Sunday, 6 November 2011

Skyfall: would Ian Fleming have approved?

The title of the 23rd EON-produced Bond film was revealed on Thursday 3rd November at the official press-conference. As producer Michael G Wilson observed, the title was the worst kept secret in London, as fan sites and the media were already buzzing with the rumour that Skyfall was the name of the film. And so it was. With little of the plot details revealed, Skyfall has induced an amount of head-scratching among commentators about its meaning, but on the face of it seems Bondian enough. The name is not taken from a Fleming work, but would Ian Fleming have approved of it nonetheless?

Skyfall is the first one-word title since GoldenEye (1995). Does this and the other one-word titles give us a clue about Skyfall's meaning? Skyfall could be a villain's name in the manner of Goldfinger, or perhaps it's the name of a secret service operation, like Thunderball. Or SkyFall could be a McGuffin, a piece of technology, say, like GoldenEye and Moonraker that drives the plot.

I wonder, though, whether we'd be better thinking about literary allusions for an insight into the title's meaning. I was reminded, for instance, of Stuart Little. Today the story has been made familiar through the 2005 Disney animation, but the original is older than that, appearing in print as a fable in the 19th century. The character of Chicken Little, or Henny Penny, is a variant of the boy who cried wolf. His frequent cries of 'The sky is falling!' warn of a imminent disasters without justification.

Then there's the reputed belief of the ancient Gauls that the sky may fall on their heads, heralding the end of the world. The origin of this story is uncertain (Julius Caesar doesn't mention it in his Gallic Wars, while the Gaulish sky-god Taranis seems to have been a relatively minor deity, judging by literary sources and inscriptions). But whatever its origin and however old it is, the meme is now well-established and familiar to us (chiefly through the Asterix books).

Of course, the name Skyfall may have a more recent origin. Falling Skies is the name of a Spielberg-produced sci-fi series broadcast in 2011 on TNT. Following an alien invasion, the drama charts the fortunes of a band of survivors as they attempt to fight back. The possibility that the Bond screenwriters were inspired by the series' name, though, is perhaps less likely given that an earlier reported title was Red Sky at Night, from which Skyfall could well have derived.

What connects all 'sky falling' stories is the theme of impending doom and the world as we know it collapsing. And the few plot details we have of Skyfall – Barbara Broccoli spoke about the title having some emotional context, and we know that 'Bond's loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her' – do seem to suggest an earth-shattering revelation that turns Bond's world upside down. For James Bond, who, in Fleming's novels, idolises M and views M as a parental figure (or indeed a spouse), the sky has fallen in.

I think Ian Fleming would have liked the title, certainly when seen in the context of dramatic twists (rather like the explosive beginning of The Man with the Golden Gun, when a brainwashed Bond attempts to assassinate M). I have to admit, I was ambivalent about the title when I first heard it, but Skyfall is growing on me.

1 comment:

  1. I agree -- I think Fleming would have liked this title very much. At first blush, the title brought Chicken Little to mind, but then I began to like apocalyptic ring it has (much like "Thunderball," I think). I wouldn't have nearly liked "Red Sky at Night" as much; for one thing, it has a positive connotation: "Red sky at night, sailor's delight." Its corollary, "Red Sky at Morning" (sailor take warning), seems immediately clichéd, and rather overtly nautical in flavor. (Fine, I guess, for a James Bond seagoing adventure, but in that case even more clichéd.)

    For my money, the single-worded James Bond titles are the most resonant and intriguing, and (hopefully) "Skyfall" will join its predecessors in its evocation of the world of 007.


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