Skyfall, the 23rd
James Bond film from EON Productions, opens with Bond (Daniel Craig) and his
assistant, Eve, pursuing through Istanbul a mercenary, known as Patrice, who has
stolen a list of every NATO agent embedded in terrorist cells around the world.
During the pursuit, Bond is wounded and falls from a moving locomotive into a
river. He is presumed dead, and his obituary written by M (Dame Judi Dench), who
is officially blamed for the debacle and subsequently pressured to retire
"voluntarily" by Intelligence and Security Committee Chairman Gareth Mallory
(Ralph Fiennes). Shortly afterward, MI6's computer system is hacked and an
explosion destroys M's office — which she witnesses from a distance. As a
result, Bond, who has gone underground in Turkey — enjoying his "death," as it
were — decides to rejoin MI6 to take up the hunt for the missing list and
determine who is behind the attack. His search leads him to Shanghai, where he
again encounters Patrice, who is killed in a fight before he can reveal who
employed him to steal the list. Bond discovers in Patrice's belongings a poker
chip, intended as payment for his work, for a casino in Macau. There, Bond
discovers that the mastermind of the attack on MI6 is a former British Secret
Service agent named Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). Silva reveals that he intends
to use his sophisticated computer knowledge to destroy MI6 and personally bring
down M, whom he blames for having abandoned him to presumed death on a mission.
MI6's quartermaster — the new Q (Ben Whishaw) — has provided Bond with a radio
tracking device, and a sizable force descends on Silva, takes him into custody,
and returns him to London.
Like the soundtrack album to Casino Royale, the Skyfall album — much to its detriment — does not include the film's title theme, this time written by Adele and Paul Epworth and performed by Adele. To obtain a relatively complete soundtrack, one must separately purchase the title song, a fact I find singularly annoying. It's hardly a significant financial concern, of course, but there's a distinct and irritating sense of incompleteness about a soundtrack album that doesn't even include its main theme. The song by Adele works beautifully for the film. It incorporates traditional Bond motifs quite comfortably, and though it's not as dramatic as Chris Cornell's opener for Casino Royale, its lyrics tell a portion of the film's story in a subtle and agreeable manner. The song is infinitely better than that vile piece of crap by Jack White and Alicia Keys from Quantum of Solace.
On the whole, Newman's score isn't much different than a standard David Arnold Bond score, meaning that it's technically competent, generally atmospheric, occasionally superlative, but rarely distinctive. Newman's orchestra seems to have virtually the same composition as David Arnold's in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, with lots of blaring brass and pounding percussion. The tracks together offer a somewhat disappointing sense of sameness, with a steady, driving pace that only occasionally takes a breather and virtually never develops into anything to make one really stand up and take notice. The opening track, "Grand Bazaar, Istanbul," sets the pace and, much like many of Arnold's compositions, borrows the general tone of John Barry's Bond scores without capturing or creating a unique essence. For example, when I'm listening to Barry's score for Diamonds Are Forever, I can tell you immediately whether I'm listening to "Bond Smells a Rat," "Bond Meets Bambi and Thumper," or "Moon Buggy Chase," and that hardly required repeated listenings to do so. With Skyfall, after quite a few listenings, I still couldn't tell you whether that's "Health and Safety," "Granborough Road," "Jellyfish," or "The Bloody Shot" playing at the moment. Like most modern film scoring, individual themes are few and far between, with lots of heavy percussion and long notes building to crescendos that might be from virtually any action-adventure movie. It doesn't help that the tracks on this album are ordered about as haphazardly as they possibly could be; had they followed their actual sequence in the movie, the soundtrack might have achieved a bit more sense of coherence. Maybe. Possibly. But then again....
There are, at least, a few notable pieces in Skyfall. My favorite is probably "Close Shave," played when Eve takes it upon herself to shave Bond using a straight razor. Of the softer, more lyrical pieces on the album, this one comes closest to actually building any kind of musical identity. "Enjoying Death," with its swirling flutes and muted chimes, weaves a dark and almost wistful atmosphere, though it's too brief to offer any deep enjoyment. "Skyfall," with lots of low, mellow brass and a touch of choral backing, makes for a satisfying aural complement to our arrival at the Bond's ancestral home; this theme is reprised in "Deep Water." And finally, within the course of the film, we get to hear the full James Bond theme, in the piece called "Breadcrumbs," which, to now in the Daniel Craig entries, we really haven't.
Newman's Skyfall score works reasonably well in conjunction with the onscreen action, but as a standalone experience, it isn't particularly memorable. It would work even better onscreen if Newman had taken some cues from any number of "older style" film composers — Ennio Morricone, perhaps? — who could build an identity for a film with just a few notes and some creative orchestrations. I'll give it enough credit to put it several notches above the worst Bond scores — such as Licence to Kill and The Spy Who Loved Me.
This is the end