The Spectre of Blending Signs

Nov 09 2015

I really enjoyed Spectre, the latest Bond outing. In particular, the film is full of references to other (Bond) movies. Apart from the fact that Spectre weaves together strands from all three of Daniel Craig’s previous outings, I noticed quiet specific references to several earlier Bond films, including From Russia With Love, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (via Inception) and The Spy Who Loved Me. And those are only the ones that I remember (I wasn’t taking notes in the cinema).

Of course there are even more references to Casino Royale, Quantum Of Solace and Skyfall and Spectre completes the narrative arc of these films. This type of referencing (and sometimes stealing) is common in art, and great ideas are almost always blends of existing ones (read more on intertextuality and conceptual blending here). The idea of referencing other works of art is very common in comedy, with South Park a very good example of this.

To supplement James Bond, I rewatched 3 Austin Powers films over the weekend. Even the titles of the Austin Powers films blend with their source material - The Spy Who Loved Me becomes The Spy Who Shagged Me and Goldfinger becomes Goldenballs. Much of the humour in these films comes from the juxtaposition with what you know and expect, with a different twist to add surprise. In the same way, our enjoyment of music has much to do with the way it sometimes matches and sometimes deviates from our expectations.

In fact, Spectre is a great example of conforming and disrupting expectations, and arguably Skyfall was an even better example of this and one of the few recent Bond films that seems to divide people (some love it, like me, and some really do not). Many elements of James Bond are highly consistent across almost all 24 in the (official) canon, which is why I often use this as an example of “structure” in format (James Bond follows a “Killing the monster” plot structure, with elements which are consistent with many myths and fairy tales (such as ‘magic weapons’) and other elements that are more specific to James Bond.

For example, an opening action sequence almost always leads into the theme song and title credits with their blend of animation and images from the film. Interestingly, previous Daniel Craig Bond appearances have moved the “shooting into the eye” sequence from its usual place at the beginning of the film to the end title sequence. Spectre reverses this, bringing this sequence back to the beginning of the film.

Overall, Spectre is a fascinating and enjoyable blend of the old and new, bringing together the style and themes of the ‘new’ James Bond of Daniel Craig with elements from the early James Bond films, including a lighter touch and slightly more tongue-in-cheek feel. It looks as up-to-date as any Bond film, but feels a little more like the globetrotting, glamorous and throw-away style of Sean Connery and Roger Moore.

I recommend seeing Spectre, and let me know all the references I’m sure I missed. In fact, I think I may well go and watch it again!

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