Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Bond Series Hits a New Low

The above is not a choppily edited, mind-pummeling trailer for Quantum of Solace, designed to make you wonder what the heck is going on here, so that you will come see the movie and find out. It is an actual clip of the film. It gives a good idea of the editing style of all its action sequences is like.

These people don't seem to realize that suspense is all about causation. "Given that this is happening, that is probably going to happen next. Yikes! I don't want that to happen! How is the hero going to avoid that?" For this to work, the viewer needs to be very clear about what is happening. Confusion kills suspense, creating instead an annoying sort of vague anxiety. (Compare this sequence with the greatest of all action sequences, the chariot race from Ben Hur -- a model of narrative clarity.)

This movie is confusing throughout. The confusion begins with the too-busy opening titles, which go by too fast to read the credits (don't these guys want to be famous?). It doesn't end until the Bond's pointless, ill-explained last encounter with the baddies, in which, after all the villains we know about have been killed, he arrests one that we haven't seen before and, as far as I could tell, wasn't especially important. As Nat pointed out to me, it doesn't seem to answer any questions raised by the earlier portions of the narrative, unless it is "will he ever turn a bad guy over to M for questioning, instead of just bumping them off?"

In a number of ways, this movie marks a low point in the Bond series.

This must be the first Bond film that is openly and belligerently anti-American and anti-capitalist. The dialogue contains occasional comments like “You don’t want another Marxist in South America giving natural resources back to the people, do you?” The villain is an evil capitalist, backed by the CIA, who pretends to be an environmentalist (a pretense that of course would automatically make him a saint, if it were true) but who actually kills political leaders who do things like passing minimum wage laws and replaces them with evil business-friendly dictators. His ultimate goal is to accumulate all the water in Bolivia (a public utility in private hands? gasp!) so that he can charge ruinous prices for it, bleeding the poor workers and peasants dry.

The fact that the film attacks private enterprise and plugs people like Hugo Chavez ("... another Marxist ...") creates a coherence problem for the film. The filmmakers don't project Bond as if he were motivated by their anti-capitalist animus -- that would be obviously absurd, as Bond is a long-time servant of British imperialism -- so they have to give him a motivation that is quite separate from the point of view of the film itself. Throughout the film, his motive for the death and destruction he wreaks seems to be revenge for the death of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. Given that, that is this movie about? It would be nice if I could say, "it's not about anything -- it's just an entertaining revenge tale." That is what most of the reviews of the film seem to be saying. But it is actually worse than that. It's also an evils-of-capitalism tale, and these two thematic elements interfere with each other annoyingly. The result is a movie that is not merely frantic and confusing but incoherent.


Anonymous said...

If there is any "message" in this new, titled-during-Madlibs, Bond it's that capital 'e' Evil is often attended by capitalist endeavor, not that capitalism itself is bad (for James trucks in nothing but). Were it to have targeted "private enterprise" itself Evil would not have begot Evil, rather, it would have been begot, through Evil means, from GOOD intentions, making the culpable variable isolatable. That is, it would have taken the form [Good intentions] x [Y means] = [Evil effects] which, through simple algebra, brings the audience to the conclusion that the means, Y, are Evil and therefore capitalist endeavor or "private enterprise", being the means, is Evil. But that's assuming too much of action movies.

Oh, and I've also thought about Bond as being a sort of continuation of the Imperial English Gentleman-Adventurer, who, often as an officer in the army or under directions from some other patriotic-ish org (like the Royal Geographic Society), romped around the extended empire as if it were a young or youngish man's playground, a grown-ups' boy scout adventure, a cultural trait which I think may have been a Man-ification of Grand Tourist tradition.

Lester Hunt said...

I think you are describing a relatively sophisticated sort of anti-capitalism, such as Marxism, where the idea is that it's the system that is evil and not the people in it. In popular fiction, you generally don't get anything nearly this sophisticated -- there the anti-capitalism (or anti-communism for that matter) that you see generally takes the form of depicting an evil, fun-to-hate villain who simply stands in for the despised system. Here no distinction is made between the badness of the system and the badness of the people who run it.

Ann said...

I am not going to see this movie - I've read nothing but horrible reviews. This is the first one not based on a novel by Ian Fleming, is that right? Television and cinema these days have mostly lost the art of riveting story-telling. Maybe they just don't have people working out there who understand this craft anymore. I wish some director in Hollywood had the cojones to make a techno-action-thriller out of Michael Crichton's State of Fear.

I just read the novel, and I think it would be excellent for that genre. Of course it has all sorts of inconvenient empirical data that counter the current propaganda about global warming. And speaking of capitalist economy, I wish I could find a real market that you could bet money against global warming, based on near-term (3-5 years) temperature trends. I am very convinced I could make a lot of money. Markets are about winners and losers, and people betting on different beliefs. So many seem to have bought into CO2 increase --> 'abrupt climate change' thesis, that you'd think I could buy some futures on the cheap, holding a very different view.

Lester Hunt said...

Ann, There seem to be four Bond films that are neither based on a novel nor on a short story nor take their title from either. ("Goldeneye" was the name of Ian Fleming's house!) This one takes its title, but nothing else, from a short story. Which helps explain why it is so un-Flemingesque.

This may be an obsolete link, but on the subject of betting in global warming, I did find this:

Ann said...

Thanks for the link, Lester. I found three things interesting: 1) the odds that global warming exists are 5:1, 2) odds that humans have caused global warming are 2:1, and 3) every other specific claim about predicted negative consequences widely discussed by the media (polar bears dying out, cities underwater, etc.)) are basically at least 100:1, and even advocates of AGW who are climatologists say the odds are more like 1,000,000:1 Wow! And yet, we should have world governments spending trillions for the foreseeable future to avert these 'dangers'? Also, one huge problem is that this site determines a win/loss on the basis of the -government- making pronouncements that the given claim is proven. Kind of like letting a batter call his own strikes and balls, it would seem.

Anonymous said...

The car chase in the tunnel resembles the alleged final moments of the Princess Di crash which is still part of the British national psyche. The movie makers really use formulae and rely on the popular memes like global warming, faltering capitalism, gov't subterfuge etc. For the target movie audience of 18 to 30 yr olds, this translates into ticket sales. 6 mos from now this film will be DVD sales or cable rubbish.

Kali Fontecchio said...

I got to see it for free, yet I still felt cheated.