Earlier today, as the world anxiously awaited the premiere of the teaser trailer for "Spectre," the latest James Bond adventure (once again starring Daniel Craig as 007), we were on the set of the film in Mexico City, watching them film the movie's dramatic opening sequence and chatting with various members of the crew. This sequence obviously didn't make it into the teaser, which was weirdly action-free, but it did give us a hint at what's to come from this spy thriller.
Mexico is a location that the James Bond franchise has utilized plenty of times before, most recently in the mostly forgotten Craig entry "Quantum of Solace" and the hotel where part of this action sequence takes place, the Gran Hotel de Mexico, had already been used in a 007 movie -- the even-more-forgotten Timothy Dalton joint "The Living Daylights," way back in 1987 (no, I don't remember that one either).
As far as the production pipeline goes, Mexico is but a dot on the map. So far, the production has already shot sequences in London, Austria (where much of the teaser trailer unfolds), and Rome, and still has additional photography in Morocco left to go. Yes, this shoot is very international. Several members of the production, in fact, have noted that this Bond adventure is substantially larger than "Skyfall," the last Daniel Craig outing and the first Bond movie to make $1 billion globally. "Spectre" reunites much of the team that made "Skyfall" such a smash including, crucially, director Sam Mendes and writers John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, and the atmosphere from the Mexico shoot definitely gave off the feeling that the filmmakers were trying to top themselves in every way possible. This might seem odd given the chilly, subdued vibe of the trailer. But it's true.
When asked if this would be an even bigger opening scene than last time around, production designer Dennis Gassner reacted with mock incredulity. "Have you looked down there, man?" Fair enough.
The scene in question involves Bond and his seduction of Estrella (Mexican actress Stephanie Sigman, who made a splash in the truly incredible "Miss Bala"). Bond is seducing Estrella to get a better view of the square, called Zocalo, which a quick Internet search revealed to be the main plaza in Mexico City. There's something going down in the square, and Bond knows it. While precise details remained vague, he was after Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), who is a very bad dude. Bond ends up chasing Sciarra through a Day of the Dead parade, which today was populated with nearly 1,500 extras (each extra requiring more than 90 minutes of hair, costume and makeup), follows him onto a helicopter (where the fight continues), and eventually ends up on the rooftops of the surrounding buildings. The part we saw only involved the Day of the Dead parade and the rooftop, but it was easy to imagine the rest, scored by Thomas Newman's breathless music (he's another "Skyfall" alum returning to the series).
It's important to note that this production took up the entire square. The extras were decked out to the nines, with meticulously constructed and manicured costumes (see photos) that costume designer Jany Temime said was meant to imitate the ingenuity, resourcefulness, and boundless imagination of the native Mexican people. (More tantalizingly she talked about Bond's new tuxedo, the exact color of which she wouldn't say. Also, there are some fashionable ski pants in the mix, undoubtedly for the Austrian alps stuff that she kept referring to as "the ski sequence.") There was a large stage with a huge skeleton wearing a giant embroidered sombrero, a full band, and acrobatic dancers. There were also massive skull floats and fully articulated puppets of skeletons that had dangling limbs and skulls. Behind it all was the biggest Mexican (or any) flag that you could imagine (and if you read some of the leaked Sony emails, you'll probably understand why). The scene being filmed was insane and huge, with Michael G. Wilson, a longtime producer on the franchise, later calling it the biggest sequence he'd ever been a part of... Although perhaps not as big as it could have been, at least aspect ratio wise, as Alexander Witt, a second unit director on the project, confirmed that while the film will be exhibited in large format IMAX theaters, none of the movie was actually shot in IMAX.
We watched as Sciarra, wearing a gorgeous white suit covered, tellingly, in blood, as he ran through the crowd and was chased into the square. Craig might have been down there, too, but the thickness of the crowd (and our far away vantage point) rendered his pursuer anonymous. Since the trailer showed Monica Bellucci, who plays his wife, Lucia, at someone's funeral, it's safe to say that Bond catches up to Sciarra... and that it doesn't end particularly well. We then saw the helicopter, piloted by Chuck Aaron, a daredevil pilot who is known for his helicopter loop-de-loops (this is the first film he's worked on), as it takes off for parts unknown.
What's so interesting about what we saw being shot today and what the teaser trailer revealed, was that we were watching a boisterous, colorful chase sequence inside a movie that is, at least at this early stage, being marketed as a somber spy thriller. There will be a lot of heat and majesty to "Spectre" that the trailer doesn't even make mention of, and it should be the same winning combination of stylistic flourishes, classic Bond moments, and genuine psychological intrigue that made "Skyfall" such a brilliant, breathless ride.
We would also like to propose a theory. Make of it what you will. Ever since Waltz was announced as the bad guy, there was endless speculation that he would be playing Blofeld, a villainous baddie that appeared both in Ian Fleming's original novels and several of the films (he was essayed by Donald Pleasance, Telly Savalas, Charles Gray, and Max von Sydow). There are many reasons for this speculation: SPECTRE is the name of the organization that Blofield runs and internal emails leaked seemingly offering confirmation of the character's identity. But an offhanded comment made by costume designer Jany Temime about how this is the "women's movie," made several of us think that maybe Bellucci will end up calling the shots as a female Blofield. If the next trailer shows her in a Nehru jacket, we'll be there to say, "I told you so."
"Spectre" opens worldwide November 6, 2015.