“Spectre” opened on the spectacle of Mexico’s Day of the Dead, with 36-foot skeleton maquettes and giant floats among twirling dancers in a river of people costumed as ghouls.
Hands down, it was the best Bond curtain-raiser ever.
Better yet, between the USD $300 Million spy extravaganza’s beginning and closing credits, it’s all high-octane action – buildings disintegrating, hand-to-hand combat dangling from a free-diving, barrel-rolling chopper, the biggest explosion in Morocco, epic car chases through Rome’s cobbled labyrinths, airplane crashing after Rovers like a snow plough in Austria’s Alps and low-flying chopper chasing a high-speed boat in the Thames.
Spectre was also darker, moodier, more violent than its predecessors – so much so that lead actor, Daniel Craig, suffered his worst injuries in this 24th film in the James Bond series, his fourth outing as 007.
Craig went under the knife twice for his pains, both knees damaged in fight scenes with Hinx (played by former pro wrestler Dave Bautista) henchman of 007’s greatest adversary, Oberhauser aka Blofeld (played by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz). Filming was almost halted for six months.
“We wanted Spectre to be better than Skyfall,” Craig reasoned. “It’s as simple as that. We didn’t have a choice. We had to be bigger and better. With Skyfall, we set something in motion and we wanted to go a bit further with it and experiment a bit more.”
The end of Skyfall rejuvenated Bond. “He had a sense of new beginnings,” stressed Sam Mendes, back for a second stint in the director’s chair. “In Spectre, the world’s most famous secret agent is in control of his own destiny. He has a focused mission from the outset. Nothing and no one can stand in his way.”
“In Skyfall, he was pursuing somebody with all his old focus and drive, but he gets shot before the credits even roll and for the rest of the movie he is one step behind Javier Bardem’s character, Silva. You could even argue at the end of Skyfall that he has failed. He has not kept M alive. Although Silva’s death is a victory for Bond, there are other elements that are failures. Hence, with Spectre, I wanted to give him a chance of redemption.”
Strikingly, Spectre recalls the classic Bond films in terms of the spiffy Aston Martin DB5 car, the tone, the shadowy lighting, even the cut of 007’s suit. “I wanted to get back to some of that old-school glamour from those fantastic, otherworldly locations. I wanted to push it to extremes,” the director insisted.
Still, I hate the way the film ended.
After depicting Bond for the ninth year now, Craig has nailed the quintessence of the 21st-century 007, the professional assassin in a digital surveillance state who also happens to be a charming, cold-as-steel connoisseur.
So why, oh why, for no good reason, did 007 suddenly become merciful to “the author of all his pain” and loped away into the horizon with Madeleine Swann (played by Léa Seydoux), his sultry girlfriend?
Sure, the sockless, Persian-cat-nuzzling villain, Blofeld masquerading as Oberhauser, gave a great performance. He ran the entire gamut of melodramatic displaced son traumatized by his personal history with Bond to the crime syndicate boss, murderer and madman.
It’s just that I felt the ending was a backward step for Bond, especially after his dark but beautifully haunting characterization in Skyfall.
Nevertheless, Spectre was one hell of a joyride. I won’t mind seeing it countless times, two and a half hours of runtime and all though I felt Bond’s decision not to put a bullet in Blofeld’s brain was so out of character for an iconic killing machine.
I’ll still recommend the movie, even just by the merit of its jaw-dropping stunts and magnificent settings.
Mexico’s Day of the Dead scenes alone employed 1,520 extras, dressed and made up by 107 make-up artists, 98 of whom were local. Each working day, it took them three and a half hours just to get the crowd prepared.
The stunt team was equally amazing, rigging a massive hotel explosion and staging a combat scene in an out-of-control helicopter flying a scant 30 feet above the extras.
Of course, world-famous Red Bull aerobatic pilot Chuck Aaron controlled the sticks and the pedals. But even with the dangerously low altitude constricting his chopper’s aerobatics, Chuck pushed the stunts to the limits.
However, “We don’t just blow stuff up, crash, bang and wallop because it looks good,” says stunt coordinator Gary Powell. “With all the action in a James Bond film, we tell a story while we’re doing it.”
As much action as possible was shot in-camera, as is the case with every Bond film.
“We try and do as much as we can for real,” acquiesced special effects supervisor Chris Corbould. “Then the visual effects team come along to make what we’ve done look better, tweaking it, painting things out, adding things in.”
More complicated airborne action unfolded in Austria. “We had planes hanging on high wires coming down the valley on the villains in Range Rovers.”
Then the plane wings hit a tree before landing, crashing down the hill, smashing into a barn, and exploding out the other end before plunging 20 feet below.
They used 8 different planes for that – two actually flew, another two were suspended from wire rigs and four were carcasses fitted with hidden skidoos so they can be driven from ground level.
The biggest challenge came up in Austria, where filmmakers dumped 400 tonnes of man-made snow to cover the hillside which should have been blanketed in white that winter, if not for the freak weather.
In Rome, they staged the most spectacular car chase. There was no room for error with stunt drivers droving around the ancient city at 100mph. Hence, they shut down key portions of the metropolis, including a section of the Tiber looking out to St. Peter’s Square and the Coliseum.
Though the movie audience only saw two cars onscreen, filmmakers actually used a total of eight Aston Martins and seven Jaguars for the epic chase scene.
“We didn’t want the drivers to get injured and we didn’t want them damaging thousand-year- old buildings. So, the stakes were pretty high,” Corbould admitted.
But for them, the most punishing location was Morocco, where a sand storm blew in on the first day of filming. Visibility plummeted to zero as temperatures hit a scalding 45 to 65 degrees Celsius. The crew retreated in their vehicles as winds blew in at 50mph.
Out in the Sahara desert, filmmakers also had to make sure everyone within a 20-mile radius knew to expect loud explosions and the locations department drove out to speak to villagers and nomad tribes.
Here, the special effects team oversaw the largest movie explosion ever, trucking in over 2,100 gallons of kerosene to fuel the massive blast. “It’s definitely the biggest explosion of my career,” says Corbould. “It’s complicated to plan and pull off but it’s more than worth it.”
Even in their home turf, in England, filming was nightmarish. In London, they lensed scenes in City Hall, The Home of the Mayor and London Assembly as well as a number of bridges along the River Thames – 17 arches total.
A river sequence set at night involved a high-speed boat and a low-flying helicopter chase. They needed permits for everything. Scheduling was equally complicated.
For the scenes with low-flying helicopters, they sent out 11,000 letters to residents and businesses within the fly zone.
The biggest challenge was lighting the river at night. Preparation took weeks. On top of that, the lights had to remain in position for over a month.
They lit the river from 10 rooftops along the bank of the Thames from Vauxhall Bridge to Hungerford Bridge, working so many establishments to keep lights on or off or to change the color of lights for each night shoot.
A couple of hundred people worked each night shoot, from marshals, security, traffic management to police officers. That’s a lot of radios to hand out and coordinate every night, filmmakers admitted, but it worked each time.
And that’s what mattered.