Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Quantum of Solace - DVD Review

The DVD release of Quantum of Solace has hit the shelves this week, and here are some thoughts about it – I will not go over the plot of the film, but merely comment on various aspects of the DVD.

The film has been released in both single disc and 2 disc DVD editions. Here in South Africa, the 2 disc DVD would appear to be exclusively available at Musica stores, while all others are only stocking the 1 disc release. Disc 1 (in both versions) includes the film itself and a music video, plus two trailers. The picture and sound quality would appear to be up to standard, and the menus are quite nifty, incorporating the MI6 computer interface design seen in the film. Somewhat disappointing is the low level of animation in the menus, especially the scene selections.

The 2 disc release, by Bond standards, is still somewhat bare-bones. For starters, it lacks an audio commentary, which is a staple of all the previous Bond films’ DVD releases. However, like Casino Royale, whose initial DVD release also didn’t include commentary, Quantum will most likely be re-released in a deluxe edition when the next Bond film comes out.

The documentary features on the DVD are an adequate, but not really in depth look at the production. These featurettes are very promotional in style, and offer only a glimpse of the making of the film. Compared to the making-of material on the Lord of the Rings 4 disc sets for instance, these featurettes pale in comparison. The best feature in my view is perhaps the Crew Files – short snippets concerning over 30 members of the crew, which give an idea of their functions on the production. As a film student, and someone who is very interested in how films are put together, this is the most interesting feature, as it encompasses a wide range of issues concerning the making of the film.

As a DVD set, the 2-disc special edition of Quantum of Solace is a little disappointing, but you can be pretty sure that a souped-up version is waiting a couple of years down the line. Still, the primary reason for buying the DVD is to watch the film, and it is great to be able to enjoy the latest Bond offering from the comfort of your favourite sofa.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Music of Quantum of Solace

Returning to the fold as composer is David Arnold, for his fifth James Bond score. Over the years since 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies, Arnold has established his own formula for James Bond. Since his first entry in the series, Arnold has married classic and modern sounds in the Bond scores. These have been mixed together in varying measures, with a heavy emphasis on Monty Norman's James Bond Theme. In 2006, when scoring Casino Royale, David Arnold used very little of this theme, only giving brief hints of it until the end of the film. Bond music fans expected a more traditional sound when Arnold returned for Quantum of Solace, now that Daniel Craig's James Bond had been established in Casino Royale. In actuality, the score for Quantum of Solace is still light on James Bond Theme, but as with Casino Royale, Arnold relies more on original themes, and some of themes used in Quantum of Solace are carried over from Casino Royale.

After many rumours about the Bond title song, and different artists being discussed, including Amy Winehouse, it was announced that Jack White and Alicia Keys would be performing the title song, with White writing the song himself. The song, Another Way To Die, is an unusual one in the Bond title song canon, but one which I like and to my ear, fits in with the history of James Bond title songs, in a way which Die Another Day, for instance, did not. The opening notes of the title song bear a strong resemblance to the opening notes of Casino Royale's title song, You Know My Name. The song is an interesting mix of styles, including the classic Bond mix of strings and brass, with rock influences from White, and R&B influences from Keys. I have read much negative opinion about the song, but I felt that it fit the film very well. David Arnold described the sound of the song as being 'dirty', which is a word which could equally describe the film itself. However, a Bond song needs to do more than simply fit the film in order to go down amongst the classics such as Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever. It also needs to appeal as a song in its own right, which Another Way does to me, not on the same level as the classic Bond songs, but it is certainly good enough to warrant listening to outside of the film itself. It seems that many would disagree with me on the point, but all artistic endeavours appeal differently to different people. The song also combines well with the main title sequence of the film, designed on this occasion by a studio, MK12, rather than by an individual, which has been the norm over the years. As with the song itself, the titles are a slight departure in style from previous sequences, but they are nonetheless enjoyable and complement the film well. The main difficulty is that the song doesn't have a memorable melody which is integrated into the score. There is material from the song scattered sparsely in various sections of the score, but it doesn't seem to provide a substantial amount of thematic material to the score.

Once again, David Arnold has turned in a good, solid score for the new James Bond film. Like the film, he picks up where Casino Royale left off. I didn't fully appreciate the score until I'd seen the film. It was the same with Casino Royale. I think that part of this is down to the fact that these two scores contain less of the James Bond Theme than the previous ones did. Whereas the Bond theme is a very recognisable piece, the other music requires the addition of the film to be truly enjoyed. Also, Arnold is almost a little too subtle in his use of some of the thematic material, especially with the main title theme - Another Way To Die. This is most likely because the song's melody gave him little to work with. However, problems aside, since seeing the film, I have listened to the score many times and I find it a very enjoyable listen. Arnold continues to mature as a composer and I would be quite happy for him to continue as composer of the James Bond series.

This is a shortened version of the article - for the full version go to this link

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Director's Chair - Lewis Gilbert

Lewis Gilbert became the third director to helm a James Bond film in 1967, when he directed You Only Live Twice - the fifth James Bond adventure.

Gilbert began his filmmaking career by making wartime documentaries during World War II. This theme continued into his feature film output as well, as he directed many succesful war films in the 1950s, such as Reach For The Sky(a personal favourite), Carve Her Name With Pride and Sink The Bismark!.

One of Gilbert's most famous films was the 1966 film starring Michael Caine, Alfie, which received five Academy Award nominations. The following year, Gilbert entered the world of Bond. The film was the most over-the-top, large-scale, fantastical Bond film to date. It featured predatory spacecraft, a villain's lair inside a hollow volcano and the first appearance of the so-far faceless Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The volcano set required an enormous construction to be built on the lot at Pinewood studios, which cost as much as the first Bond film, Dr. No.

It would be another ten years until Gilbert returned to Bond, and he did so in The Spy Who Loved Me. The film was the first made after the disappointing The Man With The Golden Gun and the breakup of the Broccoli-Saltzman producing partnership. Therefore, the stakes were high, and the film needed to deliver. Once again, Gilbert brought an over-the-top, large-scale epic to the screen. As before, the showpiece set required an enormous construction, and this time it was decided to build it on a stage, but no stage existed that was big enough - so one was built. The huge 007 Stage was built around the set - which was the interior of a supertanker. And like the spacecraft of You Only Live Twice, this vehicle swallowed others - in this case, nuclear submarines. In many ways, Spy is a reworking of the plot from Gilbert's first Bond film.

Gilbert was back again for Moonraker in 1979. This film went beyond all the others in terms of size and fantasy. It involved spacecraft once again, and involved a lot of humour, often slapstick, silly humour. However, the film performed well at the box office, despite often being held in low regard by Bond fans. It exemplifies the over-the-top style of Lewis Gilbert's Bond films.

Lewis Gilbert's legacy in the Bond films is that his three are perhaps the three biggest Bond films, and although they are not my personal favourites they are enjoyable spectacles. Lewis Gilbert himself said that his claim to fame was that he filmed in the three largest sets ever constructed for the Bond series.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Quantum of Solace - In Review

Having now seen Quantum of Solace several times, I have formed many opinions about the film. Firstly, my response to the film is positive overall. There are many strong points to the film, and there were only a few elements which I felt negatively about.

Firstly, Bond himself. Daniel Craig is proving to be a fantastic choice to play Bond. He is just as good in this film as he was in Casino Royale. However, Bond is more of an action character in this film, so Craig has fewer dramatic scenes, but there are enough to provide a level of emotional gravity in the character, which helps the audience in going along his journey of anger and vengeance.

I also enjoyed Camille, the main female part very much. For years actresses have been saying “My character is not the typical Bond girl.” Olga Kurylenko can say that honestly as her character is quite unique – the only leading lady which doesn’t share a romantic relationship with Bond. Her character, like Bond is on a mission of personal revenge, and a brief kiss at the end of their mission is the closest that they get to each other.

The villain, Dominic Greene comes across as a much smaller scale villain than most, and is obviously just a part of a larger story involving the Quantum organization. Mr White, who first appeared in Casino Royale continues to appear in this film, and will probably do so again in Bond 23.

The film has fewer glamorous scenes than most Bond films – the Tosca opera scene in basically the only one. However, I did not miss this side of the film as this film didn’t really need these scenes. If they were included it would have only been to satisfy the list of things that a Bond film usually has, such as Bond introducing himself as “Bond. James Bond”, which is also omitted from this film. Quantum of Solace, like Casino Royale doesn’t begin with the traditional gunbarrel logo, instead this is moved to the back. I personally would prefer it to be back at the beginning, but it isn’t really that important.

Finally, the music – when I first heard the score, almost a month before seeing the film I was a little underwhelmed. Although, now having seen the film a few times I really appreciate David Arnold’s score and consider it one of his best. I am even one of the minority who like the main title song. I also thought that the main titles were quite good and also broke a few traditions. The animated text was a novel feature, and although it grated a little at first it eventually grew on me.

Overall, I am very happy with the new Bond film, and I am now looking forward to Bond 23. I may have a long time to wait, because rumours are that Bond 23 will only come out in 2011.

Overall Bond ranking for Quantum of Solace – 9th

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Anticipating Quantum of Solace

With the world premiere of Quantum of Solace taking place last night, anticipation for the new James Bond film is at fever pitch. Fans in the UK will have their curiosity satisfied shortly as the new film is released there tomorrow. As for South Africa, we will be waiting an extra three weeks for the new Bond.

So what are my expectations and hopes for Quantum of Solace? As far as the plot goes, I have tried to avoid spoilers and at this point know very little apart from the fact that Bond is going after the organisation that was behind Le Chiffre in Casino Royale.

I have also heard that the film is the shortest Bond film ever, clocking in at just 106 minutes. And having seen the amount of action in the trailer I am a little concerned that there will be too much action and not enough plot. Still, from what I have gathered about the director, he should make it interesting character and story-wise.

I have also had a listen to David Arnold’s score, and while not sounding very Bondian in the traditional sense, as there are only a few subtle interpolations of the James Bond Theme, it refers to the themes from the Casino Royale score which I enjoyed very much.

I am greatly looking forward to seeing where Daniel Craig takes the Bond character in his second film. His first performance was fantastic and showed great potential to possibly be the best Bond ever. If he can consistently perform as well as he did in Casino Royale, then this might just happen! Roll on 21 November!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

007 Profile #3 - Roger Moore

The third actor to portray James Bond in the official film series was Roger Moore, who made his debut is 1973’s Live And Let Die. Currently, he has appeared in the highest number of official films – 7.

Moore attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1945, where one of his classmates was future Miss Moneypenny, Lois Maxwell. Moore was contracted to MGM in the 1950s, but it was not until he began to appear in television that he achieved success. His defining role was as Simon Templar in The Saint from 1961-1969. He also starred in The Persuaders with Tony Curtis. He appeared as James Bond on television in 1964, in a James Bond spoof sketch. Moore always looked young, even though he was older than Sean Connery - in his TV appearance, he looks almost boyish.

Moore’s turn as Bond came in 1973 after Sean Connery finally left the role of Bond. Moore’s performance was more light-hearted than Connery’s, and it was decided to have Roger Moore’s Bond avoid doing the famous things that Connery did. For example, in all his 7 Bond films, Moore is never seen ordering a vodka martini, shaken not stirred. Live And Let Die successfully launched Moore, and he returned in The Man With The Golden Gun.

After a brief hiatus, due in part to the departure of Harry Saltzman from the production team, Moore returned in The Spy Who Loved Me – widely regarded as Moore’s best Bond film. Moore also regards it as his best. Moonraker followed, taking Bond into space and beyond the limits of plausibility. For Your Eyes Only was a more serious, harder edged film which Moore handled surprisingly well. Octopussy continued the more serious trend, although it did have some very light-hearted moments.

In between his Bond films, Moore regularly appeared in other films, including several for former Bond director and editor, Peter Hunt. He also appeared in the memorable mercenary adventure, The Wild Geese, along with Richard Burton and Richard Harris.

At the age of 57, Moore made his final appearance as Bond in A View To A Kill. Many felt that Moore was too old by this stage. Indeed, Moore pointed out that the women he was portrayed as sleeping with were sometimes young enough to be his daughter! After retiring as Bond, the focus of Moore’s career has been as an ambassador for UNICEF, and in 2003 he was knighted for his humanitarian efforts.

Roger Moore’s portrayal of Bond has long divided opinions from fans. Some enjoy his tongue-in-cheek portrayal, while other find it too light. Moore was the first Bond that I saw (despite growing up in the Brosnan era), and for a long time he was my favourite. Now, I tend to enjoy the more serious Bond films, but I will always enjoy Moore’s Bonds for their sheer entertainment value.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Director's Chair - Guy Hamilton

The second director of the James Bond film series was Guy Hamilton, who took over from Terence Young to direct the third Bond film, Goldfinger. Hamilton later returned to direct three more Bond films.

Guy Hamilton is one of my personal favourite Bond directors, not only for his 007 films, but also for his non-Bond work. Goldfinger is considered by many to be the definitive Bond film. It marks the first time in which gadgetry plays a major role in a Bond film, which the introduction of Bond’s gadget-laden Aston Martin DB5. The film was also more light-hearted in tone than the previous two films.

At the end of Goldfinger, Hamilton said that he felt drained of ideas and elected not to return as director of the next film. However, for the 7th Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever, Hamilton returned. He felt that he had had a sufficient break from Bond to come back refreshed. Diamonds Are Forever saw the return of Connery after a one-film hiatus, as well as a return to the tone of Goldfinger after the more serious On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In fact, at one point, the villain was going to be Goldfinger’s twin brother which illustrates how the producer’s wanted to do another Goldfinger style film. The next film, Live And Let Die, saw the introduction of Roger Moore as James Bond. Hamilton returned to helm Moore’s debut, and increased the humour to another level in order to suit Moore’s lighter portrayal of Bond. The film was potentially controversial, featuring entirely black villains, as well as numerous racial caricatures, although on the whole these are handled well by Hamilton and the film is extremely enjoyable. Hamilton’s last Bond film was The Man With The Golden Gun, which was made in a similar tone to the previous film, although the production as a whole seems a little uninspired, although the villain is a true classic.

Beyond Bond, Hamilton directed many films which are amongst my favourites. Before he started directing his own films, he worked as an assistant director on such classics as The Third Man and The African Queen. His early films as director include An Inspector Calls and the classic prisoner of war drama, The Colditz Story. After directing Goldfinger, Hamilton was hired to direct another Harry Saltzman spy film, Funeral In Berlin, the sequel to the great The Ipcress File, starring Michael Caine as the working class cockney spy, Harry Palmer. Michael Caine described the experience as playing Harry Palmer while being directed by James Bond. He directed for Saltzman once again in 1969 with the World War II epic, Battle of Britain. He continued to show an aptitude for action-adventure films into the 1970s with Force 10 From Navarone, a film which I feel is vastly underrated. His last film was Try This One For Size, released in 1989.

Guy Hamilton’s body of work is very impressive, and includes some of my all-time favourites. His Bond movies were exciting and fast-paced, if a little over the top and silly at times. He will remain one of the most highly respected Bond directors.