Film has always held great cultural significance.
From the beginning with images of a train coming into station that frightened people straight out of the theatres, movies are an affecting experiences. Every once in a while one concept takes root so fully in our shared cultural awareness that just one film won't do, we need more, and more. One of the best, most substantial examples of that is the Bond series. James Bond has represented the pinnacle of style and cool for decades, and this is due in large part to the trademark lavish title sequence that accompany every entry into the series. We will examine the typography of a selection of these sequences to see what we can learn about how typography is used to support this cultural touchstone.
Dr. No - 1962, Starring Sean Connery, Ursula Andress and Bernard Lee
The start of it all, in film of course. This was not the first novel in the Bond series which is a testament to just how popular this character was, it could be delivered in any order and audiences would devour it. This sequence is important to discuss because it sets the standard for the title sequence of a bond movie. We get the white dot transforming into a gun barrel and Sean Connery's reflex shot to deal with his apparent assassin.
This begins the graphic sequence of colour and sound that is extremely vibrant and exciting. It is an abstract demonstration of the action and intrigue that awaits the audience and will become a playground of experimental visuals and artistic expression that becomes part of the allure of Bond films in the future.
Interesting though the typography is not as flamboyant as the rest of the title sequence. I believe it is set in the very utilitarian Helvetica (extended for Dr. No). This continues on throughout the rest of the credit sequence. At first this seems like an odd choice but as the visual continue to get crazier and more elaborate the type stays stable and grounded. This reflects Bond himself, as the agent surrounds himself in crazier and more dangerous situations he always remains solidly devoted to his mission and country. This is an important theme throughout the Bond series of films, as flirtatious and rogue as Bond can appear he will always, no matter what, complete his mission. Helvetica perfectly reflects this ideal as no matter what the surroundings and what the context if you set the type in Helvetica it is always going to get the job done.
Goldfinger - 1964, Starring Sean Connery, Gert Frobe and Honor Blackman
From the first to the best (in my humble opinion) Goldfinger has everything iconic in a Bond film, intrigue, an excellent cast, a fantastic twist at the end, and some great tech. The title sequence is also iconic as well as trendsetting. Images from the film are projected on to a models body creating interesting texture and movement in the images. It is all coloured in a gold light that perfectly nails the tone of the gold-obsessed villain of the film.
Quite interesting to me is that the images projected on a body are very similar to another effect that I see in a lot of more recent title treatments: the double exposure. The best example of this is seen in "True Detective
". The marriage of the human form and a specific image creates a very interesting dynamic that works well here in Goldfinger.
Again we see a very subdued typeface selection here, this time the type is set in News Gothic. A very robust, heavily used typeface it serves much the same function as the original type pairing, functionality in the face of chaos and constantly shifting images and sound. This typeface however has slightly more character than the previous one. It has a taller, slimmer profile. It evokes a slightly more sleek, stylish feeling that reflects the Bond that had been evolving over the past few films. This typeface reflects the more confident exploration of Bond as an icon of style and elegance that really attracted viewers to the character well above what was described in the original novels.
The World is Not Enough 1999, Starring Pierce Brosnan, Robert Carlyle, and Denise Richards (really?)
From the best, to the worst. The World is Not Enough is arguably (but not really) the worst of the Bond films and the title design reflects this entirely. Swimming goo envelops the screen and models and hit the tone of the film way to hard on the nail. It is similar to Goldfinger with the ambiance of the film being draped in the key material of the film, then gold, this time, crude oil and refined gasoline. Where in Goldfinger it was an excellent subtle support to the visual style this goes way too far and just drags the whole feeling of the sequence into a kitschy relic. The custom typeface design also goes too far with a metallic overlay and a heavily slanted italic style font being as subtle as a shotgun blast.
The secondary type holds up as well as a straw hut in a tornado. Serious contrast issues can't even be rescued by, do I detect a drop shadow? While this is a return to the classic sans-serif support style utility font it feels as thought out as the rest of the visuals in this tableau. Design is in the details and this is an excellent example of why that is important.
Skyfall 2012, Starring Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem and Naomie Harris
The newest entry in the series, Skyfall was in my mind a stunning visual masterpiece. More of an art piece than an action romp of the past movies this film represented a darker more introspective examination of James Bond. The title sequence supports this motif in a nearly heavy-handed way but manages to pull it off by never letting up. The camera constantly pushes further and further into the damaged psyche of Agent 007 and the man within.
My distaste of the typeface Futura is well documented, but I have to relent and commend the designer for using it appropriately to display the cast and crew of the film. It's hard edges, geometric shape and angles represent the darker, harder tone of the new films perfectly. This Bond is back to basics and Futura is just that as well, circles and lines are the very clear basis of this typeface. It's a skeleton and that couldn't be a more fitting metaphor for Bond in this film. To conclude the visuals of the title sequences may represent the themes and style of the film they are designed for it seems clear that the typeface represents Bond himself. The man is in the words. Next time we examine the smaller screen and explore type design in television.