11/16/2012 6:15 PM ET|
Bond films foretell future of tech
Some of 007's gizmos -- especially from the early films -- have moved from celluloid fantasy to real-world practicality.
In "Skyfall," the new James Bond movie released in U.S. theaters last week, the new Q, the young head of research and development for the British Secret Service, doesn't have much in terms of new gadgets for the renegade playboy spy.
"What did you expect, an exploding pen?" Q asks as he hands Bond, played by actor Daniel Craig, a gun designed to read Bond's palm print so only he can fire it. "We don't really do that anymore."
Indeed, the newest movie in the Bond franchise, which is also celebrating its 50th anniversary, is low on fantastic gadgetry. In many of the older Bond films, especially those during the Cold War era, Q doled out to Bond inventions seen only in our dreams.
Now, the young, skinny hacker -- played by British thespian Ben Whishaw -- who is Bond's new quartermaster brags that he can do more damage to the enemy while in his pajamas with his laptop. In "Skyfall," computer hacking represents a more serious and ominous threat than any far-out gadgets seen in movies of the past. "Skyfall," which is distributed by Sony Pictures Entertainment (SNE), had the best North American opening in the history of the Bond franchise.
But despite the outlandishness of some of 007's past gadgets, or those used by his diabolical villains, many of those toys predicted technology in use today -- even gizmos from the 1960s films.
Bond's use of gadgets in his international espionage work began with his creator, Ian Fleming, who after stints as a Reuters journalist and then a stockbroker, was recruited by the director of British naval intelligence to become his personal assistant during World War II. Fleming played a major role behind the scenes organizing secret operations.
"The gadgets in the novels were very realistic," Raymond Benson, one of the official authors of James Bond novels after Fleming's death, said in an interview. "In the book, the Aston-Martin wasn't as souped up. But it did have a homing device."
The 1964 movie "Goldfinger" was the first to show Bond using a homing beacon to track villain Goldfinger to his secret lair.
"It was an early version of Sat Nav," said Michael Clarke, a Scottish mechanical engineer who has been a serious Bond fan for about 27 years, since he saw his first Bond film at the age of 8. Today, GPS tracking devices can be hidden on cars and then followed, or tracked, online.
In the 1963 film "From Russia with Love," Bond (played by Sean Connery) is interrupted from his wooing by an annoying buzzing sound from a device in his jacket, and tells Sylvia he has to call the office. Bond then goes to his car to make a call from a telephone slotted under the steering wheel.
In a scene from 1971's "Diamonds are Forever," Bond pretends to be a diamond smuggler, and visits a contact named Tiffany Case, who he knows will check his fingerprints for his identity. This proved to a very early prediction of biometric fingerprint scanners now used for secure identification in everything from door locks to laptop computers.
Bond wears false fingertips to leave imprints of the dead smuggler whose identity he is borrowing on the glass he uses, which Case secretly dusts. She then goes to her bedroom closet to run the print through a hidden device with a big screen so she can compare fingerprints.
That film also had a voice changing recorder, which is now available as an app on the newest Apple (AAPL) iPhone.
Many of the features of Bond's high-tech watches are now available on our cellphones and smartphones, such as sending text messages, watching TV or listening to radio. Bond also had a camera hidden in his ring, which he could use to take photos of secret documents. They’re not quite so small, but today’s mobile phones are routinely used to take photos of documents.
"A number of gadgets have come to fruition," said Benson, who has now moved on to write his own thrillers, a series called the "The Black Stiletto." "Certainly the whole cellphone thing is the most obvious."
"Skyfall" is among the recent Bond films that seek to be more believable in terms of technology, after some fans began to complain about the excessive reliance on gadgets in the films of the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. The technology used or thought up in the 1960s and early 1970s films, even before the advent of the personal computer, was probably more believable because there were no computerized special effects.
"Back then, any gadgets they had, they had to physically make," said Clarke, adding that recent Bond films have to seem believable to a much more tech-savvy audience. "It's all been thought of already."
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