All this talk recently of the new James Bond film, Skyfall, photos here, starting production with Sam Mendes at the helm, has me craving Casino Royale. That movie made me really fall in love with the Bond universe again. To me, not since I was a kid was the series this dramatic, exotic or fun. (The old films, being so dated now, don’t carry the old magic anymore for me.) The weighty new take was just what was needed to revitalize a franchise that had been growing stale. Then there was a bit of a misstep with Quantum, which I’d like to critically discuss in an effort to further explain what I love so much about Royale. It has to do with camera and cutting styles, and ultimately one shot that I think exemplifies what Royale does right and Quantum does wrong.
First, here is the opening action sequence from Royale – the thrilling parkour/free running chase. Note especially the very first establishing shot of the snake/mongoose fight. Then check out the sweeping, craning shots, most awesomely at 4:42, which are as electrifying as they are incredibly useful in laying out clear geography and action.
Rewatching Royale, I was taken by just how impeccably crafted, detailed and elegant director Martin Campbell‘s action sequences are (the film’s clunky love story is another topic, but I forgive it on the strength of everything else, I have no choice), and it made me dislike its sequel Quantum of Solace all the more. The former film’s action has a grand elegance to it, a coherent visual language, which was so sorely missing from its sequel Quantum of Solace .
Compare those gorgeous craning shots of Daniel Craig and the bomb-maker duking it out on the construction crane (in video above) — that both take your breath and allow you to breathe — with the chaotic and random shots of the opening sequence of Quantum (video below), which in itself not a bad thing. I mean it’s a really hectic, life-and-death, violent car chase – going subjective I can dig; that’s precisely how you’d actually experience it. However, it’s when that aesthetic doesn’t let up, but takes first seat in the story’s continued telling that makes me utter “uh-oh” I don’t like what this director, Marc Forster, is up to this go around (and he’s a filmmaker that I otherwise greatly admire).
And I think I finally figured out the very shot where it goes wrong: the crane shot at 3:36 (in the Quantum video below) broke this camel’s back. After that frenetic car chase sequence, Bond then drives his beat up car into the picturesque Italian town. The camera booms up from the car to reveal the gorgeous locale. BUT, it doesn’t even let us breathe to appreciate the stunning beauty of the town – the very frame the city is even barely established – it CUTS. And I was like, okay, jerkface, you’re not about the content, you’re about the flashy camera work and editing, which served its purpose in the last scene, but now, no. I mean, a beautiful vista like that, after such a frantic sequence, the eye just wants to swim in it, it wants a break. What’s more, the world of the Bond films is about really feeling a part of those gorgeous locales. How could Forster be denying us a core element that makes the Bond films so satisfying?
While I get that the difference between the films could be all about the themes they were working with, a ‘royal casino’ must be a very smooth and elegant place and perhaps a ‘quantum’ of solace is a tiny, tiny amount, which surely must frazzle the nerves, I’m guessing, but at the expense of all dynamics goes a bit far.
Finally, seeing it last night, I had to chuckle at this shot (1:20 in above Royale video), one of my faves in Casino Royale, which is another great example of a grand visual clearly establishing setting and geography while not vanishing in a blink. When the free-running bomb-maker first flees, the camera cuts to an incredibly graphic (in the ‘design’ sense) and expensive looking “high and wide,” POV-of-God shot. It’s included for 3 seconds, never to be heard from again, and moves elegantly enough to raise the question, what the hell was supporting that camera? All this just to throw a big ol’ loving “F’ you” to anyone doubting whether or not this movie had a budget equal or greater to the GDP of the country it was filming in! But it lasts for a full 3 seconds, an eternity by Quantum‘s clock, and I’m all for it.
Fingers crossed for Skyfall.