I start this journal on the last day of 2007, and we are only three days away from the start date of filming for the next Bond film. As of this writing, the film is untitled, although one rumor suggests that the film will simply be called, rather imaginatively, 007. Other information that has surfaced suggest that the film is surrounded by a number of disturbing things: an undistinguished director (Marc Forster) is at the helm; unsettling news from irate scripter Paul Haggis that Eon has thrown out his screenplay;1 the on-going writers’ strike has, presumably, made other writers unavailable, forcing Madam Broccoli and her servant Michael G. Wilson to tackle the script chores. How do you think this makes them feel? Not very good, I suggest. For the chore forces them to think about a story and perhaps to try and apply it to the new film.
Other disturbing things: reports indicate that shooting will start without a completed script; reports also suggest that the film will continue the vacuous storyline of Casino Royale (oh, the nonsense that is actually thought of in today's Hollywood!); and news from Empire Online asserts that a bargain basement Euro-actor, Mathieu Amalric, has been cast as the still-unnamed villain. Meanwhile, Craig’s profound box office flops throughout 2007 haunt the production with the notion that the actor hasn’t caught on with the public and lends no star power whatsoever to any film.2 In a recent interview, the pigmentless actor implies that the series is in disarray, that his Bondian fate is precarious, and the door, so to speak, is starting to close on him: “Without being too doom and gloom about it, things can go wrong, and if it goes wrong, they'll want to get someone else” (“Actor News”).
But, hey, I'm not here to bring up only bad news—I can report that Mexican actress Mayrin Villanueva (rumored as a Bond girl) is quite easy on the eyes!
After viewing Casino Royale, a clinically sane person would wonder why such a film was actually made—and yet it really did happen. People worked long hours and devoted large amounts of energy and financial resources to produce one of the most delightfully stupid movies in the last ten years. You would think that the Bond makers would have enough dignity to take several years off from filmmaking and play laser tag instead. As the chaps at Cahiers du Cinéma would say, “Au contraire.” Bond 22 shows no sign of cancellation, and information from the set is sure to clog the news outlets and the Infobahn. This dire situation requires a pro. A specialist. A self-proclaimed expert in sorting through the information—reports, rumors, and spin from the filmmakers. Someone who can add to the nonsense by offering a questionable take on things. Quite frankly, you need me! So, settle down there, my friend—I’m here.
In this journal, I’ll be exploring the news surrounding the film. It will be filled with ruminations and random musings on the approach of the filmmakers and the latest developments in the production. Sure, it’s a waste of brainpower to contemplate an actual film with Daniel Craig and, through it all, I will endure very real suffering. Yet there is light at the end of the so-called tunnel—I will heal.
|1||Presumably, the Haggis script was none too thrilling (read: hack work), and the Bond producers were forced to throw it out. “I thought I had come up with a terrific plot,” the overrated screenwriter mutters, “and we'd worked it all the way through, and yesterday we tossed it out" (Heath).|
|2||The Invasion and The Golden Compass, both released in 2007, featured Craig. Both films also had a marketing campaign that touted Craig with a top billing status (his name and mug were on posters and general advertising). Yet both films were spectacular box office flops.|
So here we are, with principal photography underway in London for Bond 22. Although reports have surfaced along with initial photos from the set, the production seems to be a quiet affair, or at least a more nondescript start than the one for Casino Royale. On January 2nd, the production team was spotted in The Barbican filming a man using his mobile. The lack of details provoked speculation, and the most widely circulated was that the filmmakers were shooting a dramatic scene concerning an irate Vodafone subscriber complaining to customer support about a billing error for some downloaded ringtones. In this context, we must admit that the filmmakers were tackling a very gripping, suspenseful scene.
I kid, of course. But I can report truthfully that Daniel Craig was not present. That’s the good news. The bad news: just when we thought that Craig got stuck in a pub somewhere in Liverpool, the unusually pigmentless actor actually showed up for work today, January 3rd, at The Water Gardens in Burwood Place. Clad in a dark overcoat and sporting the same undignified disheveled bowl haircut that he had in Casino Royale and The Golden Compass, Craig (so the reports indicate) is playing James Bond again. For a moment, though, I thought that Vladimir Putin was being filmed in London (the resemblance between actor and Russian statesman is uncanny). Moreover, the photos show the one obstacle that Craig was never able to overcome in Casino Royale—namely, his lack of suitability for the 007 role. For the photos remind us of how seriously miscast he is. One wonders why in hell this guy was cast as 007, and this is not meant as harsh criticism of Craig, who by all accounts is a pleasant chap. But he’s way over his head in this role, lacking the panache of Fleming’s James Bond—tall, darkly handsome, and with a commanding presence that even a ruthless KGB general, in the novel From Russia, With Love, regards with awe:
Or consider how the literary Bond captivates Domino Vitali, the heroine in Thunderball, from the moment she first sets eyes on this dark stranger in the Bahamas:
Here, then, is the dark romantic hero—and we realize that Fleming is paying tribute to an archetypal literary character, the Byronic Hero, that enigmatic dark brooding individual who roams Gothic fiction, perhaps mostly famously in the guise of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, to which Fleming cleverly pulled off by placing this “out-of-date persona inside the shellac of a secret agent, so making it plausible, mentally actable, and, to all appearance, contemporary” (Amis 26). Just as dark romanticism emphasizes the foreboding aspects of life, or the terrors that lie beneath the surface of everyday living, so it is in Fleming’s fiction that the threat of death, along with violence and murder, converge in the dark figure of Bond. His darkness, physically and metaphorically, reflects the despair that haunts him, a despair most often expressed in the novels as the futility of his own finitude. Perhaps it reaches its deepest expression in Moonraker, where this tortured figure reminds himself, in the midst of dreary office work, that it is “his ambition to have as little as possible in his banking account when he was killed, as, when he was depressed he knew he would be, before the statutory age of forty-five” (9).
Of course, this fundamental imagery of the dark romantic figure became the archetypal casting in the films—Connery, Lazenby, Dalton, and Brosnan were essentially reflections of this character type. Even Roger Moore reflected Fleming’s intention: despite the actor’s sandy-colored hair, Moore and his suaveness somehow accord neatly with the élan of the dashing Byronic Hero painted in the novels.
The casting of Daniel Craig, on the other hand, makes the film series even more remote from the Fleming books. With his pale haggard mug, thin bowl haircut, and lack of a commanding presence, Craig’s overall persona simply makes it impossible for us to take him seriously as a man who could stir a sense of awe from his enemies and provoke women to turn their heads to admire him. At best, Craig has all the screen charisma of Corey Feldman. The scene in Casino Royale where he emerges from the Caribbean Sea will live on in film history, a painful reminder that the series has reached full kitsch in this pigmentless Bond who holds a license to wax his chest and wear tiny, undignified light-blue swimming trunks. Clearly, he has overestimated his own talent, and the filmmakers have thrust him into the world as the William Hung of filmdom—a profound underdog who we find ourselves rallying around and cheering on.
Such an actor calls for a super-hyped marketing campaign. Casino Royale was powered by a massive PR budget, big as the GNP of Iceland or Moldavia—enough money to brand Casino Royale a “Must-See” film. Not seeing it is to risk arrest and deportation to a prison camp in some dark forsaken place. Meanwhile, additional help came from the Established Media. Ever vigilant for sensationalism and eager to dictate public sentiment, this powerful institution did not take long to latch onto the hype and voice its admiration for the film: reporters, film critics, TV entertainment commentators, and newspaper columnists were suddenly proclaiming to be well versed in Fleming fiction (which has long been forgotten by the public), asserting that the new film was true to its literary source. This sonorous collective voice covered with its mask of joy the disagreement of the film’s detractors and set forth the decree that Daniel Craig is Ian Fleming's James Bond. In what seemed like an overnight movement, the privileged status of a Connery or a Brosnan as "the best Bond ever" was subverted to make the marginalized Daniel Craig just as well be the definitive take on the character. The result: the grand march to the praise for Casino Royale. In this whirlwind, a shift in sentiment occurred at the handful of 007 fan-boy forums on the Infobahn: it became vogue to bash Brosnan and worship Craig as the epitome of greatness. The whole thing was a fascinating phenomenon to behold. It reminded me of the human impulse to represent something—something even as trivial as a film—as an illusory vision of something as we would like it to appear without critical judgment; and from this point of view, we can band together and march forward, in blind adherence, to an idea—a shared idyll—that everyone has accepted, united in the solidarity of the herd.
Lost in the commotion, of course, was the colossally overrated Daniel Craig. In some newspaper photos, he had the pained look of a man who is clearly uncomfortable with his new found stardom. Suddenly, he was plopped onto a throne, gazing out at a world where people showered him with untold praises, gladly and without question, because he was, well, the supreme being. Craig the Anointed One. Craig, the Crowned One. Craig, the Beatified. Moreover, the PR blitzkrieg continued after the film’s release. It was truly astounding. It surfaced here and there to thrust Craig into public consciousness as a major star and a worthy 007. Yet the ongoing campaign raises something disturbing: whereas Craig’s predecessors simply wore a tuxedo and held a gun and the world immediately saw James Bond, Craig requires elaborate tactics for his PR—namely, delicate camera angles, emphasis on his muscled physique, and an article released every so often touting that Craig is sheer brilliance, that Craig is the best dressed man for the next several centuries, that Craig is the only 007 who women have longed for, and that the series was in shambles until old Danny boy came along.
Yet amongst even his staunchest worshippers (a total of eight individuals in this over-populated world of four billion people), a most blasphemous doubt began to circulate: is the Great One undergoing a rough spell with the public? For in the summer of 2007, The Bourne Ultimatum burst into theaters, captivating audiences and accumulating 85 bajillion dollars in 22 minutes. Its success secured the Bourne franchise as the spy film du jour and made everyone forget the 007 series. Daniel Craig, on the other hand, appeared in two spectacular box office flops, Invasion and The Golden Compass, both 2007 releases and for which he shared top billing with a waxwork known as Nicole Kidman. Both films had a healthy marketing campaign, but each lasted about 37 minutes in theaters. How do you think this made Craig’s handlers feel? Not very good, I suggest. I imagine them scratching their heads. How could this be, they must have wondered? Their polls, after all, indicated that the public was enamored with Craig and, moreover, that women especially could not last a day without seeing a new Daniel Craig film simply because the actor was a splendid phenomenon to behold. Such a tremendous following from women should have contributed to a powerful opening for Craig’s two films. How could all the women fail to see these films?
A further insult: in late 2007, People magazine voted Patrick Dempsey the star of the year and inexplicably crowned Matt Damon (he with the scrunched-up face) as the sexiest man alive. All the while, The Golden Compass sank at the box office in December, forcing Craig’s handlers to scratch their heads again. Clearly, they were in a grave situation. A multinational information-gathering team was therefore assembled to scrutinize the box office data for Craig’s two flops. At the end of an arduous five-week analysis, they came to a simple conclusion: alas, women were simply to busy to go to the movies—too busy because they were at home watching Grey's Anatomy to catch a glimpse of the hunky Dempsey and co-star Eric Dane. Moreover, investigations into the poll results revealed that women in favor of Craig were either angry feministas, or sheer loonies who got a kick out of renouncing the image of the classically handsome man, or women who, when pressed, admitted they were drunk at the time they participated in the polls.
Craig’s handlers will no doubt continue to build him up, but there's a dark cloud over his alleged appeal. He seems to be forgotten by the public. Could it be the reason why Craig suddenly expressed a sense of defeat in a recent interview? Just before filming started for Bond 22, Craig suggested dissatisfaction with the Bond franchise, that his Bondian days are precarious, and the door, so to speak, is starting to close on him. “Without being too doom and gloom about it,” the dejected actor mutters, “things can go wrong, and if it goes wrong, they'll want to get someone else” (“Actor News”).
I say carry on, Mr. Craig. Make Bond 22 and stand tall, if you can.
Various news reports, in the usual way of repeating one another, have confirmed that the role of the villain has been cast. A Frenchman, one Mathieu Amalric, a virtual unknown. It’s an effective ploy on the part of Eon: because Daniel Craig has all the screen charisma of Corey Feldman, it’s best to get a bargain basement unknown for the role of the villain to avoid any overshadowing of Craig. Besides, with a cheap actor, Eon is prevented from digging into the funds reserved for the PR blitzkrieg required to sell Craig’s blandness as an extraordinary phenomenon.1 Indeed, it’s hard to imagine anyone dredging up a memory of the first time they saw Amalric, unless that memory was associated with the memory of, say, getting attacked by a bear or some other life-changing event.
Allow me to refresh your memory. Other than a star turn in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, wherein he played the paralyzed magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, Amalric has appeared in a number of low budget foreign films. Sure, there was a stint in Munich, where he played Michael Lonsdale’s bizarre son, the fastidiously dressed but creepy “Louis.” But he was bland, though he must be commended for delivering a blandness that melded nicely with the blandness that radiated from Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush (a fine actor who really should now better), and the Plasticine form himself, Daniel Craig.
Amalric’s mug shot in some of the news reports—granted, not in context to the villainous role—suggests a non-threatening demeanor. One hopes he will stay away from a ham-fisted approach, which was the main problem with fellow bargain basement Euro-actor Mads Mikkelsen, who inexplicably played the villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale with the accent of Count Von Count, the vampire muppet in Sesame Street. Still, camp acting or not, it’s hard for me to imagine this chap Amalric as a villain. I see no mystery in his persona. Based on his photos, he looks like the type of cab driver I usually get in Las Vegas.
The villains in the Fleming novels convey mystery: they usually have some form of oddity—a monstrosity—in their being. In other words, grotesqueness is a sine qua non in the Fleming villains. We need only take note of Scaramanga’s third nipple. Or the strange eyes of Le Chiffre and Blofeld: their pupils are entirely surrounded by white, giving the effect that they have the lifeless eyes of a doll. Only Le Chiffre’s nasty habit of using his benzedrine inhaler at the baccarat table for everyone to see is more revolting than his physical ugliness.
Let me amend that: Goldfinger’s habit of spray-painting women in gold paint so they can undergo skin suffocation is more revolting than Le Chiffre’s ugliness.
Hold on, allow me to amend that again: the sheer existence of Doctor Julius No is the most revolting thing in the entire universe. Indeed, one look at his skull-like face, deep black eyes without eyelashes, and the pairs of steel pincers at the ends of his arms is enough to make a person lose his memory and his most recent meal. But Fleming’s characterizations are intriguing: the ugliness of his villains extends beyond their physicality into their spirit, and the grotesqueness defines their individuality. I recall an idea from Nietzsche: in his usual attack on Socrates (that most decadent2 of philosophers, in Nietzsche’s view), he essentially likens the Greek philosopher to a criminal and gives a brilliant meditation on the ugliness of a villain:
In the film Casino Royale, the Bond makers did attempt to hark back to what Fleming was exploring in this notion of monstrosity: just as in the book, Le Chiffre uses the benzedrine inhaler. But for his physical oddity, the filmmakers give him the ability to shed tears of blood from his left eye. Unfortunately, nothing is ever made of this anomaly. It’s an interesting bit of characterization that the filmmakers should have used more effectively, an oversight symptomatic of the film’s overall weakness.
The main result of Casino Royale is disastrous: the filmmakers have carved a path into kitsch, what with the 007 calamity known as Daniel Craig. Too old and too craggy for a Bond-Begins story (and resembling Vladimir Putin more and more as the film unfolds), Craig fulfills the ridiculous attempt to reboot the series and is clearly way over his head as a young rookie Bond posing in front of the mirror, marveling at how he looks in a tuxedo. The premise, then, of this rebooted series is shaky. It only points to a downward passage into decline. Unfortunately, retreat is not possible: the proud march into kitsch leaves the filmmakers with no alternative but to continue down this path. Midnight has struck on the dial of the Bond series.
I therefore suggest that to achieve kitsch, to fulfill its true essence, the villainous role requires a casting so outrageous—something akin to the casting of the cadaverous, pale Daniel Craig as 007. Who would be ideal, you ask? Two words: Emeril Lagasse. With this popular TV celebrity chef, we have someone who exudes something of a New York gangster persona and, moreover, he has a physique shaped like a bullet (which fulfills the oddity of a Bond villain). Yet he is also astute in the culinary arts, which lends him an air of sophistication. Emeril’s popularity would also compensate for the lack of a box office draw (we cannot rely on Craig alone, for he offers no star power whatsoever, having two major box office flops in 2007).
Just think of the potential kitsch to grace the screen: Emeril’s fondness for phrases such as “kick it up a notch,” “stick around,” and “bam,” in tandem with references to David Letterman and other late-night shows, are sure winners. I imagine a dramatic confrontation between Emeril’s villain and Craig’s pigmentless Bond:
Bam! That’s what I say! And note to the Bond makers: you have my permission to use this scene. I’d consider it an honor.
|1||Sad to say, the marketing blitzkrieg required for Daniel Craig has proved to be an admission that it's hard to sell the actor to the public. The marketing campaign continued after Casino Royale, surfacing here and there to thrust Craig into public consciousness as a major star and a worthy 007. Whereas Craig’s predecessors simply wore a tuxedo and held a gun and the world immediately saw James Bond, Craig requires elaborate tactics for his PR: delicate camera angles, emphasis on his muscled physique, and an article released every so often touting that Craig is sheer brilliance, the best dressed man for the next several centuries, the only 007 women have longed for, and that the series was in disarray until old Danny boy came along.|
|2||For Nietzsche, decadence refers to people and even any system of thought that tend toward weariness for life. Socrates was decadent (or so Nietzsche believed) because the ugly Greek committed a philosophical blunder. Thanks to this villain, the error took Western civilization down the wrong path for 2500 years. For just when Greek philosophy was at its most magnificent, Socrates suddenly filled Western thought with the notion of an absolute good. This led to the Platonic notion of an unchanging form or idea, reinforced in the Christian belief of a universe under the sway of a transcendent divine power. The results of this absolutist way of thinking were, in Nietzsche's view, disastrous. It sacrificed the rapture of being alive: the individual is compelled to withdraw from, and forsake, this world and long for that otherworldliness.|
What hath EON done? The title was finally revealed on January 24, during a press conference in London. But the world, which is not enough, was forced to do a double-take as it absorbed an arcane phrase: Quantum Of Solace. There. I announced it again, on behalf of EON. Only three words. Three words that mean nothing whatsoever to mainstream audiences.
A quick glance at the blogs for news web sites reveals people expressing befuddlement over the title. And a BBC poll associated with the article describing the press conference shows a sizeable denouncement of the film’s title, with more than half of the participants voting "From Russia with Dud!!!" !!!" I would give you an intricate explanation for the poll results, probing deep sociological ramifications such as voters unleashing a latent resistance to Craig as 007, but to do so would be as difficult for me, and as helpful for you, as giving you an explanation of the vision I had when I saw cats smoking cigars on my fence. For at the end of the day, we still have this new title, Quantum Of Solace, to contend with. The rationale for the title is myriad and labyrinthine, and possibly many other words with a y in them. With all the confusion surrounding it, I suspect studio executives at Sony will probably be fired by Monday morning for approving this title.
Staunch Bond aficionados may say, “But it’s an original Ian Fleming title!” To which I say: indeed it is. And pulled, of course, from the title of one of the tales in the short story collection, For Your Eyes Only (1960). But there is a reason why this particular Fleming title was never used for so long. And there is a reason why filmmakers, studio executives, and PR staffers worry over something as simple as a film title. Quantum Of Solace is a striking title for a splendid short story—but it should have remained there, in the Fleming canon, and never to be used as the title for the 22nd film, enlarged on a theater marquee to announce another entry in this inane rebooted series.
Plot details are sketchy. But there was mention of a revenge angle (probably a left-over from an old Licence To Kill 1 draft) wherein the Craig-Bond, according to producer Michael G. Wilson via a BBC article, continues where Casino Royale ends, “contemplating revenge after his betrayal by his true love, Vesper Lynd.” Not to be outdone, co-producer Barbara Broccoli, who is clearly on the same page with Wilson, explains that the film “‘is not a revenge movie. It's a lot more complicated than that. It has lots of action but it also deals with the inner turmoil Bond is feeling.’”
Ah, a red herring, then, this business about revenge. But wait! Craig himself adds to the contradiction by stating that his Bond is “‘looking for revenge, you know, to make himself happy with the world again.’” Further explanation from Wilson contributes more confusion: “‘We thought it was an intriguing title and referenced what happened to Bond and what is happening in the film.’” So again, just as they had done with Casino Royale, the producers are selling the notion that they are making serious adaptations of Fleming’s work. Wilson concludes, rather gleefully, that “the film would have ‘twice as much action’ as 2006's Casino Royale” (“New Bond film title is confirmed”).
Based on the spin from the filmmakers, will we really be treated to a sincere adaptation of the short story? If there’s one remarkable thing about the Fleming story, it strays from the spy thriller domain with its lack of action and intrigue. Sad to say, Fleming never bothered to inject any Bondian action such as our man 007 jumping from a helicopter onto a moving train and then beating up a dozen or so terrorists and throwing them off the train to their death. So this emphasis by the producers to flood the film version with more action than in Casino Royale is puzzling. Clearly, they’ve abandoned the source material, a tale about a government bureaucrat and his disastrous marriage to an attractive flight attendant, as told to Bond by the Governor of the Bahamas during a dull after-dinner chat.
The filmmakers have gone down this path before, meddling with a Fleming title and building an entirely new story for it. We need only take note of Roger Moore’s last outing, A View To A Kill (1985), its title deriving from the short story “From A View To Kill” (again, part of the For Your Eyes Only collection) and in which no reference to the destruction of Silicon Valley by Christopher Walken is mentioned. In the short story “Quantum of Solace,” the reader finds nothing cinematic in scope whatsoever; instead, it’s the Governor with his bits of life wisdom that takes center stage as he sketches a compelling anecdote of marital folly and describes, by his own admission, a rather pretentious theory about human relations:
First published in Modern Woman magazine in November 1959, the tale was an experimental piece for Fleming, a throwback to the kind of story-within-a-story anecdote one finds from Somerset Maugham—and not surprisingly; for Fleming was an ardent fan of Maugham and kept in touch with the old man of letters, an interaction that led to Fleming negotiating to have Maugham’s Ten Novels and Their Authors 2 serialized in the Sunday Times. In Fleming’s story, the account of a marriage in shambles may have been motivated by Fleming’s own turbulent marriage to Ann Rothermere, and to which he may have sought to grasp through the Governor’s theory that all human relations, in order to work effectively, require one fundamental element—at the very least, a degree of respect and compassion for the other to form a basis of comfort, of humanity, in the relationship.
For the new film, the premise is shaky, reaching into the maudlin, into kitsch territory: the sheer notion of extending the story’s concept into the emotional aftermath of the Craig-Bond in Casino Royale is laughably pretentious. As Craig (painfully reciting lines from the film’s public relations handbook) is forced to explain: “‘At the end of the last movie, Bond has the love of his life taken away from him and he never got that quantum of solace’” (“New Bond film title is confirmed”).
Um, no Mr. Daniel Craig. The Law of The Quantum of Solace has nothing to do with the loss of love from the death of the beloved. Again, it’s about the degree of humanity in a relationship. In the last film, let us recall that Vesper falls in love with the Craig-Bond—yes, say what you will, but she has enough interest in the Craig-Bond to fall in love, and we are forced to stretch our imaginations that she can actually fall for someone who looks like a mesomorphic Vladmir Putin. In fact, despite the bashing of the Craig-Bond's manhood by Le Chiffre, Vesper maintains high interest level to stick around during his recovery to shower him with respect and compassion. To you MBA graduates, this forms a degree of love and humanity between the two, a “quantum of solace” at the very center of their romance.
Unfortunately, the Vesper character doesn't have the good sense not to get ensnared in the shenanigans of the Eurotrash villains in Casino Royale, which of course leads to her downfall. Put another way, had she gotten a job at Walmart, she would never have met the Craig-Bond, and we all could have gone home 120 minutes sooner, our minds blissfully fresh with images left over from previous Bond films. As for Mr. Craig and the producers, their wistful dreamy explanation makes it sound like someone spilled bong water all over the table during a script review session.
What we have, then, is a seriously stupid idea from the filmmakers. This leads us to believe that the only justification for calling a mainstream action film Quantum Of Solace is that there were other worst titles—offered by the overrated scripter Paul Haggis—that the Bond producers passed up. A clue to the decision is the comment from Michael Wilson that the title was “chosen only a few days ago,” a very odd line suggesting a slapdash effort for a multi-million dollar film. One senses that, just days before the press conference, the filmmakers were still undecided and were suddenly forced to make a last minute sifting of the Fleming books for something, anything, to slap onto the new film as a title. Yet I recall that the script had been completed, or so Wilson asserted, back in October 2005 when Craig was unveiled as the new 007; but reports surfaced in late autumn of 2007 that the Haggis script had been thrown out, that urgent rewrites were taking place, although everyone forgot to title the film. I can imagine that when studio executives had finished reviewing the screenplay, they unleashed some stern reprimands:
Perhaps a better meaning to the title lies in the cryptic comment from Craig: “‘But the title,’” the unnaturally pale actor claims, “‘also alludes to something else in the film’” (“New Bond film title is confirmed”). I can say with some certainty that Craig is not alluding to the 1991 album, Solace, by Sarah McLachlan. Additional analysis reveals that the title’s meaning may be in context to a rebooted series with a rookie Bond (at almost age 40!) who is just embarking on the adventures of life. Does the quantum in the title refer to the Craig-Bond's attempt to gain maturity by performing the adult endeavor of quantizing solace to achieve its precise amount? Can solace even be quantified? Or is the solace being referred to in the title quantized through digital signal processing? And if so, in the continuing gritty realism set forth in Casino Royale (wherein we encounter a young rookie spy with an aged scaly mug of an octogenarian), are Double-O agents trained for such obscure crafts—this sampling of solace through quantization?
An alternative interpretation: does the title imply that the new film is the big screen remake of the TV series Quantum Leap? When viewed in context to the rebooted series, this interpretation sheds light on the title Quantum Of Solace. Just as in the TV series starring Scott Bakula, perhaps the film will explore the adventures of M (Judi Dench) and her ability to leap into various points in time. This would certainly explain why she is able to encounter the rookie Craig-Bond despite existing previously as the boss of a seasoned 007 in the four Brosnan Bond films. Is this the likely explanation for the title? Perhaps, but not an interesting one.
I would not usually have considered the possibility, but given the title’s inexplicable logic, I had to wonder whether it was part of an actual marketing campaign designed by an ambitious promotions executive who is attempting to make a name for herself. “I’m the one who got the producers to use the title of a little known Fleming story without using the actual source material,” one can almost hear her bragging, completely oblivious to the fog of confusion she created. “And I’m the one who coached Craig on his ‘Quantum of Solace’ speech, which he will have to repeat for the next year or so in every promotion for the film.”
Behind the mask of a 200 gajillion-dollar budget, one senses a faltering series. Even the title design lacks imagination, replicating the design for Casino Royale with its two-Os-in-a-row for the 007 layout. It all makes me wonder how things have changed so much from the days when a Bond film was a Bond film. Ah, where are they, those lyrical times? Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but I remember an almost magical time—a time when we didn’t have MP3 or some pompous compression scheme; audio signals were uncompressed for true high-fidelity, and a Bond film was titled after a familiar adage with the word “Die” inserted where the word “Live” should be. Such a title quickly signaled a new Bond film, certainly a title Bondian enough for us, thank you very much. Quantum Of Solace, on the other hand, would be suitable for a series that adapted the Fleming material faithfully. But that will never happen until a daring filmmaker creates a 007 series one day for the BBC. For now, all we can do is hope that this ridiculous rebooted film series will pass quickly so we might devote our time on something of lasting value, such as Paris Hilton CDs and Internet video sharing sites.
|1||The series has relied on revenge as a plot device many times, most notably in Licence To Kill. For a detailed discussion, refer to my review Licence To Kill: Dalton’s End.|
|2||As a work of literary criticism, Ten Novels and Their Authors presents Somerset Maugham’s analysis of the lives and masterpieces of ten great novelists. At the time Maugham was developing the book, Fleming was a journalist at the Sunday Times.|
A recent article in The Courier-Mail confirms it: the PR staff for the new Bond film is reeling from the negative reaction to the title Quantum Of Solace, and some much needed spin—in the form of a trite explanation of the bizarre title—is being fed to the media. In this article, the series of praises for Daniel Craig and the current state of the franchise makes us wonder if this is a puff piece commissioned by Eon. It begins with an exaggerated description of the media attention devoted to the film, as if the press coverage belonged to a summit meeting for world leaders:
Yet the article’s reporter, Paul Kent, cannot refrain from bringing out elements of the production that suggest a faltering series under the reign of Daniel Craig. First and foremost is the title—to which Craig addresses by babbling the memorized explanation from the PR handbook:
So how many times will everyone involved in this film flaunt an explanation for this title? I suspect the electrician who is running a cable high on a rafter at Pinewood Studios is next in line to explain. And it’s not even a good explanation. Let’s read the story carefully: Craig and the filmmakers can insist all they want that this thing called “quantum of solace” is about the loss of love through the death of the beloved, but the concept in Fleming’s tale concerns a theory of human relations as proposed by the Governor of the Bahamas during a dull after-dinner chat with Bond. As the Governor sketches an anecdote of marital folly between a government bureaucrat and an attractive flight attendant, he humbly suggests his theory:
Put another way, this business about a quantum of solace is all about the degree of humanity in a relationship—it is not about “the love of [Bond’s] life,” as Craig erroneously explains, being “taken away from him.” It is laughable how the filmmakers are mangling the Fleming tale to make it fit their intentions. I imagine them seated in a script review session, delving into pretentious ideas like, "How about if we make the Governor in the story the villain? His name isn’t even mentioned, so maybe we should make the character a female governor and call her Liz Krest?” 1 The Fleming title, to be sure, is terrific for a taut little story—and it should have remained there, in the world of Fleming fiction. I doubt Fleming ever intended it to be the title of a 200-gazillion dollar 007 adventure film mounted with, as co-producer Barbara Broccoli proclaims, “lots of action” (“New Bond film title is confirmed”).
There follows a commentary in Kent’s article concerning Craig’s approach to the Bond character. “The difference between Craig's Bond,” Kent proudly emphasizes, “and previous versions is Craig's intention to portray Bond as a character still in development, giving him a far more three-dimensional quality…. He remains intent on continuing to take Bond's character beyond the cartoon depth of previous Bond portrayals, yet is unsure exactly where in Quantum of Solace that will lead.” The commentary, ever forced in its accolade for Craig, is not based on fact, though it does reveal reporter Paul Kent’s lack of research. Hadn’t he seen Timothy Dalton’s very human portrayal of Bond? We also have Pierce Brosnan’s brooding, introspective Bond who always managed to express self-doubt in the midst of the outlandish action that the producers flooded in his films. (In Tomorrow Never Dies, he even provides an element of Celtic sullenness to the role: Brosnan expresses both rage and heartfelt weariness. As he shows in the scene wherein he discovers the dead Paris Carver in his hotel room, Brosnan's Bond is able to mourn for others and even to mourn a little bit for himself.) Meanwhile, Connery, Moore, and Lazenby have all tackled the role with touching bits of humanity as well.
Craig, on the other hand, is the epitome of the cartoon portrayal of Bond. In Casino Royale, he runs, he scowls, he dashes from scene to scene without a sense of purpose. Unfortunately, this relentless action-oriented approach doesn't offer any emotional connection to the character. Gone is Fleming's dashing romantic hero. In his place, we now have an uncouth muscled brute, bland as the action heroes from your Bruce Willis' or Sylvester Stallones, and clad in cheap clothes.
Kent’s comment that Craig is unsure of how exactly his portrayal of Bond will turn out is meaningless. It’s something that the reporter should not have even bothered to pursue, especially when the actor admitted he had no idea how his portrayal will come across in the new film—unless, of course, if this passage is a ploy to suggest that the role, in Craig's hands, is complex and layered with nuance. If so, then I'd say we're knee-deep in kitsch. Sad to say, even Fleming never envisioned his Bond character to be as compelling as Macbeth’s. Nevertheless, this is how kitsch journalism erases the history of a film series: shower the subject with pretentious praise, denigrate the efforts of the previous actors, but admit that the new approach is really going nowhere. Yeah, there’s responsible reporting for you. Combine that with the kitsch-making interpretation from Craig and the filmmakers, and you’ve got a clear path to utter bullshit.
"The script's in great shape,” Craig boasts, hurling more spin, “which is a huge part of it, but we discover things as we go." Yes, Mr. Craig—the script is in such fine form that you have no idea how your approach to the Bond role will play out. And why hasn’t your director, Marc Forster (who was babbling about exploring Bond’s inner self), guided you in the role? Haven’t these two been working together? Reporter Kent adds more kitsch into the mix, complete with spelling errors (which I have italicized): “What is not in question is that Craig's version of the British super-spy has single-handedly reinvigorated the Bond franchise, which looked to have just about reached its tipping point in the final Pierce Brosnan instalment Die Another Day when, among other trick gadgets, there was an invisible car.”
Um, no Mr. Kent. The series was never reinvigorated by Craig. It was doing just fine financially, pulling in gazillions of dollars when Brosnan—touted by Eon itself as the “Billion dollar Bond”—handled the role. If anything, it was Brosnan, along with his high public approval, who reinvigorated the series after the bleak six-year hiatus that followed after the dismal box office earnings of Licence To Kill and the protracted legal mess involving the Bond producers and the studio, MGM/Pathe. As Martin Campbell (who went on to direct Craig in Casino Royale), enthusiastically states during the making of Goldeneye: “For instance, the ace in our deck is definitely Pierce Brosnan. For some reason—and I don’t profess to know exactly why—there’s a terrific groundswell for Pierce to succeed…. [He] has generated an amazing kind of enthusiasm from all public sectors that’s a gift to this production” (Directing Bond 23).
Kent's overblown praise reveals several inaccurate assertions: apparently, Casino Royale “steered the franchise right again and audiences responded by making it the highest-grossing Bond film yet, taking in $657,769,552 worldwide.” Is this true? Why no, there’s a film called Thunderball back in 1965, which raked in $903.68 million (adjusted for 2006 inflation), which still holds the record of the highest-grossing Bond film. Moreover, the worldwide take of Casino Royale is actually far less than what Kent purports: adjusted for 2006 inflation, the film earned $399.1 million, which is also less than the $484.08 million worldwide gross delivered by Brosnan’s last outing, Die Another Day. 2
Another gem in Kent’s article: he drops the bombshell near the end of the piece by bringing up the unsettling similarities of this rebooted Bond series to the successful Bourne franchise. “It appears there is little doubt,” the reporter points out, “that the latest version was inspired by the success of Matt Damon's Jason Bourne trilogy, although Craig denied it was Bourne that made Bond raise its game.”
Denials, of course, are expected from the Bond camp. One senses even a bit of testiness from Craig (“Comparisons are going to be made always, because we have the same letters at the front of our names, but beyond that this is James Bond and that is Bourne.”). But strangely, in an act that is sure to cause consternation from the Bond makers, Kent veers from his puff-piece approach and refutes Craig, thereby suggesting (whether intentional or not) that there are underlying problems with the series. “Say what he likes,” Kent asserts, “the truth lies across the road.” For just nearby, another set—the Siena gallery—was being directed by “Dan Bradley, the second set director for Quantum Of Solace but also the second set director for The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum.”
And why is there suddenly so much emphasis, as suggested by this article, on interior sets replicating actual locations? One of the criticisms of Die Another Day was the lack of authenticity and the heavy reliance on CGI and interior sets that substituted location filming. Yet here we are, faced with studio sets of the Siena gallery and, as described at the start of the article, a “small Latin-American street setting.” The article even touts, in its byline, that “Inside the studio building once claimed to be the world's biggest sound stage were concealed three different, secret sets.”
Almost an after-thought, Kent resorts to another gushing, maudlin praise for Craig at the end of the piece: “But alas for Bond's female fans, Quantum of Solace won't feature a repeat of Bond emerging from the sea as he did in Casino Royale.” And who exactly are these women? Kent never says. And if Craig is truly appealing to female audiences, then Vladimir Putin (who has an uncanny resemblance to the pigmentless actor) must surely be delighted, though I noticed there haven't been reports of women worldwide swooning over photos of the Russian statesman. Again, this is kitsch journalism on the part of Kent, which is endemic in today’s journalism—alas, journalism at times has been reduced to a stage on which reporters showcase their fanciful knowledge and discern more sentimental meaning in the subject than even the subject has to offer. That effort, combined with the kitsch-making interpretation from the likes of the Bond makers kill off sincerity. And it’s all for the sake of asserting oneself—that impulse for a self-congratulatory pat on the shoulder, for self-importance. Meanwhile, in the midst of all its kitsch glory, we see signs of the Bond series coming unglued in the making of Quantum Of Solace.
|1||Liz Krest is the heroine in “The Hildebrand Rarity,” another tale in the For Your Eyes Only collection. Elements of the short story were adapted in Licence To Kill (1989)—in particular, the character Milton Krest, his penchant for whipping his wife with the tail of a stingray (although in the film, it’s the villain Sanchez who whips his mistress), and the name of his luxurious yacht (Wavekrest). The story itself, which concerns the mysterious death of Milton Krest—a rare fish known as The Hildebrand Rarity is shoved down his throat while he’s asleep on his yacht—has not been used in any 007 film. Likewise, the trophy wife Liz Krest has never made it to the screen.|
|2||These box office figures are based on the reported earnings at the Bondian portal James Bond , Agent 007 OHMSS (http://www.klast.net/bond/boxoff.html; access date: 02/24/08).|