Some Ramblings - Spectre (2015) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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The challenges involved in running series television are all self-inflicted, and that is by design. The pilot episode is expected to hook the audience into tuning into and staying with the program first, and the few episodes that follow are supposed to reel them in, week after week, with a few 'bank' episodes throw in in between that do little to advance the plot and more to fill out the mandatory 22 episode requirement of the season, all leading up to the season finale, following which the show takes a brief hiatus for the summer before returning in the fall. All these rules for series television are set in stone and every show religiously adheres to this format. Again, the guiding principle of the season finale calls for pushing the story to near point of no return as to compel its audience to continue the viewership when the show returns in a few months. Great television series paint themselves in a very tight corner, pulling out all the stops for the season finale, leaving their audience in a collective gasp who then flood the bulletin boards and discussion fora on the internet with the only question 'how are they going to get themselves out of this one'. And then the magic happens when the writers' room assembles again after a few weeks of rest and recuperation and starts kicking around possible (plausible) plot lines that'll bail them out of the pickle of a situation that they got (wrote) themselves into. And that they do this season after season, the Houdini maneuver of chaining themselves, getting locked up in a glass box and allowed to be thrown into the bottom of the river, only to emerge out after a few minutes, untangled, unfazed and unhurt with a victorious smile tightly plastered across the face, earns them a place in the pantheon of stellar television. But such lightnings in the bottle are rare and far apart. The rest run the pattern of mixed results television, when a good season is punctuated by a few mediocre ones, followed by another good one, before they stutter and sputter into either a forceful stop (by the way of cancellation by the network) or some other euthanasiastic measures. And there is even a phrase coined for that occasion when a series has stopped being good for good. It is called 'jumping the shark'. Sadly with 'Spectre', this new arc of a brooding and bleeding Bond that has started with 'Casino Royale' has indeed jumped the shark.

What just happened here? Were the makers of Craig Bond running their scripts by Microsoft Operating System's Program Management office, who have similar dubious record of alternating excellence and abhorrence in their successive releases? An excellent start with 'Royale' came to a grinding halt with unnecessarily complicated and overproduced 'Quantum of Solace', followed by what is arguably the best Bond ever 'Skyfall', succeeded by, quite ironically, the worst Bond ever 'Spectre'. In the various avatars and iterations of Bond portrayed by lightweights and Shakespearean thespians, there emerged a broad classification where some of them are campy fun (Roger Moore's and Pierce Brosnan's) and some done right (Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby). And paradoxically, even the bad campy movies, with their cheesy elements, the laughable double entendres, the (megalo)maniacal villains, in ways that are self-parodying, were at least good harmless fun to a certain extent. But when the serious ones go south, they are not just harmless, they are joyless, mirthless and downright disastrous (Dalton's 'License to Kill', the previous ignominious title holder). After reaching dizzying heights with critical and commercial acclaim, deservedly so, with 'Skyfall' that captured the essence of a weary, worn out and washed up spy, the arc that they were going for with the new reboot with Craig, 'Spectre' promptly returns him to the campy fold with one-liners that oscillate between flat and embarrassing, a plot that is right at home for an afternoon TV special, a villain who is more demure and devilish, and surprisingly the stunts, which are usually the attention grabbers in Bond's affairs (aside from Bond's actual affairs, of course), barely making the passing grade. Bond had just lost his matriarchal rudder 'M' in 'Skyfall', old wounds reopened in familial background, along with the new found knowledge that he is no longer good (leave alone best) at the physical stuff. And what does 'Spectre' do with all that juicy setup? Nothing.

It is as though the producers rushed into making the movie, for the fear of some options or contracts lapsing out, forcing the script writer(s) into coming up with a shootable script, regardless of its quality of emotional content, goading the director, who initially refused to helm another Bond after an immensely draining and hugely satisfying outing with 'Skyfall', enticing him with the glory of an encore (a feat never achieved before with Bond) and simply dumping piles of money bags in Daniel Craig's savings account. This is the only scenario how this sorry excuse of a Bond movie could have been made. The other logical reasons simply fail to explain how this could have happened. Was there even a script read through, as is the norm, before the start of the shoot with all the principals sitting around the table going through the words line by line, page by page, and was there an overwhelming (if not unanimous) agreement that this movie in that form and shape and word had to be made, no matter what? Really? Did that really happen? 'Spectre' feels like a venture green-lit by a studio exec, who had all the accounting experience in the world and none of aesthetic, produced by the Broccoli family who just wanted to put another Bond 'out there', lest he be muscled out the marketplace by the Bournes and the Hunts, and made by the creative team who didn't want to do all the heavy lifting the second time around too, and simply hoped for the glory of the past to tide them over.

To pile on, Thomas Newman, the composer, seems to be the only one concerned with the quality of the output, or lack thereof, and so overcompensated the general tepidness of the movie with a completely asynchronous score. While nothing happens on the screen, Newman amps up the decibels, as though shouting from his console booth 'do something, just do something'. With one more movie to go his contract, and judging by the sinusoidal oeuvre, Craig's next Bond is destined to become a darling of all sorts, engaging the mind, regaling the heart and titillating the senses, because sadly 'Spectre' steadfastly refused to stay away from all those.


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