With a global gross of more than $1 billion, the 23rd James Bond film handled by Eon Productions is the most financially successful of the series in terms of real dollar amounts. Talk about the perfect way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Agent 007 on the big screen. Even when adjusted for inflation, Skyfall ranks an impressive third, only trailing the back-to-back stunners Goldfinger (1964) and Thunderball (1965). Not bad for a franchise whose future was only recently in doubt what with MGM’s financial troubles.
But box office figures, while certainly indicative of the film’s massive worldwide popularity, only convey half of Skyfall’s triumph. The critics, by and large, ate it up—and with good reason. Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) crafted an action epic with real suspense and emotion, its 143 minutes flying by while so many films that length feel bloated. Not only is it easily the best of the reboot era, there are few (if any) in all of Bond-dom that can match it for high-wire thrills. And in his third outing as Bond, Daniel Craig has crystallized his interpretation of the iconic character.
A large part of why Skyfall works so beautifully is the simplicity of its storytelling. The stunning opening sequence finds Bond, attempting to recover stolen files, chasing down a mercenary on a train track high above a ravine. He’s accidentally shot by Eve (Naomie Harris), another agent acting on the direct orders of M (Judi Dench). This spectacular blunder, in part, sets Intelligence and Security Committee Chairman Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) on a mission to force M into retirement. M’s not having it, of course, and the focus soon shifts dramatically after a horrific terrorist attack on MI6.
Where’s Bond? After his near-death experience, widely presumed to be an actual death, Bond lives off the grid for a while. It turns out M’s not the only one confronting the possibility of retirement. But Bond knows he can’t stay out of the game for long; it’s in his blood. With cryptic messages popping up on M’s hacked computer, it slowly becomes apparent that whoever was behind the bombing has a personal vendetta against her.
Once Mendes (working from a screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan) hooks the viewer, he doesn’t let up. Bond and M end up working together on a more personal level than ever before. They’re tracking Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), the most likely suspect in the bombing and subsequent cyber-intrusions. Too much detail while summarizing the plot will absolutely ruin the film’s juicy surprises. The enigmatic title brings to mind “Rosebud” from Citizen Kane and factors prominently in the film’s relentless climax. And while Craig and Dench deliver franchise-best performances in their respective roles, Bardem is scintillating as Silva.
Are there any problems? One glaring leap of logic midway through involves a primary character not being whisked away to safety when it was entirely possible to do so. If you’ve seen the movie, you probably know what I’m referring to. If you haven’t, you’ll know it when it happens. We might not have had the second half of the movie if a certain someone had simply been ushered into hiding when there was ample advance warning to do so. But extreme suspension of disbelief has always been a hallmark of the Bond series (speaking of which, how did Bond manage to survive that fall after being shot in the film’s opening?). The number of facepalm moments throughout Skyfall is mercifully low, however.
Skyfall received a total of five Academy Award nominations (all of which are pending as I write this): three in technical and two in musical categories (Adele’s theme is the most memorable Bond tune in many moons). The quality, however, is uniformly high enough that it could’ve just as easily turned up in the acting (Bardem is at the top of his game) and, dare I say, Best Picture categories. Oh, I almost forgot—this is Bond, and Bond isn’t the kind of film recognized by the Oscars. What a crock. I’ll take the visceral impact of Skyfall over the grandiosity of Lincoln any day. But awards and nominations aside, Skyfall was one of best movies released in 2012 and proof positive that James Bond is every bit as vital and relevant as ever (maybe more so).
So what about the Blu-ray itself? Let me open by stating without reservation that Skyfall offers a flawless high definition experience, from both audio and video perspectives. At the risk of tipping into mindless hyperbole, I will further note that this Blu-ray totally kicks ass. Roger Deakins’ Oscar-nominated cinematography looks truly spectacular in this 1080p, 2.40:1 presentation, from the bright outdoor opening to the dark, fire-lit climax. As a fan of old school 35mm film, in the past I’ve joined in with the anti-digital chorus, calling for an end to so-called progress and a return to the old ways. While real film remains a timeless format, with digital cinematography as vivid as what Deakins achieves here, there’s no reason for even the most ardent traditionalist to run from it.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix presents the film’s Oscar-nominated sound mixing and editing with equally impressive excellence. While the explosive moments will have your floors and windows rattling as well as any modern, big-budget actioner, it’s actually the subtler moments that help make this mix so winning. Much of this is due to Thomas Newman’s score, which often supports the visuals in a nearly subliminal way during Skyfall’s more contemplative moments. A great deal of careful crafting was invested in making this a truly immersive aural experience, one that goes far beyond the bombast of typical genre fare. There’s a sense of elegance to the quieter moments that allows for ambient background noises to compete with Craig’s thick, resonant dialogue or even gunfire. This is one to turn up and get lost in.
As for supplemental features, we get a solid selection of well-produced material that should be just enough to make Bond fans happy. That said, the two commentaries and one hour of featurettes isn’t going to blow anyone away, either. The first commentary features director Sam Mendes and if you only have time to listen to one, this should be it. Mendes keeps things consistently interesting, providing thoughtful reflections about all aspects of the production. The second track features producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, joined by production designer Dennis Gassner. Truth be told, I couldn’t get through this track — too much narrating what we’re plainly seeing and overall glad-handing to be very compelling.
Thankfully the 14 short featurettes, collectively called “Shooting Bond,” are breezily entertaining. I don’t like seeing so many film snippets included—any behind-the-scenes or interview footage is better than that kind of rehash. But I enjoyed these making-of segments and appreciate that they’re viewable in bite-sized chunks. Aside from the theatrical trailer, there’s also a short featurette with footage from the film’s world premiere, which was obviously quite an event.
Skyfall is a bracingly effective action thriller that is not only a great Bond film, it’s a great straight-ahead, standalone film even for those who have never spent any time in the Bond universe. The Blu-ray offers a demo-worthy presentation in terms of picture and sound, as well as a just-right serving of extras that mostly enhances the experience.