Daniel Craig

Re(a)d “Dragon”: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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Her eyebrow is pierced. So is her nose. So is her lip. And so are her nipples. Her eyes are sinister. Her face is as cold and sharp as the winter wind in Sweden, and she is the female heroine equivalent to one of those inexplicable cultural zeitgeists that somehow sweeps nations the world over. Lisbeth Salander, the intense, almost punk-like female protagonist of the best-selling Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, is reincarnated in David Fincher’s own adaptation of the first novel in the series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. No, Fincher’s film is not a remake, it is a re-adaptation. Many questioned the point of making an American version of the Swedish film (which they spoke about erroneously), and without Fincher, there would have been no point. Though overtly a mainstream exercise in sadomasochistic filmmaking, it would have been nothing without David Fincher’s distinct brush strokes on the film. It unavoidably draws some comparison to the Swedish incarnation, starring Noomi Rapace, but it is best to think of it as an entirely separate entity. As aforementioned, this is a re-adaptation. And it is one hell of a re-adaptation at that.

Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist is called upon by the wealthy patriarch (Christopher Plummer) of the Vanger family to find the murderer of his dear great-niece Harriet. The cast of the Vanger family is like if you put Wes Anderson’s Royal Tenenbaums into a Swedish horror film and gave them hard liquor. At the same time as Mikael begins his search for Harriet’s killer, damaged hacker Lisbeth Salander is trying to make ends meet when her caretaker suffers a stroke and she is, once again (it seems) deemed incompetent, unable to take care of herself, and in need of a social worker. As the two storylines intertwine and cut from one to another, Mikael and Lisbeth eventually team together to create a bizarre Mulder-and-Sully-esque relationship.

It is difficult to shy away from comparison between Fincher’s film and the Swedish film from 2009, so I shall keep it short. In essence, the two are not comparable at all. Yes, here and there, you find various things to compare, mostly because they are based on the same story, but the two films offer very different experiences. That is honestly the most one should say if one is forced to compare the two: they are different films and offer different experiences.

Fincher’s film is distinctly Fincher-esque. From the slow tracking shots outside of a door with the sounds of a wailing young woman, to the scene composition of two men and a snowy outside chat (medium long shot showing the sides of both men with the door to a luxurious house in-between), to the yellow-green color palette of the past (as in the 1950’s) and the past (Lisbeth and Mikael’s past, being their former jobs and interiors of their jobs); it has David Fincher written all over it. It is this unique and singular style that separates the film from its Swedish counterpart. That is not to say that the Swedish film is not stylistic at all; it just was not directed by David Fincher. Rather than employing the same kind of kinetic energy from Se7en and Fight Club, or the romantic style of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the style in Dragon Tattoo seems more languidly paced and thoughtful, almost as gloriously lucid as his film Zodiac. Though, Fincher has honed his skills since then, and it seems far more polished. Granted, as polished as it is, and perhaps because of the film’s inherent mainstream nature, it is not Fincher’s best film. Unique and inventive to a point (as much as you can be with such a sprawling story), it just is not his best. It is plenty excellent, plenty enthralling, but not his best. And I hope he is fine with that, because this film is far from a waste of time.

When speaking about how the Swedish adaptation and the Fincher adaptation offer two unique and different experiences, I mean, primarily, this: the Swedish version is a long, drawn out, sprawling, and epic mystery procedural film. It sifts through evidence and suspects like the best episode of any procedural drama on BBC. The American rendition, however, offers elements of this but seems to ruminate more on the basis that it is a character study. It concentrates and focuses its energy on Daniel Craig’s Mikael and Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth. The film digs deeper into both characters’ psyches and motivations, and does so in the most expert way; the only way that David Fincher would allow it. You can think of his previous films as character studies as well, films that examine closely the actions of their protagonists with a Kubrickian microscope. And what Fincher and screenwriter Steve Zaillian observe is satisfying and a little bit unnerving.

Enter Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist sued out of his brains for libel, and thus running away from his demons. He is, as Salander says to the man who hired her to do a background check on him (for the sake of the Vanger family, who would then employ Blomkvist himself), “He is who he presents as.” But, of course, he’s a little more than that. The affair he’s been having with his co-editor has broken his family and thus his relationship with his daughter is fractured, and then fractured even a little more by her interest in going to a Bible camp. He is not an Atheist, he is a journalist; a man who has seen and written about far too much evil within the world (mostly corporate evil, we are led to believe) to acknowledge anything else than the written word of an honest reporter. Daniel Craig, who may be most recognizable to some as Bond, James Bond, sheds that suave exterior in place for a more hardened kind of character. Though, Craig seems to be still adjusting to this kind of procedural mystery story, almost as if he is not quite used to the feeling. Nevertheless, he does play the part fairly well, a part which requires him to be anything but that British spy. His look, a mix of seedy yet rugged handsome, fits Blomkvist in that he is the kind of man you want to trust, but would find yourself having a little trouble doing so at first.

And we have our heroine, our unorthodox hero, Lisbeth Salander. She has many holes in her body, and not just the physical kind. Maybe a little brutish and barbaric, she is not familiar with a constant state of happiness. The fact that she has a checkered history is written all over her. She does not wear this fact with pride. She wears it with the same kind of demeanor that one of her shirts reads in the film: “F*** you, you f***ing f***”. She does not give a damn, clearly. Or maybe she does. What I like about Rooney Mara’s performance is that she it is able to embody the coldness and harshness of the character that is obvious and, maybe, overstated to a degree. But she is also able to tone that part of the character down a bit and fit in a sense of vulnerability. There are moments in the film where her defense is down and where she honestly looks like she has been hurt, both physically and emotionally. Even with the cost of probably getting kicked in the groin, you kind of just want to give her a hug. There’s a fragility, an angelic quality behind the piercings, strange hair, and layers of makeup. This is who she is now, and she may have created it for herself as an escape, but Mara’s beautiful and intense performance makes it more evident that she was not always this way. (Luckily, this lovely performance is a completely different taste from that of Rapace’s. Something akin to pierced apples and pierced oranges.) The androgyny of the character is a fascinating aspect of the film. She does not look too polished or Hollywood as one may have feared, and the cheekbones Mara has allows for a complete transformation. Mara takes on the role with force and dignity all the while, and her emotional acumen for the character is deftly shown in the film at all times. In short, yes, I do think she deserved her Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

The look of the film says Fincher. One may note this is the second film in a row that David Fincher has done that features heavy typing. The interiors are mostly sparse and immaculate, with the interior lighting reflecting either a cold blue or a stinging yellow, both of which are reminiscent of the look for The Social Network. Jeff Cronenweth (who has worked with Fincher previously on Fight Club and The Social Network) takes the sterile and frigid motif of immaculate, minimalist space and applies it to the film. The shots are marvelous, going back and forth between the grotesqueness of Lisbeth’s lifestyle to the perfection of the Vangers. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score is frighteningly good, utilizing techniques that, for better or worse, send shivers down the audience’s spine.

Regarding the brutal and much talked about rape scene, I found the techniques used quite fascinating. It is one of the most viscerally harrowing scenes I have watched in ages, at once repulsive and yet captivating. What David Fincher does here is he makes the scene at times explicit and graphic and at others, completely suggestive. It is in these suggestive moments, where sound design plays a critical role, that the film becomes most uncomfortable and unpleasant. Because the viewer is unable to see “everything” as it were, the worst is left to the imagination in the same way that the absolute worst was left to the imagination in the castration scene in Hard Candy. Playing with facial expressions, sound effects, and musical score is the way to be completely sadistic to your audience, and it is done in grand fashion. Fincher, though, does not allow the audience to revel in these moments. One step and one cut at a time, he does not linger. Which makes the audience question which would be worse: the cutting away from expression and sound from one to another or if it would have been worse to have it linger on one long shot for the entire time and witness the entire thing like a fly on the wall? I am most satisfied (or at least as satisfied as one can be during a scene like this) with Fincher’s interpretation.

The main title sequence is extraordinary. Using visual motifs from the film, Lisbeth is projected in animated and oily glory, with wasps coming out of her pupil, the Dragon Tattoo she has on her back coming alive, the phoenix of her soul bursting into flames, many a USB cord throttling her, and the horror of male assault being suggested at various turns. It is a brilliant title sequence, one that pretty much sums up who Lisbeth is as a person/character. Reznor and Ross’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” plays during this, with the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O on vocals, and it screams and wails, almost as if Lisbeth herself were singing. The song fits, though I do not know why. The cover employs a much more electronically manipulated sound, and that seems to fit the theme of the film. Lisbeth is a harbinger of death, angst, pain, and fury, just as the song seems to suggest.

David Fincher’s vision for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an interesting, unrelentingly ferocious film. It combines the book’s languid, slow pace but includes the brutality of the characters and their psyches. Rooney Mara makes a star turn as Lisbeth Salander, a performance that is able to show both the character’s fury and fragility. While it may not be Fincher’s best work, it is nonetheless an example of his ability as a director. Here, Fincher directs a film as multifaceted as its female protagonist. Sinister, damaged, pierced, fragile, and fantastic.

Grade: A-

Main Title Sequence, feat. “Immigrant Song”

The Bond Sound

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The music of James Bond has always been one of the highlights of the entire franchise. From the likes of Sheryl Crow, Tina Turner, Carly Simon, Tom Jones, Gladys Knight, and even Jack White and Alicia Keys, the Bond music has become its own form of iconography within the canon. But, really, how similar are they and do they really deserve such praise? Granted, from song to song, the opinion has changed and varied, as it should. But everyone talks about a certain song, even if it’s not even related to the Bond series, as having certain Bond-esque qualities, or a song that would seemingly fit the series for one of the films. If anything, the music should embody the film and the character, the themes and the style of the movie, and the music will always, realistically speaking, reflect something of the times. With the big brass of Shirley Bassey’s voice on the title track to Goldfinger to the electronically manipulated sound of Madonna’s take on Die Another Day, each song has its unique place in Bond history. I’ve been enamored of the Bond films since I was 6 and I first heard the strumming sounds of the James Bond theme from, not Dr. No, but the video games 007: Agent Under Fire. It did not, nor ever will, compare to the one featured in Bond’s first adventure from 1962. There will always be something compelling about that music, something very interesting, even if it’s not very Bond-ian. It’s a trademark of the series, which often fits together with some intoxicatingly beautiful images of nude women in each film’s stunning main title sequence. I will be looking at each of the film’s theme songs and see how they compare as truly Bond-esque. The yardstick I will measure the songs against will be none other than John Barry and Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme”, first featured in the film Dr. No.

1. “The James Bond Theme” from Dr. No (1962), performed by Monty Norman

The theme that started it all. Creeping up on the audience right from the get go, as Bond shoots his gun at the audience and through the gun barrel, thus revealing a gorgeously minimalistic title sequence from title creator Maurice Binder, the Bond theme will always be incredibly iconic with all film goers. The strumming guitar riffs, which were held to a microphone and then manipulated in the studio adding a kind of echo, were originally intended for a musical Norman had been writing. After that had been scrapped, Dr. No composer John Barry requested to use it for a new spy/espionage/action movie. And then history was made. The theme plays in all suspenseful moments, being utilized for, what else, mood music. It makes the most indelible impression, and makes cinematic history, with a simple, “Bond. James Bond.” The heavy brass of the chorus is what it’s all about. The strumming riffs are like the stealthy entrance from the super spy and the big brass is Bond kicking ass. The theme is so smooth, so suave, and so cool that no one could possibly think of another theme being better suited for such a cold, calculated character as James Bond. Despite it being Bond’s first time on the screen, Sean Connery and the music burst onto the silver screen with as more confidence one could have thought. They know exactly what they’re doing here. It’s become a part of popular culture, and has inspired countless rip off and pastiches. But, really, nobody does it better. – A+

2. “James Bond is Back” (John Barry) and “From Russia with Love” (Matt Monro) from From Russia with Love (1963)

Maybe trying to chase the high that was the first James Bond theme, John Barry opted to use another instrumental for the titles of Bond’s second outing, From Russia with Love. Combining the title song (written by Barry, performed by crooner Matt Monro) and the James Bond theme, it feels very much like one of those “A new adventure, but still the same spy” kind of track. The exciting brass will always be iconic within the Bond music. The brass represents that thrill of the Bond films, an element that would disappear later in the themes. The song itself is an interesting piece. It doesn’t quite fit the character, but it somehow fits the film. Bond has never been an actual romantic. As Judi Dench’s M tells him in 1995’s GoldenEye, he’s a “misogynist dinosaur”. Thus, it’s kind of odd to encounter such gorgeous refrains worthy of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in a James Bond film. Bond sleeps with women and then disposes of them, and even though it was the second film, audiences already knew this. How many women did he go through in Dr. No? Three. The lyrics are cute, with the bridge pleading, “I’ve seen face, places, and smiles for a moment; but oh, you haunted me so”. The film’s Bond girl, Tatiana, is hardly the love of Bond’s life and would barely leave an impression on him. That being said, although the lyrics most definitely do not fit the film itself, the general composition and tone of the song certainly does. Full of lush strings, and gypsy-sounding tambourines, the tonal quality fits the locale and feel of the film. It’s a personal favorite of mine to listen to, yet it remains fairly underrated and obscure. – A-/B+

3. “Goldfinger” from Goldfinger (1964), performed by Shirley Bassey

The brass is back and louder than ever. Strong with the strings and ominous tone, “Goldfinger” is one of the most memorable tracks Bond has ever produced. With Shirley Bassey at the front, this began a grand tradition of hiring famous people to sing the Bond themes. The lyrics here are probably a lot weaker than people are willing to admit. It’s not the lyrics that make the song (“Such a cold finger; beckons you to enter his web of sin; but don’t go in”), it’s Bassey’s great voice. Resounding with thunder, Bassey makes the track so good; you kind of forget the lyrics are kind of terrible. Who else can hold a note like that end note? This most definitely fits the Bond type of music, and with good reason. – A

4. “Thunderball” from Thunderball (1965), performed by Tom Jones

With big brass remaining a hallmark of the Bond themes, we also have music whose lyrics talk about the film’s villain, rather than Bond himself. I don’t know if I quite agree with that, but it would work for the next forty or so years. Tom Jones powerful voice thunders during the track, which uses big brass much better than “Goldfinger”. With a title like “Thunderball”, it’s a good thing they took it to heart and made it as jazzy, classy, and loud as possible. It a strange way, although the lyrics are relatively simple, it manages to explore certain themes within the villainous canon of Bond bad guys than any other song in the series. Yet another winner in my book. – A-

5. “You Only Live Twice” from You Only Live Twice (1967), performed by Nancy Sinatra

Her boots are made for walking, she was shot down, and apparently, she only lives twice. Yes, Bond managed to snag Old Blue Eyes’ daughter for a Bond theme. But, the trend of songs only very vaguely related to the villains, themes, characters, etc. can be once again found here. Although Ian Fleming opened his original novel with a haiku (“You only live twice/ Once when you are born/ and once when you look death in the face.”), the song itself speaks vaguely of love and danger and being a stranger. It’s muddled and lacks enough of the Japanese influence to really suit the movie. It’s also kind of boring. – C

6. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Theme” (John Barry) and “We Have All the Time in the World” (Louis Armstrong), from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Was it because “You Only Live Twice” kind of sucked or did John Barry just have an itch to have an instrumental “reminiscent” of the original Bond theme start the film? Either way, it was unsuccessful. Using a strange, maybe electronic technique for the bass guitar, the music does not truly allude to the style of Bond, even with the use of the brass. I suppose I can give them kudos for making it sound like you’re going down a mountain, sort of. But, OHMSS was the introduction of the first new actor to play James Bond, Australian actor George Lazenby. So, I guess a new theme was in order for a new Bond? The title sequence uses images and scenes from past Bond films and passes them through an hour glass. And then we have the great Louis Armstrong, Satchmo, on his last recording ever with the sweet, melancholy “We Have All the Time in the World”. This wonderfully romantic tune does make sense here, as James Bond marries Tracy Vicenzo (Dianna Rigg). However, I’m not a big fan of his voice, so it isn’t something I would listen to. – C/B-

7. “Diamonds Are Forever” from Diamonds Are Forever (1971), performed by Shirley Bassey

Once again, Shirley Bassey returns to make mediocre lyrics look splendid in a very chilling theme. Also, Sean Connery makes his final return as James Bond, after Lazenby had stepped out after only one film. The main problem of many of the Bond songs is you have no idea who’s narrating the song. But here, again, it doesn’t really matter. I suppose one could assume that it’s Blofeld, because he’s the villain, but then she begins talking about men, so maybe Jill St. John’s diamond smuggler Tiffany Case. The song combines the chilling tone, the brass we know and love, and carefully chosen strains of disco-esque tones. It creates something pretty perfect, and that’s mostly thanks to Bassey’s helluva voice. – A

8. “Live and Let Die” from Live and Let Die (1973), performed by Paul McCartney and Wings

If you can’t have the Beatles, I guess you might as well have McCartney and Wings. The lyrics have nothing to do with the movie or anything. It’s only vaguely, and I mean vaguely related to the title. McCartney and his wife apparently could barely muster enough wit to explore the actual philosophy that Fleming satirizes in his title. If anything, it’s an exercise in self-indulgence and excess. Yes, the loud parts of the song are action pack and thrilling, but it means nothing and fails to leave any real mark emotionally on the viewer other than “oh that is so cool”. Even though it is, in my opinion, one of the series’ weakest songs, and honestly, most pointless, it has enduring strength. It’s like a half-assed version of “Band on the Run” in the way that it transitions (without reason) from style to style, but here it’s back and forth and not nearly as well composed. Despite the movie taking cues from Blaxploitation movies like Shaq and the films of Pam Grier, there’s no obvious influence of that music style in the theme. This was also Roger Moore’s first Bond, one out of seven. I guess they wanted to market him as exciting. Instead of honestly marketing him as kind of pithy and corny. – D

9. “The Man with the Golden Gun” from The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), performed by Lulu

Again, we find ourselves going back to our roots and vaguely talking about the villain in question, one Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee). Where “Live and Let Die” failed to marry Bond’s jazzy roots with newer, cooler rock and roll, “The Man with the Golden Gun” does so much more successfully. It feels like a crossover of jazz to rock, probably more the latter than the former. The electric guitar slashes through the song, and Lulu’s pop-esque voice works well for the song. While not nearly as skilled or convincing as Bassey, Lulu still manages to some extent disguise the fact that the words are poorly written and lackluster. – B+

10. “Nobody Does it Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), performed by Carly Simon

This song is definitely about you, Mr. Bond, and it is one of the first to have the lyrics explicitly address James Bond himself. I’m not sure why everyone loves this song, and I’m not sure why I even love it. It’s sweet, tender, and honest; qualities that do not match the Bond series in any way. Marvin Hamlisch’s disco inspired song manages to work, somehow. From the beginning piano riff, it’s totally romantic and somehow totally works. Carly Simon’s beautiful voice, so pop inspired and so recognizable from her song about that other singer, just fills the speakers with sweetness. I don’t know how, because it shouldn’t work. It doesn’t fit the rest of the music, where even “You Only Live Twice” hypothetically makes more tonal sense than this song. But it just does. – A

11. “Moonraker” from Moonraker (1978), performed by Shirley Bassey

Not even Bassey’s flawless voice can save the lyrics of this song. Not only is the title track to one of the worst Bond movies asinine, it is painful to listen to. It does not make any sense from anyone’s perspective. Not Bond’s, not the villain’s, not even the Bond girl’s. This is a new low for Bond.  – D-

12. “For Your Eyes Only” from For Your Eyes Only (1981), performed by Sheena Easton

Yet another song that is only vaguely related to the title and so totally does not make sense to the series or the film. If “Nobody Does It Better” was suited to The Spy Who Loved Me somewhat in tone, this one again fails to make any sense. This track is probably most explicitly related to disco/pop and thus most explicitly nonsensical and annoying. Sheena Easton’s voice is good though, but it would be much more suited for a romantic comedy of some sort than a James Bond film, of all things. – C+

13. “All Time High” from Octopussy (1983), performed by Rita Coolidge

The song that is fun to listen to but has no relation to even the title. It’s like the lyricists are getting really lazy here. Granted, the song itself is pleasant, with its soft rock inflections and pleasant performance, just not right for Bond. – C

14. “A View to a Kill” from A View to a Kill (1985), performed by Duran Duran

By track fourteen, you begin to question why the Bond songs are iconic at all. Besides Shirley Bassey, Carly Simon, and the Bond Theme itself, most of the songs have been incredibly lack luster. Here, with the number one band of the 1980’s, Duran Duran, we do have a little hope., The lyrics are still fairly terrible, but there is some kind of marriage of Bond’s themes and characters with that of very contemporary music. “Dance into the fire” is very action packed sounding, and that’s the best you can hope for this far into the game. (It may be sad that I only knew who Duran Duran was because of this song whenever people would bring them up.) – B

15. “The Living Daylights” from The Living Daylights (1987), performed by a-Ha

By now, Bond’s brassy sound of action had been pretty much thrown away In favor of sounding as contemporary as possible, and thus barely acknowledging the roots of Bond’s style or theme. It’s that theme that made Bond so iconic. Yes, it was all those other factors, but that theme left an impression so indelible on music history, that it’s something exclusive to that brand and to that character. Any spy can drive a cool car, play poker, and have gadgets and girls, but only one man has that theme. I’m not really sure what to make of a-Ha’s Bond theme for The Living Daylights. I’m not sure what the music means. It sounds somewhat orchestral, somewhat electronic, and somewhat like rock. It’s like an amalgam of those genres that is not messy exactly, but it’s far from perfectly executed. The falsetto singing throws one off a little. It’s not a terrible song, but it doesn’t really make sense. – B-

16. “Licence to Kill” from Licence to Kill (1989), performed by Gladys Knight

Much like “Moonraker” and “Live and Let Die”, “License to Kill” is the kind of song I will skip over if it comes up on my iPod. And since I happen to have the album The Best of Bond…James Bond on my iPod, it happens every so often. Continuing the trend of irrelevant lyrics and contemporary style over any relation to roots or the film’s themes, it has a very R&B feel to it. You would think that a film dealing with a Colombian drug lord would have a little spice to it. But, no, instead we get a plodding pseudo-ballad about heartbreak and the singer belting, “I got a license to kill, and you know I’m aiming straight for your heart”. So trite and annoying.  – D

17. “GoldenEye” from GoldenEye (1995), performed by Tina Turner

Is it wrong for me to just expect Tina Turner doing a Bond theme to be damn good? I hope not. The song is a nice return after a series of stupid, trite, and irrelevant tracks, a nice return to quality and mystery, much like the film itself. Pierce Brosnan’s first adventure as James Bond will always be one of my favorites, because, in a nut shell, it’s just a damn good movie. The song was penned by U2’s Bono and the Edge, so that definitely adds to the “hell yes” factor. Paying homage vocally to Shirley Bassey, Turner handles the song with integrity, adding throaty and gritty vocals to every note. The lyrics make sense too! Sung from the perspective of Alec Trevelyan, Agent 006, Janus, and the man who betrayed Bond, the song is actually a deep and interesting look at jealousy and greed. A Bond song that not only makes sense to the film but is also actually good? You’re kidding! I am not. “GoldenEye” begins with string plucks and walks the line of contemporary pop music and sweet, mysterious jazz, and does so beautifully. And Tina Turner is always, shall we say, Onatopp of things. – A

18. “Tomorrow Never Dies” from Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), performed by Sheryl Crow

With an entirely new Bond of the 1990’s we get an entirely new kind of song for each film. “Tomorrow Never Dies”, while not the masterpiece I think “GoldenEye” is, is nonetheless an interesting examination of Bond’s cold heart. The best guess as to whose point of view the song is supposed to be would be Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher), Bond’s former lover and current wife to villain. Or maybe it’s the cynical view of Wai Linn (Michelle Yeoh), who is, essentially, Bond’s match (one of the first legitimate matches, from what I remember). Sheryl Crow’s soaring vocals are always a treat, and the orchestral nature of the music is a lovely acknowledgement of Bond’s orchestral days. The song, though, is a bit enigmatic, but it at least makes some sense to an extent. – B+

19. “The World is Not Enough” from The World is Not Enough (1999), performed by Garbage

Another one of my personal favorites, and what I can say is a nice psychoanalysis of the film’s villain Elektra King, Garbage’s take on a Bond theme involves lush strings and passionate guitar. A proper homage to the Bond films of yore, with lyrics that correspond to dialogue in both TWINE and OHMSS. It is one of the most perfect examples of a rock crossover to whatever genre also makes up this fantastic song. Shirley Manson, the band’s lead vocalist, hits some pretty great notes in the song, and she looks fabulous doing it in the track’s music video. This span of great Bond tracks is short lived though. *sigh* – A

20. “Die Another Day” from Die Another Day (2002), performed by Madonna

I imagine that when it was announced that Madonna would sing the title track to Brosnan’s last Bond film, some people were thinking, “Wait, why didn’t they ask her in the ‘80’s, or even ‘90’s?” The lady who is still releasing singles to this day brought us a weird electro pop song that is so much less than what it aspires to be. Instead, it feels like the lackluster songs of the Moore films, the ones that basically made no connection between the lyrics of the song and the film itself, as opposed to the title. Maybe I’m being a little harsh, as one could make the connection that it relates to the movie’s bad guy, Gustav Graves. (On the electro pop note, it should be noted that here, more than ever, composer David Arnold employed a lot of electronic manipulation to the music.) But that’s stretching it. They probably should have asked her more than a decade ago to do it. – C

21. “You Know My Name” (Chris Cornell) and “The James Bond Theme” (David Arnold) from Casino Royale (2006)

Apparently, an origin story calls for a whole new theme, so rocking and rollicking that it’ll blow your mind. We’ve had songs that talk vaguely about the title, or about the villain, or talk vaguely about James Bond himself, and the occasional one that talks explicitly, and well, about Bond. But we’ve never had a James Bond theme that’s from the point of view of the Master Spy himself. Woo, we get an existential self-evaluation about what it’s like to be a cold killing machine. And, because it’s addressed to someone, we can then assume he’s talking to Vesper Lynd, the gorgeous beauty. What do I love about this song? Besides everything, the lyrics are powerful and relevant, the music pulsates, and, as an origin song, it totally makes sense. Is there any homage to the Bond theme itself? Not really, and with good reason. Yes there’s a little bras, but this is Bond for a new generation, one that is starting from scratch. So, the musical motif throughout the film is not the James Bond theme, but actually refrains from “You Know My Name”. But that isn’t to say Bond’s theme has disappeared completely. On the contrary, just as Bond finally discovers that he is the man with the license to kill, and we hear his “first” utterance of “Bond. James Bond.”, David Arnold serves us up with a retro, neo-classical update of the Bond theme. It honors the original but has its own kind of cool tone. I would say “You Know My Name” is my all-time favorite Bond theme, for it is song writing and storytelling at its best. – A+/A

22. “Another Way to Die” from Quantum of Solace (2008), performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys

I will forever resent Jack White and Alicia Keys for even stepping foot in the studio to do this song. The opening riff sounds like it was literally ripped from “You Know My Name”’s opening riffs and just put in bass form. The lyrics seem strangely more suited to something like, I don’t know, a hybrid of rap, pop, and R&B. The overall sound is a confusing mess, trying to do what Casino Royale did, but failing completely. That’s how I feel about Quantum of Solace in general; Casino Royale was so good that they wanted to recreate that feeling. The voices aren’t suited to the song and here we have a song that, perhaps like “All Time High”, seems to have nothing to do with the movie. A huge letdown, like the film itself. – C-

Conclusion:

The Bond music will always be memorable, but the only reason that is because of a select few songs that are deservingly iconic. There are a couple that are underrated, but for the most part, that “Bond sound” only exists in about six or seven of the over twenty-two themes produced in the entire franchise. The longest lasting franchise has inexplicably created the longest lasting impression of a certain kind of sound. Yet that “sound” is inconsistent, and nearly disappears for an entire set of the songs, which means almost a decade. Let’s hope that with the new song for the upcoming Bond film Skyfall, it’ll be a song with integrity and with good lyrics. We need that music to let us know that one man is on the screen, Bond. James Bond.

Top 5

1. James Bond Theme – Dr. No


2. You Know My Name – Casino Royale


3. GoldenEye – GoldenEye


4. Goldfinger – Goldfinger


5. Thunderball – Thunderball