Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cramming for Skyfall


I started to write this last week, then never got to post it. So instead of reworking it, I'll just post it as is and tack on a new ending.

Last week: 

The word is out that Skyfall is supposed to be pretty darn great.

Still over a week before it's released, its Metacritic score stands at a ridiculous 83. That's Argo territory.

Which means that a semi-indifferent Bond fan like myself may be on the verge of a good polish-up before seeing it in the theater.

I didn't like Casino Royale all that much. There, I said it. The film is pretty much universally adored, so it's okay if you're looking at me like I have three heads. I had multiple problems with it, but I won't go into them here.

What's germane about not loving Casino Royale is that it means I didn't prioritize seeing Quantum of Solace -- especially after hearing that my minority negative appraisal of Royale was the majority opinion here. I could have used that information to determine that Solace might be right up my alley. Instead, I moved further away from it -- so much so that I still have not seen it.

But the words of breathless praise about Skyfall -- at least from the eight positive reviews currently tabulated on Metacritic, compared to two mixed reviews -- got me thinking that it might be time to give old Quantum of Solace a shot. I suppose I wouldn't strictly need to see it first, but I try to watch movie series in order if it's not that hard to do. And catching up with just a single movie before watching Skyfall would not be that hard to do.

Except, maybe it will be. Turns out other people are cramming for Skyfall as well.

When I added Solace to my Netflix queue a couple days ago and immediately promoted it to the #1 position, I noticed that its expected availability was characterized as "Very Long Wait." Hmmm.

Now, in this post, Don Handsome convinced me that I shouldn't read much into the ETAs issued by Netflix. He told me he frequently gets movies that are in his #1 position even when their expected availability is less than immediate. And I believe I subsequently had the same experience myself.

But it did get me wondering whether this is the actual phenomenon I'm seeing: lots of other movie fans who, like me, did not see Quantum of Solace, and feel like the narrative might confuse them without knowing which person double-crossed whom in James Bond's most recent adventure.

That's kind of a joke, since a James Bond movie is a James Bond movie is a James Bond movie. I didn't worry about the fact that I hadn't seen any of the Sean Connery movies when I sat down to see Moonraker. (It was either that or For Your Eyes Only that was my first Bond movie -- can't say for sure.) You pick up what's going on pretty quickly.

However, what's not a joke is that people who read the critical dismissals of Quantum of Solace may be deciding it's worth reconsidering the movie, now that they know there will be another Bond movie and that it might be really, really good. In case you forget, there was a time when it seemed like the Bond series might not continue. Solace came out only four years ago, but the immediate two years after its release were plenty of time for chaos to reign about the future of Bond. Solace was the last film Columbia (having bought MGM) agreed to distribute, and it was uncertain what would happen with the series after that. Fortunately, a new deal was reached quickly enough for it to barely seem like a longer break than usual between successive Bond films.

This week:

Okay, so now I have some real-world results of my uncertain success about being able to acquire Quantum of Solace from Netflix. In fact, since I started this post, I've been unusually good about watching the discs in my possession. Today, the third movie since I started writing this post is shipping to me, and it's the third straight movie that has not been Quantum of Solace. So in this case, the "Very Long Wait" really means something.

So maybe I'll just not worry about the fact that I haven't seen it. I know there are other ways I could get it, but maybe it's not worth the bother. I'm feeling an excitement for Skyfall that I haven't felt for any Bond film in years, and maybe the attempt to see Solace would only slow me down.

Who knows, maybe it could even challenge Octopussy as my all-time favorite. Stifle the giggles all you want, but that's the one I saw ten times when I was a kid, and it holds a special place in my heart. Could Skyfall top it?

Eh, probably not.

8 comments:

Mike Lippert said...

is it bad that I've only ever seen the Craig and Brosnan Bond movies? Shhhh, don't tell anyone else.

Don Handsome said...

I'm seeing Skyfall tonight without having seen Solace. Its OK to do this, I'm sure - after all, the thing that interests me about Skyfall the most is its departure from the norm - Sam Mendes is not at all my favorite director - and he may just be overrated - but his choice as a director here really peeks my interest. What an out of the box choice.

And I think that the netflix trip of toploading with Very Long Waits only really works for new movies where the tag tends to represent anticipated demand for new movies. For an older film like Solace, netflix is responding to actual demand for a more limited supply of discs. I bet they are more accurate in this circumstance than with regards to new releases.

Travis McClain said...

I'm in the minority who loved Quantum of Solace. As you well know, I could go on endlessly about 007, but I'm actually much more interested in the big picture theme here of viewers playing catch-up when a new movie opens in a series.

I admit: I've passed on seeing numerous films over the years "because I still haven't seen the first one" and I'm sure that's relatively common.

When do we feel okay going into a series already "in progress" and why is that such a barrier to entry? If we passed on the first movie (or movies) in a series, why does a sequel make us feel like we missed something? Like we made a mistake when we chose not to see the earlier film(s)?

I can name several franchises that I've not really made any effort to explore to date in large part because I feel like I'm already behind the times. It's not just that I haven't seen the earlier films; it's that I didn't see them during their original zeitgeist. Ergo, even if I see the films and comprehend the characters, motivations, settings, etc., I still won't have the same emotional investment that the original audience had.

One of the fun things about following a series is the anticipation that begins the moment the latest film finishes playing. Part of the conversation I had with my friends about Skyfall centered on what we might see in the next Bond movie. That anticipation may very well have 2-4 years to build.

There's no substitute for that intangible part of following a series. The latest entry is as much a payoff for the waiting as it is a continuation of the earlier screen stories.

Vancetastic said...

Mike,

I don't think so. Except for huge fans of the series (one of whom has commented here), you could argue that the function Bond fills for most people is to be a good or even great cinematic diversion at the time it's released, but not something where they need to dig back through the catalogue. That means that you're likely to have seen the Bond movies from whenever you came of age cinematically onward, but considerably less likely to have gone back and seen the older ones. I haven't even seen all the Roger Moore movies, and I've only seen one Sean Connery movie (or two if you count Never Say Never Again).

Don,

And I am too, in about an hour.

Agree with your thoughts on the Netflix working protocol.

Travis,

You make all good points, but the one I haven't heard before that interests me the most is the idea that it's not necessarily that you can't go back and see the first films in a series, but that they are different if you see them after the zeitgeist moment has passed. Very true. I think this phenomenon is related to the idea of where you see a movie in its hype cycle. Most people who have heard a movie hyped for a long time end up being let down by it when they eventually see it. Calling you out here a bit, I doubt that when you eventually DO see The Matrix, you will have any way of liking it as much as people did when they watched it in 1999.

As for movies in general, I'd say that it's not that you CAN'T enter a series late, it's that if it seems easy enough to watch the earlier entries, you should TRY to do that first. I observe this in the strangest of places. For example, I heard Fast Five was hugely entertaining, and I wanted to watch it in time to rank it with my 2011 movies. But I hadn't seen the third or fourth entry in the series. Really? I'm caring about what happens in the nuanced chronology of the Fast and Furious movies? I guess I am.

Travis McClain said...

Oh, I entirely agree with you about The Matrix. I hadn't consciously thought about it until I read your post today but I'm almost certain that's actually a major reason why I've put it off for so long.

I only just got around to seeing The Sixth Sense and The Usual Suspects in the last couple of years. I liked them both, but only moderately so.

In fact, I would expand this "missed-the-zeitgeist" fear to account for why so many of us find classic films so intimidating and, often, underwhelming. This year alone, I've been disappointed by The Graduate, Saving Private Ryan and Vertigo, among others - all of which I'd put off seeing until this year.

Travis McClain said...

Oh, I entirely agree with you about The Matrix. I hadn't consciously thought about it until I read your post today but I'm almost certain that's actually a major reason why I've put it off for so long.

I only just got around to seeing The Sixth Sense and The Usual Suspects in the last couple of years. I liked them both, but only moderately so.

In fact, I would expand this "missed-the-zeitgeist" fear to account for why so many of us find classic films so intimidating and, often, underwhelming. This year alone, I've been disappointed by The Graduate, Saving Private Ryan and Vertigo, among others - all of which I'd put off seeing until this year.

Vancetastic said...

Of the five you mention, I only love three of them: The Sixth Sense, Saving Private Ryan and The Graduate. However, only two of them were movies I saw when it was time in the zeitgeist to see them, with The Graduate obviously being the one that I didn't. I've never thought all that much of Vertigo (which I also obviously did not see when it was first released) and I like The Usual Suspects, but not as much as the average person likes it.

The first two you mentioned both have an important twist. Did you know the twist in either of them before you watched it, and if so, do you think that contributed to why you didn't like them as much?

Travis McClain said...

Yeah, I did know both plot twists ahead of time thanks to pop culture and people's insistence on spoiling things. I feel relatively confident I'd have pieced together both on my own anyway before they were actually revealed. Even with avoiding nearly every discussion about Skyfall, for instance, I was able to piece together most of it just from the combination of the trailers, Adele's song and astute attention to the credits. (You don't cast Ralph Fiennes and slap him on a poster unless he's going to be a major cast member, you know?)