the name’s barrel, gunbarrel

So, with the Bond hype machine starting up once again, I figure it’s quite appropriate to write about Bond films. Why? Well, aside from the fact that it’s shamelessly cashing in on the Bond hype, I’m also a huge Bond fan and it’s the perfect source material for this place. But then, a lot of men are big Bond fans… and why not? James Bond is pretty much the ultimate incarnation of a bloke’s fantasy life. He’s a suave, witty secret agent who travels to beautiful locations on the taxpayer’s pound, sleeps with an endless line of beautiful women and gets to play with a variety of weird and wonderful gadgets, all the while facing villains who in real life would be easily defeated by a gust of wind, let along Britain’s finest secret agent. I mean… how could any bloke not want to be James Bond?

For me, the most iconic Bond film is The Spy Who Loved Me. I remember sitting in my great-grandmothers, watching this film she had on in a fairly bored manner (I hadn’t seen the beginning) when suddenly there was a car chase that livened things up. The car was being chased by a bunch of bad guys when suddenly the bloke driving it pressed a button to spray oil onto the windows of the bad guys’ car, and they crashed off the road. This was cool, but then a helicopter took over the chase and forced the car into the sea, where it turned into a submarine and shot the helicopter down with a missile from underwater. Bond then proceeds to explore the sea bed for a bit, searching out the main villain’s undersea lair, and then comes out of the water to the strains of the James Bond theme.

As a kid, this was possibly one of the coolest things I’d ever seen, and from that moment on I was a committed fan of the Bond films. Out of all of them, I think The Spy Who Loved Me is the best. It’s got a sense of fun, a brilliantly bonkers plot (evil villain wants to destroy the world and colonize the seabed to make a new world), a lot of gadgets and the extraordinarily beautiful Barbara Bach as eye candy.

It is very much of its time: all of the main power figures are men, and then there’s Bach’s Agent XXX who’s supposedly the KGB’s equivalent to Bond: she can’t fight her way out of a paper bag and seems to exist only to get captured and rescued by Bond repeatedly. She spends the climax of the film humiliatingly tied to a sofa in the villain’s lair not doing much, something that you couldn’t get away with now. But it still manages to be a funny, charming piece of entertainment and a good, old fashioned Bond film.

The Bonds have had to change since Spy, obviously: women will no longer tolerate being portrayed as being there to be tied to upholstered furniture and rescued, and the gadgets have had to be toned down as suddenly things that might have been acceptable as elements of fantasy in the 70s/80s such as touchscreens and multifunction phones have become reality, meaning Bond gadgets have either had to bring themselves in line with the new reality, or become patently ridiculous like Die Another Day’s cloaking-device enabled Aston Martin Vantage.

There are so many things about the Bond films I could write about, but the one that’s caused the most kerfuffle when it’s been changed is the famous gunbarrel sequence. Everyone will know what I’m talking about once they see this video, even if they don’t know about the term “gunbarrel sequence”.

This is the famous bit at the beginning of all the Bond films up until Casino Royale, where the film opens with the James Bond theme being played and Bond being tracked through the barrel of an assassin’s weapon, before he shoots it and spills the would-be assassin’s blood. For many, it was James Bond in a nutshell. But with a new Bond in Daniel Craig, Royale did something sacrilegious: it messed with the gunbarrel!

The gunbarrel instead appeared at the start of the main title sequence, to the shock and horror of some fans. Others reassured themselves saying that it represented the moment Bond “became” 007, it being a reboot of the series continuity after all. It would be back in its rightful place after the “how James became Bond” film. Except in the disappointingly named and rather disappointing Quantum of Solace the gunbarrel looked like this:

It was the traditional opening, but stuck on at the end! This caused more howls of fury, and more fans explaining that it was intended to signify the end of Bond’s “becoming 007” arc and that now he’d finished his business with the villainous Quantum organization responsible for the death of his true love, Vesper Lynd, they’d see Bond marching across the screen at the start to the strains of the Bond theme the next film.

Rumour has it, however, that Skyfall doesn’t restore the gunbarrel to the opening sequence but instead pulls a Quantum and sticks it at the end again. Once more, howls of protest go up from around the internet at how “this isn’t a real Bond film” and keyboards are furiously tapped at the chutzpah of the producers to mess with what is a sacred tradition, threatening boycotts of the film due to the moving of a twenty-second sequence from the opening of the film. This post isn’t one of these protests as I think there’s more to a Bond film than just the gunbarrel, but it’s a fine example of how fanboyism can give geek culture a very bad name. Fans going and turning themselves into the very caricatures they claim are false.

To me, a Bond film is much more than just the gunbarrel sequence. It’s a wonderful piece of escapist fantasy that you can rely on for a good time, and as long as the meat of it is there – beautiful locations, glamorous women and ridiculous villains – I think it counts as a Bond film. Indeed, from the trailers and clips I’ve seen, Skyfall is pretty much the Bond series putting itself back together again after the origin story of Royale and the ridiculous genetic engineering facelift/space laser/invisible car nonsense of Die Another Day that could well have passed for an exaggerated spoof of a Bond film, or a badly-made Bond videogame (I’m looking at you,  007 Nightfire).

The beautiful locations are back, the Bond girls are easy on the eye, the gadgets return albeit within sensible limits and the villain is a ridiculous, preening, campy take on Julian Assange… well, a more ridiculous, more preening and campier version of Assange. To me, that very much says that like the eternal promise of the end credits, James Bond Has Returned. So, to all the obsessive people whining about the moving around of a 20 second sequence in an entertaining two-hour film, I say this: stay away from the film. It will be more enjoyable without you sat there complaining. While you sit there at a computer screen, bitching about minutae, I’m going to be happily sat there with all the other true Bond fans, enjoying the latest entry in a series I love and one that from the reviews appears to be very much a return to form.

Bond is Back, and I’m going to enjoy it.

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