Last year, the release of Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond film, pushed the boundaries of what audiences expected from Daniel Craig’s 007 outings, progressing from the super serious, and a little bloated, Quantum of Solace, to bring a more classic feel Bond, yet one that did not feel out of place in the slightest with Craig’s Bond. A large amount of the praise garnered by Skyfall has been aimed, rightfully, at Sam Mendes, the visionary director behind such classic films as American Beauty and Road to Perdition, who brought his own brand of storytelling to the Bond franchise as well as orchestrating a number of massive stunts that have even seen Skyfall win the award for Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture, at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
But you’d be forgiven for wondering how many of the scenes were filmed, most notably the fight on top of the train at the climax of the film’s opener, and the underground train hurtling through the sewer tunnel and almost killing Bond in the process. This is where the director’s commentary comes in, Sam Mendes prides himself on attention to detail and it is clear from the opening minutes of his commentary that he truly loves the art form. Skyfall provided a different execution of the classic gun barrel scene that is present in every Bond film in one way or another, in which Bond walks into a gun barrel, turns and fires towards the camera, before blood pours down the screen, actually providing the scene twice from different respects, effectively book-ending the film. Some fans were disheartened by this, fearing the change to a series staple, something Sam Mendes was clearly very aware of as it is the first issue raised during his commentary and the reasons behind said decision are brilliantly intelligent to say the least.
This keen attention to addressing the various issues raised during filming and well as during fan reaction is exactly what makes this commentary such a joy to watch. I’ve sat through director’s commentaries before that have added almost nothing to a film, giving very little insight into the process that the film underwent or the various problems that the crew faced during production. This is not the case with Skyfall, in which Mendes’s commentary is as fine tuned as the film itself, giving interesting accounts of the various teams that worked on each stunt and how Craig and Ola Rapace, who played Patrice, actually performed the fight scene on top of the train themselves, without stunt doubles, as well as Mendes’s own fear of standing on top of the stationary train above the bridge that Bond falls from, let alone when it was moving.
In fact, this is where possibly the only issue I had with the commentary comes in, although the more I think about it the less relevant it seems. Many fans have questioned how Bond survived the gunshot and the subsequent fall from the train into the river below, something which I have pondered myself in an article on this very site. Sam Mendes however doesn’t mention this question, something which I thought he would have been keen to add his own thoughts on into the mix. It doesn’t feel like it lets down his commentary at all, but it did seem a little odd that the question wasn’t answered after the fan reaction that it received, although I personally now believe that he survives because he is James Bond, maybe it doesn’t really need an explanation anyway.
The commentary over the opening titles and Adele’s rousing theme are naturally excellent too, pointing out exactly how the song came together with the visuals and exactly what it all means, Mendes actually pointed out numerous aspects of the titles sequence which I just didn’t realise during my previous two viewings of Skyfall, no mean feat, which immediately drew me into his world and made me realise just how easy it is to miss key aspects of scenes when you are drawn into a world as intricately crafted as that of Skyfall. As Mendes gives reasons for each key casting and expresses his desire was always to return Bond to the normality that we know at the end of the film, ready for action again with a new M, Q and Moneypenny, it’s hard to imagine that anyone else could have done a better job with this film or indeed would have loved the process as much as he clearly did.
That’s not to say that the commentary is flawless and perfect. If you disliked Skyfall for whatever reason first time around, the commentary is unlikely to win you over, but then why would you be watching it anyway. For those who have always wondered how set pieces as large as Skyfall’s are created, the background of each actor and plot point, or even how Javier Bardem gave Silva the look that defined him as one of history’s greatest Bond villains, then this is a rare beauty and worth every second of your time. It’s tough that for once I am torn between giving away specific details and quotes from Mendes himself, and keeping as spoiler free as possible as I genuinely believe this commentary is best experienced entirely for yourself. However, I can definitely say that I would recommend it to anyone who has even a passing interest in James Bond.
Unfortunately, Shooting Bond, a series of short featurettes regarding various aspects of the film, such as the Bond Girls and the film’s Villains, was ultimately less successful. Whilst it was interesting to hear from the film’s actors, including relative newcomer Berenice Marlohe, there just wasn’t enough time spent with each of them to really classify the sections on Bond women or villains as essential watching. That’s not to say what we learnt from each of them wasn’t interesting, with Javier Bardem in particular proving that he’s not at all like his counterpart, Silva, in real life. It just would have been good to have spent longer with each of them, especially as this is the last time we will see Judi Dench in a Bond film.
The featurettes actually go some way to completely redeeming themselves with the stellar, and slightly longer, sections dedicated to the stunt work and the action sequences of Skyfall. They go into detail as to the stunt sequences involved in the film, spending the longest time with what was the most ambitious scene of the film by a long way, as the underground train crashes into the sewers, showing exactly how the shot was achieved and just how important it was that it worked perfectly first time around, as it would have taken a whole month to fix the set in order for them to have another chance. We also get the chance to hear from the unsung heroes of film, with Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson giving their own thoughts on each aspect of the film as the featurettes go on, as well as Gary Powell the stunt co-ordinator, highly important people who are usually hidden behind the scenes, their contributions often going unnoticed by a majority of Skyfall’s audience, but whose extreme dedication is highlighted within Shooting Bond.
So, Shooting Bond is overall a a mixed bag, with some extremely interesting sections mired only by those lacking depth and any real probing interviews. It’s definitely worth a watch if you are interested in looking ever deeper into the film-making process or fancy yourself as a stunt co-ordinator and want some tips from some of the best in the business, but not exactly essential if you just want to delve deeper into the relationships and backstories of the Bond women or the Bond villains, with those being discussed to a much more exciting extent in the Director’s commentary.
Overall, the Skyfall Blu-Ray release is shaping up to be an incredibly enticing purchase, one that should appeal to anyone who has enjoyed a James Bond film over the years and not just the hardcore fans of Skyfall itself. Lovingly crafted and crisply presented, it looked truly stunning on the screen, this is not to be missed.
Skyfall is released on Blu-ray from Monday.
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