To be honest, I’m surprised I lasted until episode 3 before shoehorning A-ha in there — of course I would say that The Living Daylights has the best theme tune. There are many lessons to be learnt from a Bond film’s opening moments — the starting stunts, the title sequence and, of course, the music…
(Transcript is included in the blog post.)
Announcer: CLOSE, BUT NO BISCUIT
Chris: I think that Bond has to have iconic stunts. I will say that I thought the train/digger setpiece was great.
Rao Dao Zao: Again, though, I think that belongs in a Brosnan film.
Chris: I felt the music was not helpful in that scene, the stunt warranted ♫ da-na-da-na, na-na-na… It’s that refusal to allow us to have fun.
Rao Dao Zao: This is the third film in a reboot sequence, and you’re still not giving us it!
Chris: You want it to be, “Now he’s Bond!”
Rao Dao Zao: No!
Chris: “Now we’re gonna get the good stuff!”
Rao Dao Zao: No!
Chris: He’s created a bridge between two trains with a digger! That is so fundamentally ridiculous–
Rao Dao Zao: ♫ Liiike a briiiidge … between two trai- yeah.
Chris: That’s the point where you want, not just the Bond theme, but the Timothy Dalton really cheesy 80s guitar Bond theme to hit at that point. And have that yeah! moment. Don’t tell me musically how nervous he is crossing that digger, tell me how cool this looks.
Rao Dao Zao: Again, it’s focusing on the character instead of the world. Bond is like “woah”, but nonono…
Chris: When they did Goldeneye, the music is very not-Bond, it’s got this very weird techno vibe to it…
Rao Dao Zao: It was the 90s.
Chris: It was the 90s, but they made a choice in post-production when they did the tank chase, the bit where it smashes through the wall — they went, “no no, this moment, this needs the ♫ da-da da-naaa“. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a good thing!
Rao Dao Zao: That’s what we’re here for!
Chris: The elements are all there, but we’re not going to make them fun, we’re going to try so hard not to make them fun.
Rao Dao Zao: It’s not so much they’re trying not to make it fun, it’s just they’re trying to make something else. Their idea of Bond, or what the contemporary audience wants of Bond, doesn’t match the Bond we grew up with. And as I say, the box-office figures — as far as it goes, Skyfall and SPECTRE made millions and millions of pounds so…
Chris: So we’re wrong.
Rao Dao Zao: Yeah, effectively, we are wrong. Ultimately, the audience have spoken.
Chris: But did they? Did SPECTRE out-draw Skyfall?
Rao Dao Zao: I don’t think it quite matched it, but it still did very very well.
Chris: But did it not… Skyfall seemed to have this lingering legacy, where SPECTRE kind of came and went quite fast.
Rao Dao Zao: I think the biggest problem with SPECTRE coming and going quite fast was its theme tune, because it doesn’t mention the word “spectre”.
Chris: (laughter) We haven’t even got onto that.
Rao Dao Zao: Yeah, okay, how do you write a Bond theme tune? You start with the title. This is why you listen to a Bond theme tune, because it’s got the title — it doesn’t have to be the chorus, it had to be in the lyrics somewhere, but it’s gotta be there. Then you get someone like Sam Smith who is a terrible terrible artist in the first place, and then refuses to put the fucking name of the film in the Bond theme tune! It’s like, why — why are you recording a Bond theme without the name? (sigh)
Chris: What is the purpose of the theme and the opening credits, in your view?
Rao Dao Zao: It’s to get you amped up. You get the song, and it starts, then you get the chorus and the title’s mentioned and you’re like yeaaah!
Chris: I thought, Casino Royale, it was done differently, no title in the song I’ll give you that, but it was kinda rocky, energy up, amp amp, here we go, fuckin’ James Bond, let’s do this! Let’s look at Goldeneye for a second, that ♫ dun dun-dun-dun hits–
Rao Dao Zao: ♫ weee-awwwww
Chris: I know it’s big and it’s cheesy–
Rao Dao Zao: But it’s Bond, you’re here for big and cheese! I’m not a fan of Adele, but at least you get the build-up, and then you get ♫ and the skyfaaaall, and I hate Adele and I don’t like the song but at least she’s got the title in there and it gives you that oomph, that lift.
Chris: It’s Bondy at least. Whereas, do you remember the one that was in Quantum of Solace, how bad that was?
Rao Dao Zao: I actively blanked that theme tune from my mind because holy fuck that was awful.
Chris: It is the worst.
Rao Dao Zao: I’m a man who’ll listen to cold war 80s synth-pop and enjoy it, with musique concrete sound collages and stuff–
Chris: ♫ (unintelligible)
Rao Dao Zao: And then you get to The Writing’s On the Wall, and it’s like, aaargh, it’s irritating vocally and irritating lyrically — and he refuses to use the fucking title! That’s arrogance, that’s arrogance beyond even the writers of the Craig Bond scripts.
Addendum: I’m also kind of okay with Madonna’s Die Another Day, THAT is how low my bar is — and even I cannot stand The Writing’s on the Wall and… whatever the fuck Quantum of Solace had.
Chris: Particularly with a title as cool as SPECTRE, the amount of motif you can get into that alone, it rhymes with fucking everything!
Rao Dao Zao: It’s a short, one-syllable — which means it’s a deliberate refusal, the writer thinks he’s too good to write a Bond film song, and then the Bond film writers think they’re too good to write Bond films, and it all just falls apart…
Chris: We can agree on the fact, the key is the opening bars. The minute when you go into the title sequence, you’ve delivered…
Rao Dao Zao: No, I’m not sure, I think it comes down to the focus on the title. My favourite story is that I recently got the remastered deluxe editions of some A-ha albums, and one of those albums has a demo version of The Living Daylights. Which is… the music is pretty much all there, and the lyrics are not… but the chorus is. The core of the song, ♫ doo-doo-de-doo, the living daylights, it’s there.
Chris: We have to say that, we have to say that line.
Rao Dao Zao: Uh-huh, that’s where they started, and the rest of it is just Morten Harket going “la la la la la”, there’s no other lyrics at all apart from the chorus, the living daylights, that’s where they started.
Addendum: I actually got a bit carried away here, there are some snatches of other lyrics. “We walk on virgin soil // You don’t believe it // I’m at your mind’s control // You will believe it… // Set your hopes up way too high, la la la la la-laaaa…” The album in this case is Stay On These Roads, not their finest hour but still very good — the title track being one of my all-time favourite songs of theirs — and yet another crop of amazing demos and lost gems on the bonus disc.
Chris: Surely from a monetisation, to come back to your use of the title, if I’m bringing in a musician — you want that to be a two-way street. So, basically, you’re using the well-renowned artist to promote your movie, and they’ll make money off it too.
Rao Dao Zao: And they’re using your movie to promote their music.
Chris: Therefore, when you have it, even if that’s just in the pub background, you’re hearing “Skyfall, Skyfall, you wanna go and see Skyfall!” Whereas if you just have Sam going “the writing’s on the wall”, you’re like “oh man, the writing’s on the wall, fuck!”
Rao Dao Zao: Stop screeching, go away.
Chris: And you’re not even getting the “Go see SPECTRE, go see SPECTRE!”
Rao Dao Zao: ♫ Gawldeneeeeeeye.
Chris: Is the movie promoting him, or is he promoting the movie? Surely, from a producer’s standpoint–
Rao Dao Zao: As I say, it’s arrogance, there’s so much arrogance on all sides. He thought he was too good to write a Bond theme, but wrote one anyway, and they wanted him to — and then they wrote a shitty Bond film and then… Gaah.
Chris: We’re agreed the function has to be primarily that–
Rao Dao Zao: We want to get amped up. You get the opening sequence, and then you get the theme song, and that’s where you get into the film, you’re like “yeaaah, it’s time“.
Chris: So the purpose of it is to broadly get the tone of the movie, while getting the audience amped up for the movie they’re about to get.
Rao Dao Zao: Well, okay, Dr. No didn’t have a theme tune.
Chris: But it was the Bond theme!
Rao Dao Zao: It was the Bond theme… Yeah, but ever since then, it’s been the title of the Bond theme tune that’s…
Chris: It’s not true, technically.
Rao Dao Zao: So, yeah, there’s a couple of outliers.
Chris: It literally is a couple.
Rao Dao Zao: Yeah, but by and large, it’s been, a Bond film is defined by the fact that its theme tune had the name of the film in it. It’s like, “ah!”, that was the thing that always seemed to unify them… Maybe, actually, it doesn’t, but that’s certainly the overarching vision that I got and I think that is important as part of the tradition.
Chris: So we’ve talked about the music of the opening title sequence, we seem to have zoned in on this… I will say that I’m a big fan of the fact that they’re now using the opening title visually, for narrative purposes.
Rao Dao Zao: (whining) But they always have been though…
Chris: No, I don’t think they did, Goldeneye, even Goldeneye as good as it is, it has a visual aesthetic that reflects maybe some of the themes of the film, but there’s no foreshadowing in it. But you see in Skyfall, you see the villain’s shadow on a wall, and they make it very clear that that is who that is. In Quantum of Solace they kind of foreshadow the desert aspect of it. Casino Royale I felt did a really good job of–
Rao Dao Zao: It was all card-gamey stuff.
Chris: But they also doubled it over as sort-of montaging Bond becoming a double-oh, and it also got over Craig’s Bond being a physical fighter, they used it to establish that.
Rao Dao Zao: I can’t remember, the Brosnan one that’s got the oil pipeline, the opening sequence has the oil-themed stuff in it, so it’s not foreshadowing, it’s setting the tone or something.
Chris: What about Die Another Day, the opening of that is set over the torture sequence. So, Bond is kidnapped in the beginning of the movie by Korea, and then to do the time-jump, the passage of time, they use the title sequence for that purpose. Again, as opposed to, it’s just there for the sake of it. I have to admit, I do actually like that some of the more modern films have utilised it as a practical tool.
Rao Dao Zao: Yeah, I’m not particularly attached to the title sequences. I like the theme tunes, I think having the opening action sequence to get you in, and then having the sort-of come-down-but-amp-up of the title sequence but with the rousing tune–
Chris: Does it have to be an action sequence? Could you do one without that?
Rao Dao Zao: Hmm… I don’t know…?
Chris: Has it ever been done? I think not, I think they’ve always always been some kind of action…
Rao Dao Zao: I like that, because you come in as the audience watching the film, you don’t start with a super-fast-cut car chase, but you get some kind of rising action, some kind of microcosmic event which is over in about five, ten minutes, and then you get… (pleased sigh)… and then the theme tune comes on, you get the theme tune, so you can relax watching the psychedelic visuals, blah, but you get the theme tune which is like “yeah!” and then you get the slower start of the actual film. I think that’s a good, I like that structure, I don’t know why necessarily.
Chris: This might come back more to one of the bigger questions, because we seem to have focused in on this quite intently for some reason, I believe firmly that a Bond film… If I was to make a Bond film, even if it was a Bond film that involved continuity, I would kind of feel part of my remit would be for the young boy, or girl, the young kid in the audience that had never seen a Bond movie, in a way it’s instantly accessible as to what it is. The gun barrel, the opening and the titles, they’re almost like a three-piece thing they kinda have to get right — I think I’m quite affronted by the fact that all the Pierce Brosnan films work like that, but the Daniel Craig films… I feel sorry for the nine-year-old kid, the ten-year-old kid, but if I had gone to see Goldeneye and I was nine or– I’d have been “this is the greatest fucking shit ever!” Whereas, I don’t know… Imagine your first Bond movie was Quantum of Solace, how you’d be like “Dad, I don’t understand what’s happening”, and not only that, the dad would be like “Son, I don’t know what’s happening either!”
Rao Dao Zao: So my first Bond films, I saw on television. My dad got me watching things like… They used to show them all the time on Sunday afternoons and stuff, you get the Saturday Matinee, you get Empire Strikes Back, you get a Bond film, you get some kind of– sci-fi, basically.
Chris: But you’ve never seen them before.
Rao Dao Zao: So I think my first cinematic Bond film probably was Goldeneye, I knew what I wanted from Bond I suppose, I was going for the explosions and the action — and I didn’t have to have seen all these other films to understand what’s going on… I guess it contained all the set-up and the tear-down. Having continuity is excellent in some ways, but it is a–
Chris: It’s a barrier, it’s saying “you need to have seen the other before”.
Rao Dao Zao: And that’s why the Marvel Cinematic Universe now makes me quite uneasy, because to watch any one film you have to have not just one or two, but five or six — or seven or eight — different films, and I’m like “now you’re going too far”. I love a good continuity, Star Wars is my thing, up until very recently, and the Expanded Unverse I still broadly, for all it’s shit, awful — warts and all I still quite enjoyed much of that.
Chris: But even for Star Wars, they have the opening crawl! So if you haven’t seen it, you’re gonna get it.
Rao Dao Zao: Yeah, the opening crawl explains whatever the set up is, but also, most of the Expanded Universe stuff is relatively stand-alone, it still functions as a thing without having known all the other bits of the Expanded Universe. So, like, a tiny mention can accentuate a living universe, whereas too much of an obvious “this leads on from this” just says “you haven’t seen this thing”.
Rao Dao Zao: So there’s the difference between… There’s continuity in the sense– or, there’s world-building on the sense of, this is a living, breathing interpretation of the universe that is totally function, and there’s “here is the film that totally follows on from this other film and if you haven’t seen it, go fuck yourself because you’re not a strong enough fan.”
Addendum: Again, me getting carried away. I love a good ten-book fantasy epic (assuming it’s actually all good), and I’m happy to go in for a steady trilogy. The MCU has very strong continuity, which is good, but these are not just films or sets of films that happen to occur in the same universe, they are all — each and every one of them — directly building up to a combined finale. I can’t appreciate the subsections for themselves because they constantly refer to something bigger, but I can’t appreciate the bigger thing because it’s SO big and I actively hate some sub-parts of it — I can’t engage with Captain America at all, and the Hulk can go fuck himself sideways. Whereas with Star Wars, I can sit with my fingers in my ears ignoring Jar Jar Binks while taking Kyle Katarn without question, because the two are not linked directly by strong narrative threads. Imagine if Jar Jar Binks came back as a Force ghost every five minutes?
Chris: Yeah, I totally agree with that, I felt that the absence of the gun barrel at the start of Quantum of Solace, Skyfall as well, that it… The gun barrel, I’m a huge fan of it, because I think it sets the– if you do Bond right, it sets the tone.
Rao Dao Zao: It’s like the Star Wars title crawl, this is a thing which just says “here’s…” It’s a calling card. It’s a Bond film. It’s a Star Wars film. Bang!
Chris: Again with Star Wars, not even just the crawl, the way the crawl, the thing I prefer about the crawl, the fact that it’s like ♫ DAA-DA-DA— the word, STAR WARS– it’s right up in your fucking face. It keeps coming back to that key word confidence, in like Bond is that as well–
Rao Dao Zao: It’s lost confidence in what it is.
Chris: I could talk for hours about 1960s TV and film, because everyone was either so high and fucked up, or just no-one knew how to do anything wrong yet, no-one would think twice about doing something as insane as that. The gun barrel — “there’s gonna be these circles that fly out across the screen, a gun barrel’s gonna appear, and this guy’s gonna walk on, and you go ‘oh my God, someone’s shooting at someone, that’s a gun barrel’ and he can see him in the line of sight — bam! Oh m god, he’s shot the camera!
Rao Dao Zao: There’s blood everywhere!
Chris: Right! But the gun barrel establishes it. The thing about the gun barrel is, the way the guy walks, there’s a way to do the gun barrel — you only move one arm. The idea is that you walk on, and you’re supposed to be a suave, sophisticated guy walking down the street. Your left arm is swinging, but your right arm is steady ’cause you’re hiding the gun. And if you watch Daniel Craig’s gun barrel, splicy-splicy video, he swings the arm — so as soon as the gun barrel appears, you see him holding the gun. The arm goes out, and… three frames in, it’s already wrong. If you’re just walking along with a gun swinging, there’s no surprise, you’re not establishing anything character-wise… If you think that all it is, is walking on, turning and shooting the camera, you’ve missed the point. The point of that– in the original Bond film, the theme isn’t even on it, it happens silently, the circles fly on, it goes drrrrink, and the gun barrel appears, and it’s just a guy walking over… and then he turns and shoots the camera, and it goes bang! ♫ Da-na da-naaa. And it establishes everything about Bond fast, because, I guess that was the philosophy when they made Dr. No, was “we have to get this whole backstory, because we’re not doing an origin”–
Rao Dao Zao: Yeah, it was just “a film” straight in.
Chris: “We have to try and get ‘who is James Bond?’ in ten minutes to make this work”. So, almost out of necessity, you’re left with “how about this?” and then the crazy gun barrel idea comes out of that. Then we’ll have this great establishing shot of Connery at the poker table, delivers the iconic line–
Sean Connery: Yesh!
Chris: It’s all great! Because it’s always thinking about the audience, how is this going to make them feel? I just feel that, there’s a bunch of kids out there that don’t know what this shit is yet. If you’re viewing it as “well, they’ve seen the walk-on a thousand times before, they know what’s going to happen” — no, to me it’s–
Rao Dao Zao: Do each one as if it’s fresh.
Chris: And I don’t hate Daniel Craig for that, that to me is–
Rao Dao Zao: He’s been badly directed.
Chris: I would have picked up on that. Not in a mean way, I’d just say, “Daniel, I love ya man, but keep that right arm steady.” And then he’d do the turn–
Rao Dao Zao: If he’s not been given the stage directions, that, actually, he’s meant to be hiding, concealing his gun, then…
Chris: It’s those little character nuances that jump out at me, that attention to detail if it’s not there.
Rao Dao Zao: I think it comes back to the idea they’ve taken the franchise in a different direction, they’re aiming at a different audience… They’ve just totally… The cannon was pointing one way, now the cannon is pointing 100 degrees the other way. It’s a different thing. Ultimately, it’s a different thing, it’s not–
Chris: It’s not James Bond anymore.
Rao Dao Zao: It’s not James Bond anymore. It’s irritating — if you just admitted to yourselves that it’s not James Bond, and wrote some other spy thriller, which was not James Bond, which had its own framework and its own set-up and tear-down, it’s fine, made something new that worked as itself… But when you have the emotional, narrative, mythological baggage of Bond — and then don’t utilise any of that baggage, it’s like, “why are you dragging this baggage along at all?” Cut it loose, change the name — all you need to do is literally fucking change the names, and you have a whole different franchise on your hands and you can do what the fuck you like.
Chris: I don’t wanna bash it by saying they should have creatively retread old material, but equally, if you’re going back to Casino Royale, so effectively you are going back to the beginning and you’re restarting–
Rao Dao Zao: Well they intentionally, as far as I remember–
Chris: Why did that happen in SPECTRE? So, they’re doing the thing where, oh, we’re bringing back Blofeld now. So I’m like, why did we come up with these two villains in the middle that were kinda shit. Could we not have gone–
Rao Dao Zao: Blofeld immediately, just gone full Blofeld immediately.
Chris: Well they could’ve, but I mean, if you’re making a narrative decision to go back to Casino Royale, to start again, and Le Chiffre is a technically a villain that has been done before, albeit not in your canon series, but if you’re rebooting–
Rao Dao Zao: Yeah, you can do what you like, it’s a reboot.
Chris: Then, I keep coming back to Batman, the rogues’ gallery is there — you’ve got fifty fucking years of material to pull from. Why would you have this guy called Dominic Greene who’s this little woossy French dude with no charisma, no character, no storyline, nothing — when you could have gone, fuck it, bring back Goldfinger, reinterpret this.
Rao Dao Zao: (meaningless stutters)– save this for next week.
Chris: Yeah, we’re now going into SPECTRE, and the SPECTRE thing I think is the key one, because… The thing about it is, it tries to retcon, and I think we’re saying that, maybe, if they could have known SPECTRE was the end they were aiming for, they probably wouldn’t have made the films the way they did.
Rao Dao Zao: Somebody was on damage control. You shit the bed, I’m just washing the sheets, as the old saying goes.
Addendum: I stole that line from Bulletstorm and totally cocked it up. “You shit the bed, I just washed your sheets.” More evidence that I’m not as cool as I think I am!