The Idea Behind Skyfall's Amazing Opening Credits Sequence (And How Adele's Song Came To Be)

It's difficult to imagine what 007 in the modern age would look like without Daniel Craig, who brought a new and brash energy to a screen presence once defined by the signature martini, his gadgets, and the glide of an Aston Martin. His Bond is the most personal of them all, as we're introduced to a blue-eyed recruit who ultimately becomes a rugged pawn on behalf of Her Majesty's Secret Service. Craig's streak isn't perfect, akin to most Bonds, but not even "Quantum of Solace" or "SPECTRE" could take away from his very best.

Where "Casino Royale" reinvigorated the contemporary legacy of James Bond, it was "Skyfall" that solidified his place in the 21st century. The combination of director Sam Mendes, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and composer Thomas Newman took what could have been a traditional Bond adventure, and turned it into a deeply personal action epic that ranks among my favorites of the series. Not only does "Skyfall" work as a fitting tribute to the 50th anniversary of 007, but as of today, the film marks a decade milestone of its own accord.

But before we see cyberterrorist Silva (Javier Bardem) enact his master plan to dismantle MI6, however, "Skyfall" continues a 007 tradition with its fantastic opening title sequence. The exciting chase leading up to it sees Bond fail his mission in Istanbul, sinking into the water below by means of an unfortunate shot.

Bond through the Looking Glass

When it came to designing the opening sequence, Mendes had reached out to music video director Daniel Kleinman, in addition to VFX house Framestore, to make the magic happen. While recording a director's commentary track for "Skyfall," Mendes talked about how he wanted him to take Bond to a place he'd never been before:

"Bond should go down into the water and effectively travel down into the underworld, kind of across the River Styx, almost like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. On some level, we should experience the story of the movie in Bond's unconscious, as it were. He took that and brilliantly ran with it. I pushed him hard to keep the thing moving forward, keep the camera moving forward, traveling the whole time, so we felt like we were on some kind of a journey."

Much like the opening of "Die Another Day," this sequence shows 007 at the mercy of water, abandonment, and pain. Everything has come crashing down on account of Judi Dench's M, the superior who put him in the compromising position to begin with. I love how we get to see Bond swallowed by the underwater pit that had already been dug for him, which slowly reveals something much more personal and bombastic the deeper he goes.

Tombstones, blood, and a reckoning of the past are all but on the horizon for him, which Adele's music so perfectly illustrates. I'd be surprised by the ingenuity of Kleinman's aesthetic if he hadn't already shown in years past that he knows how to kick a Bond adventure off to the races.

Daniel Kleinman's opening titles have been a Bond staple since the Brosnan era

If you also thought that the title sequence of "Skyfall" felt like a loving tribute to a long-standing Bond tradition, then that's probably because Kleinman has been constructing these openings all the way since 1995. From "Goldeneye" to "No Time to Die," Kleinman has a considerable grasp on what makes them so rousing. "Quantum of Solace" is the only gap in the series without his involvement, as the graphic design folks at MK12 took over that responsibility.

There's a uniformity to Kleinman's work, although they all feel inherently special to their respective films, especially during the Craig era. His work on the "Die Another Day" intro feels inherently tied to the eclectic tastes of the early 2000s. When you look at where Kleinman started with "Casino Royale," which made great use of the classic gun barrel, you can see a pattern forming.

Each opening is arguably as important to Bond's story as the films themselves. They personally put the MI6 agent through a series of abstract images that spell out the bigger picture awaiting him by the mission's end. With any luck, Kleinman will stay onboard for the next Bond adventure. But when it comes to "Skyfall," however, he can't take all of the credit for this incredible sequence.

Sam Mendes used Nobody Does it Better as Adele's reference point

Beyond upholding tradition, the songs of these title sequences evoke a mood that informs the viewer of the tone, story, and thematic underpinnings of the Bond adventure they're about to see. Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger" is a bold mission statement based on its titular villain, while something like Lulu's "The Man with the Golden Gun" is a bouncier tune that elicits the buoyancy of Roger Moore's 007. But the moment Adele unleashed her vocals, "Skyfall" became a series benchmark.

In the director's commentary, Mendes couldn't say enough great things about Adele. Given how personal her songs are, he could see that the Grammy Award-winning artist was initially nervous about getting it right. In order to get her in the right frame of mind, he recommended listening to the song that kicked off "The Spy Who Loved Me:"

"Look at 'Nobody Does It Better,' which is an incredibly personal song, and you know, Carly Simon's presumably not entirely writing about Bond. But in the end, she wrote something, Adele, that was remarkably specific to the picture."

When you play the two back to back, it's clear what Mendes was thinking about, and how Adele transformed it into the hit we know now. The parallels are all but similar, as they both start soft and smooth, before striking this prosperous high note that makes the ballad feel so grand in terms of their respective stories. It joins "Live and Let Die" and "For Your Eyes Only" as a song that plays extraordinarily well on its own terms when divorced from Bond.

Adele recorded Skyfall in under 10 minutes

Mendes only showers praise for Adele's vocal presence in the film's opening. Not only was getting the song in a quick turnaround, it also helped guide Kleinman's direction (via commentary track):

"Adele went away, read the script. I told her the story, and one day, about three or four weeks into shooting, this song turned up. It was perfect, really. Atmospherically, the mood, the lyric, everything was just bang on. So Danny was able to work with the music in his ears, and structure, and judge the rhythm of the whole sequence to the music."

What's even crazier is that, according to a report from Digital Spy, Adele had recorded the now-famous song in just under an hour. "Within 10 minutes, she put down most of the vocals [...] It was the most absurd thing. She's fast, but it was really quite phenomenal," says her manager Paul Epworth. With everything there is to admire about "Skyfall," it's a testament to the stellar intermingling of Adele's vocals and Kleinman's visuals, that their opening sequence will be as revered in 50 years' time as "Goldfinger" was.

"Skyfall" is currently streaming on Prime Video and Netflix.