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Skyfall: Scene by Scene

Skyfall: Scene by Scene

Skyfall is the twenty-third film in the James Bond franchise directed by Sam Mendes.

Skyfall and genre

Skyfall and The Bourne Supremacy are both spy films. Spy films themselves are a subgenre of thriller or action films which deal with espionage. The genre came to prominence in the 1960s during the Cold War. Spy movies can be about real life situations or largely escapist like the James Bond films. In most cases, spy films are about a secret agent embroiled in some kind of deceit, government coverup or covert mission. Spies are frequently characterised as amoral and deceitful. The first James Bond film was released in 1962. During its long history the franchise has developed its own conventions and is regarded as a sub genre in its own right.

The conventions of James Bond films

As students Jacob Phelan and Jacob Mathews noted in their discussion of the film: “Skyfall attempts to take the series in a new direction, defying many of the old conventions and tropes, while also paying homage to many of the nuances that made the series what they are.” If you are asked to write about the genre and its relationship to narrative in the SAC or exam, Skyfall has many worthwhile examples to discuss.

The gun barrel logo. Traditionally, Bond films have started with an animated gun barrel logo during which Bond strolls onto the screen and shoots at the audience. The gun barrel wavers and blood flows down the screen. The opening shot of the film is composed to mimic the gun barrel logo that appears at the start of James Bond films. Bond’s steps into a hallway, backlit by warm, golden light. Moving further down the hallway, his piercing eyes highlighted by a shaft of warm light. This combination of shadow and warm light helps to establish Bond as the film’s protagonist while the composition of the shot mimics the traditional opening of a James Bond film. “What you see here now is, of course, another version of the gun barrel logo,” Mendes says in his commentary.

An engaging opening sequence. Bond films traditionally begin with an exciting action sequence to engage the audience with Bond already embroiled in some kind of trouble. The opening sequence of Skyfall features a tense chase across the streets of Istanbul as Bond chases down a mercenary who has stolen important data from the British government. Towards the end of the opening sequence, director Mendes uses a number of production elements – including editing and sound – to create suspense and engage the audience. Mendes cuts back and forth between Bond and Patrice, who are struggling with each other on top of the train and Eve who is pursuing them. Cutting away from the struggle contributes significantly to audience engagement by prolonging the drama. The dramatic music continues to increase in intensity as Eve emerges from the ruined car with a rifle, crouching to take a shot. Mendes cuts to a point of view shot through the rifle’s sights. There are a series of close ups as he cuts back and forth between the sights, the look of concentration on her face and Bond. “I may have a shot,” Eve says. There is a mid shot of M, the camera dollying in the speakerphone. Mendes cuts rapidly between mid shot of Bond, the sights and a close up of Eve. “It’s not clean,” she says. The music continues to rise in intensity and the pace of editing becomes faster until M finally says, “Take the bloody shot.” There is a sharp crack as the rifle discharges and Bond falls from the roof of the train. Throughout much of this scene, Mendes uses loud non-diegetic music and fast paced editing to create a sense of action and excitement. When Bond is hit by the bullet, the music stops and there is silence, save for the ragged sound of Eve breathing and the desolate sound of wind. To draw out the suspense over Bond’s fate, Mendes cuts to a shot of M and then Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear) as they wait for a response. Finally, he cuts to a shot of the speakerphone, the silence continuing for a moment before Eve says, “Agent down.”

Inventive opening credits.James Bond films always start with an inventive credit sequence featuring an original song for the movie performed or written by a prominent artist and often featuring scantily clad women. Mirroring the style of previous films in the franchise, the opening credit sequence of Skyfall is highly stylised. “In Skyfall, Kleinman’s sixth outing with the franchise, the viewer is completely immersed within the mind of Bond as he sinks to the bottom of a riverbed after being shot by friendly fire during the film’s climactic cold opening,” writes Ben Radatz. “Set in the depths and ruins of his own private thoughts and memories, the sequence is a combination of many analogies: his past and current emotional state, his uncertain future, his many indistinguishable misdeeds and duties flashing before his eyes. It is the first Bond sequence, and the first Bond film, to dig into 007’s psychological past, both using his childhood home as an emotional safehouse and a prison, giving his character greater depth and a vulnerability more in step with creator Ian Fleming’s incarnation of the gallant, yet flawed, superspy.” In the narrative, the audience is encouraged to identify with Bond, the film’s protagonist. The opening credit sequence takes the audience on a journey through the character’s mind.”

Q and his gadgets. Before embarking on his main mission in the narrative, Bond traditionally receives gadgets from Q branch. In previous films, Q has been played by an older actor. In this scene, Mendes plays on the audience’s understanding of the conventions of this genre to engage them. “You must be kidding,” Bond replies when Q introduces himself, complaining that he still “has spots”. Q gives him his equipment for the film, which includes a gun and radio. “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore. Good luck out there in the field. And please return the equipment in one piece.” This final quip is a reference to the sometimes outlandish gadgets that appear in James Bond films.

Bond villain. In addition to the title character, James Bond films typically feature an eccentric, larger-than-life villain. In Skyfall, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) is an idiosyncratic former spy attempting to kill M (Judi Dench) for betraying him. Bardem’s quirky performance helps to establish the character in a way that is consistent with other Bond villains like the sinister Ernst Blofeld. When he is introduced, his voice is soft and melodious, incongruent with his long anecdote about killing rats. When mentions the rats eating each other, he makes a nibbling sound which helps to establish the character as macabre and menacing. As the conversation continues, Bardem eccentric performance continues as he makes a beeping noise while mocking Bond’s ‘little gadgets’. Later in the film, when he reveals that he tried to kill himself with a cyanide capsule, Mendes uses a close up of Silva’s disfigured face as he laughs manically. These examples of acting help to establish Silva as villainous and idiosyncratic, much like the villains from other Bond films.

Bond girl. James Bond films also feature beautiful women who are seduced by Bond. In Skyfall, the character Sévérine assumes the role of the ‘Bond girl’. She is played by French actress and model Bérénice Marlohe. During her first conversation with Bond, music is used to establish the character as sultry and seductive. In an interview, the film’s composer Thomas Newman revealed that the leitmotif he wrote for this character featured alternating minor and major chords as well as a harp to create “sense of darkness and exquisiteness and sexiness” at the same time, helping to establish the character as a typically seductive Bond girl.

Setting. Skyfall also features a number of exotic locations. This use of setting is another convention of Bond films. In the opening sequence of the film, the camera tracks Bond as he emerges from a building to suddenly reveal that he is in the dusty, bustling streets of Istanbul. Later in the film, Bond travels to Shanghai. Mendes uses a number of exotic establishing shots of the city at night.

James Bond’s leitmotif. In film, a leitmotif is a piece of music that the audience associates with the character. The Imperial March from Star Wars is a good example. Bond’s leitmotif is a surf rock-style riff played on a guitar that dates back to the original film Dr No. It occurs in the film when Bond first drives his Aston Martin.

Skyfall’s narrative structure

Skyfall fits neatly into the three act Hollywood narrative structure as shown in the diagram below.

Skyfall-Narrative-Structure

Skyfall scene by scene

To engage the viewer, Skyfall begins in media res. Bond is in the midst of a mission and his colleagues have been injured. “Ronson’s down,” he says. “He needs a medical evac.” The tinny voice of M (Judy Dench) can be heard through Bond’s earpiece. “Where is it?” she asks. “Is it there?” This line of dialogue contributes to audience engagement by encouraging the audience to speculate about what Bond is attempting to obtain. “We deliberately don’t say what has happened here up until this point,” director Sam Mendes says in his commentary for the film. At this point in the narrative, the score by Thomas Newman contributes significantly to audience engagement. The high tempo bass notes and percussion contributes to a sense of action and excitement as Bond tends to the injured Ronson. Narratives always begin with a disruption to the normal state of affairs. Skyfall is no exception. As Gareth Mallory explains towards the beginning of the film: “Three months ago, you lost the computer drive containing the identity of almost every NATO agent embedded in terrorist organizations across the globe.” The files were stolen by a disgruntled ex-spy called Silva (Javier Bardem) who seeks revenge after M abandoned him when he was captured by a foreign power. The stolen files are the first step in a confrontation between Silva and the British secret service. This complication forms the basis for the entire narrative, setting off a chain of cause and effect which creates conflict between Bond and Silva.

The opening shot of the film is composed to mimic the gun barrel logo that appears at the start of James Bond films. Bond’s steps into a hallway, backlit by warm, golden light. Moving further down the hallway, his piercing eyes highlighted by a shaft of warm light. This combination of shadow and warm light helps to establish Bond as the film’s protagonist while the composition of the shot mimics the traditional opening of a James Bond film. “What you see here now is, of course, another version of the gun barrel logo,” Mendes says in his commentary.

Towards the end of the opening sequence, director Mendes uses a number of production elements – including editing and sound – to create suspense and engage the audience. Mendes cuts back and forth between Bond and Patrice, who are struggling with each other on top of the train and Eve who is pursuing them. Cutting away from the struggle contributes significantly to audience engagement by prolonging the drama. The dramatic music continues to increase in intensity as Eve emerges from the ruined car with a rifle, crouching to take a shot. Mendes cuts to a point of view shot through the rifle’s sights. There are a series of close ups as he cuts back and forth between the sights, the look of concentration on her face and Bond. “I may have a shot,” Eve says. There is a mid shot of M, the camera dollying in the speakerphone. Mendes cuts rapidly between mid shot of Bond, the sights and a close up of Eve. “It’s not clean,” she says. The music continues to rise in intensity and the pace of editing becomes faster until M finally says, “Take the bloody shot.” There is a sharp crack as the rifle discharges and Bond falls from the roof of the train. Throughout much of this scene, Mendes uses loud non-diegetic music and fast paced editing to create a sense of action and excitement. When Bond is hit by the bullet, the music stops and there is silence, save for the ragged sound of Eve breathing and the desolate sound of wind. To draw out the suspense over Bond’s fate, Mendes cuts to a shot of M and then Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear) as they wait for a response. Finally, he cuts to a shot of the speakerphone, the silence continuing for a moment before Eve says, “Agent down.”

skyfall1

M turns abruptly and walks to the window. The camera dollies in slowly on her back as raindrops fall. Mendes cuts to a closeup of M staring at the bleak weather, the corners of her mouth turned down slightly to convey the weight of her decision. The sound of rain transitions to the roar of the river as Bond plunges over a waterfall and disappears beneath the surface.

Mirroring the style of previous films in the franchise, the opening credit sequence of Skyfall is highly stylised.

“In Skyfall, Kleinman’s sixth outing with the franchise, the viewer is completely immersed within the mind of Bond as he sinks to the bottom of a riverbed after being shot by friendly fire during the film’s climactic cold opening,” writes Ben Radatz. “Set in the depths and ruins of his own private thoughts and memories, the sequence is a combination of many analogies: his past and current emotional state, his uncertain future, his many indistinguishable misdeeds and duties flashing before his eyes. It is the first Bond sequence, and the first Bond film, to dig into 007’s psychological past, both using his childhood home as an emotional safehouse and a prison, giving his character greater depth and a vulnerability more in step with creator Ian Fleming’s incarnation of the gallant, yet flawed, superspy.” In the narrative, the audience is encouraged to identify with Bond, the film’s protagonist. The opening credit sequence takes the audience on a journey through the character’s mind.”

After the opening credit sequence, Mendes fades into an establishing shot of MI6 at night. He cuts to a shot of M sitting at her desk, the sound of thunder and rain contributing to a sense of melancholy. The camera dollies in on M who is sitting at her desk, typing. She raises one hand and brushes it against her face in a gesture of sadness. Mendes cuts to a close up of the laptop screen which has the word ‘Obituary’ next to a black and white photograph of Bond.

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