not condemning it. Just as the sexual politics of some of the Connery movies are pretty disturbing. (A lot of what he does verges upon what we’d call rape or at least Cain styled sexual harassment and misconduct)

  3. Well, sexual harassment of the type that Cain was accused of was workplace harassment, and that type of harassment is definitely present in Bond movies (Moneypenny anyone?), but it’s mostly a lot of just blatant sexual come-ons of the type where Bond constantly assumes (and is constantly proved correct) that evey woman wants to sleep with him, no matter how often they communicate the opposite feeling. Because, as we all know, when a woman says no, that’s really just part of foreplay, right?

    I agree that all of that does seem a bit jarring now, and the blaxploitation stuff does now too, but so does the racial and sexual politics of almost every action movie from the 70s, including many made by black people. Heck, I even have a problem with watching Pepe Le Pew now. What kind of stalker/rapist was that guy? The point is, you have to make some allowances for the time things were made, and just be glad things are at least a little bit different now.

    But putting that stuff aside, I still say Live and Let Die is one of the better Bond films. I’d put it in the top 10 for sure.

  4. Interestingly I just read Craig is making six more Bond films. He’ll be 44 this spring so assuming at least two years between films that’s 58 for the final one. That’s pushing things into Roger Moore realms. (Moore was 58 when A View To a Kill Came out – and it definitely was pushing things)

    Regarding Live and Let Die — I don’t think it a bad film. As I said it’s by far the best of the Moore films. The boat chase is great and overall there are some great scenes. Jane Seymore in particular was a fantastic Bond girl. It was with Live and Let Die that the gadgets started getting ridiculous and I hope that’s not a direction the Craig films go.

    All that said it’s horrible compared to any of the Connery films except Diamonds are Forever (which has some huge problems and shows the beginning of where they were going to go with Moore) and Never Say Never Again (which was artificially limited by lawsuits). I’d put Golden Eye above Live and Let Die but all the rest of the non-Connery Bonds are probably at best as good and more typically far worse. Other than the Craig films. While Quantum of Solace wasn’t great it still was better than Live and Let Die (although McCartney’s theme song was great – I’ll give the Moore films credit for generally managing to keep good music).

  5. Comparing Moore and Craig, you should keep in mind that Craig is much more athletic and much more likely to remain so. Moore was in good shape, in that he was never flabby, but he showed his age a lot more because he had no real athleticism. Craig does, so he’ll be much more athletic, and age better, than Moore did. In Moore’s last film they were practically rolling him around the set on wheels while stunt doubles did all the actual work. I can’t see that happening with Craig.

    You obviously like Connery a lot, which I is understandable. I agree he was thr best Bond. It remains to be seen whether Craig can equal or surpass him, but Craig definitely got off to a good start.

  6. I think Connery is the classic Bond although when I last watched the films there were some parts that really disturbed me (like that Thunderball scene I mentioned). I actually like Craig even better. I think Casino Royal is by far the best of the series. I’m looking forward to Skyfall in a ridiculous way. At least as much as Dark Knight Rises.

    Peirce Brosnan was a great Bond too. While Goldeneye had some big flaws I thought it was the best Bond film since Live and Let Die or Spy Who Loved Me. It’s too bad the rest of his films went downhill quickly thereafter. Up to the nadir of the series – Die An Other Day. It’s hard to imagine a film worse than A View to a Kill or Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But they managed. (Actually Majesty had some great elements including I’d argue one of the best soundtracks – but man was it poorly directed and acted)

  7. I think View to a Kill is the one I liked least. The Bond I liked least was Dalton, but I think he got a bad rap in some ways because his movies weren’t terrible, he just wasn’t that great in the role of Bond.

    I like Brosnan and Connery but I have a real soft spot for some of the Roger Moore movies as well. Moore was the Bond I grew up with and he really embodied the role for me. I loved the interactions with Q and the double-entendres and campy references. I like the early Moore movies best, though, and Live and Let Die is one of my favorites, but I also like For Your Eyes Only.

  8. I honestly didn’t mind Dalton. The first one was OK. Better than most of the later Moore. The second one was pretty bad.

  9. I found Quantum very frustrating. For instance, the opening. How is Bond so stupid as to go grab Mr. White with no backup? Why is there even a need for a car chase? And why isn’t he taken to a secure location? It seemed very contrived to have Bond and M be so stupid in order to allow White to escape to advance the plot.

    The opera house scene was interesting but it felt (I’m doing this from memory) like another wasted opportunity. Here are many of the leading figures from this organization and they are mostly going to walk away.

    Then the whole oil/water/eco-hotel plot was very strange. If the point of a sequel is to build on the plot of the prior film, why spend most of your time on this barely related conspiracy?

    The ending at least got back to being a sequel and provided some closure that had been missing from Casino Royale.

    But given the way that Casino Royale raised expectations Quantum was a huge disappointment.

    I read the article with the about interview when it came out. I thought that it explained some of the aspects of why the dialog was off, but the film had bigger problems than that.

  10. I hated Royal and I loved Quantum. Yes you can’t understand the second without the first, but the second was what I enjoy about a good bond movie. There was more guns, more chases, more explosions, more fights, more bond outsmarting, more double crossing, and basically more of everything. The first started out exciting, but then got boring up until about the end after the big casino game (that I thought Maverick was a lot more fun watching) when even that got bogged down with the torture scene. Finally, there was no finale. The second There was more guns, more chases, more explosions, more fights, more bond outsmarting, more double crossing, and basically more of everything. It actually had an ending.

  11. I disagree that Casino Royale didn’t have an ending. Its ending set up the beginning of the sequal, but it absolutely had an ending. If anything, it had too much of an ending, because the finale was so drawn out.

    As for it being boring, it’s true that there were a couple of lulls in the action, first during the poker tournament and second while Bond recuperates from being tortured and runs off with Vesper. Those lulls weren’t boring, though, they were a necessary part of the character development and the plot. If all you want is non-stop action, you shouldn’t be watching a Bond movie. Bond always has sequences which are cerebral and not action-oriented, especially the early Bond movies, which were some of the best. After all, the guy’s a spy, not a robot. Spying involves thinking and maneuvering, not just chasing and shooting and killing.

  12. ARJ, I agree it would have been better to contextualize such matters. For whatever reason I didn’t mind being thrown into the middle of it all as one got the impression Bond was going off on his own all through the show. But as I said it definitely wasn’t well written.

    AS for the Opera House – how are they going to arrest any of them? They are finding out who they are and Bond gets in trouble as is when one dies.

    The problem was more than dialog for sure. But recall all they had was a rough story outline and then no legal ability to have a writer put it into form. So it was done ad hoc as they were filming.

  13. Clark,

    Again, going from memory, I didn’t think they should arrest them all, but at least take more steps to identify them for future tracking. Maybe that happened and I am not rembering. But my recollection was that there was too much short term thinking.

  14. Dalton rocked, and was the closest anyone (until Craig) came to Ian Flemming’s Bond. Dalton just gets a bad rap because License to Kill was kind of a horrible script. Not his fault. Seriously–go back and watch The Living Daylights again. It’s awesome.

    The reason that Craig is so great is because he’s like Dalton.

    Also, I think I’ve mentioned this before (though it might have been in a Zeitcast with Ronan where we talked about Bond movies…), the reason that Brosnan’s first film–Goldeneye–was great and that the rest of them sucked, was that Goldeneye was written FOR Dalton. There were some strikes, some delays, some financial problems, etc…and eventually Dalton bailed on the series and Brosnan was brought in to replace him.

    To summarize:

    Bond is best when he is:
    1. Cold and calculating
    2. Low on the sexual innuendo
    3. Minimal reliance on insane gadgetry

    Where do you find these three elements together? Dalton, Brosnan (Goldeneye only!), and Craig.

  15. Clark, your objections to old-time Bond transgressiveness, as though something unique to its time, is a bit odd. With Daniel Craig’s Bond, M counting bodies, particularly those of every woman he touched, was a bit of a theme. Bond is transgressive and a bit hard to stomach in every decade.

  16. arJ – they did photograph and identify everyone digitally. I think that was part of the problem – too many connections and too many people in high places. That was why Bond ended up having the government turn against them. That and the plot was just too unbelievable to the powers that be. There were several scenes explaining that. So I thought (at least to me) that was clear enough that the people were untouchable. Bond needed more information which he got from the villain at the end. The new film will deal more with his attack on Spectre, I mean Quantum… I believe there’s a lawsuit of some sort which is why they can’t mention Spectre although in the novels they only appear in Thunderball. Although Blowfield appears in three novels. I like the way they are handling Quantum.

    Scott, The Living Daylights was better than what had come before up to at least the early Moore films. (I liked Spy Who Loved Me and Live and Let Die) There still were some silly elements. (The old fat lady who makes out with the guy at the oil pipe and then slaps him; the cello with the hole in etc.) Then a lot of cockamamie stuff. But they did toughen him up more. Certainly Dalton wanted to do a tougher Bond more like Craig did. The producers just didn’t go along.

    And License to Kill wasn’t just a horrible script – it was horribly directed. John Glen was a frequent director of Bond in the 70’s and 80’s. Exactly why he was let back near Bond after editing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service escapes me. His direction was just plain awful though and he was single handedly responsible for directing For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights and License to Kill. And he worked on many others as 2cd unit director: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Moonraker. He also edited several: all the bad ones. The Living Daylights was competently done although there were still a ton of problems. But imagine had it had a better director in the chair.

    Regarding Brosnan I didn’t mind Tomorrow Never Dies. It was on par with The Spy Who Loved Me with about the equivalent problems. I’d have preferred fewer gadgets (although a remote control car isn’t that big a deal) and less of a cockamamie goal for the villain. But there were a lot of great elements to it. Unfortunately it signaled going back to a Moore style of Bond, albeit with better directors.

    John, that’s a someone valid point. However seducing a woman to get information about her mass murderer husband knowing there was a chance she’d be killed by the husband’s company is quite a bit different from near-rape and pretty blatantly disturbing misogyny. Certainly Bond should be transgressive but with a balance. I think Craig kept that balance. Connery was the equivalent for his time – but his times were pretty disturbing in many ways.

  17. Clark,
    “Unfortunately it signaled going back to a Moore style of Bond”

    Bingo.

    I also (reluctantly) liked Tomorrow Never Dies _in theory_, but it was just too obvious what was happening. Teri Hatcher was great for eye candy I guess, but for the amount of facetime she got, she brought zilch to the plot–just kind of a brainless sounding board for Brosnan’s sex jokes.

    By the time Jonathan Pryce’s ship is going up in flames, you could just see Denise Richards-as-physicist and Halle Berry-as-secret agent coming down the pipe.

  18. Bond requires a certain amount of cockamamie stuff, like being kidnapped through a hole in the floor in the middle of Mr. Big’s nightclub, or fighting a giant squid with a steak knife, or nearly every other aspect of Dr. No. The hole in the cello seemed like something likely taken straight from Fleming.

  19. The giant squid was just in the book. I think that was just too cockamamie even for the movies. (I really think the books are overrated) But I will agree that a lot in the books is on par with the movies. I mean some of those horrible names like Pussy Galore or Honey Ryder were right out of the books.

    I think Teri Hatcher’s character was actually pretty interesting and it was there that there was actually some acting going on. Those were the parts of that film I liked the best although they primarily just wanted Michelle Yeoh in a Bond movie because she’d been in that Jackie Chan movie Supercop 2 or whatever it was called in the dubbed version. This was at the height of Chan’s American fame.

    Denise Richards as a physicist. Yeah. I’m not going to say there haven’t been hot physicists because, well hey. I was a physicist. I won’t even say there aren’t air headed physicists who only manage theory. Because Asperbergers is real. But I will say that I’m convinced there is no physicist like that. And the name just for the bad pun of Christmas comes once a year was just awful.

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