With the blandness of the Skyfall teaser poster and trailer, the road to ruin gets shorter.
I was in Europe when the Skyfall teaser poster and trailer were finally released. Filming has been ongoing since November 2011, while the global economy continued its descent into the maelstrom. Yes, sad to say, I've joined the choir of collapsists tracking financial reports for signs of the decline and fall of all continents. And what better way to absorb, first hand, the mood of impending collapse in Europe than by wine tasting in Burgundy? So at the Château de Rully, in the midst of savoring an exquisite pinot noir, I bumped into a fellow collapsist (as luck would have it, an unemployed civil servant from Spain) who muttered about how all of Europe was already in the “decline zone” and that the fall would be rapid, harsh, inevitable. Well, no shit. But at least this chap had the courage to confront reality. I looked out the window at the serene countryside, leaving the Spaniard to reminisce with another tourist (from Portugal, quite aptly) about the splendid days of lavish entitlements before all the money ran out, and realized that I was facing east, towards Italy, towards Venice (ah, that Bondian city), and remembered the series, remembered the 23rd film—and remembered the disturbing report earlier in the year about production problems that impelled the producers to make severe budget cuts. Well, here's the actual passage:
A source told the Daily Mirror newspaper: ‘Six different countries were selected but after several technical and financial problems, it was decided to scale back and just use Turkey as the sole foreign location.’ (“‘Budget’ Bond Skyfall shoots in Bognor Regis” )
The budget cuts, such as they are, seem to have made their way in the teaser campaign: as the first wave of tactics to generate audience awareness for the new film, the campaign is unspectacular, trite, and underscores the decline that I've been sensing in the series. First, the poster: back in beautiful bankrupt California (alas, the collapse is here, there, and everywhere), I caught up with emails from vigilant Bond fans who expressed that the artwork was too bland. It seems the poster barely connected even with those who anticipated the new film. As a dim black-and-white print of the iconic gun barrel, with a bizarre image of Vladimir Putin Craig posing nonchalantly as if he is out for a Sunday stroll, the poster has the look of being created “in-house,” with the studio deliberately avoiding the enigmatic artwork of previous 007 teasers. I must admit I thought I had reached the wrong site when I viewed the poster online: at first glance, I thought I was staring at the image of a cave; that the poster advertised a documentary about Osama bin Loser's lair in balmy Afghanistan. Indeed, the darkness of the gun barrel, along with the whiteness of its opening, resemble a cave—is this where all those live-from-the-cave specials were broadcast? Is life in the posh suite so alluring that the Putin-esque chap in the foreground is compelled to admire it as if he had entered an HGTV dream house? In those few seconds, nothing blared “James Bond” to my eyes—not until, moments later, I scanned down the poster, noticed the title of the film and the small 007 logo beneath it. In other words, the poster fails to entice, tantalize, the viewer that a new Bond film is on the way.
It seems the ploy is to downplay the classic Bond imagery, something that's been underlying the marketing tactic of the Craig tenure: it is not a coincidence that we find a de-emphasis on the image of a dashing tuxedo-clad hero, the absence of the iconic Bondian pose—that sly take on phallic imagery—with the gun pointed up, an overall absence of a fierce male presence.* It's as if the studio is unwilling to distinguish any Craig-Bond opus as a “Bond film.” Then what is the new film? Is it just an action film, not first and foremost a James Bond thriller? Why would the studio brain trust steer us away from thinking of a Bond movie? Is the classic 007 imagery something to keep at a distance because it is no longer relevant to the sensibilities of contemporary audiences?
The decline worsens with the teaser trailer. Then again, I must admit there wasn't much to ascertain in the 80 seconds or so of the piece because superhero director Sam Mendes pulled off a clever trick in that he practically shot everything without lighting, thus avoiding the need to show us anything. With every scene presented dimly, even obfuscated in murky, darkly-lit set pieces, Mendes is actually free not to tell us a story—after all, we cannot see anything! The approach recalls his inability to provide details about Skyfall at the press conference last November when he insisted on keeping the story and 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)
With little information to share, he held a press conference about nothing. Six months later, he has given us a teaser trailer about nothing. There is a fleeting mention of the film's title (something about a “skyfall” being “done,” as uttered by Craig's Bond), but nothing is shown to expound its significance. The rest of the trailer unfolds with rapid-fire scenes: I was able to discern a skyline of gothic buildings, fireworks in an oriental festival, a few explosions, the Craig-Bond running, a helicopter hovering at nightfall, the Craig-Bond as a silhouette figure in the inky blackness, the semblance of a guy falling in some kind of shaft, and the silhouette of some other guy in a long coat (a vampire?) walking away from a burning house.
There are probably other scenes with explosions, or a glimpse of Judi Dench in a dark room, maybe even a flash of Naomi Harris smiling in a dark room, or guns blazing in a dark room, or Craig's Bond pounding down can after can of muscle-building protein drinks in a dark basement; but these are assumptions of mine. As I said, I could hardly see anything in the avant-garde cinematography. I can confirm that the scenes did fade in and out against the staccato pulse of harsh, pounding electronic percussion. There are also very faint traces of the signature 007 anthem. You would have to listen closely to sense it. Again, this sparse use of the famous theme is a deliberate downplay of the Bond iconography. But I did grasp a striking bit of imagery: a line of caskets draped with the Union Jack. It's a gem, and there may be others in the movie; but just as in Revolutionary Road, where the suburbia that Mendes depicts is too surreal in its lush and quaint and expensive veneer, this gem in the teaser may not have any function other than to remind us that the touted genius-auteur can present really great imagery when he's in the mood.
For his third outing as 007, Daniel Craig is astoundingly old in appearance, even more so than he did in his recent films such as Dream House or Cowboys and Aliens. Oddly, though he's a relatively young actor, Craig is essentially too old to play the British agent with any credibility. The problem was already apparent in Casino Royale, where he stood out in context to the notion of resetting the series with a young Bond; and by Quantum Of Solace, he was ever more looking stricken in years and ready to wear the requisite Old Man Houndstooth Hat. It's like Barbara Streisand in The Mirror Has Two Faces, attempting to play a role more than two centuries younger than her actual age. But now we simply cannot ignore the ridiculous discrepancy that the man we see in close-ups is the same agent caught up in the dangerous action. Even worse, the patches of intense lighting in the murky scenes serve only to accentuate the lines in his pale tired face.
Implicit also is the acknowledgment by the filmmakers that Craig isn't the romantic leading man type—hence, the emphasis on action (which again raises the paradox of his aged looks) and the emphasis on “serious drama” (this is, after all, a Sam Mendes film), which conveys its own paradox; for how could Skyfall be a serious action film for thinking adults in a market that has largely given up on adults? How these two elements will co-exist in the story remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the trailer features a few segments excerpted from dialogue scenes that suggest some kind of dramatic conflict between Bond and the secret service, but they lose impact because of the lack of context to anything that would give them any sense.
I ought to add that the trailer subtly expresses another intention of the filmmakers: namely, a conscious effort to disassociate Craig from the traditional Bond/playboy image. Centuries ago, from what I can recall, a 007 teaser typically included an enticing scene of a gorgeous woman. For example, The Living Daylights teaser begins with a stunning bikini-clad woman sunning herself on the deck of a yacht—and it ends with Timothy Dalton's Bond, who has just landed on board by parachute, accepting her offer to stay a while. Years later, in the teaser for GoldenEye, the camera still has time to focus on some of the fine things in life such as Natalya Simonova's loose robe, uplifted in the tropical breeze, framing her bikini crotch (Fleming, I suspect, would have applauded all of that). These teasers are pure Bond, a male fantasy where the hero is in a world of fast cars, teeming with fast women in exotic surroundings, all told through tongue-in-cheek sexism.
We'll have none of that in Skyfall, I'm sorry to say. What's implied is a toned-down approach to the so-called Bond girls—which disturbingly harks back to the bizarre promotional video, produced by none other than Madam Barbara Broccoli, that commemorated the centenary of International Women’s Day in the spring of 2011, wherein Daniel Craig's Bond cross-dresses to emphasize awareness for the inequality suffered by women. The theme, as asserted by the voiceover of Judi Dench's M, is that it's time for this nouveau Bond to consider “what it might be like to be [a woman].” Hence, Craig's Bond in drag. We have traveled so far from Fleming's literary creation. We have also traveled far from the roots of the film series, reaching its nadir to find an emasculated Bond. Now consider this approach in relation to the babe-less teaser trailer, and we realize the central paradox is that, although superficially devoted to the established Bond/playboy image, the franchise is now full of contempt and resentment for the devil-may-care womanizing character of James Bond (as conceived by Fleming) and adamant to display its heightened awareness for feminism and political correctness.
Thus the 007 film series, six years since its reboot in 2006. Status: it's muddled in its own uneasiness with itself. Moreover, since the founding of the Craig dynasty, the series has actually worsened, drifting in slow decline—creatively, existentially, and even in stature, as it becomes increasingly eclipsed by blockbusters such as the Bourne series, Christopher Nolan's very Bondian Batman franchise, and the very Bondian Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. That the Skyfall teaser poster and trailer give few clues to signal a new James bond film tell us a lot about the sensibilities of the filmmakers, but also express the quiet implosion of the series as it dissociates itself from its own legacy. I am not suggesting that the series is finished. It will languish for a while in a twilight state; but I am suggesting that if the new film is savaged by critics, or—even worse—abandoned by moviegoers and fades fast barely after its release, you might want to keep all this in mind.
|*||In some posters, the actor playing Bond is not present—the classic image of a gun is enough to assert the notion of a virile male presence. The teaser poster for Die Another Day comes to mind: a handgun, very large as the central image and oozing with heat, rests on a block of melting ice.|