“For you I have to risk it all
‘Cause the writing’s on the wall.”
It’s time for another 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure. This week, it’s time to move onto the music of the James Bond film Spectre!
Adele’s “Skyfall” won the first Oscar for anything music related in the Bond series. Sam Smith duplicated the achievement three years later with the theme song from Spectre – “Writing’s on the Wall”.
This really isn’t one of the better songs in the series. I appreciate the Academy Award win, but it was about halfway through the song that I realized for all the good “Skyfall” did in the theme song department, it created a new tone and direction for the two songs that came after it – sleepy, deeply emotional, sap. I don’t begrudge Sam Smith’s talent as a singer, but man, this song is about as sappy as you can get.
It doesn’t help this film or the primary criticism of the film. You see, Spectre, along with Quantum of Solace, created this multi-film, universe building thing that isn’t really what fans of the series wanted. I don’t mind the concept of a Bond in the early stages of his career learning to be a better agent and, well, a better person as well. I don’t mind the idea that Vesper’s possible betrayal from his point of view being something that has damaged him. I do mind the idea that this film tries connecting lots of disparate things we know about Bond’s history into one grand overarching story. That’s not what we asked for.
Now, what does that have to do with Sam Smith’s song? Well, the song kind of leans into one of the things that Spectre retconned – this thought that Bond’s love of his life is this brand new girl we know nothing about. The truth is that Bond is most connected to two loves – Vesper Lynd and Tracy di Vincenzo. This song does nothing but remind me that this film shoehorns in Madeleine Swann. I don’t mind the actress’ performance. I don’t mind the character, but now suddenly, it seems as though Bond’s true love is this brand new character we don’t have any real connection to besides being the new Bond Girl. So it is either Bond being a desperately broken person crying out for someone to “break his fall” and be worthy of him “risking it all” to be with someone that, what, makes him feel complete? Maybe it is from Swann’s perspective, but I don’t think so. It’s not the read I get.
Now, again, Smith cannot be blamed for what I’m constantly reminded of when I hear this song. I can say, though, is that this song is sleepy as all get out. It’s not terribly exciting for what I would think a Bond film’s theme should be. It’s overly dramatic and soft. “Skyfall” could get away with it because it the the emotional theme to a much, much better film and story, but this song is just kind of boring. It’s not bottom of the barrel type stuff, but it doesn’t pass my litmus test for a Bond theme.
I do find it funny that Radiohead, a band whose music I prefer, submitted a song that got rejected for being “too melancholy.” It doesn’t pass the test either, but I find it odd that a song was rejected for being too melancholy and the sleepy Smith song was chosen instead.
Thomas Newman comes back as composer because Sam Mendes is back as well. Newman opted to not wait until post-production to start working on the music. He began during the principal production and I think that makes a difference. The opening sequence in Mexico starts exciting with a loud Mexican arrangement for the Day of the Dead parade and party that couples with another piece that features some Bond theme riffs.
Newman keeps the typical horns and strings for his “James Bond Theme” arrangement as well as his other action scenes. He seems to have a true understanding what a film in the series should at least sound like. He’s also good at bringing sounds that match the location. He has a piece for the scene in Tangier that sounds North African and Moroccan. I always appreciate when the score can tip its hat to the locations used in the film.
I would say that if there is one critique I have of Newman’s score, I don’t feel as though he really steps up like David Arnold did for the piece that is representative of the Bond Girl. Arnold excelled at giving a theme to Vesper. Newman’s piece for Madeleine is kind of weak. Still, I think it is a passable score. I think Newman working earlier on the film does help him match the stylings of the various locations, but it’s a little bit of a victim of a movie that has stuff going for it, but ultimately starts to lose the audience in the third act.
The Opening Title Sequence
Daniel Kleinman continues the dark, murky opening with Spectre.
While I do prefer his bright and colorfully fun ones he did during the Brosnan era, I like what he has here. He’s always been very good at laying out the entire feel and focus of the film. For example, we have heavy influence for a giant octopus. That is the symbol of Blofeld’s organization, SPECTRE. You’ve got inky bullets and the tentacles wrapping around everything. It works.
I also like where the opening gets sexy with Bond bedding a woman is right about where Monica Bellucci’s name appears in the cast. That’s pretty great because that scene and that lady are both pretty sexy. I also like the connection to the opening taking place at a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico with the use of skulls and skeletal features. Of course, a man at the head of the table to represent Blofeld is well done. It even hints at photos that reveals the biggest, and most controversial, twist in the movie that connects Bond and Blofeld. It’s a well made opening and helps show some stuff from past movies like other titles we’ve discussed way back in the 60s.
Join us next week the first of four countdowns from the James Bond Series – the Top Ten Pre-Title Sequences!