Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: The James Bond Gunbarrel Sequence

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The James Bond Gunbarrel Sequence

What follows is an extraordinarily long and over-analytical essay concerning the James Bond Gunbarrel Sequence. I apologize for the Lair readers who were hopeful of something edifying today - it isn't going to happen with this post. Nevertheless, this has been a fascination and kind of weird obsession of mine for a very long time, and since I have never written about it, I thought the time was right.

First things first. You might be asking yourself, "what is the James Bond Gunbarrel Sequence?" Well, the James Bong Gunbarrel Sequence (JBGS) is the traditional opening to every official James Bond movie (with the exception being the recent Casino Royale). The JBGS typically begins with a white dot scrolling across the screen, left to right, leaving a short trail of dots that quickly turn black shortly after they appear. On reaching the right edge of the frame, the dot becomes a gunman's view-to-a-kill, down a gun barrel, its rifling a distinctive spiral. This distinctive spiral varies from film to film. The gun barrel is seen from inside — directly observing James Bond walking, right to left, against a white background. Bond, after taking a few steps, quickly turns to his left and shoots the gunman. From above, the scene reddens with the gunman's spilling blood. The gun barrel dissolves to a white dot, roving side to side (though in older films this happens more randomly), most commonly settling in the screen's lower-right corner. The circle then expands to fill the screen, exposing the film's first scene, which may be an unrelated "teaser" or may directly bear on the film's main plotline.

My first James Bond experience was "The Spy Who Loved Me" starring Roger Moore. It was the first film to introduce the now famous character of "Jaws", a villain I was scared of in my childhood and would call him by the name "Steel Teeth." (I still call him that). I can remember so clearly the first time I saw the JBGS. It is one of those strange memories that is burned into my mind, I remember it like it was yesterday. We all have those random things that we remember so vividly, and this is one of them for me. I pressed rewind at least 20 times on our 1985 VCR to watch Roger Moore walk across the screen, turn, and shoot. The house we were living in at the time had a narrow hall that ran from the front door to the kitchen. I can remember repeatedly walking that hall, humming the James Bond theme music to myself, and turning to shoot at the precise moment, trying my very best to imitate Roger Moore. To this day, I am happy to say, I still find myself humming the theme song if I am walking a straight line down a narrow hall of some sort. Needless to say, this simple 15 second intro to a movie has stuck with me in a very serious way.

As the years went on, and with the power of the internet, I soon discovered some neat trivia concerning the JBGS. First, I discovered that I was not alone in maintaining a sort of obsession for the sequence. But I also learned some other neat facts.

First, the sequence has been filmed 8 different times, with the breakdown being as follows:
1. A guy named Bob Simmons, who was Sean Connery's stunt double, performed the original JBGS. The filmmakers apparently did not know how cool this was going to be, so they didn't even think to use Connery in the sequence. So, if you watch Dr. No, From Russia With Love, or Goldfinger, the first three James Bond films, it is not Sean Connery walking across the floor during the sequence, but his stunt double, Bob Simmons.
2. When the filmmakers switched the film aspect to Panavision, a new sequence had to be shot. This time they of course used Sean Connery. So, in Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and Diamonds Are Forever, you are seeing the real Sean Connery in the sequence.
3. Next came George Lazenby for his one JBGS in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service."
4. Roger Moore is the only Bond to film two different sequences. His original sequence was used in Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun.
5. Roger Moore's second sequence, because of another change in film aspect, was used in The Spy Who Loved Me through A View To A Kill.
6. Timothy Dalton's sequence was used in his two films, The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill.
7. Pierce Brosnan is next, whose sequence was used in all his films, from Goldeneye to Die Another Die. It was Brosnan's sequence that first brought about a computer generated gunbarrel.
8. Finally, the newest Bond, Daniel Craig, shot his unusual sequence in Casino Royale.

The music is, of course, a major contributing factor to the quality of the JBGS. Most people do not know, but the James Bond Theme is re-scored for every film, so there is never a time where the same music is used for the sequence. In other words, every sequence has different music behind it, even though most sequences (but not all) use the James Bond Theme. For me, the music is a huge part of the success of a JBGS, and I will discuss that more below.

Finally, and most importantly, is the manner in which the actor walks, turns, and fires. It seems simple, but it is actually not as easy to do as you might think (believe me, I have 22 years of practice). The point is to remain cool, classy, with a bold, confident walk, and yet turn with stability and fire.

So, with these elements in mind, here are The Beast's rankings for the actors who performed a sequence. I will start from worst and work toward the best. One thing to keep in mind is that I am not ranking Daniel Craig's version for two reasons: 1) he did not walk and shoot, his was incorporated into the teaser scene. 2)I do not have a DVD of Casino Royale, so I have not been able to watch the sequence a million times like I have with all the rest.

The Beast's Rankings, from worst to best, of the JBGS.

7. Bob Simmons. Despite the fact that he was never a Bond, which is a major problem, he looks like a goof. As he is walking, he seems to almost trip right before he turns (again, this is easy to do. It is not near as easy as it looks to walk, turn and shoot. My hunch is that the filmmakers just did not really care about putting too much effort into the original and did a "first take" kind of shot.) When Simmons does turn and shoot, he actually does a weird "hop" kind of thing that just looks ridiculous. There is really no redeeming value to Simmon's sequence except that it was the original.

6. George Lazenby. I actually like "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and Lazenby's stock is rising the last couple of years. But, his sequence doesn't quite come through. He is the only actor to go down on one knee as he fires, and it just doesn't work. However, I like Lazenby's walk. It is stronger than Connery's, so this was a tough decision on who was #6.

5. Sean Connery. As Connery begins walking, it appears that he looks down momentarily, as if to make sure his shoes are tied. It is not too distracting, yet it takes away from the cohesiveness of the sequence. The main thing that makes Connery's sequence weak is that he loses his balance as he turns. Even when the picture freezes, he is still trying to regain his balance. Also, he does a super weird thing with his left as he fires. It looks like his left hand just started spazzing all of a sudden. But, seeing how this is Sean Connery, it still rocks pretty hard.

4. Pierce Brosnan. Two Words - Tuxedo Jacket! As Brosnan walks and fires, his jacket is swaying all over the place. Even as the picture freezes, the back end of his jacket is still moving. It really distracts from what would other wise be a pretty solid gunbarrel. His walk is good and I don't have a big problem with his turn, but this one is bit too loosey goosey for me. Goldeneye's sequence music is super electronic sounding, which is kind of annoying.

3. Roger Moore's First Sequence. The sequence used in Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun is good, but not great. Moore supports his shooting arm by placing his left hand on his right arm about 6 inches from his hand. He is a bit off balance as he shoots. Still a great walk. See my detailed info on Moore's second sequence below.

2. Timothy Dalton. He is my least favorite Bond, but he has a solid sequence. A good, firm walk with a determined turn and shoot method. The Living Daylights is the better of the two because the music is completely changed in Licence to Kill and I don't think it works.

1. Roger Moore's second sequence (The Spy Who Loved Me - A View To A Kill). By far, the strongest sequence. Despite who your favorite Bond is (most people would say Connery), it is just hard to debate that Moore's sequence is not the strongest of the lot. Putting the gunbarrel sequence aside for a moment, I have been trying to emulate Moore's walk for years. He just has a killer walk. Everything about this sequence is perfect, including the best turn and shoot method. Moore, like his original sequence, uses his left hand for support, but instead of the awkward hand placement up his arm, he this time brings his left hand to the gun itself, making for a solid shooting. There is zero balance loss with this turn and shoot. Out of Moore's films that use his second sequence, the best is For Your Eyes Only. This is the best gunbarrel sequence of all the Bond films. The reason? Bill Conti's score. Unbelievable. I have always loved the score for FYEO and I researched who scored the movie. This guy's name was Bill Conti, and I thought his named seemed familiar. Sure enough, he also scored the super famous "Gonna Fly Now", the theme music to the original Rocky. I get the same feeling whenever I listen to Conti's Bond Theme or Gonna Fly Now, I want to jump out of my chair and do something productive! What makes FYEO Bond theme so great is that it departs slightly from the typically orchestration and uses a more bold approach to the theme while still retaining the classical nature (is that a super cool cowbell I hear in the Theme?) Christopher Walken would love this theme (who ironically starred in A View To A Kill with Moore). My mom also would enjoy knowing that Conti scored the theme for Falcon Crest and Dynasty. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his Bond Theme.

So, there you have it folks. More than you ever wanted to know about the James Bond Gunbarrel Sequence. Now, watch the video below of Roger Moore performing the best sequence of all the films, For Your Eyes Only.

3 Comments:

Blogger Tom Wilkinson said...

I am of course partial to Sean Connery to perform the role of James Bond just because I grew up watching him. Our childhood experience I think has much to do with our preference. This was a fun blog and I am not at odds with your conclusions about the best walk on intro.

December 14, 2007 1:27 PM  
Anonymous Andy said...

Darn it now I have to go and watch all of them just to rate them myself. I have always thought that one, and after watching it just now still do, was too lackadaisical. walking walking walking turning with all the time in the world and shooting. *yawn*

Your sister is of the opinion that Roger Moore is the best Bond ever. She is, or course, wrong. :)

December 19, 2007 8:54 AM  
Anonymous Modesty said...

Good for people to know.

November 10, 2008 6:44 AM  

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