Saturday, February 23, 2013

Skyfall: Ten Frames

Back in our November review of Skyfall we briefly discussed the film's cinematography, outstanding not only for a Bond film but any action picture. In fact we seldom see such attention to lighting, staging, and color-palette in any mainstream feature. Yet Skyfall always keeps it simple, never venturing into distracting techniques for the sake of novelty or variety. The lighting and camera work remain ever at the service of the story, making it more, not less effective, and explaining why three people standing around talking in Skyfall is more interesting than all 88 minutes of Die Hard 5.

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1. In this sequence, Bond has tailed an assassin up a Shanghai tower and having caught up with him, must pass through several glass corridors to seize his quarry. We've seen this setup many times before, but during the day. At night, the flashing fluorescent lights of the scrolling billboards not only adds visual energy and tension to Bond's silent stalking, but also tweaks the action, allowing Bond to camouflage amidst the shadows. The lighting also forces us to question which is the reflection and just how far Bond is from his target.

The simple silhouettes of the second frame and contrast of color in the third are typical of Skyfall.

2. The effect of this shot is so clear that one misses the technique: the three characters, standing at three different depths, form a triangle which contrasts the three arches behind them, also at three different depths. The blocking and set complement and amplify the tension of the exchange, a technique we see throughout Skyfall.

3. This is a bravura sequence, regrettably exploited in the trailer, and exemplifies how Skyfall keeps Bond front and center.

4. Another shot to take for granted, notice how the opaque lamps function as a middle-ground and how their solid, intense color and placement parallel to the characters amplify the tension of the exchange between Bond and Severine. 

5. Simple simple simple. This shot is very much like the bravura ones above, only Bond is no longer dominant even though he's front and center. Here, the parallel lines of the windows and servers draw our attention to Bond's newly diminished scale. Still front and center, but weak: an effective subversion. 

6. This is probably the most clever and symbolic shot of Skyfall. Notice how there is one reflection of Silva for every other character, and one of them is reflected right onto Bond, brilliantly reflecting the dialogue of this scene and, in fact, the theme of the movie. 

7. Classic, just classic.

8. An old trick at work here, with the motion of Bond's shotgun, angled back, and M leaning forward, converging on the space, the tension, between them. This in fact contrasts the dialogue of the scene in which Bond forgives her. The shot also reflects their differing roles and personalities, Q thinking and Bond ready to fire.

9. This was a clever opportunity for contrast, the burning mansion shining orange through the ice and the frigid black water beneath. 

10. I like the contrast of this face-off with Bond's left hand in his pocket and M's left arm in a sling. Will there be a conflict between the supposed desk-jockey and the agent? And what's in between them, on the desk, but the mission.

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