Books offer quality, well-told stories. Music is a treat for your ears. Movies are, first and foremost, a visual medium. This continues a series focusing on that element of filmmaking: the art of cinematography. The following is a collection of my favorite shots from Skyfall. [may contain spoilers]
The first article that I contributed to this site was the one that kicked off this cinematography series. In that “hello I’m new here and uh-oh this is what my opinions look like” post, I criticized an undisputed master in the art of cinematography, Roger Deakins. This is me, a short three weeks later, delivering on my promise to show my actual appreciation for some of that man’s exceptional work.
Sam Mendes' Skyfall is beyond beautiful; that much was made abundantly clear from the very first teaser.
Yes, I still believe Deakins used silhouettes excessively, but damn it if Skyfall doesn’t rank up there with Hugo and Drive as one of my favorite visual feasts anyway. Where the critics are concerned, Skyfall lost out on the Best Cinematography Oscar to a worthy contender in Life of Pi. Some people saw it as a significant snub... I simply took that result as another piece of evidence against the credibility of the Oscars. [Okay, that might be a bit harsh. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, after all. Let’s just say that my holding the Academy in low regard means I can’t be too shocked or disappointed when Gravity doesn’t win Best Visual Effects next month.]
2006’s Casino Royale was a pretty fantastic Bond flick, but its casino tables, construction yards, and airports weren’t anywhere near as photogenic as Skyfall’s trips to Shanghai, Macau, and Glen Coe. I remember next to nothing about Daniel Craig’s second Bond outing, Quantum of Solace, so there’s no hope of me referencing how good (or not) it looked. As you’re about to see, Roger Deakins' Skyfall effort gave the 007 series a new strength, and set an exceedingly high standard for his successor in the process.
This is the first image to come to my mind whenever my thoughts are taken to Skyfall. It’s significant for multiple reasons, ranging from being part of the film’s opening shot to announcing that Daniel Craig’s intense, blue-eyed, PPK-wielding James Bond is back. The lighting and positioning of the actor and his prop (using a window to define the outline of the otherwise-difficult-to-discern gun) are incredible.
In my first semester at university, I took a course titled Introduction to Film. Almost every week consisted of a screening (one of which remains the only movie I’ve ever walked out on) accompanied by a droning lecture from the professor detailing why he found the film significant. We eventually talked him into revealing that his favorite movie of all time was John Ford’s The Searchers, and all I can remember him highlighting (the film was one of the nine or so that we paid a week’s attention to) was a shot of John Wayne's character framed by a silhouetted doorway. I still find it all underwhelming and obvious, but my point is that maybe Roger Deakins remembers that shot too.
The adjacent shot is simply beautiful and dramatic, accentuated by its expert use of leading lines.
The snippet on the left comes from one of my favorite sequences in the movie. 007 corners an assassin on a floor of a Shanghai high-rise that consists solely of glass walls and doors. Beyond the windows, all one can see are the neon lights surfacing neighboring buildings. Those lights bounce around every inch of the glass panels surrounding Bond. Instead of acting like gentlemen and merely basking in the abstract beauty around them, Bond and Henchman #3 trade slaps. Their fight features an extended shot captured in part above. The dance-like choreography was filmed again in silhouette, against a digital background that impresses with its scale.
James Bond then journeys to a casino in Macau. There, he stops by the bar for a token martini - shaken, not stirred, of course - and raises his glass to the men meant to kill him. It’s another moment highlighted by Deakins’ proper application of leading lines. Is it even worth mentioning that Bond is again all but a silhouette?
[Note: I can’t speak for the filmmakers, but my positioning of a blue composition next to an orange one was unintentional. It’s an infamous practice, and I sincerely apologize for my contribution.]
Credit a few points to the location scouts here. The Bond family’s home, named Skyfall, is set in the ominous hills of Scotland. We’re granted a few good looks at the impressive structure, and this was my favorite of the lot. Standing stark against a foggy backdrop, Skyfall is further pronounced by the hills that take up space on either side of it.
I can only imagine how big a nightmare Skyfall’s climax was to film. Javier Bardem’s villain tracks 007 back to his parents’ mansion. His attack continues deep into the night, which alone would pose a fair number of challenges to the filmmakers. But the level of difficulty is taken up another notch when both Bond (intentionally...) and the bad guys (...inadvertently; go figure) blow up the house. This results in the rest of the scene featuring a giant blaze going on somewhere in the background.
Deakins of course seized this opportunity to cast his characters in shadow against the bright light source. More significant, though, was the eerie orange glow being cast through the fog. The effect was maintained consistently throughout, by one means or another (I imagine actual fire in some instances and stage lights in others), and the scene looked fantastic and appropriately dramatic to the end. Elaborating further on the above shot specifically, I love the positioning and movements of the characters.
There isn’t much for me to say about the final shot here. I simply think any of its frames would make a great photograph.
One February challenge down - atoning for my slight against Roger Deakins - one to go - somehow doing justice to Gravity’s incredible visuals in the tiny glimpses that the gif format offers. Next week!