Thursday, September 25, 2008

Quantum Of Solace - longer to spell than to watch?

This came out a couple days ago, but I couldn't find any respectable places where this had been confirmed. Now it's widespread enough that I feel comfortable commenting on it.

Quantum Of Solace will not feature two trademarked James Bond lines ('shaken, not stirred', and 'Bond... James Bond'), with director Marc Forrester basically giving up on putting them in without it feeling disjointed and unnatural. Good for him. Yes, they are classic lines, but also the kind of obvious references never fail to pull you out of the movie. And, for the record, could they avoid having someone archly say 'quantum of solace' in the middle of the movie? Having characters intentionally utter the title of the movie is a pet peave of mine ('It's a SCREAM, baby!")*, and Bond films are the biggest offenders.

More surprising is the apparent running time of 106 minutes. That's right, Quantum Of Solace may be the shortest James Bond film ever, possibly by a wide margin. A brief history: The first three James Bond films (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger) were about 111 minutes long. Then, starting with Thunderball in 1965, the James Bond series broke the two-hour barrier and never looked back. The only other film to be under two hours in between 1965 and 2008 is Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997, which ran 119 minutes. And the last film, Casino Royale, ran a record 144 minutes. Now that was technically four minutes longer than On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1967, but of course end credits were much shorter back in the day.

That brings us to the next question. Does that 106 minutes include ending credits? If not, then Quantum Of Solace will likely run about 115 minutes, which would simply make it on par with Tomorrow Never Dies and the earliest Connery Bonds and thus not break the record for the shortest 007 adventure. However, if that includes 7-10 minutes of credits, we could see a James Bond film that has about 96 minutes of actual content. Factor that with reports that the film will have a fifteen-minute pre-credits sequence, plus the usual three to five-minute theme song, and you have a movie that's almost 25% over by the time the credits are over.

Obviously running time doesn't designate a good movie. As Gene Siskel said, no good movie is too long and no bad movie is too short. But considering the sheer amount of (admittedly exciting) action set pieces on display in the two trailers, there is a fear from this writer that the film may become something akin to The Bourne Ultimatum - all action, no story. Pure speculation at this point, but I'll feel better when the film starts screening (next month?) and we find out if there is any character development and/or plot to this second Daniel Craig 007 picture.

I'm also concerned because it seems that, at least since Roger Moore left, that we've had a situation where we've had a Bond film trade off of sorts. The Living Daylights was complicated and real-world messy, while Licence To Kill was simple and somewhat simpleminded (I love both Dalton pictures, but the former has aged better than the latter). Furthermore, Goldeneye was complicated and story-rich, while Tomorrow Never Dies was simple and easy to follow (Brosnan was quoted in Entertainment Weekly as saying that Goldeneye was too much work for audiences). The same thing with The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day. The former was rich with character development and multilayered plotting, the latter resembled a bad cartoon by the second act.

As long as we're playing the even/odds game, let's acknowledge that Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day both suffer from the same major flaw. They both spend the first hour telling a character driven Bond story dealing with an unexplored part of Bond (What happens what an old flame comes back? What happens when Bond gets captured and can't be trusted?) In both films, these stories are tossed overboard in the second hour as Bond teams up with a secret agent from another country to blow up the bad guys without a care in the world (for all of Halle Berry's constant libels about how Jinx was the first Bond girl to do anything ever, she was a rewritten version of Michelle Yeoh's character from TND). Bits and pieces from the second trailer have me worried that this particular 'every other film' pattern may continue.

I've said many times that I feel director Martin Campbell was the unsung hero of Casino Royale, and that the somewhat on-the-nose dialogue by Paul Haggis was the weak point. Giving that Campbell passed and Haggis stuck around, I'm concerned that Campbell's penchant for visually decipherable action and genuine character development may have been lost as well.

Now that I've engaged in rampant fact less, conjecture for a few paragraphs, let me be optimistic for a moment. The trailers do look terrifically engaging. I adored Marc Forrester's Stranger Than Fiction, and I've liked all of Haggis's other recent work, so don't read this as bashing the replacement director and the script doctor. I'll gladly eat my words if the film ends up being closer to The Living Daylights than Die Another Day, but for now I'm officially in the category of 'trust, but verify'.

Scott Mendelson

* Ironically, the original working title for Scream was in fact 'Scary Movie'. Needless to say, that would have been even more annoying as the characters do make a point to overtly say 'scary movie' about two dozen times in the course of the picture.

1 comment:

Missy said...

106 minutes does seem too short, I'm getting worried now. I'm already dreading walking up to the ticket booth and not sounding like an idiot. I'm just gonna say James Bond for one please. That title is just all kinds of wrong.


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