In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the world’s most famous secret agent, James Bond, and the release of the 23rd film of the franchise, SKYFALL (opening this Friday in IMAX), I decided to take a look at the very Best of Bond… James Bond and his opening titles.
As a long time Bond fan, one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of that smooth operator, besides the martinis, the girls, and the guns, is the title sequence. The opening titles to the James Bond are iconic within the film world, standing practically alone in terms of memorable, and consistent, opening sequences. The silhouetted women dancing about, the guns, the iconography of Bond himself. It all started out with a single dot across the screen, but grew to be one of the franchise’s most recognizable attributes. Aided by stellar songs, I decided I wanted to countdown the very best Bond titles, as well as the worst ones. Without further ado, here are my picks for Bond’s most memorable title sequences:
5. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
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The story goes that, because Maurice Binder, title designer for DR.NO and a subsequent sixteen films in the franchise, was unavailable, Robert Brownjohn was hired to do the job of creating the title sequence for Bond’s sophomore mission. He was supposedly inspired when his wife walked in front of te projector and he saw the words slowing on her skin. The perfect idea! One of the most minimal of the Bond series openers, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE needs nothing more than the list of cast and crew, some gypsy dancers, and John Barry’s resounding theme.
4. CASINO ROYALE
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I may be slightly biased in that I have adored Daniel Kleinman’s work on the Bond series for all of eternity. His ability to meld the classic symbols of the Bond canon and incorporate actual story elements has always impressed me, not to mention his eye for the clean visual aesthetic. In CASINO ROYALE, Bond goes back to basics both in terms of the story as well as its opening titles. No nude women thinly veiled by lighting or silhouettes here! What we have here is the evolution of Bond as an agent, all in the title sequence, aided by the rocking Bond anthem “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell. Using the simple minimalism of cards, Kleinman pays homage to Binder’s very first opening sequence for DR. NO by relying on simplicity, silhouettes, and geometric shapes. We get to look Bond right in the (blue) eyes, and stare at death in the face.
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Kleinman’s debut for Bond titles in impressive, very impressive. With Tina Turner’s superb voice, Kleinman had only the visuals to look for. Thus, deteriorating and dilapidating Cold War iconography are featured heavily in this title sequence, with particular importance put on the concept of “friend and enemy”. Janus, the two headed god, rears her head, at once strikingly beautiful and undoubtedly fatale, as she opens her mouth, allowing a gun barrel to come out. The vast jump in technology between GOLDENEYE and the previous Bond outing six years earlier, LICENCE TO KILL, is shocking: never has a Bond title sequence looked so real and convincing.
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Binder was again unavailable for the third James Bond film, and so Robert Brownjohn took his earlier idea of projecting words on women’s bodies and appropriated it in a slightly different, but no less interesting way. Almost self-reflexively, scenes from the Bond film in question are showcased on the body of a gilded girl, no doubt foreshadowing the untimely death of Jill Masterson (who would become one of the most famous Bond girls of all time). Shirley Bassey’s brassy vocals accentuate the coldness of the track and the alluring quality of the titles.
1. DR. NO
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Maurice Binder would forever become renowned for creating one of the most incredible title sequences around, starting out with a simple dot on the screen. As it seemingly strolled across the screen to the right, it opened to reveal and well-dressed man walking, again, across the screen. Voyeuristically, we do not know this man, but once he reaches the center of the stage, he makes an abrupt turn and shoots the audience. Blood come spilling down, and the dot that was the center of the gun barrel minimizes, and ushers in a crazy array of minimalist design, dictated by the simplicity of geometric shapes. DR. NO, the first James Bond film, not only introduced the world famous gun barrel that serves as the open to every Bond film, but also introduced some of the well-known staples of the Bond series and their titles. Silhouettes, people dancing, and one hell of a score by John Barry and Monty Norman. Its insane flurry of shapes, images, colors, and music proves to be one of the most enduring and incredible title sequences ever made.
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By now, Roger Moore has been in three Bond film and Binder had, with the previous installment THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, started using the actual Bond actor as part of the opening sequence. MOONRAKER is pretty much a loser on all counts: a sad rip off of STAR WARS, a lousy storyline, a boring song that couldn’t even be helped by the likes of Shirley Bassey, and a hilarious opening sequence. I get that the women are supposed to be floating around in zero gravity as if they were in space, but silhouetted with so little context is laughable and very sad. Thanks, Mr. Bond, I’ll catch the next flight to the moon with Mr. Sinatra.
2. QUANTUM OF SOLACE
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The only Bond film of the so-called New Era that Daniel Kleinman did not create the titles for, QUANTUM OF SOLACE’s titles, much like the film itself, feel like a very half-hearted attempt to recreate the power and style of a) CASINO ROYALE and b) the previous Bond films. When director Marc Forster was hired to helm the film, he brought along his visual effects team, MK12, who did stunning work for the film STRANGER THAN FICTION. When you end up changing the typeface of the credits, which has stayed the same for 50 years, you know there’s a problem. MK12, as hard as they tried, did not do well. Trying to combine too many elements of Bond titles past and trying to mix in their own aesthetic makes the sequence come off as sloppy, somewhat unfinished, and aesthetically distasteful. The girls aren’t even real; they’re digital! Not to mention the fact that Alicia Keys and Jack White’s theme “Another Way to Die” is horrendous.
1. ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE
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For a long time, George Lazenby’s only film as 007 was much maligned, but it has recently undergone critical reevaluation. One thing is for sure, to me at least: its title sequence was the worst. Binder attempted to combine the title’s inherent iconography and the “passage of time”, and it just looks very silly. Past villains, girls, etc. pass through an hour glass, which theoretically sounds like a good idea. But due to the limitations in technology, it just looks like a single screen traveling through an hour glass, which has been super imposed from a green screen. There’s no real depth or realism to it. Not helping is that there is no real Bond theme, as Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All the Time in the World” (his final recording) wouldn’t be featured until later in the film. On the bright side, the rest of the film is good!
So, what do you guys think? What are your favorite and least favorite Bond opening titles? Let us know!
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