James Bond Gadgets DVD Review

James Bond Gadgets is a 2006 documentary first broadcast on the History Channel that explores the physics and gadgetry ofthe world of James Bond. I'm not always a huge fan of these types of things (I prefer trailers and interviews on DVDs to "the making of" production bits as they destroy some of the magic of the films) but I got this for nothing as a gift and so watched it anyway. It's not bad. Each chapter looks at a stunt or gadget with seven in particular coming under scrutiny. These are The Bell Textron Jet Pack as seen in Thunderball, Little Nellie - the Wallis Autogyro as seen in You Only Live Twice, The Q Boat as seen in The World Is Not Enough, The Aston Martin DB5 and V-12 Vanquish, The Freedom Acrostar Jet as seen in Octopussy, Aqua Tow Sleds as seen in Thunderball and The 360 degree Barrel Roll as seen in The Man With The Golden Gun. The documentary contains clips from the films and interviews with all the sundry who were involved and - while it's always interesting - you will experience some deja vu if you have the James Bond Ultimate Editions and have explored the extras. They've talked about all this stuff countless times there. One nice addition though is Cubby Broccoli and his wife Dana (both sadly no longer with us) interviewed about some of these gadgets and the series in particular. These interviews derive from the late seventies I believe and include some interesting titbits about him trying to get the rights to Casino Royale and his thoughts on Ian Fleming. As someone who believes the real James Bond series died with Cubby Broccoli I always quite enjoy his mumbling and somewhat unfathomable presence.
One thing I did find slightly boring here were the sections on the feasibility of the gadgets. All have some sort of basis in reality and science (even, believe it or not, Pierce Brosnan's invisible car) but I personally don't really care if Sean Connery's jetpack or whatever worked in real life. The trawl through these retro items is fun though and a reminder that the old days had more charm because they used to do things for real much more. CGI has reared its ugly head in the more recent films (wouldn't call them Bond films myself) and the results have been highly comical - Daniel Craig falling out of an aeroplane without a parachute and landing without a scratch to dust himself off like Benny Hill! In the Cubby days though they had to do this sort of stuff for real. One such example is the 360 degree Barrel Roll as seen in The Man With The Golden Gun - a fantastic chase scene which builds up to an amazing 'spiral' car stunt involving the fragments of a 'bendy' bridge. This is one of those stunts that you wouldn't have thought was possible but they actually worked it out and did it with a stunt driver. It was - we learn - incredibly precise. The speed had to be between 39.5 and 40.5 mph and placement within 2 inches or else it all would all have gone wrong. It only lasts a few seconds in the film but it was worth the effort.
I have no interest in cars myself but James Bond cars are of course slightly different and fun to peruse here. The classic Bond car is the Aston Martin DB5 driven by Sean Connery in Goldfinger. The scene where he recieves the car is wonderful and established the Q scene as a staple of the series. What is quite interesting is to learn that Connery didn't like the car much. He thought it was rather small and uncomfortable. It looked great though and was a perfect fit for Bond. The DB5 had numerous gadgets including an ejector seat and water jets and it's enjoyable to hear the special effects boffins tell you how they created all of this (even if you might have heard this all before). We also get Pierce Brosnan's Aston Martin V-12 Vanquish from Die Another Day. This was the infamous invisible car from a film that hasn't aged very well at all. Although the concept was derided as very silly we are assured that it is apparently based on real technology. By reflecting the surroundings of a vehicle with mirrored shields you can apparently make something look invisible. No idea if this is true but it's a nice car anyway!
What else do you get here? The Gyrocopter (mini helicopter) from You Only Live Twice. It was designed by Ken Wallis and actually flew. "Little Nellie got a hot reception," says Bond in the film. "Four big shots made improper advances toward her, but she defended her honour with great success." It was great coup to get it in the film and you get the impression you couldn't move in Pinewood for gadgets in the glory days of the Bond series. Everyone wanted their particular car or invention in one of the films. One other fun thing to revisit here is the Acrostar jet from Octopussy. Bond (played by Sir Roger of Moore of course) takes control of a miniature Acrostar jet in an unnamed Central American country and dodges a heat-seeking missile before destroying an aircraft hanger in spectacular fashion. It's fun to go back to the sillier more grand scale capers of bygone years. Nothing was too stupid or expensive to put in a James Bond film in those days and that was esssentially the charm of the series. The Ian Fleming Foundation and International Spy Musuem also feature in the film amongst various conventions and you get some behind the scenes stuff.
While it's difficult to present anything terribly new about the world of James Bond, the documentary is always interesting and features some nice interviews. If you have the Bond Ultimate Editions and the gazillions of extras available on them already this might not be an essential purchase but it's decent enough anyway. I quite like the Bondish techno theme on the DVD menus too!
- Jake

c 2011 Alternative 007