When James Bond (Daniel Craig) meets a young, tech-savvy Q (Ben Whishaw) for the first time in "Skyfall," 007 drily asks, "So why do you need me?" Q replies: "Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled."
"Skyfall" confronts the relevance of the aging special agent in a new era, where pubescent programmers rule an intelligence force in a rapidly declining empire. Despite the advances in technology, we still need Bond to come in and save the day. From start to finish, we are caught up in 007's complex world of murder and intrigue in far-flung destinations like Istanbul, Shanghai and Macau to MI6's home base in London.
Last year, “the longest running film franchise of all time” turned 50, and it will be honored during this year's Academy Awards in a special tribute. By this time, we have all become “Bondologists,” analyzing the film for the signs that make it 007-worthy. In the 23rd Bond film, Craig's Tom Ford suits are immaculate, his cocktails are “shaken, not stirred,” and the Bond girls are still seductive and dangerous. This staying power is why the film franchise still resonates with audiences.
But what makes “Skyfall” the highest grossing Bond film yet has a lot to do with the production design. Dennis Gassner, who worked with director Sam Mendes on “Jarhead,” created a series of increasingly intriguing worlds onscreen, from an abandoned island to a floating casino, complete with giant, illuminated Chinese dragons. We also visit Shanghai, where a sequence involving glass doors at nighttime is worthy of a comparison to the hall of mirrors scene in "Enter the Dragon." In a videoblog about his process, Gassner says, "If we can't find a location that works we build it onstage."
Gassner also worked on the last Bond film, “Quantum of Solace,” but his stylistic choices are strongest in “Skyfall.” This year, the Art Directors Guild nominated the movie for excellence in production design for a contemporary film (along with “Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Impossible,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” and “Flight”).
In one of the more remarkable scenes in the film, we visit the hauntingly decrepit “wind-blown, storm-swept” island of Bond villain Raoul Silva, played by Javier Bardem. At first glance, the uninhabited island appears to be a wasteland, but Silva brings Bond into his tricked-out inner sanctum. Because it’s the 21st century, the “secret lair” is a server farm of sorts, empty save for suspended shelves of electronic equipment and wires. It’s how one conducts espionage now, we gather. Just when our hearts drop from this depressing realization, we are hit with a cruel game, a merciless killing, and a daring rescue. It's these perfectly timed moments that pick up the film and resurrect the idea that Bond still matters, even if the world looks quite a bit different than it did in 1962.
In an interview with Time Magazine, Mendes says, "I just made the James Bond film I would want to see now." With Gassner's help and the aid of master cinematographer Roger Deakins, the ambitious director was able to present a visually stunning film that delivered a new world protected by a gentleman we all know and trust. Is this enough to win best film? We'll find out on February 24.
This undated publicity photo released by Columbia Records shows the official theme song by Adele to the latest James Bond 007 feature film, "Skyfall." After a year of Grammy glory and James Bond soundtracking, Adele has been voted The Associated Press Entertainer of the Year. (AP Photo/Columbia Records)