At the risk of pun, I’ve for years suggested that one of the keys to the ‘timeless’ nature of James Bond stories is the way in which they fundamentally pit hero against the clock. ‘Thrillers,’ as 007 author-creator Ian Fleming labeled them, that build to climax by creating races against time.
‘Time,’ too, that is environment.
When are the ‘scent and smoke and sweat of a casino’ nauseating? The answer, as Fleming himself wrote for his 1953 Casino Royale: ‘at three in the morning.’
Each of the first three EON Productions James Bond movies featured a signature countdown.
Think of Dr No and you invariably recall hearing that ominous voiceover announcing a reference to time, ‘and counting.’ In From Russia with Love and in Goldfinger, we are shown a close-up of Bond’s Submariner, as if to see through his eyes and thus feel what he feels in anticipation of explosions that James Bond himself has set to come at the Russian Embassy.
Fast-forward to 2006 and the James Bond watch has become so much a part of who and what Our Man is that we no longer need to see it in order to see it. As 007 dives under the water in despirate effort to rescue Vesper, you have to wonder what his Seamaster needs to tell him about the time he has left in holding his breath.
When Bond asks Felix Leiter at the seedy bar where they’re meeting in Quantum of Solace, ‘How long have I got?’ don’t tell me you haven’t found your mind pre-conditioned and set for a close-up on the face of the Planet Ocean when you hear the reply: ‘Thirty seconds.’
— James Bond