Brilliant one-liners. Posh suits and tense firefights. And Vodka Martinis – shaken, not stirred, naturally. James Bond is a movie fanchise classic, a juggernaut of a beast with 23 films to its name and massive box office earnings to boot. Of course, none of this would have been achieved if the films weren’t endearing, something you can watch time and time again, and they certainly are that… I myself have recently been trawling through the back catalogues watching some of my favourites just recently. Yet with these viewings I’ve noticed something rather peculiar, something that inadvertantly ages Bond and makes some of his films into slightly peculiar viewing. And no, it’s not the massive amount of sexual innuendos you seem to miss as a kid – it’s the technology he uses.
Allow me to explain. Take Die Another Day, a fairly recent addition to the Bond franchise. In it you have all the staples of what makes a Bond film, and then you have… the the Aston Martin ‘Vanish’. A car that turns invisible. It sounds cool, and in many ways it sort of is – yet the reality is the end product ends up looking little silly, copious amounts of CGI being badly justified by one line that basically says it’s all done by mirrors. It’s a desperate attempt by the film makers to keep up with the cutting edge in the tech world, where gadgets and gear improve so quickly nowadays it’s hard to even keep up, never mind innovate. Even the phones Bond uses in recent movies end up looking dated, with no signs of the touch screens we are so used to today – instead they are all clunky grey bricks with big buttons, which look like they could cause more injury to the bad guys if Bond was just to throw the phone at their heads. The end result is that it all ends up looking a bit peculiar when you watch some of the recent films back, with the Brosnan era being the worst offender by a mile.
Big deal, you think. It’s simply a case of technology always marching on. The old films must suffer from the same problems, right? Yet the odd think is, they don’t, or at least not as much. The perfect counterpoint to the Aston Martin is the Lotus Esprit featured in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, which at one point dives off the end of a pier in spectacular fashion, only to turn neatly and awesomely into a mini submarine. Sure, it’s pushing the boundaries of realism a bit itself, but the weird fact is it ends up being more believable as a piece of cutting edge technology than the Aston Martin ever does, despite the film being made 25 years earlier.
Some of the gadgets from even earlier films pull off the same effect – Bond’s attaché case in From Russia with Love is packed full of goodies such as gold sovereigns hidden away in a secret compartment and a tear gas defence mechanism, but it still seems cool and innovative despite everything that’s followed it. And this is a film from 1963! Another example is the rebreather from 1965’s Thuderball, which even makes an appearance in Die Another Day basically unaltered… Making it a gadget that is simple, but clever, cool and innovative enough to pop up as useful almost 40 years later. Compared to the exploding pens and laser watches from more recent Bonds, I know which gadgets I’d pick, if only for the fact they weren’t likely to explode when I started writing a letter. It’s little wonder the Daniel Craig films have gone back to the core basics of Bond simply having a gun and his wits –all the gadgets ever seemed to do before that is age ungracefully.
Does this affect the quality of the films and your ability to enjoy them? Of course not, naturally. As long as the dry quips and Bond mannerisms are there that we all know and love, you would have to be a bit of a killjoy to let a slightly outdated phone completely ruin a film for you. But just look out for it the next time you watch a Bond film – because it turns out if you want some of the coolest gadgets, you may have to go for a blast from the past…