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Bond Goes Commercial: Quirky Gadgets Out, Product Placements In

Bond Goes Commercial: Quirky Gadgets Out, Product Placements In

The pairing of James Bond and quirky gadgets has been well established through the film franchise's 46 years, but the two most recent films are definitely lacking in what might be called the "Q factor," writes TechNewsWorld columnist Renay San Miguel.

By Renay San Miguel
11/21/08 4:00 AM PT

The history of James Bond films is the history of our fascination with technology: booby-trapped briefcases, jetpacks, cars with machine guns and ejector seats, super-magnet watches, cars driven by remote control, acid-filled fountain pens, cars that become invisible, sharks with frickin' lasers...

Sorry, wrong spy movie franchise on that last example. But you get the point, one that's been made several times during the remarkable 46-year-long run of the 007 films. A secret agent who got his start battling Cold War villains at the dawn of the thermonuclear age -- and the room-sized supercomputers that came with it -- has successfully made the jump to a digital, handheld, wired and wireless 21st Century. And look: He still drives an Aston Martin! But he also has pages on both MySpace *and* Facebook.

So what do we hardcore James Bond fans get with "Quantum of Solace," the 22nd installment of the world's most successful film franchise?

Smartphones and Surface computers.

Give me sharks with frickin' lasers any day.

Craig's 007 Don't Need No Stinkin' Gadgets

It's all part of the canny back-to-basics reinvention of the Bond franchise that began with 2006's "Casino Royale" and the casting of the first blond Bond, Daniel Craig. His boxer's countenance says it all: This 007 seems to take grim-faced pleasure in earning his license to kill, and doesn't have time to get up to speed on whatever toys MI-6's Q Branch came up with during the Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan periods of Bond-dom.

"Casino Royale" made it clear that any technology depicted in the series for the time being would be a tad more realistic than the jokey widgets of the 1970s and 1980s. So you have Bond's arm implanted with a microchip beacon, in much the same way that some companies offer to keep track of valuable pets (M, Bond's boss as played by Dame Judi Dench, would appreciate the comparison.) Smartphones and text messages become the primary way for Bond to transmit and receive information on the bad guys. And instead of guns, spinning hubcap razors and oil slicks on Bond's Aston Martin, there's ... a defibrillator kit in the glove compartment.

Should Bond get a substantial discount on his auto insurance for that particular accessory? Discuss.

"Quantum of Solace" continues Bond's reliance on smartphones, particularly those provided by Sony Ericsson, one of the many companies shelling out a record US$80 million in product placements in the new film. Unlike the ending of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," this should not come as a shock: Sony Pictures made the movie, along with MGM and Columbia. Bond's Sony Ericsson C902 always has service and includes an application that allows Bond to take 3-D pictures of suspects attending an avant-garde opera production in Latin America and send them back to MI6 in London for instant identification.

And then there's the touchscreen table computer, a next-generation cousin of Microsoft's Surface technology that Bill Gates officially unveiled last year on NBC's "Today Show." It's shown in a larger scale and allows M and her cohorts to send pictures and data from a tabletop to a nearby wall and then back again. It's very cool-looking, but again, not exactly groundbreaking and is almost a throwaway moment in a movie that's more about low-tech car and foot chases and good old-fashioned beatdowns.

Is Bond Gunning for Al Gore?

Much has been made by some reviewers of a "Quantum of Solace" plot point that has the main villain using green initiatives as a cover for his nefarious schemes, and that somehow the movie is anti-environment. I wouldn't put too much stock in what may just be a sly joke on the part of screenwriters Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. It's part of the same dramatic license that's given Bond his license to kill and the series a license to thrill since the 1960s.

For me, the Daniel Craig Bond films are more about the ability for anyone to spy on anyone, thanks to post-9/11 paranoia coupled with easily-obtained surveillance methods. An early scene in "Casino Royale" has Bond sneaking into M's London apartment and checking out information on her personal laptop computer: Bond as white-hat hacker. There are also cameras everywhere for gathering intelligence -- security cameras at posh resorts, smartphone cameras snapping surreptitious photos. It's a theme to be found in other recent cinematic techno-thrillers, particularly the "Bourne" franchise, "Live Free or Die Hard" and "Eagle Eye."

"Quantum of Solace," in fact, has been compared to "The Bourne Ultimatum," and not just for its epilepsy-inducing editing techniques. Jason Bourne doesn't rely much on gadgets and technology. His wits and training keep him one step ahead of those out to get him. The James Bond of "Quantum of Solace" is also a throwback to the cold-eyed killer for queen and country of Ian Fleming's earlier novels. Don't look for technology -- or sharks with lasers -- to ride to his rescue anytime soon.

Speaking of Car Chases ...

As a postcript to last week's column about prime-time commercials for new video games ... another one popped up over the weekend, and this one had me thinking: Please, not another "Fast and the Furious" sequel.

I was fooled by the live actors interspersed with cut-scene footage from the latest edition in EA's street-racing franchise, "Need for Speed: Undercover." There's a good chance that others who were watching "Saturday Night Live" last weekend thought the same thing: fast edits, lots of action, lots of production value -- for a video game. My original point remains: Game-makers are spending more money on commercials that look like movie trailers, the marketing is getting more sophisticated, and the stage is set for what should be a battle royale this Christmas at the retail level -- recession be damned.


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