Saturday, 25 February 2012

Thoughts on the evolution of the 007 gun logo

I thought Jasper Hartog's article on his blog on the evolution of the 007 gun symbol or logo ('De evolutie van het 007-logo') was fascinating. He identifies the different designs of the symbol in UK and US posters and charts how the symbol subtly changed over the years. There is little I can add to the article, and in this piece I won't repeat his film-by-film history of the symbol. However, Jasper's article raised in my mind a few points that are worth addressing from an evolutionary perspective.
The use of the 007 number in the iconography of Bond posters and branding can be broadly accommodated within five phases. The first phase, lasting from Dr No (1962) to, and including, You Only Live Twice (1967), is characterised by symbols competing to be established. The symbols – that is, the UK and US versions – weren't just competing against each other, but against a range of other forms of branding. The UK version, which features a gun superimposed on the 007 figure, was also adapted for use on the Pan paperbacks. The US version introduced the combination of the gunbarrel and the back of the seven of 007. In a way, both had emerged independently within two different cultural environments. But given that there was only one Bond series, this duplication was unlikely to last, and the US version won out. It is not difficult to see what gave the US version its survival value. It is neat, fun, memorable, easy to draw, and adaptable.

The absence of any gun symbol in the UK poster of Goldfinger (1964), and from the US and UK posters of Thunderball (1965) and You Only Live Twice suggests that at that time neither symbol was deemed an essential part of the Bond iconography. The symbols had not established themselves firmly enough in cultural space to be certain to survive from one film to the next. Jump to 2012 and the symbol will certainly appear on Skyfall posters; it is now an extremely successful meme, having been replicated in the previous seventeen films, and is firmly implanted in the minds of millions via the films, posters and other media.

The second phase, spanning On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) to The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), is therefore characterised by the extinction of the UK symbol and reasonably consistent use and design of the US (now universal) symbol. Its use continued from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) to A View to a Kill (1985), but the design was more variable, this variability representing the third phase. None of the symbols had a chance to become successful in its own right, because none survived into the next film. We could regard the use of the 007 symbol for The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989) as a short fourth phase, as its design is similar for both films and harks back to its design in the 1960s and early 70s.

A prolonged gap between Licence to Kill and GoldenEye (1995), and the introduction of a new Bond actor, allowed the design of the 007 gun symbol to be changed relatively drastically: the seven was now angular compared with its more rounded antecedents. It is possible that this variant emerged because the time gap and the new Bond created a cultural gap or a degree of isolation that permitted the symbol to evolve without being pulled back so strongly to the earlier designs. It has since become a successful variant, surviving for all films after GoldenEye. This fifth phase demonstrates that the design and use of the symbol generally follows that of the film that preceded it, except where there is a degree of cultural isolation, in which case the symbol can evolve more radically.

We can see this again with Die Another Day (2002). Although the 007 symbol is ostensibly the same as that used for The World is not Enough (1999), as Jasper Hartog noted, there is a slight bulge at the left-hand side of the horizontal bar of the seven, which was not present before. Whether this was introduced as a copying-error is uncertain, but it survived into the next film, Casino Royale (2006), showing that the symbol of Die Another Day, and not, say, Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), was used for Casino Royale.

There is one other useful rule. The gradual, and sometimes not so gradual, evolution of the 007 gun symbol, has created a relative chronology. In other words, we can roughly date the symbol simply by its design – in archaeological terms a form of relative or typological dating.

I'm very grateful to Jasper Hartog in suggesting the evolution of the 007 symbol as a topic for my blog, and for sharing his ideas. He also provided the images of the symbol.

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