The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Wow. From one of the very best Bonds in the series (Casion Royale) to one of the worst, in one fell swoop. But curiously, I'm VERY optimistic.

Don't get me wrong. "Quantum of Solace" (and yes, the title makes sense) has a fabulous Danial Craig, sexy women, a nasty villain, stunt work the equal of anyone's, anywhere. Decent music (the title song by Alicia Keyes actually works better than I'd feared, and a basic plot that I grooved to.

The problem? Something I never thought I'd say: too much action. By the time you have the fourth major action scene in the first 30 minutes, I'm damned near yawning. I place the fault cleanly in two camps:

1) The Bond Machine. Broccoli Inc. needed to strike while the iron was hot, and get this film in the bag. The problem was that Paul Haggis, the writer who breathed new life into the series, had to rush to finish the script--he was up against the writer's strike. As a result, I would think that the script was two drafts away from perfect. The dialogue isn't as sharp, the interstitial material between stunts is so thin that you can feel the blunt mechanics at play. Undercooked script, due to time pressures. Like they say in "Jerry McGuire": it ain't "show friendship. It's show business."

2) The direction. Mark Forster ("Monster's Ball") simply is shit at action direction. The stuntwork is some of the best ever committed to film, but the editing sucks big time. Too much Bourne-ish "shakicam"(no complaint with borrowing from current action tropes: Bond has always done that, and anyone who initials his lead character "J.B." can't complain about being borrowed from. Jason Bourne. Jack Bauer. We understand the game."

But that ultra-close work is intended to convey confusion and chaos. In small doses, it's an excellent approach. Just too much of it here. Bond is master shots, letting you see and understand what you're seeing. Even the chaotic stock car race in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" was easier to understand than this. Do these problems completely sink the movie? No. In fact, I can still see clearly where the series is going, and feel it to be in good hands. But they are dis-assembling a formula that has worked like gangbusters for 40 years. Not surprising that they would run into problems.

That said, it has one of the few moments in a Bond film to give me genuine chills: when the nature of the "Quantum" organization is revealed at an opera performance, you realize that MI6 is up against a neural net rather than a hierarchical structure like "Spectre". No Blofeld with a cat here. Can't just drop one guy down a smokestack to solve THIS one. This may be a threat beyond any organization's ability to control. But Bond is only controllable by the tiniest of threads--he is a homicidal sociopath reigned in by NOTHING other than his sense of duty and maternal affection for "M." This is exactly what we'd need against a threat like that the 21st century offers. Pierce Brosnan in a dinner jacket just wouldn't cut it.

Every Bond movie is about the same thing: the revelation that the dinner jacket is just a costume. The real man is a killing machine, the deadliest commando in the world. But when you START with that reality, the movie has nowhere to go. And "Quantum," to a disturbing degree, went nowhere. Damn you, WGA!

A real disappointment joined to genuine exhilaration at what is ahead. "Quantum" is a failure, but a seriously worthwhile one. Compared to, say, "A View To a Kill"--which succeeds at what was better left undone. I'll give it a "C", with real pleasurable anticipation for what is about to come.


Michelle said...

What I thought was the worst of this film is that many of the major plot points happened off screen. That and they reworked some of the first movie (vespa's boyfriend, Mathius) that didn't make sense with a serialized movie.

Worst of all, it was disjointed and badly researched. Everyone was evil, no one was redeemable.

We went home put in thunderball to purge our brains. Which was extra bad since we like the new bond and felix so much better than SC and the old felix (can't remember the actor's name).

Gah it sucked. :(

Jeffry Larson said...

You are spot on, Steven. I agree 100% with you evaluation. A disappointment . . .

Mark Jones said...

I've heard enough now to know that I'm going to skip QoS. I really liked the previous film, but I'll pass on this one. A big part of my decision is the reports of shaky-cam driven action scenes. I hate that shit.

Quite aside from Steve's good reasons to dislike Hancock, the egregious overuse of shakycam throughout that whole movie drove me nuts.

Josh Jasper said...

Though I haven't seen the movie yet, I agree - I hate shakycam too. It adds nothing, and really leave no room for actual cinematography. That's what really turned me of from the last Jason Bourne film.

PaulRW said...

I enjoyed the film, but it was just good, not great.

I agree the shakycam ruined the action.
The extreme close-ups and fast editing are meant, I presume, to give us a subjective feel for the action -- but it instead just confuses and distances me.

A real fight might be fast and disorienting -- but I know whether I am throwing a punch or getting hit.
In the fights in QoS, 20 blows are thrown but I don't know if Bond is hit 20 times, punching 20 times, or if it's an even fight.
On a rooftop chase, a foot knocks off tile, a body slips -- and it is not until he recovers that I know that it is Bond and not the other guy who slipped.
In the car chase I had no idea what was happening until it was over...

But while the action failed, I think the basic plot worked, as did, more importantly for me, Bond's emotional journey.

-- Paul

Steve Perry said...

I have it pretty much the same review on my blog. Grade B as an action film, C-minus as a Bond movie.

The name is Bourne. Jason Bourne ...

And where was that nasty horn sting you are supposed to get after the first action sequence?

Saw the trailer for The Day the Earth Stood Still. Keanu is fun, but he's no Michael Rennie. Bigger ship, but no way will it be better than the 1951 model, which is still state-of-the-art. Gort is twice as tall and not silver anymore.

I don't expect too much of this one, either.

Anonymous said...

Q of S. Thanks all. Sounds like one that I'll await on HBO or Showtime.

Eric Deal said...

Hey Steven, I met you before your class at the creative screenwriting expo (from Vegas, you showed me the pic with Vin Diesel - very cool). Excellent class and thanks for writing advice. Did your family agree with your assessment? I guess I'll wait for QS to hit the DVD rack at the Library. My wife thinks the Bond character is a sexist pig by the way.:-)

Steven Barnes said...

Bond isn't a sexist. He is a misanthrope. He hates EVERYBODY, and has no real relationships with anyone (except maybe Leiter). Treats men FAR worse than he treats women. The earlier Bond movies glossed over this: Danial Craig seems to be going right into the heart of Bond's darkness, and good for him. And yeah, my wife agreed. Hell, we were both getting BORED by all the action by 25 minutes in. That's a first!

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