2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall…
MISSION 22: QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008)
QUANTUM THEORY While it’s a welcome touch of genuine Fleming in a film whose theme song inflicts the lyric “Another blinger with a slick trigger finger for Her Majesty”, Quantum Of Solace may just be the most confounding title in the superspy’s history. The best Bond titles evoke a certain scorpion-on-a-tombstone shiver (You Only Live Twice, Live And Let Die) or find a threatening poetry in the name of their antagonist (Dr No, Goldfinger). The worst slide into dead-eyed pastiche (Licence To Kill, Die Another Day). Quantum Of Solace is in a class of its own – oblique, inscrutable, just on the edge of pretentious, it’s a marvel it made it through the focus groups. Fleming clearly relished the phrase; he slipped it into Thrilling Cities, his anthology of true life travel writing, but it’s best known as the name of a short story in For Your Eyes Only, 1960’s collection of bite-sized Bond tales. This slight, Maughamesque morality piece was as much a departure for Fleming as the first-person crime romance of The Spy Who Loved Me. Essentially a marital anecdote related to Bond at a dinner party, it’s no surprise that all that made it to the screen were the three unfathomable words that christened it. “I was unsure at first,” confessed Daniel Craig, clearly as perplexed as anyone as he prepared for his encore mission as 007. “Bond is looking for his quantum of solace and that’s what he wants. He wants his closure.” The film’s name was only locked days before the press launch in January 2008. Given the symbolic import of Vesper’s Algerian loveknot necklace it’s a wonder the Bondmakers didn’t plump for another unclaimed Fleming title: The Property Of A Lady.
CRACKING THE CODA There’s only ever been the slimmest connective tissue between Bond films. FromRussia With Love finds 007 picnicking with Sylvia Trench, an old flame from Dr No, while the ruthless quest for Blofeld that launches Diamonds Are Forever can be read as the act of a vengeful widower chasing closure after the hellish climax of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. For the most part, however, they exist as hermetically sealed missions. Quantum Of Solace is the anomaly: conceived as a direct continuation of Casino Royale, it’s the first sequel in the Bond canon. The opening sequence chases the closing moments of Casino, a freshly knee-capped Mr White stashed in the back of Bond’s Aston and his cronies in road-scorching pursuit. For Bond the death of Vesper is an open wound, and it brings us a hero even more implacable than the burning-eyed avenger of Licence To Kill. “This man and I have unfinished business,” he states, with a quiet chill, as he finally confronts her treacherous boyfriend. For the first time the demons that 007 faces are inner ones, impervious to marksmanship and quips. In truth, Quantum Of Solace feels more a coda to Casino Royale than a genuine sequel, one last bullet rather than a fresh round.Tellingly, it relocates the gunbarrel overture to the film’s closing moments. Only once Bond has dealt with his “unfinished business” does he finally earn his traditional tuxedo-clad swagger.
THE BOURNE LEGACY An ominous rumble and roar of cars as the camera races over water. A blink of silver bodywork. Tight flash of cold, cobalt eyes. And then a slam of accelerator. Gunfire, speed, peril. Welcome to the opening moments of Quantum Of Solace, a car chase cut so brutally that you almost expect the celluloid to bleed. It’s an audacious statement of intent by director Marc Forster, sacrificing any sense of the spatial for a breathless, screen-punching sensory assault. For Forster it was all about the instant: the tyranny of the moment rather than the broader spectacle. He wanted Quantum to be “tight and fast… like a bullet”, and his use of frantic flash-cuts and fast-blurring, hand-held camerawork finds 007 shamelessly in thrall to the Jason Bourne movies (they even poached second unit director Dan Bradley, who worked on 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy and 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum). It proved a strikingly divisive artistic choice. Even former members of Her Majesty’s Secret Service weighed in. “It was just like a commercial of the action,” judged ex-Bond Roger Moore. “There didn’t seem to be any geography and you were wondering what the hell was going on.”
“YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WE EXIST” “The first thing you should know about us is that we have people everywhere,” declares Mr White with a chillingly languid air of threat. It’s our earliest inkling of the terrifying shadow-power of Quantum, the first international cartel that Bond has faced since the days of SPECTRE. As globe-menacing syndicates go, it’s a very different proposition to Blofeld and his boiler-suited boys. Composed of plutocrats and nation-shapers, the famous and the faceless, the people who step behind the doors of the world, Quantum nods to such true life phenomena as the Bilderberg Group and all its clinging conspiracy theories. You imagine their after-hours jollies include the kind of whisperingly exclusive Venetian-masked orgies Tom Cruise stumbles upon in Eyes Wide Shut. Quantum’s intriguingly apolitical – “We deal with the left or the right, with dictators or liberators” – and in many ways is more a lethal, wormy meme than a physical threat.
A NIGHT AT THE OPERA Bond confronts the murmuring might of Quantum at the lakeside opera house in Bregenz, Austria. This floating stage, dominated by a vast, Daliesque eyeball, makes for a stunning backdrop to what’s the most unequivocally arty moment in Bond history. As Tosca begins to soar, 007’s gaze locks with the psychotic, ink-orb glare of Dominic Greene. The moment holds, finally broken by silent flashes of gunfire. The opera surges. Bond races through a burning kitchen, the flames and bullet-play intercut with the make-believe bloodshed onstage. All the while that giant eye watches, its iris contracting like the gaze of some disdainful god. It’s a unique, bravura sequence, arthouse cinema briefly seducing the muscular mainstream thrills of the Bond franchise.
LOCATION LOCATION For all that its rep is coloured by the whip-smash chaos of its action sequences, Quantum Of Solace also remembers to breathe. And, when it does, Marc Forster delivers a film that’s surprisingly elegant – and impeccably well travelled. Shot in no less than six countries, it enjoyed more time on location than any other Bond adventure. A cosmopolitan-minded Swiss/German, Forster ached to flee the studio-bound kingdoms of Pinewood, keen for his film to absorb the atmospheres of real places. He proves to have a fine eye for local colour, and there’s something of the anthropologist about him, too. For once Bond locations aren’t the usual Cinzano billboard fantasies. These environments feel real, lived in, alive with the texture of native culture. The shanty towns of Haiti are brought to the screen with a vibrant sense of decay while Forster takes pains to show us the people of Bolivia, the very peasants threatened by the amoral machinations of Quantum. From Talamare to the Atacama Desert, Port Au Prince to La Paz, Lake Garda to Lake Constance, the 22nd Bond film is the gentleman traveller of the Bond franchise. You imagine even Ian Fleming might approve – when not tutting down his cigarette holder at the confounded racket of the title song.
TRIV AND LET DIE
Originally there were three Alfa Romeos chasing Bond in the pre-titles. Forster felt the sequence was overlong so brutally recut it to show only two.
The car chase was filmed with the Ultimate Arm, a five-axis, gyro-stabilised crane camera mounted on top of a high-speed vehicle.
Daniel Craig sliced off the tip of his fingertip during a fight sequence.
Mathieu Almaric wanted to wear prosthetics for his role as Dominic Greene but Marc Forster dissuaded him, keen to emphasise the “hidden evil” of Quantum rather than anything tangibly monstrous.
Agent Fields’ first name is Strawberry, but it’s never uttered onscreen. That gag is reserved for the credits.
Guillermo del Toro – a friend of Forster’s – provides various voices in the film.
The climax was originally set in the Swiss Alps but Forster switched it to the desert, wanting the major action sequences to echo the four elements of earth, water, air and fire.