Skyfall Trailer: Bond's Chicken Little Moment?

The official teaser trailer was released yesterday (May 21st) for the November 2012 premiere of Skyfall, the latest MGM/Columbia installation of the venerable spy series featuring Daniel Craig as the redoubtable English Secret Intelligence Service agent James Bond. In today’s post, I’ll review the formal construction of this 1:16 film before hazarding an interpretation or two.

After the MGM and Columbia logos, we fade up on a rooftop view of London (looking East toward the Palace of Westminster from Pimlico, where the government security ministries are headquartered); Bond is center, foreground; his back is to the camera.

Two voices are heard off screen conducting a word-association interview. “Country,” prompts the distinguished, bespectacled interrogator/psychologist. “England,” responds Bond. “Gun” obtains “shot” in reply, as we see Bond/Craig running through a London park in the dawn’s light. Next, Bond stands in a shadowy interior doorway, “Agent,” is spoken to which he responds “provocateur,” (is he thinking of his own work or of the high-end ladies unmentionables boutique of the same name?). A firing range with a human silhouette target is shown as the word “murder” is spoken to which Bond, after a suitable pause, says “employment.” We are now at a medium two-shot of Bond and his interviewer in a tiled, flourescent-lit chamber, behind whose two-way mirrored windows, M (Judy Dench) watches the proceedings, flanked by Ralph Fiennes (in the role of mysterious Gareth Mallory). Finally, the word “Skyfall” is uttered and then repeated when no reply is immediately forthcoming. A scene, presumably a flashback of Bond on the job, gun in hand interrupts, before we return to a searching, dangerous stare (in close-up). Bond answers “done,” terminates the interview and and walks out.

The opening sequence features a blue/grey/black palette and all shots fade to black, in a steady, heart-beat rhythm, as the camera draw ever closer, crossing from exterior into interior. (By the way, the fades continue until the final quick-cut montage, described below. It is a remarkably restrained presentation for an action/thriller, but of a piece with Bond’s calm, unruffled demeanor.)

In part two, we cut to Shanghai (I’m guessing from the skyline), at night, showing bold, neon lighting, signage, video and advertising against the darkness. The color palette is warm, almost garish, composed or reds, golds and yellow. The shot continue to fade to black and the rhythm remains unchanged, although it is now established by a percussive two-stroke music cue, again heartlike in its “lub-dub” cadence. Bond fires his gun while walking through a ornately paneled room at unseen assailants; M overlooks a row of Union-Jack draped coffins; Bond in China, in tuxedo, at night, then with a gorgeous love interest, Naomi Harris, in a moment of intimacy.

Then Bond is back in the grey/blue streets of London, running through traffic in his well-fitted suit, tie firmly knotted. He falls, fully clothed, into water (as seen from below), then down a neon-lit elevator shaft, as helicopters hover and explosives threaten in successive scenes. A moment of visual repose interrupts the action: we see M and OO7, backs to camera, looking over a splendid, Scottish valley, whose mountainous horizon is shrouded in cloud and fog. A subway train then explodes through a wall and toward the camera, 007 approaches and peers out a window and the villain appears, silhouetted against a raging fire, as a jump cut brings him into extreme closeup. We never see his face; only the outline of spiked, messy hair tells us this isn’t Bond.

At this point, the title appears, white dots consolidating into the words “Skyfall” against a black background. Bond’s dialogue follows– over a machine gun being readied– constituting the de facto synopsis of the film being advertised. “Some men are coming to kills us,” Bond tells an unseen interlocutor with all the emotion of a diner ordering his meal. He then appears in closeup, suited, groomed and urbane: “We’re going to kill them first” he explains. Cue a recognizable variation on the Bond/007 theme and a quick cut montage of de riguer action– explosions, crashes, flying bodies, gunfire– concluding in the iconic graphic of 007 in which the 7 forms the stock of a pistol.

So, given our data, what interpretation can we make about this, the 23rd installation in the longest, best known, most profitable series of films ever produced? Of course, marketers for a well-known, much anticipated film with a predictable plot, mise-en-scene, familiar characters and likely ending enjoy advantages of provenance, familiarity and the desire of moviegoers for a pleasure they’ve had in the past and hope to relive/reactivate again. Suavity and sang-froid define Bond and make him an appealing hero for an anxious, uncertain, post-cold-war era. The teaser keeps faith with that portrayal. On the other hand, expectations are high and fans are knowledgeable, sensitive and unforgiving when filmmakers tamper with a beloved character, series and filmmaking style. Happily, there’s little danger on that score, from this teaser at least. As Craig Grobler of puts it, “we can expect one cool and suave Bond, some astoundingly beautiful visuals and…gravitas” as we cheer the return of the beloved secret agent, “ruthless and very dangerous when prodded.”

The editing, with its heartbeat pulse and breathing rhythm implies restrained but building tension and excitement, juiced by a squirt of adrenaline into the final quick-cut montage delivering a sample of the spectacle to be had in theaters. The alternation and association between Day and night, prompt and reply, London and Shanghai (West and East), cool, dull colors and warm saturated colors, the past (as in Bond’s tragic romantic history) and the future (unknown and anxiety provoking) overdetermines the relatively straightforward conflict with its action/reaction dynamic: “Some men are coming to kill us; we are going to kill them first.”

For a film named “Skyfall” there is little to evoke any such Chicken Little panic, which presumably refers to a calamitous event to be prevented by the SIS, although there are numerous scenes of bodies and objects (the subway car) falling, whether toward or away from the camera.

For a teaser, I’d say this piece of promotion strikes the right balance between awareness, announcement and deferment of satisfaction, given the extensive knowledge audiences already have about Bond and the exciting, glamorous, sophisticated world he inhabits. OO7 isn’t effusive; nor should his marketing materials be.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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