08 November 2012

Ranking the James Bond Teaser Sequences

Tomorrow is the premiere of Skyfall in the U.S. I have my ticket, I am ready to go… and in the waiting period I wish to stop and reflect on the Bonds of the past and ask the most important question: “Is that opening scene thingy any good?”

The “Teaser” or “Pre-Credits Sequence” is a 007 tradition since From Russia with Love, and quickly evolved into their own mini-movie. The best of them combine action and mood and give the viewer the sense of meeting James Bond for the first time, every time. Here is my rundown on all the teasers from the films, rated on a scale from “000” to “007.” I think you know which ranking is the high one.

Dr. No: No teaser, although the assassination of Strangways and his secretary feels like one. Rating: N.A.

From Russia with Love: The test-run for this device doesn’t have Bond in it, just someone disguised as him, but it effectively sets up the mood and plot—viewers know what’s at stake right away. It also makes Robert Shaw one of the best villains in the series right out of the gate. Rating: 005

Goldfinger: This is the movie where it all comes together, and this is the teaser that shows how it will be done. Great one-liners (“Shocking, positively shocking”), style (white tuxedo + flower under wet suit), sex and violence, and a door slam that brings on greatest theme song of the series. Rating: 007

Thunderball: A touch confusing at first, but you do get to see Connery slug a widow in the face—even if it’s really a man, baby! Then an explosive fistfight with pounding John Barry music erupts and we close on a great gadget. Wonderful stuff. Rating: 006

Casino Royale (1967): Peter Sellers appears and follows a man. Nothing funny happens. Rating: 000 and borderline N.A.

You Only Live Twice: More plot-centered than others, it has great VFX and a moody score for the space capsule capture, but Bond’s involvement is just a quick flash to excuse the movie’s title. Rating: 003

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Cleverly introduces a new Bond, features more thrilling fisticuffs and Barry music, and has gorgeous photography that alludes to the tragic themes of the movie. The meta-line works in spite of every chance that it won’t. Rating: 007

Diamonds Are Forever: Hey look, it’s Sean Connery! And he punches some people, strangles a woman with her own bra, and dumps a poorly-cast Blofeld into a mud bath. It’s nowhere near as good as it sounds. Rating: 004

Live and Let Die: No Bond, just three agents getting killed in odd ways. I’m bumping it up just a bit because of “A New Front Line” funeral sequence (needlessly repeated later in the movie). New Orleans funerals swing! Rating: 002

The Man with the Golden Gun: No Bond again, except as a statue. Makes the villain look a bit incompetent and silly, and the whole thing gets repeated at the end of the film. Boring. But, Marc Lawrence as the gangster, so I’ll bump it up from the bottom. Rating: 001

The Spy Who Loved Me: The most famous teaser of all, with the signature stunt of the series, the ski-jump into eternity. This score won’t surprise anyone. Rating: 007

Moonraker: Moody theft of the space shuttle, then the immense rush of an aerial fistfight, and one point off for the final dip into silliness… but at least that sets up the tone of the whole film. Can’t say you weren’t warned. Rating: 006

For Your Eyes Only: A great film that makes its only serious misstep with this weird return of Blofeld and one of dumbest lines in 007 history (“I’ll give you a delicatessen in stainless steel!”). Feels more like EON giving Kevin McClory the finger. However… great helicopter stunts, nice shoutout to Tracy. Rating: 002

Octopussy: Sort of the “default” teaser, it hits the notes of action and humor for the Moore era, but the mini-jet chase just isn’t spectacular enough for anything beyond “that was kinda cool.” Rating: 004

Never Say Never Again: The only “co-credits” teaser, but I’ll count it. Bond infiltrates a jungle hideout, pulls some stunt work, get easily killed, and turns out none of it was real. Rating: 001

A View to a Kill: An almost-great… superb ski action and showdown with a helicopter. And then… the Beach Boys show up. WTF? And I thought Moonraker was goofy. Rating: 003

The Living Daylights: The best teaser of the 1980s, with John Barry cranking it up during one of the finest vehicular action sequences in the series. Great concept of the infiltrator in a war game, Gibraltar setting, sexy stinger at the end. Rating: 007

Licence to Kill: A rare teaser that gives the villain the central role. Bizarrely, Christopher Nolan borrowed the plane stunt for The Dark Knight Rises. It works much better there. This seems rather ordinary and unenthusiastic, which will plague the whole film. Rating: 003

GoldenEye: Another villain starrer (although we don’t know he’s the villain yet). Despite my dislike for the movie, this is a definite crowd-pleaser with an outrageous last stunt. Too bad the music starts to suck immediately. Rating: 005

Tomorrow Never Dies: Brosnan’s best opener, it’s straightforward action fun—which is basically the rest of the movie, no variant—and has the best score for a teaser outside of John Barry. Rating: 006

The World Is Not Enough: Just too damn long, with more plot than necessary. The boat chase is the best action scene in the film, but it feels like it’s in the wrong place. Rating: 004

Die Another Day: I like the grim and overcast look to it, and that it concludes with Bond captured is a nice touch. Nothing else remarkable about it; it simply does the job. Rating: 004

Casino Royale (2005): Stylistically a good call with B&W and showing Bond’s first two kills to reference the novel. Too bad that Bond’s first kill is a fight in the stall of an ugly men’s bathroom, a terrible way to introduce a new 007. Thankfully, the film gets better after this. Rating: 002

Quantum of Solace: Action! Action! Action! Noise! Shooting! Action! Action! The Second Unit Shall Never Relinquish Control of This Film! I Have No Idea What is Happening! Rating: 000