Skyfall – Pretitle Sequence

Skyfall was released on DVD and Bluray in Australia, just a few weeks ago, and naturally in that time I have had an opportunity to watch it a few times. And I have to say, it is one of the most enjoyable of all Bond films. But films and books are very different things – and the illogical plot points you can get away with in a movie, are just clunky on the written page – or simply do not make sense.

With that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at the pre-title sequence of Skyfall. A brief warning, if you have not seen the film, major SPOILERS to follow. You may want to come back, once you’ve watched the movie.

So, the film opens in Istanbul. James Bond (Daniel Craig) enters a building, where a covert operation is taking place. Sensing something is wrong, Bond draws his weapon and upon entering another room, sees a dead man lying in a pool of blood, and a fellow agent, Ronson, on a chair with a severe stomach wound.

At that point, M (Judi Dench), who is in London, but communicating through a earpiece, asks Bond “Is it there?” She is referring to a list of agents, who are working undercover in various terrorist organisations. This list was on a computer. Bond spies the computer, but the hard drive had been removed.

Now, I am going to pause it here.

First, let’s look at this operation. It is clearly a very important operation as both M and her Chief of Staff, Tanner (Rory Kinnear) and linked to the agents in the field. Bond and another operative (who we are introduced to later), Eve (Naomie Harris) are backup for Ronson.

The fact that Bond is backup for Ronson means one of two things. Either, Ronson is a better agent than Bond, or the mission is Ronson’s baby, and he is meeting his contact. Now, Ronson’s mission is either to receive the list of agents, or to share that list with an ally (such as the CIA). Therefore, if he is sharing the list with an ally, then it wouldn’t have to be Ronson at the exchange – since he is, we would assume he is better than Bond. If he was meeting his contact, then he’d be getting the list back, which would imply that it had been stolen (and was already out it the open), which would negate the next half of the film.

So Ronson must be a better agent than Bond, and be sharing the list with an ally.

As Ronson is better than Bond, and the meeting is with an ally, there would be no reason that he wouldn’t be wired up to M, Tanner, Bond and Eve too. Now we have to assume the exchange was interrupted by Patrice (Ola Rapace), who must have burst into the building (without Bond and Eve seeing – and notifying Ronson, that an intruder had just entered the building). Patrice then shot Ronson first – so he is unable to communicate. Then he shot the ally agent, killing him, then removed the hard drive.

As an adjunct, in this day an age, there must be a better way to exchange information like this than a physical meeting between two agents – surely encrypted information can be sent over the internet? However, knowing that the villain of the piece will later be revealed to be a computer genius, negating an internet option, could I suggest that a flash drive, SD card or portable hard drive would still be a more practical (and discreet) way to transport the information.

If Ronson was wired up, then M would want to know why he was not responding. Bond and Eve would hear this too, and perhaps, that is why Bond entered the building. He would have instructed Eve, to watch the other exits.

Bond enters the building, initially without a drawn weapon. That seems strange, but he is Bond, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. The scene plays out as described above.

Upon discovery that the hard-drive is missing, Bond is instructed to go after the thief / murderer. It just so happens, that Eve has seen Patrice leave the building but has neglected to tell anyone over the comlink. As Bond leaves the building she pulls over in a four-wheel-drive, in which she has been sitting. He gets in. The pursuit begins.

The car chase culminates with both vehicles, Bond and Eve, and Patrice, crashing. Patrice produces a machine pistol, with an impossibly large magazine and starts spraying lead everywhere. We later find out, that this lead is not actually lead at all, but depleted uranium core. But none-the-less, Patrice shoots up the place, before escaping on a motorcycle.

Bond follows Patrice on another motorcycle. Eve follows in her bullet riddled four-wheel-drive. Both Bond and Patrice end up on the roof of a train, sans bikes. During the ensuing running roof-top battle, Patrice shoots Bond in the right shoulder. The bullet appears to have gone right through, as later, the viewer can see exit wound blood (although no hole) on the back of Bond’s jacket

As an adjunct here, I’d like to quote from Jeffery Deaver’s 2011 James Bond novel, Carte Blanche – Hodder & Stoughton Hardback edition – page 11.

‘Now I’m ninety per cent sure he’ll believe you,’ Bond said. ‘But if not, and he engages, remember that under no circumstances is he to be killed. I need him alive. Aim to wound him in the arm he favours, near the elbow, not the shoulder.’ Despite what one saw in the movies, a shoulder wound was usually as fatal as one to the abdomen or chest.

So Bond is injured, and if we are to take Mr. Deaver’s words on board, quite seriously too. The roof-top chase on the train continues, until both men are squaring off, mano a mano. Eve, has kept up the pursuit in the four-wheel-drive, but has run out of road. She gets out of the vehicle, with what looks like a sniper’s rifle.

The train is crossing a river, and a tunnel looms ahead. If Bond and Patrice go into the tunnel, then Eve can no longer provide any backup. But, she has to ensure that Patrice and the list, do not escape. M instructs her to fire, “Take the bloody shot!”. Eve shoots, and ….

… Bond is hit and falls from the train, down in the the river below.

Title sequence begins.

Now, I am not sure where Eve’s bullet struck Bond. The title sequence, with a stylized stream of blood issuing from Bond’s shoulder would indicate she hit him in the exact same shoulder as Patrice. The scars displayed, later in the movie (set only three months later), would suggest my guess is correct. So, Bond has been shot twice in the same shoulder. Once with a bullet made from a depleted uranium core, and the other from a sniper’s rifle. I know very little about weapons, but I would guess sniper’s rifles are a high-powered weapon. I would also guess that after being hit, Bond would not have any shoulder left to heal – but that is all supposition. I do not intend to test my theory by shooting somebody. However, once again, I would draw your attention to Mr. Deaver’s words above. Mmmm!

But this is Bond, so we figure he can shrug off a couple of potentially fatal bullet wounds.

Let’s look at how the events of the pre-title sequence influence the rest of the story. Firstly, as you’d be aware, Bond is in a self-imposed exile for three months, recuperating from his wounds. Over those months, MI6 do not, and cannot retrieve the stolen list of undercover agents. Later, only when Bond cuts open his shoulder to retrieve shrapnel fragments from Patrice’s bullet – does the story start moving. The depleted uranium core bullets are only used by three people, and Bond recognizes Patrice’s face. Bond is sent to Shanghai – essentially starting the story afresh.

But hang on! Didn’t Patrice fire literally hundreds of these rounds at Bond and Eve. They struck the four-wheel-drive. Surely, someone – even the most lowly policeman – collected one of the bullets and analyzed it. Upon discovery of the unique uranium bullet type, Eve could have recognized Patrice as easily as Bond.

The mission should have been up and running. Patrice should have been picked up, gagged, blindfolded, and shipped to some black rendition site, where he was waterboard tortured until he gave up Silva’s name. Well, at least that’s how I’d run MI6 (I jest, of course).

But, I am sure you get my point. MI6 has ceased to function without Bond. No wonder Gareth Mallory wants M to resign. The whole opening to Skyfall is poorly plotted, and barely makes sense. If I served the same story up in a spy novel, my readers would, after the first chapter, hurl the book at the wall. Then possibly track me down, break my fingers, so I couldn’t tap out such a load of piffle ever again.

But film and novels are very different mediums. As I said at the top, I loved Skyfall, and will gladly watch it again – with a healthy, and much needed, suspension of disbelief.

8 Comments Posted in Film and Cinema
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  1. I detested Skyfall or at least most of it, but I think your analysis is spot on. Just goes to highlight Hollywood’s complete ignorance of technology (and contempt or their audience).

  2. Thanks Kate. It does reek of planning stunts and locations first – and then later trying to wrap a plot around it.

  3. David,

    That’s a wonderfully written piece on the pitfalls of the pre title sequence.

    Having been associated with films, i do believe that these scenes will be concocted first and then woven with a fine thread they call screen play, wherein the Writers / assistant directors do chip in to make the scene a wholesome believable sequence.

    Alas, this is where they have failed and going by your excellent write up, failed miserably. We will not expect such shortcomings from the world’s (At least, UK’s) best secret agent.

    Thanks for the time and the effort to explain. I Have watched the film 3 times and each time i failed to miss this vital logic, may be lost in the grandeur of the action set-piece.

  4. Thanks King. Don’t get me started on Silva’s escape from the ‘new’ MI6 headquarters. If I analyzed the logic of that, we’d be here all day!

  5. is it so, David?

    only yesterday i’ve watched the film again and clearly understood the pitfalls of the opening scene.

    Now that you’re saying that the escape scene from Silva is also having logical issues. I never felt the same BECAUSE THE DIRECTOR JUST SHOWS THAT HE HAS ESCAPED FROM THE CHAMBER and leaves us to imagine how he could do so.

    is this the cinematic liberty that we used to talk?

  6. You are right to question Bond surviving those wounds. Anyone remember the old “Mannix” TV show ? Mike Conners got shot in the shoulder every other episode but still survived. It’s an unwritten screenplay rule, if you’re shot there you’re guaranteed survival. In reality, there are a major artery, a major vein, the whole nerve supply to the arm, and the top of the lung contained in the small area between chest and arm. So you’ll bleed to death quickly, have a collapsed lung, or at best a permanently useless arm with a gunshot.
    The rifle was probably a standard 5.56 caliber. Roughly 5-6 times as powerful as a 9mm pistol. Game over for Bond.

  7. Correction: looked up some numbers (I was bored) and the 5.56 rifle is about 3 times the power of a 9mm. Still overkill.

  8. Thanks for your comments King and Rufo.

    Three times the power of a 9mm. Mmmm, that should do it!

    As for cinematic liberty, the problem with the whole sequence is its ‘split second timing’ with, firstly the computer, and trains – and Bond actions complying to Silva’s pre-ordained/pre-planned will.

    Maybe London’s underground metro is more reliable than Melbourne’s?

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