The following post discusses plot details for No Time To Die.
When you’re around as long as a film series like James Bond, or a show like The Simpsons, you’re bound to get things right every once in a while.
For nearly 60 years, the 007 franchise has tapped into the zeitgeist, crafting missions for its central spy that speak to the moment yet also feel timeless. More often than not, Bond is tasked with thwarting villainous schemes that—while often absurd—address real-world fears: nuclear fallout, drug epidemics, genocide, biological warfare, waning natural resources and bad guys who just want to be filthy rich.
As No Time To Die director and co-writer Cary Joji Fukunaga sees it, this inclination to reflect global anxieties through blockbuster entertainment gives the James Bond series a prescience not unlike The Simpsons, a show with an almost eerie track record for predicting future events.
In conversation with The A.V. Club, Fukunaga shares that the animated series was in the back of his mind when he started work on No Time To Die, where he was tasked with creating dramatic stakes that could feel realistically terrifying to future audiences. (The plot to the pandemic-delayed Bond film deals, in part, with the threat of a deadly infectious virus.)
All of that started with a discussion of No Time To Die’s uniquely scary first scene, an engrossing prologue that plays to Fukunaga’s strengths as a director who can drum up a palpable horror out of thin air. Watch the complete interview in the video above, or read the transcript below.
The A.V. Club: No Time To Die’s cold open is the first in quite some time that doesn’t feature James Bond, but it’s also notable for how uniquely horrifying it is. What was the impetus behind that scene?
Cary Joji Fukunaga: Well, we wanted to set up the villain right from the beginning and get a sense of how things are interconnected. For the Bond fans, they should recognize the anecdote that we’re recreating with some new information. I also wanted people to think it might be Bond initially—good old classic, sort of Roger-Moore-in-a-ski-suit Bond.
But [we knew] the tone should be thrilling. It should have a suspense—not necessarily horror—but it should feel scary. In terms of the dramatic language for the rest of the film, I think it just sets up an idea to really subvert any expectations that one might have, throughout the film. Like, if we’re going to do the beginning this way, then don’t think you’ve got a sense of what’s happening in the rest of the film. We keep you on your toes as an audience.
AVC: Right, this isn’t overtly “James Bond as a horror movie,” but there are a number of instances where the film leans into the horror of these situations. Bond movies always have a sense of danger to them, but you make it feel very palpable.
CJF: I mean, the Noh mask—which was shown in the trailer and teaser, so we can [talk about] that, at least—is a pretty spine-tingling piece of Japanese theater, you know? And, outside of context of Noh theater, it’s just a weird looking thing: That blank stare. I’ve liked masks going back to True Detective, playing around with masks, or even going back to Sin Nombre, with the tattoo-covered faces. There’s something about changing the way the brain can interpret the figure of a mask that, to me, is fun to play with.
And the intention was just to make it a ride from the beginning, and just really craft something that is, on the one hand, frightening, but on the other hand, feels dangerous—as the rest of [the Bond films] should be. That also comes from something that [producer] Barbara Broccoli told me when we were writing: The way she likes to think about the dangers in these Bond films is, “What is the scariest thing out there?” I think having that freedom sort of allowed me to kind of go that direction with the opening scene.
AVC: And this franchise has certainly evolved with the question of, “What is the scariest thing out there?” We see how this movie plays into some of our current, real-world fears, and the series has always been able to pinpoint what’s in the zeitgeist in some ways.
CJF: It’s funny, if you go back and look at some of the the villains and their plots to see how they’ve played out differently over time, it’s almost like The Simpsons, when The Simpsons predicts things in the future. I feel like you can go back into some of the Bond films and kind of pinpoint things that we ended up seeing actually happening.
AVC: That’s true. The plot of Tomorrow Never Dies comes to mind, where the villain’s whole scheme is to start a war so that his media empire can be the first to break the news…
CJF: That’s actually what I was really thinking about—Tomorrow Never Dies— in terms of disinformation. It was something we were looking at very early on with this one. Just in terms of general strategies for keeping the public confused based on, you know, disinformation campaigns. That was something we actually looked at at one time.
AVC: Let’s go back to the opening scene, because you built that entire house—that set—for the film. Did the frozen lake or the weather itself present any specific challenges to the production?
CJF: I mean, I knew I wanted to shoot on the ice, and we were running out of time basically because we didn’t even finish the first draft of the screenplay—and that was really just the first half of screenplay—by Christmas. We were supposed to start production in March. And, in all of our research, there’s basically no frozen lakes left in continental Europe, so we had to go to Norway.
And we knew that, by March, the only place we could really shoot was this one area that would be kind of feasible. We thought we had a two-week window to do it, then we got word like two weeks before that it was going to be unseasonably warm that month. So we had to rush up there. Set design had already built the home on this lake. And we get there and they’re like, “Well, the good news is it’s not unfrozen yet. But the bad news is the house is sinking into the lake.” When we get there, we see that the house is starting to go down. [Laughs.] So yeah, it was very tricky to try and get that done right!
And, the other thing is, I had scouted [the location] a few times—I had gone to Norway in the preceding months—and I saw all these beautiful fog-filled days. They were very moody, fog-filled days. And then we got there and, the entire week we shot, it was sunny. So we would have to wait for a cloud [to pass over] to shoot this thing. So there were plenty of challenges while we were doing it.
No Time To Die is now playing in theaters nationwide. For our review of the 25th official 007 movie, you can read A.A. Dowd’s thoughts here.