Writing’s On The Wall’s Oscar triumph

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE's main titles

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE’s main titles

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes got the Oscar award for Best Original Song in 2016 Academy Awards edition. It was the second triumph for the James Bond series had in that category.

In the 20th century, Bond songs were beaten by the likes of “The Way We Were” (winning over Live And Let Die) or “You Light up My Life” (winning over Nobody Does It Better from The Spy Who Loved Me) and “Arthur’s Theme (The Best You Can Do),” which won over For Your Eyes Only. For that matter, 007 classic songs such as Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever weren’t even nominated.

The spell was broken three years ago when Skyfall received the academy’s nod over songs like the solid “Suddenly,” from Les Miserables.

In September 2015, when Sam Smith introduced his performance of the song “Writing’s On The Wall” for SPECTRE, it divided the Bond fans between the ones showing appreciation and the ones turning a big thumb down – not to mention a great deal of bullying towards the 23-year-old singer for his falsetto voice, hidden under the shadows of the social networks.

“It’s the quickest song I’ve ever written,” Smith said, claiming he and Napier finished the job in just 20 minutes. (Later Eon Productions co-boss although Barbara Broccoli said it took much more time than that.)

Despite Smith’s vocal register, “Writing’s On The Wall” featured an unmistakable Bondian sound reminiscent to “Thunderball” with a touch of the recent “Skyfall.” A melody so accurate that it looks like composer Thomas Newman barely retouched the original instrumental for the scene where James Bond and his love interest Madeleine Swann get steamy on a train going through the Moroccan desert.

The song that supposedly took Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes less than half an hour to write described a vulnerable state of the rebooted James Bond. Bond lives with the memory of his beloved Vesper (Eva Green’s character in Casino Royale) and his boss-turned-mother figure M (Judi Dench, who bid farewell at the end of Skyfall).

It takes a lot for a man to admit his weakness – particularly a man like James Bond– and this song achieves to do it in a powerful way, as Daniel Kleinman’s main title visuals show our hero naked, wrapped around octopus tentacles coming out of the villain’s back while kissed by beautiful women.

While the artist voice sounds fragile, the seven main notes of the tune explode in power. A power expressing enough strength that the instrumental intermezzo (around the three minutes of the full version of the song) wasn’t cropped out during the usual editing to make a four minute composition fit into a short main title sequence. It was masterfully used to emphasize the artistic visuals.

Sam Smith had the coveted Oscar statue on his hand and dedicated it to the LGBT community he is part of. Among other contenders, he triumphed over Lady Gaga’s “Till It Happens to You,” introduced by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during the ceremony.

Some people may not agree, not even Bond fans, about this recognition. But it is truly deserved because the song isn’t focused in the victorious figure of agent 007, but in the depths of the hidden soul of James Bond: his fears, his vulnerability and his overdue need for love.

And this was done with a melody that synthetizes the film, twisting like the sinuous octopus tentacles that symbolize the effect of SPECTRE wrapping into the soul of the man behind the spy, and a voice that shouts what the spy covering the human being will never openly tell.

The emotional complexity of the lyrics, the music and the voice is something that a spectator with an artistic eye can appreciate and enjoy while listening to “Writing’s on The Wall.” When accompanied by Kleinman’s ravishing main title sequence, it’s the way the song was meant to be appreciated.

 

SPECTRE title song gets Oscar nomination

SPECTRE teaser image

SPECTRE teaser image

“Writing’s On The Wall,” the title song for SPECTRE, was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Song, ACCORDING TO A LIST OF THE NOMINEES on the Acamdemy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website.

The nomination comes four days after the song won a Golden Globes award.

With the Oscars, the songwriters get nominated. In this case Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith are the nominees. Smith performed the song.

This is the second consecutive Bond title song to pick up a nomination. Adele and Paul Epworth won the Best Song Oscar three years ago for Skyfall’s title song.

Thomas Newman, who was nominated for Skyfall’s score, didn’t get a nomination for SPECTRE. However, he picked up a nomination for the Cold War drama Bridge of Spies. The latter received a number of nominations, including Best Picture.

To be honest, it was more appropriate Newman got a nomination for Bridge of Spies. Drama is more in his wheelhouse. Meanwhile, with SPECTRE, Newman repeated some of his Skyfall score in several spots.

SPECTRE box office and its future implications Part I

SPECTRE promotional art

SPECTRE promotional art

By Gert Waterink,
Guest Writer
SPECTRE has grossed more than $820 million globally since it premiered in late October. That looks like a very solid box office figure. And it is, just like its predecessor, Skyfall, one of the most successful non-3D, non-Sci-Fi films of the year.

Looking at the leaked production budget of SPECTRE, the team of Sony Pictures/MGM/EON Productions were obviously preparing for another certified $1 billion blockbuster. With a budget of around $350 million ($245 million plus a publicity and advertising budget of $105 million) SPECTRE is almost as expensive as Avengers 2: Age Of Ultron ($330 million: $280 million plus $50 million P&A), the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($400 million: $200 million plus $200 million P&A) and Pirates Of The Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides ($410 million, including P&A).

But so far SPECTRE’s actual global box office gross doesn’t compare at all with the latter three blockbusters. Last year box office pundits were putting SPECTRE, quite logically, in the field of certified $1 billion blockbusters. And I actually thought the same.

I predicted in December 2014 that SPECTRE should be able to gross $90 million more than Skyfall, thus reaching almost $1.2 billion globally.

As it stands now SPECTRE only broke even when it grossed passed the $700 million mark. There’s an outside chance that the film will gross $900 million globally.

Production budgets have never been an issue for Bond movies. Still, the earnings of SPECTRE are OK-ish at best and disappointing from a more negative viewpoint. So could these slightly disappointing earnings have been prevented? And what should be done now? Will there be a more radical downscaling in the production budget of Bond 25?

Like with previous Bond films, a lot of factors have to be taken into account to understand why it became such a huge success…or why it underperformed in the case of SPECTRE.

The Action
Personally I liked the action sequences in the film, as it felt like a wonderful throwback to the tongue-in-cheek car/helicopter/airplane chases from the Moore/Brosnan era. They were infused with lots of funny gags and witty lines. The “love affair” between the Aston Martin DB10 and the baby blue Fiat 500 caused unexpected laughter from my side. I recognized it as “Bond-esque.” But that’s the kind of action that perhaps didn’t work as well with “normal” audiences.

The freerunning sequence in Casino Royale introduced action that hasn’t been done before in a Bond film. Moreover, the stunts in Casino Royale and Skyfall felt like they were culminating into bigger dangerous consequences. It doesn’t mean that you have to get rid of gadgets and a sense of fun, but in terms of cinematography, editing and execution, the action in SPECTRE could have felt fresher and more original for a broader audience while still maintaining the grittiness and danger of the previous films.

Some examples: Skiing, snowboarding or perhaps even paraskiing could have maintained the “physicality” from the previous three films, thus adding more high-stakes danger to the action. One could think of a snow variant of freerunning (think of filming this with GoPro camera equipment). Also, the car chase could have felt like a tighter non-stop rollercoaster thriller, like what Peter Yates executed so wonderfully with Bullitt, or John Frankenheimer’s tightly scripted stunts in Ronin.

Overall, the stunts in SPECTRE worked perfectly within the Bond frame and did add some wonderful humor. But it could have captured the imagination of those people who are not so familiar with Bond slightly better. A missed opportunity? Perhaps Murder On Wheels (Ian Fleming’s idea for an episode of a never-made Bond television series) will give the Bond producers some inspiration?

Music as Incentive
Adele’s title song for Skyfall gave Bond its third Oscar in 50 years. The title song, co-composed by Paul Epworth, is bound to become a future evergreen. Although this can’t be proven yet, the hit success of “Skyfall” became a welcome publicity incentive for actually watching the film.

One can say that it’s almost impossible to fabricate similar free publicity for SPECTRE. The producers tried this however with another big name in British music: Sam Smith. Although I appreciate the song –it works very well with the main titles– the people didn’t like it as much as Skyfall. Perhaps the Bond producers should have applied some tighter creative control on the music department as a result of Skyfall’s success. Sam Smith is no Adele. Nor is he a Paul Epworth. But perhaps Paul Epworth could have been brought back with a different artist?

Marketing is the sole keyword nowadays in picking a Bond song performer. Ever since John Barry left the series, Bond themes have been (mostly) produced separately from the actual soundtrack. But especially now one can also see its limitations with regard to publicity. And the publicity potential therefore wasn’t fully exploited. Because in the end you still need to have a smasher of a Bond song.

To be continued

Skyfall’s score and title song pick up Grammys

Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman

Skyfall’s score and title song won Grammys on Jan. 26.

Thomas Newman picked up the Grammy for Best Score for Visual Media. Newman had been nominated for an Oscar for his Skyfall score last year but didn’t get the award, losing out to Mychael Danna’s work on Life of Pi.

For the Grammy, Newman won over Danna, Alexandre Desplat (Argo and Zero Dark Thirty), John Williams (Lincoln) and Craig Armstrong (The Great Gatsby).

The Skyfall title song by Adele and Paul Epworth won the Oscar a year ago. For the Grammy, the song won over five other songs. You can view a full list of Grammy nominees and winners BY CLICKING HERE. The Grammys have different eligibility dates than the Oscars.

Update of The Music of James Bond in the works

Image of the cover of The Music of James Bond from the book's Amazon.com page

Image of the cover of The Music of James Bond from the book’s Amazon.com page

Author Jon Burlingame is working on an updated paperback edition of The Music of James Bond to be published sometime next fall.

Burlingame said in an email he’s working on a new chapter about Skyfall, the 2012 film that broke the 007 film losing streak in Oscar Best Song nominations. The original hardback edition, published in the fall of 2012, covered the first 22 Bond films made by Eon Productions as well as 1967’s Casino Royale and 1983’s Never Say Never Again.

Prior to Skyfall, Live And Let Die, Nobody Does It Better and For Your Eyes Only had been nominated for Best Song without winning. Thomas Newman’s score for the film was also nominated for an Oscar but didn’t win.

Previous posts:

September 2012: HMSS TALKS TO JON BURLINGAM ABOUT HIS 007 MUSIC BOOK

June 2013: REVIEW: THE MUSIC OF JAMES BOND (2012)

Skyfall gets two Grammy nominations

Adele

Adele

Skyfall received two nominations for the 2014 Grammy Awards.

The title song written by Adele and Paul Epworth, was nominated in the category of best song written for visual media. The Skyfall score by Thomas Newman is one of six nominees for best score soundtrack for visual media.

The Skyfall title song won an Academy Award while Newman’s score lost out to Mychael Danna’s work on Life of Pi. Danna’s Pi score also received a Grammy nomination. Other Grammy score nominees include John Williams for Lincoln and Alexandre Desplat for Argo and Zero Dark Thirty.

Skyfall broke a long Oscar drought for the Bond movies, getting two awards. Besides the title song, Skyfall shared a sound editing Oscar with Zero Dark Thirty.

To view all the Grammy nominations, CLICK HERE for a list compiled by the Los Angeles Times. The nominations were disclosed Dec. 6 and the awards program will be Jan. 26.

2013 Oscars to have biggest 007 component in 31 years

oscar

UPDATE II (8:05 p.m.): Halle Berry said on ABC that’s she has seen some of the Bond tribute for the Oscars show and that it’s “fabulous” and that she’s proud to be part of the 007 franchise. Immediately after, Adele says on ABC she’s “really excited” to perform tonight. Obviously, nothing terribly revealing in either interview.

UPDATE (6:55 p.m.): Shirley Bassey showed up on CNN’s Oscars “red carpet” show. Nothing startling. She sang the word “Goldfinger.” She told Piers Morgan she’s going to be nervous during the show. “With all these stars, I’m going to be jelly.” She said her favorite Bond was Sean Connery.

ORIGINAL POST: Tonight’s Oscars show is guaranteed to have the biggest 007 presence in 31 years.

Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond movie, has been nominated for five awards, the most in the history of the film series. The previous 007 record was held by The Spy Who Loved Me with three nominations (and no wins).

We know that Adele will perform the Skyfall title song. That’s one of the five nominations for Skyfall (Adele and Paul Epworth are nominated as the songwriters). Shirley Bassey has been announced as appearing and there will be some kind of James Bond tribute. Tom Jones may be there as well but there appears to be no official announcement to that effect in the PRESS RELEASE ARCHIVE for the Oscars.

A Bond film hasn’t been nominated since 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, for best song. The series is 0-for-3 on best song nominations (Live And Let Die and Nobody Does It Better from The Spy Who Loved Me also got nominations). For the 1982 show, Sheena Easton performed For Your Eyes Only as part of an elaborate 007 dance number and Albert R. Broccoli won the Irving Thalberg award, given to a producer for his or her body of work.

We’ll Tweet @HMSSWeblog and turn those into posts here.