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Skyfall
  • Composed by Thomas Newman
  • Sony Classical / 2012 / 77:05

Four years after Quantum of Solace comes the twenty-third James Bond film, Skyfall, released around the fiftieth anniversary of the first.  Sam Mendes was first approached to direct it shortly after its predecessor was released but after development was halted because of MGM’s financial woes, it seemed likely that the rather unconventional choice of director would probably drop out – but when production resumed a couple of years later, he was still on board.  Early reviews of the film have been overwhelmingly positive – even more so than for Casino Royale, which launched the Daniel Craig reboot of the series (and was one of its very finest entries).

As soon as Mendes was mentioned in connection with the film, film music messageboards were full of people speculating about the music – he wouldn’t bring Thomas Newman along, surely… would he?  It seemed hugely unlikely – Newman, the classiest of film composers, almost invariably associated with serious, Oscar-fodder dramas, would be an extremely unorthodox choice; and anyway, musical choices in this series have traditionally been made by the producers, with David Arnold firmly entrenched as the in-house Bond composer and looking to equal John Barry’s streak of scoring six consecutive Bond films (Barry’s going from From Russia With Love through to Diamonds are Forever).  But the unlikely really did happen, with Newman being announced as composer – reportedly Mendes making it a condition of him directing the film that he be allowed to choose the composer.

Thomas Newman records Skyfall

Thomas Newman is one of the leading film composers of his generation, but it was hard to imagine how Skyfall would turn out – action thrillers are not things that figure remotely prominently in his filmography.  Something like The Debt perhaps comes closest, but its subtle musical accompaniment would surely not be appropriate for a Bond film.  Would he be able to pull this off?  You bet – and he’s done it with real aplomb.  Aside from a couple of tips of the hat here and there, it doesn’t sound like David Arnold – it doesn’t sound like John Barry – and while it’s not like anything he’s done before, it most certainly does sound like Thomas Newman, and most certainly does sound like a James Bond score.

Anyone doubting the composer’s action credentials will find their fears dissipating very quickly, with the brassy, exciting opening track, “Grand Bazaar, Istanbul”.  There are exotic elements suggestive of the locale, some of Newman’s usual soloists on board to provide the ethnic touches, but as soon as Derek Watkins’s trumpet solo appears, you know this is a Bond score.  In fact the sheer amount of action music here is a big surprise – this is nothing like The Debt, Newman instead taking many opportunities to go all-out with the action music.  But the wall-of-sound approach favoured by Arnold (which he did very well – especially in his last two Bond scores, which were both fabulous) is left well behind, Newman instead building layers of music allowed to shine thanks to a demonstration-quality recording by Simon Rhodes, with extra layers being added when needed for the action and excitement.  There is extensive use of percussion, both real and sampled, adding an ever-pulsing heartbeat to the score (similar to what John Powell has done so successfully so often – but if you look back, Newman did it long before Powell) and this forms the bedrock to everything; a layer of fluttering winds often adds an exotic touch, sweeping strings the requisite drama, explosive brass the thrills.

The other big surprise here is just how extensively Newman quotes the classic James Bond Theme.  It’s everywhere – sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly – and the composer manages to incorporate it seamlessly into his own unmistakable style, whether hanging back in the distance in the basses or right at the foreground in a couple of classic-style electric guitar performances.  There’s one track too (“Komodo Dragon”) which adds in a full interpolation of the main title song.  Adele’s song is frustratingly absent from the soundtrack album – it’s no Diamonds Are Forever, but is at least a step up from its predecessor – so you need to buy it separately to custom-make the best Skyfall soundtrack.

It doesn’t give the most obvious thrills on the album, but a track like “Quartermaster” demonstrates just how successful it is – a cosant pulse of tension thanks to the percussion, exotic flavour (and Newman’s handprint) thanks to the unusual soloists, always interest as the layers are added and taken away.  Highlights of the more upfront action segments include the fantastic five-minute piece “The Bloody Shot”, with the full orchestra given a frantic workout, including some incredibly ballsy brass writing.  “Health and Safety” sees Newman building up those little cells he likes using for a piece of exciting string music that serves as a prelude to a fantastic sequence of tracks including the frenetic “Granborough Road”, the sweepingly dramatic “Tennyson” and the score’s most David Arnold-like piece, “Enquiry”, which offers real crowd-pleasing Bondian thrills; the sequence ends as “Breadcrumbs” includes the fullest presentation of the Bond theme, this time with added Newman percussion.  He makes wonderful use of the theme too in the terrific “She’s Mine”.   There’s another great sequence of thrills as the album reaches its conclusion – “The Moors” pulsating, “Deep Water” combining action with suspense in fine fashion.

Romantic moments are few and far between (Daniel Craig’s Bond is not like the Bonds that went before).  The early “Severine” includes an exquisite melody, but is over almost as quickly as it begins; the aforementioned “Komodo Dragon” includes a wash of strings in its arrangement of the title song that is the score’s most obvious tip of the hat to the great John Barry (this is the first Bond film released since the death of the composer who defined the sound of the series).  “Close Shave” provides a nice lighter moment, the trademark Newman pizzicato strings playing underneath a beautiful flute melody.  The album ends with Newman closing the circle in some ways, “Adrenaline” seeing a return of some of the ethnic features of the opening track.

The album is in fact notably well-produced.  Not only is the recording absolute dynamite, showcasing the music wonderfully, but Newman is one of the last film composers left who puts real thought into album production – he doesn’t just throw on as much music as possible, in film sequence, he carefully puts things together for the best listening experience.  As a result, lengthy action sequences are punctuated with more restrained sequences, giving breathing room but also meaning the thrills really do feel earned.  Even though the album is extremely long, it never outstays its welcome and unlike most modern soundtrack albums that approach the 80-minute capacity of a CD, at no point does it begin to drag.

I don’t suppose Newman will return to the series (unless Mendes does), but he’s made a fine impression on it, writing a score that is not just a vibrant, very modern action thriller score – it’s also one that fits perfectly into this series – and one that is resolutely his own, completely undiluted by any desire to sound like someone else.  It’s firmly planted at the high end of the non-Barry scores that have accompanied James Bond – and one of the most refreshing, entertaining film score albums of the year.  ****

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  1. Jostein on Sunday 21 October, 2012 at 18:44

    Listening to this now and it really is a very solid score in all respects.

    “Bloody Shot” is fantastic.

  2. Craig Richard Lysy on Sunday 21 October, 2012 at 19:17

    Very nicely written James. I was not receptive to Newman’s selection, but your review gives me hope.

    All the best!

  3. Rich Sims on Sunday 21 October, 2012 at 23:23

    Thanks for your comprehensive review. Thomas is full of surprises and probably one of the best choices for Skyfall. He nails it!

  4. Jens on Monday 22 October, 2012 at 00:50

    Happy and relieved to hear this turned out so well. It’s too bad I’ll have to wait ’til November 6th for the US release of the album.

  5. Chris Avis on Monday 22 October, 2012 at 01:00

    I have to say the album really left me cold. I really wanted to like it but so far after 2 or 3 listens it feels like every other generic modern day action score. It’s not an abomination like Goldeneye, but other than the odd statement of the bond theme, there’s nothing here to indicate it’s for a bond film. It really suffers from the lack of a strong theme to hold the score together.

    Oh well, maybe they’ll bring back Arnold for the next one. Really interesting to see some people apparently loving it though.

    Chris.

  6. Tom Powell on Monday 22 October, 2012 at 12:43

    Chris, I totally agree with you.

    I love Thomas Newman earliest scores, like The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty and The Road to Perdition, but he is not an action film composer. The first half intresting, and I’ve enjoyed that, but the album is too long, and this is not a Bond score, this is a Newman score, and not one of the best. I missed a good theme, like Arnold’s and Barry’s works. I hope next time Arnold will return.

    P.S.: I’m sorry, my english it’s not the best.:)

  7. Mark Wright on Monday 22 October, 2012 at 19:15

    James Southall’ review of Thomas Newman’s Skyfall score has compelled me to add comment, something I rarely do. Mr Southall clearly has not been listening to the same Skyfall score that I have. After over 40 years of collecting and listening to film music I am
    of the opinion that Newman’s score for the 23rd Bond film is by far the most awful I have
    ever heard in the francises musical canon. Firstly I concur with Mr Southall that the Bond theme is heard in various guises within the score and is given its strongest performance on the track ‘Breadcrumbs’. This is performed in such an uncomfortable and rushed manner than it is barely listenable, this can be said for most of what cam,e before and what follows it.

    The score lacks any identity with the Eon/Bond musical traditions. The 50th anniversary of this wonderful British film franchise demanded a score that drew on the tradition of what made
    the Bond scores great. Bold, brassy, thematic, long lined romantic sequences, suspense. We get none of those important musical factors. Skyfall comes across as a poor man’s Jason Bourne/John Powell soundtrack, worst still it sounds like a cross between Newman’s Lemony Snicket and the worst parts of The Debt. One has to ask why did the producers allowed this to happen. It is clear that Sam Mendes wanted his regular composer along for the ride. This was a big mistake. What in the name of sanity did the producers think they were going to get?
    Had they ever listened to a Thomas Newman score? Could they invisage the composers end product? Clearly not. But sadly I did, and from day one. When Newman was announced as the composer appointed to score Skyfall it was written in the wind that the score would go belly up and it has. The opening track, Grand Bazaar, Istanbul belts out the worst attempt at a Bond score introduction I have ever heard! (Goldeneye Inc). Pulsating drum beats, cheap ethnic sounding percussion and the urgent and unthrilling Powell/Bourne feel driving it along. From its first few minutes in, it simply fails to sound anything like a Bond score. The scores lack of identity continues throughout the remaining tracks. Track 23 ‘Skyfall’ is simply shameful and almost inaudible. The dire final track ‘Adrenaline’ simply adds insult to injury. As for production values – well its all there. Recorded in one of the finest recording studios in the world, with great soloists and fellow musicians performing, it is a disgrace that this score has been allowed to see the light of day and should have been slung out by the producers.

    Thomas Newman is a fine composer who has given cinema some truely great scores. However his style carries a very personal musical siganuture. This personal style of composistion is entirely unsuited to a Bond film. David Arnold’s scores whilst not always
    hitting the mark were composed from the musical perspective of unstanding the film’s heritage
    and respecting what had gone before. David Arnold paid respect to Monty Norman’s theme
    and the original John Barry sound whislt adding his own personalised stamp on his Bond scores. Thomas Newman has simply not done this. He’s turned out a score that could belong to any action film coming out of Hollywood today. This may satisfy those brought up with the mediocre crash bang wallop sounds and sequencing of the Media Venture age of film scoring.
    It is not however satisfying for those of us whose musical expectations add up to something more than wanting to hear a few short timed cues lacking melody and theme. If the producers at EON have any respect for their wonderful franchise they will not be asking Mr Newman to return for Bond 24 and a polite request for Mr Arnold to pick up the baton must surely be on the cards along with their eating of a lot of humble pie…

    All in all, Thomas Newman’s terrible Skyfall score is a very sad day for film music and those that enjoy listening to it and an equally sad day for the Bond franchise.

  8. Paul Cohn on Tuesday 23 October, 2012 at 00:52

    I am afraid I am not impressed. I have not been able to hear all the soundtrack only bits and pieces but what I have heard was not very memorable. I usually don’t complain but John Barry was great and he wasn’t just an action composer. He won the Academy Award for his “Dances with Wolves” soundtrack and received much praise for his too numerous to mention movie scores. His music had broad appeal, His Bond soundtracks created the Bond mystique and gave Bond a unique sound that was different from all other movies (Until many copied it)what we have with this “Skyfall” score isn’t even mediocre Bond. I would call it generic action movie music at best. I had my hopes up, I really did enjoy the title song. Adele vocals are reminisent of what a bond score should sound like, I was hoping for more of the same with the score. Sorry I would declare this sountrack as “Bond Music” missing in action.

  9. elfenthalsmith on Wednesday 24 October, 2012 at 00:15

    I also fail to see much to like in this score. It’s very competent, and Newman does pull off the action music reasonably well, but the whole thing is criminally unmemorable for a Bond score.

  10. muckle_dabuckle on Wednesday 24 October, 2012 at 16:57

    I guess I’m confused as to how the music could ruin the “continuity” of a franchise that has had seven different actors play the main title role.

  11. Luis Pachon on Thursday 25 October, 2012 at 05:14

    I concur with Mark Wright. It’s an awful score. I was expecting an improvement since Arnold’s QoS was not as nearly as good as the CR soundtrack. I sincerely think that Richard Jacques could have made a more memorable score, at least his Blood Stone score has identity of its own while Newman’s sounds like a generic video-game music. When a OST from a video-game stands out facing a theatrical score it seems that something was wrong. It was evident since the first interview with Newman about his new work shows the composer not too excited about the task and he claimed was just “gathering some ideas” for the score. A big disappointment, at least Arnold was a fan of the series an the music, Newman was just being kind of mercenary. Not a Bond score at all. I won’t bother buying the CD, I had enough with the itunes version, $9.99 wasted.

  12. Tim Burden on Thursday 25 October, 2012 at 10:51

    Thomas Newman commented on the third paragraph when I spoke with him yesterday…

    http://soundcloud.com/timburden/thomas-newman-skyfall-score

  13. Graham Bird on Thursday 25 October, 2012 at 20:56

    I really miss John Barry, after his departure from Bond we had to make do with some adequate scores over several years even from David Arnold, then along came a new Bond in the form of Mr Craig and wow DA really found the formula for Bond and composed two truly magnificent scores if only he could have done Skyfall, that said lets give Thomas Newman a chance see the film with the score then listen to the score as stand alone then we can judge, one thing, I really wish just once they could use John Barry’s brilliant 007 theme in a sequence just for old times sake and as a tribute to the man that gave Bond so much.

  14. Renato Botteon on Tuesday 30 October, 2012 at 09:35

    I totally agree with Mark Wright.
    In my opinion it’s more a collection of musical sound effects that hardly sticks together. There is no real recognizable theme worth remembering and among the extensive and boring usage of percussions you suffer the lack of inspiration.
    I simply cannot enjoying listening to it.

  15. Peter Van Lierop on Wednesday 31 October, 2012 at 16:01

    Hey Mark, it’s only a Bond movie…

    Respect for a wonderful franchise? At a certain mature age you should realize what the Bond heritage is all about: it’s just a box set of outdated action flicks, hardly watchable nowadays (and, after over 40 years of going to cinema, unbearable infantile).

    Even your ‘franchise musical canon’ is a myth. Bond scores aren’t that great (memories perhaps are). Thomas Newman’s ‘terrible Skyfall score’ is no more awful then. say, John Barry’s The Man with the Golden Gun or his cheesy Diamonds are forever (talkin’ about infantile movies…).

    A very sad day for film music and those that enjoy listening to it? Get some fresh air, Mark.

  16. Mark Wright on Thursday 1 November, 2012 at 21:29

    Dear Mr Peter Van Lierop

    Thank you for your most patronising reply. I spurn it as I would spurn a rabid dog.

    You will be happy to know that this afternoon I’m am enjoying the the bracing fresh air

    of the English countryside, which is thankfully far away from an arse hole like you.

    Thank christ!

    M

  17. Peter Van Lierop on Friday 2 November, 2012 at 10:18

    Speak the truth, but leave immediately after. Slovenian proverb.

    I deeply apologize for the inconvenience, Mark. I didn’t realize you were the only person with a license to insult.

    So, you’re absolutely right.

    Yes, mr. Newman did a most awful job. Track 23 ‘Skyfall’ is simply shameful and almost inaudible (no further arguments needed).

    Yes, the movie ‘demanded a score that drew on the tradition of what made the Bond scores great. Bold, brassy, thematic, long lined romantic sequences’ (who cares anyway that Sam Mendes’ higly unconventional Bond movie has left the infantile patterns of the past and simply lacks romantic scenes?).

    And yes, we all miss Lulu, and mr. Scaramanga’s supernumerary nipple, and John Barry’s wonderful Golden Gun-score (in his own words: “It’s the one I hate most…”).

  18. Edmund Meinerts on Friday 2 November, 2012 at 13:21

    My my, the Shit-Flinging Monkey Circus must be in town!

  19. Bridget on Tuesday 6 November, 2012 at 16:56

    Mr. Southall—

    Fifty years, twenty-two films, and a half-dozen leading men later, James Bond is still at the forefront of entertainment. In a series that has lasted so long and seen so much change, one thing has not strayed much from the original is the music. Despite the fact that a great number of amazing composers have worked on the films, the music has a singular and recognizable style. You mentioned that originally you, as well as many fans, thought it to be unlikely Sam Mendes bring “the classiest of film composers” along for the ride. However, I feel like the more unlikely scenario was Sam Mendes being selected to direct in the first place! Known for his artistic sensibilities and character studies, Mendes was not the obvious choice to continue the franchise. In fact, even when his name was first in the running I know I, for one, was not entirely convinced he would be interested.

    Steven Spielberg once said that John Williams was the “the single most significant contributor to my success as a filmmaker.” I did not for a second believe Mendes would go with anyone other than Thomas Newman. It is invaluable to a film when there is a level of trust between a director and a composer. I believe that the best film scores, those that will stand the test of time and are the most affective, are almost exclusively the result of a composer who is a collaborator in the creative process and not just a gun for hire. This score supports that belief just as those of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Spielberg/Williams) and Psycho (Hitchcock/Herrmann). The choice did not even seem to surprise 5 time Bond composer David Arnold, who lost a job because of it! On his Twitter, Arnold had a “no hard feelings” approach to the news. “I’ve known since June….Sam [Mendes] and I talked about it and I said I am very much of the opinion that a director should have who they want and fully expected Tom to be doing the film.” In fact, he was bothered so little by Mendes choosing Newman that he said if he were asked to do another Bond film, he would. This goes to show how those who work in the field understand the value of having a good relationship with your composer. It can really bring a film to another level. Over the course of several projects, Mendes and Newman were able to develop a way communicate what they wanted for the film and were able to execute an amazing score for Skyfall!

    While this score does indeed “sound like a James Bond score,” I wonder at what level you think it is important to balance individual style with the decades worth of established score?

    I wholeheartedly agree with your decision to give this film score a five-star rating. I really cannot wait to see it to picture and look forward to hearing how you feel it plays to image! Thank you for your dedication to this site, to your readers and to film music! As an aspiring professional in the field, it is really great to read and hear from someone with such passion for the craft!

    Best,

    Bridget

  20. Gunnar Liljas on Wednesday 7 November, 2012 at 23:36

    Just came home from watching the movie, and I must say I found the soundtrack to be quite efficient. It doesn’t try to be bigger than what’s on the screen, which perhaps makes it a tad unmemorable, but I’m fine with that. Having now also listened to the album recording I’m glad to hear the real craftsmanship, with quite advanced and nuanced little gems, hidden all around the tracks.

    There was one WTF moment though, when watching the movie. The intro to the track called “She’s Mine” really felt out of place, sounding like a bad Zimmer rip off. Bond and Zimmer are completely incompatible, so it really stood out and disrupted the scene.

  21. Sylvain on Thursday 8 November, 2012 at 17:49

    I totally agree with Mark Wright who understood everything.

    Should I add, if there should be an illustration in music of the word BORING, I would pick up the music of Thomas Newman for Skyfall. No sense of melody, no invention, only boring sounds heard in hundred movies from the last 5 years.

    By the way James Southall, I woud not like to borrow your discothèque lol

  22. James Southall on Thursday 8 November, 2012 at 23:14

    There’s nothing wrong with my discothèque!

  23. hollywoodman929 on Monday 12 November, 2012 at 07:25

    SOrry but totally disagree with your review, I also like how you fail to mention that most of the times that the bond theme pops up its David Arnold’s arrangement of it.

    Fingers crossed David Will return for Bond 24

  24. rideforever on Tuesday 27 November, 2012 at 12:07

    Terrible score, really damaged the movie.

    The disjointedness was reflected in the entire movie, the opening credits as well as the score. It doesn’t know what it wants to be so it is 1 part old bond, 1 part Bourne, 1 part Mendes.

    So we could say it is not Newman’s fault, I am sure his direction was terrible.

  25. Bernardo on Thursday 7 February, 2013 at 10:58

    I watched the movie, and the score sounded just OK, a bit generic action score, with some minutes of refreshing Newman, NOTHING more. Listening to the CD (various times) i get the exact same feeling. So this is a solid 3 star score.

  26. CDG on Monday 18 March, 2013 at 16:14

    Yes, 3 stars for me too.

    A rather unremarkable collection of generic bits and pieces abound.
    Bond music doesn’t need to be Barry and it doesn’t need to be Arnold, but it has to have some charm and identity to it, surely?

    That is lacking here. I doubt the composer will be returning for Bond24, because he just seems so bored by the assignment.

  27. Stephen Ottley on Thursday 6 June, 2013 at 20:11

    Sad to say that, having been a Bond fan since the beginning, I found very little to like in Mr Newman’s score. In fact I found very little to like in the entire movie. There were two glaring omissions over how Bond got out of the water after being shot in the pre-credit sequence, and again at the end in the lake at Skyfall. Maybe Mr Mendes doesn’t like water, but why keep putting Bond in it then? The title song is a miserable and depressing effort lacking in any of the excitement created for the series by the great John Barry.

    To respond directly to Muckle Dabuckle, who is confused how the music could ruin the continuity given the seven different actors, not mention loads of directors, too; I shall try to explain. Seven actors yes, but one composer for Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, and Timothy Dalton. Not continuous (sadly) but that’s a heck of a run and provided a high degree of continuity for series. Think which are the weaker scores and I think always you’ll identify one not by John Barry. So, yes, music can provide the continuity, and it can elevate a mediocre film to a great one. Look at what Mr Barry did with music just to introduce George Lazenby to the role. Not a great actor but still it is reckoned to be one of the best Bond movies. The music did that in no small part, and that is why it is important to have the right composer. John Barry cast the mold and anyone who thinks they can improve on it is delusional. In the absence of John Barry Mr Arnold has done very well and I hope he returns to the series.

    Having denounced the composer I’m afraid I must also denounce the director who, in my view, should never have been let anywhere near a Bond film. It was a useless, pointless story, peppered with stupid concepts that simply don’t stand up to examination. Why did Silva need Bond to capture him so he could get to a courtroom in London and attack M? If he could arrange all that, surely he could arrange an airfare. Why did Bond take M all the way up to Scotland to protect her and leave all the weapons in London; of course she got shot.

    The whole concept made Bond look like a fool and, worse than that it made the audience look like fools. I think it is a case of the Emperors New Clothes; if Sam Mendes is directing it must be good! If you believe that you couldn’t be more wrong; this is the worst Bond ever, worse even than Octopussy, which I loathed.

  28. Ian Simpson on Friday 30 August, 2013 at 02:41

    I think David Arnold did a pretty good job for Casino Royale and Quantom of Solace, and the music worked really well in the films, but I find the soundtracks quite bland outside of the films- perhaps a matter of taste more than anything else.

    I wasn’t sure about the Skyfall soundtrack when I first purchased it- I thought it may well suffer a similar fate. However, most of the tracks have grown on me considerably. In the end, I find myself largely agreeing with the review and the star rating. It combines elements of the James Bond style with Thomas Newman’s style, which makes it a bit different to the other Bond scores. But at the same time, I think it does lack a little “something” that makes the difference between a 4 and a 5-star soundtrack, so I wouldn’t quite place it up there with John Barry’s best Bond soundtracks (Goldfinger, Thunderball, Diamonds are Forever, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service all spring to my mind here). The tendency to have numerous themes that are briefly used and then dropped, rather than leitmotif, is typical of Thomas Newman’s soundtracks, but Skyfall’s soundtrack probably suffers a little from this. Nonetheless, I find it more enjoyable to listen to than any other Bond soundtrack since “The Living Daylights”, which I’d rate about level with Skyfall, and I can’t think of a any tracks on it that I don’t like.

    I’ve seen that Sam Mendes is set to return for Bond 24 and possibly Bond 25. I’d certainly welcome the return of Thomas Newman for Bond 24- I feel that Skyfall is pretty good, especially as a first-time effort for the Bond franchise, and maybe next time around he might get it spot-on.

  29. orion_mk3 on Friday 25 April, 2014 at 16:11

    Just finished my own review of this, James, and I thought you should know that I just had to paraphrase the best point of your review (with full credit, don’t worry!): http://wp.me/p4hse3-7X

  30. Ian Simpson on Tuesday 9 December, 2014 at 01:01

    It is confirmed that Thomas Newman is indeed returning for the next Bond film:
    http://filmmusicreporter.com/2014/12/04/thomas-newman-to-score-24th-james-bond-film-spectre/
    As mentioned earlier I’m really looking forward to seeing what he comes up with for this one.