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Skyfall
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenplay: Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan
Stars: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Judi Dench (M), Javier Bardem (Silva), Ralph Fiennes (Gareth Mallory), Naomie Harris (Eve), Bérénice Marlohe (Sévérine), Albert Finney (Kincade), Ben Whishaw (Q), Rory Kinnear (Tanner), Ola Rapace (Patrice), Helen McCrory (Clair Dowar MP), Nicholas Woodeson (Doctor Hall), Bill Buckhurst (Ronson), Elize du Toit (Vanessa), Ian Bonar (MI6 Technician), Gordon Milne (M’s Driver)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2012
Country: U.S. / U.K.
Skyfall Blu-Ray
Skyfall Skyfall had a lot riding on it—perhaps more than any other big-budget franchise film the past year. The 23rd “official” James Bond film released during the 50th anniversary year of Ian Fleming’s enduring pop culture creation, it emerged from the dust of MGM’s bankruptcy (which was severe enough to put the franchise’s future in question) and followed Quantum of Solace (2008), which despite being a huge international hit, is not thought of as a favorite Bond film. Skyfall is also the third film in the series starring Daniel Craig as Her Majesty’s favorite secret agent, a tricky position given that third films are often turning points in this franchise: While both Sean Connery and Roger Moore cemented their respective status as 007 with their third films, Goldfinger (1964) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), which were also the best films of their tenure, Timothy Dalton never made it to a third film after The Living Daylights (1987) and Licensed to Kill (1989) and Pierce Brosnan’s third outing as 007 in The World Is Not Enough (1999) suggested that the wheels were starting to come off the franchise (Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist named Christmas Jones—need I say more?).

As it turns out, any concerns about the future of the Bond franchise were for naught, as Skyfall is a crackerjack film that cannily mixes the harder, more severe edges of the previous Craig films with a sly sense of humor. The concerns I voiced in my review of Quantum of Solace that Bond was on a path to becoming a caricature—“a rigid, emotionless automaton fighting his way though handheld-documentary-style bloodbaths”—were, much like news of Mark Twain’s premature death, greatly exaggerated. While still maintaining a consistently darker hue than his predecessors, Craig’s performance is more nuanced and shaded, bringing in hints of a warmer humanity and sense of humor that we hadn’t previously seen. It’s not so much that Craig’s Bond softens; rather, his intensity is supplemented—even augmented—by a shrewd sense of self-awareness that allows him to drop a few one-liners without playing the meta-fool. It enhances the sense of growth that began with Casino Royale (2006), the reboot that daringly introduced the blond-haired, blue-eyed Craig as Bond, and he now feels as if he fully owns the character.

The story this time around involves a plot by Silva (Javier Bardem), a dandyish cyber-villain with bleached Julian Assange locks who has a special vendetta against M (Judi Dench), Bond’s superior whose tenure as the head of MI6 is in question due to the loss of a hard drive containing the identities of British agents embedded in terrorist organizations throughout the world. Thus, while Bond’s sense of personal vengeance drove the action in Quantum of Solace, in Skyfall he takes on the role of protector, exerting his mind and muscle to defend the life and limb (and reputation) of his maternal mentor, who finally emerges as the kind of fully realized character that justifies Dench’s presence as something more than clever casting. This is not to say that things between Bond and M are all lovey-dovey; in fact, the film opens with a thrilling setpiece that finds Bond atop a train in the mountains of Turkey trying to recover the aforementioned hard drive only to be accidentally shot down by his fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris) on M’s command: “Take the bloody shot!” Thus, the film begins with Bond’s death and resurrection, a clever conceit in a film that some thought might never get made.

The screenplay by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (who contributed to both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace) and John Logan (Hugo) incorporates many of the familiar tropes of the Bond franchise while also carefully tweaking them. Thus, while the film features its fair share of exotic locales (Istanbul and the aforementioned Turkish mountains, the glistening neon high-rises of Shanghai), most of the action takes place in the cloudy heart of London, the originating location of most Bond adventures, but never the center of the action. There is also a significant amount of attention paid to the idea of aging and becoming outdated, as M’s tenure in charge of MI6 is increasingly questioned by Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), a spy-turned-bureaucrat; it’s not so much that her competence is in question, but rather her understanding of the role of espionage in the modern world (not surprisingly, at the end of the day her views on the necessity of work in the shadows is exonerated, thus justifying the continuation of the series itself). The film’s last third takes place in the Scottish moors where we are introduced to Bond’s childhood home, a crucial move that further humanizes the secret agent and reminds us that, despite his seemingly inhuman suaveness, charm, and indestructibility, he came from somewhere.

The filmmakers also devise a truly memorable villain in Silva, who is nursing a decades-old grudge and has a frightening sense of intelligence (at one point he is put in a plexiglass cage that visually turns him into an amalgam of Hannibal Lecter and Magneto). Bardem, who won an Oscar for playing a vicious and memorable assassin in the Coens’ No Country for Old Men (2007), clearly relishes playing the heavy, and he spares no flourish in making Silva a silky-voiced sadist whose criminal ingenuity is matched only by the manner in which he sexually charges all of his actions (when he sends a subway train crashing down toward Bond, the look on his face is slyly orgasmic).

Sam Mendes, who has the distinction of being the first Oscar-sanctioned director to helm a Bond film, might not have been an obvious choice, but he was certainly a good one. e and cinematographer Roger Deakins, himself a ten-time Oscar nominee, bring an intense visual flair to match the film’s sense of dramatic gravitas (most memorably, a fight in a Shanghai high-rise silhouetted against the cascading indigo-neon display outside that is almost dreamlike). However, Mendes clearly understands the balance between drama and humor (which keeps the film from sinking into Quantum’s dour void despite a bleak opening third), and he also displays a knack for action, giving us a kinetic intensity that stays impressively grounded. The film’s final showdown in the Scottish moors is a striking setpiece that eschews flashy locations and gimmicks for the kind of dramatic urgency that gives the violence real kick; you actually feel like there’s something at stake. Mendes knows where to let the humor seep through, and he gives Ben Whishaw, who plays a young, confident, tousle-headed Q, some of the film’s best moments while also suggesting that his youthful bravado has its limits, especially in the face of someone like James Bond. Mendes also understands the role of history, and the film’s incorporation of references to earlier Bond films both subtle (a jabbing reference to an exploding pen) and big (the appearance of the canonical Goldfinger Aston Martin) are fun without being overly distracting. Skyfall finds all the right balances throughout and, most importantly for a franchise entering its second half-century of life, sets the stage for things to come and leaves us wanting more.

Skyfall Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital Copy

Aspect Ratio2.40:1
Audio
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
    Supplements
  • Audio commentary by director Sam Mendes
  • Audio commentary by producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson and production designer Dennis Gassner
  • Shooting Bond: 12 production featurettes
  • Skyfall Premier” featurette
  • Soundtrack promotional spot
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Distributor20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
    SRP$39.99
    Release DateFebruary 12, 2012

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    It is only appropriate that the Skyfall Blu-Ray boasts a spectacular 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer given that it is arguably the best looking Bond film ever produced. The wide range of imagery—from the amber, noir-ish interiors of the opening scenes, to the craggy underground lair of MI6, to the glistening high-rises of Shanghai, to the foggy moors of Scotland—is beautifully rendered, giving veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins’s excellent camerawork its full due. The image is sharp, crisp, and busting with fine detail and texture. Colors are strong and nicely rendered throughout, and the contrast is fantastic. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel surround soundtrack is just as good, with great dynamic range, a thundering low end, excellent panning effects, and plenty of ambient detail to draw us into the action. There is quite a bit of range in terms of volume, so be careful in turning it up to hear the dialogue because, when the gunshots come, they are loud.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    The Skyfall Blu-Ray features two excellent audio commentaries, a solo track by director Sam Mendes and a group affair by producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson and production designer Dennis Gassner. I have never listened to any of Mendes’s previous audio commentaries, but listening to him on Skyfall makes me want to go back and correct that omission. His audio commentary is exactly what one would expect from a director: literate, thoughtful, informative, and at times self-effacing, but always respectful of the material he was working with and the collaborative nature of the process (he gives credit where credit is due without fawning). I knew that Mendes was doing something special in Skyfall, but listening to him discuss the depths of his thought processes and the litany of classic films he drew from (not just previous Bond outings) gave me a whole new respect for the film. Along with the commentaries we also get Shooting Bond, which consists of a dozen short behind-the-scenes featurettes (together they run just under an hour) that peak into the production process of virtually every major aspect of the film: “Behind the Scenes Intro,” “Opening Sequence: The Death of Bond,” “Title Sequence: Working The Titles,” “007: The Return of James Bond,” “Q: Back to Basics,” “DB5: Behind the Wheel,” “Women: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful,” “Villains: In the Shadows,” “Locations: License to Travel,” “Music: The Sound of Bond,” “The End Sequence: The Beginning of the End,” “M: Changes,” and “The Future: New Beginnings.” There is also a featurette focusing on the film’s lavish premiere, a soundtrack promotional spot, and the original theatrical trailer.

    Overall Rating: (3.5)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment


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