Sunday, 24 February 2013

Evolution of the gunbarrel sequence - an update

In an earlier post, I traced the evolution of the gunbarrel sequence, identifying some of the changes that have occurred through the series. I suggested that for style each sequence generally followed those that immediately preceded it (for instance, a gunbarrel sequence from a later Roger Moore film is closer in style to an earlier Roger Moore sequence than it is to a gunbarrel sequence from a Sean Connery film). I also noted that the sequence was becoming shorter over time; excluding that from Dr No (28 seconds) as an outlier, the sequence in From Russia With Love (1963) was 22 seconds, while that from Die Another Day (2002) was 17 seconds. Between these points, a reasonably steady decrease in length is evident.

While the gunbarrel sequence for Daniel Craig's first Bond film, Casino Royale (2006) was incorporated into the narrative of the film, that for Quantum of Solace (2008) was more traditional in style, although it had been moved to the end of the film. It was also the shortest of the series at just 10 seconds. I thought this anomalous, and predicted that the gunbarrel sequence for Skyfall would be about 15 or 16 seconds long in line with the trend ending with Die Another Day. I should, however, have looked again at the pattern of evolution that I outlined.

Against much expectation (and not a little disappointment), Skyfall's gunbarrel sequence was again placed at the end of the film. Director Sam Mendes has said that he attempted to restore the sequence to the beginning of the film, but found that it didn't work next to the opening scene of Bond walking towards the camera. However, there is a musical nod to the sequence at this point, as the opening bars of the James Bond theme are heard when Bond appears and turns a corner to begin his walk towards the camera. Although the reasons for keeping the sequence at the end of the film are undoubtedly different from those for Quantum of Solace, the placement of the sequence in Skyfall nevertheless owes something to the previous film. Quantum of Solace set the precedent, which in turn was allowed by the radical treatment of the gunbarrel sequence in Casino Royale.

Skyfall's gunbarrel sequence also matches that of Quantum of Solace in length, lasting just 10.6 seconds. Far from being anomalous, then, the Quantum of Solace sequence appears to fit the trend for ever shorter sequences, which is continued in Skyfall. (Incidentally, the gunbarrel sequence which introduces the documentary, Everything or Nothing (2012), and features all six official Bond actors, who appear one after the other, is 15 seconds long, shorter even than the sequences of Pierce Brosnan's films. It seems that this sequence, too, fits the apparent trend.)

The sequences of Quantum of Solace and Skyfall share other traits. In contrast to the earlier gunbarrel sequences, they lack the wobble of the barrel to represent Bond's would-be assassin falling to the floor after Bond has fired. And in both, Bond wears a lounge or business suit, rather than a dinner suit that had been seen in all gunbarrel sequences from The Spy Who Loved Me onwards.

The gunbarrel sequence of Skyfall follows a standard pattern. Just as the sequence of Die Another Day shares more attributes with the sequences of Pierce Brosnan's earlier films than it does with those of, say, Sean Connery's films, Skyfall's sequence is closest in style and length to that of Daniel Craig's preceding film, Quantum of Solace. It seems, then, that a new gunbarrel sequence is more likely to inherit the traits or memes of the films that immediately preceded it, and not of those made much earlier (although, of course, particular elements have survived and been passed on through the series). While factors such as long breaks between films and a new Bond actor are sufficiently isolating from earlier films to allow significant changes to the style of the sequence, the gunbarrel sequence in general continues to respond to a selection pressure to become ever shorter.

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