Director Sam Mendes and his team deliver such a satisfying film in so many areas, Skyfall may well be my favorite in the James Bond franchise.
It opens with James Bond (Daniel Craig) in Istanbul where an elaborate action sequence takes place on motorcycles, rooftops, and a train as he attempts to recover a stolen hard drive containing information about undercover agents in the field. The loss of that data would have such dire effects M orders another agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), to fire on the thief while Bond is fighting in close proximity. She’s not a great shot, resulting in the thief escaping and Bond falling off the train into a river.
The opening credits run during a brilliant sequence created by Daniel Kleinman, who has been creating them since Goldeneye except for Quantum of Solace. While playing over Adele’s excellent theme, which harkens back to the classics by Shirley Bassey and Carly Simon, many visual clues of what’s to come are revealed to those paying attention.
The intelligence breach is laid at the foot of M (Dame Judi Dench), the head of MI6, and while dealing with the political fallout, MI6 headquarters is bombed. Bond, who was hiding out after his presumed death, returns to the agency. M is so desperate she sends him out before he passes the required physical and psychological tests. The trail leads Bond to Shanghai, the location of the thief from the opening sequence. A visually stunning action sequence set high above Shanghai in a glass-walled office that reflects the bright neon signs eventually leads Bond to an island off Macau, where former MI6 agent Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) is conducting his revenge against M. A series of plot twists and turns find Bond and Silva one-upping each other, eventually leading to a final battle at Bond’s family estate.
Skyfall works because it gets so many things right. The screenplay by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan offers a smart script. However, I was disappointed they went with the obvious choice of Bond saving the day when it would have been good for M to do it. She’s been such a strong character it was unfortunate to see her turned into a damsel in distress. There are also nice moments for longtime Bond watchers that occur briefly without being overt. Cinematographer Roger Deakins and his crew do outstanding work in creating one of the best looking films of 2012. Editor Stuart Baird wisely allows the action to be seen clearly rather than cutting around it. Thomas Newman’s score consistently evokes the mood and deserves a listen on its own. Daniel Craig continues to impress as Bond and his supporting cast of Dench, Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, and Albert Finney raise the bar for what action films can do. In fact so many contributors excel, director Mendes guidance and decisions have been overlooked. If anyone was snubbed for an Oscar nomination for directing, it was he and not Ben Affleck.
The transition to Blu-ray loses nothing in the transfer. The 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encode, displayed at an aspect ratio of 2.39:1, delivers vibrant colors. Every exterior shot by helicopter is exquisite and reveals remarkable depth and clarity especially at night, when the bright lights of the big cities shine. The light pollution from Shanghai softens the black of the night sky. On the other end of the color spectrum, the muted browns and tans of Silva’s dead city look strong as well.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surrounds the viewer in music and effects. Vehicles can be heard moving through channels. Dialogue is always clear and never overwhelmed. The track offers a very good dynamic range as explosions deliver a good oomph on the low end and the shrill sounds of glass breaking ring out during the fight scene in Shanghai.
Skyfall comes with a few HD extras, though it deserves more. Sam Mendes offers an informative commentary covering the various aspects of production. He’s a big Bond fan himself and lets it so. The track was so good I am eager to hear his commentary on other films. A second commentary comes from producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson and production designer Dennis Gassner. It offers different perspectives, but isn’t as engaging as Mendes. “Shooting Bond” (59 min) presents an overview of the making of the film, covering aspects of the production with those responsible. It is available as one piece or individual segments, though many of the areas deserved more time being explored. Fans can see what it was like on the red carpet during the “Skyfall Premiere” (4 min) at the Royal Albert Hall with brief interview clips of the cast. There’s also the “Theatrical Trailer” (3 min) and the “Soundtrack Promotional Spot” (1 min).
Both Skyfall and the Blu-ray on which it appears are highly recommended. It’s an excellent addition to the Bond franchise regardless of how it affects the character’s continuity, which is a lengthy discussion for another day.
Operation: BOND will return with SPECTRE.