Monday, November 17, 2008
Quantum of Solace/ The Day the Earth Stood Still
So, the new movie. As I saw it, it was a pretty good action flick. Chase sequences, fights, things going boom! A couple of girls. The tuxedo and martinis and Walther PPK all, but, well ...
Instead, however, of Daniel Craig saying, "Bond. James Bond." he might ought to say "Bourne. Jason Bourne ..."
Yeah, you have to see it if you are Bond fan, but my feeling was that the heart of the plot was left on the cutting room floor. There's no there there.
The movie picks up immediately after the end of Casino Royale, mere minutes after, and concerns for the most part Bond's desire to achieve revenge upon those people who offed his girlfriend Vesper.
There is a nefarious plot, a secret organization, and a villain, none of which are particularly compelling, nor memorable. There is a female agent with a scarred back and a history, and a perky station MI-6 paper-pusher in South America that Bond seduces and sleeps with -- something that occupies maybe twelve PG-seconds onscreen, and, of course, she winds up dead. (In an homage to Goldfinger, by the way, you'll know it when you see it.)
It all moves right along. Dame Judy Dench as M steals every scene she is in. Craig is a good actor and he does his part, but it doesn't feel like a Bond film. His one toy is a phone-cam. There are some neat computers at MI-6. Yawn.
At the opening of most of the Bond movies, there is usually a pre-credit sequence involving some spectacular action, at the end of which, you get The Sting. The Bond theme, with horns, that lets you know where you are for sure. Not this time. Bond's Astin Martin gets mangled and cars fly off cliffs and smash into heavy machinery and all, but where is The Sting?
Not there. They play something after the boat sequence, but I dunno what it was supposed to be.
The villain is ho-hum. His henchmen are snorers. The goal is a So what? There is some artsy cross-cutting between fight scenes and horse races, and the director or the editor needs to learn what a master shot is, and get a SteadiCam.
As an action movie, give it a B. As a Bond film, C-minus.
In the coming attractions, I did see the first trailer for the remake of the 1951 classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still, with Keanu Reeves starring as, one assumes, Klaatu.
The new Gort is twice as tall as the old model and evil-looking, but that was a perfect 1950's science fiction paranoia movie and they should no doubt have left it alone.
After fifty-odd years of fantasy and science fiction movies, Klaatu's ship and the way it operated is still the most advanced-looking and -working vessel of its kind to hit the silver screen.
For those of you who haven't seen it, TDTESS , in glorious black-and-white, is Edmund North's script, based on Harry Bates' 1940 short story, "Farewell to the Master." It's a classic study in xenophobia. The humanoid alien, Klaatu, lands his saucer on the mall in Washington D.C. Coming in peace to let us know where we stand in the galactic scheme of things, Klaatu is -- naturally -- shot by a nervous soldier within a couple minutes of landing. This was not a smart thing to do when the guy you plink hangs out with Gort, a big honkin' silver robot whose death ray gaze can vaporize guns and tanks with ease, and who proceeds to do just that. Had not the wounded Klaatu stopped him, Gort would have no doubt disintegrated Washington, and in Klaatu's place, I would have let him.
Klaatu survives and escapes, but continues to have a real bad vacation. As part of his demonstration of power, the alien brings virtually all electrical activity on the planet to a halt for an hour -- therein the title -- and that gets everybody's attention in a hurry. Along the way, Klaatu deals with politicians, the military, scientists (who are actually portrayed here as good guys) a jealous boyfriend, and a dippy kid who even Mr. Wizard probably couldn't stand. And from the way he takes it in stride, you know Klaatu's seen it all before.
But we humans stupidly persist in our paranoia, and eventually, Klaatu takes another bullet, ending up more or less dead. As the alien visitor fades, he directs the widow Benson, (who has come to know Klaatu as a boarder who fascinates her son,) to fetch Gort. The giant robot snatches the body, returns to the ship, and is able to heal Klaatu.
When the mortally-wounded Klaatu miraculously recovers enough to stand up in front of his saucer and finally lay it out for us, you could have heard a piece of stale popcorn hit the sticky theater floor: "It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet," he says, "But if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burnt-out cinder."
A burnt-out cinder. Now there is an image.
It was obvious this was no idle threat. Gort could kick ass and take names, and to make things worse, there were others like him out there. We wouldn't have a prayer if we didn't toe the line. By this point, I was rooting for the aliens and feeling like scum for being human anyhow.
The movie was a metaphor for our turbulent times, complete with Christ-figure undertones. Gort was not a robot to be screwed with, no sir, thank you very much, not even if you did know the secret phrase, "Gort -- Klaatu barada nikto . . ."
They don't make 'em like this any more. Too bad.
And no matter what they do, they won't be able to touch Bernard Herrmann's musical score: The deep throb of bass, with piano and harp arpeggios, and that spooky, really spooky, therumin. That baby sent goosebumps crawling all over me in shuddery waves when I first heard it, and the score holds up well after almost sixty years. We are talking serious monster music here, copied ad infinitum in subsequent movies and on the tube.
Maybe they can pull the remake off. I'm not betting on it.