Sunday 6 December 2015

Spectre by Logan, Purvis & Wade and Butterworth

This is a great film, from the breathtaking prolonged opening tracking-shot in Mexico City to the deeply satisfying humorous coda in London. I'm so pleased it wasn't a catastrophic disappointment after the magnificent Skyfall.

The splendid thing about the current Bond team is the way they honour the canon, for example here we have a safe house in a shop called Hidlebrand Prints & Rarities — a gag referring to the Ian Fleming short story 'The Hildebrand Rarity' (which you can find in For Your Eyes Only). And then there's the great way Spectre provides an 'origin story' for super-villain Blofeld's scar and blind eye.

As usual, the screenplay credits feature the British writing team of Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, who have been working on the franchise since The World is Not Enough. Also on board is John Logan, of Gladiator fame, who joined the Bond bandwagon with Skyfall, where he made such a smashing contribution.

The new name on the script is Jez Butterworth, who is evidently the screenwriter du jour and has been doing some terrific work lately — in Edge of Tomorrow and Get On Up.

If we want to be picky — and we don't — we could say that Spectre falls into the classic Bond movie trap of coming up with a great opening sequence and not being able to match it at the end — a problem which Skyfall definitely did not have. Its ending was stupendous.

But if you're going to fall short of an opening sequence, Spectre is the one to do it for. What a magnificent piece of work it is. It is, I would say, the greatest prolonged tracking shot of all time and certainly the best since Orson Welles's Touch of Evil

Director Sam Mendes, who also did Skyfall, says, "Four days to get that shot — but it's a four and a half minute shot. And you can easily spend four weeks on four and half minutes of screen time if you're shooting an action sequence."

Speaking generally about his Bond films, Mendes remarks, "It's like being a surfer and surfing the big wave. You get wiped out nine times out of ten but when you catch the wave you really know it." And with Skyfall and Spectre he has caught two monster waves.

(These quotes are from an excellent interview on Radio 6 Music which you can (hopefully) find here.)

The movie also features a fine Bond girl in the form of Léa Seydoux as Dr Madeleine Swann, an amusingly Proustian name.* Oh, and a cute little mouse, whom thankfully Bond doesn't shoot.

The adroit Thomas Newman score is reminiscent of classic John Barry — interestingly, not just Barry's Bond soundtracks, but also his music for the film Body Heat.

Which brings us to the only real weakness of the movie — and it's nothing to do with Newman — a wishy washy feeble theme song by Sam Smith. At least when Goldfinger didn't rhyme properly ("Midas touch"/"spider's touch") it was in the service of a magnificent and madly ambitious song, which sounded just fantastic. 

Here when Sam Smith fails to rhyme ("glass" with "past"), it's part of a dreary, weak and utterly forgettable song which aspires to nothing and achieves exactly that. Sam Smith is said to have spent 20 minutes writing the song — it's snide and obvious to say it sounds like he spent 20 minutes on it. But it does. It's down there with the worst Bond themes ever, sadly. All the more disappointing after the great job Adele did on Skyfall.

(*In Marcel Proust's bloated tome The Remembrance of Things Past, Proust's fictional hero was Swann, and this long memory novel was inspired by the experience of eating a biscuit called a Madeleine.)

(Image credits: All the movie posters are from the reliable Imp Awards.)


  1. Glad you liked it. There's been some horrible reactions to this which frankly I just don't get. Here's my review

  2. Many thanks! Odd that people don't like it. What's not to like?