Art Directors Guild Awards 2013

Brought to the screen by Oscar-winning director and producer Sam Mendes and Oscar-winning production designer Dennis Gassner, “Skyfall” is a well-crafted, dynamic adventure that delves into the fractured psyche of hero and villain alike. Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes are at the top of a well-rounded cast — with an especially skin-crawling yet sympathetic turn by Bardem.

As the film pulled me into its morally ambiguous spy-vs.-spy vortex, it struck me that with each turn, Mendes, Gassner and cinematographer Roger Deakins lead us ever downward. Mirroring their plunge into the depths of Silva’s twisted vengeance, our heroes descend into the story, spiraling ever closer to the final struggle between Bond and his shadow.

Another interesting dynamic in “Skyfall” is the visual point-counterpoint between tech, and tradition. Gassner deftly balances super-max minimalism with last-century underworld in the new MI6. M emerges in this world as having a refined sensibility, resting on deep footings of tradition and fortitude. Conversely, Silva’s character is revealed to us through the cold brutality of Mao-era industrialism blended with next-gen tech. Devoid of soul, bleached of color, so cluttered and crossed are the wires that it’s clear who Silva is before he even steps out of the elevator.

These complex and well-executed expressions of character are wrapped neatly in a warm, muted palette, which, to the casual viewer, disguises the depth and richness of the design. With an adept director, solid script, tremendous cast, and some if the best designers and technicians in the business, “Skyfall” steps out of the shadows as a clear contender in this year’s sweepstakes.

Baker’s credits include set designer on “Avatar.”

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