3 min read

Skyfall- A Play with Shadows

After watching the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, I tapped a few quick notes: shadows, silhouettes, light, Tennyson.
Let the sky fall, when it crumbles
We will stand tall
And face it all together
At Skyfall

When Adele’s smokey voice starts singing the title song for Skyfall, I felt chills run down my spine. It is such a perfect song to introduce the Bond story we were all about to witness, both in terms of its lyrics and its melody. The way her voice rises and then falls to disappear echoes the mood of the movie: a play with shadows.

Writing about a film less than six hours after seeing it is usually not advised. Critics generally want the film to settle into their minds, contemplating it, swirling it around in their mouth to savour everything they had just witnessed. I could not resist, however, as my mind was racing even while sitting in the theater. When I exited the theater, I tapped out a quick note to myself to remind myself of what I wanted to write about:

Skyfall. Shadows, silhouettes. Play with light. Tennyson.

A short, simple note, much like the 23rd instalment of the Bond saga. Some of the criticisms of the most recent Bond film, Quantam Solace, was how visually incoherent it was. It’s a criticism of most modern action films, either the visuals are difficult to follow, or the story line has several failures. Thankfully, Skyfall provides a solid storyline with well-paced action sequences that I could follow. I would almost go as far as saying I could close my eyes for 30 seconds, open them and could understand how they got to the new point of action. That’s something I couldn’t really say with some of the Bourne movies, for example.

The use of light was brilliant in this film. Perhaps it is my background as a lighting designer that paid more attention to it, but it really is difficult to miss. Fight scenes in shadows, silhouettes in the right times, rising and setting sun or moon. Sometimes, I find the usage of light to be more of a gimmick in some films, but not in Skyfall. The director, Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Jarhead), and cinematographer, Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men, Shawshank Redemption, A Beautiful Mind, and other great films), really out did themselves with composing the mise-en-scène of the film.

Mise-en-scène refers to the composition of the image on screen, the set, lighting, costumes, and camera shot in film. Every time the scene shifted to a new location, the establishing shots took my breath away with their composition. There was always a variety in the usage of light, as well (i.e. sometimes the source was off to a side, others behind, in front, etc.)

Apart from the use of light (which would be far easier to explain with a wider selection of screen shots to use), the storyline also follows along with contrasting tones in humour and seriousness. M (Dame Judi Dench) refers often to shadows throughout the movie. Talking about how strong of a metaphor this really is will have to wait until a later time once more people have seen the movie. It is definitely something to watch for if you have the chance to see it.

The Tennyson quote I referred to balances the lyrics Adele sings of, bookending the film and this post. Its meaning will be much more apparent while watching the film, which I do suggest you go see. It is one of the better Bond films made, but also a very enjoyable film that mostly everyone will like. If you have seen the film, reading the words of Tennyson again may help strengthen your opinion about the movie.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield

Ulysses, Lord Alfred Tennyson. October 20th, 1833.

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