Don't worry: I have pictures. But like any good spy...I've hidden them....
A trio of mildly interesting docs centered on the fictional cinematic British spy. History has released James Bond Gadgets, a collection of three documentaries originally aired on A&E in 2002 and 2004. The Gadgets of James Bond and...The Gadgets of James Bond (they didn't even give the second one a new title), both from 2002, appeared as episodes of A&E's Modern Marvels series, while 2004's Ian Fleming was an entry from their Biography series. Hard-core Bond fans won't find anything new here...although it is fun to see one or two of the more famous movie gadgets in action. However, a lack of comprehensiveness and haphazard construction limit these short docs to merely "Intro to..." status. No extras for these only-okay transfers.
First up, The Gadgets of James Bond. After the narrator makes a brief case that the cinematic gadgets dreamed up by the Bond producers actually inspired real spy tech wizardry (without giving any examples), the doc jumps right into Thunderball's rocket belt designed by Wendell Moore...a real-life marvel not inspired by the Bond movies―a good example of how slapdash these docs are (Moore's 1960s test footage is pretty spectacular). Next, the "Little Nellie" autogyro from You Only Live Twice is discussed, as 85-year-old creator Ken Wallis unconcernedly zips around in a sister prototype (we're told the real one used in the movie is now in a museum). Next up, Doug Redenius, V.P. of the Ian Fleming Foundation, demonstrates his Q Boat from The World is Not Enough (it looked cooler in the movie). I would have preferred more time spent on his vast collection of Bond memorabilia, or closer looks at his other Bond vehicles, such as the Moonraker boat, or the For Your Eyes Only sub, but no such luck. Criminally, we're teased with a chance to see the famous Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5...before we watch some guy driving around a plain red version of the car (I'm sorry...but who cares?). A trip to the Beaulieu Motor Museum in England gets us back on track, of sorts, with a glimpse at the Rolls Royce Phantom II used in Goldfinger, before we make unnecessary visits to The Counter Spy Shop in NYC and Special Tactical Services in Virginia (a training school for would-be spies)―both of which have zero to do with the gadgets used in the Bond movies.
Next, the other The Gadgets of James Bond focuses a bit more solidly on the task at hand when it showcases the Aerostar Minijet from Octopussy...or should I say a prototype of the original, since the original doesn't fly anymore (lots of info on its creation, prior to its appearance in the movie, from Bob Bishop and Corkey Fornoff). A decidedly sad journey down to Florida comes next when Jordan Klein, who worked on the underwater fight sequence for Thunderball, relaunches one of only two remaining underwater sleds from that movie. Klein has some interesting behind-the-scenes info on his part of the production (it sounds tedious as hell), before he "launches" the dull-looking sled...which has to be dragged by a boat through shallow water and reeds. A big disappointment, especially when Klein tells us how depressing it was once the filming was over in 1965 (I don't know about you, but I already know moviemaking ain't glamorous; I sure as hell don't want to be reminded about how all of it is fake). Much better is a visit with Jay Milligan, who devised the spectacular bridge "barrel roll" jump in The Man With the Golden Gun...although the actual car isn't shown (for docs supposedly about Bond gadgets...the actual gadgets are in short supply). Some cool stories about the production (apparently, that car chase in Bangkok was done "wild"), and I love how he states he'll never divulge the secrets behind the stunt (good for you, Jay). We're back to the Beaulieu Motor Museum, and again with Doug Redenius (how much do you want a time machine to go back and buy that toy attaché case sold after From Russia With Love?), before the Wet Bike, first introduced in The Spy Who Loved Me, is briefly discussed. A final trip to the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. rounds out the doc (what a cool place...but do they carry my book in their gift shop?).
Finally, Ian Fleming is a typically speedy, sprightly entry from that beloved short-hand documentary series, Biography. Due to time constraints (only 43 minutes), serious details from James Bond creator Ian Fleming's life are necessarily left out (why did he get kicked out of Sandhurst, you ask? Got the clap), but in general, it provides a suitably intriguing intro to the famed author's life. A good selection of stills, some nice vintage clips from his contemporaries discussing his life and work, and a willingness not to mask over Fleming's faults―both literary and personal―mark this as a good effort. As for the two The Gadgets of James Bond...I'm sorry: call me picky, but if you can't get me inside the DB5 from Goldfinger and Thunderball, so I can see the control panel and see that rear windscreen plate pop up and those machine gun barrels pop out...you haven't shown me anything. How about that wristwatch garrote from From Russia With Love? Or the Disco Volante Hydrofoil from Thunderball (was anything left of it after the explosion?)? Or the safecracker/photocopier from On Her Majesty's Secret Service? Or how about Scaramanga's golden gun from The Man With the Golden Gun? Or the moon buggy from Diamonds Are Forever...or a truly awe-inspiring engineering marvel: Jill St. John's bikini top from said movie?
Click here for some naughty peek-a-boo fun! (I threw in Lana Wood, too, because...well, because you know why) Or any number of other gadgets from those other movies starring the other fellows pretending to be James Bond? If the documentaries are about James Bond movie gadgets, then I want to see the props. The actual ones. Not trips to spy museums, or spy training schools, or spy equipment shops.
The full-frame, 1.33:1 video transfers for these docs look...just okay, with their pre-hi-def origins showing through mightily: video noise, a sometimes fuzzy image, and muted color.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo audio track is fine, with low-level hiss, a decent re-recording level, and not much discreet separation effects. English subtitles are available.
No extras for James Bond Gadgets.
I'm assuming the 50th anniversary of the Bond film franchise is somewhere behind the decision to release James Bond Gadgets...but honestly, you'll get a better look at the props if you just watch the movies. A smattering of mildly interesting info, some depressingly real insights into how fake movies really are (that's fun, isn't it?), and a brief but well-done intro into Bond creator Fleming's life. A rental is about the best I can do for James Bond Gadgets.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.