Blog 680: Close, But No Biscuit – James Bond – Part 2

You know, in transcribing this podcast, I realise how differently I speak than how I write. In real life I stutter and switch tracks, lose my place and thoughts that I was about to say dribble away. To be fair, most of my blog posts spend a week (or even two) being refined and massaged into shape, turning a formless blob of thoughts into some kind of coherent narrative, and the live and raw nature of a podcast means my slow wits often let me down…

On that note, it’s time for part 2 of the James Bond Suite of Close, But No Biscuit! This one even has a musical interlude — check it, Brosno.

(Transcript is included in the blog post.)

TRANSCRIPT

Announcer: CLOSE, BUT NO BISCUIT
Chris: We scooted over Casino Royale a little bit… I think what we kind of concluded was that it was closer to the biscuit than any other of the Daniel Craig Bond films. Let’s wrap up Casino Royale.
Rao Dao Zao: As I say, I saw it at the cinema, and I remember enjoying that cinematic experience. Not hating it, actually enjoying it, so… some level of biscuitry was got.
Chris: I don’t think it got the biscuit.
Rao Dao Zao: It might have punched the crumbs a bit.
Chris: (laughter) Had a nibble and stopped. I felt that the ending of it, it ended on the right note. The last line of Casino Royale the book is “the job is done, the bitch is dead”.
Rao Dao Zao: Huah!
Chris: Huah! You know, it’s a horrible ending, but the book and the film are very alike in the sense that it establishes the Bond character.
Rao Dao Zao: Wait a minute, isn’t Casino Royale the one where he fancies her, he doesn’t think she’s a bitch?
Chris: Right. But the idea is that she betrays him, in the book and the film. The idea is that she’s a double agent that he legitimately falls in love with, in the book he’s thinking about marriage, all this stuff, and it turns out she’s working for the other side. This then establishes Bond’s character as a man that trusts nobody, is emotionally cold and possibly someone who really doesn’t like women. What makes him an exceptional spy is the fact that he is to a degree impenetrable, because he is now so emotionally robotic and machine-like, because he now cannot form relationships with other human beings, because that experience scars him so badly. I think what makes him the exceptional agent that he is, is the fact that he–
Rao Dao Zao: He just uses people, he doesn’t engage with them.
Chris: He is driven by the mission, and the mission alone. Now, Casino Royale the film hits that note perfectly. It’s basically, he goes down, is betrayed, goes emotionally low, he is a bit of a dick, but “the job is done, the bitch is dead”. And then the ending is him going after– she leaves him some hint as to who was controlling her–
Rao Dao Zao: It was me all along, Bond!
Chris: Yes, we’ll get to that.
Blofeld: The autha of all ya paaain.
Chris: But there’s a part where he shoots the guy in the knee, theme song creeps in, the audience go home happy, and it kinda does what the next three films do in a few minutes, and it just says “I go low, but I’m now focused on the mission, and that’s what keeps me going.”
Rao Dao Zao: What you’re saying is… ♫ I get knocked down,
(Together): ♫ But I get up again, you ain’t ever gonna keep me down
(laughter)
~Musical interlude: Tubthumping, Chumbawamba~
Chris: Bond’s entire character premise is that he’s like a shark, as long as he keeps moving he’s okay.
Rao Dao Zao: As long as he doesn’t jump over it, it’s fine.
Chris: There’s actually a scene in Goldeneye that didn’t take four movies to explain this, it does it in one thing. This is the bit on the beach, Natalya comes up to him, and she’s “You know, you should feel horrible about your guns, your killing, your this,” and he just says to her “It’s what keeps me alive”. And that is it, in a complete nutshell — we didn’t have to have four movies of interoverted fucking, you know, let’s over-analyse everything. In one line, it gets the character.
Rao Dao Zao: It is possibly unfair to lay all the blame on Daniel Craig. I think he’s been fed bad shcripts.
Chris: Bat scripts?
Rao Dao Zao: I’m the Batscript. Daniel Craig’s been in some dodgy sci-fis, and the Bond that we grew up with, as I’ve said earlier, is a campy sci-fi. I think Daniel Craig wanted to be Bond because of all of that, and then he got to the scripts and they’ve been… not that. And now, at the end of every film he’s “I want out” because it’s not what he wanted, it’s not what he engages with, let alone what the audience wants to engage with. When somebody gets asked to be Bond, they don’t think “oh okay, can I read the script first?” They think “my fucking god I’m going to be Bond”. So I think there was a moment of that for Daniel, and he’s like “yeah, sign me up for five films, fuck yeah I’m going to be Bond!” And then they hand him the script and it’s like… where are the gadgets? Where is the volcano lair base? I genuinely think somebody sold him on the idea of Bond and then whipped the rug out from under him, and he’s now like “this is shit, why am I doing this?” Because there’s lots of money, but…
Chris: I can understand why he would read the Casino Royale script and think “okay, this is the setup, and we’re going to get there”, because the ending of it is great, because the ending… It takes a long time for him to be Bond, but at least the ending of it is, “hey! There he is, he’s Bond!” And now we know, in part two, then we’re gonna get all the good Bond stuff.
Rao Dao Zao: Yeaaaaah.
Chris: The mistake I feel, narratively was… Quantum of Solace is fundamentally a story that is unnecessary.
Rao Dao Zao: It’s a non-film.
Chris: Because basically, the story of it is Bond’s grieving process for the woman he’s lost.
Rao Dao Zao: It’s like Mass Effect 2, nothing actually happened.

Addendum: I love how this went completely over Chris’ head, because he’s not experienced the joys of the Mass Effect franchise narrative train wreck (but I kept blanking his Batman references sooo… fair’s fair). It’s definitely a close but no biscuit series of games — seesawing between excellence and abysmality — but everything I could ever say has been said better by Shamus Young’s incredible 50-part retrospective. Well worth a read, if you’ve played all three games.

Chris: The grieving process, you actually see it in Casino Royale, the ending sort of says he’s past that. The idea that they took two hours of cinema to go over that again… I didn’t understand the logic of that.
Rao Dao Zao: The other thing between Skyfall and SPECTRE is that… At the end of Skyfall, it’s “here’s M, here’s Moneypenny, now we’re going to segué back into the good stuff, right?” And then they sort of retread the entire thing again in SPECTRE.
Chris: Yes. The two things they have in common, is they have the same idea of the theme song creeping in, particularly in Skyfall because all the elements are in place, it’s taken three films…
Rao Dao Zao: But now we’re finally here, here we go!
Chris: That is a fucking home run, go home. This is it, we’ve done it, we’ve unfucked–
Rao Dao Zao: We’ve done the origin story.
Chris: And we’re ready to Goldeneye, we are ready to Goldeneye at this point, we’re going “come on man, gimme what we want!”
Rao Dao Zao: But they’ve gone, “nonononono, it’s all this nerdy bullshit with sci-fi, ewwww, ewwwwwww”.
Chris:
Sticking with the Brosnan comparison, the way they did it was, establish what the danger is, what the threat is, what the issue is that he has to solve. But then as that is going along the way, they’d drop in scenes like that one in Goldeneye we were talking about, “it’s what keeps me alive, this is why I need to do this”. The scene where, I think it’s the media guy’s wife gets killed quite cruelly…
Rao Dao Zao: Yeah, and he kinda liked her or she was from his past or something.
Chris:
There’s the assassin guy gets sent out, and Bond decks him out, puts a gun to his head, and I think they guy says to him “Wait, I’m just a professional doing a job”, and he goes “Me too” — bang, shoots him point blank. There’s enough dark, you kind of see how his brain ticks, but it doesn’t linger on that shit. You get just enough of that emotion to ride it through.
Rao Dao Zao: Because it’s basically patronising the audience to over-emphasise that sort of thing, it’s like yeah, put it in there, let us have it, and then get back to the business of the actual narrative.
Chris: 
He’s the vessel, as you put it, he’s the vessel for the adventure that we’re going on. Same with like, people don’t want to see Indiana Jones not want to be Indiana Jones.
Rao Dao Zao: Yeah!
Chris:
They want to see him be irritated by some of the circumstances Indie can find himself in.
Rao Dao Zao: But not be irritated by being himself, yeah, be irritated about the world around him.
Chris:
To me, Bond films have always been reluctant to view him as a superhero — and to me he is. There’s an aspect of that larger-than-life, he’s an absolute, he is archetypal hero, and it’s what’s going on around him that is the sell, and it’s the characters’ view of him that is where the story is. The thing that really irks me about the Daniel Craig films is the way that everyone around him is his best mate. There is no conflict between the leading cast in Skyfall and SPECTRE and it does my fucking balls in. Bond is going “I’m fucked up, I’m broken, I’m this–”
Rao Dao Zao: Waaah, waaah.
Chris:
I’d rather have Moneypenny saying to him, “Maybe you shouldn’t drink so much.” The first time he meets Q, there’s some random line where it’s–
Rao Dao Zao: Like, I’m an old man, and you’re young, fucking upstarts — but then they’re mates forever after.
Chris:
There’s some line, something to do with pyjamas and pulling a trigger, but as soon as that line is delivered they look at each other, and they grin, and he goes “Hello Q”, “Hello double-oh-seven”, and then — they’re best bros.
Rao Dao Zao: (sarcastic) They’ve got the measure of each other, it’s great.
Chris:
But why do it in that way? Is it not more intriguing if there is a conflict? Same thing with Moneypenny — you fucking shot him! And should there not be some, is that not the tone of that? Maybe she feels like she has to make up for that, and that’s where the affection comes from, and he’s very cold shoulder to her.
Rao Dao Zao: It’s the tonal consistency thing, isn’t it? Where MI6 is just all jolly mates having a good time.
Chris:
Ho ho ho.
Rao Dao Zao: ’cause even in Skyfall, when M comes in, or not-M, before he’s M, he comes in and he’s like “uhuh, you should follow them up the M6” or whatever, and they’re all being mates — like, what?! 
Chris:
Again, contrast that to Goldeneye, the best M Bond scene in the history of the Bond franchise is the scene in Goldeyene where she just slates him. She sits him down, and goes, “You’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur, you’re a relic of the Cold War”, and Brosnan’s reaction to that is brilliant — ’cause he takes it on board, he’s irked by it, but there’s enough kind of “fuck you, I don’t give a shit”–
Rao Dao Zao: “Who else are you gonna get to do this job?”
Chris:
Right, and in the whole mission briefing, there’s tension throughout it, and then just as he goes out the door, she says, “Bond, come back alive.” That is it in a nutshell — it’s saying, you are this broken, horrible prick — but you’re the only one who can do this. It’s like, we don’t need four movies to get that! We need one scene of really good dialogue. And if I could understand that when I was twelve… I don’t need a fucking four hour whatever-it-is thing with Daniel Craig complaining for me to grasp what the core of this character is.
Rao Dao Zao: But he’s been complaining for so long now we’re just like… what… like…
Chris:
Just man the fuck up! Just drive a tank around St. Petersburg!
Rao Dao Zao: Seriously, if he didn’t like it that badly, he could have stayed dead in Skyfall, he could just have stayed in his beach hut and just been like “Yeah, fuck it.”
Chris: That question is posed, Ralph… Rafe… Ralph… Whatever his name is, Fiennes…
Rao Dao Zao: (barked like a dog) Ralph!
Chris: Mister Fiennes, he says “Why not stay dead?” And there isn’t really a…
Rao Dao Zao: “Well, actually…”
(laughter) [I haven’t the faintest idea what we say here while laughing. I’m assuming it was hilarious.]
Chris: We’ve established they don’t tell you what’s on the line, what the stakes are, they don’t do your ticking time bomb plot which every good thriller has to have — it’s a fucking fundamental. It even doesn’t do the sowing seeds thing… Because, the thing with, in Skyfall, if we know the ending of the movie is the death of M, give us a scene prior that makes their relationship feel like something that’s a loss. Because when she dies, in isolation it’s a sad scene, but there’s no build up to it. So contrast this with, I’ll give you an example of Wrath of Khan. Strange example, but, there’s a scene in the movie at the beginning where Kirk and Spock have, a “Kirk and Spock, I fuckin’ love you man” scene.  The scene, on a practical level is just Spock handing over command of the Enterprise to Kirk, but it’s to tell the audience that don’t really know the characters… There’s a line Spock says like, “I have been, and always shall be, yours”, and it’s telling the audience that “our relationship is closer than brothers”. And it’s there with a function, it’s there so when he dies at the end, it means something. Whereas, if you just do it in Skyfall, which is, if you have no warmth and it’s just bitchy banter back and forth, and then she dies — what? There’s a scene at the beginning, when Bond gets shot, she doesn’t sell it. If you’re trying to do a thing where M and Bond have a mother-son relationship, it’s good she turns away from the rest of the room, but she has to have a look that’s like “my son is dead”. That has to be on that scale. Likewise, the scene where Bond comes back to London, breaks into M’s house effectively, and then she turns a light on, he’s there.
Rao Dao Zao: Yeah.
Chris: If I was directing that, the bit where she flips the light switch and realises it’s him, I would say to her, give us a look, for only a couple of seconds, but look at that like that’s your son, you haven’t seen him in five years. So we get an establishment that there’s a warmth, basically the respect has given way to almost a loving relationship.
Rao Dao Zao: Yeah, she hates him but–
Chris: Then, after she has the look, she then stiffens up, and goes back into it. But in order for that death to mean anything, you have to have that scene where he’s looking at her, if she’s looking at him in a way that is a mother-son dynamic, you can’t just have it, it’s just witty banter back and forth, because then, when it dies, we just lost some witty banter.
Rao Dao Zao: But we’re telling the world that they have a mother-son relationship, so fuckin’ suck it down.
Chris: Yeah. Thing is, everything is literal.
Rao Dao Zao: It’s all me, Bond!
Chris: We can’t do it visually, or just through performance, so we’ll just have the actors fucking say what’s happening. The villain in Skyfall, he talks about mother — mother mother mother — that’s something that you shouldn’t have to actually say, it should just fucking be there in the fucking performance, and just… I want it to be good, but it’s not. I could forgive it all if it wasn’t for the fact that it fucking acts like it’s smart and it’s not.
Rao Dao Zao: I think that is the worst thing about it, it’s “we’re cleverer than you, we’re not selling you just a straight action film, we’re giving you an action film with depth” — but no, you’ve forgotten to make an action film, so you’re not actually selling us an action film with depth, you’re just selling us a depthy film with no… no… no anything at all. It’s just, you’ve got a core of… How did no scriptwriter see this? How did the director not go “wait a minute”?

Addendum: I’m probably a bit too bitter/defensive about my dumb action films, but I am thoroughly fed up of genuinely enjoying things that get sneered at by… everyone else. I can cope with criticism, it’s the sneering I can’t take, the ‘holier than thou’, the ‘this art is more valuable than that art’ — and, worst of all, it seems to have led to modern Hollywood becoming incapable of even making coherent action films, let alone coherent action films with ‘depth’. Then again, I’m probably guilty of a bit of sneering in this blog, and my own narrative track record is hardly spotless…

Chris: You’re making the decision that these are narratively continuous, at that point, if you’re going “we’re making that choice”, you go up the fucking whiteboard and you fucking draw your timeline and you decide how you’re going to build this thing up. Because when you’re living in the generation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I’m not saying it’s perfect, but holy fuck there is continuity, consistency–
Rao Dao Zao: Continuity coming out [its ears], continuity to a fault.
Chris: Somebody made a fucking effort, though, to sit down and go “here’s the rules, here’s the format”.
Rao Dao Zao: Yes, and anyone that’s writing something new is saying “what’s happened before, now we need to take care of all this stuff”.
Chris: If you’re making character interaction the focus, if your character interaction isn’t up to fucking snuff, then it’s gonna suck.
Rao Dao Zao: Exactly.
Chris: And that is the problem… And the more we talk about this, the more angry I’m getting about it. I’m getting really like…
Rao Dao Zao: I think, then, that makes it time to close off for this week, before Chris blows a gasket.
Chris: Okay, but now we get into the fucking meat of it next time, now we get into Skyfall and SPECTRE. It was me, Bond,
(Together): It was me all along!

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