SFP: "Quantum of Solace"

Dec 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Blair Jackson



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The new James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, picks up just a couple of minutes after the last one — the wildly successful Casino Royale — left off. “This one opens with quite a bang, which is an Aston Martin being chased by two Alfa Romeos through the Italian hills,” says effects re-recording mixer Mark Taylor, who, along with virtually the entire British sound team, worked on both films. “And it literally does kick in about 30 seconds into the movie — we're immediately thrown into full-on action, which was tough in terms of finding a benchmark for [sound] levels and where we were going to go from there. So we just kind of hit a blow to the head and hope they like it,” he adds with a chuckle.

Bond audiences want to be grabbed by the throat and taken for a ride, and the opening pre-credits sequences are justifiably legendary, arguably the most anticipated part of every 007 film. So what better way to get the audience's blood flowing than a hair-raising chase, with Bond spectacularly ruling the road in an Aston Martin DBS, the supercharged descendant of Bond's Goldfinger car from 35 years earlier?

Fortunately, Taylor had lots of great raw sound material at his disposal, thanks to the work, months earlier, of supervising sound editor Eddy Joseph and his team of effects recordist/editors: sound designers Martin Cantwell and James Boyle, field recordists Dave Mackie and Russell Edwards, and production sound mixer Chris Munro. Much of the engine material was captured up in England's Midlands at Aston Martin's headquarters, putting the cars on a “rolling road” (actually, a chassis dynamometer, which allows the car to remain in a fixed position while the engine revs and the tires spin as if they were on an actual highway) and then recording from multiple angles.

In that particular case, Cantwell had a Sound Devices 744T hooked up to a Schoeps M/S mic setup in the interior and two Soundelux cardioid condensers, one above the engine and one two meters from the exhaust; Mackie also ran a 744T, with two piezo mics under the engine and under the differential, and two Sanken CSM 7s, one at the front and one at the rear; Boyle had a Nagra ARES-BB with Sanken CMS 7 and a Sony PCM D-50 with built-in X/Y four meters from the rear of the car, on the ground; while Edwards had a 744T, two DPA 6042s inside the car and an SM58 at the back near the exhaust. There was also an unmanned Fostex FR2 with a Neumann RSM 191 pointing at the middle of the right side of the car, about four meters up. Also at the Aston Martin facility, the team went out on a “brake strip” — an eight-lane, two-mile straightaway — to record speed passes, swerving passes, accelerations, gear change passes, and starts and stops, with rigs both in the car and outside along the roadway.

Once the needed FX had been recorded, “James Boyle laid up the sound effects for that section,” Taylor says, “and then we kind of remastered the engines down at Real World — where we premixed — through vintage valve gear: We used Tube-Tech and Crane Song compressors and some Pultec EQs, just to give it some grunge, but so it still had a presence and it maintained that presence through the sequence. We did the same thing with some of the explosions in the hotel collapse sequence in reel six, just to get the energy. Then we re-recorded them back through a 2-inch [tape machine], as well, just for the extra analog feel.”

Well, reading that sort of description might make one think this is a typical James Bond film — and in a way it is: There are several big action pieces, including brutally realistic fistfights, a big boat chase, a dogfight between a DC-3 dual-prop plane and a little Marchetti stunt plane, a couple of shoot-outs (of course) and the aforementioned hotel collapse.

But this is also a James Bond film with a somewhat different vibe, as Eddy Joseph learned when he, Boyle and Cantwell first met with director Marc Forster to look at an early cut. It was clear that the German/Swiss director, who had never made an action film before (but was Oscar-nominated for the genteel Finding Neverland), wanted to take a somewhat different approach from his Casino predecessor, Martin Campbell.

“When I first met Marc,” Joseph says, “he said, ‘What I want is I don't want to do this as a Bond film. I want to do this as an independent movie.’ And I said, ‘Forgive me, but I can't do it like that. I have to do it first as a Bond film and then we'll try to do what you want — if you can help us a little more with what you really mean by “independent movie.”’ And then he said, ‘In a car chase I get bored,’ and then he explained that what he meant was that it doesn't have to be all noise, that there are other ways of portraying these action sequences. So we went away from that a little confused, but it made us think, and that's probably what the whole meeting was about from his perspective. I believe the expression these days is he wanted us to look at the film from ‘outside the box.’ And we did.”

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