(Originally, I reported Skyfall was shown using the new Dolby ATMOS sound technology. This was in error.)
Radio, one of the oldest of all technologies, plays a key role on screen in Skyfall, the latest James Bond movie which opens this Friday.
But this new movie James Bond 007 film is aided by some sound movie magic in the theater itself.
Monday night I got to experience Skyfall at the AMC Empire 25 multiplex on 42d Street and Eighth Avenue on the fringe of Times Square in Manhattan, one of AMC's growing number of ETX (Enhanced Theatre eX perience) theaters. (Unfortunately, Skyfall is NOT created or shown using the new surround sound scheme called ATMOS, as I originally reported here, even though it was being screened in one of the few ATMOS theaters).
While not exactly on the "holy crap!" level as IMAX or other more startling visual in-theater technology, ETX made Skyfall a more enjoyable subtle, subconscious experience.
Even though I sat in the rear row of theater 6, ETX enabled me to be thoroughly involved in the action. There was no distraction from clearly identifiable sound directionality from individual speakers or speaker locations, just as the Dolby people predicted.
All the sound – dialog, sound effects, music – seem to come from exactly where it was supposed to onscreen and not from any artificial place, enveloping me in James Bond's latest adventures.
How was the movie?
All of which is admittedly a cheap excuse for writing a review of Skyfall, for which I do have some background.
For a decade in the 1990s, I was a film researcher for American Movie Classics in the years they showed actual movie classics (albeit with commercials) with on-screen hosts. I also wrote some bookend intros and outros for on-screen hosts Bob Dorian and Nick Clooney, George's dad.
Anyway, about Skyfall.
It's an appropriate action film for us mid-lifers. Much of the plot revolves around a not-so gracefully aging Bond coming to grips with and dealing with his graying physical vulnerabilities, mortality, and resurrection of both the character and the series, which has been MIA for four years.
In fact, everyone seems to be dealing with Bond at 50 (the series stared in 1962 with Dr. No), including an aging M, her aging boss, and even an aging protagonist, gleefully played by a fey Javier Bardeem out not for impersonal world domination but simple revenge.
We even get a cute scene between a snarky whippersnapper cyber expert Q (Ben Whishaw) mocking Bond's old-fashioned reliance on gadgets such as exploding pens in an age of computer hacking.
Ghosts of Bond Past
Along with Bond's aging are nods to the Bond franchise's past: his "Bond, James Bond" introduction, a tuxedo-ordered shaken/not stirred martini, an applause-sparking appearance by Goldfinger's Astin-Martin DB5 (with a glimpse of the stick shift-hidden ejector seat button and liberal use of the front-mounted machine guns), M's old leather-and-oak office complete with outer office with both the standing coat rack (sans hat toss, unfortunately) and a surprising Miss Moneypenny, and a visit to Scotland, birthplace of the original Bond, Sean Connery (I suspect they offered the part played by Albert Finney to Connery first).
And, of course, there's Monty Norman's signature surf rock guitar punctuated theme played over the iconic blood-drenched gun barrel view of Bond. Ah, memories of my youth!
Cinematically, Skyfall is artfully directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), but the story drags at times – 15-20 minutes worth of cuts would have tightened things up considerably. And, of course, the plot is often predictable (a too-soon/too-easy apprehension of a criminal, the de rigueur nasty demise of one of Bond's paramours) and filled with the usual railway tunnel-sized plot holes (you'll be asking why the cavalry doesn't show up during one James Bond-meets-Home Alone sequence).
But there a genuine moments of suspense, chills and athleticism (an unusual elevator ride springs to mind). Despite his being deemed unfit for duty, Bond remains as virile, versatile and ingenious as ever, and Daniel Craig's steely- and blue-eyed self-assurance continues to make previous incarnations seem silly.
Skyfall is better (or at least more cogent) than Quantum of Solace but still doesn't match the thrills of Craig's first 007 foray, Casino Royale. But by Skyfall's denouement, it's clear Bond is Back – in fact, the ending titles tell us so.
On a scale of five, I give Skyfall three-and-a-half stars, four if you can catch it in an AMC ETX theater.