André Millard

 

On his book Equipping James Bond: Guns, Gadgets, and Technological Enthusiasm

Cover Interview of July 24, 2019

Lastly

Taken as a whole, the Bond film franchise has provided a primer in the technology of weapons of mass destruction. The films faithfully followed the development of dangerous technologies, from conventional atomic bombs and every declension of missiles through to bacterial and chemical warfare and finally to “the little man with the heavy suitcase” in Fleming’s words: “The most deadly saboteur in history.”

In following the development of Bond’s gadgets and the technology that underlies them, this book examines the boundary between fantasy and reality in the equipment of espionage. Bond’s amazing feats of derring-do can only be carried out by super heroes with the assistance of computer-generated graphics. Yet such is the potency of the Bond character that any gadget he uses is given the air of technological authenticity no matter how outrageously it defies logic and science.

The producers of the films claimed that Bond’s gadgets represented “science fact not science fiction,” and in some cases they presented futuristic technology, from GPS to the Space Shuttle, in Bond’s hands well before these wonders became part of our daily lives. So it would be premature to dismiss all of Bond’s gadgets as fantasies when some of the more futuristic technology presented in the films, such as the ubiquitous smart phone, are now a reality.

Bond’s equipment often represents the future of consumer technologies. Video-recording and smart phones were in his hands long before they became commercially available. Similarly, he also uses and faces the most advanced weapons. The producers of the Bond films can rightly claim to have introduced the laser to global audiences and have educated millions of people in the development of this technology as a weapon. At the same time that Bond enjoys the equipment of the future he must also face the threat of this technology in the wrong hands. The Bond villain must change with the times, from the Hitler-like madmen who want to rule the world of the 1960s through to terrorists and cyber hackers of the twenty-first century. Each decade brings a different threat, and it is always embedded in new technology.

In this way the Bond canon of books and films act as a mirror to our anxieties about new technology, articulating the threat—whether it is the menace of artificial intelligence or the remote control for Bond’s BMW that befuddles Q in Tomorrow Never Dies—that Bond will meet and ultimately defeat. The fight against evil has moved into the internet and cyberspace, against malicious hackers and digitally enhanced villain.

Bond’s missions always bring him face to face with a world brought to the edge of extinction by dangerous new technology. And they always climax with him triumphing over the machine. That is why the films obligatory ending is always the destruction of the villains’ lair, along with the equipment inside it. The key to Bond’s enduring appeal is that he maintains the ingenuity and resilience of the human race while wielding the latest gadgets that technology can offer. The gadgets give him an edge, but the ultimate triumph is of the resourceful individual using his wits rather than a photogenic piece of branded equipment. Thus in the last chapter of the book, or the last reel of the film, Bond saves the world with a screw driver or by one finger typing a command to change the course of deadly missile.

We the audience are certain that our hero will thwart the cunning plans of the villain and save the world. And when he does, we are comforted that human agency will no doubt triumph over the machine.

So this book provides an explanation for our sixty-year love affair with a fictional character. James Bond reassures us that humankind will always find a way to negate the threat of new technology and return to the status quo. No matter how great the menace of futuristic technology, we know that in the end tranquility will be restored by a hero created out of the experiences and values of Great Britain in the 1940s.