Sunday, November 16, 2008
"Quantum of Solace": lots of action and Andean scenery; lots of politics; half-baked plot
I remember college friends describing James Bond as the “ideal man” and I remember a sermon at a Methodist church in Lawrence Kansas in the mid 60s about “what it means to be a man” based on Bond movies.
The first Bond that I ever saw was “From Russia With Love” and I got used to the stereotyped Sean Connery, hairy chest and all, as the role model. Roger Moore and others would come along and challenge the fantasies. I read “Dr. No” on a Greyhound bus trip from DC to Pittsburgh in 1965, and still remember Ian Flemming’s characterizations of SMERSH as just plain “bad” and of his villains as global evil. That was when Osama bin Laden was a little boy. I actually would see "Dr. No" in downtown Cleveland at the Arcade in 1965. I remember the horrible tortures “No” put Bond through, and I remember the “Three Blind Mice” beggars at the very opening of the franchise. One of the best was “Live and Let Die” (1973) with the sheriff J.W. Pepper. And I think that the concept behind “Goldfinger” (1964) applies in today’s fiscal crisis.
I recall the first “Casino Royale” in 1967, with the multiple James Bonds, and seeing it at the Granada Theater in downtown Lawrence, KS when I was a grad student at KU. Then Daniel Craig would star in the totally different remake in 2006, and the “Quantum of Solace” is said to be an immediate sequel.
Somehow the title of this film reminds me of the “Fortress of Solitude” in Smallville. Maybe Tom Welling fits the fantasy of the perfect man closer than Daniel Craig.
Seriously, like many Bond movies, Quantum (almost in the spirit of Max Planck’s theory in physics) seems like a hodgepodge of a lot of interesting concepts – visually, and even politically. The storytelling, as far as any real suspense, is a bit thin. Again, this is a world where people who get in the way or who know too much get “hit” (Alfred Hitchcock understood the meaning of this much better than most Bond directors -- remember "The Man Who Knew Too Much"). But the locations are stunning. In the scene with a climactic scene from Puccini’s Tosca, the film mixes embedded an “real life” killings, as did Hitchcock sometimes (like in Saboteur). But the best sequence takes place in Bolivia, actually shot in Chile, but the Andean desert scenery is stunning. (I wish the film had shown an image of Tiahuanoco and the Gate of the Sun on the shores of Lake Titicaca; Hitchcock would have staged a climatic chase and resolution there.) They could have done more with the high altitude problems in La Paz, but the city was made to look interesting, as was the rendition of El Alto. The politics of water supply and oil (with villain Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) as interesting, as was the image of the girl totally covered in black gold (refer back to Goldfinger). The opening reference to money laundering and bank fraud (well illustrated in a computer sequence) may have been meaningful. Judi Dench is appropriately matronly as "M" and forces Bond to go underground even relative to the Secret Service.
The earlier films always had "Q" showing off the new devices. Some of them, like cell phones, are all too common now.
Marc Forster directed, and the film was written by Paul Haggis (“Crash”) and Neal Purvis. The film went out under MGM’s proud lion big cat trademark, but it looks like Columbia did most of the work (production centered in Britain and Eon Productions, as with all Bond films). The famous Bond theme plays during the closing credits.
One of the most important films politically was the 2002 "Die Another Day" that featured a hirsute Pierce Brosnan as Bond, foiling an invasion across the DMZ by North Korea, something that could really happen.