"My name is Hampster...The Hampster." In celebration of 2012's anniversary of 50 years of James Bond in the movies, Top Gear, the international smash-hit motor series from the U.K., produced Top Gear: 50 Years of Bond Cars, a clip-heavy retrospective of some of the most memorable cars in the Bond series, hosted by Richard Hammond. Certainly uneven in coverage, and frequently off-track (the last part of the doc is little more than a commercial for Skyfall, discussing...motorcycles), Top Gear: 50 Years of Bond Cars's interviews with some of the big names in the series (Guy Hamilton, Roger Moore, the new guy), copious amounts of scenes from the movies, and lots and lots of Bond porn shots of the cars, should mildly satisfy Bond fans...but I'm not so sure about fans of Top Gear.
The pluses and minuses of Top Gear: 50 Years of Bond Cars are evident right from the first segment on Dr. No. After various Bond movie clips are shown with some teaser shots of "the most famous car in the world," the Aston Martin DB5 featured most prominently in Goldfinger, Hammond begins with a discussion of Dr. No, presenting some interesting tidbits about the first Bond car used in a chase scene, albeit briefly (the production staff's meager budget allowed only a rental of Bond's Sunbeam Alpine...for 12 shillings a day). However...we only see the Sunbeam in the movie clip―no actual Sunbeam today is shown. If you're a fan like me of Top Gear's U.K. and American versions, then wouldn't you expect to see Hammond drive one of these? Or race it? Or smash it up? There's not even a photo of one restored. Granted, it's not the most exciting Bond car by a long shot, and it's not in the movie very long...but when you see how much padding there is to come in the 62-minute Top Gear: 50 Years of Bond Cars, you'll wonder why someone couldn't slip in a 15-second shot of a restored Sunbeam Alpine. After all...this is supposed to be about the cars, isn't it?
From Russia With Love is only briefly mentioned, before the discussion turns to Goldfinger, with heavy emphasis―and rightly so―on the iconic Aston, as well as the fictional Bentley "Mark IV" from FRWL, which the Aston replaced (Hammond drives an unspecified "1930s supercharged Bentley" here). Director Guy Hamilton is interviewed, and he has some amusing stories about the production (he claims inspiration for the Aston's revolving license plates and the ejector seat). Next is a look at You Only Live Twice, introed by the new guy pretending to be James Bond, Daniel Craig, who stumbles on Hammond's request for his own favorite Bond car (because he doesn't know the series), and then picks one of the weakest cinematic examples: the Toyota 2000 GT convertible (apparently, Mr. Craig is such a superstar now he doesn't have to be polite and remove his black sunglasses for this interview). The car itself is totally cool...but in the movie it doesn't even have any weapons, and Connery doesn't drive it during the chase; clearly, the "Bond car" of You Only Live Twice is "Little Nellie," the Wallis WA-116 Agile Series 1 gyroplane that Bond uses in aerial combat.
Eon Productions continues their shunning of George Lazenby by ignoring On Her Majesty's Secret Service, with Hammond moving on to Diamonds Are Forever, where the infamous 2-wheelie blooper involving that beautiful Mustang Mach I is discussed by Hamilton. Next up, the bus gag from Live and Let Die is briefly examined, with more detail given about the legendary AMC Hornet's spiral jump in The Man With the Golden Gun. Roger Moore talks about the Lotus Esprit in The Spy Who Loved Me, with Hammond showing the toy models used for some of the underwater gags. Top Gear's efforts to do what the Bond producers couldn't do there―get a real Lotus to operate underwater―is briefly introed, as well (they save the actual gag for the doc's end). Moore amusingly states his favorite Bond car is the Citroen 2CV used in For Your Eyes Only's comic chase, so Hammond drives one, while looking at two other "Bond on a Budget" cars: A View To A Kill's Renault 11 Taxi and Octopussy's Alfa Romeo GTV6 (which Hammond also drives). Movie clips only of The Living Daylights's Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante and Licence to Kill's Kenworth W500B oil tanker are shown, before Hammond looks at the "low point in Bond motoring" with the Brosnan years, including Tomorrow Never Dies's BMW 750iL―a "sales manager's company car," as Hammond describes it. The doc winds up with a brief look at the record-breaking flip stunt for Casino Royale's Aston Martin DBS, a long look at a motorcycle (?) stunt in Skyfall, and Hammond's underwater ride in his waterproof Lotus.
All of the above is okay, I guess, if you're just a casual admirer of the Bond movies...but it's not particularly exciting or even enlightening for the hard-core Bond fan. As for Top Gear fans, I suspect they'll be a little disappointed in Top Gear: 50 Years of Bond Cars because it leaves out all the fun bits and gags that make Top Gear such a blast. At the beginning of Top Gear: 50 Years of Bond Cars, there are some brief clips from what look to be CorgiŽ commercials for vintage Bond car toys. Why didn't the doc include more unusual, interesting ephemera like that, rather than the umpteenth Eon-approved shot of Connery doing something Bondian (I would have thought even just a 30-second peek at one of the most sought-after car-related Bond toys―1965's James Bond 007 Road Race set from Sears―would have crept in here somewhere)? Since this is supposed to be Top Gear's look at the Bond cars, why didn't it play more like a typical smart-assed Top Gear episode? Hammond's cloaking device and the Lotus submarine sequences were more like it, but they take up too much time in this short doc. Why didn't someone create a gag with all the minor "Bond on a Budget" cars, destroying them somehow in typically violent, grandiose Top Gear/Bond villain fashion?
And while we're at it...why aren't the cars the true focus of the doc? Instead of wasting valuable minutes showing us boring alleyways of Pinewood Studios where the Goldfinger chase was staged, why not have Hammond actually drive more of the Bond cars, like Diamonds Are Forever's Mustang Mach I, or the Ford Thunderbird in Thunderball, or Diana Rigg's Red on Red Mercury Cougar XR7 used in the fantastic snow race in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (why not recreate the race with other Bond cars, Top Gear style)? Why not find that pimpmobile from Live and Let Die...or make a new one? And why not try and jump another The Man With the Golden Gun AMC Hornet...or drive it off a cliff? Top Gear: 50 Years of Bond Cars is supposed to be about the Bond movie cars, but we get stuff about busses and motorcycles while other cars are ignored, while fans of Top Gear wait for the doc to be more like Top Gear...in vain.
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.