The James Bond Team Was Under Pressure To Nail Spectre's Opening Scene

Say what you will about "Spectre" for its attempt to retcon the three previous James Bond movies with a new master villain, but it could have been worse, and it still has one of the coolest opening scenes of any 007 film. For his second Bond adventure with Daniel Craig after "Skyfall," director Sam Mendes continued chasing Christopher Nolan by bringing in "Interstellar" cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who had some big shoes to fill. "Skyfall" had earned Roger Deakins an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography with its gorgeous night shots of Shanghai and a fictional floating casino in Macau (based on a real floating restaurant elsewhere in China). Topping that achievement would be difficult, but Hoytema and Mendes hit the ground running in "Spectre" with a complex sequence that was as logistically challenging to pull off as it was impressive to behold.

The movie begins with the words, "The dead are alive," before opening on the shot of a big skull float over the streets of Mexico City, which is alive with a Day of the Dead parade. The balconies are filled with people, and as the camera glides down to the street, a man in a white suit cuts through the crowd. He passes Bond in his black skeleton costume, who proceeds to walk down the street with his date, into a hotel, up the stairs and elevator, into her room, and out the window onto a rooftop ledge — seemingly all in one uncut tracking shot.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, there was some editing trickery involved here. In reality, a Technocrane accomplished the street shot, while a Steadicam took over in the hotel (on a different street), and then a Technocrane resumed following Bond across the roof. However, the real filmmaking challenge was yet to come.

The world's second largest city square

Speaking to Empire, Bond producer Michael G. Wilson said that "Spectre" has "the biggest opening sequence we've ever done, maybe the biggest sequence we've ever done. The only thing that's come close to it was putting on the carnival in Rio in 'Moonraker.'" The real fun begins when Bond catches up with the man in the white suit in an adjacent apartment window and starts a gunfight, setting off a chain reaction that leaves buildings crumbling and Bond engaged in a foot chase through the still-going parade. 

Traffic had to be shut down, which was no small feat considering the chase leads to the crowded Zócalo or Plaza de la Constitución, the world's second largest city square, according to Second unit director Alexander Witt told Empire, "It's more challenging for the city than for us, to close down a square where all the roads come together, especially with the Mexican White House being part of the square."

This is where compositing came in handy, allowing the filmmakers to section off the square and make it look much more crowded than it really was as a helicopter enters the fray in an attempt to evacuate the man in the white suit. "It's elaborate," Witt said, because you have 1,500 extras and you've got to fill up a square that you probably need two or three hundred thousand people to look like it's full."

Craig acknowledged that the opening scene is "obviously a fantasy," as "helicopters don't often fly down the main street of Mexico City," but he wanted it "to be spectacular," and it is. If anything, the opening scene of "Spectre" set such a high bar that the rest of the movie could only suffer in comparison to it and "Skyfall."