Assignment Two: Critical Approaches Of Media Products

Skyfall header

Few movie franchises can call themselves institutions.

Ian Fleming’s James Bond has lived with us for over 60 years and been immortalised on the silver screen since Sean Connery took the role of 007 in the 1962 film Dr. No. The face of Bond may change over the years; so far 6 men have played the British spy, but one thing remains the same- the continued love and admiration from audiences, young and old, across the world. And with the official announcement of the new James Bond film, SPECTRE on the 4th of December at Pinewood Studios, the anticipation and excitement is tangible throughout the media and social networks for its release next year.

And it hasn’t just been audiences who have been influenced; numerous areas of popular culture have been touched by the power of not only the films, but by the brand. As well as this, other movie franchises within the spy genre such as Mission Impossible and the Bourne series cannot help comparisons being made between themselves and the original secret agent, who may not have created the genre, but was the first to define it.

To give an example of how widespread James Bond’s reach is, the ‘tactical espionage action‘ video game Metal Gear Solid 3 released in 2004 and set within the Cold War era sees the hero, codenamed ‘Snake’, at one point conversing with his mission control team about From Russia With Love

But how has the Broccoli family, MGM and Sony pictures managed to maintain this unprecedented level of universal appeal- conveyed to its audience throughout the years by devices such as narrative structure, characters and imagery amongst others?

Firstly, we have to identify the specific audience in which they construct their media product to. Being that James Bond is established within a multitude of demographics, we can target the strongest of these and apply the characteristics of James Bond to why it resonates with them in particular.

Our DOREEN derived from two key aspects; one being the genre and themes encountered in the films, which we will allude to in greater detail shortly, and the second being taken from social media sites Twitter and Facebook that enabled us to ascertain who James Bond is aimed towards.

With 234,000 followers on Twitter and 3.8 million likes on its Facebook page, the sample collected from the number of followers/friends on my personal accounts who follow them aswell revealed that, apart from organisations, were all male and aged between 18-52. To narrow this down, we took into consideration the age classification of James Bond films which are normally rated ’12’; bringing the higher scale of that range down- further decreasing it is the ‘most popular’ section on the James Bond Facebook page which reveals the average user is between 18 to 24 and from London, England.

Twitter 007

Facebook 007 headerFacebook audience 007Therefore we will assume our DOREEN is a 24-year-old male. Now that we have established this, we can explore all the attributes of the product and see how they are tailored towards this specific audience.

James Bond oozes masculinity and is seen as a figure males want to be and females want to be with. Daniel Craig and his predecessors before him have all been traditionally handsome; tall, dark and carrying an air of mystery and maturity. His style matches his lavish environments and the tuxedo has become synonymous with the character. The luxury he surrounds himself in, from the expensive cars he owns, gadgets he is able to master and success with the ladies may resonate with those who envision themselves to be like him.

Timothy Dalton in Licence To Kill (1989)

Timothy Dalton in Licence To Kill (1989)

A small test was carried out to get people’s initial thoughts on the face of James Bond and what words were conjured up when they saw the current Bond Daniel Craig and Pierce Brosnan; who played 007 4 times between 1995 and 2002.

piercecraig

The image shown to a select number of people to gauge their initial reactions.

Notice how both images are taken out of character of the secret agent, yet numerous individuals first response was ‘James Bond’. This renders how powerful the role is when you consider Brosnan hasn’t played Bond in 12 years. Other observations included they were smart, professional, stylish and carried a certain swagger or self-confidence about them. These actor’s qualities are channeled into the character of Bond and magnified to an infinite level through the powers of the silver screen.

The narrative of the films, when boiled down to its simplest denomination is good versus evil. Unlike superhero films, we are able to connect closer to him on a personal level quite possibly due to his humble background of being an orphan and rising to become the best agent in the British Secret Service. Yet, he still possess an otherworldly quality which Isaac Chotiner of www.slate.com discusses;

”Bond is just human enough to be believable- and yet sufficiently aloof and suave to appear mostly untroubled by the world’s real worries. He thus provides just the right amount of escapism. The best fantasies are those that appear not entirely  unattainable.”

The rebranding of James Bond seen in Casino Royale wanted to capture a ‘back-to-basics‘ approach, yet retain the links to its esteemed history. Gone was the reliance on Q-Branch gadgets, and in its place came the new Bond who ‘brought the danger, seductive rawness and realism to Bond.’ Unprecedented was the emotive nature of Bond and his relationship to Vesper Lynd, for instances. In previous instalments, this would have been casual and nonchalant, but the audience sees him fall in love and gets his heart-broken as she ultimately betrays him. In one pivotal scene, James Bond opens up to Vesper and reveals feelings that normally Bond wouldn’t have felt or encountered, ”I have no armour left. You’ve stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me- whatever is left of me. Whatever I am…I’m yours.”

This is unparalleled to previous Bond girls who were nothing more than trophies for James Bond to win. Now, in the modern era of Bond, audiences see strong, powerful women in roles of equality and superiority. Take for instance Naomie Harris’ character of Eve in Skyfall who is out in the field with Bond on a mission in Istanbul.

Probably the best example of James Bond demonstrating gender equality in the 21st Century is Dame Judi Dench’s portrayal of the head of MI6, ‘M’.

Previously, this role was played by males but 1995’s Goldeneye ended this male dominance and for the audience, this was a refreshing, modern change that mimics powerful women who now occupy the higher echelons of society and organisations. Also, to a young male audience, she balances the role of both an authoritative figure and a paternal overseer; who is somewhat sentimental about Bond, that they could relate more warmly to and is a good contrast to the male personas featured. Jane Martinson from The Guardian website delves into the victory for feminist around the world gained from Judi Dench’s character,

”The main cause for celebration is Judi Dench as M, the real hero of the film (Skyfall). Not only is she in charge but she shows both emotional power over her subordinates and human failure. She is no longer the joke older woman, there to act as the only foil to Bond’s charms, but a real character with heroic traits.”

He is a valiant icon and serves Queen and Country with loyalty and honour, even when this is tested to the limit by his superiors. In the dramatic opening of Skyfall, Bond faces the consequences of M’s decision to put the lives of the many over her most trusted agent, and implores Eve to take a shot that hits Bond and leaves him plunging to the depths of a ravine hundreds of feet below. But even after being left for dead, Bond returns back to his commanding officer in an instant when he hears London is in danger of terrorist attacks.

James Bond usually mirrors real-life threats that are occurring within a particular period. Take for instance the earlier incarnations where villains such as Blofled, Alec Trevelyan and Max Zorin all had some affiliation with the KGB or based upon Communist organisations or ideologies- due to the common enemy at the height of the Cold War being the East and especially when the franchise is targeted more to a Western audience, seeing James Bond defeat and undermine a physical extension of these philosophies can be viewed as a beacon of hope to the masses in that time and a boost to morale.

These brave, gallant attributes are accentuated by the main theme tune in conjunction with the gun barrel sequence that normally opens the feature.

The denotation of this sequence is James Bond walking into frame in a locked down shot and firing into the camera. Immediately after, blood trickles down the top of the screen and the camera waivers to the next transition.

In terms of connotation, the point of view the audience is taking is down the sights of a gun aimed at the  protagonist- this implies that Bond is always in danger and although they do have him in their sights, 007 always gets his man- reinforced by the blood coating the enemies view-point.

Coincide this with Monty Norman’s composition of the James Bond theme. Possessing a grandeur only fitting for Bond, the music climbs up to an ascent- complying to the main character striving above and beyond the call of duty before the hard, sole notes strike with connotations of bullets or impacts inflicted by the British spy. This combination fuels the adrenaline surge that audiences seek and expect when viewing a James Bond film- and typically, a male demographic responds more positively to scenes of gun battles and action sequences.

Another strong aspect that is a constant theme throughout the James Bond films, and books, is the role of females and how they are represented. What is compelling is the evolution of ‘the Bond girl’ and the attitudes that they face.

Again, we took opinions from individuals on the first thoughts that sprang to mind over images of the first Bond girl Ursula Andress, who played Honey Ryder in Dr. No, and Eva Green who joined Daniel Craig in his first outing as James Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale.

Images presented to people to gather what they associate to the two actresses depicted.

Images presented to people to gather what they associate the two actresses depicted with.

Reactions gathered included the aesthetics of the actresses; describing them as beautiful, mysterious and also sexualized in reference to Ursula Andress’s outfit. A very interesting response came from Alice Price who said that the image on the right was Americanized and Eva Green’s character gave an air Britishness. So, this shows that there is an inbuilt preconception based on looks that an audience brings with them whilst watching a James bond film- one theory for this is how we see women in the mainstream media on a daily basis and the contextualization of how they are associated with specific areas of modern culture that may bring these connotations to the surface.

Having these beautiful women alongside the lead character is a further degree to the lifestyle he leads, and their sexualisation would appeal to young men. This care-free nature of Bond’s love life derives somewhat from the time the character originated from and due to the author, Ian Fleming.

Neil Clark wrote on the Daily Express website,

”He (Ian Fleming) once declared women to be ‘like pets, like dogs.’ Outside of the bedroom, he much preferred the company of men- whom he described as ‘the only real human beings.’ Women were there to be chased and bedded and then discarded.”

We outlined earlier the rebranding of James Bond ushered in with Daniel Craig, but from Dr. No right up until the Pierce Brosnan era, blatant sexism was rife, and characterised in Bond’s multiple romantic conquests and even leading ladies names like Pussy Galore and Xenia Onatopp that have sexual innuendos attached to them.

From the target audiences’ perspective, and based on the direction of the films, the male gaze is a device used to see the world from a male perspective. What also helps is a strong masculine figure that a young male audience would aspire to be and could envision themselves being in liaisons with beautiful women and travelling to some of the most luxurious locations in the world.

We can see an example of the male gaze from the movie poster used to promote The Living Daylights.

James Bond living daylights

The high angle shot behind the model draws the eye to her prominent features which are fairly visible through her see-through dress, while the slogan ‘The new James Bond…Living on the edge‘ has connotations with his promiscuous encounters with females. The fact that she also is concealing a weapon can be tied in with 007’s wild, dangerous encounters with women.

The brand, and the partners it is affiliated with, including Aston Martin, Omega and Heineken, can be used to appeal to their target audience so they will consume these products. Due to its connection with Sony, product placement is used for the majority of Bond’s gadgets ranging from mobile phones and laptops. Young male adults are generally tech-savvy and as the franchise is correlative with cutting-edge gadgets and technology, this invites the audience to be in awe of products utilised by the leading man and elevates their status as products.

Sonyericsson_C902

Sony Ericsson’s advertisement of their Cyber-shot phone featured in 2008’s Quantum Of Solace plays on the audiences’ inner desire to become James Bond. The tagline ‘I (Sony Ericsson logo) Bond. James Bond) suggests that Sony Ericsson is James Bond and that if you have this phone, you too will be like him. The image of Daniel Craig and his piercing blue eyes denotes James Bond and the brand, but deeper still is potentially drawing attention to what the phone’s camera is capable of doing and the pictures it is able to take.

Finally, on the same theme of branding, as one representative of VisitBritain said on Sky News, ”Bond is known the world over; he is quintessentially British, he’s very glamorous and the movies are full of adventure and our tie-in is about living the Bond lifestyle.” VisitBritain carried out a marketing campaign in conjunction with Sony Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox on the release of Skyfall to take advantage of Bond’s appeal. According to statistics taken from visitbritain.org, 40% of potential visitors are more likely to venture to locations seen in films.

bond-is-great_press-image

Even though this isn’t targeted towards the intended audience the product is aimed towards, seeing these billboards or advertisements around the streets almost justifies their love of the franchise and shares in the pride and patriotism James Bond exudes.

James Bond has wowed audiences with spectacular set-pieces that defy the realm of possibility, made us laugh with wit as dry as a vodka martini and because of all these things, Bond will always return to millions of fans for decades to come.

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