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STUDIO: A&E Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 141 minutes
• Ian Fleming Biography
• Subtitles (yeah, those are very special)
“Hey, we did two episodes on Modern Marvels about Bond gadgets, didn’t we? Slap those on a DVD for me, would you Bill?” – History Channel Executive
Tom Jennings (director), A bunch of old nerds and far too little of Richard Kiel
A decent stocking stuffer for the 50+ year-old James Bond fan in your family.
It’s going to be hard for me to drum up a lot of criticism for this particular review, since what was described in The Pitch is exactly what this DVD is: Two episodes of Modern Marvels from back in 2002 (before History Channel’s takeover by aliens and pawn shop owners) that cover a fine array of different gadgets (real and fictional) that both feature in the James Bond movies and in the “where the hell is my goddamn jetpack?” real world. So, if you’ve ever seen even one episode of that show, you know exactly what you’re in store for. No surprises here.
It’s obvious that History Channel, smelling the imminent release of another Bond flick, cobbled together a few bits laying around in the video vault in hopes of making a few bucks off of whoever it is that buys their DVDs/rabid James Bond fans. Which is always how they and others like them operate, so while I can’t fault them for their business prudence, I can at least find it slightly difficult to review what essentially amounts to an “I’m bored and there’s nothing on the telly. OK, I’ll watch this, I guess” bit of television programming. I mean, this isn’t a Kurosawa film. Heck, it isn’t even a DJ Caruso film. It’s armchair America brain oatmeal: soggy and not that great tasting, but it’s filling and isn’t a total waste of your time, even though that’s its function.
I also feel kind of bad because, although I’ve seen my fair share of Bond films, I’m nowhere near classifiable as a fan. I love From Russia with Love and Casino Royale (the Daniel Craig one, not that other Casino Royale that no one seems too antsy to talk lots about) and have a stupidly nostalgiac place in my heart for Goldeneye thanks to it being the first Bond film I saw in theatres, but I’m definitely not as knowledgeable as even a lower tier Bond aficionado probably is. So, maybe a Bond fan would find this more fun to watch than I did.
Best thing to do, I figure, is just tell you a bit about what each episode covers. The first one devotes a bit of time to the invention of the Rocket Belt, or what my inner child will always refer to it as: the freakin’ jetpack. They talk to the guy who piloted it in the movie Thunderball (James Caan played James Bond? I think I’m confusing some things) and the guy who flew it over some Super Bowl some year (also not a football fan, can you tell?). Then we get an interview with the creator of the autogyro, which was featured in You Only Live Twice. It’s explained that the autogyro has been put to practical use for military reconnaissance and in helping police with searching for murder victims. Nifty.
Then there’s a few minutes with a guy that helped make the “Q boat” from The World is Not Enough who takes his homemade toy for a few spins around the local watering hole. He also shows off a few other vehicles like a boat from Moonraker and a sub from For Your Eyes Only. Groovy. Probably the best part of the episode is a museum exhibit showing off the first public display of a bunch of Bond cars. Even though I’m no Bond enthusiast, I’d definitely visit that showing. Very cool.
Then there’s a very short bit with a spy shop owner doing his salesman pitch. “Look at these sunglasses with a camera in it! You can be a super spy too!” He even compares an electrified briefcase he sells to the one used in From Russia with Love. Does it have hidden ammunition, a collapsible sniper rifle and a tear gas cartridge? No? You just lost a customer, sir.
Finally, there’s some footage from Special Tactical Services, a company that will train you to do badass things so you can become the closest you can to a Terminator. They do weapons training, crazy defensive driving techniques, self-defense combat and anything else you’d need to pass Ass Whuppin’ 101. They primarily train bodyguards and private protection agencies and after some of the stuff they show, I’d definitely hire one of their murder machines if I was the kind of person whose primary mode of transportation was limousine.
And onward to episode two.
We get coverage about the Acrostar jet which was used in Octopussy (undoubtedly one of the top five greatest movie titles of all time). Some old guys take it out for a whirl. It does plane things. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
Then we’re treated to one of the last remaining underwater sleds used in the memorable scene in Thunderball (that’s the one where Sean Connery roller skates for the freedom of the future, right?). The underwater photographer of the movie talks about shooting the scene and how complicated it was with a crapton of divers, the most put on camera for a feature film at the time, and probably since. Groovy.
There’s a cool couple of minutes dedicated to Jay Milligan, stunt driver on The Man with the Golden Gun who performed the bugfuck amazing “spiral jump” car maneuver. All the footage they show of the stunt is awe-inspiring and certainly reminds you why real stunt work and in-camera effects will always have a place in the Bond films. And just as an aside, Mr. Milligan has a pair of 90 pound brass ones. The guy is a champ.
Then there’s…hey, is this the same car exhibit from the last episode? They just show off more cars? Oh, History Channel. Why do I get the feeling these episodes were filmed simultaneously?
And the last section is devoted to the International Spy Museum which hosts a plethora of actual Cold War era spy stuff, and it’s curated by a former American intelligence agent. I could have watched a whole documentary about just that place. They show off cameras in the buttons of coats, the ever-shrinking history of the “bug”, and an assortment of flashy spy tools like a single bullet lipstick gun aptly named “The Kiss of Death.” There’s a small bit of James Bond related memorabilia, but even the owner of the establishment says that “only about five percent” of the museum is James Bond related while the rest are real espionage tools. Swank.
Roll credits. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Still better than any program on History Channel today.
The picture is what you’d expect from a TV show from 2002. I refuse to acknowledge subtitles as a “special feature.” The real reason this disc is worth a watch is for the additional Biography episode on Ian Fleming, which was way more interesting and informative than both of the Modern Marvels shows. It’s only forty some-odd minutes and it’s not a scathing review of the man’s life, but it’s a great CliffNotes version for a casual admirer such as myself. Finding out he wrote the James Bond novels in Jamaica makes me wonder why a laser-producing spliff hasn’t shown up in a Bond film yet.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars