Quantum of Solace rant
It’s coming, filling the horizon like a great dark storm cloud with a massive advertising logo stuck on the side. The new James Bond movie is out this year and I’m dreading it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a huge fan of Bond movies my whole life, from the dark weirdness of Dr No, through the snazzy kit and cool style of Goldfinger, all the way to the visual panache and charisma of Goldeneye. I even like Timothy Dalton’s ‘The Living Daylights’, which, if you give it another go, is a really enjoyable action movie. But I hated Quantum of Solace. I hated it with vengeance. For months afterwards, I made voodoo Quantum of Solace dolls and stabbed them repeatedly with home made stilettos (which originally referred to a thin dagger by the way, rather than women’s shoes). I cursed the name ‘Quantum of Solace’ aloud on moonlit nights in the centre of standing stones, hoping for demons to do my bidding and remove it from reality, or alternatively a Chthulhu-like beast to come from another dimension and suck every square inch of its footage into the nether voids of space. Either would do.
Why did I hate it so much? Have you seen it? I’ll warn you first, it’s not even that easy to see if you’re sitting in front of it. The film starts with a car chase through the winding coastal roads of Italy. I’m basing that description on post-film internet browsing to be honest, since the length of each shot was so small, it was hard to make out anything apart from rock, tarmac and an Aston Martin logo. I was forced, thirty seconds in, to blink my eyelids rapidly, thereby catching sub-second snapshots that I could focus on, mostly by closing my eyes and watching the retina-fade of the images. Who was chasing who? Could anyone tell? Did anyone care? Why didn’t they just put a sports car under a strobe light, throw some dust in the air and let the film crew take the week off?
After a while, the film became viewable, but that wasn’t to give us the chance to actually watch the story unfold. Oh no, that was so we could watch the product placement. Look, everyone, Bond’s in a continental port. He’s hunting around. What’s he hunting around for? It’s obviously a difficult job because he spends an entire ten bloody minutes operating his Sony Ericsson phone! 'Drat', he thinks, 'the bad guy is part of an international crime operation! Fortunately, I can contact my superiors using my Sony Ericsson’s fast dial mode. Look at that', he shouts, 'the criminal mastermind has left some secret papers! Fortunately, I have my Sony Ericsson built-in two-megapixel camera with automatic focus to photograph the incriminating evidence! Look at how its screen glints in the bright Mediterranean sun! Look at how easy it is to hold in my strong, rugged hand! Look at how my fingers, trained to kill, operate its ergonomic buttons! I must send a high priority scrambled message to Q: Q, Have you tried my phone’s MP3 player? It automatically dims the music if someone shoots at me! You guys really have to focus more on this phone with its fun ring tones and less on those stupid ‘rocket launcher in a car’ gadgets! Oh, you’ve been told not to make anything so as to leave more room for this phone?... Makes sense. Do you know, Q, its number keys light up in the dark! Spiffing.'
I was grinding my teeth by this point but worse was to come. Bond and an ageing spy friend (who was looking forward to a happy retirement and therefore had a film life-expectancy of about fifteen minutes) decided to travel to another country, hot on the trail of the baddie. In previous movies, you’d cut to a stock scene of a plane landing and a wide shot of the new city, but not in this one! In this film, they go up to the plane's club lounge, filled as it is with ranks of Gordon Gin bottles and ask the bartender ‘how do you make the best martini?’ The bartender, standing in front of a long rack of Gordon’s Gin bottles, states, after some thought, that the best Martini involves some Gordon’s Gin. Really? Says Bond, Gordon’s Gin? Yes, Gordon’s Gin, says the bartender, showing him a Gordon’s Gin bottle in case Bond had suddenly developed severe myopia and chronic amnesia. The bartender then proceeded to make a martini, pouring out a generous helping of Gordon’s Gin from a sparkling Gordon’s Gin bottle, letting the Gordon’s Gin splash into the glass, sending shafts of light flickering around, illuminating the racks of Gordon’s Gin bottles just that little bit more. Mmm, said Bond, you’re right, you do need Gordon’s Gin to make the best martini. I agree, said Bond’s friend, Gordon’s Gin is the only... At this point, I’d stopped grinding my teeth as I was too busy frothing at the mouth.
I watched the rest of the film in a dulled haze. Oh look, I thought, a woman killed by being dipped in oil; that’s either a homage to Jill Masterson’s death through the lens of contempory global resource politics or a Gulf States fetish sex act gone badly wrong. Hey, look, a very obviously constructed set in the middle of nowhere that looks like Travelodge branching out into Timbuktu! I wonder what will happen to that...
Four years on, my memories of Quantum of Solace have faded a little into the mists of time, but the pain is still there. Some product placement is fine; Pierce Brosnan can smash through a Perrier truck with a tank if he wants to. That’s okay, it doesn’t get in the way of the brilliant tank-chase scene but when it reaches the point that your childhood bad-ass Brit hero may as well be standing on a rotating podium in a Corporate Trade Fair, waving his arm at an eight-foot replica soft drinks bottle while his bow tie spins around, producing a laser beam floating Coca-Cola logo, things have gone too far!
I should have written this four years ago. Maybe I hoped, deep down, that things would get better and Bond would become more like the first two Jason Bourne movies, i.e. cracking stuff, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. This appeared in the Independent newspaper this morning:
“Prepare for all the puns about irritated James Bond enthusiasts being shaken and stirred. Earlier this week, it was confirmed in Advertising Age that Britain's best known secret agent is going to change the habits of a lifetime and drink beer in the new Bond film, Skyfall. Heineken has struck a deal for a Bond campaign. There will be a new Heineken ad tied to the Bond film and Bond will reportedly be shown drinking Heineken in at least one scene in the movie itself.”
Where did I put that voodoo doll?...
I did go and see ‘Skyfall’, reluctantly, and thought it was bloody brilliant.