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Bond Pretitle Sequences: Skyfall

Simon Pitt | Film | Wednesday 3rd July 2013

Being thrown out of a plane without a parachute. Hurling an electric heater into a bath. Single-handedly taking out half the world's terrorists. The pre-title sequences to James Bond films feature some of the most memorable (and at times ridiculous) moments of the series. They are iconic and startling, containing stunts that push the boundaries of possibility. And credulity: can you really fly a plane that's fallen off the edge of a cliff? Wouldn't your suit get at least a bit crumpled under a wet suit?

I was going to mock the tiny plane that comes out of the horse carriage in Octopussy, but they actually built that. It holds the record for the world's smallest plane. I was going to comment on the bungee effect in Goldeneye, but that was real too. The stunt man not only broke the world record for the longest bungee jump, but remembered to take out his gun and finish off the scene.

As a treat to myself more than anything, I'm watching all of the Bond title sequences, starting with the most recent and working backwards to see where we are now and how we got there.

All the Bonds. All the Gun Barrels. All the action. Well, the first five seconds of it.

I enjoy the current Daniel Craig Bond films. But there is one thing that irritates me. Why don't they begin with the gun barrel sequence? I've said it before, but I'll say it again: put the gun barrel back.

They managed to do this consistently for forty years, but the Daniel Craig films seem to think that they're "too serious" for this piece of imagery. But I'll tell you what: they're not. No one is too serious for the gun barrel and it is mandatory for a Bond film, so put it back.

Even my girlfriend, who has a more healthy approach to the Bond films (ie, she can't quote much, if any, of Goldeneye) finds this strange. "Why do they keep doing weird things to Daniel Craig's Bond?" she asked me the other day. "I mean, first he's blonde, now this?"

According to Sam Mendes, they tried to begin Skyfall with the gun barrel but it didn't work artistically. The first shot of the film is an out of focus apparition walking slowly towards the camera, and that jarred with the barrel shot.

"I tried very hard to put the gun barrel at the beginning and my intention was always to do that. If you see the film, the film starts with Bond walking down a corridor towards camera and lifting a gun. And of course the gun barrel is him walking, stopping and lifting a gun. When I put the two together, it looked ridiculous!"

I think I take his point, but why begin with this shot then? Surely he could have had an establishing shot outside before it. Was it really so important to them to make Bond look like ET in the opening part of the film that they ignored 40 years of history?

A sort of James Bond ET crossover. No, I don't really understand it either.

Annoyingly, the opening shot was in the Skyfall trailer (and several times in the hour of adverts before the film at the cinema). As, in fact, was much of the title sequence. The international trailer for Skyfall is essentially the title sequence, but with some of the excess shots cut out.

As Skyfall opens, we're watching Bond out on a mission, which I always like. It reminds me that he is an MI6 agent, and his job isn't just to mess around in casinos. It's good to see Bond with an earpiece in, too, talking to mission control. Hearing M over the radio is like an inverse of the opening of Tomorrow Never Dies where we see M in the operations centre and see Bond on the monitors.

Watching missions unfold like this has become something of a trope. We've seen it so much in things like Spooks and 24 that we all know how it's going to pan out. It even seems like it happens in real life with Prism. It's even been inverted, showing the villain running the operation from mission control. One of my favourite action sequences in any film ever is the Waterloo sequence in The Bourne Ultimatum, where the CIA direct the operation remotely as they try to capture Bourne.

Back in Skyfall, Bond has found that the hard drive has gone. "Are you sure?" M asks over the intercom. Bond sarcastically checks under the computer. "They must have it." M says. She's on fire today. Did she work that out herself? Probably not, in all likelihood Tanner told her.

By the worry in their voices, it seems MI6 don't encrypt their hard drives. Which is actually a breach of the UK data protection act. Even at my work, if you ripped a hard drive out of the bottom of a computer, assuming you didn't damage it, you couldn't get the data off it. You do have to wonder, too, why the villain found it easier to take the back off the laptop and steal the hard drive, rather than just taking the whole laptop too. I've replaced laptop hard drives before. It's a fiddly job.

After making a cursory attempt to stop Ronson's bleeding (given the skill Bond shows here, it seems he didn't complete his First Aid at Work course) Bond heads down a corridor outside where he jumps into a jeep. Bond is in the passenger seat for once. Clearly, he's not sure what to do, so he just makes patronising quips about women's driving instead. Probably just what you want during a high-speed chase.

Whenever I see a Bond car chase, I'm reminded of Q's observation in Goldeneye, "You have a licence to kill, not to break the traffic laws." Unluckily for Bond and Eve, there are a group of on-duty police officers hanging around on motorbikes, just waiting for some speeding. Once the villain's car has crashed, they don't last very long though. Before you know it, Bond and the villain are off on stolen police property.

"They appear to be on the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar," Tanner says, his voice filled with sarcasm. You can hear him thinking, "typical 007, can't just retrieve a hard drive like all the other agents without having a chase on the rooftops or something".

Bond showing off. Again. He always seems to do this during the first ten minutes of a mission, Tanner sighs.

"I can direct you from here," Tanner tells Eve. "Take a left, you can cut him off." What's he even following on his screen? Clearly not the hard drive or they wouldn't have this problem.

"You both know what's at stake here," M says over the intercom. Actually, we don't, but we know something is at stake now. I guess we needed something to justify the millions of pounds of carnage they cause, and the countless deaths and injuries.

Finally, they catch up with the hard drive thief. But the pesky guy just jumps off the bridge onto the top of a passing train (something I've always wanted to do actually). Not wanting to be shown up, Bond rides his bike full speed into the edge of the bridge and flips off it onto the train. Really, Bond? Was that the best of getting into the train? Tanner would definitely think he was showing off.

"They're on the train, ma'am," Eve tells M.

"Well get after them," It seems Eve hadn't thought of this until M said it.

"They're going out of range," Tanner says to no-one in particular. I still don't know what they're going out of range of. He turns to the group of analysts on the floor, "get me CCTV, satellite, anything." They don't actually manage to get him anything, which is probably the most realistic moment of the whole film. I'm not sure what he was expecting from them anyway. Even if there was a CCTV camera somewhere along the train track, it would be like being a spectator at a racetrack. The train would whizz past and be gone. In fact, the analysts barely respond to him or look up from their computers. Maybe he's always just shouting bizarre requests at them and they've learnt to ignore it.

Meanwhile Bond has got into a JCB and knocked a load of cars off the back of the train.

"VW Beetles. I think," Eve tells M. It's a strange bit of product placement this. Yes, the brand name gets into the film, but it's associated with a car that gets smashed up. I know this isn't how car advertising works, but I can't imagine anyone going into a car showroom and saying, "I'd like one of those little cars that gets knocked off the back of the train in Skyfall."

Bond runs over a few more VW Beetles before crashing the JCB into the train. He runs along a special platform on the back of the digger arm. It's almost as if these diggers were designed to be climbed across. There's even an inexplicable hatch in the top, as well as a door at the side. Really, this digger is more door than cabin. In typical Bond fashion, he gets aboard the train, and the first thing he does is adjust his cuffs. If you're about to have a fight atop a moving train you do want to make sure your cuffs are straight.

I have to admit, I have a soft spot for action film set pieces. Fights on trains, car chases along the edges of cliff, I love them all. Fights on top of trains have become a lot more realistic over the last few years. The last time Bond had a fight on top of a train was in Octopussy. Then it seems like quite a leisurely affair, more of a good way to see the view than anything else. Bond's hair was barely ruffled by it.

Bond taking the scenic route in Octopussy

The first "realistic" train roof sequence I saw was the 1996 Mission: Impossible film. That made it very clear that being on top of a train was actually quite a windy affair.

Ethan Hunt on top of a train in Mission Impossible. It's a very windy affair.

This has become par for the course for train fights now, and Skyfall is no exception. Bond's tie is flapping all over the place. This'll teach him to go on operations in a lounge suit. Tom Ford or not, you're better off not wearing a tie during a fight. Interestingly, in Mission: Impossible, Ethan Hunt takes his jacket and tie off before he starts going after the villain, and it's the jacket flying past that alerts the villain he's after him. Thank goodness the villain never thinks to pull Bond's tie.

Less luckily for Bond, someone has left a chain lying about on top of the train. People will keep leaving things that can be used as weapons right where there is most likely to be a fight. There's a nice joke about this in Ong Bak when a "knife seller" walks past just as they're in the middle of a fight.

Bond manages to get the chain off the villain and the two of them struggle as Eve targets them with her sniper rifle. "Take the bloody shot" M says. What will happen next?

This would have been incredibly tense, if I hadn't already seen it on the trailer dozens of times.

But still, the pause after the shot before Eve says "agent down" is a spine tingling moment. There's a good use of silence as Bond falls. As Alan Partridge says in Never Say Alan Again, "He's going to die. James Bond is going to die!"

He's not, of course.


I think he got the Point Do all those vodka martinis silence the screams of all the men you've killed? Perfect for relaxing after a hard day at the office

SP will return...


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