Despite a variety of interpretations of James Bond both in terms of tone and style, there are certain cinematic motifs which tie together even the most diametrically opposed films in the canon. Whether it’s a hard-boiled, down-to-earth entry like From Russia With Love or a comic-book fantasy adventure like Moonraker, they all contain certain visual, thematic and musical cues which remind you that we’re playing in the same action-packed sandbox. The most obvious of these motifs is arguably the “Gunbarrel Opening” which depicts Agent 007 entering to the James Bond theme, framed by a stylized gunbarrel, then turning to the camera and firing directly at the screen which quickly spills over with blood before disappearing. The tradition first began with the 1962 film Dr. No and until Pierce Brosnan’s swan song Die Another Day was always the first shot of the film.
The new films starring Daniel Craig shook up a lot of things about the venerable franchise, including the style and placement of the gunbarrel. The latest 007 film Spectre prides itself on honoring many of the franchise’s most cherished traditions, some of which we haven’t seen for a while thanks to Austin Powers and legal issues. While opinion varies among critics and fans as whether these references represent a return to form for the series or simply patronizing fan service, one thing is clear: It’s good to see the gun barrel return to its proper home at the beginning of the film. So before you head off to the theaters to catch Spectre, take a trip down memory lane and see how this iconic cinematic motif has evolved over the last five decades.
The original gunbarrel in Dr. No is the only in the series not to feature the actual actor playing James Bond. In this case, stunt coordinator Bob Simmons played the part. It’s remarkable how close subsequent films stayed to the format established here, the obvious exceptions being the titles which appear before the gunbarrel as well as the strange radar sound cue.
The Simmons footage was used for the next two films, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger, although the radar sound was removed as were the credits.
The fourth Bond film was the first to be shot in the Panavision format, forcing the filmmakers to reshoot the gunbarrel for the first time to accommodate the new widescreen format. This time the gunbarrel actually featured Sean Connery, although his stance appears a bit wobbly, and the sequence lacks the punch of the original footage. The footage was rescored and reused for the next Bond You Only Live Twice.
Actor George Lazenby enjoyed a one-film stint as the legendary secret agent and while many deride his performance as amatuerish, most hard-core Bond fans know that this is one of the strongest films in the series. The gunbarrell of this film however leaves much to be desired, due to unwelcome return of the producer credits, a weird “drop to one knee” performance from Lazenby and a jarring moment when Bond continues to walk after the gunbarrel has stopped moving, the only time this will occur in the series.
The Shiny Gunbarrel
Connery returned for one more film in the official series and the Panavision footage from Thunderball was reused, although a bizarre shiny effect was used to spice up the sequence for the 1970s. It doesn’t help.
When Roger Moore was cast as the third James Bond, a new gunbarrel was filmed featuring the actor. This is the first time Bond appears in the gunbarrel without a hat, demonstrating the changing style from the 1960s into the 1970s. The sequence is scored by Beatles producer George Martin, who added some disco flair to the arrangement. The footage was reused in The Man With the Golden Gun with more traditional music by John Barry.
With 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, the filmmakers returned to the Panavision format and the gunbarrel was reshot with Moore. The result is one of the strongest gunbarrels in the series, featuring a confident stride from Moore and a dynamic pose at the end. This footage was rescored and reused for the remaining Moore films despite the fact that the bell bottoms he wears were out of style by the time his stint as 007 ended in 1985. The Panavision Moore gunbarrel also has the distinction of being scored by the largest variety of composers, Marvin Hamlisch, John Barry and Bill Conti.
Dalton is an oft-overlooked Bond actor but his performances his two 007 films are extremely strong, including his gunbarrel. Like his interpretation of the Bond character, his stride and pose are stark, bold and effective.
Brosnan’s performance in the gunbarrel sequence is one of the least energetic but it matches the actor’s ultra-cool, suave interpretation of the character. The barrel itself looks better than ever, for the first time it seems like an actual dynamic object with physical properties rather than a two-dimensional image.
The footage was rescored and reused for each of his four films but the last entry, Die Another Day added a CGI bullet zooming at the camera. Did the filmmakers think audiences didn’t understand what was happening in this sequence after 40 years?
Craig’s first Bond film was a true reboot, explaining the origin of many of Bond’s most memorable trademarks. The movie even explains the backstory of the gunbarrel itself for the first time! Turns out, the gunbarrel represents James Bond’s first kill as a secret agent. The gunbarrel itself was again redesigned and the blood was given a more three-dimensional appearance. This is the first time that the gunbarrel did not start the film and the first time it was part of the story.
Quantum of Solace’s gunbarrel is more traditional, even though it is placed at the end of the film and bleeds into the title for some reason.
Skyfall also features a gunbarrel at the end of the film rather than the beggining.
Want to see the gunbarrel finally return to its proper place at the beginning of the film? Then head out to see the newest entry in the series, Spectre.
Yesterday my sister and I were gushing over the new Spectre trailer and she innocuously asked me when the flick was being released. I told her we’d be able to see it in November and then launched into an unsolicited explanation that James Bond movies always come out in November because the last time they released a 007 entry in the summer was 1989 and it got clobbered at the box office by Batman, Indiana Jones and Lethal Weapon 2. Then I start babbling about how I was worried that since Star Wars 7 is also coming out in Q4 it might hurt Bond at the box office. THEN I continued to explain that usually Star Wars movies come out in May but that Disney probably pushed back the release date to the winter because they didn’t want to compete with their own Marvel film Age of Ultron and cannibalize their box office receipts. I topped off the conversation with a hope that Spectre would still “do good business.”
I then stopped in my tracks and realized I never once mentioned that I hoped the movie would be any good. All I was talking about was how I hoped it would make a lot of money so that we would be assured we’d see more good James Bond movies. But why the hell should I care? I don’t work for Sony Pictures or the British Intelligence. I’m not a financial analyst.
I don’t think this is my fault. It’s just how we talk about movies these days. Each month brings a new conversation around box office record-breaking. This is the first movie to make this much money on Memorial Day. This is the most money that a movie has made in a single day. This is the most money a movie has made in a single weekend. This is the most money a movie based on a romance novel has made on a leap year in which the planets were aligned with the northern star. This week the conversation is about the newest record Jurassic World has made, replete with lazy puns about “chomping through the competition” and “stomping through box office records.”
So let’s go ahead and say it. It’s official, Jurassic World has eclipsed Avengers to become the number three top-grossing film of all time. Number three? Who the eff cares? Well, since Avatar and Titanic are still a clean billion dollars’ worth of business ahead of anyone else due to James Cameron’s fondness for deep-throating Satan, for all intents and purposes number three is the spot to beat.
But what does that mean? It means that 3 of the top 10 movies of all time came out in a SINGLE YEAR. Forget Jurassic World’s billion and a half dollars, that’s the real record here. For years, the highest grossing movie of all time was Star Wars, which had eclipsed the record of Gone With the Wind. Star Wars was released in 1977, Gone with the Wind hit the silver screen in 1939. That’s almost a four decade difference, which is laughable in this day in age when half of the top grossing films of all time were released within 2 years of each other and seven out of the ten top grossing films of all time were released in the last ten years.
So what does this mean? That in 2017 four of the top movies of all time will be from the same year? That in 2019 half of the top movies of all time will be from the same year? And that by 2029 every movie in the top ten will be from the same year? And that every year after that the entire list of top ten movies will be entirely supplanted? Okay, obviously any statistician worth her salt would shoot an Indominous Rex-sized hole through the pattern I’m suggesting here, but my point is: how sustainable is this? I’m reminded of the dotcom bubble of the 1990s and the housing bubble of the 2000s. They both seemed as unstoppable as Jurassic World and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But isn’t the box office economy a market like any other? Isn’t this a bubble like any other? Isn’t it inevitable for it to pop?
Let’s take a look at this from the perspective of supply and demand. What are audiences demanding from top-grossing films these days? Shit they’ve never seen before. Shit they’ve seen in comics and videogames that they want to see on the big screen. Shit they’ve been imagining and dreaming about for years that we finally have the technology to put up on the silver screen. And now that social media has empowered moviegoers to express these demands to studios, the supply is finally being met.
By this time next year, we’ll have seen it all. We’ve already seen Jurassic Park finally open it’s door this summer. Next summer we’ll finally know what happens when Superman fights Batman. We’ll finally see Spiderman join the Avengers and watch the entire Marvel Universe explode into a civil war. We’ll finally see what happens next in the Star Wars saga. We’ll finally see Captain Kirk and the Starship Enterprise begin their legendary 5 year journey. We’ll finally see Wonder Woman on the big screen. We’ll finally see James Bond battle Spectre in the modern era.
And I think the bubble will pop. What the hell could make more money a superhero civil war? What could possibly make more money than new Star Wars movies? There’s no way that year after year movies can just continue to make more money than ever before. I don’t know about you, but when I see Superman and Batman together on the big screen I know I’ll say “well shucks, now I’ve seen it all.”
Of course that’s a preposterous statement and I know it. Something new will always show up. People said they saw it all when Star Wars came out. Then The Matrix blew their minds. It’s bound to happen. It’s happened before. By the late 1960s, the Hollywood studio system was about to collapse under its own weight. People had seen it all. They’d seen Moses part the Red Sea. They’d seen what outer space would look like in the year 2001. They’d seen the Crucifixion in glorious Technicolor Cinemascope and the Blob swallow teenagers in 3D. They’d seen Frankenstein meet the Wolfman and Dracula. They’d seen nudity and heard the F word. They had television sets now and there was nothing movies could show them that they hadn’t already seen. The bubble popped. And that was a good thing. It paved the way for Coppola, Spielberg, Lucas, Bogdanavich, Scorsese, De Palma, Peckinpah, Polanski and Boorman. It opened the door to The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars, Taxi Driver,The Last Picture Show, Chinatown, and Deliverance. The popping of the old Hollywood bubble showed audiences things they’d never seen because they didn’t know they existed.
Somewhere out there a little girl is making her first movie on an iPhone. Someday she will grow up and show us something we’ve never seen before. But first, the Blockbuster Bubble needs to pop. 30-something nerds like myself need to have seen it all, go into hibernation and let her take over. And you know what? I hope her movie makes a trillion dollars. Why? Because James Cameron seems like a douche and all his movies except Terminator are ridiculously overrated. Have a great summer folks. See you at the pictures.