The Sun (Malaysia)
> Sam Mendes takes a different tack for his second Bond film after the box-office success of Skyfall
DIRECTOR Sam Mendes likes to mix things up. He opened Skyfall, his 2012’s US$1.1 billion (RM4.6 billion) global box-office smash, with a thrilling action sequence that travelled many miles across western Turkey, involving motorcycles, a duel atop a moving train, an enormous digger and some tense sniper action from Moneypenny. But for the latest James Bond movie
Spectre’s pre-title sequence, he wanted something very different.
“When we did Skyfall, we created a very linear action sequence, a real chase that went from one location to another, very fast, and we ended up shooting over a long distance – Istanbul, Adana and the mountains,” says Mendes.
“Spectre ( top) was just the opposite. I wanted to drop the audience right in the middle of an incredibly atmospheric, hot, dusty, exciting environment.”
Mendes ( right) chose a raucous Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico City, which not only offers the audience a visual feast – with thousands of beautifully-dressed extras and enormous, skeletal maquettes – but also a spectacle that echoes the movie’s central theme.
“The celebration of the dead has a link, thematically, to the rest of the movie,” Mendes says. “What they say of the Day of the Dead is ‘los muertos vivos estan’, which means ‘the dead are alive’.
“Thematically, that is what the movie is about. That, hopefully, elevates the sequence into being more than just a spectacle.”
Having spent the last five years of his life fully immersed in back-to-back Bond films, Mendes has a deep understanding of the Bond franchise and all its nuances.
Another of the series’ defining characteristics, he says, is its ability to straddle different worlds. The narratives are neither pure flights of fancy, nor grim and gritty realism.
Instead, they are rooted in reality and yet always remain just beyond our reach; they are glamorous adventures, perennially aspirational and always brimming with beauty and wonder.
This fact remained at the forefront of the director’s mind throughout the production. Mendes cites as a specific example a key scene that unfolds when Daniel Craig’s 007 comes face-toface with his nemesis, the mysterious Oberhauser, who is brought to life by two-time Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz.
The characters lock eyes once Bond infiltrates a meeting of the criminal organisation Spectre and Oberhauser emerges from the shadows.
Mendes had to contend with the fact that there have been plenty of Spectre meetings already committed to film, each one right for the time in which it was made. He had to create something new, but which also remained true to the spirit of the series.
“I don’t know who said it but it is the job of the artiste to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar,” says Mendes who won an Academy Award for best director for 1999’s American Beauty.
“I think that is a great line to take into Bond if you are working on it because you can’t entirely invent things. It is not a fantasy. You are not in a Marvel world or a J.K. Rowling world. You can’t create things that don’t exist in our own universe. So you have to make the familiar a little bit strange ….
“What they talk about is specific but they don’t go into too much detail – they briefly mention counterfeit pharmaceuticals, they speak about surveillance, about human trafficking.
“You get a sense of what they do without it being too specific. I think that is the game you play with Bond. You want just enough information, but not too much.”
Mendes also tries to do as many of his special effects shots as possible in camera. He is not averse to using CGI but only to amplify what has been shot on location.
“The locations are essential,” he says. “We could have done a CG plane chase, for example, but the feeling that you are doing things for real is part of why I make any film, especially a Bond movie.
“I am not somebody who enjoys or who is drawn to making films in green screen. I am all for supplementing real effects with computer-generated enhancement, but you have to base everything you do on some core of reality.”
To do so, notes Mendes, the production must visit real-world locations, where events don’t always work as we might imagine. “Things are uncontrollable – weather, wind, birds, animals, crowds and vehicles all behave in ways that you can’t anticipate.
“And it is those imperfections within the scale that make it interesting. They make an audience feel that it is happening in the real world and that it is not a distortion.”
This deeper characterisation transfers to the rest of the supporting cast as well, perhaps most notably with the character of Madeleine, played by French actress Léa Seydoux, and the prime villain, Oberhauser.
Madeleine proves a strong match for Bond. “It is about the life she’s lived,” says Mendes. “In this case, she is the daughter of an assassin. She has grown up around assassins …. She wants to escape it and she is yoked together, against her will, with an assassin who she initially distrusts.”
Mendes is equally enamoured with Waltz, whose character, Oberhauser, also reveals a fascinating personal story.
“As with Javier Bardem in Skyfall, we had Christoph in mind from an early stage. He is a master. His performance is so nuanced and subtle, so still and economical. He never defaults to melodramatics.” – Sony Pictures Releasing International (Malaysia)