As the ‘007’ Daniel Craig era comes to an end, Elen Jones looks back at the iconic Gunbarrel opening sequence 1962-2021
While title themes, of varying success, distinguish each major motion picture in the James Bond franchise, the opening Gunbarrel sequence of every film is a constant unifier. From 1962 - 2021 this iconic piece of cinematography has commenced (and certified) every movie. However, even this timeless staple has evolved with time. Back in 1962, Ian Fleming’s James Bond (007) was first brought to motion picture in Dr. No. Dots scan the shot, turning red and traversing like a caret across the screen. Then, the aperture zooms out to focus on a suave 007, walking in time across the shot. He wears a hat and what appears to be a double-breasted jacket. And suddenly he turns and fires. The shot ricochets as the ascending riff climbs, before the soft twang of the guitar and a zoom out to the first real scene. A red bloody hue descends across the camera, obscuring Bond from our view.
By Thunderball (1965), the graphics had improved, and the blood poured and was more vivid than the red watermark. The frame finds its target to begin the story.
In On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969): Bond still walks from left to right, but the tracking (pan from left to right) across the screen is more extreme, more dynamic. Again, the graphics are cleaner, and the blood is a crimson hue. In the subsequent films the viewfinder is further zoomed: Bond is bigger and closer. The blood drip is also more pronounced, displaying an element of shine on the drops, arbitrarily descending across the cinema screen.
Up to this point the John Barry theme has played behind the sequence, any changes in mood pretty much negligible. In, Moonraker (1979), Bond now in a bow tie and without a hat, walks across the frame to a slower theme.
For Your Eyes Only (1981). The graphics are even whiter and cleaner, the blood now a vermillion – an even further right pan for viewfinder. In both A View to a Kill (1985) and Licence to Kill (1989) different parts of Barry’s theme are utilised: the slow ascent, the brass riff, the ringing bass guitar, the harmonious brass chords…
Though the "James Bond Theme" is characterised by Barry's jazz arrangement, parts of it are heard throughout the films through the repetition of motifs (Barry's arrangement is "tracked"). In No Time to Die (2021), ascending and descending melodies from Billie Eilish’s title theme (of the same name) are referred to at times of heightened anxiety or emotion.