Put best in the documentary by film critic Jason Solomons, “There’s sex, there’s death, there’s duty, there’s sacrifice, there’s a kiss, there’s a murder.” The James Bond franchise has stood the test of time and transcended generations as a cherished cultural gem. It remains an influential force in cinema and film score composition: 60 years, 27 films, 7 actors and 1 iconic theme.
In the wake of Daniel Craig’s reign as Bond ending with 2021’s “No Time To Die,” “The Sound of 007” comes at just the right time. Directed by Mat Whitecross (“The Road to Guantánamo”), the documentary chronicles and honors the decades-long history of the beloved “James Bond” sound.
“The Sound of 007” is not guided by dull narration, but by a collection of interviews that often provide first-hand testimony from those involved in the creative processes of the Bond films and their musical counterparts. The film also frequently inserts scenes from the Bond movies, pictures from the music production archive and video performances of the legendary theme songs. The film opens with several “Bond Affiliates” — including actor Rami Malek (“No Time To Die”) and film composer Hans Zimmer (“No Time To Die”) — sharing the “Bond” tunes closest to their hearts, from “Skyfall” to “Nobody Does It Better” to “Live and Let Die.”
Whitecross takes the audience back to the moment composer John Barry (“Dances With Wolves”) defined the sound of Bond by transforming stage composer Monty Norman’s “Good Sign, Bad Sign” into — according to film director Sam Mendes (“Skyfall”) — “the most famous piece of music in film history.” “Good Sign, Bad Sign” was written about an East Indian community in Trinidad, and possessed a classic South Asian sound. The sitar of the song’s melody was replaced by a guitar, producing what we now recognize as the unmistakable Bond theme. Somehow, with its air of suspense and sophistication, this unusual arrangement succeeded in embodying Bond himself. Author Jon Burlingame (“The Music of James Bond”) referred to the theme as “dynamic and exciting, even a little sexy” with “elements of jazz, pop and rock.” Norman describes his experience at the premiere of the first “Bond” film — “Dr. No” starring Sean Connery. “When Sean says ‘Bond. James Bond’ the music begins. The reaction was amazing.” The audience went wild, as they still do today when Bond’s iconic line is followed by the extraordinary eruption of brass, percussion and strings. And so, “one of the most famous melodies in cinema” was born.
Individualizing the music for each “Bond” film was a delicate process, which Whitecross repeatedly highlights in his film. With each new artist, a wildly varied list including Madonna, A-ha, Tina Turner, Duran Duran and Louis Armstrong, “Bond” reinvented itself with a unique story and sound. Whitecross focuses on Zimmer, who said “Bond” music “got (him) through” his adolescent life, as a prime example of the artists who made the development of the “Bond” music possible. In his work on “No Time To Die,” Zimmer wove his own novel motifs into the original theme while drawing inspiration from past “Bond” tracks. Zimmer said that the emotional weight of the film’s ending allowed him to “leave the John Barry world behind and do (his) own thing.” “No Time To Die” also incorporated the poignant love theme of Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All The Time in The World” from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969) into the score. “No Time To Die” was nominated for Best Sound and Best Visual Effects and won Best Original Song at the 94th Academy Awards. By examining the franchise’s musical progression, Whitecross reveals the secret to the timelessness of “Bond”: present-day influence on a time-honored theme.
Whitecross also provides anecdotes of blunders in “Bond” music history. Nancy Sinatra, who sang for 1967’s “You Only Live Twice,” was nervous out of her mind and nearly botched her recording. Radiohead was meant to sing for “Spectre,” (2015) but their proposed track was rejected because it wasn’t originally written for the movie. In perfect Radiohead fashion, they wrote a mournful ballad complete with angelic strings as an alternative. “Spectre” director Sam Mendes controversially decided it didn’t quite match their vision and went in another direction with Sam Smith. Amy Winehouse was meant for “Quantum of Solace,” (2008) but the gig ultimately went to Alicia Keys and The White Stripes’ Jack White, whose “Another Way To Die” was infamously ill-received. Despite it all, “Bond” remained impervious to expiration.
Just as the films pay tribute to those that came before, the “music of Bond” remains faithful to its original melody. George Lazenby’s rendition of Bond in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” produced one of the franchise’s most famous, tragic lines: “There’s no hurry, you see? We have all the time in the world.” In Craig’s “No Time To Die,” the same sentiment is reused twice. First, when he tells his love interest, “We don’t need to go faster. We have all the time in the world.” Second, as his last words to her: “You have all the time in the world.”
The last act of “The Sound of 007” is dedicated to Zimmer’s requiem, “Final Ascent,” which assists the powerful finale of “No Time To Die.” According to Craig, “The whole last section of this film, without the music, doesn’t soar.” Film critic Anna Smith added, “That closing scene and the music really connects with you emotionally, in your gut, in your memory and reminds you of all the Bonds you’ve seen before … and the sense of that coming to an end.” The documentary conjures the same heartbreaking emotion as the final minutes of “No Time To Die.” Bond and its music take a well-earned bow.
“The Sound of 007” closes with a final shot of Craig as Bond. He looks to the sky and welcomes his fate before the film cuts to a montage of the “James Bond” films through these sensational 60 years. The credits roll to Carly Simon’s triumphant “Nobody Does It Better.” And indeed, nobody does.
Daily Arts Contributor Maya Ruder can be reached at email@example.com.