MOVIE REVIEW: JAMES BOND – QUANTUM OF SOLACE
The latest James Bond movie opened this weekend in the US, beginning on Friday. It is already #1 in Europe, having opened there a week earlier, and a huge hit in the UK, where it opened two weeks ago. The first weekend in the UK was a record at a box office take of $25M, larger than the last Harry Potter opening. All told, as of last Tuesday, worldwide, it had done $180M. The James Bond movies, based on 12 novels and 2 sets of short stories by Ian Flemming, is the most successful movie franchise in history, with revenues of around $12B, adjusted for inflation. In the US, it did about $27M on the first day and over $70M for the 3-day weekend, more than any other Bond opening.
Location, location, location
Of all the Bond films, the crew admitted that they had spent more time on location than ever before. Not as much of the movie was shot on the legendary 007 sound stage at Pinewood Studios. Rather, most of the film was shot in either Europe or Latin America.
The movie opens with a riveting car chase along Lake Garda which then moves to the ancient and renowned marble quarries of Carrera (where the single block of stone from which Michelangelo’s “David” came.) Are the two locations close? No, but this is Bond! The location then moves to the medieval Tuscan town of Siena. The action parallels the traditional horse race, the Palio, which takes place only twice a year during the summer. Bond then races across the beautiful terra cotta tile roofs of the city.
We’re told that we’re next taken to “Port Au Prince, Haiti” though it was filmed on both coasts of Panama. But upgrades his shabby hotel to the Old Union House.
The action moves to “Bolivia” though is filmed in the desert of Chile. Due to the lack of moisture as well as the high elevation and thin air, the Atacama desert of Chile is an ideal location for an observatory, and the visitors’ residence of the Paranal Space Observatory serves as the eco-hotel for the movie.
We jet to Europe to take in the Puccini opera Tosca at the modernistic lake-side Bregenz Festival House on the western border of Austria. Opera is not something we often see 007 doing — at least not since Vienna in “The Living Daylights”, and he doesn’t stay until the end.
Though there is some shooting at the Pinewood Studios, one external in London is at the Barbican Center.
The “reboot” of the James Bond franchise, which began with “Casino Royale,” continues with Daniel Craig in “Quantum of Solace.” But this movie has much more action and far less character interaction and development than the previous one. Was it exciting? Yes, there was more action, chase scenes, and explosions than we’ve seen in a long time. You are shaken and stirred. The whiplash action and breakneck speed of editing make it difficult to follow the action, let alone the plot. Here we see incredibly fast “cut shots” where we’re struck by the movement but don’t get to see all the action. This is reminiscent of the disappointing editing in the second Bourne outing, The Bourne Supremacy, where even the fight scenes were hard to follow as the camera was in too close and moved too quickly.
Only once before has there been a direct chronological sequel with a Bond film. Following “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” when Bond’s wife Tracy — played deliciously by Diana Rigg — is killed by Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the next movie, Diamonds Are Forever has Bond looking to find Blofeld for revenge. Quantum of Solace picks up where Casino Royale left off, with Bond seeking the killer of his lover Vesper from the previous movie.
This outing is relatively humorless and romanceless, other than the requisite sacrificial lamb. It has a heightened sense of realism, with more palpable and disturbing violence. You’ll be reminded of the grittier parts of “Goldfinger”.
The female lead, Ukrainian model/actress Olga Kurylenko is muscular and opaque, paralleling Bond’s pain of losing loved ones. As we’ve seen so often during Bond movie history, this is a “new kind” of Bond girl, one equal to Bond. But there have been earlier and better “new kinds” of Bond girls, and Olga does not have the acting chops of someone like Royal Shakespeare Company actress Dame Diana Rigg, whom I met once in London after her incredible performance in (her Tony Award-winning) Medea.
Other great performances were by returning (from Casino Royale) alums Judi Dench as M and the great Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini as Mathis. Tim Pigott-Smith, as the Foreign Secretary, was confident and threatening. While he was in “V for Vendetta” and “Alexander,” he’s perhaps best known for the mini-series “The Jewel in the Crown”.
The villain, played by Mathieu Amalric, has no distinguishing facial marks — like villains going back to Blofeld in “You Only Live Twice” and repeated by Mr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies — but is the sophisticated French Mr. Greene. We’ve seen a Mr. White, a Mr. Slate, and now a Mr. Greene in the last two movies. This Mr. Greene is in the eco-business… get it “Green”.
Did I like the movie? It’s Bond!
Despite its certain popularity, it is neither the best… nor the worst Bond movie.
This is the first Bond theme song sung by a duet. This is the first to have the signature “gun barrel” scene at the end of the movie, not before the title sequence.
You’ll like it if: you’re a Bond fan, appreciate a high level of mindless, senseless violence, globetrotting, and things that go “boom”.
You won’t like it if: you don’t appreciate explosions, contusions, or sexual situations — and prefer more romance, story, gadgets, fine food, Moneypenny, and Q.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian