Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Skyfail?

I am thanking people again for voting for our IdeaBoost project because we won!!! We were actually chosen by the CBC Media Lab! Us!!! Chosen for something!

We're very excited.

Not sure what our next step is yet but here are some links in case you don't want to rely on my wildly unreliable blogging schedule to get updates:

Creative room:
The gold circle of mailing lists, where you get to interact with the production team. Which includes us!

Testers:
 Like technology and social media? This is the list for you!

Observers: 
Not sure if you get a fedora or not with this list. This is for basic updates. No time travel.

One way or the other, we are going to get a Goddam fairy project off the ground.

For your reading pleasure, a rant. As I've no doubt mentioned a thousand times before, I devoured Heinlein and Asimov when I was a kid. I probably read Number of the Beast a few years before I should have, in fact. But the Foundation books really stuck with me because the ideas in them were so ground-breaking. Now, I think, psychohistory can be boiled down to what Nate Silver does, which is both cool and kind of depressing. The robot novels, particularly The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun and The Stars Like Dust, were riveting. J'adore. And why they're not a television series will remain an eternal mystery. The Heinlein juveniles were books I read over and over again. Particular favorites are Have Spacesuit Will Travel and Citizen of the Galaxy. I wrote an absolutely horrible story in the vein of The Rolling Stones back then. Hopefully I no longer have it. However, when I went back to Asimov and Heinlein later, I realized that although Asimov had broken so much ground on ideas, his characters were pretty much ass. His prose style was, to put it kindly, minimal. I remember Susan Calvin and Hari Seldon and particularly the Mule as unbelievably well-drawn. Not so. And Lije Bailey? Dear God, man, SHUT UP ALREADY.

NOT the world's greatest prose stylist. But the ideas still work. Heinlein was a much better actual WRITER, but his ideas went over my head all those years ago, so that was something to get used to.

IT WOULD NOT BE A BLOG POST UNLESS I HAD A SUPER LONG RAMBLING PROLOGUE.

This leads me to the new James Bond movie, Skyfall. Basically, I do not want to argue about this movie, which is why I'm writing a blog post about it instead of talking to people. Because eventually, I would be forced to yell at people and call them stupid and that way lies madness. It boils down to this -- I FREAKING LOVED IT, and almost everybody I know sniffed and went, "It's not a James Bond movie," in much the same way they did about the JJ Abrams Star Trek movie. "I don't know what that was, but it wasn't Star Trek."

I am not a Bond aficionado in the way that people know every single thing about all the movies. I've seen all the movies, several times. I appreciate the format, i.e., Bond chases a megalomaniac around the globe, fucks women with fuck-me names, is pithy, drinks martinis, makes M roll his/her eyes, never has to fill out an expense report. But the dude's been in movies for fifty years. And it's been clear that, over time, hewing so closely to the formula hasn't done the franchise any favors. Hell, even the brilliant The Ipcress File needed to deconstruct Bond, and that was still in the early days of the Bond franchise.

IT'S NOW BEEN FIFTY YEARS.

So we got Pierce Brosnan Bond, which unfortunately stuck to the same tried-and-true formula even though the movies that were coming out around them made those movies look antiquated. The Brosnan movies just weren't good, y'all. I enjoyed them, but I wanted them to be MOVIES and they weren't. Were they Bond movies, though? Apparently yes. Right down to the formula. I don't consider the new Bond movies (or any Bond movies) reboots because it's BOND, not 21 Jump Street, and Bond's been around long enough that it has to be accepted at this point that Bond will ALWAYS be around and using the word "reboot" is ludicrous.

So the new Bond, then. It seems like the one thing everyone can agree on (after all the pfumfering over Daniel Craig being blonde OH DEAR GOD NO ANYTHING BUT THAT) is that Casino Royale is a fantastic movie, and Craig is a great Bond. Does it adhere to the formula? Well... kinda. But what I love about Casino Royale is the awareness of character. It isn't enough to have Bond chase some psycho, or fuck women, or drink martinis, or do what M tells him to. The question with Casino Royale was, What kind of a man DOES this? What does it mean to be licensed to kill? And what kind of a boss can readily send an assassin on his way, to take a life because intel says to? Casino Royale was aware of all of this, and also aware of the the climate in which it was made. Bond really did exist in a vacuum, but Casino Royale changed those rules. Bond had to be of the time, and he was.

Then there was Quantum of Solace, which again we all agreed was a piece of utter shit, mostly do to the writer's strike and Marc Forster, WHO IS NOT BRITISH, nor is he a visual director with any style whatsoever, and he never should have been chosen WTF.

And now, Skyfall, which seems to be splitting viewers. I find THAT interesting, because mostly we agree on how good or bad a Bond movie is. But this is a little odd. There are complaints that it's a reboot, that it's not a Bond movie, that the villain isn't trying to take over the world (the lack of mission on the part of the villain is apparently considered a bad thing, unless you actually PAY ATTENTION to the movie and discover that the villain DOES have a laser-focused agenda, which maybe isn't quite as fun as sharks with frickin' lasers on their heads, but which is driven by character and by the entire premise of the series, which I find particularly enervating).

Bond prior to Casino Royale is very British and very proper and mostly very fun, but we take a lot for granted. Bond is quite well mannered, almost always in control, ready with the wisecrack and seduction line. He goes into M's office and gets his assignments, flirts with Moneypenny... we've all seen it, over and over. This Bond, from the get-go, was different. And in this film, he doesn't go to the office and get handed a file... not right away. He hulks in the shadows of M's home, haggard and red-eyed, and she isn't even surprised to see him. She tries to put him off with their usual pithy banter, but he isn't having any of it.

From the first time you see them in Casino Royale, their relationship is different. It's not boss/hireling. It's more... crime boss, hired gun. Bond is the physical manifestation, the killing machine, of M. That's the ENTIRE POINT of Skyfall. M makes a bad call, which we discover is not even close to being the first bad call she's made. There are Consequences, which nicely puts the movie in the realm of, you know, the Real World. Bond, though, doesn't even seem to hold her accountable for it. He's given himself over to her, to be the king's hand, so to speak. Silva, though, has a little bit of a problem with it, and he tries to pull Bond into his web but Bond won't play. He is never even tempted. And that's Silva's downfall.

As we learn throughout the movie, Bond was made into the person he was when his parents died. So however M shaped him as a killing machine, she didn't change him. He was already changed. I just really responded to the character development in this movie, to the emotion. And the reason I mentioned the Asimov and Heinlein I read as a kid is because re-reading it, I could see what I'd missed. A little bummed to realize that Asimov spent most of his time musing instead of developing character. How does that connect to Bond? Like Abrams' Star Trek, I felt that a lot of the Skyfall criticism is from people who saw Bond when they were kids and have, in that child's mind's eye, a firmly fixed view of who Bond is. The idea that anyone would delve into what makes that character tick doesn't make sense to them, because their entire notion of Bond rests on nostalgia. I'm sure I said this in my similar rant on the Star Trek movie. People who were drawn to Star Trek for intellectual and not emotional reasons HATED the Star Trek movie. Their nostalgia was being threatened.

Gentle readers, this is stupid. It's one thing to have issues with Skyfall and another entirely to condemn it because it's not exactly the same formula as the others that have come before. With regards to the plot, Bond doesn't accomplish his goal - saving M. Criticism noted. But with regards to the character of James Bond, he finally shakes off the darkness that made him this character. He destroys that childhood and maybe the symbolism is too much for you, but I personally love it. He makes a CHOICE to come back, to be 007. And the last scene has everything new again. A fresh start. Not a reboot, exactly... but a clever and touching homage to the 50th anniversary of this most enduring character. A character who has been parodied so much, and is so recognizable by his traits that it doesn't seem possible to make him new again. But John Logan, Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig accomplish that by finally going, "Hey, why IS this guy licensed to kill? What kind of a person would go kill people when ordered? What kind of a guy sleeps with any woman he sees?" The answer seems to be, a guy who had everything taken away from him and probably has been feeding off survivor's guilt ever since. A guy who really is alone in the world and will take any opportunity to make a human connection, even if it involves fucking anyone in an evening gown. And a guy who lets himself be turned into this suave, slick creature, who can waltz around the world using his name and not creating an alias or a legend because he is either that damned good, or is waiting to finally be caught and put out of his misery.

By the end of the movie, the simplicity of the franchise has returned. We've got M and Moneypenny, refreshed. They're not ciphers, either. They're characters we follow throughout Skyfall, and they earn their place.
How that's not fascinating, but still James Bond, is a mystery to me.

I could go on and on about all the great character work in Skyfall, about the logical conclusion to the relationship between Bond and M and how this new Bond is going to treat the job as a job and not as penance. But I won't. This is already long enough.

Lastly, though, I will offer up some criticism. Adele? Meh. She couldn't clean Shirley Bassey's shoes. This is the Great Hope Of All Music? Sigh. Next time, Muse or Noel Gallagher, OR WE ARE GOING TO HAVE WORDS.

3 comments:

Chris said...

Sounds great.

I don't want to see it.

So if he's an entirely new character, why does he have to be named James Bond?

Because the vastly more enjoyable and popular (going by ticket sales) films with Connery created a franchise they keep repackaging and re-selling. And that's not a victory for creativity. Nobody in movies could create a James Bond today. Yes, Ian Fleming created the book character, but it's the Connery Bond that created the movies' enduring fascination with the character.

Connery was twice the actor Craig is, and ten times the star. Craig is preferable to most of the replacements, but he's got like two working facial expressions, his eyes are dead (that's not an acting choice), and everything he does that isn't Bond flops hard. He was a good choice, given the options, but he's not a STAR. He's probably closer to Fleming's original character than Connery (I'd have to read the books to know), but do I care? I seriously do not.

Obviously they will be repackaging Bond when we are all in retirement homes, and this isn't by any means one of the worst jobs they've done, but let's be real here. The first five films with Connery set the standard, and everything that came after fell hopelessly short.

And btw, not all the Connery films have Bond saving the world from a doomsday device. I agree they got a bit too hung up on that in the later reboots. And let's face it, this series has already been rebooted like half a dozen times. But if you'd take Craig and Bardem and a ton of CGI over Connery and Shaw and real filmmaking--well, go ahead. It's a popular choice these days. But when every last dime is counted, not even half as popular as Thunderball. Which isn't even the best one, and it still beats all the Craigs combined. :)

Chris said...

Two more things--

1)You really nailed it with Asimov and Heinlein--writers whose strengths more than cancel out their weaknesses. There is, needless to say, much better written SF out there that is also teeming with incredible ideas, but much of it would never have happened without those two. I don't see what the hell this has to do with Bond movies, since I don't THINK you want somebody to rewrite The Foundation Trilogy with more fleshed-out characters. Surely what you'd want in that situation is for later writers to create their own universes, with entirely new and better-developed characters, and to credit Asimov and all the other pioneers for inspiring them to do so, and that's what actually happened, of course. So why praise Hollywood for just reheating leftovers and maybe adding a few ingredients to try and make them seem new again? If they managed to not entirely screw up this particular reboot, does that change the fact that it IS a reboot? That there's no more confidence in the film industry that they can create anything popular that isn't in some way a copy of something that came before?

2)Congratulations over this thing you won. I hope it goes somewhere good.

Jeff said...

Here's the thing. I agree with you. It was a great movie. The issue is about expectation, I think.

James Bond movies are supposed to be fun thrill rides. I understand that the series need to evolve, but evolution doesn't need to always mean pour on the dark.

It be nice to see a fun James Bond movie, which this wasn't.

Was it an enjoyable movie? Yes. But it wasn't a fun thrill ride. The new Mission Impossible found a way to be Mission Impossible in the modern era, while also maintaining the tone people expect.

So I think that's the issue, really.