fallen darkly

Additional Thoughts on SPECTRE (upon second viewing)

• Something I didn’t notice the first time around that really bothered me this time is cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema’s over-reliance on focus effects. So many shots in SPECTRE zero us in on one character, leaving the rest of the frame fuzzy. Not that this is never appropriate, but there were times when I felt like the way conversations were filmed was too standard: shot-countershots with only the speaker in focus and nothing much happening in the background. Some of the problem might be how subdued SPECTRE’s color schemes are, but I just didn’t like the look of this film as much as Skyfall.

• I’m not well-versed in color theory or costuming, but there are a few interesting points. Characters who wear white and red in combination are often attacked (Sciarra at the beginning, then Q [in a sort of grey-and-rust colored sweater] in Solden, then Bond on the train). Blue is associated with MI-6, and M, Q, and Moneypenny can be seen wearing it in almost all their scenes. Bond frequently wears blue, too; also of note is the fact that Bond and Madeleine are sometimes dressed in a shade of blueish-black which seems to change hue depending on the lighting (Bond, during the scene at L’Americaine; Madeleine, at the SPECTRE base). Other than that, Bond and Madeleine are mainly seen in black, white or both, and they usually wear similar colors in any given scene.

• Many of the sets in SPECTRE are dominated by black and white. These monochromatic locations often include or transition into gold/sepia: Sciarra’s funeral (white) into the SPECTRE meeting sequence (sepia), for example, or Solden (white) into Tangier (sepia). 

• The soundtrack really adds a lot to this film; in fact, I love SPECTRE’s soundscape in general. With so little in the way of dramatic tension story-wise, and with the use of focus generally isolating the characters within the frame, Thomas Newman’s score gives some sorely-needed emotional weight to a film that’s crippled by its under-developed plot and very utilitarian visual storytelling.

• Re-watching SPECTRE, I really wish they had kept in Q’s kidnap at Solden from the original script, and not only for 00Q purposes. At this point in the film, Bond rescuing Madeleine might give us a nice action scene, but it has no emotional weight: we’ve only just met her, so either Bond is going to spend the movie chasing her out of his obligation to Mr. White, or (it so happens) he’ll rescue her so that we can get to know her character better; really, we should get to know her before the script puts her in harm’s way. In any case, her fate doesn’t matter very much to us yet. Q, on the other hand, has already been established as a sympathetic character, so intercutting his capture with Bond’s victorious rescue of Madeleine would have packed a punch. Moreover, it would have given Bond a more urgent reason to go after SPECTRE than his duty as an operative. I really think the writers’ fear of damseling a man got in the way here.

• The doubling of 007 with Blofeld came across to me even more this time. At Sciarra’s funeral, they’re wearing practically the same outfit, down to their sunglasses, which I’m pretty sure are exactly the same. They bear a physical resemblance, too. But the strongest moment is in the MI-6 building when their reflections in the glass are super-imposed over one another.

• Thinking about Bond’s dialogue with Q, either the scripting is just lazy or we really are meant to assume that Q holds a torch for him (or both). In his lab as in Austria, 007 never has the slightest hesitation that Q will help him go rogue, despite Q’s repeated insistence otherwise.  Were the quartermaster a woman, Bond would seduce her into helping him; men, he usually kills or tries to reason with. I suspect that the writer’s had no idea how to make 007 persuade Q – overt homosexuality would be too racy, and Q clearly has the upper hand in the logic department – so they just left it undefined. Craig and Whishaw, for their part, play these scenes just about the only way they can to lend Q’s choices some credibility without breaking his character.

• On a related note, I got a bit of a Q/Tanner vibe: Tanner following Q around his lab the whole time, the exchanged smiles, Tanner grinning at Q’s joke. Just me? Anyway, if we do end up with some subtle office romance in the next film, my money would be on those two.

• It was even clearer to me this time what a mess Madeleine’s character is. The biggest problem is that her motives make little sense. First, she despises her father and Bond for leading Blofeld’s cronies to her doorstep, and then, in the span of one day, she’s so determined to understand her dad that she’s willing to risk her life for it. She goes from hating to liking Bond way too quickly. Similarly, she goes from falling in love with him (again, prematurely) to being prepared to leave him almost immediately. Her character works symbolically in that Bond’s relationship with her is an assertion of his independence from MI-6 (a heterosexual relationship to free him from the homosocial control of his work life), but she doesn’t cohere psychologically.

• I really loved Denbigh’s death scene. As a character, he was underdeveloped (surprise, surprise), but there was something really provocative and emotionally complex about this moment. M could have saved him but refuses to, whereas Bond, when later confronted with Blofeld, makes the opposite choice. Also, Q’s quiet way of stepping forward after Denbigh has fallen, looking darkly baffled, speaks volumes about his personality. Madeleine claims again and again to hate killing and violence, but when 007 kills Hinx in front of her and shoots Blofeld’s helicopter out of the sky, she mostly takes it in stride. With one tiny expression, Q gets his aversion across much more powerfully.

• I’m interested by the use of images of domesticity in SPECTRE. Bond’s car chase with Hinx is intercut with Moneypenny puttering around her house. Mundane objects like cell phones, cats, and watches take on vital importance. Most notably of all, the whole reason (however flimsy) for all this drama is a domestic dispute between two brothers, the aim of which is equally “domestic”: to eradicate Bond’s personal life by killing the women he cares for.

• The action scenes in SPECTRE are kind of same-y. They basically all involve Bond driving something, an aircraft, and a big explosion/fire. I read an article about Chris Corbould, one of the special effects coordinators on this film, and I have a lot of respect for his talent and craft (he also worked with Christopher Nolan to orchestrate that amazing truck-flip in The Dark Knight) – but without strong emotional stakes to make each action sequence feel unique, the lack of variety really shows.

• Finally, I’m pretty sure that when he goes after Bond in Austria, the bar scene is the first time in the franchise thus far that we see Whishaw’s Q not wearing any blue. Not sure if it matters, but I found it interesting!