Skyfall – Pretitle Sequence

Skyfall was released on DVD and Bluray in Australia, just a few weeks ago, and naturally in that time I have had an opportunity to watch it a few times. And I have to say, it is one of the most enjoyable of all Bond films. But films and books are very different things – and the illogical plot points you can get away with in a movie, are just clunky on the written page – or simply do not make sense.

With that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at the pre-title sequence of Skyfall. A brief warning, if you have not seen the film, major SPOILERS to follow. You may want to come back, once you’ve watched the movie.

So, the film opens in Istanbul. James Bond (Daniel Craig) enters a building, where a covert operation is taking place. Sensing something is wrong, Bond draws his weapon and upon entering another room, sees a dead man lying in a pool of blood, and a fellow agent, Ronson, on a chair with a severe stomach wound.

At that point, M (Judi Dench), who is in London, but communicating through a earpiece, asks Bond “Is it there?” She is referring to a list of agents, who are working undercover in various terrorist organisations. This list was on a computer. Bond spies the computer, but the hard drive had been removed.

Now, I am going to pause it here.

First, let’s look at this operation. It is clearly a very important operation as both M and her Chief of Staff, Tanner (Rory Kinnear) and linked to the agents in the field. Bond and another operative (who we are introduced to later), Eve (Naomie Harris) are backup for Ronson.

The fact that Bond is backup for Ronson means one of two things. Either, Ronson is a better agent than Bond, or the mission is Ronson’s baby, and he is meeting his contact. Now, Ronson’s mission is either to receive the list of agents, or to share that list with an ally (such as the CIA). Therefore, if he is sharing the list with an ally, then it wouldn’t have to be Ronson at the exchange – since he is, we would assume he is better than Bond. If he was meeting his contact, then he’d be getting the list back, which would imply that it had been stolen (and was already out it the open), which would negate the next half of the film.

So Ronson must be a better agent than Bond, and be sharing the list with an ally.

As Ronson is better than Bond, and the meeting is with an ally, there would be no reason that he wouldn’t be wired up to M, Tanner, Bond and Eve too. Now we have to assume the exchange was interrupted by Patrice (Ola Rapace), who must have burst into the building (without Bond and Eve seeing – and notifying Ronson, that an intruder had just entered the building). Patrice then shot Ronson first – so he is unable to communicate. Then he shot the ally agent, killing him, then removed the hard drive.

As an adjunct, in this day an age, there must be a better way to exchange information like this than a physical meeting between two agents – surely encrypted information can be sent over the internet? However, knowing that the villain of the piece will later be revealed to be a computer genius, negating an internet option, could I suggest that a flash drive, SD card or portable hard drive would still be a more practical (and discreet) way to transport the information.

If Ronson was wired up, then M would want to know why he was not responding. Bond and Eve would hear this too, and perhaps, that is why Bond entered the building. He would have instructed Eve, to watch the other exits.

Bond enters the building, initially without a drawn weapon. That seems strange, but he is Bond, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. The scene plays out as described above.

Upon discovery that the hard-drive is missing, Bond is instructed to go after the thief / murderer. It just so happens, that Eve has seen Patrice leave the building but has neglected to tell anyone over the comlink. As Bond leaves the building she pulls over in a four-wheel-drive, in which she has been sitting. He gets in. The pursuit begins.

The car chase culminates with both vehicles, Bond and Eve, and Patrice, crashing. Patrice produces a machine pistol, with an impossibly large magazine and starts spraying lead everywhere. We later find out, that this lead is not actually lead at all, but depleted uranium core. But none-the-less, Patrice shoots up the place, before escaping on a motorcycle.

Bond follows Patrice on another motorcycle. Eve follows in her bullet riddled four-wheel-drive. Both Bond and Patrice end up on the roof of a train, sans bikes. During the ensuing running roof-top battle, Patrice shoots Bond in the right shoulder. The bullet appears to have gone right through, as later, the viewer can see exit wound blood (although no hole) on the back of Bond’s jacket

As an adjunct here, I’d like to quote from Jeffery Deaver’s 2011 James Bond novel, Carte Blanche – Hodder & Stoughton Hardback edition – page 11.

‘Now I’m ninety per cent sure he’ll believe you,’ Bond said. ‘But if not, and he engages, remember that under no circumstances is he to be killed. I need him alive. Aim to wound him in the arm he favours, near the elbow, not the shoulder.’ Despite what one saw in the movies, a shoulder wound was usually as fatal as one to the abdomen or chest.

So Bond is injured, and if we are to take Mr. Deaver’s words on board, quite seriously too. The roof-top chase on the train continues, until both men are squaring off, mano a mano. Eve, has kept up the pursuit in the four-wheel-drive, but has run out of road. She gets out of the vehicle, with what looks like a sniper’s rifle.

The train is crossing a river, and a tunnel looms ahead. If Bond and Patrice go into the tunnel, then Eve can no longer provide any backup. But, she has to ensure that Patrice and the list, do not escape. M instructs her to fire, “Take the bloody shot!”. Eve shoots, and ….

… Bond is hit and falls from the train, down in the the river below.

Title sequence begins.

Now, I am not sure where Eve’s bullet struck Bond. The title sequence, with a stylized stream of blood issuing from Bond’s shoulder would indicate she hit him in the exact same shoulder as Patrice. The scars displayed, later in the movie (set only three months later), would suggest my guess is correct. So, Bond has been shot twice in the same shoulder. Once with a bullet made from a depleted uranium core, and the other from a sniper’s rifle. I know very little about weapons, but I would guess sniper’s rifles are a high-powered weapon. I would also guess that after being hit, Bond would not have any shoulder left to heal – but that is all supposition. I do not intend to test my theory by shooting somebody. However, once again, I would draw your attention to Mr. Deaver’s words above. Mmmm!

But this is Bond, so we figure he can shrug off a couple of potentially fatal bullet wounds.

Let’s look at how the events of the pre-title sequence influence the rest of the story. Firstly, as you’d be aware, Bond is in a self-imposed exile for three months, recuperating from his wounds. Over those months, MI6 do not, and cannot retrieve the stolen list of undercover agents. Later, only when Bond cuts open his shoulder to retrieve shrapnel fragments from Patrice’s bullet – does the story start moving. The depleted uranium core bullets are only used by three people, and Bond recognizes Patrice’s face. Bond is sent to Shanghai – essentially starting the story afresh.

But hang on! Didn’t Patrice fire literally hundreds of these rounds at Bond and Eve. They struck the four-wheel-drive. Surely, someone – even the most lowly policeman – collected one of the bullets and analyzed it. Upon discovery of the unique uranium bullet type, Eve could have recognized Patrice as easily as Bond.

The mission should have been up and running. Patrice should have been picked up, gagged, blindfolded, and shipped to some black rendition site, where he was waterboard tortured until he gave up Silva’s name. Well, at least that’s how I’d run MI6 (I jest, of course).

But, I am sure you get my point. MI6 has ceased to function without Bond. No wonder Gareth Mallory wants M to resign. The whole opening to Skyfall is poorly plotted, and barely makes sense. If I served the same story up in a spy novel, my readers would, after the first chapter, hurl the book at the wall. Then possibly track me down, break my fingers, so I couldn’t tap out such a load of piffle ever again.

But film and novels are very different mediums. As I said at the top, I loved Skyfall, and will gladly watch it again – with a healthy, and much needed, suspension of disbelief.

Advertisements
Skyfall – Pretitle Sequence

The Power of One (1992)

Director: John G. Avildsen
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Morgan Freeman, John Gielgud, Fay Masterson, Marius Weyers, Tracy Brooks Swope, John Osborne, Daniel Craig, Dominic Walker, Alois Mayo, Ian Roberts, Maria Marais
Music: Hans Zimmer
Based on the novel by Bryce Courtenay

Since I began writing King of the Outback, my entry in the Fight Card series, Paul Bishop (co creator of the Fight Card series) and I have been exchanging emails, and offering up the odd suggestion on what is a great boxing novel or film.

One novel Paul recommended was The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. Being at heart a very lazy person, and as I knew The Power of One clocked in at around 500 pages, I quipped that I would take the easy option, and just check out the film (which I had never seen). Paraphrasing Paul’s words (and I hope he’ll forgive the liberty), he suggested that the film was barely passable, but the novel was a masterpiece. Masterpiece. Okay, it’s hard to ignore a masterpiece.

That night, I stopped at my local second hand book store, and picked up a copy of The Power of One and began to read it. I was hooked instantly, and read it over the following weeks. But being somewhat of a cineophile, I still felt a need to check out the film. Now, in hindsight, I should have probably waited a month or two after reading the book, so my recollection of the story would not have been so clear.

The film made me really angry. Angry to the point where I was yelling at the film – and calling script writer Robert Mark Kamen every dirty name under the sun. Normally I am quite fond of Kamen’s screenplay’s – I grew up with The Karate Kid, and have loved his collaborations with Luc Besson, and for EuropaCorp. But his adaptation of, The Power of One, simply sucked all the life out of the story – chopping and changing things at will. How come Grandpa Chook could not be called Grandpa Chook, huh?

Admittedly, it had to be a mammoth task, condensing The Power of One for the screen, and I guess changes would have had to be made – that’s common sense. But the choices, at times were baffling and frustrating. The truncation of Peekay’s (Stephen Dorff) boarding school experience at the beginning, negated much of the ending, with Daniel Craig – Peekay’s schoolyard nemesis – coming off as a psycho.

And as this month on P2K I am talking about boxing, it’s worth noting the boxing in the film is rather flat and uninspiring, and once again, Peekay’s motivation for becoming a boxer is stripped away from him. His burning desire to become the Welter-Weight Champion of the world is practically non existent.

The truncation also mutes many of the characters too. Minor spoiler – along Peekay’s journey, quite a few of the characters die. With such little time on screen to establish them, when their demise comes, it is hard to feel the emotional connection, and the depth of the loss – at least in Peekay’s eyes – as the story demands.

I wanted to like The Power of One very much, but I find it too hard to be objective. I see a clunky, ill conceived mish-mash, that takes episodes from a damn good book, and rolls them out over two hour hours (and not necessarily in order). Of course, I cannot travel back in time, but I wonder what I would have felt about the film, if I had watched it before reading the book? Would it have been uplifting and triumphant? Would I have thought better of it? We’ll never know.

The final wash-up is that The Power of One novel by Bryce Courtenay is goot, Absoloodle… whereas the the film if blery awful.

May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney). Accordingly, in a month long celebration, Permission to Kill will be looking back and some of the highlights – and lowlights – of boxing in film and literature – and in music too.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Fightcard series check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page.

The Power of One (1992)

Bond 23

After an incredibly torturous delay, last week came the announcement that the next James Bond film, which has no title at this stage – and is known only as Bond 23, is finally going into production and Sam Mendes is going to direct.

Sam Mendes - director of Bond 23

With that news it is time for the Bond community to rise, and start talking about their hopes and fears for the next Bond film. Although I enjoyed the last film, Quantum of Solace, like many other Bond fans, I thought it was a bit of a disappointment after Casino Royale. After a four year hiatus, not only I, but Bond fans in general expect a quality product, and not something that is banged out to meet the 2012 deadline. 2012 is an auspicious year for the Bond franchise as it is the fiftieth anniversary on Dr. No, the first  Bond film (the Casino Royale TV production not being a part of the official cannon). But I remember the muddle that was Die Another Day – a film written to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Bond. Die Another Day was not only Pierce Brosnan’s worst outing as James Bond, the film is one of the weakest in the series as a whole. A poor film can certainly take the gloss off any celebration.

As I not adverse to gibbering on about James Bond, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and wishes for this next Bond film. Firstly, let me say that many of the ideas below are not originally mine. I surf the net and read what others have to say, and I have taken on board the ideas that resonate most strongly with me. Some of the ideas below were first mooted on the Double-O Section, Mister 8 and HMSS Weblog sites.You may have other ideas or thoughts on where the next film should go, which are equally valid. Feel free to share them.

Let’s start at the beginning:

The Title

Casino Royale - A Whisper of Love, A Whisper of Hate

What should Bond 23 be called. Practically all the Ian Fleming book and short story titles have been used – with only The Property of a Lady, Risico and The Hildebrand Rarity remaining (I do not include the short story James Bond in New York, which appeared in Thrilling Cities as it is a fringe piece at best – and the title itself would be rather restrictive for a series which prides itself on its jet-setting, globe trotting storylines). Out of these I would choose either Risico or depending on plot, The Hildebrand Rarity.

Another school of thought is that possibly some of Fleming’s chapter titles could make good movie titles. Fair enough, so a quick glean of the first three Bond novels (Casino Royale, Live and Let Die and Moonraker) gives us a few titles which may work as a movie title. They are:

From Casino Royale
A Whisper of Love, a Whisper of Hate
The Nature of Evil
The Crawling of the Skin
The Bleeding Heart

From Live and Let Die
The Silver Phantom
Death of a Pelican
The Undertaker’s Wind

From Moonraker
The Quickness of the Hand
Dead Reckoning
Pandora’s Box

Of course there are many other Bond books and chapter headings to choose from. Personally if I had to choose from the titles above, I would select A Whisper of Love, a Whisper of Hate or The Undertaker’s Wind. As someone who works on the cusp of the graphic design industry, I think A Whisper of Love, A Whisper of Hate has enormous potential as a logotype, because it has three ‘O’s in it, and can be manipulated to include the 007 text logo. Typographers used to love Roger Moore for the same reason – look at the poster art for Live and Let Die.

Theme Song
Next we have the title song, which is always a bone of contention. Firstly, whoever is chosen to sing the song has to work hand in hand with David Arnold. The title song sets the mood for the film, and I believe the musical cues should in turn hark back to the title track. When songs like Tomorrow Never Dies by Sheryl Crow, Die Another Day by Madonna, and Another Way to Die by Jack White and Alicia Keyes are slapped at the front of the movie without musical riffs, tags or cues being repeated throughout the film (albeit in modified orchestral form), the film feels musically like a patch-work quilt. Those songs above may be to some ears, good songs (I don’t mind Crow’s song), but they do not fit in with the movie.

Laboring the point, I don’t think that Chris Cornell’s Know My Name was a great song, but it worked because he worked with David Arnold and the melody was orchestrated throughout the film. It felt whole – it felt complete.

Sharon Jones - an excellent choice for the next Bond theme!

Next, I guess I should look at musical artists tapped to perform the theme, and this is possibly one of the most subjective things for Bond fans. At my age, I’d like somebody  with a big retro sound, and big voice – I like the idea of Sharon Jones belting out the tune. But the truth is, that Bond films have always used the most popular artists of the day. I tend to look back at Dame Shirley and Tom Jones as almost legendary acts, but in reality Shirley and Tom were simply the pop superstars of the day during the sixties. There longevity in the industry has elevated them to a different plain, and made their Bond songs thematic standards.

Being the old codger that I am, I am not really in tune with the top 40, and who is ‘big’ these days, and I guess I am not really the demographic that the Bond series wants to court – the fifteen to twenty-five year olds are the ones that go to the movies regularly. Tapping into the music of that demographic would appear to be the way to go. I may not like the song, but hey, if they heed my advice and have the musical/pop artist work hand in hand with David Arnold, everything will be okay. Arnold has done the past five Bond scores now. He knows what he is doing, and will make sure it all stays on track.

Casting:

Daniel Craig as James Bond

Daniel Craig is a given, and as such that dictates the style of Bond story it will be. Craig is a rather thuggish and intense Bond (and I am okay with that). Therefore a light-hearted, Roger Moore style Bond movie is a waste of his talent and time. The film has to be amped up and intense.  With Daniel Craig as the incumbent Bond, let him do what he does best. Run around and vigorously kill people – with reason to do so (something personal and emotive). Queen and country is not enough any more. The story must have gravitas, or you just end up with a Bond clone such as Johnny English, or The Spy Who Shagged Me!

Dame Judi Dench as M
Dame Judi Dench as M

Then there is Dame Judi Dench as M. Of course I love Dame Judi, but the thing is, she is getting older, and I doubt she’ll return as M once Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond has ended. For the record, Craig turns 43 this year, and will be 44 when Bond 23 comes out. Presuming that he makes another film in two years after that, he will then be 46 – and after 4 films, possibly looking at retirement (?). The thing here is, one of the elements that has helped the Bond series ride smoothly over the recasting of Bond every few years has been the consistent supporting cast. When George Lazenby took over the role, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewellyn and Lois Maxwell were all on hand to sell the fact that this was still Bond. Similarly when Roger Moore took over (okay Llewellyn wasn’t in LALD, but he made his presence felt in Sir Roger’s other Bond adventures) they too were on hand. Robert Brown took over from Bernard Lee as M in Octopussy, and with once again Desmond Llewellyn as Q, they shepherded Timothy Dalton into the role as 007. I am sure you are getting the idea.

My point here is that Dame Judi was the bridge between Brosnan’s Bond and Craig’s Bond. But as Q and Moneypenny have been missing from the last two films, she represents the last link (on screen at least) to the history and continuity of the franchise (Thankfully we have had Jeffrey Wright appear in the last two Bond films as Felix Leiter, but I’ll talk about Wright in a minute).

Over the next two films, I believe a succession plan should be put in for Dame Judi as M, with a new actor groomed to take over as head of M.I.6. Over the last few films, they have depicted a bit more back-room bickering and politics, particularly in Quantum of Solace where M is called before a Minister to explain Bond’s actions. Maybe in Bond 23 the plot could involve Bond doing something that we the audience know is right, and he saves the world, but politically looks rather shaky.

Hugh Laurie - the next M?

As a clumsy example of the type of plot device I mean – maybe a group of terrorists have planted a nuclear bomb on a school bus, loaded with kids. The driver is forced, at gunpoint to drive the bus into the centre of London. Bond on foot, and across the rooftops of cars, chases the bus. The seconds tick down. The bomb is scheduled to go off in two minutes. Bond shoots the gunman through the window, however before dieing, the terrorist gunman shoots the driver. The bus careens out of control and flips over. Bond rushes over and defuses the bomb with seconds to spare. However in the crash, six children have been killed. Bond has saved the life of 15 million people by stopping the bomb, but in doing so, he has inadvertently taken the life of six children. The press have a field day, calling for heads to roll. At the end of the film, M is forced to resign defending 007’s actions. M’s successor could be briefly introduced (I like the idea of Hugh Laurie) – and he obviously shows an outward disdain, bordering on hatred, for 007 and the ‘mess’ he has inherited. In the following film, Bond and the ex-M, Dame Judi could meet. He thanks her for what she has done, and she imparts some final words of wisdom (which may or may not aid him in his mission). I know it sounds a little corny, but hey, I am not a script writer – just a mad blogger!

Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter

That brings us to Jefferey Wright as Felix Leiter, and Wright represents one of the great potential building blocks of the Bond series. Firstly Wright is a great actor and can run with Craig on any dramatic aspects of the story. Secondly, at the end of Quantum it was inferred that Felix just been promoted, and as such, I’d expect him to play a more prominent role in the next film. I hope the producers and director don’t allow this opportunity to escape.

Tieing up loose ends
At the end of Quantum of Solace, Mr. White was still alive and still at large – we last saw him at the performance of Tosca, remaining calm and seated while the other Quantum members ran for cover. But my interpretation was that Mr. White was not Quantum’s top man, although he appeared to be higher in the organisation than LeChiffre (Mads Mikkleson – Casino Royale) or Dominic Greene (Matthew Almaric – Quantum of Solace). So who is the head of Quantum?

The film makers have three choices. Firstly they can ignore the Quantum story thread. This to me would be rather unsatisfying, and a slap in the face to audiences and Bond fans in general. Secondly they could tie it up quickly in the pre-title sequence, with Bond rounding up Mr. White, and leaving the Quantum thread up in the air, with investigations continuing in the background. I guess that way, Quantum could return in the future, but I feel that Quantum will be a ‘Craig era’ evil organisation, and therefore it would depend on how many years Craig would be willing to remain the incumbent Bond. If he is willing to stay with Bond until he is fifty (like Brosnan), and make a film every two years, conceivably we could get another four Daniel Craig Bond adventures. But Craig is a busy actor, and whenever the series has been pumped out at one every two years, there was been a noticeable drop in the quality of the films.

The third and final option would be to make Quantum the villains of Bond 23 with Bond managing to take down the whole organisation, out the corrupt politicians behind it, and uncover the mysterious head of the organisation. This is the option I would go for.

Return of an old adversary:

Donald Pleasance as Blofeld

This is an idea that I first heard on the Double-O Section, and I loved it. It’s time to re-introduce Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Some people may cringe at the idea – saying that Blofeld belongs to the 1960s. But I disagree. Blofeld is Bond’s traditional rival, and we haven’t seen him in the official series since 1971 in Diamonds are Forever (I am not counting the cow-catcher at the beginning of For Your Eyes Only, as that was a throwaway that had nothing to do with the plot of the film.) Unofficially we had Max Von Sydow as Blofeld in 1984, in Never Say Never Again. So Blofeld’s last bow was twenty-six years ago.

The conceit of Casino Royale was that Bond had just gained his double-O status, and therefore as a newby he has not encountered Blofeld before, so for those who think that it screws up the chronology of the series, that has already been done. We have to live with that now, but in some ways it may be a boon. Some of the richer Bond lore is fresh game once again, and can revisited once more. That’s not to say that I want a remake of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service…but there is no reason why, in the future, that Bond cannot marry again. But that’s not what I want to see right now.

It would be rather corny to introduce the ‘old’ Blofeld into a contemporary Bond film, I grant you that. So what has to be done, is strip back some of the megalomaniac extravagances that we associate with Blofeld, and make him a bit human. Here’s how I see the story arc going.

Above, I suggested that the Quantum story thread has to be played out. I would have Blofeld as the number two man in the Quantum organisation. Blofeld would NOT be the head of Quantum. But he is a powerful man with a bad temper, possibly bordering on psychotic. But he can be cultured, suave and charming too. He is not an outwardly raving lunatic.

Blofeld has a wife, or a mistress that he loves very much. She is not part of his evil world. She is the only good thing in his life. She has a cat. A white Persian cat. Blofeld hates the cat – he can’t stand the thing.

As the story plays out, in his quest to hunt down the head of Quantum, Bond is lead to Blofeld at his home. A fight ensues – minions die – house explodes. Bond escapes, thinking his job is done and Blofeld is dead.  He now goes after Quantum’s head man, having gleaned the necessary information.

Blofeld also escapes, but has horrible facial injury (made to look like a fresh and bloody version of the facial scarring that Donald Pleasance had in YOLT). Blofeld’s wife dies in the explosion. Blofeld is rather understandably upset at his wife’s demise, and blames Bond and so begins a personal vendetta – this could be carried over into Bond 24 (and possibly the rise of SPECTRE).

The Persian cat lives too and Blofeld, despite his negative attitude toward the cat, keeps it as a reminder of his wife.

Film ends with an epilogue, with Blofeld in a facial reconstruction clinic and his injuries are being repaired by plastic surgery. It has been parodied too much (Dr. Evil for instance) for Blofeld to keep the scar.

Michael Sheen - the next Blofeld?

There have been rumours that actor Michael Sheen has already been tapped to play Blofeld, but I believe that is all conjecture at this stage. I personally would like to see Vincent Cassell take the role, but as he is attached to the new Fantomas picture, it may be too close (or repetitive) to see him as another uber-villain.

Of course, this is all a bit of fantasy and conjecture. Just a bit of fun. Despite my rambling and wishes, the good news is there is going to be a new James Bond film. Whatever comes, I’ll be queued up on the first day to see it, and most likely I will enjoy it, as I have the preceding 22 films before it (not counting Casino Royale 67 and Never Say Never Again – which take the tally to 24 films – but you knew that!)

Bond 23

Espionage Cinema & Television in the 21st Century

Here’s a little piece I wrote earlier this year for Wes Britton’s Spywise website, where he invited spy fans from all around the world to look back at the most influential spy films, television shows and books of the first decade of the 21st Century. Due to the format the final piece took, this article had to be broken up to fit in with the other contributions – which worked well. If you haven’t checked out the series, you should head over to Spywise and read the articles.

None-the-less, breaking the article down into smaller segments did diminish the theme I was putting forward, and thought it was worth re-posting here in its entirety.

The spy film has changed quite substantially over the last ten years. Genre conventions that were established in the ‘60s have made way for a new style of spy thriller where the trusted Walther PPK has been replaced by the Motorola, Nokia, or whichever phone company has paid the most for product placement.

I would suggest that the mobile phone is the most powerful espionage tool ever. Think about some of your favourite spy films. Maybe they include Dr. No and Where Eagles Dare. They are two of mine. Remember the opening to Dr. No? After the title sequence, Strangways and his secretary were scheduled to make their regular radio transmission back to England, when Dr. No’s three blind mice assassinate them. In a world with mobile phones, routine transmissions are unnecessary. Sure Dr. No’s ‘hit’ may have still happened, but it wouldn’t have been a missed radio transmission that alerted London to the fact there was a problem. In Where Eagles Dare, during the mission, Richard Burton’s character, Major Smith reports that the radio isn’t working (Broadsword calling Danny Boy). Imagine if each of the operatives had been armed with a Blackberry. In fact, Smith’s whole ruse would have fizzled rather quickly with modern technology. The Nazi hierarchy could have ascertained the identities of the foreign agents in minutes.

Now think of all the films you have seen with enemy agents tracking down a piece of micro film. With phone technology that’s completely redundant. Now the images can be sent almost instantly. Video footage too. There’s no need to smuggle film out of a country. Just email it, or upload it. Poor old Henri Bark died for nothing at the start of The Eiger Sanction – remember that icky bit, where he swallowed the film so the bad guys wouldn’t get it – and then they cut open his throat to retrieve it? If he had emailed it, he would have lived. I have laboured the point somewhat, but you can see the argument I am presenting about phones, technology and why spy films have had to change.

Another detour before moving into the twenty-first century, I first thought it was worth revisiting three key films from the 1990s – building blocks if you will – that were instrumental in laying the foundations for the evolution of the modern spy film.

Firstly, we have Phil Noyce’s Patriot Games (1992), in which there is a small sequence where Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is in a command centre watching via satellite, images of an incursion on a terrorist base in the dessert. This small section, at the time, was quite groundbreaking, setting the foundations for a new style of spy thriller. Ones where logic and information are the tools for power, rather than guns or gadgets.

peaceThis small snippet of hi-tech mayhem was expanded upon in Mimi Leder’s The Peacemaker (1997), wherein the use of ‘intel’ and satellite imaging is quite frightening in its depiction. There is almost a ‘Big Brother’ aspect to the military’s use of technology in tracking down their subjects.

And finally, the new age of hi-tech intelligence gathering reached its logical evolution in Tony Scott’s Enemy of the State (1998). Enemy of the State’s influence has built in momentum and filtered through the spy films and television through the whole first decade of the twenty-first century. While, Patriot Games and The Peacemaker were telling films in they both presented the use of modern technology, like satellite surveillance, as a potent tool in modern espionage; they still played out as relatively conventional spy thrillers. Enemy of the State was the first film to build the whole story around that technology. And while you can argue that Enemy of the State isn’t a really great spy film (it works better as a paranoid thriller in the style of The Pallalax View), its influence has affected the way people approach making spy films.

Now you are probably wondering what is the key difference between these three films and the spy films that went before them. The answer is simple – two words – ‘Real Time’.

The Bourne films, the Daniel Craig Bonds, Body of Lies, the television show 24 all owe their continuous intelligence style to Enemy of the State. In spy films you no longer need the briefing scene. Communications and intel gathering have evolved so much, there is no need for direct contact. It’s now done via laptop, through an earpiece, and/or a mobile phone.

Let’s look at some of the more successful espionage filmed entertainments of the ‘noughties’ and see how they played out.

The Bourne Identity (2002)
bourneRobert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity had been filmed before as a TV mini series starring Richard Chamberlain, and while it was fairly faithful to the book, it unconsciously highlighted some of the clichés inherent in the story. When Doug Liman remade it as a movie, he dumped a lot of the contrived spyjinx and turned the story into a tight, cohesive and intelligent spy drama. One of the key elements to the film is ‘knowledge’. From the moment Jason Bourne arrives at the Bank in Zurich, he is being watched. Street cameras, satellites, phone records, past associations; everything and anything is at Treadstone’s fingertips, for use in their hunt for the elusive Jason Bourne. Equally Bourne is adept at gathering intel. He may not have the resources of those hunting him, but he thinks on his feet.

One of my favourite sequences in the film occurs as Bourne tries to escape from the US Embassy in Zurich. First he obtains a radio and earpiece from one of the security guards on site, so he can listen as security teams search the building trying to locate him. Secondly as he makes his way through the corridors, he takes a fire evacuation map off the wall, so he actually knows where he is going. It seems so simple, yet it once again highlights the importance of knowledge.

Casino Royale (2006)
The high tech, real time style has been slowly been drip fed into the Bond series. The first noticeable sequence was in Goldeneye (1995), where Bond, Tanner and M, watch in real time, satellite images from Sevrenaya, where General Ouromov has just stolen the ‘Goldeneye’ satellite. But despite this high-tech modern opening, it is just a precursor to the usual hands-on, Bond style mission. Equally, in the pre-credit sequence of Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), M and staff watch on as Bond completes a mission at an arms bizarre in the Kyber Pass. Once again, after having established a high tech, modern approach to espionage, it is then tossed aside for a traditional Bond style adventure.

Casino Royale was the film that revitalised the Bond series. I won’t waste too many words on the plot, as I am sure you’ve seen it and have your own opinion. Prior to Casino Royale, most Bond films had in place a formula wherein Bond met with M and received his mission instructions, and then once the mission was declared, he’d set about the task presented. But in Casino Royale, – and this is continued in Quantum of Solace (2008) – the mission is never really declared. M, who used to appear only at the beginning (and at the end, usually as a comic signoff), now appears throughout the whole film, working in real time alongside Bond. Each piece of information he gathers is passed onto to HQ, and equally each bit of new information gained by HQ is passed onto Bond. M and Bond are now working alongside each other. Once upon a time, Bond’s most trusted weapon was his Walther PPK. Now, in the 21st Century, it is his mobile phone and laptop.

Body of Lies (2008)
bolI’ll admit, I didn’t really warm to Body of Lies as a piece of entertainment, but I admire the films professionalism, and once again, presented front and centre is intel and communications. It is interesting to note, that Ridley Scott, the brother of Tony Scott, who directed Enemy of the State, directs this film.

Throughout Body of Lies, during key scenes in the film, in Jordan and the Middle East, field agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is in constant contact with his controller, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crow), who is located in the United States. It almost seems comically incongruous, if it the events portrayed weren’t so serious, as Hoffman goes about his normal life, with family and kids, all the while there is micro receiver, transmitter in his ear. In real time, at home or at work, Hoffman is virtually in the field – in another continent – alongside Ferris.

24 (2000-2009)
Leaving films for just a moment, the television series 24 fully embraced the real time scenario, but in many instances as far as the modern spy story goes, let itself down by not embracing the new technology and live-feed intelligence gathering that went with it. Instead, the time is filled with differing story threads, which play out in real time, but the stories themselves are pretty much in the old-school tradition. In fact, much of the drama in this series is achieved by the characters being out of contact with HQ.

Both Body of Lies and 24 offer a nice segue into the other major influence that has affected spy films in the 21st century — the ‘War on Terror’ in the wake of 9/11. One of the first cinematic responses to the attack on the United States was the film United 93, which was directed by Paul Greengrass. Now United 93 cannot really be considered a spy film, but one of it strengths was that it was played out in real time in an almost documentary style. There was no attempt to flesh out the characters. These were not characters – they were real people, as you would see people on a street. You do not know them, and you don’t know what is going on inside their head. If you walk past them you may hear a piece of conversation but unless you’ve been near them for some time and eavesdropping, the snippet of dialogue is meaningless. Watching the film was almost like a being a fly on the wall – most likely a wall that you were glad that you weren’t really on.

It is interesting to note that director, Greengrass’ technique would be adjudged to be suitable for cinematic espionage material, and he would go onto helm the Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum, where in which, he applied his unique directorial style.

The 9/11 attacks, not only emphasized the importance of hit-tech real time intel, but also, due to the people who carried out the attacks, made us question that attacks were no longer mounted from across the sea, but now possibly from within our homeland. The phrase ‘Sleeper Cell’ suddenly entered our vernacular. The sleeper agent is nothing new to espionage cinema. One of the best films utilising the ‘Sleeper’ plot device is The Manchurian Candidate (1962), where Lawrence Harvey plays Raymond Shaw, the son of a prominent politician, who was captured during the Korean War and brainwashed in Manchuria. Other examples include Don Siegel’s Telefon, which featured numerous Russian agents scattered across the United States. Hearing a passage of poetry by Robert Frost could trigger each agent. Even On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had Blofeld’s Angels of Death, and presented at the denouement in The IPCRESS File, where Harry Palmer has to fight to overcome his programming; he too is in fact a sleeper agent.

But all the examples cited above have one thing in common. Each of the ‘Sleepers’ has been brainwashed. They actually do not want to carry out their tasks. But what made the 9/11, and subsequent terrorist attacks, so chilling is that the ‘Sleepers’ had not been brainwashed (well, not in the traditional sense – that’s a debate for another time). Here the ‘Sleepers’ lived among us and where prepared to kill the very people that they lived and worked with every day. Of course, such a potent psychological concept – and the resultant paranoia that it brings with it, would make its way into films and television.

Of course, this can manifest itself in two ways. The innocent, who is suspected of being a sleeper agent as we find in the film Rendition. Or alternately, featuring the person, or cell that is functioning with the community, such as Showtime’s amazing television series Sleeper Cell.

Rendition (2007)
rendRendition received quite a cool reception from some quarters upon release. Many people questioned its factuality and it’s depiction of realism. The truth is that Rendition is not intended as a ‘realist’ piece of cinema. It is a morality tale, questioning the path that the West was taking in its ‘War on Terror’ campaign. If you look at the characters played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Meryl Streep; their character names hint that this is simply a fable to make you ‘think’ about what is going on. Incidentally, Gyllenhaal’s character is named ‘Freeman’ and Streep’s is ‘Whitman’. When you consider that the story is about the arrest and removal of an Egyptian born American, to a foreign country under suspicion of terrorist acts, then names like Freeman and Whitman almost slap you in the face with their blatant symbolism.

The film is a morality tale, and what makes it work, and not make it a ‘fairy tale’ is the central performance of Omar Metwally as Anwar El-Ibrahimi; the aforementioned Egyptian born American. El-Ibrahimi’s journey as a harrowing one, and while at times that may make the film hard to watch, it also makes this film, one of the most powerful in the last ten years.

Sleeper Cell (2005-2008)
Showtime’s Sleeper Cell – the first series anyway – was an amazing piece of television, presenting, as it did, maybe not a balanced, but a unique and different view of terrorism. In the show, each terrorist is presented as a fleshed out human. Why they have chosen the path they have is explored, and how they fit in to US culture is depicted rather chillingly. One moment a character maybe teaching math at a local high school’ the next he is planning a deadly anthrax attack on the local shopping centre.

sleepThe series is bound together by two central core performances. The first is Michael Ealy as Darwyn Al-Sayeed, a deep cover CIA agent whose mission is to stop the terrorist attack the sleeper cell is planning to perpetrate. Ealy’s character is dragged through the wringer over the course of the series, and each emotional bump in the journey packs a wallop. It doesn’t hurt that Ealy is a good-looking guy with piecing green eyes. Then there is Oded Fehr as the utterly charming, charismatic and deadly Faisal Al-Farik, the leader of the terrorist cell. Farik maybe the most evil character in the series, but there too is much duality to his character. Whilst not planning terrorist attacks he is seen as the coach to a junior baseball team. That in essence is Sleeper Cell’s major coup; it makes evil men, at times seem rather likeable and normal. If you met some of these characters in the street, you may even like them and consider them friends, without knowing what atrocities they may be planning.

In some ways, Sleeper Cell presents an explanation as to why and how the events on 9/11 happened. It’s a question many of us asked – ‘How!’ and ‘Why?’ Sleeper Cell is one of the few shows to address these questions, and as such makes it possibly one of the most important shows of the last decade.

As we move into the second decade of the Millennium I can only speculate as to what we’ll see in espionage cinema and television, and the most likely tact will be to continue as it is going, embracing new technology and surveillance techniques as it goes. But then again, much of this is cyclical. Maybe people will become fed up with realism and crave escapism once again and with it we will get outrageous fantasy stories. Or maybe around the corner there is an emotional character piece that will influence films for years to come. Whatever transpires, espionage cinema will continue to do what it has always done – thrill, inspire, disgust, amuse, horrify, question our morality, unite people, cause conflict, tell the truth, spread lies, analyse the politics of the day, and most of all ‘entertain’.

smallbugDavid Foster lives in Melbourne Australia where he works as a Graphic Designer. In his spare time he studies Film and Communication at the University of New England and writes for his espionage themed blog, Permission to Kill.

Espionage Cinema & Television in the 21st Century

Casino Royale (2006)

Director: Martin Campbell
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jefferey Wright, Caterina Murino, Judi Dench as ‘M’
Music: David Arnold
Title Song: performed by Chris Cornell
Based on the novel by Ian Fleming

This is the first official (EON Productions) version of Casino Royale, and it is the twenty-first film in the series. Before I launch into my review, I’ll state my opinion for Die Another Day, the previous movie in the series. I was incredibly disappointed – I won’t go as far as to say ‘hate’, because that is such a strong word, and there were a few good moments – but I will say it is the weakest movie in the series. Two of the many things that I didn’t like were the editing and the sloppy CGI.

That brings us to Casino Royale. Is it any good? Yes. Is it the best Bond film ever? Nearly, but not quite (for me, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service still retains that title). Firstly, I’ll address my complaints from Die Another Day. The editor on Casino RoyaleCasino Royale was Stuart Baird. Baird has worked on many successful films as an editor and even as a director, and thankfully he does not take the same route as Christian Wagner (Die Another Day’s editor). There is no MTV editing in . Sure scenes are cut together quickly, but there is no exaggerated speeding up or slowing down of the action to create a visual effect.

And was there any CGI in Casino Royale? Probably. Most films do these days. But I didn’t notice it. So I was extremely happy about that. So all my grievances had been addressed. Let’s look at the rest of the film.

Something you will read time and time again about the Bond films, is about the amount of controversy and drama that went into making the movie. As the James Bond series has been so popular for so long, we as audience members almost feel that we have a stake in the direction and the casting of each film. Casino Royale is no exception to that rule. In fact the gap between Die Another Day and Casino Royale may be one of the most tumultuous in Bond history. And fans loudly vocalised their opinions throughout every step of the production process.

First we had the poorly handled dismissal of the Billion Dollar Bond, Pierce Brosnan. Fans were not happy, and Brosnan was not happy.

Next, rumours began to circulate that the next film would be Casino Royale, and that Quentin Tarantino was going to direct. They were half right. The film was indeed Casino Royale, but Tarantino was never going to be allowed to direct.

When the first stories of the script crept out to the public, it was said that this was a new younger Bond. This film was going to tell the back story of how Bond became Bond. As it was the first book written by Fleming, they figured it must have been Bond’s first mission too.

Adding to the confusion slightly, was that author, Charlie Higgson had released a series of Young Bond books. It was hinted at in some quarters that this film may in fact not be a younger Bond, but Young Bond, and that they were trying to capture the Harry Potter market. Thankfully this rumour turned out to be rubbish.

Then came the long wait to find the successor. Many names were bandied about the press. Some were genuinely in the running and others were just rumours. Names included Clive Owen, Hugh Jackman, Gerard Butler, Timothy West, Orlando Bloom, Sam Worthington, Russell Crow, Daniel Radcliffe (as Young Bond), and Goran Visnjic. One rumour I got a chuckle from (and it was repeated in various articles) was that Colin Salmon was in the final running to play James Bond. No racism intended, but Colin Salmon is the black actor who had played Robinson in the past three Bond movies. Apparently Salmon would fill in for Brosnan when they were testing actresses for their roles. I wonder who started the rumour, Brosnan or Salmon himself?

When the announcement came that Daniel Craig was to be the new Bond, it met with a strong, mixed reaction. Those who had seen Craig in Layer Cake, Arch Angel, and Munich were quite pleased to see him get the role. But many others believed he was too short, and too blonde. His appointment met with such a strong reaction that a website ‘craignotbond.com’ was set up, and angry posters got to express their annoyance and opinions online.

But after all the discussion and distraction the film was underway. Martin Campbell, who had directed Goldeneye was called back to helm the movie. Eva Green was cast as Vesper Lynd and Mads Mickelson landed the role of Le Chiffre.

Believe me when I say that the background information I have given you is a seriously condensed version of the events leading up to the release of this film. But that’s history, how did the film end up?

The film opens in Prague, and James Bond is sitting in the dark, in an office belonging to Czech Republic Section Chief Dryden (Malcolm Sinclair). Dryden has been a bit naughty and been selling state secrets. As Dryden enters his office, he is surprised to find Bond waiting for him. But Dryden isn’t concerned. After all, if he were in trouble, ‘M’ would have sent a Double ‘O’ agent to kill him. Bond isn’t a Double ‘O’. Dryden pulls a pistol from his desk and tries to shoot Bond. But this new guy, Bond is no dummy. He had retrieved the magazine from the pistol earlier. Bond then reveals that in tracking Dryden, he in fact has killed Dryden’s contact man. It takes two kills to become a Double ‘O’ and Dryden’s time is up. Bond shoots Dryden and the titles roll. So the rumours about this film being Bond’s first mission are true. It may throw the continuity of the series out the window, but what the heck, let’s just ride with it!

Daniel Kleinman’s title sequence is one of the best in ages. Since taking over from Maurice Binder, generally Kleinman’s titles have been too busy and too high tech. I have nothing against the technology, but there has been a tendency to throw every special effect in the book at the titles, rather than create a ‘mood’. This time, Kleinman nails it.

After the titles we really launch into the action. Bond is now a ‘Double-O’ and on assignment. Indirectly, his mission is track down and stop Le Chiffre (Mad Mikkelsen). Le Chiffre is an international banker who launders money for military and terrorist organizations. After one of his schemes goes wrong, he has to quickly recoup a large amount of money. He intends to do this by winning a high-stakes poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro. And this is where James Bond comes in. Apparently he is the best card player MI6 have. And they send him to beat Le Chiffre. If Le Chiffre doesn’t win, the terrorist organization that owns the money that he has squandered will come looking for him. Naturally enough, this is a Bond story, so it isn’t all as simple as that, and becomes quite convoluted in parts. But after forty-four years of Bond movies, picking over the plot holes is pointless really.

Along the way Bond has encounters with two Bond girls. And so he should. He is still James Bond, after all. The first is Solange (Caterina Murino). I don’t think her character name is even mentioned in the film, so that probably shows you how important to the story she is. But she looks great, and lends a bit of elegance to this production.

The other Bond girl is Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). She is the girl that ‘matters’ to Bond. I’m sorry, Eva doesn’t do it for me. She seems like a school girl. At least she can act, unlike some of the previous Bond girls. But I didn’t really feel the chemistry between Daniel Craig and Eva Green. I would suggest that any emotion we feel for Vesper as a character is created by Bond’s reaction to her actions.

As I mentioned earlier, there was quite a bit of controversy surrounding the appointment of Daniel Craig as Bond. So how does he stack up? Quite simply, he is great. There’s a bit of soccer hooligan about him that works really well. You actually believe the man is dangerous, and isn’t that what Bond is all about? His only (slightly) jarring sequence is a torture scene. It appears to be softened with an injection of humour, which seems a bit incongruous. But then, the filmmakers had to get it past the censors. A full-blooded torture scene may have got the film a harsh rating and eliminate much of the younger viewing audience. Quite simply, Craig makes a fantastic debut as James Bond.

A quick word about Jeffery Wright as Felix Leiter. All I can say that he is under used, and when he does speak it is verging on seventies cop show ghetto speak – he refers to himself as a ‘brother’, and calls Bond ‘man’. If Wright does not turn up in the next few Bond movies, then this deviation from the character is unforgivable. And let’s face it; Leiter is the least consistent character in the series with six actors having played him (eight if you count Bernie Casey in Never Say Never Again, and Michael Pate as Clarence Leiter in the TV version of Casino Royale). But if Wright continues with the series, and his character is re-imagined as they like to say these days, then the stylised performance can be forgiven.

Casino Royale is essentially a four act play. The first act is how Bond got to be a Double ‘O’, which I have described briefly above. The second act concerns a terrorist strike in Miami. The third is the confrontation with the villain, Le Chiffre at the Casino Royale in Monte Negro. And the final act ties up all the loose ends and shows us how Bond became the man we all know so well. Shifting between these four very distinct parts creates a little unevenness throughout the film. The changes in tone and pace don’t always sit well next to each other, and this is particularly noticeable at the end of the film. But having said that, on the whole I think it works quite well as a Bond movie, and if you are a hard-core Bond fanatic, there are plenty of cameos and references to past Bond films to keep you happy for days trying to spot them all.

I have a few minor criticisms, and this applies for a lot of the recent Bond films, not just Casino Royale, is that the Bond series used to be the originators – not copiers or followers. In Casino Royale many of the set pieces appear to be borrowed from other recent spy films. The ‘Free Running’ (or Parkour) sequences, as good as they are, owe a lot to the French films Crimson Rivers 2 and District 13. The sequence on top of the crane can be tracked back to the Jackie Chan film, The Accidental Spy. There’s a scene, which is very similar to the ending of Mission Impossible 3, where a defibrillator has to be used to revive one of the characters (I won’t say which one). And finally there’s a scene that duplicates a tense moment in The Bourne Supremacy – I won’t describe it, as it will spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it, but as I said, many elements appear to be borrowed from other films within the genre. In the sixties Bond was the originator and everyone else followed – whereas today Bond feeds off its many imitators.

It must be very hard for the Producers and the Directors of Bond films to come up with stories and screenplays that give the very broad Bond audience what they want. Some people want swinging Sean Bond; some prefer light hearted Roger Bond, or any of the other actors. Some people even want Fleming’s Bond. You cannot please every one. As I have said, this is one of the better Bond films. But, in some ways is the least Bond-like and may upset some fans. They have kept ‘M’ but have left out ‘Q’ and Moneypenny, and the Bond theme is not used until the final minutes of the film. Also there are no gadgets. So when you take away all the elements that make a film, a Bond film, what are you left with? Just another spy film! It will be interesting to see where the series goes from here. Will the Bond family of characters be re-introduced, or have they had their day?

So there it is, Casino Royale, the twenty-first official Bond film, and a pretty darn good one at that. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and check it out.

One final comment. If ‘Q’ is to return in future Bond films, I want to put forward my suggestion on who should play the character. Alan Rickman. He is already regarded as the best Bond villain that we never had. But I would like to see him as ‘Q’. Maybe he’d bring a bit of vitriol to the role. No more cheap gags. Hey, I only start the rumours!

Casino Royale (2006)