The opening credits sequence of a James Bond film, and the often-chart-topping crooning that accompanies it, has helped establish the identity of countless 007 installments these past 60 years. But it’s the sequence that immediately precedes the jingle and the titles that tends to really set the tone for a new Bond adventure.
Think of Sean Connery’s humorously disguised amphibious arrival en route to detonating a Latin American drug lab in Goldfinger. Or Roger Moore’s over-the-top remote-control helicopter thrill ride in For Your Eyes Only. Timothy Dalton’s skydiving franchise debut in The Living Daylights gave fans an idea of what to expect from his new spin on the character, while Pierce Brosnan’s River Thames boat pursuit in The World Is Not Enough got the adrenaline flowing early on for his third stint as the suave secret agent.
In the Daniel Craig era, these moments have become a whole new creative arena for stunt and special effects teams. A cool and gritty prequel-like vignette in 2006’s Casino Royale and a riveting auto chase that leaves Bond catching a stray bullet to the shoulder in 2012’s Skyfall stand out as fan favorites, in fact. Those sequences, and many, many more dating back decades, largely fell under the purview of Oscar-winning special effects supervisor and Academy member Chris Corbould, who marks his 15th Bond excursion with Cary Joji Fukunaga’s No Time to Die.
Corbould first came aboard the franchise as an assistant on 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, making him a bridge all the way back to Moore’s tenure in the tux. He further plied his trade as a technician on films like Superman II and The Delta Force, with Chuck Norris, before eventually graduating to the ranks of supervisor. He first took the Bond reins himself on GoldenEye in 1996, and with what he says is his final spin around the globe with Ian Fleming’s enduring creation, he wanted—as ever—to get the blood pumping right out of the gate.
“Our aim is always, at the start of the film, to grab hold of the audience in the most spectacular way we can,” Corbould explains. “We had a bit of a rocky start on this film with Danny Boyle [leaving the project], and then Cary came on board and the script was actually just rewritten from scratch. So, we were all throwing ideas into the hat.”
What he came up with, in concert with various other teams across the production, was a dazzling pursuit through the cascading streets and rooftops of Matera, an ancient, picturesque city in southern Italy. The setting’s unusual geography allowed Corbould and company to craft a pulse-pounding sequence that moves from motorbike to Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5. Only this time the silver sportster—which first debuted in 1964’s Goldfinger—comes with a lot more bite.
“The DB5, for me, that was thrilling, because it was now going to be in aggressive mode rather than just a cameo, driving off into the sunset,” Corbould says. “We had a walk around the city and discussed various options, and it was then left down to Lee Morrison, the stunt coordinator, and myself. We went back to Matera probably 15 times, walking the city, finding little interesting places. We kept going back to Cary, reporting what we found, how we thought the sequence could evolve.”
Corbould and his team then sought out 10 separate versions of the car for shooting purposes, a number that left key members of the British car manufacturer stunned to silence when it was first uttered. How to assemble this fleet? Buying 10 cars at $1 million to $2 million a pop wasn’t feasible. Nor was renting them. After all, would you loan out your cherished DB5 to a James Bond movie? In the end, Aston Martin supplied two original versions of the car for non-action shots, and agreed to build eight more that special effects crews could wrangle for various other shots.
Two of the new builds had driving pods on the roof, for stunt drivers to operate as the actors performed inside. Two were essentially toys for the stunt teams to go mad building out elements of the sequence. Two others were on reserve, should the production decide to go in a drastic new direction with a stunt. (A parachute gag is never far away when it comes to Bond.)
The final two cars were tricked out for the DB5’s most dazzling displays: gadgets and weaponry. Yes, Corbould was able to go full Batmobile with the car this time around, outfitting it with machine guns, explosive mines and a classic smoke screen.
“The DB5 was a full action car in Goldfinger, and that’s where the first introduction of gadgets came about, but there was a lot of discussion on this one,” Corbould says. “Should we stick to the traditional gadgets or should they be updated? If you remember, in Skyfall, we blew up the DB5, so it gave us a bit of scope to experiment a little bit. We went from the single-barrel machine gun coming out the small light to this revolving mini-gun out the main headlight, which gave us great scope to open up all the bullet impacts in that square.”
The final result serves up just the kind of action appetizer audiences have come to expect, an exhilarating and exotic spectacle that soon enough gives way to Grammy-winning singer Billie Eilish’s sultry addition to the Bond canon.
Following No Time to Die, Corbould will bring his special effects career to a close next year with a Marvel swan song: Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. He plans to then move into second unit directing and beyond, but the trade he has dedicated half a century to finds itself at a crossroads. The proliferation and cost-effectiveness of computer visual effects has pushed the handmade side of special effects to the margins as filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and franchises like Bond and Mission: Impossible are more and more the exception for capturing practical action, in-camera. Corbould, who won an Oscar for Nolan’s Inception in 2011, hopes the art form can maintain a foothold as he bids farewell to the franchise that afforded him such exceedingly rare opportunities.
“One thing I do think is, as great as the CG world is, it certainly dates a film,” he says. “When you look at it now you think, ‘Oh my God.’ But you can go and watch Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. No, and they’re all still great films. The Bonds gave me the resources and encouragement to really show off my craft. They’ve let me do things that any other film company would have said, ‘No, we haven’t got the time. We haven’t got the money. It’s too big. Just do it CGI.’ Bond, no, they let me do it. It’s been the perfect playground.”