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Quantum of Solace

MGM // PG-13 // March 24, 2009
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted March 27, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

Quick admission: I'm not much of a classic James Bond guy. Sure, some of Sean Connery's 007 films have tickled my fancy -- From Russia With Love and Goldfinger especially, along with moments from Thunderball and Dr. No -- but the entire rhythm of gadgets, girls, and gratuitous one-liners has never completely satisfied my palate.

Then, Martin Campbell rebooted the series with Casino Royale, crafting a James Bond that was free to make mistakes and act out with braying ferocity through his coy, martini-sipping demeanor. It's probably Daniel Craig's departure from the archetype that drew me in, along with an entrancing performance from Eva Green as a different spice of female accompaniment for the spy in Vesper Lynd. This puts me in a unique position, since it'd be reasonable to assume that a film that steps even further from the formula -- Quantum of Solace, directed by Marc Forster of Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland fame -- should satisfy me even more. I was wholeheartedly poised to do so, even psyched at seeing an even more gadget-free, "authentic" James Bond instead of the debonair Double-0.

But, as mentioned in my review of Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief, every great director has a departure from their pre-established formula that just doesn't quite work the way it should. It's a daunting task to cradle this beloved franchise as an alternative project, but his capacity to rustle up emotionality within high-profile star power appears to be an appropriate, if odd, choice. And he does a respectful job at staying true to this sleek, nerve-searing 007 -- you know, aside for a smorgasbord of spasm-inducing action sequences that encompass roughly a third of this brief but breathless play at breakneck espionage.

Quantum of Solace follows the events directly after Casino Royale, capturing James Bond (Daniel Craig) as he's caught up in an out-of-character revenge mentality. After the death of his first real love, a woman that nearly pulled him into retirement from MI6, he goes on a vengeance-fueled bender against an organization entitled "Quantum" that, coincidentally, nearly claimed the life of the organization's head, "M" (Judi Dench), by way of assassination. With Bond blinded by rage and gunning for the threat, it's hard to make heads or tails of this trained killing machine with a motive -- and whether he'll be able to keep his posture long enough to successfully mix vengeance with his work.

MI6's new threat interconnecting with "Quantum" is "Greene Planet", a faux-environmental group lead by slippery entrepreneur Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric) that centers on an effort to ensnare a stretch of potentially oil-rich land in Bolivia. As a villain, Dominic Greene isn't nearly as iconic as some of the rest -- even the recent, fairly successful Le Chiffre. Instead, Forster molds him into a more "realistic" snake-like villain that pulls strings in a high-dollar environmental climate, one who worms his way around all the corners without lifting much of a finger. But his place in the narrative feels slight and unfocused, though his more realistic roots are compelling enough to hold our interest. Mathieu Almaric builds Dominic into a sneering, cunning little weasel, but he doesn't offer up a grand sense of antagonistic energy to fuel Bond's vengeful push to "solace".

Forster's work in shaping the transitioning James Bond is certain to go largely underappreciated, especially since it diverts so heavily from his iconic archetype by giving fans very little satisfaction in character indulgence. But, plain and simple, Quantum of Solace is a buffer zone for Bond post-heartbreak, one that intentionally swerves out of the way of the rebooted architecture that Martin Campbell structured for the series. Instead of slyly wedging in grin-worthy quips and giving him a chest of toys to play with, it zeroes in completely on him as an angry, love-thwarted secret agent with a taste for vengeance and a mission that happens to intersect with his whims. This is a serious and bloodthirsty Bond, one that shares little chemistry with Dominic's feisty trophy girl Camille, our primary Bond girl played poised and punchy enough by Olga Kurylenko, while chewing up and spitting out a semi-innocent errand girl for the British government, Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton).

It's reasonable to look at the events turning within Quantum of Solace as a gun-wielding rogue's shot at closure in a fallen relationship, a volatile time period where he's desensitizing to the effects of emotion and breaking his ever-present jumpiness from Casino Royale into the cool-as-a-cucumber agent that makes woman swoon and villains shiver. Darkness feels proper following the events at the end of Casino Royale, especially in Forster's hands, but it also tries extremely hard not to be a Jason Bourne knockoff. It's hit-and-miss in that regard; while taking on the signature Bond-like infiltration into the "Greene Planet" organization, we're persistently reminded that he's a loose cannon, or "damaged goods" in Dominic Greene's words, that could fly off the handle at any moment due to his scrambled identity issues involving his love life.

As much as it might rub 007 aficionados the wrong way, it's a graspable changeover in plot that helps substantiate the suaveness of Bond's character as it develops leading into successive entries. When it comes to James' moments of red-eyed reflection and the embittered conversations with "M", Marc Forster shows why he was cherry-picked for this entry in the franchise. He carries the few socio-upmanship scenes in the film with his signature drama-based electricity, giving us some pointed moments with Bond scattered throughout.

But that coldness and emotional turmoil isn't exactly what most come to see in a kinetic James Bond film, even fans of the more "grounded" Casino Royale. While Forster nails the stiff vigor present in all the nail-biting banter, he folds under the pressure whenever he steps into the action arena. As the adrenaline picks up, the jerky editing becomes the film's chief blight. Forster's inexperience in this realm shows: most action sequences -- from chases on asphalt, on the sea, and in the air, to the cluster of hand-to-hand fights -- showcase the fact that Forster has two, three, even four cameras rolling by flipping and slicing to death between them. These quick flashes aren't as seamless as he'd like them to be, instead turning into a scissored-up collage of images from the Bond film that we'd really like to see.

A dilemma arises that largely mirrors Christopher Nolan's issues with fight sequences in Batman Begins, being that the drama-minded Forster isn't aware that he needs to pull back a bit to let his audience soak in the action and, in essence, let them make heads or tails of what's going on, all instead of jamming frame after frame into their vision in hopes that it'll knock the result into their minds. Consequently, the rapid cuts and darting movements feel like the nauseous aftereffects of a spasm-inducing rollercoaster that looks like it'd be a hell of a lot more fun that it ends up being. It's all still gratifying in a very top-loaded, popcorn-munching kind of way, yet they don't showcase the same kind of addictive endurance that the rafter chase and the Venice scramble ensnare in Casino Royale.

It's obvious that Forster and regular cinematographer Roberto Schaefer shot well-designed and engaging sequences at their numerous locales in Italy, Bolivia, and Austria, which almost makes me wish that Quantum of Solace was about twenty minutes longer so that they'd have the chance to let this striking camerawork linger enough for us to really absorb it. Somewhere in these all-to-brief slivers of well-composed action is a strong espionage film filled with raw vengeance, containing the same grasp on interactive tension that Forster nails within his 100-minute dash through the Bond franchise. It's a quick sprint, too, one that could've easily benefited from more deliberate pacing and an emphatic, slower focus.

In this form, however, Quantum of Solace rarely steps above being an average, erratic cloak-and-dagger film. It oozes with lush style and slick performances, especially the ever-solidifying Daniel Craig as our new James Bond, but it can't help but fall short from the high expectations left at the end of Casino Royale. It's largely because of Forster's half-successful attempt to mold his directorial style to something out of his element, which shines a spotlight directly on his strengths and weaknesses. This is one of the rare times, maybe the first, where I wished that a piece of cinema did a few things more like a James Bond flick.

The Blu-ray:

Quantum of Solace comes to us from MGM in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with semi-glossy artwork sporting silver-ish highlights on the front and back artwork. Inside, there's a $5 coupon for other James Bond films on Blu-ray. When placed in the player and fired up, the disc's menus take on a slick, artistic "map" graphic that resembles the one splash of tech in the film -- the interactive table -- in very attractive and fairly navigable graphics.

Video and Audio:

When Casino Royale came out in high-definition, it was at the top of many tech enthusiasts' demo disc roster -- and likely still is, being as it sports a phenomenal image and, more importantly, an outstanding audio track. Quantum of Solace doesn't satisfy in quite the same ways that its predecessor, but it's still a very fine outing from MGM. Presented in a 1080p AVC encode that preserves the 2.35:1 theatrical framing, this disc largely relies on three key elements to make it a success: the relatively-subdued blue/tan palette, strong contrast work, and properly rendered details -- all of which look excellent, though the image carries an overall softer feel than expected. Throughout the lush Roberto Schaefer cinematography, the sleek architectural capturing, and the on-the-fly action choreography, Quantum of Solace looks pretty damn good.

Bright blues and subtle tans pop from the screen, from the dirty atmosphere drenching the interrogation scene at the forefront of the film to the crystal clear blues rolling through the water-based scenes. At the concert in Austria, we're treated to a fluent exercise in contrast work that encapsulates the disc's overall competency int he area, showcasing its classy rendering of inky blacks and suitable shadows. In each, some ravishing detail pops out in facial textures and set design, as well as the sharply-assembled costume work. But there are a few speedbumps, namely the flatness of a few wide-stretching visuals in the image and the lack of solidity that crops up in some flesh tones. Grain gets a little heavier than it should in a few spots, which coats over skin tones to give them a less-than-stable property -- though that occurs infrequently. These trepidations don't keep Quantum of Solace's image from shining, however, all of which comes out unblemished by any glaring hints of edge enhancement or noise reduction.

Where the visuals might have lost a little ground in the James Bond era of demo worthy material, this DTS HD Master Audio track delivers punch-for-punch with Casino Royale's Dolby TrueHD/PCM offerings. Sweeping back into the rear channels frequently, this sound presentation attacks all levels and frequencies with a blistering level of clarity and tonal competence. The whirring from Bond's Aston Martin DBS at the front of the film screech our nerves into high gear out of the starting gate, followed shortly by a robust car collision that showcases the track's punchy nature and capacity at rendering minutiae sound effects with the shattered glass. Gunfire rattles both the lower-frequency channel and the mid-ranges with plenty of firepower, while boisterous flames fill the room with the expected "billowing" robustness. Verbal clarity is also top-shelf, keeping the dialogue scenes with Daniel Craig and Judi Dench well-balanced and audible, all while handling David Arnold's scoring quite well. Furthermore, any scenes that really punch the energy -- from explosions to the piercing vocals from an opera singer -- remain distortion free across the board. It's a phenomenal Master Audio track that delivers quite the right hook in expansiveness. Optional subtitles, which appear within the film's image itself, are available in an array of languages -- English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Korean, and Mandarin -- while Spanish, French, and Portuguese Dolby 5.1 tracks are also available.

Special Features:

Bond on Location (24:45, HD AVC):
Covering the numerous locations where Forster shot Quantum of Solace, this mini-doc actually works as a general assembly piece at the start. It begins with discussions about Casino Royale and connecting with Bond as a human, but then it starts to cover the intrigue in traveling with Bond to exotic locations in the films. It discusses Forster's desire for the real style from actual locations while blending interview time with his cast members as they discuss the process. Though the pictures a little over 100 minutes, Quantum of Solace travels to an ungoldly number of locations -- London, Panama, Bolivia, Austria, Spain, and others -- which are covered in elaborate depth here.

Start of Shooting (2:45, HD AVC):
This small featurette cherry picks material from the first piece and mixes it with some different behind-the-scenes material and interview time with the filmmakers and actors. Though it rarely captures material from the first day of shooting, it does sprawl out to strong stunt rehearsal footage and other behind the scenes tidbits.

On Location (3:14, AVC):
While also taking interview time from the first supplement, this featurette talks about the metaphorical "characters" present in the locations and equipment used. Largely redundant, it dives just a wee bit deeper into the shooting process at a few of the locales.

Olga Kurylenko and the Boat Chase (2:14, HD AVC):
This one is probably the most intriguing of the mini-featurettes, as it follows our Bond girl as she gets accustomed to the stunts and to being in an action film. It mixes interview time with the actress and with Forster and Craig, discussing nervousness about filming her action-packed sequence on the boat. Simple, but decent.

Director Marc Forster (2:45, HD AVC):
Director Marc Forster, as well as the pressure that he's fallen under with this sequel to Casino Royale, falls under focus in this featurette as it covers his tone and vision for Quantum of Solace. It glazes over his storytelling ability, all the while containing backslapping lines from the cast.

The Music (2:36, HD AVC):
Composer David Arnold takes the spotlight here, covering his feelings about how the score should sound. His interview time is accompanied by footage of both his orchestra and of Arnold in the studio piecing together the final product.

Crew Files -- aka Web Blog Videos (45:30, HD AVC):
As a collection of webisodes, entitled "Crew Files", several of the crew members take some time out to discuss their jobs into detail. These pieces are easily the most elaborative and in-depth of them all, covering the difficulties and pleasures inside each of their jobs. Scheduling difficulties, production foibles, and many other elements receive their own 2+ minute segment. They're separated into 20+ categories, spread across a total time of forty-five (45) minutes as they cover direction, production design, hair/make-up, sound mixing, aerial filming, and general photography. Also included are two Theatrical Teaser Trailers (HD, AVC) and the "Another Way To Die" Music Video (HD, AVC) with Alicia Keyes and Jack White that mirrors the film's opening credits.

Final Thoughts:

Quantum of Solace in unquestionably entertaining, as it would be near impossible for a competent director like Marc Forster to shake off the momentum carried over from Casino Royale. It takes James Bond into a darker, more primal state, one where revenge clouds his character as he tries to unfurl a nefarious plot rife with corruption both inside and out of government control. But it's that darkness -- as well as a shoddy grasp on piecing together the action sequences -- that pull Quantum of Solace down a peg or two from its predecessor. Still, Craig's outstanding once again as Bond, the rest of the cast delivers on all fronts, and the globe-hopping energy inherent within 007 pictures is alive and breathing in Forster's sharp turn behind the wheel.

As with Casino Royale, it's almost expected for a second "Special Edition" of Quantum of Solace to street right around the release of the yet-to-be-concrete "Bond 23". However, MGM's standard release of Quantum of Solace offers a decent package for both Blu-ray enthusiasts and less-fervent fans of the film. This high-definition package looks great and sounds phenomenal, which almost makes up for the "heavy in numbers, light on content" supplements on this disc. If you enjoyed the picture, then I'd highly recommend just picking up this edition and not worrying with whatever subsequent disc might be released -- even though the extras are a little on the pithy side. However, if you're uncertain whether the darker and more bloodthirsty James Bond sounds like your style of flick, then Quantum of Solace comes with a generally firm Recommendation for its strong aesthetic properties and its balls-out adrenal film-making.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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