Sunday, October 28, 2012

Some thoughts while waiting for the Sky(to)fall

The new Bond film did record business overseas this weekend. The movie doesn’t arrive to the US for another two weeks, and I’m beginning to feel the anticipation—which has been otherwise surprisingly light. Luckily, I have neither the time nor much of a connection to the internet these days, so I’ve not been too worried about spoilers, but still I’m becoming increasingly anxious.

In the last couple of months, I’ve seen a ton of traffic to the blog, despite my own (usual) inactivity this time of year. Most of it, unsurprisingly, has been to this old, long popular piece, a few thoughts about what it meant at the end of Quantum of Solace (2008), the previous Bond film, when James Bond told M (Judi Dench) she was right about Vesper—a reference that only makes sense if one’s seen Casino Royale—the first Daniel Craig Bond film. Even then, I’m not sure it does make sense, though, since the exchange seemed to me to be a rare gap in Casino Royale—Vesper didn’t “save” Bond. The Quantum organization spared his life because he knew the password to access the money from the high-stake poker game. Perhaps it just speaks to the limitations of M’s knowledge.

Anyway, a lot of people get to the end of Quantum of Solace and don’t know what to make of Bond’s final, cryptic line—which is less mysterious and intriguing than it first sounds. And when they get to that moment, a lot of them then seem to end up at my blog—though I’m not sure if I really clear it up for them, because I think it’s a mess to begin with (and, really, that last line is one of many reasons why Quantum of Solace is just not a very good film). Anyway, I’ve chalked the uptick in traffic to the notion that a lot of people have been revisiting the 2008 film lately in preparation for Skyfall, even though by all accounts there is little, if any, continuity between the two movies (Quantum’s sole redemption, to me, was that it at least attempted to be a direct sequel to events in Casino Royale).

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Something I never really mentioned here before, I think, was that my essay on Casino Royale was actually published a couple of years ago in Christoph Lindner’s collection from Wallflower, Revisioning 007: James Bond and Casino Royale. No surprise given the publisher, I never received a copy myself, but I did once track down one through interlibrary loan when I taught at Northwestern. Its a solid collection overall, edited by one of the good guys in the profession. My contribution wasn’t as good as I remembered, though I usually tend to feel that way once something of mine is actually published. The idea, I always feel, is better than the reality. But it’s not too bad, if anyone wants take the time to track down a copy—the writing style feels surprisingly rushed and bloated, a relic from my more indulgent, autobiographical days. But the content is still solid, accurately reflecting some of the narratological reasons for why I was so taken in by a movie I still feel is possibly one of the 3 greatest Bond films ever made.

Last summer, I re-watched Casino Royale for the first time in probably three years and I was amazed at how well it held up. I don’t think there’s a major false note in the whole thing. I really don’t. It’s a true action epic. Anyone who thinks it’s too long doesn’t really understand what’s at stake—for Bond’s development and for the narrative (and doesn’t understand the original book to which it’s oddly faithful despite being completely different). Or they are trying to fit Bond’s origin story into a blockbuster formula that doesn’t really work. It was just as good as I remembered, and it felt surprisingly fresh too. It’s a reminder not to overdo one’s favorite films. Once every several years really allows one to savor it with fresh eyes.

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Speaking of “greatest Bond films”: some of the hype for Skyfall has bordered on obnoxious. While I’m glad to read that it’s a major improvement on Quantum of Solace—though that’s not hard to do—I don’t believe a single soul who argues that it’s the greatest Bond film ever, and there have been several anxious to make that careless claim. The main downside to having some of my personal favorite franchises revitalized in recent years (Bond, Star Trek) is that a lot of so-called experts who claim to know the franchises so well have come of the woodwork. But really they are just general movie buffs whose first loyalty is to the shining allure of the “New”—and the perpetual insistence that newer equals better. 

“Dark Knight is the greatest superhero movie ever because . . . Christopher Nolan!  Because . . . Christian Bale!  Because . . .  IMAX!  Because . . . I don’t really remember any of the other ones that well.”

Star Trek is the awesomest Trek movie ever because . . .  J.J.!  Because . . . BIG budgets and special effects!  Because . . . everyone is so much younger and sexier than the old cast.  Because . . . they cram so many non-sequitors into two hours that I don’t have to think about anything!  Because they take everything I didn’t care for in the originals—like character development, intelligent pacing, deep philosophical themes, and basic story logic—and ditched it all for great CGI and beautiful people.”

I don’t hate the Nolan Batman movies or JJ’s version of Star Trek so much as I loathe how historically ignorant the indiscriminate hype around them is routinely is.

I'm probably not the first to notice that the fanboys have become the new Hedda Hoppers.

Anyone who says Skyfall is the greatest Bond movie ever is not a real Bond fan, just someone who has caught a few of them on Spike TV the last few years and is easily distracted by whatever new toy comes along. I know Skyfall’s not that good without even watching it. Nothing would please me more than for that to be true--for it to be the best Bond ever. But a real Bond fan who knows the franchise in and out would know how extremely unlikely that possibility is—that a true masterpiece in the franchise only comes along once every 15-20 years. And the media's uncritical obsession with so often proclaiming how great new high-profile franchise films always are makes me that much more skeptical.

And what is troubling is how the raised expectations may end up ruining the experience for me. Just writing this, I know the hype now has robbed something from me as a fan. For various reasons, I knew Quantum wasn’t going to be very good before I walked into it, and so I wasn’t as disappointed as I might have been. I don’t need another Casino Royale. I only want to have mixed feelings about Skyfall because I don’t want to be let down. That cast is hype enough.

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