Saturday, January 26, 2013

James Bond's Top Ten Gadgets

Gadgets Reached Their Peak in the Roger Moore Era of James Bond Films

James Bond in rocket belt Thunderball
James Bond only used the jetpack briefly in one film, but it became an enduring symbol of his spy wizardry.
As most fans know, the James Bond gadgets for each Bond film came from Q and his lab, even if they weren't actually mentioned as the source.

Q Laboratory
The Deadly Parking Meter in Q's Lab.
Many of the best gadgets, it is true, are completely impossible given current technology of even today (giant space-capsule-capturing rockets?), but a surprising number are not only feasible but even surprisingly low-tech. They usually were divided into two categories: deadly, and comical. Quite often, the two categories were combined in one silly weapon, like an umbrella that closed on its users like a claw, or exploding parking meters.

Q Laboratory
Some of Q's inventions were quite prosaic, like bulletproof vests.
The best gadgets didn't come just from Q: they also came from the invariably wealthy villains themselves. The bad guys' gadgets are way cool all by themselves and became cooler because Bond usually wound up using them himself. The aforementioned spaceship that could engulf another in "Dr. No," and the orbiting space station in "Moonraker," are examples. While coolness is in the eyes of the beholder, some gadgets went above and beyond the ordinary.

Herewith, the ten coolest gadgets portrayed in James Bond films.

Q Laboratory
James Bond examines a grenade flask.

10. The Pen Gun from Never Say Never Again

Fatima Blush in Never Say Never Again
Fatima Blush, laughing at being shot by the puny pen gun.
The pen-gun gadget in "Never Say Never Again" (1983) makes the top ten more for the clever way in which it is used rather than anything spectacular about its design. Often, the circumstances of a gadget's use enhance its prominence. In the film, Villainess Fatima Blush finds it highly amusing when James Bond fired his little pen weapon at her. It appears that the gadget has failed. James Bond frowns, figuring that Q has let him down.

Pen Gun Never Say Never Again
The deadly pen gun has a Union Jack emblazoned on it.
Fatima is still smiling - and James Bond notably chastened - when the projectile finally explodes and blows her into a million pieces. The delay in the execution of the pen gun enables Sean Connery to fire off one of his last James Bond quips in "Never Say Never Again," noting the weapon "needs some work."

9. Oddjob's Bowler Hat from Goldfinger

The bowler-hat gadget in "Goldfinger" (1964) is unusual because it is used not once, but twice, and the second use is more dramatic than the first use. It has the James Bond gadget bonus of turning a seemingly ordinary, staid and even prosaic item into something of devastating and unexpected impact.

Oddjob at Fort Knox in Goldfinger
Oddjob (Harold Sakata) throwing his hat in Fort Knox.
Oddjob (Harold Sakata) was Goldfinger's driver and henchman. The bowler hat had a metal disc inside the brim which turned it into a sort of boomerang. It could slice through steel, and, as a demonstration of his deadliness, Oddjob uses it to knock the head off of a statue at Goldfinger's golf course in order to impress James Bond. Oddjob's most menacing action in "Goldfinger," though, didn't involve the hat at all - it was when the smiling Oddjob drove one of Goldfinger's associates, not to the airport as the bad guy expected, but to a car wrecker.

Oddjob, Bond, Goldfinger in Goldfinger
Oddjob demonstrating his hat-throwing skills for Bond and Goldfinger.
The bowler hat comes back into play in a much more deadly way at the film's climax in a very clever way.

8. The Moon Buggy from Diamonds Are Forever

Moon buggy Diamonds are Forever
Sean Connery as James Bond escaping in the moon buggy.
Intruding on a fake Moon landing studio project (a throwaway joke that was very timely and remarkably provocative, given that the actual Moon landings still were in full swing at that time). James Bond finds just the thing to enable his escape from the bad guys in "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971) - a functional Moon buggy being used by the fake astronauts. Nobody ever seemed to notice that this Bond film was making a wry and cosmic joke about the pride of the United States, its space program - it was not followed up at all.

Moon Buggy Diamonds are Forever
The moon buggy breaking out.
Bond gets in and crashes it out out of the studio and into a real, not fake, desert setting. The weird vehicle's agility enables it to cross terrain that wrecks numerous police-style sedans in perhaps the best car chase in the entire series ("Diamonds are Forever" is very car-heavy that way). Sean Connery apparently liked driving the moon buggy in Diamonds are Forever so much that he bought it from a collector for $54,000 in late 2004. It must come in handy driving over the Scottish moors! He described the Moon Buggy as the "ultimate souvenir."

7. The Flying AMC Matador from The Man with the Golden Gun

Flying AMC Matador The Man with the Golden Gun
Scaramanga making his big exit in the flying Matador.
As mentioned above, sometimes the best James Bond gadgets are those of the villains. The AMC Matador in "The Man with the Golden Gun" seemed perfectly normal - until the dashboard converted from a normal speedometer to an avionics panel and the otherwise humdrum vehicle attaches to wings and a jet. Scaramanga makes his flying escape in this contraption - which in real life was completely non-functional and entirely move magic.

AMC Matador flying The Man with the Golden Gun
The Matador sure looks dangerous, but it worked - on film, anyway.
And people complain that scientists never developed a flying car as predicted so long ago!

6. Little Nellie from You Only Live Twice

Q showing Little Nellie You Only Live Twice
Q showing Bond Little Nellie.
Q makes his only venture outside of headquarters in "You Only Live Twice" to bring the "Wallis WA-116 Series 1 gyroplane" aka "Little Nellie" to Japan. James Bond needed it to scout out an enemy installation, which wound up being in a huge cavern beneath a dead volcano crater. Transported in just a few manageable suitcases, the gyrocopter was fully functional and armed to the teeth with missiles. Instead of just flying about on reconnaissance, though, Bond wound up in a dogfight with an array of flying villains.

Little Nellie flying You Only Live Twice
Bond flying Little Nellie over Japan
Like the Bell jetpack, Little Nellie was completely real, though used in a fanciful way in "You Only Live Twice" (1967). The autogyro was a Wallis WA-116 Agile, designed by former Royal Air Force Wing Commander Ken Wallis. Wallis became the world's biggest autogyro exponent, but it never became a popular product with the public.

5. The Invisible Aston Martin Vanquish from Die Another Day

Aston Martin Vanquish invisible
The invisible Aston Martin Vanquish. Now you see it - now you don't.
The invisible Aston Martin Vanquish in "Die Another Day" (2002) was truly ingenious and theoretically possible. It used tiny cameras all around to take video, and then routed the video to the opposite side of the car to make the vehicle "invisible." The Aston Martin also had many other capabilities, including the usual ejector seat and machine guns and the like. However, the invisibility aspect by far was the coolest.

Aston Martin Vanquish Die Another Day
The Aston Martin could do a lot more than being invisible.
Pierce Brosnan had his best moments as James Bond driving the Vanquish (now not invisible) over the ice, with the window open, shirt fluttering in the breeze, maneuvering like a madman.

4. Jaws' Metal Teeth from Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only

Jaws showing teeth Moonraker
Jaws loved showing off his teeth.
Jaws was one of the most popular villains in the entire James Bond franchise, appearing in "Moonraker" and "For Your Eyes Only." The character was defined by his metallic teeth - hence, the name. Actor Richard Kiel made the device work for the film, hamming it up unmercifully every chance he got to bite something or simply flash a big shiny grin.

Jaws showing teeth Moonraker
Jaws used his metal teeth to bite people to death.
While Jaws could bite through just about anything, he never got close enough to James Bond to use his deadly teeth, though he quite impressively survived one gigantic fall after another without a scratch, the last one apparently from earth orbit. This gadget is another example of a villain having the coolest tricks, though one can argue about whether it is not a gadget at all, but rather a prosthetic device. Richard Kiel could only wear them briefly because they were very painful, but the teeth got him prominent roles in two James Bond films and almost a third (producers considered using him in the follow-up to "Moonraker," but ultimately decided against it), and that ain't beanbag.

3. The Bell Rocket Belt from Thunderball

Bell Rocket Belt in action Thunderball
James Bond escaping using a jet pack.
The "Thunderball" Bell Rocket Belt was - and is - very real, and it was used exactly as intended in the film. Developed for the United States military, it was cutting edge technology that many at the time felt held great promise. It never caught on, though it has experienced a revival in recent years for military use, though it remains extremely dangerous because of limited flight time and other factors.

James Bond landing in rocket belt Thunderball
The jetpack in action.
James Bond uses the Bell Rocket Belt to carry him to safety after killing Jacques Bouvier. The rocket belt captured the public's imagination and also became an accessory (though used only a couple of times to stunning effect) on the United States TV series "Lost in Space," which premiered not long after "Thunderball." Robbie Williams paid a memorable homage to the Rocket Belt (and Sean Connery as Bond in general) decades later in his music video for hit song "Millenium." No, Sean Connery himself never actually flew in the jetpack, but it was way cool.

2. Dagger Shoes Used By Rosa Klebb in From Russia with Love

Rosa Klebb From Russia with Love
Rosa Klebb trying to get James Bond with her shoes.
The poison-tipped shoes used in "From Russia with Love" (1963) have been endlessly parodied over the years. This gadget is perhaps the most memorable weapon from the entire James Bond series, even though it also is quite possibly the lowest-tech gadget of any significance ever associated with James Bond. A blade would pop out of the front of the shoe, and then the wearer would kick his or her opponent to poison them. As with the bowler hat in "Goldfinger," the shoes make an encore appearance. One pair is used early on by Morzeny to kill Kronsteen, but that only proved to be the appetizer for Rosa Klebb's attempt to kick James Bond to death at the climax of "From Russia with Love."

Dagger Shoes From Russia with Love
Closeup of Rosa Klebb's killer shoes.
This gadget is another example of a villain's weapon providing the biggest thrills in the film, and because of the way it is used, not necessarily because it is technologically advanced. What better way to show your utter contempt for someone than to casually kick them and then stand there triumphantly laughing as they crumple to the ground? Never make fun of a woman and her shoes again!

1. The Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me

Lotus Esprit The Spy Who Loved Me
The Lotus Esprit underwater.
The Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me is most famous for its ability to convert at the touch of a button from a sleek automobile to a fully functional submarine. However, the vehicle also had been altered to include machine guns, missiles, torpedoes, and a cement blaster. Overall, this is the best looking and effective gadget of the entire James Bond series, and its surfacing on the beach in front of gawking beach-bunny onlookers is classic Roger Moore-era Bond.

Lotus Esprit The Spy Who Loved Me
The Lotus Esprit surfacing.
Nobody really thought much of the submersible Lotus. After filming, it wound up rusting away in a Long Island warehouse. Someone spotted it, realized its value, and took it home. He sold it decades later for a lot of money.

There are many, many other gadgets in the James Bond series, and nobody will necessarily agree on these ten. As an honorable mention, let's leave with a view of James Bond in an AMC Hornet jumping the corkscrew bridge in "The Man With The Golden Gun." Yes, this was a stunt rather than a gadget - but, really, who cares. It was one of the coolest moments in the entire series and made even cooler by being performed exactly as shown by a stunt driver ("Bumps" Willard).

AMC Hornet jump


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