In the midst of the impending apocalypto of the eurozone, the makers of the Bond films held a press conference for the production start of their 23rd entry on November 3, 2011, one year after MGM Studios filed for bankruptcy and fifty years to the day that Sean Connery was announced as the first actor to play James Bond. The world, it seemed, yawned. There's nothing like a pesky little threat called “economic chaos” to override the ballyhoo of a big-budget action film heralded as “Profound” by the studio's propaganda machine. The filmmakers may have realized this dilemma as they geared up for the press conference—hence, the reason perhaps for the low key affair held at the Corinthia Hotel in London. Here in America, I sensed very little coverage. Even my contacts in London confirmed that the televised press conference was inexplicably interrupted by a lengthy infomercial for a deluxe Leo Sayer CD compilation, a definitive collector's edition of four discs encompassing the singer's entire oeuvre. Nevertheless, it's full sail ahead for the new film, titled rather aptly Skyfall. For the sky over the 007 film empire is indeed falling, so to speak.
The wreckage is impressive. Daniel Craig, fresh from his declining career, proudly returns as the muscular masseur at MI6. Tapped to play the villain is Javier Bardem, who surprises everyone with his lack of dignity by agreeing to appear in this movie. Ralph Fiennes, eager to follow up his scenery-chewing performances in the Harry Potter films, will also play (as the media pundits assume) a villain. Moreover, the great Albert Finney has been tossed into the mix; but director Sam Mendes—a glorious figure of artistic stature, so I'm told—declined to expound on the cast, the characters, and the script. Although a genius, Mendes spoke in awkward, run-on sentences, attempting to explain that he and the producers would keep Finney's part—and, by extension, all the characters—in secrecy:
“And Albert Finney, who will also be playing a part I can tell you nothing about in scenes that I can't really tell you about and Ralph Fiennes, who, similarly, I can give you very little information about.” (Collett-White)
So with very little information to share, and with scenes and characters that they can't reveal, the filmmakers had nothing to discuss. In other words, it was a press conference about nothing. Nevertheless, rounding out the main cast are Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, French actress Berenice Marlohe, and Judi Dench, who once again returns as the Craig-Bond's grandmother, affectionately known in the MI6 confines as “Mamma Mia.” Yet the implication from the PR machine is clear: this is a prestigious cast, a superhero group of super actors, led by a superhero director and superhero producers, with a screenplay by super duper writers John Logan and Neal Purvis and Robert Wade—they are here, all of them, demi-gods before our eyes, to deliver a “phenomenal film” or whatever trite phrase was in vogue that week.
I had cynically assumed that this super group would honor the film's literary heritage—such as, say, sticking to the characterizations that Fleming had intended—but I underestimated the genius of this super group. A few days after the press conference, reports surfaced that Naomie Harris will be playing the origin of Moneypenny in a character called “Eve” (so the rumor goes), a field agent who can perform somersaults on rooftops. Likewise, the young Ben Whishaw will play gadget master Q, presumably to dramatize the character's origins. This isn't a Bond film; rather, it is, quite profoundly, an emulation of X-Men: First Class. Just as we saw how Dr. Xavier becomes forever crippled and bound to a wheelchair, we now get to see how Moneypenny transforms from an acrobatic field agent to a woman forever mired in administrative work. With this approach, it's best to re-title the movie X-Men of MI6: First Class.
“It, I think, has all the elements of a classic Bond movie, including, to quell any rumors, a lot of action.” Who said that? Well, that would be superhero Sam Mendes at the press conference. So once again, it's action sequences galore, a lot of it, to be churned and whirled (we must admit) in trendy rapid-fire editing because it looks as though the Bond makers had forgotten everything they did wrong in the very stupid, very action-packed Quantum Of Solace. The press conference ended with Madam Barbara Broccoli, czarina of the franchise, proclaiming “Yes, definitely,” when a reporter asked whether Vladimir Putin Craig “would continue in one of cinema's most recognizable roles for a few more years” (Collett-White). Ah, so onwards with the idiocy! All that's missing is an anthem of sorts to commemorate this stultifying adherence to nonsense. Surprisingly, something occurred that reminded me of music that would be suitable for Eon's anthem: on November 7, just four days after the press conference, Andrea True passed away. What's the connection, you ask?
You'll recall that Ms. True was a renowned songstress for a brief moment in the halcyon days of disco, circa 1976, when her hit single was synonymous with hanging sparkling balls and multicolored lighted dance floors:
More, more, more
How do you like it?
How do you like it?
More, more, more
How do you like it?
How do you like it?
In honor of the persistent nonsense engulfing the Bondian film franchise, I humbly suggest that Eon adopt this song, or at least the chorus, as its corporate anthem. I know, I know, the lyrics allude to Ms. True's stint as an adult film star; but, in a striking coincidence, the chorus accurately reflects Eon's insistence on crafting stupid ideas for the Bond films. This makes for many creative press conferences: imagine if you will, just after superhero director Mendes proudly announces an onslaught of action for the new film, in tandem with Madam Broccoli's proclamation of “Yes, definitely” as her answer to Vladimir Putin Craig's longevity in the role, they both break into a song-and-dance routine, rejoicing in churning out more nonsense, thrusting it into our faces, panting excitedly, “More, more, more / How do you like it? / How do you like it?”
But don't worry. The super group reassured everyone at the press conference that there were no mandatory cuts to the film's budget, despite grim economic conditions in the real world. As co-producer Michael G. Wilson explains, the film essentially has “the same (cost) range as the last film” and that they “haven't had to change anything in the script” to accommodate budget constraints (Collett-White). Really? Is the shooting script essentially complete, and rewrites are no longer required?
But some of us have been here before. We know the smell of chaos, and we sense it in the behind-the-scenes report of this film. About two weeks into production, the super duper writer John Logan was summoned to the radiant presence of superhero director Mendes: “You know I flew in on the set two days ago,” Logan readily admits in a collider.com interview, “and I fly back Wednesday, back to Pinewood. It’s thrilling” (Chitwood).
Now why would the studio usher this John Logan around? Don’t worry, the chap likes to travel. He's also punching up the script, I'd say. We can be virtually certain that rewrites are underway, just as filming unfolds—the typical Hollywood practice. Moreover, the central element in an old screen treatment by Peter Morgan (who bowed out a year ago), has been reinstated in the script: “I hear that an idea, the central idea, is still there but not one similar thing other than that,” Morgan explains in an interview for Digital Spy. “I think they've still kept the big hook” (Reynolds). Thus, it is under this guise—a cobbling of plot ideas and on-set tweaking of the script—that the film will be shaped and bonded for universal export.
We can at least be hopeful that the title will have strong significance in the story, something that the filmmakers forgot to do in Quantum Of Solace, another film touted from the outset as sheer brilliance (which has been the standard propaganda for the Craig tenure). Over at the Washington Post, or rather the Washington Compost (as Mark Levin wittily brands the paper), the reception of the film's title is a bit cheery: the title apparently “sounds both cool and tantalizingly vague.You know, sort of like 'Quantum of Solace,' the Bond movie that preceded it,” giggles Jen Chaney, the in-house celebrity blogger, as if she's panting excitedly, along with Madam Broccoli and director Mendes, to the pulsing Eon anthem, “More, more, more / How do you like it? / How do you like it?”
Some scrutiny of the title, however, reveals a laughable tidbit. I am afraid that the title compels me to note that a character in the Transfomers toy line and cartoon series goes by the name Skyfall. Guided by a couple of kindergarteners on my street, I came upon an erudite wiki devoted to all things Transformers from which I learned the distinguished history of this character: he is one of the original characters in the Transformers: Generation 1 series, but reappears as Skyjack in Transformers: Generation 2, and returns as Skyfall in Transformers: Energon. He is a renowned Autobot flyer. He's also a daydreamer who can't stop thinking about flying even when he is on the ground. Regarded as an enigma, even to himself, Skyfall believes he is “older than most, if not all,” of his fellow Velocitronians ("Skyfall - Cybertron"). Now, I must say, the similarity is striking: Daniel Craig is the oldest-looking Bondian actor and regarded by many as an enigma in filmdom, considering how he snatched the coveted superspy role with the screen charisma of Corey Feldman. Hence, the new Bond movie has much in common with the Transformers character, the most obvious being the shared name. This is a coincidence that cannot be overlooked. I am not raising any accusations of plagiarism, but some wise guy at the studio obviously thought it was a brilliant idea to name the next Bond movie after a Transformers character. After all, “Skyfall” is not that common of a word.
Putting aside my suspicion, I ought to add that the proposed abundance of action scenes promised by director Mendes is a good indication of the underlying approach. He did brag that the film will also have “all the elements of a classic Bond movie” (Collett-White); but his remark, in the end, is dependent on his understanding of what those classic elements are. Fat chance. All we can gleam from his repertoire is a propensity to assert leftist polemics, and it remains to be seen how skillful Mendes can weave his bullshit politics into a big action spy tale. What he ought to have said was that he intends to pile on the action scenes and crank up the pace to hurl us past the point where any logic in the narrative matters, thereby distracting attention from the glaring lunacy. The masses, I suspect, will buy it all. “How do you like it, how do you like it?” director Mendes and Barbara Broccoli will be humming as the box office numbers explode on opening weekend. With solid funding from Sony Pictures and the resurrected MGM, it appears once again that Albert R. Broccoli's Eon Productions will have another blockbuster.