The gunbarrel sequence that opens all but two of the official Bond movies is surely one of the smartest pieces of branding in movie history. Immediately you know you’re watching a Bond film, and its absence makes the most recent films seem rather unsatisfying, at least to those of us who take a purist’s delight in collecting all the DVDs and novels- even the ones we don’t like.
As James Chapman points out in his excellent book Licence to Thrill, the sequence also establishes a theme important to the classic Bond narrative- that of looking. The rolling gun sight that eventually captures Bond in its glare is an image repeated many times in the movies proper, but on a broader level the focus of the sight is a metaphor for the camera that controls what we see and when we see it, important in thriller movies such as Bond but also to cinema as a whole.
There is also something cartoonish about the sequence. Bond, reduced in size, is only definable by his dinner jacket, while the red blood that saturates the image droops across the screen in lurid globules- in the early movies they look hand-drawn. In these respects it is the best form of branding because it tells the viewer what to expect without actually telling them- all the information is visual and registers on an unconscious level.
Perhaps because of its minimalism, the sequence is one of the most parodied elements of the franchise. The ironic effect typically comes from the unlikely stand-ins for Bond- Homer Simpson, a pantomime horse in the case of Monty Python, even Jason Voorhees. It has also been a consistent feature in marketing for the films, as in the trailers for the Roger Moore films (which all utilise it) or the poster for The Living Daylights. By dropping it from its inaugural position in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, the producers were underlining that these movies should be considered separate from the rest of the series- which is at the very least a smarter judgment than this: