The James Bond series is ostensibly about a jet-setting spy drinking martinis with beautiful women and saving the world. Skyfall, the newest entry in the 007 franchise, is certainly glamorous and sleek, but moviegoers leave having seen a different kind of Bond film. The stakes Bond faces are far less global, and the antagonist is both personal and a technological mastermind. The jet-setting is deemphasized not just by Bond’s feeling of obsolescence, but by the impression that the audience has seen every spectacle before. A smaller world is created by the same technology that Bond battles, allowing for a more personal investment in Skyfall.
Tracking how various cultures and the idea of culture are treated in large movie franchises, especially those as popular as the Bond series, can reveal trends in the way modern people think and act. Skyfall, in some ways, represents how cultures that are so connected by technology are less easily used as eye candy. They are no longer considered distinct and different enough to warrant surprise or awe. The world seems so small that saving it is no longer a spectacle.
The James Bond franchise is half a century old, and has been a reflection of politics and world issues since it was simply a series of novels (Dodds 117). Skyfall follows this tradition of reflection by revealing the global impact of technology. Where even just ten years ago specific countries were targeted as the villains of the series, now the threat is far less clear and far more self-sufficient. Javier Bardem’s deranged, tech-savvy former MI6 agent, Raoul Silva, isn’t backed by an organization but by hacking skills and a grudge. James Bond does not have to oppose entire regimes or nefarious organizations in Skyfall, and these individuals do not have to be in exotic settings. The threat of a single, manipulative individual who takes advantage of such trivial technology as YouTube is not nearly as ridiculous as it sounds in a world flooded with smart phones and computers. Technology renders cultural pageantry, and the idea of one country versus another, just as obsolete as we are led to believe Bond and M are throughout the movie.
Skyfall is not devoid of appropriated culture. Its major moments are simply either rooted firmly in Great Britain’s own cities and landscapes and in the personal traditions of Bond’s history, or in settings that are so global that the awe they inspire is more based in visual appeal than on the mystery of the culture of the area. Visiting cultures outside of Great Britain has been a staple of the Bond series (Die Another Day; Casino Royale). In the glacial Iceland and beachside Cuba of Die Another Day, or the glamorous casino of Montenegro in Casino Royale, the settings are amplified and distorted by exaggerated villains and global stakes. However, in Skyfall, while Bond travels, his stops are brief and culminate in a battle quite literally back home.
Much of the culture seen is a product of globalization. In Shanghai, the audience simply sees a stunning billboard and skyscrapers that could easily be in any major city worldwide. In Istanbul, the most important moments occur on top of a train, something that is not specific to a country, let alone a culture. Even in the dialogue between Eve and M in the opening sequence, the emphasis on interconnectedness and technology is clear. When Bond does travel to an exotic island location, the island has literally been rendered devoid of people and culture by the technology and cunning of Silva.
The only culture that is seen and appropriated is an exaggeration of festive elements. The lanterns and fireworks in the casino in Macau are clearly meant to stun visually, but, given that these elements are traditionally used for festivities, even individuals from the culture these sets originate from would be stunned by the luminescent floating party. It is clear then that the emphasized “exotic location” is exotic to everyone, worldwide. The unattainable party, complete with komodo dragons, shows how technology has both widened the Bond audience and limited what that audience sees as unusual and impressive. The film cannot simply appropriate culture and location, because between the Internet and simpler means of travel, the audience can experience any culture. Only by appropriating conventions reserved for wealth and celebration does Skyfall manage, today, to instill awe in its audience.
Even as he struggles against it, James Bond shows us how new technology is creating a more multicultural, global frame of reference. In a world where technology and increased globalization allow people to chat with a friend on the other side of the globe face-to-face or watch a film from 90 years ago, individuals encounter a mixture of cultures and eras. Skyfall then, is an introverted, character-driven film that serves as an example of our interconnected, global society, and changing concepts of culture and belonging. Bond’s world has adapted in more ways than he realizes even as he struggles to keep up.
Dodds, Klaus. “Popular Geopolitics and Audience Dispositions: James Bond and the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 31.2 (June 2006): 116-30. JSTOR. Web. 3 Dec 2012.
Lethem, Jonathan. “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism.” Harper’s. Feb 2007: 59-71. Print.
“Skyfall.” IMDb. Amazon.com co., 2012 Web. 3 Dec. 2012.
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ISABELLA KAPUR is an undergraduate student at Columbia University with a keen interest in media and the arts.