Bond Pretitle Sequences: Quantum of Solace
Simon Pitt |
Friday 5th July
I'm watching all of the Bond pre-credit teasers one after another.
Quantum of Solace
I remember thinking Quantum of Solace was good fun at the time. But watching the title sequence now again, it feels weak. And, even worse, it doesn't feel like a Bond film.
We open with the camera panning across the sea towards the land, intercut with shots of a car racing along a road. The music is steadily building.
Why no gun barrel sequence this time, though? In Casino Royale they mixed it into the pre-credit sequence, in Skyfall there was that silly thing about it clashing with Bond walking down a corridor. What's their excuse this time? Marc Forster has stayed silent on the matter, even if the fans haven't. The gun barrel turns up at the end of the film, although that doesn't make much sense to me. Beginning with that shot is about setting a mood and an expectation of Bond and all that comes with it. It doesn't work if you have it at the end.
The beginning of Quantum of Solace is distinctly different from other Bond films. The muffled building sound, the racing cars and quick cuts are not from the Bond set pieces we know. I hadn't thought about this before, but there's a rhythm to the Bond pre-credit teaser sequence. It opens on something quiet and calm. Maybe in another country, where Bond is undercover. Maybe some sort of event. We have a few shots before we first see Bond. He's undercover, on a mission of some sort (usually only loosely related to the rest of the film). Something goes wrong, and the action starts.
The opening teaser is a narrative game. It's a short five to fifteen minute segment that rapidly escalates to an over the top dramatic set piece. Yes, it might be a cliché, yes it might be ridiculous, but the art is the imagination and audacity of it. In some ways, the more ridiculous the better. What if Bond got thrown out of a plane without a parachute? What if he was trapped in a helicopter that was being flown by remote control by someone else? It's the ingenuity of coming up with a different climactic situation each time.
The rhythm of the Quantum of Solace sequence is wrong. It's too much too soon. And not inventive enough. The whole sequence is a relatively straightforward car chase. The usual Bond rhythm is to build towards an action climax. We have none of that here. This begins with a climax and tails off.
That's not to say it's a bad sequence. It's tense and tight. You feel every bump and screech, and the skill of Bond's driving. We see Bond gear shifting and pumping his clutch, in a way that we usually don't. It's very apparent that Bond isn't just glibly flicking the steering wheel; driving like this takes skill. The direction is gritty and realistic; a style that I've nicknamed "we-just-watched-the-Bourne-films".
The Bourne similarity isn't a coincidence. Dan Bradley worked on The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, and Alexander Witt was second unit director on The Bourne Identity.
I don't usually agree with Roger Moore, but for once his views chime with mine:
"[Craig is a] damn good Bond but the film as a whole, there was a bit too much flash cutting; it was just like a commercial of the action […] you were wondering what the hell was going on."
As with Skyfall, the local police are hanging around in large numbers on the corners of the road, just waiting for a violent car chase to start. Here the police play even less roll than they did in Skyfall. I'm beginning to wonder if the inclusion of police in car chases in Bond is a political gesture. Maybe the government of the country enforce it as a condition of filming, to say to the world, "we're a safe country, we wouldn't accept such behaviour on our streets and we'd send the police after them." Other than that, I can't see the point of their inclusion. There's one scene where the police van crashes and rolls down the hill and nearly hits Bond's car again, but other than that, they add nothing to proceedings at all. And they're never mentioned again. I mean, come on, a several policemen have just died, you'd have thought someone would comment on this.
I wonder if the sequence was cut up too much in the edit. They clearly cut it about quite a bit. Kevin Haug, the visual effects editor, comments that they had to cut a whole car out:
We did also have a third Alfa Romeo at one point that had to be removed. The sequence was running a bit long. The editor had a bright idea of getting rid of the third Alfa which required taking out a section of it. There's three places where we had to remove an Alfa or pretend that the Alfa that you are looking at is a different one
Bond's car is damaged more than in previous films, which goes with the more realistic tone of this film. I mean, Bond even loses a whole door at one point when a weird, inexplicable bit of metal comes out of the side of a lorry and goes through the side of his car.
Eventually, Bond reaches into his glove compartment and pulls out an automatic weapon, turns, and shoots the driver of the remaining car. There's something quite pleasing about all the times they've shot and missed, but his one shot counts. It's a twist of sorts; "oh, Bond had a gun all the time". Although you do have to wonder why he didn't use it earlier. It's almost as if he's going, "I've had enough of this now."
It's strange to see 007 using an automatic weapon. I remember thinking it was unusual at the end of Casino Royale when Bond shoots Mr White with a gun that isn't a Walther PPK.
One thing I can't fault Quantum of Solace for is its lovely location titles. We see the first one here for Siena, Italy, in an Italian decorative font. They maintain this conceit throughout the film. It's really well done.
With the final car dispatched, Bond pulls into a secret MI6 building. Getting out, he opens the boot and reveals that Mr White is inside. "It's time to get out," he says.
It's another twist, of sorts, when we realise that the film continues almost immediately on from the end of the Casino Royale. A weak twist; and it's a bit meta-textural. But a twist all the same. The screen freezes and we crash into the title sequence.
Maybe this is unfair of me, but I was left thinking "is that it?". The chase was hectic, it was tense, and it was fast-paced. But it didn't have any climactic, over the top set pieces that I expect from Bond titles sequences. There was nothing particularly original or stunning; no wow moment. Skyfall had a moment of shock when Eve shoots Bond and knocks him off the train. Quantum of Solace has none of this.
What's more, after the end title sequence, the action continues. "Don't bleed to death," Bond says gruffly, dropping Mr White into a chair. That's not how Bond pre-title sequences work. Usually, the opening teaser is temporally and physically distant from the action of the film. I don't want to intellectualise this too much (hah, who am I kidding, of course I do), but the Bond pre-titles usually exist in a separate space from the narrative of the film. For that reason, they can contain the most ridiculous and farfetched set pieces without fear of disrupting the rest of the narrative.
The opening of Quantum of Solace is too short and straightforward. I said earlier that Bond opening sequences are a type of narrative game. They are structured like a magic trick: the Setup, the Twist and the Prestige. Quantum of Solace just has the setup.
Funnily enough, "the twist" and "the prestige" follow immediately after the titles. One of M's men is a spy for Mr White, and after a cursory fight, where Bond throws a chair at him, a chase ensues across the rooftops. The sequence ends with a fight on swinging, collapsing scaffolding.
For my money, the pre-title sequence should have ended when Bond shoots the double agent. It's a perfect place for a pause in the action. Instead, after Bond shoots the villain, we get a weird jump. Bond walks back to the MI6 base, stares at the floor for a bit, and then we flip back to London several days later. That is the perfect place to put the titles, a missed opportunity.
Overall, Quantum of Solace's titles are disappointing, and not enough like Bond. Too straightforward, containing only a single sequence, they don't do anything we haven't seen before. I don't know what it is with this Bond. Many of his lines are blunt to the point of brutish stupidity. His only line in the whole opening sequence it "it's time to get out." He might as well just have said, "the opening sequence is over now".
I think he got the Point
Do all those vodka martinis silence the screams of all the men you've killed?
- “It’s time to get out,” Bond says to Mr White when they arrive at the MI6 headquarters. Not really a pun or a joke; or if it is, it’s the weakest one I’ve ever come across.
Perfect for relaxing after a hard day at the office
One of the pursuers' cars crashes into a lorry, killing the driver and the passenger. Whether this is Bond’s fault or not is debatable. I think if the police were involved, they’d blame the driver for dangerous driving. The guy is on the wrong side of the road, for crying out loud.
Bond then shoots the driver of the remaining car, which crashes off the edge of the cliff, presumably killing the driver and the passenger.
Bond shoots the passenger with an unsuppressed Heckler & Koch UMP.
The MI6 headquarters is hidden underground in Italy.
SP will return...