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Spectre: Notes on the Teaser Trailer

by Ian Dunross
April 3, 2015
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In a profound historic announcement, Eon Productions released the teaser trailer for the 24th Bond film, Spectre, on March 27, 2015, 149 years to the day when the urinal was patented. For on a frosty morning in New York, March 27, 1866, Andrew Rankin patented the urinal, the culmination of his research in the geometry of male urine trajectory. Coincidence with Spectre? Most likely, although I suspect many fans imagined the sound of a flushing urinal as they watched the teaser.

Nevertheless, Spectre—also known in film studies as “Advanced Techniques in the Destruction of a Once Remarkable Film Series”—won’t be hitting cinemas until November 2015; but the teaser trailer gives us a sense of what the filmmakers are attempting to do: namely, play catch up with the recent trailers for the upcoming The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, and, most importantly, Spy, featuring Melissa McCarthy (inevitably, the next Helen Mirren), who’s dramatic presence threatens to kick the effete Craig-Bond off the screen, thrusting him through the lobby and onto the cinema parking lot. Still, in the realm of Pureloonistan (ah, that most magical place where residents are reassured there is no need to question why things are the way they are), the Spectre teaser has essentially been hailed by the mainstream media as another Sam Mendes masterpiece; and I’ve even received a couple of emails from Craigyboppers (in their usual orgasmic praise) proclaiming that the teaser foreshadows true art, something akin to Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. I must admit my reaction is far from worship, but then that’s why I don’t reside in the realm of Pureloonistan. If anything, the teaser strikes me as a sneak peek into another melodramatic movie-of-the-week you find on cable. For example, the Hallmark Channel is brimming with movies based on those Garage Sale mystery books by author Suzi Weinert, to which the great Mendes is saluting. Despite this oddity, I did notice the usual claptrap one finds in the Craig tenure: the solemnity in tone; characters mumbling “serious” dialogue in a dark room; somebody from 007’s past surfaces to betray him; and Daniel Craig has a bowl haircut.

Further scrutiny of the teaser suggests Spectre is a continuation of the idiotic Brokeback Skyfall while raising other disturbing elements. Let me count the ways:

  • Once again, excessive dark imagery. A London skyline in twilight, a dark room in MI6 headquarters, a dark room in some other place, a gloomy alpine scene with a rundown farm house—are we watching outtakes from Skyfall? Mendes is back to emulating Christopher Nolan’s noirish Batman films; but he’s exploited it to the fullest in Skyfall, this notion of presenting a somber palette, underscoring a desperate struggle for artistic credibility. Yet it reaches pure blandness in this trailer. As one fan expresses in an email, “this trailer looks too familiar and just didn’t grab me.” And not surprisingly: with redundant dark imagery, Mendes and company have the flexibility to use almost no lights, which is an effective way not to show anything worth caring about, simply because nobody can see anything! They’re actually saved from having to develop a solid script, which (as the Sony email leaks have revealed) was nonexistent as they went into production.
  • Just as in Skyfall, the trite Bond-as-an-orphan angle is brought into the story. In a schmaltzy moment, the Craig-Bond discovers an old photograph of a woman with two boys in an alpine setting. One of the boys is shrouded in mystery because the tattered photo just happens to have a hole in place of his head (oh, the suspense!). This seems to allude to the rumor about the Craig-Bond’s childhood friend, perhaps a foster brother, during the agent’s little orphan Annie years when the Craig-Bond sported a red wig and belted out “Tomorrow” in the Swiss mountaintops. The mysterious kid, I gather, is reworked as the son of the Oberhauser chappie from the tale “Octopussy,” as asserted in the rumors, but who reappears as the elusive Blofeld, pained and jealous and hell bent on world destruction because Father Oberhauser always favored the Craig-Bond. The studio’s focus group research must have revealed that fans of Eight is Enough will be pleased by this family drama.
  • Note the “artistic” imagery at work: the hole over the kid’s head in the photo links to the silhouette figure who is seated in a conference room near the end of the trailer. I take it such juxtaposition, in the minds of the filmmakers, is worthy of a Kandinsky painting. For my part, the image of the urinal came to mind. Even more disturbing, this triangle of the Craig-Bond, an evil foster brother, and a father who favors the Craig-Bond is an obvious formula that Mendes has pulled from his Road To Perdition, where Paul Newman favors his foster son (Tom Hanks) over his biological son (Craig, in an early role), a vicious bloke, ignored and disrespected and, hence, symbolizes the evil son. Moreover, the business of an evil brother is straight out of the Austin Powers series wherein the international man of mystery and Dr. Evil are brothers. For Mendes and company, this is, apparently, innovative dramatic storytelling, the culmination of the three-year slack after the Brokeback Skyfall fiasco. Toss in some alpine scenes and the return of SPECTRE, which signal a story also inspired by On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and we’ve got a Bond film based on pulling tedious ploys for sentimentality. (And to think this is the nonsense that gets the green light in today's Hollywood. This truly puts Western culture on the verge of collapse.) One thing is certain: Fleming is long gone from this rebooted series. The decree from producer Barbara Broccoli also encompasses the reboot of the literary heritage—hence, a twisted interpretation of the Fleming material, redrawn characters (a black Moneypenny, a young effeminate Q, a quasi-gay Bond, etc.), and the SPECTRE organization now linked to the hero’s past, just to name a few.
  • Another oddity is the absence of showcasing the so-called Bond girls. Consider what I wrote about the Skyfall trailer back in June 2012:
    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.

    And we’ll have none of that in Spectre. It will be another toned-down approach in the Bond-babes department, as regulated by the forces of political correctness, and acknowledged willingly by the Bond makers.
  • Once again, Craig suggests he’ll be delivering an overly solemn Bond. Let’s face it: it’s all that he can fall back on. With each film, he increasingly exemplifies the lack of commanding presence to steer such a leading role. More than ever, he radiates a tired feeling for the franchise, reminding us that the great thing needed—the one thing needful—is to recast the role and reboot the series, thereby erasing his non-canonical films.

A further note on this struggle to be regarded as an art film: suspiciously absent are snippets of the action scenes filmed thus far. I suspect it’s the filmmakers’ tactic to oppose the typical Hollywood action trailer. Not for us, Barbara Broccoli and Sam Mendes seem to say. You can have your Man from U.N.C.L.Es and your Mission: Impossibles with their cool car chases, action scenes, and tongue-in-cheek humor. We’re beyond all that, for heavens sakes. We’ve pioneered that style of spy adventure. Yes, we’ve got car chases and action scenes in Spectre, but it’s all rather second fiddle to our character-driven story and something you don’t need to be bothered with. All you need to know is that ours has a captivating story—a deep spell-binding story about Bond’s childhood and his dark inner tortured self. And, to take the art of drama to its zenith, all that story is tied in with the villain! Unfortunately, what Mendes and company can’t shake off is the tired, cheap, feeling to it all.

The last time the 007 film franchise had this aura was with A View To A Kill, a film emblematic of a series that has run out of gas. The refill involved a new Bond in Timothy Dalton, a brief surge of revitalization but not enough to carry the franchise, resulting in the creative decline that plagued Licence To Kill. This decline surfaced in aspects of the Brosnan films but subtle enough to be drowned out by glorious marketing campaigns. By the time the Craig tenure kicked in, the decline manifested itself in the inane reboot but shielded ever more by a glittering PR machine. Unfortunately, there’s only so much to go on this road, especially when you’ve got a film costing $300 million or so—one of the most expensive films ever, causing turmoil among the studio brass—and hampered by the leaden guidance of a witless director, while the producers succumb to the government of Mexico for attractive tax incentives in exchange for its dictates to the script. Case in point: the recent unveiling of Spectre’s rather cheap-looking teaser poster, in tandem with this bland trailer and the on-going troubled production, suggest that the Bond team is asleep with this one, cranking out something in which everyone was tired of dealing with the routine of making a Bond movie but were forced back into the breech for a hefty pay day. The likelihood that Spectre will result as a plodding pile of disingenuous filmmaking nears 100 percent. We’ll see.


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