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Skyfall (2012)
Think on your sins.

When Bond's latest assignment goes gravely wrong, agents around the world are exposed and MI6 headquarters is attacked. While M faces challenges to her authority and position from Gareth Mallory, the new Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, it's up to Bond, aided only by field agent Eve, to locate the mastermind behind the attack.

Skyfall (2012)

Hacked Screens

Gosh, what a difference it makes when you bring in real artists!

Here we have essentially the same formula as always, produced by the same Broccoli thick heads as usual. Also, as usual, the production was ‘troubled,’ with fundamental changes occurring well into production. Plus for the first time we have blatant, distracting and excessive product placement. But the project works for me because the centre of gravity has shifted.

Not every sequence could be affected by Deakins. The outside action sequences require conventions that are rather inflexible artistically. I doubt he even saw them. But boy, what a difference a master cinematographer can make in scenes that actually drive the narrative. Two struck me as masterworks of set design combined with camera-work. One was the scene in the glass skyscraper in Shanghai, including the establishing shots. There was much of Orson Welles’; Lady from Shanghai in that, but done with more energy, and yes even competence.

The other sequence is where Bond, bound to a chair, meets Silva in a strange computer room on his island. Where the Shanghai sequence was without words, this is full of them. The set is largely defined by what is not in it, including the supposed supercomputer equipment used to control pretty much anything. More about that in a minute; the item of interest here is the use of space after we have seen that most of the skin of the buildings has been compromised. Much has been made of how director Mendes has been influenced by Nolan. It is obvious in these two sequences in tone and design, but I see a bit of genius here. A lot of risk in a gadgety genre, where too much information is the norm.

Unlike Tarantino who borrows without improving, these sequences at least do add something to the cinematic vocabulary. I see this vocabulary as one of modulated hesitation mixed with unexpected omission. Superficially, it is all about making things a little less straightforward than usual. The way lines are delivered; the way spaces are defined; the balances of greys (where the magic of the lens is enhanced by digital manipulation purely for tone). But it goes deeper than that, as deep as the contract filmmakers have with our preceptive mechanisms.

The convention uses a predictable rhythm to deliver information, mostly visual, either in spatial texture, objects or edits. When you dance around that rhythm, the viewer starts to worry whether he/she will miss something. When you do actually omit some details, even if they are trivial, it increases the eidetic anxiety and drives the viewer to be more engaged.

I think we can now expect Nolan to be as incorporated in new films as Hitchcock was in his day.

I cannot let this film pass without mentioning the computer issues.

The trope here is one we see a lot — a supervillian who seems to be able to predict every move years ahead and put in place all the parts to flawlessly execute a complex plan. This, I believe, came to us as a reverse noir — assuming you understand noir the way I do: as control over the universe within the film so that profound coincidences are arranged for our entertainment and poor, mostly innocent souls in that world are jerked around. I built a model of narrative folding around this understanding.

A modern version of this has a character on-screen with the same power to manipulate reality, in essence allowing our hero (and usually his girl) to defeat the noir control. It is nice enfolding that allows a talented filmmaker some clever options. I remark on this because this fellow is a hacker, and in fact does all his work via the internet, excepting the one planned killing. Usually, this is where I go nuts.

Either it pretends to be real, in which case the depictions grate because film demands that they do it wrong. Or it is clearly cartoonish (like most movie violence), in which case I am convinced I could do it better. But here we go into uncharted territory. This is Christopher Nolan reality, a version of the real world that is abstracted differently than usual. The balance between references to reality and those to genre are different and ambiguous. The actor is superb at being the fulcrum of this balance. Add in that noir complication and we are playing a different game, not one of computer magic in the hacker sense, but computer magic in the cinematic CGI sense.

Here is your clue. Our villain is never seen actually working on a machine. This is important because he is partly merged us as viewer and his bending of the world is filmmaking magic. Q on the other hand has to have all the trappings of a computer worker. Sure, he is supposed to be good, but good only at machinery inside the movie world proper. The best he can do is leave 'breadcrumbs' to Skyfall Lodge. He is a simple stereotype, where Silva is not.

So it is odd that things shift depending on whose world you are in. I am a computer guy and for me Silva is entirely believable in principle, even while standing in his bizarrely unrealistic computer headquarters. And this even though we know he is an old field agent, guys not known for smarts.

With Q on the other hand, we see what he does, including stuff supposed to be from Silva. It is all bogus, as screwy as ‘Tron.’; I think Mendes decided to make him this way rather than to use the approach Ridley Scott did in his recent Alien film.

Posted in 2013

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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