Quantum of Solace (US - BD RA)
Gabe is pretty disappointed with the second Daniel Craig Bond movie...
The new James Bond (Daniel Craig) is still on the job, and still trying to deliver his new prisoner, who is likely the member of a large and apparently unknown group of international villains. But before Bond and M (Judi Dench) have a chance to question him a fire fight breaks out and he escapes. Bond is then sent on a wild goose chase with the few clues MI6 has gathered, and finds himself in cahoots with Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a tough cookie nursing a blood oath revenge scheme, against the evil Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a villain who specializes in coup d’tat.
I knew that Casino Royale was going to end up a one-off in the James Bond pantheon. The 2006 series reboot was just too perfectly balanced for a follow up to fully work. It was all but a foregone conclusion that the committee that makes this series was going to misunderstand this perfect balance and over-indulge in the wrong things. It’s not a wash, but Quantum of Solace doesn’t touch its predecessor on most levels. It’s still better than the bulk of the Pierce Brosnan Bonds, and worth the effort for series fans, but it’s following up arguably the most successful Hollywood series reboot ever, and comparatively it’s a disappointment.
The area in which the film works best is also arguably one of its bigger weaknesses, and is one of those bits of over-indulgence I prognosticated about. I am speaking about the film’s increased level of brutal violence. Casino Royale was pretty brutal, and surprisingly realistic considering the asinine excesses of Die Another Day and The World is Not Enough, but it wasn’t quite as mean as Solace. The Bond of Royale was brutal in his efficiency, while the Bond of Solace is brutally angry. This likely marks the first real arch for the character since his filmic inception, which bored passing fans like me, so the growth is a plus.
On the negative side is the degree to which the action has been pressed this time around. Hiring Marc Forster looked awesome on paper. I’m personally not the biggest fan of the director’s somewhat mawkish back catalogue ( Monster’s Ball, Finding Never Land, The Kite Runner), but he had a rough edge, and often independent filmmakers are a perfect fits for massive action films looking for some more serious credentials. Sometimes the fit is perfect (Bryan Singer, Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson), but quite often an independent mind has no idea what to do with massive action. For the same reasons I wouldn’t want to let Michael Bay anywhere near American Psycho, some art house directors don’t belong behind the scenes of James Bond car chases.
But again, it’s a mixed blessing situation. Forster appears to be taking the Jean Pierre Jeunet route. When hired to direct the fourth entrée in the Alien series, Alien Resurrection, visual artist, and generally oddball filmmaker Jeunet watched popular Hollywood action films and took specific technical notes on timing, pacing, etc. The final effect was a bit iffy (I happen to like the film, but only for the weirder visual moments). Forster seems (and this is total supposition) to have mixed his more rugged dramatic style with a studied look at the Jason Bourne series, the early Bond films, Casino Royale, and some of the ‘70s rougher cop films (like The French Connection and Dirty Harry). The final effect is effectively breathless (literally, I caught myself gasping for air the first time I saw the film), but also entirely jumbled. There’s very little logical geographical set-up, the camera moves in too ragged a manner, and the cutting is so frequent the action becomes almost subliminal.
The jagged edges aren’t the ship sinker though, it’s the script—the script that took reportedly five people to write. First, there is a lack of cohesion. At first it appears the plot is cryptic because it’s complex, and it’s a good trick… until you see the movie a second time, and realize how thin and obvious every movement is. If this had been the first time I’d seen the film, and I’d written this review immediately after seeing it, I would’ve probably said something about the complex fashion in which the plot unfolds, but seeing it again, the whole thing is almost shockingly simple. There’s a red herring that’s such an obvious herring I actually didn’t get that the audience was supposed to be fooled by it, the story takes Bond around the world for really no apparent reason, and the whole thing kind of feels like a missing final couple of reels from the last film. It’s exciting that the property owners are willing to make the first ever direct Bond sequel, but the execution is more like a quick retread of the previous episode than a further exploration of a newly humanized Bond (Remember this guy? Remember when Bond did this? Remember when M did that?).
Then there are the characters. The acting is great, really, really great. The two weakest links in this powerful chain are Gemma Arterton as Strawberry Fields, and Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter, but I don’t think the underperformance is really either actor’s fault. Wright was just as gruff in Royale, but there was a charm behind the performance (not to mention the actor’s many other movie stealing roles), and there are enough glimpses of quality in Arterton that I can’t blame the flat characterization as literal fodder for Bond’s figurative canon on her. Craig and Dench make out the best, but I’m assuming they’re the most beloved among the characters for these writers, who give them great moments, if not great definition. The wildcard is Olga Kurylenko as Camille Montes, who has a flat out stupid back story (it’s Chun-God-damned Li’s back story for Christ’s sake), a load of bad lines, and a distinct lack of range, but still manages to make an impression. I want to say that Kurylenko’s smouldering performance works because of an intangible talent, but I have a horrible feeling that I’m just really attracted to her physically. She’s clearly no Eva Green, though.
I can bitch and moan about Forster’s confusing action, but there’s no doubt he has a great eye for beauty. Quantum of Solace doesn’t feature the most locations in the Bond travelogue, but they’re juiced of almost all their potential. In 1080p high definition we can fully enjoy the bronze and oranges of Sienna, the dim overcast of London, the saturated warmth of Bolivia, and the desaturated heat of the desert, without compression issues getting in the way. Colours are obviously very important to differentiating the locations, and you really couldn’t ask for much more than this. Details are super-sharp thanks to stylized high contrast film (sometimes HD video, apparently), and are most impressive during the various wide angle city establishing shots, which almost match last year’s Baraka Blu-ray release. Film grain is mostly unnoticeable, and most of the green screen and digital effects blend into the rougher stuff gracefully. The only effect that doesn’t work, curiously enough, is the prosthetic scar on Olga Kurylenko’s back, which looks like crumpled rubber cement.
Quantum of Solace opens with a confusing and intense car chase, which succeeds in large part to its impressive sound design. Things open with majestic music which then builds slowly into the intense revving of Bond’s engine, where the music drops out and gives way to a whole bunch of super-sized screaming tires and crunching metal. Then the sound is subtly sucked out, giving way to more score, and finally ending the scene in almost total silence. This juxtaposition of silence, noise, and music is replayed several times throughout the film (it’s most extreme during the end of the boat chase), making the scene a little less special, but it’s all quite cool in DTS-HD Master Audio. Aurally you’ve pretty much got it all in this mix—crowd scenes, car chases, foot chases, a boat chase, a plane chase, an opera scene, bullets whizzing through the surround channels, massive explosions, a whole lot of shattering glass, and all the while extremely aggressive and rhythmic musical score. David Arnold continues his quality Bond scores, assuming both the role of theme keeper, and theme creator. This is one of the more bombastic Bond scores, which is saying something.
Historically speaking the first James Bond release usually isn’t what we’d call ‘definitive’, and it looks like Quantum of Solace is another first round release. The extras on this disc are really minimal. The uncoolness begins with a hi-def music video for Quantum’s title song, ‘Another Way to Die’, and performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys. ‘Another Way to Die’ is a pretty ballsy little song, and though I’m not sure I like it (or really any of White’s music), I really respect it for standing as an original in the pantheon, but still managing to sound similar to the series’ other credit songs.
‘Bond on Location’ begins the fluffy featurette-fest. This is an unmistakable EPK, which I’m assuming played on television, meant to drum up interest in the film prior to release. The tone set by our narrator and cast and crew interviews (not to mention the soundtrack) verges on infomercial, and there’s not a lot of finished film footage presented. As the title signifies, this bit covers the film’s location search, and it does it with a tourist video interest level. Some aspects of physical filming are also covered, which is generally more interesting than flat explanations of terrain. The behind the scenes of the opening car chase, and seeing Craig do so many of his own stunts are likely the prime bits in the entire twenty-five minute featurette.
‘Start of Shooting’ appears to be a little more informative for those of us that have already seen the film, but turns out to only run three minutes, and offers nothing new. It’s followed by another ‘On Location’ featurette, which doesn’t only sound entirely moot, but almost exclusively uses footage already seen on the ‘Bond on Location’ featurette. ‘Olga Kurylenko and the Boat Chase’ continues the trend, briefly covering Kurylenko, and then repeating the preparation and boat chase shoot footage from the other featurettes. ‘Director Mark Forster’ finishes the fluff-fest with a butt-kissing tribute to Forster. ‘The Music’ speedily looks at composer David Arnold’s scoring, and the filming of the ‘Another Way to Die’ music video. In total these featurettes run about twelve minutes.
‘Crew Files’ are split into 24 small pieces. When one hits the ‘play-all’ option one can see a collection of webisodes, each totalling an average of two minutes. These are sweet enough, but not particularly entertaining or informative. The disc is completed with two trailers, and trailers for a few other Fox releases.
I’m pretty lost on what to give Quantum of Solace as a final score. I’m trapped somewhere between a 6 and a 7 out of 10. It’s an entertaining film, and surely worth seeing, even buying for the series’ fans, but it’s a weak follow up to a nearly perfect reboot. From this standpoint it should be considered an admirable failure. I hope that we’re done with this particular story and the next movie sees Bond moving on to something unrelated to Casino Royale. The events of his first 00 adventure can still haunt him, that’s perfect if we’re developing a continuity, but if the next Bond takes place twenty minutes after Quantum of Solace things are officially going to be silly. This Blu-ray doesn’t disappoint at all in the audio and video department, but the extras are made up of lame filler.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 24th March 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 French, DTS 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Chinese
Extras: Music Video, 'Bond on Location', 'Start of Shooting', 'On Location', 'Olga Kurylenko and the Boat Chase', 'The Music', 'Crew Files', Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Marc Forster
Cast: Daniel Craig, Jesper Christensen, Olga Kurylenko, Judi Dench, Lucrezia Lante Della Rovere, Tim Pigott-Smith
Genre: Action and Adventure
Length: 106 minutes
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